French Bread: Total Addiction!

A love affair with French bread! Bellanda ®

When people think of France, they often think of bread, cheese and wine. The products are so incredibly good that I have had countless meals consisting of just that, and would highly recommend it. However, before you run off and randomly pick a place to buy your bread, there are some things that you should know and look for. Not all bread in France is equal and not all bread sold here would be considered good by the locals. *Gasp!

Perhaps I have had too much time on my hands since I became ill two years ago, but have you ever wondered what makes French bread so good? Here is a little information that I wish I had before I came to France. In order to increase your chances of buying quality bread, look for the words boulangerie, boulanger or artisan on the exterior of the establishment. In 1993, an act concerning bread was passed and then amended into law in 1998 under the leadership of Jean-Pierre Raffarin.  As a bread lover who gained about 10 pounds on my first trip over to France, this is really a plus.

The bread act reserves the words boulanger and boulangerie for those establishments that use raw materials such as flour, water, yeast and salt. They knead their dough, monitor fermentation, shape and bake the bread in the place of sale. It also stipulates that the products used to make bread should at no time be frozen and that the bread in itself should not be frozen at any time. If these rules are not applied, the establishment must write the term dépôt de pain(s) or pain(s) on the exterior of the bakery.

This little piece of trivia might save your taste buds, and your meal. In addition, it could even save you the embarrassment of offering stale and dry tasting bread to your French friends. Yes, I’m not proud, but I have shamefully done this.

So, what is the secret is to making French bread? What do they do to it to make it so crunchy and delicious? Is it possible for nonprofessionals to make decent bread? Could I make French bread? While wondering all of these things, it struck me that I was living in a city full of truly amazing bread. Why would I even want to try to bake my own bread? Yeah, I’m crazy… my dear sweet man and I began testing whether we could come close to baking what might be considered, French bread. That is to say, if any bread could ever be considered French having been made by someone from New York. In doing so, I have eaten more bread than any petite woman should be proud of, but it was a lot of fun trying.

One of our many attempts at making bread. BELLANDA ®

One of our many attempts at making bread… I forgot to slant the knife when slicing the top, so it doesn’t have that pretty flaky layer crunch. Just another excuse to make more bread.
BELLANDA ®

I am not a professional baker, nor do I claim to be. This experiment gave me new-found respect for all of those bakers out there, making bread to feed the mouths of many. After more trial and errors than I can count, using various kinds of flour, proportions and techniques, we I have finally come up with an easy way to make bread. It is as close as we can get to the real thing. In addition, it stays good and fresh for 4-5 days!

In fact, we actually prefer our bread to that of any dépôt de pain(s). I know that this is going to sound crazy coming from someone who lives in France, but after realizing that I had turned more stale bread from uneaten baguettes into breadcrumbs than we could possibly use, we eventually stopped buying all kinds of bread.

We make bread about once a week (1 kilo of flour), that is unless my French in-laws are here. Then, we need to make it almost daily. Apparently, it is our fault, we are told. They just keep saying, “We can’t stop eating it!” Coming from my in-laws this is a true complement… both of their fathers were French boulangers!

After their most recent 10 day visit, I decided that opening a boulangerie is out of the question for me. I had a hard time keeping up with their bread appetites and couldn’t even imagine the number of hours it takes to make enough bread to feed such a bread loving country. As easy as our recipe is, I would have no life! Instead, I have decided to share the recipe with all of you. Depending on where you live and on your tastes, you will need to adapt the ingredients to your liking. For those of you who live in the USA, this might be a challenge due to the lack of flour varieties. Before I moved to France, I thought there was only one kind of all-purpose flour… silly me! Apparently, there are many different kinds. If you do manage to make the recipe work over there, please let people know how you did it in the comments section of the blog.

Let’s get started! Believe it or not, you don’t need many ingredients to make delicious bread.

Ingredients: Flour, Fresh Bread Yeast, Water, Flour BELLANDA ®

Ingredients: Bread Flour, Fresh Bread Yeast, Water, Salt, Flour
BELLANDA ®

For those of you who have been waiting for this recipe, I’m so sorry for the delay. I hope that the wait will be well worth it.

