Back-to-school Baguette

Back-to-school Baguette

 

I’m spending part of this Labour Day baking baguettes. It’s a cool and rainy day and tolerable to have the oven on. I’m glad to have a bit of baking therapy to help me get over the back-to-school anxiety pervading the house. And this way the sandwiches on the first day of school will be amazing.

On our summer holiday this year we spent a few days in Quebec City. One day we walked all over the Plains of Abraham, the fort and the old city. (Thank you, National Battlefields Commission, for such an informative website about the whole struggle for Quebec, and not just the battle on September 13, 1759. And I learned a new word: justaucorps, the long fitted eighteenth-century coat.)

We paused for lunch in the glorious Jardin des Gouverneurs, overlooking the St. Lawrence, with a big monument to Wolfe and Montcalm, the victor and the vanquished.

20170817_124101We bought our lunch at a little grocery store nearby. The non-celiacs had baguette with ham and cheese, reportedly absolutely delicious. I promised the family then that I would make baguette in time for the first day of school. This week I stocked up on ham and Jarlsberg, and here I am baking the bread.

One piece of specialized equipment can be used here: the baguette pan. You can also make your own out of several layers of aluminum foil (more relaxing handwork) or just bake the loaves on a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat. They will spread a bit that way, but still be delicious. 20160422_143831

The recipe is from my old favourite, Kneadlessly Simple. As with all the recipes in that book, you start the day before by mixing up the sponge so that it can rise overnight. The dough could not be simpler to mix up. Then, the next day there is a certain amount of forming and shaping. This is where the anxiety-calming occurs: sprinkling a handful of flour over the pieces of dough, forming rectangles, folding and rolling, and finally slitting the narrow loaves with a sharp knife. I’ve made this bread enough times that I can feel when the dough is the right texture and it’s somehow comforting to know this with my body rather than my brain.

Here is the basic recipe. I always double it since the children can eat a batch in the wink of an eye.

Ingredients

3 1/4 cups white flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
3/4 tsp instant or bread machine yeast
1 1/2 cups cold water, or a bit more

Method

Mix dry ingredients in a large bowl. Add water and mix (with a wooden spoon or dough whisk) until spongy but still quite firm. Add a bit more water if the dough is too floury. Cover with a silicone mat and leave overnight to rise.

The next day, the dough will look quite wet with little bubbles on top. Scatter a handful of flour over the top and massage it into the bread. As the dough becomes less wet, start kneading it with one hand (leaving the other hand clean for touching your tap or knives or whatever). When it feels dry and squishy and springy, dump it out onto a silicone mat with a little flour dusted on it. Cut the lump of dough in two and leave it alone for ten minutes. This will allow the gluten to relax and make shaping easier. 20160422_143827

In the meantime, oil your nifty french bread pan or whatever pan you are using.

After ten minutes, start shaping your dough. Push it into a rectangle about the shape of a piece of paper and fold it in thirds as if you were folding a letter. Then make it into the same size of rectangle, but this time roll it along the long side so that you have a sort of snake. Pinch the edges well together and continue rolling your snake until it’s the same length as your loaf pan. Put the snake in the loaf pan and slash the tops diagonally three or four times with a serrated knife. Admire the professional effect.

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Allow to rise for 45 minutes to two hours, whatever works best for your schedule. About 20 minutes before you want to bake, put a broiler pan or cookie sheet in the bottom of your oven and turn it on to 500°F.

When the oven is hot, spray the loaves with water and put the pan towards the back of the oven. I use the middle rack, but a lower rack may work better in your oven. Carefully pour 1 cup of cold water into the hot pan on the floor of the oven. Shut the door quickly to capture the steam. Turn the oven down to 475°F.

Bake for 7 to 9 minutes, and then remove the pan from the oven. The loaves will look somewhat solid and slightly coloured. Using a palette knife or thin spatula, loosen the loaves and slide them onto a cookie sheet lined with a silicone mat. Put back in the oven for 6-8 minutes, then turn them over and bake for a further 4-6 minutes. These times are a bit approximate and will depend on your oven.

Then remove your glorious loaves and allow them to cool. I will guard mine until it’s time for the lunches to be made.

And…breathe.

 

 

 

Gluten-Free Hot Cross Buns

Gluten-Free Hot Cross Buns

Hot cross buns are a non-negotiable part of Easter for me. I have them for breakfast on Good Friday before we do the egg-dyeing, and then again on Easter Sunday with the coloured eggs. Sometimes I hunt for them in GF bakeries in Ottawa, but this year I had some challah dough in the fridge left over from making onion pletzel from Gluten Free Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. You make the dough, leave it to rest in the fridge over night, slap some of it down on a baking sheet, sprinkle it with fried, but still crunchy half-onion slices and poppy seeds and bake at 400° for about 20 minutes. Yummy.

