Bread Therapy inspired by Julia Child & Danielle Forestier

Posted in Recipes & Cooking, Thoughts and Reflections at 10:40 pm by admin

I checked back here this morning in search of my Sweet & Spicy Crock pot Pork Roast recipe, a recipe I created on the fly and couldn’t locate in my cookbook or on my computer. Luckily I posted it here back in September. My brother is down from New York visiting for the holidays and I wanted to make a traditional German New Years Day pork dinner, but with a twist. I’m not a big fan of sauerkraut so the pork roast with sauerkraut and caraway is out.

In the past I’ve baked a ham and served it with coleslaw, baked beans, and cornbread, which as far as I’m concerned covers me for the pig and cabbage combination traditional dinner. I checked with Mom about New Years Day dinner and she hadn’t made any plans so I offered to cook and bring the meal to her house.

You might be wondering what the heck New Years Day, pigs, and cabbage have to do with bread therapy, Julia, and Danielle. When I clicked on the link to my blog, I was surprised to find that I haven’t posted anything here in seven weeks. I thought it’s about time I posted something, so here goes.

For the past twenty-eight years, I’ve baked sourdough bread, usually beginning in the fall until the end of the following spring, and sometimes even in the heat of July and August if I really had a “hankerin’ fer it”. I have my own sourdough starter culture, fondly named Herman. I figured Herman is a living being, or more accurately living beings, who has/have brought much joy to my life by way of my taste buds and stomach, and so my sourdough culture deserved a name. I chose Herman after a favorite patient of mine from when I began my nursing career. Herman, the man, was very particular about things and had to have things just right and in a certain order, and he had to be in control of any situation he was in in order for him to exist in this world. He was plump with a bubbly personality, and he had a complexion that reminded me of bread dough. All of his characteristics aptly describe sourdough starter and so Herman, the starter, was born. Herman, the man, was quite amused when I told him of his namesake. Both Hermans died within a month of each other nearly twenty years ago, Herman, the man, followed by Herman, the culture. Herman the man, died from a heart attack, Herman the culture, from an invasion by red mold, something fatal to sourdough starter. I had to start all over to create a new sourdough starter culture, and it took several years before the second generation Herman was up to snuff by way of taste. The spring after both Hermans died, Herman, the man’s wife, became a patient of mine. I told her my little story and also that I named a favorite goldfish I bought that spring after her husband, who swam in my pond and greeted me each morning, the goldfish not the man. She was touched by the gesture. Ok, back to bread therapy.

When Julia Child’s PBS series “Baking with Julia” aired eleven years ago, I was a faithful viewer, and if I didn’t watch the programs when they aired, I taped them to view later in the week. I don’t think I missed a single episode, and I know I actually watched the programs that involved baking anything with yeast when they aired. To this day I vividly remember the episode on french bread. The guest baker, Danielle Forestier, demonstrated the preparation and baking of a traditional french batard, a bread that contains the same amount of dough as a baguette, 12 oz., but isn’t rolled out quite as long. It looks similar though smaller to a loaf of Italian bread you can pick up in any supermarket, but the appearance is where the similarities end. If you’re interested you can view the program via a streaming video by way of your search engine.

During the year “Baking with Julia” aired, and for several years after, I experimented with different ingredients and methods, often combining the ingredients and methods from different episodes or introducing something I picked up somewhere else and from my Mom. Mom is a wonderful baker, who never measures anything, it’s all done by feel. One combination that I found to be a success is Pesto bread. It is very simple to make and requires only a few ingredients. Bread can often be unforgiving if something isn’t done quite right during the preparation, handling, and baking process. This bread I have found is quite forgiving.

During the past two weeks I’ve been baking bread. For me, baking bread is as therapeutic to the soul as it is to the taste buds when eating it. When my brother called several weeks ago, he asked me to bake some bread for Christmas because he doesn’t fancy store bought bread. That evening, I took Herman out of the ‘frig and fed him. Feeding sourdough consists of stirring warm water and flour into the starter and allowing it to become active in a warm place if it’s been stored in the ‘frig. I place the container on the top of the ‘frig over night. By the next morning it’s bubbling and twice the size it was the night before. Here’s my recipe for Sourdough Pesto Bread using a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. It will make two batards.

Sourdough Pesto Bread


1/2 cup active starter
3/4 cup warm water
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1 tblsp. honey
2 1/2 – 3 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. salt
1 heaping tblsp. pesto base
1 tblsp. extra virgin olive oil


1. Combine in a nonmetal bowl the starter, 1/2 cup warm water, yeast, and honey. Cover with plastic wrap leaving an edge open and place in a warm place over night to develop the dough sponge.

2. Add remaining water, olive oil, pesto base, and flour (reserving 1/2 cup) to the mixer bowl.

3. Stir the sponge and add it to the mixer bowl. It will be sticky so scrape as much as you can into the mixer bowl.

4. Start the mixer on the slowest speed to combine the ingredients until you can’t tell the difference between the sponge and the added ingredients. Add the remaining flour slowly as needed during the next minute or so until the dough begins to take form. The dough should be firm but not dry. If needed you can add 1 tblsp of water at a time to the dough. Mix the dough for about 8 minutes on the slowest speed.

5. Remove the dough from the mixer, form into a ball, and place in an oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat it completely with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and place in a warm place. Allow to double in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

5. Punch the dough down and remove it from the bowl to a floured board. Cut it in half and form each half into a ball. Cover with a floured towel and allow it to rest for 5 minutes.

6. Form each ball into a batard. Watch the video noted above if you don’t know how to do this. Place the batards on a floured Baker’s Couche, cover with a floured towel and allow it to rise in a warm place for about an hour. It should be just about double in size. Placed Baker’s Tiles and a pan for water in the oven. As the dough nears completion add water to the pan and preheat the oven to 425 degrees fahrenheit.

7. Turn the dough onto a Baker’s Peel and slash the top with a razor blade or sharp knife. Quickly slide the dough into the oven on the hot tiles and bake for 25 – 30 minutes. The internal temperature of the loaves should be 200 degrees fahrenheit when done.

8. Remove the loaves from the oven when done and allow to cool on a rack.

Serve with extra virgin olive oil to which you’ve added your favorite Italian herbs and freshly grated parmesan cheese, and enjoy, Daniel did!