Pinching a loaf

June 25, 2020

Carol insisted I put the phrase “making homemade bread” in the first sentence of this blog, if I intended to keep the title as it is.

A yeoman’s first attempt, but no cigar

For New Orleanians, making bread is more of a quest than a kitchen hobby. The famous “french bread” of the New Orleans po-boy sandwich is as critical to Crescent City cuisine as Slap Yo Mamma crawfish boil. It’s also impossible to duplicate in the average home. It’s all about the texture – an ethereal relationship of flaky, but thin crust and a generously aerated, but not dried out interior that produces a mouthfeel when bitten into that is as soft and pure as a baby’s kiss. I wax poetic, because this is not about bread, so much as food from the gods. Manna with roast beef dressed and gravy debris.

Kneading went well

All the recipes are titled “New Orleans french bread,” but what you get is bitter disappointment. You get a crust that is too hard and dense, but with just enough give that you can sense perfection was missed by the slimmest of margins either in the kneading or the oven temp. Same for the inside, which should be as light and airy as a dandelion spore, but instead is also dense enough to resole a sneaker.

Perhaps New Orleans french bread is more art than effort. But to grow up with it, there is nothing else quite like it. When New Orleanians travel, they return with grand tales of all the sights they saw and experiences they enjoyed from the Eiffel Tower to the Taj Mahal, London, Rome, the Acropolis and the pyramids. And they will all add, “but you couldn’t get the good bread.”

“Carol insisted I put the phrase “making homemade bread” in the first sentence of this blog, if I intended to keep the title as it is.”

And this is what you get when you tell me to smile without sufficient warmup

I grew up on the Alois J. Binder’s brand. Their bakery at the corner of St.. Claude and Elysian Fields Ave. featured a red light that blinked every time a new batch was hot from the oven. The screech of brakes and sudden u-turns indicated just how precious the freshest, warmest loaves were to the locals. “Binder’s thin-crusted, airy long loaves are durable enough to contain all the gravy, mayonnaise, fried seafood and sausage links New Orleans can pack into them,” read a New Orleans Advocate story sadly reporting on the closing of the beloved bakery in 2018. The mantle is now solely left to the Leidenheimer baking company that features the adorable New Orleans cartoon figures, Vic and Nat’ly, munching a po-boy from either end on all the bakery’s delivery vans.

I’m waxing a little nostalgic here, because just the thought of an oyster, shrimp or dripping-with-gravy and debris po-boy has redemptive value to the YAT (as in “Hey, man, where y’at?”) soul.

As all who have visited my home town know well, you don’t measure your vacations to New Orleans in days stayed, but in pounds gained. The biggest reason is the bread.

Vic and Nat’ly, New Orleans’s favorite Yats.

I once lived on a Greek island for several months. The village square of the little town featured an outdoor oven that baked mouth watering fresh bread every morning. It was probably made that way in that village for hundreds of years. I’ve never thought of that bread until I wrote it just now. That’s the kind of provincialism New Orleans casts.

Who cares. I want the bread!






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