Yesterday , when I turned on the TV to record something scheduled for later in the day, I encountered the PBS program, the “Great British Baking Show.” It’s a reality show like many American cooking competitions, but with a name more polite than “Cutthroat Kitchen” or “Throwdown.”( It’s true that in 2013, an American show modeled after the British baking program aired for a short time. It was replaced by “Big Brother.” Need I say more about American reality TV audiences?)
The British contestants were charged with making French bread, real French bread, which I consider a food group in its own and, undoubtedly, the most important food group. The recipes I’ve used before, including the one I blogged about earlier that required nine days to produce bread, all make decent-tasting bread. None, however, lead to the kind of bread you’ll find in every Parisian bakery. With help from the British bakers, finally I could produce authentic French bread.
I found the recipe on the show’s website. Four ingredients. A lazy baker’s dream.
I scanned the rest of the page. Oh, there was a second page and a total of thirteen steps. I looked at the clock. My husband would be home in a few hours. Surely enough time to bake the bread, and enjoy a lunch to remind us of the City of Lights. I started to work.
Hmmm. Fifteen minutes to work in water by hand, another fifteen to knead in the yeast, and another fifteen to add the salt. After forty-five minutes I knew I’d stayed away from the gym too long. What a relief to have arrived at step four: letting the bread rest.
Wait! I missed step three. “Grab dough at one end and lift shoulder high. Slam it onto work surface and roll dough over on itself. Give dough quarter turn, grab one end and repeat slamming and rolling.” And I have to slam and roll for how long? Another fifteen minutes? My arms were already hanging limp. Was bread-making now an Olympic event? An hour after I began, the recipe mentioned a fifteen-minute rest. I raced to the couch and stayed there until the timer went off.
My husband walked in the door, and we ate open-faced sandwiches on the last of the two-day-old bread from the grocery store.
At least I have help now, I thought, for the eight remaining steps. I turned to page two of the directions. No. Really? Steps six through twelve direct the shaping of the dough before it, and the baker, have a two-hour rest.
The final line of the recipe, and the only one we ignored, said, “Cool at least 20 minutes before cutting.”
Bread straight from the oven is always good and this was no exception. In minutes, we’d finished half a loaf. We tapped the loaves and the crust was hard, though it didn’t look gnarly like real French bread. We broke the loaf open by hand to examine the inside texture, like the judges did on the British show. It looked perfect. But the flavor? Was it any better than the loaves we’ve baked before using other recipes? Hard to tell, but the house smells great, much better than the gym.