Couronne bread

Couronne bread

The Two of Us, by Claude Berri, is one of the most perfectly beautiful films I’ve seen. During world war II, an eight-year-old Jewish boy is sent to live in the country with his landlady’s parents. The story is based on Berri’s memories of his childhood, and it has the beautiful glow of a child’s perspective filtered through memory. With the ease that children approach friendship, Claude takes to Pepe, the old man. And Pepe loves him back, not realizing, as he weaves frightening tales of Jews as villains, that the boy himself is Jewish. There’s such a simplicity and grace to the film – it has a feeling of effortlessness and honesty – that the emotional impact is powerful and immediate, and it took me a while to realize just how intelligent it is. Pepe, as played by the incomparable Michel Simon, is so human – so wonderful in some ways, and so flawed in others. Without moralizing or judging, Berri provides a vivid illustration that prejudice is born of ignorance. In the context of the war going on around them – tragic news on the radio, threatening posters around the town – Pepe’s bigotry, which seems innocent because he’s so sweet, takes on a looming dangerous shadow.

And it takes place in the French countryside, in summer! They eat outside and drink copious bottles of homemade wine! They chase each other and their elderly dog around gorgeous fields and meadows! And, as you can see in the trailer, there’s a lovely and intriguing loaf of bread on the table throughout most of the film. I decided to try to make this bread! I believe it’s called a couronne, because a bread of that name is made in Lyon, and I believe they’re in Lyon because that’s what the sign on the train said. To be honest, what I actually made was my version of a French baguette in circular form. I’ve long wanted to make bread that had this texture – chewy crispy on the outside, and not so finely crumbed on the inside. I think this turned out that way! It’s really good! And pretty! I read a bunch of different recipes, and then combined them in a fly-by-the-seat-of-my pants kind of way. But it seems to have worked, so I’ll tell you what I did step by step.

We had a Vegetable, french lentil, potato ragout with this, and it was a perfect meal.

Georges Delrue wrote the music to The Two of Us, and oddly enough, years ago I fell in love with a song he wrote for Jules et Jim called Brouillard. I set some super 8 footage to it a while back. So that’s what this is.

I started with a starter, which I believe is sometimes called a “biba.” Here’s how I did that…

1/4 t. yeast
1 cup flour
1 cup water.

Mix these together and leave them in a big, lightly covered bowl overnight. The next day it should be foamy and funny looking. You’re going to mix this right in with your dough, which will be made from…

1 1/2 t yeast
1/2 cup warm water
4 1/2 cups flour
2 t salt
1 cup cold water

French bread doesn’t contain sugar or fat, so all of the flavor comes (apparently) from the way in which it’s kneaded, and the way in which it rises. It’s kneaded a lot, and it rises at a low temperature.

Combine the yeast and warm water and leave for about 10 minutes to get foamy. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the yeast and the biba. Stir everything together and add a cup of cold water. Turn out onto a counter and knead for about 15 minutes, adding flour as necessary to keep it from getting too sticky. You don’t want it to be too floury though, so add just as much as you need to knead. When it feels very smooth and elastic, put it into a lightly floured bowl and put it somewhere cool to rise for about 2 1/2 hours. Punch it down, and put it back somewhere cool to rise for about 2 more hours. This time of year room temperature is fine, but in the summer you might want to put it in the fridge and let it rise a little longer. Apparently 70 degrees is your top temperature.

After the second rise, turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Pull and squash it till it’s about 2 feet long and maybe an inch thick and 6 inches wide. Roll it up, from the long side, to make a long snake. Turn the snake so that it eats its tail, making a ring. Seal the edges. Put the ring on a lightly floured board or baking sheet and leave to proof for another 45 minutes or so.

preheat the oven to 450.

Spread a thin layer of cornmeal on another baking sheet. Quickly turn the baking sheet with the bread on it upside down over the cornmealed sheet, so that you have the ring on the new sheet. Once the oven is preheated, make shallow slashes around the bread with a sharp knife. Brush the bread all over with water, and pop it in the hot oven.

Every 3-5 minutes, pull the bread out of the oven and brush it with water, and spray or flick some water onto the bottom of your oven. You’re trying to make steam, which will give the bread a crispier crust. After 4 times, you can stop brushing the bread, and just flick some water onto the base of the oven every 5-10 minutes.

The bread is done when it’s golden brown on top, and when it sounds hollow if you tap it. It took about 40 minutes in my oven.

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6 thoughts on “Couronne bread

  1. Oh my goodness – this reminds me of a wonderful loaf I used to buy at Waitrose when I lived in MK before! It was made from two sausages of dough wrapped round each other and made into a circle, and it was really just an excuse for eating loads of butter; and luckily (for my waistline) they stopped making it in the end.

    But I think I will try making one of these!

  2. Pingback: Vegetable, french lentil, potato ragout | Out of the Ordinary

  3. Pingback: Mushroom white bean bisque | Out of the Ordinary

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