UPDATE:

Due to a “Nouvelle Recette” (New Recipe) for the brand of flour we used in our original recipe, we have made changes to our recipe. We now use 1/2 a kilo of flour Type-65 and 1/2 kilo of flour Type-80. This has gotten us as close to our original finished product as possible. If you find something that works better, please don’t hesitate to mention the flour in the comments section, and we will give it a try.

Ingredients for original recipe:

1 kilo of flour – ( 1/2 a kilo of flour Type-65 and 1/2 kilo of flour Type-80 )

625 grams of warm water

25 grams of Fresh Bread Yeast (I buy GB Extra Duo Cubes 2 x 25 g ) No, they are also not paying me to write about them. 😉

14 – 16 grams of salt (to your liking)

We use a mixer with a hook and carefully place the ingredients in a certain order. I am sure you can do this your own way, or even mix it by hand, but now that we found this to work best, we try to do it the same each time.

  • Add half of the water into the bowl. Then, add the 25 grams of Fresh Bread Yeast broken up into pieces into the warm water.
  • Add half of the flour on top of the water/yeast mixture.
  • Add the rest of the water, followed by the rest of the flour.
  • Lastly, add the salt (Be sure not to let the salt get in contact with the yeast)
Mix Ingredients BELLANDA ®

Mix Ingredients
BELLANDA ®

  • Mix ingredients until the flour mixture comes completely off of the sides of the bowl.
Mix ingredients until the flour mixture comes completely off of the sides of the bowl. Bellanda ®

Mix ingredients until the flour mixture comes completely off of the sides of the bowl.
Bellanda ®

  • Remove dough from hook. Cover with a cloth or plastic wrap and let sit in the bowl for about 30-40 minutes, or until the dough doubles in size.
Bread Dough Should Double in Size after around 30-40 minutes. Bellanda ®

Bread Dough Should Double in Size after around 30-40 minutes in a bowl covered in plastic.
Bellanda ®

  • Remove dough from bowl and knead with a little extra flour on the counter, pushing the air out.
  • Form dough into desired shape or shapes. You can make one very large loaf or divide it up as you would like.
  • Place on wax paper and cover with a cloth.
  • Let rise for another 20-30 minutes.
  • Warm oven to 240°C Bake  // 460°F  Bake – Place a water recipient in the oven. You can put the water in at this moment or  wait until your dough is ready for baking (we wait until we put bread dough in oven). The water will help give the bread that crispy exterior/moist interior that French bread is famous for.
Various Bread Forms and  Bellanda ®

A Couple of the Many Bread Forms you can make and Tools Bellanda ®

  • Slice the bread in a slanted, sideways motion.
  • You may want to use a spray bottle to mist a little water on the surface of the dough before popping it into the oven.
  • Promptly place the dough into the oven (on the same wax paper you used when making the dough rise).
  • Immediately lower the temperature to 220°C // 430°F
  • Bake for around 20-25 minutes, or until desired coloring of the bread.
  • Remove from oven and place on a cooling rack.
Fresh bread hot out of the oven! Bellanda ®

Freshly baked bread, hot out of the oven!
Bellanda ®

Sit back and enjoy the smell of freshly baked bread wafting throughout your kitchen. Your ears will also get a treat from the wonderful crackling sound the bread makes when removed from the oven. My mouth is watering just thinking about it!

Total bread addiction! Bellanda ®

Total bread addiction!
Bellanda ®

 ENJOY!

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Gotta love French Pastry Chefs!

Now this is what I call a cake!  In French, it's called a  "Fraisier" - just in case you want to try one during one of your visits.

Now this is what I call a cake!
Bellanda ®

Now this is what I call a birthday cake! 

Sharing my delicious birthday cake with all of you because you are awesome… any takers? 🙂 YUMMY!

 Oh, in case you want to try one during one of your visits to France, it’s called a “Fraisier.”

Paris, Chinatown – Letting you in on our favorite restaurant and pastry shop!

