French bread is a beautiful thing; it's my favorite bread, perhaps the Platonic ideal of white bread.
We like all kinds of white breads: Italian Siciliano and ciabatta, Russian sourdough and braided, German Weizenbrote, all of it. These breads are all usually made from refined wheat flour, which has several important advantages; for instance, bread made of wheat flour:
- Has a certain flexibility, so you can make a sandwich and the bread won't crumble apart under the weight of tomatoes and meat. That flexibility is due, in part, to gluten, which provides elasticity.
- Allows lovely caramelization to form on the crust, which contributes to flavor and chewy texture. This is caramelization is due, in part, to sugars in the flour.
- Doesn't intrude much on the flavor of what you put inside a sandwich: the pastrami, cucumber or whatever you put between the slices comes through cleanly.
- Is very absorbent, so it efficiently sucks up butter and olive oil – and if you're pan-frying a cheese sandwich, you will not find a better carb platform.
All of which is not to say whole grain breads don't have their charms; a roll of nutty whole wheat bread is fine in a bread basket, and I'll even grab one now and again, but what I really want are the white bread rolls.
We understand that some people are gluten-intolerant or suffer from celiac disease, and if I had either of these conditions, I'd gladly grab a bag of Udi's or other more or less tolerable gluten-free breads.
Over the years, of course, we've tried a lot of gluten-free breads, and they're getting better and better. The mixes of rice flour and other wheat-flour substitutes are becoming more refined. When eating them, one is sometimes inspired to remark, "Wow. If you didn't tell me, I wouldn't guess this bread is gluten-free."
It's hard to deny that much gluten-free bread aspires to the condition of glutinous bread, and there's likely not a more glutinous bread dough than one made of refined white flour.
Last weekend at the Oak Park Farmers' Market, I stopped by Katic Breads [http://www.katicbreads.com/] for a baguette. I selected a pain d'epi, a type of baguette made by cutting the dough into segments and reassembling them before baking, which creates in the baked loaf a gentle spiral of small bun-like sections. Pain d'epi is a smart way to make a baguette because it plays on the strengths of glutinous bread: it's very flexible and caramelization is increased because the surface area of the crust is increased. Also, it's very easy to snap off good-sized segments without even using a knife.
I brought the Katic bread home on Saturday morning and immediately ate half the loaf. By that evening, I'd eaten all but one segment that Carolyn was somehow able to wrest from me.
Lest anyone think that white bread is somehow less noble, more pedestrian, or more "corporate" than a sturdy whole-grain bread, consider these words from the Katic site:
"Our bread flour is not only organic, but it is also milled from heirloom wheat varieties that have been carefully chosen, by our passionate millers, for their performance and flavor capabilities. Our breads are not adulterated with preservatives, additives or any chemicals one cannot even pronounce or even simply grow in one's garden."
Some white bread (coughwonderbreadcough) is squishy, flavorless, and overall crappy. Katic white bread is firm, full of flavor and finely made.
I like white bread, and what they're selling at Kadic is pretty darn good.
Answer Book 2018
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