First Sunday of Advent

The Christian Year begins at the end. Maybe it is good to have the end in mind when be start anything new. The Christian calendar begins with longing for the coming of Christ. We long for Christ to come in fullness and bring healing to all of the world’s brokenness. We long for all of creation to finally find its eternal purpose and promise in God.

The hymns during the beginning of Advent express hope for the future and help us practice active waiting. One of the great hymns Charles Wesley’s,

Come, Thou long expected Jesus
Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us,
Let us find our rest in Thee.
Israel’s strength and consolation,
Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.

It is this joyful longing that marks all of Advent.

The only logical place to begin this culinary journey though holy time is with bread. Our favorite is the most basic recipe: water, flour, yeast, and salt. From these few ingredients come the most aromatic and amazing French bread. There is something almost mystical about how yeast activates these humble ingredients into a food that is the basis of human civilization. Bread is humble, but it is also holy.

Jesus, on the night in which he was betrayed took bread, blessed it, broke it, and gave it to his disciples saying, “This is my body broken for you.”  Since those days disciples of Jesus from all times and place have seen sharing bread as a way of sharing Christ.  Bread shared among friends is always a holy experience and Christ is never far away.

Bread is the perfect food for advent because of its transformative nature.  What comes out of the process is noting like what goes into it.  The fermentation process causes an almost mystical transformation to the dough.  The most important part of the recipe is not completed by the baker, but by an unseen and mysterious process.  It is no wonder that Jesus said in Mathew 13 that the Kingdom of Heaven is like yeast that a woman secretly hides in dough—just a little leavens the whole loaf.

As we make bread throughout the year, and you will note that many of the ways Christians of old commemorated holy days was by baking special breads, let each recipe be a sign that even though we do our part, we add our ingredients, but it is God who does all the real work.  It is God who will bring healing to our world.  There is holy leaven hidden all over the world, Christ will come and the whole cosmos will rise in mystical overabundance.

Pictured Above: Artistic interpretation of a circular calendar representing the Christian year. Developed by Geoffrey Lentz. Graphic design by Jeb Hunt.


Simple French-Style Bread

Prep Time: 30 minutes | Rest/Rising Time: 4 hours 20 minutes
Baking Time: 40 minutes | Total time: 5 hours 30 minutes | Makes 2 Loaves

Notes About This Recipe

The first bread we’ve chosen to make is a simple French-style bread. We have chosen this recipe because it is a relatively forgiving bread recipe that uses a large amount of yeast and features relatively short rise times. With a light flavor, slightly hardened crust, and more compact interior, this bread is most ideal for dipping (such as olive oil, marinara, etc.) This is not a true “French Bread” which can be very hard to replicate outside a commercial kitchen.

As we introduce additional bread recipes throughout the year, we will include more complex breads that often use less yeast and have longer proof times.

Ingredients

4 1/2 teaspoons (14 grams) Active Dry Yeast
1/2 cup (118 grams) Warm Water
1 tablespoon (13 grams) Fine Sea Salt
2 cups (473 grams) Warm Water
8 cups (1000 grams) All-Purpose Flour 
Cornmeal (for sprinkling on baking sheet)
1 Egg White from Large Egg
1 tablespoon Water

Directions

  1. Begin the yeast hydration process by combining the 4 1/2 teaspoons (14 grams) of yeast with 1/2 cup of warm water (118 grams) in a small bowl. Gently stir for a few seconds with your finger. Set aside.
  2. In a large bowl combine the 8 cups (1000 grams) of the All-Purpose flour with 1 tablespoon (13 grams) fine sea salt and 2 cups (473 grams) warm water and begin working the ingredients together by hand for 1 – 2 minutes.
  3. Once the ingredients start to roughly combine, add the hydrated yeast from the first step. Mix in the yeast briefly and then tear off a small piece of the rough dough and wipe down the side of the yeast bowl to make sure you are adding all of the yeast. Add the small piece of dough back into the bowl. 
  4. Continue mixing by hand until the a smooth dough forms and it no longer sticks to the side of the bowl, about 8 – 10 minutes. (Steps 2 – 4 may be done using a stand mixer with dough hook if desire)
  5. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Cover with a dish towel and let rest for 10 minutes.
  6. Once the dough has rested, knead the dough by hand. To knead, place the dough in front of you and fold it in half by placing the side closest to you on top of the dough. Using your body weight gently press down on the dough before turning the dough 90 degrees and repeating the process. Continue kneading by hand for about 5 minutes. The dough should be soft and elastic.
  7. Place the dough in lightly greased bowl. Cover and let rise in a warm place until the dough doubles (about 1 – 1 1/2 hours).
  8. Gently deflate and let rise until doubled again, about 1 hour.
  9. Gently deflate the dough again. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and divide into two equal portions.
  10. Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
  11. Using a lightly floured rolling pin, gently roll each portion into a 12” x 15” rectangle.
  12. Beginning on the long side, tightly roll the dough by hand, sealing well as you roll. Taper ends if desired. 
  13. Place each loaf diagonally, seam side down on a greased baking sheet that has been sprinkled with cornmeal or flour. With a sharp knife, gash tops diagonally every 2 1/2”.
  14. Beat 1 egg white just until foamy; add 1 tablespoon of water and brush tops and sides of loaves.
  15. Using tall inverted glasses on each side of the dough, drape a damp cloth carefully over the dough making sure to not let the cloth touch or rest on the loaves. Let the dough double again (about 1 – 1/2 hours.)
  16. With about 30 minutes left until rising is finished preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  17. Place in the center of the middle rack of the oven and bake for about 20 minutes or until light brown.
  18. Brush again with egg white mixture.
  19. Continue baking for an additional 20 more minutes or until the crust is beautifully golden dark brown.
  20. Remove from the oven and cool on a wire cooling rack.
  21. The bread is best when eaten within 24 hours and should be stored in a sealed plastic bag once cooled.

Expert Tip: Pâte fermentée — Before making your final loaves, remove a small lump of dough to use as a starter in your next loaf. If you are not baking anytime soon you can place it in a bag and leave it in the refrigerator for several weeks. The next time you bake a loaf pull out your Pâte fermentée a few hours earlier to bring to room temperature and then add it to the base of your next dough.  This process adds great flavor to the bread.