Feature Photo for Chinese New Year Resto picks 2013

Images/Graphics by Bellanda ®

I have been going back and forth on the subject of revealing some of my favorite places to eat in Paris ever since I started my Twitter account (@BellandaInParis).  At the time, I was rather reticent.  I’m a private person when it comes to keeping my family life and my public life separate, and believe it or not this subject actually became a household one.  There was even a fleeting moment during the discussion in which I was horrified to discover that I have a selfish side I never knew existed.  What if everyone found out about these places and there were no tables left for us?  I was appalled!  Could I be that selfish?  I quickly tried to push that thought out of my head as my dear man and I decided that it would be best to keep the places we frequent to ourselves.  At the time I convinced myself that I was just protecting my family.  That seemed to ease my conscience, somehow… that is, until the day when I started my blog.

It’s funny how a blog can put a whole new perspective on the way you look at things.  In addition, there is a lovely relationship developing with those of you who follow my blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts that I never imagined.  Your tweets, comments and interactions have touched me greatly, and the tremendous support I have received on my relatively new blog has amazed me.  It feels much like a ‘family’ the way you share your stories and experiences in the comment section of this blog.  I love what is developing here… and it seems only normal to share with you.  I mean, how could I not let you in on some of these places?

On one of our last visits to Paris, Chinatown.  I just had to share this wonderful experience with you.  The restaurant that I am going to let you in on is called “La Lune.”  At first sight, you might walk by this place… but don’t!  We have tried many places over the years, but have been going to this little ‘find’ for the last seven years.

Images/Graphics by Bellanda ®

Images/Graphics by Bellanda ®

I couldn’t stop myself from taking pictures for you and wouldn’t let anyone eat until I had taken at least one good shot of a few of our favorite dishes.  I tend to be a bit of a perfectionist, which can be slightly annoying if you are hungry and the person standing between you and the food is taking their time to carefully place the dish, moving it around in such a way so as to show the food as it should be presented.  I have to admit, I’m lucky.  I think my little ones and sweet man are starting to go with the whole photo blogging flow of things… but after a while the kids were like, “Okay, Mom, can we eat now?”

The food is the best we have found in Paris, Chinatown to this day.  No, we haven’t tried everywhere, but it did take us 3 years to find this place and we have no intention of going elsewhere.  I think you will understand why when you see the photos.

Nems, as they are called here.  I can feel my mouth beginning to water for these crispy delights!

Nems, as they are called here… They are crispy delights!
Photo by Bellanda ®

Spicy Caramel PorkPhoto by Bellanda ®

Spicy Caramel Pork served in the pan it was cooked in!
Photo by Bellanda ®

Let me start by saying, no, they are not worms!  This is a sort of country style pasta that goes amazingly well with our usual Spicy Caramel Pork.Photo by Bellanda ®

Let me start by saying, no, these are not worms.  This is a sort of country-style pasta noodle that goes amazingly well with our Spicy Caramel Pork.
Photo by Bellanda ®

As we were leaving the restaurant, the owner gave us each an orange for luck and wealth in the New Year of the Snake.  With stomachs full and a happy heart, we walked down the road to our next favorite spot.  The sights were wonderful to see.  We happened upon some of the Chinese New Year celebrations.

Images/Graphics by Bellanda ®

Happy New Year and Good Health Banners lined the streets as local merchants prepared for a parade.
Images/Graphics by Bellanda ®

For us, no visit to Paris, Chinatown would be complete without stopping off at our favorite pastry shop.  It’s not surprising to find a line, but we definitely believe it well worth the wait if you are looking for delicious traditional Chinese cakes, cookies and pastries.

Images/Graphics by Bellanda ®

Images/Graphics by Bellanda ®

Take a look at some of their specialties!

On the left, you will find a vanilla cake that is cooked using vapor.  At first I cringed at the idea of a cake being cooked by vapor, but am happy we listened to the wonderful sales lady who recommended it.  One little detail not to be missed is that this cake can only be found during the Chinese New Year season.Photo by Bellanda ®

Photo by Bellanda ®

On the left, you will find a moist vanilla cake that is cooked by using steam.  At first I cringed at the idea, but I am happy we listened to the wonderful sales lady who recommended it.  Oh, one little detail not to be missed is that this cake can only be found during the Chinese New Year season.

