Tuesday, February 24, 2009

About

Those of you who know my other blog, the French-language Bombance (which I don't have time to update anymore unfortunately but which I'll keep alive as long as it gets visitors), already know that I am French, that I have been living in the US for over 30 years and that I am passionate about bread, bread making, bread tasting, bread eating, bread blogs, bread books, bread pictures, bread everything.
I love to visit bakeries, purchase and taste bread and talk to bakers, I also love visiting old-fashioned mills, buy flour and talk to millers. (I have only done it twice so far but both times it was a great experience.) 
I come from a long line of bread-baking women as my paternal great-grandmother and her mom and grandma and great-grandma (I'll stop there, I'm sure you get the picture) before her were in charge of baking the family bread. It was customary in Southwest France in the old days, not that I ever saw it done as that way of life disappeared way before I was born but I guess it's in my genes. My Dad however remembered it very well. Every two weeks dough would be mixed at home, then baked in the communal oven. Every woman scored her mark on the loaves so that they could be identified when they came out of the oven. These loaves were enormous six-pounders and, being made with starter, they kept very well...
As to "farine", it is the French word for "flour". Why would I want to give a French name to an English-language blog? Well, because you can take the proverbial woman out of France but not France out of the woman ;-) and anyway you'd be bound to notice that Farine isn't 100% American even if I tried my best to make it so.
My interest in passion for bread goes back a long long time. I can date it exactly back to the summer when my husband, our 3-year old daughter, our 2-year old son and I went from France to Scandinavia for a summer vacation. We had family in Denmark but we went first to Norway where one of my first cousins lived. He was then married to Anja, who was from Finland. At their house, the very same day we were introduced both to incredibly delicious home-made bread (at the time, it hadn't even entered my French consciousness that bread could be made at home, which shows how disconnected from my ancestors I was) and to a very educational (especially for our kids who were goggle-eyed) extended family sauna session. So how can I ever forget when it all started?
To show you that I am not kidding when I say I fell in love with homemade bread on that day, look! Here is the recipe! I have saved it all these years (38 and counting) and it followed me from Norway to Denmark to France to the United States. Doesn't it tell you something?

I never made Anja's bread as none of the ingredients were available in Paris at the time, so I am not going to translate the recipe unless someone writes to tell me they really really want it. But I just re-read it and I can see that Anja was using a sour starter and no yeast at all, and that her starter didn't contain any flour, it was made with 100% sour milk.
So my interest in wild yeast goes indeed way way back (my interest in saunas wasn't so long-lived and no, I have no pictures of that day!) and it lay dormant (just like wild yeast) for years and years.
The person who woke it up is Nancy Silverton. When her book, Breads from La Brea Bakery, came out in 1996, I got one of the first copies and never looked back. The bread bug had found me again and this time, it bit me for good and never let go.
Twenty-three years later, in 2009, retirement helped make one of my dreams come true: in January of that year, I attended two Artisan bread workshops at the San Francisco Baking Institute. It was truly the learning experience I had hoped it would be and I enjoyed every minute of it.
I am going back there for more classes throughout the year and hope to be able to share with you on Farine what I learn.
Meanwhile I practice, practice, practice (just as if I were going to the Carnegie Hall of bread) and we eat, eat, eat bread. It helps that my daughter now has 5 kids and lives close by. No bread goes to waste here, unless it is so awful that I can't even foist it onto the birds.
So please come on board for the ride, share your ideas, leave your comments, send me pictures and recipes, I am game for anything as long as it has to do with bread and most especially, with wild yeast. Welcome to Farine!

11 comments:

  1. I so many times refer to my mother as my inspiration for becoming a chef because she is French, though she doesn't bake bread her stories of the village she grew up in during the second world war remind me so much of the village baking your family practiced. Though my mother was left with a farmers family by her parents, orphaned, she loved the serenity of nature and I think she took all the good healthful eating habits from that experience, even though frugal especially through the war.
    She recounted the way families would bring there loaves to the communal oven and bake huge loaves of peasant Miche's that would mature and taste so good, and lasted for as along as a week. When the leftover was staled, it was used in various dishes so as not too waste.

    Thanks for your wonderful sight and wonderful bread!

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  2. Thanks, Jeremy, for your encouragements. Sounds to me we have the same bread genes... :-)

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  3. I loved reading more about you - we're 70Km SE of Paris, but we want to move to the SW (Albi, Toulouse, etc.) such a beautiful area!
    We'd love to have you WIP - you don't need to blog about your craft, you can join our flickr group : http://www.flickr.com/groups/wipwednesday/ and post any pictures of what you're working on on Wednesdays! Gros bisous!

