My Mother-in-Law handed me a book to read over the Memorial Day weekend. Titled How to Bake a Perfect Life by Barbara O'Neal, the book centers around a boulangerie, a bakery that specializes in selling bread, and its proprietor Ramona Gallagher, her daughter, Sophia, and Sophia's stepdaughter, Katie.
As the novel progresses, three very distinct story lines emerge - Ramona's, Sophia's, and Katie's. The reader learns about Ramona's unexpected teen pregnancy and her family's decision to send her away to live with her Aunt Poppy for the duration of the pregnancy; the hardships a pregnant Sophia faces while trying to support her newly disabled marine husband; and Katie's constant struggle choosing a harrowing life with her drug addicted mother or a life of luxury with Ramona's family.
"With my hands - at last - in dough, the tension flows out of my neck, drips benignly to the floor. Thoughts, images, memories, swirl without weight. I think of Sophia's baby growing in her belly, and of Katie's long hands, and of my mother's reference to the summer I was fifteen, and of the broken pipe in the front yard, and of learning to bake with my Aunt Poppy that fateful summer when bread saved my life. I wonder what passion lies sleeping in Katie's breast."
In a previous post, I made Ramona's version of pain au chocolat. This was a very simple recipe proven to impress guests. This afternoon, I made her version of French Bread. It was the prettiest loaf of bread I've ever made; and it tasted sublime.
1 cup lukewarm water
1 tsp sugar
1 tablespoon dry yeast3 cups unbleached white flour ( I prefer King Arthur's)
1 tsp salt
1 egg white and 1 tsp cold water for wash
Pour the water into a bowl and stir in the sugar. Then, sprinkle the yeast over the top and let stand for 5 to 10 minutes. In a big bowl, combine the flour and salt. When the yeast is foamy, pour it into the flour mixture and stir until it becomes a blob.
Sprinkle some flour on the counter top and place the dough atop the flour. You may need more flour as you knead for 5 minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Gather into a ball and place in a well oiled bowl. Cover with a damp flour sack towel. Let rise in a warm place until it is doubled.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Place a baking pan in the bottom of the oven with a few inches of water to reproduce the humidity of a French kitchen.
Pat the dough into a a long, thin rectangle, then roll the sides toward the middle to shape into a baguette. Place seam side down onto a baking sheet covered with parchment paper. Let rest for 10 minutes.
Make 3 diagonal marks across the loaf and bake for 30 minutes, then baste with egg wash and bake another 5 to 10 minutes, until the loaf is hollow when tapped from the bottom. Cool on a wire rack.
Be on the lookout for the next recipe from this quaint boulangerie.
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