Candied Coconut and Candied Lotus Seeds are also Chinese New Year treats found once a year.Photo by Bellanda ®

Candied Coconut and Candied Lotus Seeds are also Chinese New Year treats found once a year.
Photo by Bellanda ®

We obviously haven’t tried everything, but have every intention to do so.  With each visit, we add something new to our ever-growing list of favorites.  And yes, we wait impatiently for the ‘coco confit’ each year and have added the moist vanilla steamed cake to the list of New Year’s treats.  If you are like us, we stock up and fill up to help us wait it out.  In the meantime, their various other cakes and cookies fill the void perfectly.

There you have it!  Now that I’ve revealed our two favorite Paris, Chinatown locations… the only request I make is that if by some chance you happen to be at the restaurant… and there are no tables left for us… would you mind sharing yours like one big happy family?

Somehow I feel I might need to apologize for this blog post.  As my mouth waters and my stomach growls, perhaps I should have warned you that reading this would lead to the possibility of making you hungry for Chinese Food.  I don’t know about you, but I know what I am going to eat as soon as possible!

New Year’s dinner should be something special, right? However, French chef… I am not!

Feature photo 16 9 New Year’s Dinner3

All photos by Bellanda ®

As pathetic as it might seem, my New York mentality of ‘I’ll just grab something/deliver something’ meant that I had absolutely no idea how to cook until I came to France.  When I say I couldn’t cook, I’m not exaggerating.  Just about the only thing I could make is pasta that someone could actually use as wallpaper paste.  This is probably a crime in France, so let’s hope this blog post doesn’t go ‘viral’ or I might get in some real trouble!

Shortly after arriving in France, I was cooking with a friend and started cutting up mushrooms.  He looked at me with big eyes and tried ever so sweetly to say, “Ummmm… maybe it would be better if you peel them first.”

Peel mushrooms?  Oh my!  Some people actually peel mushrooms?  Apparently, yes, and while we are on the subject they peel tomatoes too!  This was the beginning of my rude awakening.  Thank goodness I made a lot of really great friends when I arrived.  Most of them were younger than I, but all of them actually knew how to cook and didn’t mind helping out the poor American who gave Americans a bad name.  Sorry, everyone!

A little more than 10 years later, I have made a lot of progress.  I’ve managed to make a traditional Quiche Lorraine at the flip of a hat, and have even made a truly delicious Ratatouille from vegetables I picked with the family on a farm nearby Paris.  Admittedly, it took me almost four hours to make my mother-in-law’s secret recipe (also not an exaggeration, in case you were wondering).

I stood… and stood… and stood some more while cutting and cooking to her exact precisions.  As I did this, I heard myself say aloud, “Love is… making Ratatouille for your sweet French man,” and then let out a little giggle.  Words escaped my lips, yet again, “If he ever wondered how much I love him, he will know now!”  My smile became wide as I looked around at the kitchen and thought, if only my mother could see me now!  My giggle turned to a laugh.

Yes, I talk to myself at times, especially when cooking but since my blog is G rated I’ll leave out some of the words that might have slipped out while I burned and cut myself.  Although I do indeed love my French man, and the Ratatouille was as he put it, “even better than my Mom’s,” once was enough for me!  Oh, and no, my mother-in-law doesn’t speak nor read English so I took the liberty of including that last line.

My sweet French man has also taught me a trick or two, so today I can say I do the ‘everyday’ kind of cooking.  No, I’m definitely not patting myself on the back when I say that.  When we want something more gourmet or when we invite people over I become completely unglued with panic at the thought of cooking for French people.  As a result, I leave all of the serious cooking to my man!  He has this fearless and admirable quality of trying out new recipes for guests that puts me in a tizzy. I mean really, what if it doesn’t come out right?

He just looks at me with a smile in his nonchalant French way, and says, “Don’t worry.  Everything’s gonna be alright.” Personally, I think he got that expression from the song, but that is beside the point.  Anyway, he is always right!  Although the kitchen looks like a bomb has gone off when he finishes, what comes out is always delicious!  That’s why I didn’t hesitate when he offered to cook New Year’s dinner at my in-laws when we realized that nothing special had been planned.

My sweet man searched the internet and came up with yet another new recipe.   This time he found one from a website called 750 Grammes.  It looked absolutely delicious!  In French it is called, Turbot croustillant aux champignons, écume de champagne.  Roughly translated, it means crispy mushroom turbot with champagne sauce… somehow it sounds better in French.  Oh, and most importantly… they make no mention of the secret ingredient in the Recipe Name!

