In my last entry on the history of garlic, I sited Provence, France as the place where America’s farm-to-table movement originated. (Hopefully you were able to partake of my quick chicken soup.)
Here Herbes de Provence is creatively used in an easy, mess-free bread recipe, employing a food processor, which provides outstanding aroma and flavor.
This region’s commercial herb mixture-so prevalent on the market-only dates back to the 1970’s, about the time that Alice Waters started Chez Panisse. In doing so, she initiated this American culinary (farm-to-table) trend based on fresh, simple foods combined with Provencal cooking methods (for more on this, see Quick Chicken Soup, 2018/05/11).
In their famous Mastering of the Art of French Cooking, 1961, Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck state that classical French cuisine utilizes far less herbs than most Americans would suspect; these Europeans traditionally use them as an accent and a complement, never dominating the essential flavors of the main ingredients. Likewise, their emphasis in this bread is fine. 1
Various regions in France, as with all of southern Europe, have their own unique herbs mixes, according to available plants. Our Herbes de Provence is considered the youngest member of this family of French mixes, usually referring to the mix of typical herbs from this southeastern Provencal region, though it is also produced in other countries presently.
Whether fresh or dried, these blends, which are not standard, often contain savory, marjoram, rosemary, thyme, and oregano, among other herbs; mixes sold under that name outside France can also include lavender. The generic name Herbes de Provence doesn’t have Protected Geographical Status, such as I have defined for the balsamic vinegar in my Roasted Beet and Balsamic Chicken Salad. Therefore, there is no guarantee that the herbs which make up these Franco composites were actually grown in Provence.
Originally their varying herbs were foraged in the wild in this region, and the name was used descriptively for those unspecified combinations; now, however, their vital ingredients often come from abroad. In the 1970’s, Herbes de Provence mixes began to be formulated by spice wholesalers, such as Ducros in France, which is now a part of McCormick and Company. Since then, these herbs have been cultivated there by both large producers and small family farms; nevertheless, the largest quantities of these herbal elements are actually imported, e.g., rosemary from Spain, thyme from Morocco, and marjoram from Egypt.
Different producers, including those in America, provide mixtures with unique tastes, which are subtly discerned, though their overall impact is common. This bread boasts of the outstanding flavor of that herb blend, as found at our handy Trader Joe’s (which contains lavender). This savory loaf pleases any palate!
Julia Child, Louisette Bertholle, and Simone Beck, Mastering the Art of French Cooking, vol. 1, (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1971), p. 18.
Herbes de Provence Bread Yields: 1 loaf. Total prep time: 3 hours/ active prep time: 30 min/ inactive prep time: 2 hr/ baking time: 30 min.
1 3/8-1 5/8 c tepid water (105-115 degrees)
1 individual package of dry yeast (May use 2 tsp of Red Star Active Dry Yeast, which is available inexpensively in 2 lb packages at Costco; this keeps well sealed in the freezer; best if brought to room temperature.)
2 1/4 tsp sugar
3 c whole wheat flour
1 c unbleached white flour (Optional: may grind 2 2/3 c hard red spring wheat berries to make the total 4 c flour.)
1 tbsp Herbes de Provence (Available at a good price at Trader Joe’s.)
1 1/4 tsp salt
13-gallon plastic bag plus 3-4 tbsp oil (Any kind of oil will do for oiling bag.)
Coconut spray oil (Pam coconut spray oil can be found in most grocery stores; our local Winco brand, however, is much less expensive.)
If grinding your own flour, begin to do so now (see photo at top of recipe).
- Place 1/4 c lukewarm water-110 to 115 degrees-in a small bowl; stir in yeast and 1/4 tsp sugar. Let sit in a warm place, until creamy, foamy, and nearly double in size, about 10 minutes (see photo above).
- Place flour, Herbes de Provence, 2 tbsp sugar, and salt in an 11-c-or larger-food processor; blend well.
- When yeast is proofed, add it and 1 3/8 c tepid water to flour mixture; for ease, may measure 1 1/4 c water, then remove 2 tbsp to make a total 1 3/8 c. (With fresh-ground flour, however, only 1 1/8 c of water is needed.) Turn
machine on and knead for 35 seconds (see photo); turn off and let dough rest for 4 minutes. (This resting period cools dough, which is essential as processing increases heat, and too much heat will kill the yeast.)
- After pausing for 4 minutes, turn on the processor; knead dough for 35 seconds more (see photo below). Take out and knead by hand for 5 minutes, or until satiny smooth; see bottom photo for dough after kneading by hand. (As wet dough readily sticks to hands, rinse them
as needed to facilitate easy kneading. Many store-bought flours are a finer grind; therefore, they absorb the moisture more readily and won’t be so sticky. Much moisture is absorbed while kneading by hand-this is especially true with fresh-ground flour. Ideally it should be firm, but supple when finished. These instructions should be foolproof, but IF needed, do the following: if dough remains quite wet and sticky, after kneading by hand for several minutes, slowly add more flour to your board as you knead. If, however, it is too stiff to knead by hand easily, place it
back in processor, and knead in 1 tbsp water. If called for, repeat this step until severe stiffness is gone, it is flexible, and kneading by hand is facile; carefully rest dough, so as not to overheat. Note: dough should be firm and not sticky after final kneading.)
- Place prepared dough in a well-oiled 13-gallon plastic bag; let rise in a warm place for 50-60 minutes, or until double.
- Form loaf and place in a bread pan sprayed with oil. Loosely cover with a piece of plastic wrap, which has also been sprayed with oil.
- Let rise until doubled, for about 50-60 minutes. Important: 30 minutes into the rising process, preheat oven to 400 degrees, to insure oven is ready when it is time to bake risen bread.
- When doubled, bake loaf for 27-30 minutes, or until bread sounds hollow when tapped on bottom. Cool on rack. Enjoy this delightful bread!