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  4. Hi, shellyfish, thanks for the invite. I put in a request to join the flickr group. Meanwhile why don't you email me your address at banette@gmail.com? I'd love to get to know you a little better too. :-)

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  5. I am so glad you stopped by my blog! Funny that you have family in Nantes! Do you ever come visit? And I am a bread fanatic too! Love baking bread although I'm not such an expert as you are. I so look forward to following your blog and your baking adventures!

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  6. Wow, really love your blog. I just tried Gerard's bread for the first time today and came home and told my wife that I had just found the best bread in the world! Is there any way to get a nice thick crust on with a regular stove?
    Please keep posting! Love it!
    Jeff

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  7. Thank you for your visit and for your kind words, Jeff! I am glad you like the blog and especially happy you love Gerard's bread as much as I do. Yes, it is quite possible to get a nice thick crust with a regular oven. See my post on Rustic Batards at http://www.farine-mc.com/2010/01/rustic-batard.html. Hope you try your hand at it!

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  8. But how is it possible that the sourdough is invented by French giving the fact that France is probably the country in Europe with least interest and tradition in whole wheat or rye bread? In fact, I'm always amazed by how many people in English world believe that Poilâne is the best place to go for a whole-wheat bread or rye bread in the world...

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  9. Hello Anonymous (feels a bit funny to be addressing you generically but I don't have your first name or even know whether you are a man or a woman)! Thanks for stopping by. I really don't think sourdough was invented by the French. I think it was invented way before the French themselves had been invented... Definitely at some point in the ancient world, some say by the Egyptians, others by the Babylonians or the Hebrews. But it is a Frenchman indeed, an 18th century scientist by the name of Parmentier who was the first to explain scientifically how levain fermentation worked and why. Maybe that's what you were thinking of?
    As for whole wheat and rye, you don't seriously think that through the ages peasants could afford to throw away most of the grain and use only white flour, be it in France or elsewhere. Whole grain breads were very much the only ones known to most people. Only the very rich could afford anything else (which is why white bread was long considered a desirable luxury item). My great-grandmother's recipe for bread didn't survive her (for all I know, she never wrote it down). I know she got her whole-grain flour from the nearby mill (which was managed by a relative) and i know she baked huge miches au levain which kept for at least 2 weeks. Did she also use white flour from the store? I doubt it. I saw where she lived and it was a tiny hamlet with no grocery store. Everybody pretty much grew or raised everything they ate. She definitely wasn't into baguettes, that much I can tell you. It seems that baguettes as we know them today (which may be the French bread you are indirectly referring to) weren't invented before the 20th century. I don't know whether or not my ancestor mixed rye and wheat. I know that in certain regions of France, wheat and rye were often cultivated together but I don't know if that was the case in the Tarn-et-Garonne where she lived. I believe that rye was originally a weed, so it is possible. I would need to do some research to find out.
    As for Poilâne, I couldn't agree more. I am always amazed as well that his (or rather her, today) bread should be considered a gold standard in the bread world. The best rye bread I ever had in my life was made by an old baker outside Copenhagen, Denmark, in the little town where my first mother-in-law used to live. It was simply glorious... One day the old guy retired. The bakery became a dry-cleaning business. That was it for that bread. Never tasted anything approaching it anywhere else and certainly not in France. At least not yet.
    As for whole wheat bread, the best I ever had was made by a young self-taught miller/baker in British Columbia, Canada. One day maybe I can go back and see him and he'll tell me his secret. If he were as good as Poilâne at whipping up imaginations, he'd be a multi-millionnaire today too. If you visit again, please let me know in turn which rye and whole wheat breads are your all-times favorites. I already gathered you didn't enjoy them in France. But you know, Poilâne isn't the only baker in my home country. French bakers are masters at mixing grains and modulating fermentation times and temperatures to obtain heavenly aromas, crust and crumb and in my book, that is an awesome achievement too. You will have guessed by now that I am an equal-opportunity bread-lover. I hope you are too!

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  10. Hi, MC! I wanted to tell you how much I enjoyed meeting you at BlogHerFood. You've re-inspired me to try my hand at bread baking again. I will purchase the two books you recommended and give it a go. I'll let you know of my progress. I hope you enjoyed the conference.

    Daisy

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    1. Hi Daisy! Thanks for stopping by! I did enjoy BHF very much and I am delighted to have met you. I can't wait to hear what you think of the books and to see the pictures of your beautiful breads on your blog!

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