When my sweet man’s mother looked at the recipe, she kept saying, “Are you sure you want to make this?  It sounds really complicated.  Why don’t we just make something simple?”

Of course I supported him because I knew of his culinary talents. Although there were quite a few steps it didn’t look that difficult… even for my standards.  It would be the perfect way to ring in the New Year!

We woke up early on the morning of the 31st and made a list of all of the ingredients.  I know, there is nothing like last-minute shopping, but to be honest we are rather used to this kind of thing. No problem, or so we thought!  My in-laws live in a small village, in the mountains of the south of France and well, Paris it’s not!

“Oh, you don’t have a fish market nearby?”

“No, you’ll have to go to a supermarket, about 40 minutes away.”

We looked at each other.  I had panic in my eyes, yet in his he had somehow managed to keep his cool French go with the swing of things.  I knew they had a fish department in that supermarket, but we’ve never bought fish there.  Go ahead; don’t be afraid to say it.  Apparently, we’ve become spoiled ‘Parisians’ who have not one but two markets around the corner. They are open 3 times a week, so this is where we pretty much purchase all of our fish, meats and vegetables.

My sweet man and his Dad decided to do the groceries (Yes, I know how lucky I am).  When they came home he looked at me, and for the first time, I saw a fleeting glimmer of panic that quickly turned back to, “Everything’s gonna be alright.”

He opened the bags and this is what I saw!

Fish      CRAB

“What are we supposed to do with that?  You didn’t ask them to fillet and clean everything? ”

“Of course, but they said they don’t do that there.”

I don’t think my eyes could have gotten any bigger.  My sweet man laughed at me and told me that the lady in the fish department told him it would be easy to do.  If we didn’t have to drive 40 minutes each way, I would have gotten in the car to tell her how just how wrong she was.

At around 9:00 PM our 7-year-old came into the kitchen and said, “I’m hungry.  Is dinner almost ready?”  I looked at my poor sweet man trying to pull the skin off of the fish, then looked at my son and offered to make him a little sandwich to help him wait till dinner was ready.  Of course our daughter followed, eating her own little sandwich.

I kept looking at the clock.  With each click of the clock I began to feel more and more anxious. I started to notice that the cool relaxed feeling in the kitchen had become more like a well oiled machine.  There was an increasing feeling of stress developing.  Everyone was moving in all directions, busily doing something… and then there was me.  I would try to help, but I’m not sure I was really much of a help at all.  To make matters worse, every now and then I would say, “Wait, could I take a picture of that before you continue?”  Sometimes I had to take 2-3 photos, moving the plate around to get the right angle.  Terrible I know, but yes, I dared to do that!

20121231_221009       20121231_22225920121231_224845

I’m new at all of this blogging stuff, but have started to realize it is amazing what one will do for a blog post!  I would have loved to take more pictures, but as time kept ticking, the room became a more and more active and I thought it wise to stop asking them to let me shoot a photo. I mean really, they were all walking around with knives!  I’m not that crazy… even for a blog!

We were so busy rushing to eat this delicious meal before midnight that we didn’t take a photo of the finished, beautifully decorated dish.  By the time we finally sat down for dinner, it was around 11 PM.  The little ones thought this was the coolest day ever, “Can’t believe we get to stay up so late!”

Under the conditions of being in a remote village, and the fact that we are far from knowledgeable on how to clean fish,  the preparation for this meal took so much longer to prepare than to eat.  That said we are already looking forward to making it again… but ONLY in Paris and ONLY on market day!  😉   It was truly delicious and we highly recommend it.

A great big thank you to my very sweet man for not giving up on making us an absolutely delicious and special New Year’s dinner, and to 750 Grammes  http://www.750g.com  for such a delicious recipe.

*** For those who would like to check out the video for the recipe and see the finished product, here is the link.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZCDKmAg8UTc

Wishing you all a wonderful 2013… may all of your personal and professional dreams come true.  I look forward to continuing my blogging journey with you.

