It is very early in the morning. Our house is small, one large room and one bedroom so that from my curtained bed I wake hearing my mother walking about, preparing to make bread. I get up quickly. I never miss bread-baking day though I have seen it many times.
The dough, which has been worked for two nights previously, is placed in a large oak box of shiny wood outside, floury inside and only used for bread making and to store flour between times. It is called la huche and most peasant homes have one. Standing in front of the huche Maman works the heavy dough. It makes a big plop as it falls back. Enough must be baked for four weeks. It is heavy work and, though mother is dressed lightly, she is very hot.
At last the dough is ready and I sprinkle flour inside the baskets. Large pieces of dough are put in each one, enough to make twelve pound loaves. Before I cover them up I make the sign of the cross on each one with a large knife.
While they are rising, the big oven is lighted. It is so large that my brother and I often hide in it when we play hide and seek. In the dim light, we all look strange as we put fagots of wood in that big red and black mouth. My brother has put some black ashes on his face and holding his fork, he says he is a demon and will put me in the oven. I scream and mama makes him stop. After burning seven bundles of wood, the right temperature is reached, the ashes are cleaned and some red coals are left on the sides. Then comes the exciting moment when the large loaf must be put in accurately and fast for the position of the loaves cannot be changed. The dough is put on a large wooden shovel with a long handle which I hold steady on the back of a chair.
Since she needs both of her hands, my mother holds the large butcher knife in her mouth and quickly she takes it and puts a cross on the spreading dough. This is done for the four large loaves. In addition there is a small loaf made in the shape of a crown. This is called the crown of the poor because it is often sent to a poor neighbor. The hot coal is put around the bread and the oven door is closed. This all done, our tired mother drinks a glass of wine.
In about two hours the bread is baked. If the weather is good it is put out to cool on the stones of the courtyard. I keep watch lest the chickens pick at it. Once I forgot to watch and the pig stole a loaf. When it is cool the bread is put in a large basket, each loaf standing on its side and hung from the ceiling with the ham, and a string of onions and garlic and baskets of prunes. It is very good when fresh but the crust becomes very hard at the end of three or four weeks and we are impatient for the next baking day.
Translation: Lucy DeVries Duffy
Editing and Copyright: Lucy DeVries Duffy, June 30, 2009, Brewster, MA 02631, USA
Making French Bread
Mme. Soupet made bread in round loaves. My mother taught me to make baguettes. Many of Rebecca’s heirs make bread from her recipe replicating the fragrance and delicious taste of their grandmère’s bread baking savored in their youth.
French Bread Recipe
Lucy De Vries Duffy from her French mom, Rébecca Goethe DeVries (1902-1981)
For 4 baguettes ( I double it for 8 loaves)
You need: baguette pans, a large bowl, a sprayer, a dough scraper is useful, a large slotted spoon
King Arthur Flour (not sure how much I use)
1 package dry yeast (I usually use quick acting but you can use the regular kind, just takes longer to rise.)
2 teaspoon salt
1 Tablespoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon ginger
3 cups water
(Sometimes I add some wheat germ if I want to make it more nutritious.)
Rinse large bowl with hot water to warm bowl.
Measure 3 cups tepid water ( It should feel, on the inside of your wrist, warm as a baby’s bath water.)
Add 1 package dry yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon ginger
Gradually add enough flour to make a thick soupy mixture.
Beat with a large slotted spoon with violent methods until good and bubbly.
Continue adding flour, very gradually until you have a doughy ball.
Put out on to floured surface, cover with the bowl and let rest for 5 minutes. Not sure why but mom told me to.
Knead dough with a light touch until smooth as a baby’s bottom and until it springs back when you poke it with your finger. Add flour as needed if it gets sticky but cautiously so that your dough does not get too dry.
Flour bowl lightly. I do not wash it. Use the same bowl in which you have mixed the dough.
Put kneaded dough back in bowl. Cover with saran wrap or a dry cleaner bag.
Let rise until about doubled. I put it on my stove top under the light, free from drafts.
(You can do up to this point and let rise in refrigerator over night and bake the next morning if you are pressed for time.)
While dough is rising, prepare baguette pans:
Oil pans. I use Pan or a vegetable oil.
Sprinkle with corn meal
When dough has risen about double, turn out onto floured surface.
Divide dough into 4 portions. Punch down each portion to remove air bubbles.
Flatten one portion at a time into a rectangle. Fold top edge down one third of the way, then bottom third up. Pinch edges together and roll into shape of baguette, not as long as pans, allowing room to expand in baguette pan.
Put formed dough into baguette pans. I bless the bread in the tradition of my mother and from her foster mother, making three diagonal slits in each baguette as I say the blessing. My mother remembers her mother making round loaves, making a cross in each loaf as she blessed it and always making one loaf for a needy family in her village.
Spray generously with cold water.
Sprinkle with sesame seeds. If you like anise try that on one loaf. Mom sometimes did this for Easter.
Let rise for 1/2 to 1 hour until about doubled, but not too big.
Preheat 0ven to 350 degrees.
Spray bread again, spray oven and put in risen loaves.
After 20 minutes spray bread in oven generously.
Continue baking about 20-30 minutes more until bread looks golden brown and crust feels hard when you touch it.
Cool on racks. Yummy hot out of the oven with butter. It makes your house smell really good.
What you don’t eat right away, freeze as soon as it is cool wrapped tightly in aluminum foil.
When ready to eat bread, put directly from freezer into hot (400 degree) oven for 15-20 minutes until you can squeeze it.