SUMMER IN FRANCE
The French Open, the traditional harbinger of another summer, skidded by in a flurry of so many thunderstorms, each French loss weighing as heavy and thick as the gray clouds that hung over the courts. No joy in Mudville, as I say, as another tennis tournament came and went with nary a change in either the national spirit or the weather. May unfolded into June and we were still bundled up in sweaters and raincoats, trudging to market in the chilly drizzle of a season loathe to leave, heating up soup and crusty warm baguette.
Next on the calendar was The World Cup. Yup! The World Cup. Now, this does not happen every summer, which makes the Holy Grail of all football events very much anticipated! But this year the country followed Les Bleus rather half-heartedly down to South Africa; maybe their lukewarm enthusiasm was due in part to the gloomy weather, the steel gray skies dragging them down and instilling a sense of doom. As the days and the matches rolled by, passing one after the next before our anxious eyes as, hands clasped, hearts pounding, we prayed for a miracle as we have been praying for a turn in the weather. Days passed, and although our spirits sunk, the sun slowly appeared over the rooftops, the dusky clouds turned fluffy white lambs skipping across the porcelain blue skies and suddenly picnic season had arrived. Summer.
The clock ticks and the Tour de France waits for no man…or football match. As we impatiently wait for the quarterfinals to light up television screens around the world, so many men in tight shorts and jerseys will be lining up at the starting gate and pedaling off for that most famous whirl around the country of romance. Turn on a television set in France anytime of day or night during these first two weeks of July and all you will see are men on bikes. Men on bikes. Men on bikes. And cars and screaming fans lining the roadsides and standing much too close to the roar of the wheels. The French love their bike race with unmatched zeal, and now that les Bleus have been eliminated from the World Cup and sent home, maybe their countrymen will be able to concentrate comme il faut on the Tour. And maybe not. Europeans are football fans before anything else and their eyes will be riveted onto their screens as they sit down to dinner. Happily, the Tour de France ends at sundown every day, leaving the French free every evening to tune into football.
The French calendar is defined by sporting events and between tennis, football and biking, among all the rest, we are carried through the summer days straight up until the moment that the French can pack their swimsuits and load up their cars and head to their summer vacation on the beach. Nothing, absolutely nothing, not even their beloved sports will keep them home. More than their sports and their favorite teams, the French love nothing more than les vacances!
As for this American, well, let us just say that sports on tv does little more than make me hungry. Rugby match, you say? How about a plateful of scones warm from the oven or a slice of dense, gooey chocolate cake? World Cup match on tonight? Homemade pizza anyone? As we move from a rainy, chilly, dreary end of spring to a brilliantly sunny, sizzling hot summer, the coffee table in front of the tv gets loaded down with salads or taboulé, cold soups of cucumbers or tomatoes, bowls of ice cream and fresh strawberry treats. I spread the red checkered cloth on the table and, dashing between kitchen and living room, make sure everyone is well fed, tummies full, the wine chilled and the bread fresh. As husband surfs through the channels – his only sport – if I see one image of a man’s lycra-clad butt perched upon the seat of a bike as he pedals through small towns or winds through mountains, I bury my face in my hands and yell “No! No! No!” until the channel is changed once again. I sit snuggled up against husband or we each take one sofa and prop up our legs (lucky is he or she that gets a warm dog curled up in his/her lap) and watch the World Cup, our only concession to football, and clap our hands as our chosen team scores or groan loudly as the ball flies off into the heavens, and we let ourselves get carried away. And the 4th of July slips by quietly, unnoticed like a cat slithering through the room only rubbing gently against my legs to remind me that Simon’s birthday is the following day and a cake must be made.
And as for that summer vacation? Well, this year we fly off to steamy Florida. I will save that for another post. Meanwhile, I’ve baked bread. I returned to a favorite recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Zoë François and Jeff Hertzberg M.D. I wanted to bake for Zorra’s (of 1x umrühren bitte aka kochtopf) Bread Baking Day this month and her theme is nuts! So I took this wonderful, perfect Challah recipe – I wanted to make the brioche but thought it a bit too rich for every day – and created a swirl of buttery maple hazelnuts in the soft golden bread. I sprinkled the top with more chopped hazelnuts and, as soon as it was out of the oven, I brushed more maple syrup over the golden crust. Perfect! The bread is stunningly perfect, light and moist as a great Challah should be with a wonderful nutty hazelnut crunch and redolent of pure maple syrup.
And I'd like to send this to Susan of Wild Yeast for Yeastspotting!
My latest article is up on Huffington Post Food: Football, Food and Nationality.
Is there one factor, one measure of knowing when a new community is totally integrated? As individuals, families, and whole communities emigrate, they bring with them their eating habits and traditions…
Please don’t hesitate to leave a comment after the article to continue the debate! And please share with your friends! Thanks and hope you like it!
My Challah loaf with hazelnut malpe swirl is a featured recipe on the cool new site Maple Syrup World, a world dedicated to maple syrup products, information and great recipes!
CHALLAH LOAF WITH HAZELNUT MAPLE SWIRL
For step-by-step images click here.
This recipe makes four 1-lb (500 g) loaves.
1 ¾ cups lukewarm water
1 ½ Tbs active dry yeast
1 ½ Tbs Kosher salt
4 large eggs, lightly beaten
½ cup honey
½ cup unsalted butter (or neutral-tasting vegetable oil), melted and slightly cooled
7 cups flour
Egg wash (1 egg beaten with 1 Tbs water)
About ½ cup or more coarsely chopped hazelnuts
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the yeast, salt, eggs, honey and melted butter (warm, not hot) with the water.
Mix in the flour without kneading, using a wooden spoon, a food processor or stand mixer. I used the spoon. Stir and fold just until all of the flour is blended into the wet ingredients and is moist.
Cover with plastic wrap (not airtight) and allow to stand at room temperature for 2 hours. The dough should rise then collapse.
The dough can be used right away but is easier to work with when chilled. I made the dough the day before I made the Challah. Simply knock down the dough to deflate then cover with a fresh piece of plastic wrap and put in the refrigerator.
To prepare the bread:
I used a small 6 x 3 ¾ x 2 ¼ inch cardboard loaf pan given to me by my great friend Clare. I pulled off a grapefruit-sized ball of dough (1 pound/500 g) from the chilled dough and placed on a well-floured work surface. Now, as you will see from the photographs, the pan was too small or the dough was too much (a regular loaf tin would work), but it still came out perfectly!
I gently kneaded the dough, adding extra flour, until it was no longer sticky. I very gently rolled the dough out to a rectangle of about 6 x 10 inches with the narrow side towards me. I brushed the surface all the way to the edges with about 1 tablespoon (15 g) of very softened butter then I brushed/dabbed on about 2 tablespoons of maple syrup. I sprinkled on ¼ to ½ cup coarsely chopped hazelnuts.
Using my dough scraper to help it along, I carefully rolled up the dough, rolled it in a bit more flour and somehow lifted it into the waiting loaf pan.
Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow it to rest for 1 hour 20 minutes (40 minutes for unchilled, freshly-made dough). It should double in size.
Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash and sprinkle on more coarsely chopped hazelnuts.
Bake in the preheated oven for 25 minutes for a 9-inch loaf pan; I baked mine for 40 minutes as my loaf pan was too small. The top of the loaf should be a deep golden brown (don’t hesitate to cover the bread with a piece of foil during the baking if you think it is browning too quickly) and crusty and the inside should spring back when pressed in the center. The top cracks a bit and I could peek in a see when the insides were done.
Remove from the oven and immediately brush the top of the loaf liberally with about 2 tablespoons of maple syrup.
Allow to cool before slicing.