Pardoning ‘Tom the Turkey’ in Paris for Thanksgiving This Year

All photos by Bellanda ®

 

Taking time to appreciate nature this Thanksgiving…
Bois de Vincennes – Paris, France

Well, today is the day… the day when most Americans will sit down to a delicious meal with a great big turkey as their main course.  Even my expat friends from all over the world will be celebrating Thanksgiving either today or this weekend.  However, this year we have decided to pardon ‘Tom the Turkey.’

No, I don’t go around naming all of the animals or vegetables I eat, nor am I crazy (Yes, I agree, that last part might be up for discussion).  My point being, there was indeed a real ‘Tom the Turkey’ and he changed my life forever.

When I was five, my parents had an absolutely brilliant idea (at least they thought it was a brilliant idea at first).  They decided that it was healthier to buy a fresh turkey as opposed to one of the frozen ones that they usually bought in the supermarket.  What better way to get a healthy turkey than to go to a turkey farm?  So, my parents, two brothers and one sister and I all jumped into the car rather excited to actually visit a farm.

We lived about 35 minutes from Manhattan and to be quite honest had never been to any kind of farm whatsoever.  I was filled with excitement, but truly had no idea of the meaning behind all of this.  All I knew was that we would see animals on the farm and for a five-year old with no pets, that’s rather cool, or so I thought.

When we arrived I couldn’t believe my eyes.  Turkeys were walking around everywhere!  My parents told us to check out the turkeys and pick one out while they talked to the people who worked on the farm.  We of course did as we were told with huge smiles on our faces.  We found the most beautiful one of all and gave him a name.  This was the first time in our lives the four of us agreed on anything so quickly. Tom…it had to be Tom! (Sorry for all of you out there with the same name, but Tom the Turkey just kind of has a nice ring to it, don’t you think?)

Our parents headed in our direction, “Did you pick out a turkey?”

“Yes, isn’t he gorgeous? We named him Tom.  Can we take him home now?”  I was so proud!

This is the moment when I saw a strange look in the eyes of my parents, as they realized that perhaps they weren’t quite clear as to what we were actually doing there. Thus followed a ‘big’ discussion as to where our food comes from.

“You mean you’re going to kill him?” Tears rolled down my cheeks.

My brother asked, “You want us to EAT Tom?”

All four of us began to cry as each proclaimed never to eat Tom.  He was our new pet, not our dinner!  As our Mom tried to explain where all meat comes from, my mind began spin and my smile had long faded.  I had never really thought about it before.  How could I not have known this before?  In an attempt to try to appease, us our parents bought a different turkey from that farm.

On Thanksgiving Day my Mom cooked the turkey, placed it on the table, and all four of us children looked at it unlike any other turkey before.   I just sat there looking at this poor cooked turkey thinking that I would have been happy just to eat the mashed potatoes.  Once again, tears rolled down my face.  I couldn’t eat a thing.  This was perhaps the quietest Thanksgiving dinner in the history of our family.  None of us children would eat the turkey, let alone allow our Mom to put it in our dishes. We watched our parents eat as if it were a criminal offense.  My poor well-meaning parents felt terrible.  It was the first and last farm bought turkey they ever purchased. Once again, our parents tried to explain the food chain, and where all the meat we have eaten for years comes from and that this was no different.

However, for me, this couldn’t have been furthest from the truth. In fact, everything was different, and nothing would ever be the same.  Something changed in me. Traumatized from this moment forward, I didn’t eat turkey or any other meat willingly until my early thirties. Yes, it took me that long to get over it!

As I said, I am indeed over the whole meat trauma and even enjoy eating meat today.  So, why pardon ‘Tom the Turkey’ this year?  I’d love to say that it was because I was traumatized as a child, because that would make for a good excuse.  However, that wouldn’t even be close to the truth.  The truth is actually embarrassingly pathetic.  Although it is indeed possible to find all the fixings and a turkey, I just don’t have all of the extra energy it takes to put all of this together in Paris this year.

Even though we are pardoning Tom this year, my family and I will take this day, as we do each day, to be thankful for all we have.  Life is a gift and each breath we take a blessing.  We are indeed thankful to have each other, and I am thankful to be sharing this Thanksgiving with you via Internet.  May your Thanksgivings be filled with happiness, love and wonderful stories around the table reminiscing.

Next year, I promise to make a delicious turkey… Although, there is one thing I am sure of – he won’t be named Tom.

Happy Thanksgiving!