Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Baking with Julia

I just can't get enough of Julia Child. Gutsy and nuts, big and wild and precise, swooping voice and all, she has provided serious inspiration for me (and the rest of the universe) since I awoke to her unique charms a few years ago. I don't cook from her work all that much, but I like watch her, read her writing, and stand in awe of her remarkable career, marriage, and life. I knew that things had gotten serious when I caught myself waxing eloquent about the inspiration I drew from Julia during a family river 'retreat' on Yom Kippur two years ago. I want to live as she lived, with joy and with gusto. And yet I rarely make her recipes.

About a year ago, Matt's mother gave me a wonderful gift of hand-me-down cookbooks, including Mastering the Art of French Cooking, Vol. 1, and From Julia Child's Kitchen. Something about having these well-loved copies around has inspired me to give them a little more use. Pencil notations show up at odd moments, and the whole affair just feels more friendly. And yes, I watch French Chef DVDs while I do it.  This weekend, under the pretense of 'recipe testing for the bakery,' I made Julia's croissants, and while I was at it threw in a repeat of her French Bread recipe (had to have something to make the TWD bread pudding).
The croissants were hands down the best I've ever made. All other recipes, however much they might have refined my technique and added to the success of this one, are now off the table. These are the croissants. No fooling. Hopefully I'll be introducing them at the bakery soon, and giving some competition to the Balthazar version being sold down the street.

Getting myself into Julia mindset makes me feel strong, domineering, capable, quirky, and joyful. Makes me feel like I could find more and more to my life's calling the older I get. That I can make friends all over this world. That there is honor in pastry and truth at the table. That I'm much better at making bread than the last time I attempted Julia's French Bread recipe, and it makes a difference.

It's actually been a while since I made a plain, white flour, yeasted loaf. Julia's was simple, and the crumb was soft and sweet. Maybe I'll even bring it over to the bakery this weekend, to make amends for last weekend's flour disaster. It wasn't too exciting for avocado toast, which demands a sturdy, nutty, whole-grain affair, but for dipping and sandwiches and that bread pudding, it was perfect. The trick was definitely in the two long fermentations (about 3.5 hours total) and in the initial folding before the dough was strong enough to be hand-kneaded. Love the dough scraper, that and the scale are the best tools to enter my kitchen in ages.

Thanks again, Julia, for everything. It was a great weekend with you, and I hope we'll have many more wonderful years. Thanks, Gwyn, for the cookbooks, and Matt for the photos, and Miriam, for eating the last croissant and saving us from ourselves.


Nichicakes said...

those croissants are gorgeous!

Vicki said...

Wow! Croissants.....I am impressed.

Alpha Baker Joan said...

Can smell and taste them - rich and buttery!

faithy said...

Wow!! The bread and croissants are gorgeous! I haven't had the guts to make them!

Nicola said...

Amazing! You make it sound easy.

Ruby K said...

I WILL BUY YOUR CROISSANTS anytime they're available down the street when I'm around. SRSLY