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To make the challah dough itself:

Ingredients:

6 cups GF all-purpose flour (I tried o20170411_112931ut a local flour, Pete’s,  for the first time, and I like it very much; they deliver to Ontario and Quebec)
1 tbsp granulated yeast
1 -1.5 tbsp salt
2.5 cups lukewarm water
1/2 cup honey
4 large eggs
1/2 cup butter, melted

To add when making hot cross buns:
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground ginger
1/4 tsp ground nutmeg
3/4 cup total of your choice of mixed candied peel, raisins, currants or candied ginger

For decorating:

1 egg
small amounts of flour and white sugar
water

Whisk dry ingredients together, then mix in wet, either by hand or with a mixer. Cover, but not airtight, and allow to rest at room temperature for 2 hours. It can be used now, or refrigerated, covered, for up to five days until needed. 20170411_110724

For the hot cross buns, I used one quarter of the dough for 6 good-sized buns.

When you are ready to make the buns, add spices and dried fruit. I used everything except currants. 20170411_111349

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Form into bun shapes and place on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper, silicone mat or my new favourite, Cookina (available in Ottawa at JD Adam in the Glebe). It washes better than silicone and doesn’t get that horrible slimy feeling. With a table knife, mark a cross in the top. Leave to rest for an hour.

 

 

Preheat oven to 350°. Prepare an egg wash by mixing one egg and a tbsp of water. Paint the little dears pale yellow with it. Then mix up 2 tbsp flour and 1 tsp white sugar with 1 tbsp water, or maybe a little more, until you get a smooth paste. Drizzle the paste over the marks of the cross.  As you can see, mine turned out a little runny and spread while baking.

 

Bake for 35 to 40 minutes, brush immediately with a syrup made from 1 tbsp hot water and 1tbsp sugar, and let cool.

I plan to enjoy mine with lots of butter. Yum.

 

Remembering the apple tree

Remembering the apple tree

 

ICopy of winter to spring 2007 055n May 2006 the spouse and our oldest boy, who was then three, planted an apple tree in the back garden to mark the spouse’s birthday. We had two little boys then. It was an Empire, a cross between Red Delicious and McIntosh, an ideal apple to eat right from the tree.A dream come true

 

 

 
I planted daffodils under it, hoping for another baby. I had had this dream, you see, when I was in graduate school, and lonely, and we were not yet married and not living in the same city. It was a dream of a baby, sitting among daffodils under our own apple tree in our own garden next to our own house. That baby, our last, arrived in August 2008 and sat beneath the tree the following May.

We had our first real crop three years after we planted it. That year, the little boy who had planted it with his dad started biking to school on his own (not so little any more).  I noticed that every morning that fall he went out to the garden, picked himself an apple and got on his bike. He didn’t ask, or discuss it with us, he just helped himself to his own apple from his own tree.DSC03955

DSC03792It grew broader and I had to trim a branch off one side so that the children didn’t gouge themselves during their vigourous swinging on the hammock.

As the tree grew, birds came to it, and the squirrels, and the children sat in its shade. We buried the collar and tag of our first cat, Beatrice, under its branches after she died at the age of sixteen in May 2012. Our next cat, Georgia, liked sharpening her claws on its trunk just as much as her predecessor did. DSC03807

 

Since we planted the tree during a rather intensive child-rearing period, I skipped a number of the tips Ed Lawrence always gives on CBC Radio here in Ontario on Monday afternoons. I didn’t wrap the trunk to protect it from the nibbles of mice under the snow; I didn’t prop a plank against the south-facing trunk to protect if from the freeze-thaw cycle during the winter; I didn’t do much pruning or dormant-oil spraying in February. After a few years we noticed an ominous fissure in the bark near the ground.

JpegThen one day last August I came outside to see my beautiful tree, laden with apples, lying on its side. The strong winds the day before had knocked it clean over. This was also the day before we were to leave on a camping trip to the east coast so I had not much time for grieving then. We picked all the apples we could and left the tree on the lawn until our return. In September I cut up the branches and made applesauce (the last batch!) from the almost two bushels of apples that were that tree’s final contribution.

And now this spring there is an absence in the garden. The garden feels more open and airy and I have some ideas about other trees to plant and changes to the layout of the garden. Still, this beauty is no longer there. I remember its blooms and this poem always brings them back to me.

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The Stolen Branch

By Pablo Neruda

In the night we shall go in
to steal
a flowering branch.

We shall climb over the wall
in the darkness of the alien garden,
two shadows in the shadow.

Winter is not yet gone,
and the apple tree appears
suddenly changed
into a cascade of fragrant stars.

In the night we shall go in
up to its trembling firmament,
and your little hands and mine
will steal the stars.

And silently,
to our house,
in the night and the shadow,
with your steps will enter
perfume’s silent step
and with starry feet
the clear body of spring.