I’ve always wished that I was one of those people that had three hours in the morning before work (or no work at all) to have a leisurely morning that included a few cups of high-quality tea or coffee and an elaborately prepared multi-item breakfast – you know, the freshly baked rolls or muffins, omelets made to order with lobster or shrimp and seasonal vegetables, handmade breakfast sausages, just-squeezed juice. But I’m not. To be perfectly honest, I usually crawl out of bed a half hour before I have to leave the house to catch the train. Between showering, dressing, blow drying my hair and applying makeup (so I even look presentable to be in public in the first place) I’m lucky if I have time to grab my lunch (if I was smart enough to pack it the night before- if not, it will be an ATM-funded fast-food nightmare) and bag, that hopefully has the big four already in it – transit card, ATM card, cell phone and keys. And I god help me if I don’t have my book and mp3 player. Every thing else is peripheral. But, I digress. The topic at hand is breakfast.
I used to be a breakfast skipper. Actually, in highschool and my early college days (ah, the nostalgia) I used to down a can of Coca-Cola around 8:00 am and call that breakfast. But somewhere along the line, skipping breakfast lost its luster. I’m hungry when I wake up. My body demands food, and my brain agrees – I actually do want to eat, and preferably before 10:00 am. And recently I discovered a wonderful thing. Warm buttered French bread and an espresso. Filling, caffeinated and the absolute perfect combination. It’s always the simple things, no? The great thing is the bread is made in advance. You can make two loaves on Sunday afternoon, and stored properly, they will stay fresh for 3-4 days (if you don’t eat it all immediately). Espresso takes a few minutes to brew. We start it before the shower. We also pop the bread in the oven to warm at 350 for about 10 minutes, so the butter just melts into it. And if you don’t have a leisurely hour or two to enjoy it, you can certainly be satisfied in five minutes with two slices and a cup. And if I can fit an extra five minutes into my morning, anyone can.
Admittedly, I am not the baker in the family. Now, I can do decent cakes and cookies, but when it comes to bread product, husband reigns supreme. He’s just got a natural knack for it that it’s going to take me a lot of time and effort to learn. This is the basic French loaf recipe that he favors:
1 ¾ cups water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons salt
1.) Proof the yeast in the water with the salt until the yeast is bubbly (5-10 minutes).
2.) Add the flour and mix until thoroughly combined. Knead the dough until smooth and elastic, 10-12 minutes.
3.) Transfer dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a towel and set in warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
4.) Turn dough out onto a lightly floured work surface, punch down, and divide into two equal portions. Round each piece into a smooth ball, cover with the towel and let rise for another 30 minutes.
5.) Shape each round into a rectangle about 8 inches long on a baking sheet. Cover with a towel and let rise again, for 1 hour.
6.) Preheat oven to 425. Score each loaf 5-7 times with a sharp blade. Brush each baguette lightly with water. Bake for 30 minutes. During the first 5 minutes, baste each loaf with a little more water. When done, they should be golden brown on top and sound hollow when you tap their bottoms. Cool slightly on wire racks before slicing.