Homemade soup and home-baked bread are the most basic cold-weather comfort foods, and this winter has called for a lot of comforting. From my cookbook collection I recently compiled a list of a dozen new kinds of soup recipes to try, as well as several new kinds of breads. Here are the first ones I made.
Mireille Johnston is best known for her Provençal cookbook, The Cuisine of the Sun, but I also like her The Cuisine of the Rose, which is about recipes from Burgundy and the Lyonnais. She says “For centuries, soup was the core of a Burgundian meal,” so the book has an extensive chapter on soups. The first of her rib-sticking recipes I wanted to make was for Soupe Dauphinoise.
The recipe starts with making a stock from veal bones, but my freezer is always full of Tom’s rich broth, made from odds and ends of meat, poultry, bones, and vegetables that he saves in a giant bag in the freezer until he has enough to work with, so I was able to save time – and gain flavor – there. I started by softening a big batch of chopped onions, leeks, carrots, and turnips in butter and olive oil, added broth, and simmered the pot, uncovered, for half an hour.
Separately, I sautéed some chopped watercress in butter and added that to the soup. I’d never cooked watercress before, so that was interesting to me. It held its flavor well, and I’m thinking of trying it in place of parsley in other preparations. At the end I stirred in two tablespoons of cream. That small amount didn’t turn my Dauphinoise into a cream soup but just gave the liquid a nice ivory color and a hint of richness.
And a very good soup it was: fragrant, mild, pleasant, and vegetably sweet, gently strengthened by the meaty broth. It liked to have slightly stale baguette slices dipped in it. Next time I’ll put the bread in the bottom of the bowls to begin with.
Incidentally, this was another recipe that annoyed me with its vagueness about quantities. How big is a turnip? a carrot? a leek? I measured every vegetable ingredient that I used, and I annotated the recipe so I don’t have to agitate about it next time.
Baking with Julia is based on one season of Julia Child’s television series. I’ve had the book for several years and have been pleased with some of its dessert recipes, as well as its splendid recipe for scones that I wrote about here two years ago. But I’d never paid much attention to its chapter on breads. I’m glad I finally did, because I found several recipes in it that I want to try soon. I started with Rustic Potato Loaves.
Compared to most yeast breads, this is very quick to make, once you’ve boiled the russet potatoes that make up half the dough. You mash the cooked, unpeeled potato with a little olive oil and yeast dissolved in some of the potato cooking water, add flour and salt, and knead very thoroughly, using a heavy-duty mixer. After a mere 20-minute rise in the bowl, the dough is shaped into loaves and given one more 20-minute rise. (I’ve never known a bread to rise so fully in as short a time as this one did!) The loaves are then baked on a stone at 375° for a bit under an hour. (Nor have I ever known a bread recipe to use the stone at as relatively low a temperature and short preheating time!) If you can start early in the morning, you can have the bread ready to eat for lunch.
The baked loaves are deliberately rough-looking. Unlike most free-form breads I’ve made, they’re slid onto the stone with the seam side up, not down – so the rising bread breaks the seam open. I must admit that mine, on the left below, opened more boisterously than the loaf illustrated in the book, on the right; but that didn’t hurt it any.
This simple recipe produced a very successful loaf of bread, light for a potato bread, with a crisp crust, a soft, fine-grained crumb, and a fresh, almost nutty flavor. It’s fine for toast and excellent for sandwiches, and it seems to keep well. My only criticism is that the bits of potato skin in it – one of which you can see in the photo below – look like blemishes. I don’t think the skins contribute enough to the flavor to make them worth leaving in, and I won’t next time I bake one of these loaves.
Here’s one more interesting thing about the recipe (which, by the way, is attributed to Leslie Mackie, a baker in Seattle). It insisted that the loaf would only be fully done when an instant-read thermometer plunged into the center registered 200° F. I’ve never seen that specification anywhere else, but I’m curious to see if it might apply to any of the other kinds of bread that I bake. If so, it could be a useful bit of lore – more reliable in determining doneness than knocking on the bottom of a loaf. We shall see.