Making home-made bread can be a bit of a pfaff, but I would like to bring to your attention a product that has a great results-to-effort ratio. It is a brand of bread mix called Francine, which allows you to make fantastic French-style breads with the minimum of effort. In the UK you can buy these products in the supermarket (we get them from Waitrose, but I expect they are available elsewhere too). Actually there is a small range -- 3 types as far as I know: Pain Rustique aux Cereales (aka Granary); Pain de Campagne (aka Crusty White); and Brioche. NB: none of these make the "Baguette" type that most people envisage when we say "French bread".
|The Francine bread mix|
The price of these products appears at first sight to be high -- about £1.79 for each packet, which makes a 750g loaf -- but you can't compare the result with your average Medium White Sliced. It's just in a different league. You have to compare it with the best premium loaf you can buy from an artisan baker. I know that Jane is a very experienced cook, and it is hardly fair to say that with the Francine mixes she produces a perfect loaf every time, but I think she'll not mind if I say anyone could do it, because these mixes are easy to use.
The mixes are suitable for using with a bread-maker or for hand-kneading. The key technique is that once kneaded the dough is proved under an inverted pyrex (or similar) bowl -- for some reason this seems to encourage the dough to rise upwards rather than outwards, in a regular shape, and it keeps the dough moist without going dry on the outer surface as it's proving. (It's almost like growing plants in a greenhouse!). Susequently, when you cook the dough, you put a bowl of water in the oven alongside it, to increase the humidity. This too contributes to the texture, keeping it from going tough. As I said, you get a perfect result every time.
|Pain Rustique aux cereales|
|The same loaf, sliced open|
Why not try making the brioche version, and serving the result topped with chopped fried bacon and mushrooms? Or maybe a creamy mixture of chopped watercress and mushrooms in a sauce made with a reduced-fat "cream" like Elmlea?
The crusty white variety is the perfect accompaniment to a snack meal of Saucisson Sec, Camembert cheese and a few radishes (but it DOES cry out for a generous spreading of unsalted butter -- maybe Beurre D'Isigny?)
The granary-style one is best (in my opinion) with a hearty soup -- maybe made with your own tomato puree? A nice touch is to make garlic bread. Try this simple method:- prepare in advance some garlic butter, by finely crushing a clove of garlic and a pinch of sea salt crystals into a large knob of butter. Toast some fairly thick slices of the bread. Apply the garlic butter just before serving, while the toast is still warm. You can't fail to enjoy it!