PARIS (WASHINGTON POST) - Greetings from Paris, where I'm pondering time, friendship, early-evening drinks and cheese bread.
I'm in Paris a whole less than I'm in New York, yet I see my French friends a whole lot more. It's not that I prefer the French set. It's not even that I'm more gadabout here. Nope, I think it's because there are so many more opportunities to see friends in Paris, and they're all built into the rhythm of the day.
In addition to breakfast, lunch and dinner, there are three other let's-get-together moments: Pre-work. The cafés open before the crack of dawn, and sharing the first coffee of the day with a friend at your regular place is simple. My husband and our friend, Bernard, meet five days a week at the Petit Suisse, where the waiters start making their espressos as they see them coming down the street.
DORIE GREENSPAN'S CHEESY-BACONEY APERO QUICK BREAD
Unsalted butter, for greasing the pan
1 ¾ cups flour
1 Tbsp baking powder
½ to ¾ tsp ground cumin (may substitute cumin seed or a combination of ground and seeds)
3 large eggs, at room temperature
1 tsp fine sea salt
⅓ cup whole milk, at room temperature
⅓ cup grapeseed, canola or olive oil
113g grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese (1 cup)
85g bite-size cubes Gouda cheese (3/4 cup)
⅓ cup toasted walnuts, coarsely chopped (See NOTE)
4 to 6 slices bacon, crisp-cooked, cooled and chopped
1 medium apple, peeled, cored and cut into bite-size pieces
1. Preheat the oven to 176 degrees Celsius. Generously grease the loaf pan with butter.
2. Whisk together the flour, baking powder and cumin (to taste) in a mixing bowl.
3. Use a whisk to beat the eggs and salt in a separate bowl for 1 minute. Pour in the milk and oil, whisking until blended. Pour this mixture over the dry ingredients and whisk gently, just to moisten the flour - there's no need to be thorough.
4. Switch to a spatula and stir in the cheeses, toasted walnuts, bacon and apple to form a thick, spongy batter. Scrape it into the pan, taking care to push it into the corners. Do the best you can to even the top, and don't fret when it's lumpy.
5. Bake (middle rack) for 45 to 55 minutes or until the bread is golden brown and a tester inserted deep into the center comes out dry. Transfer the pan to a wire rack and let it rest for 5 minutes. If needed, run a table knife around the edges of the bread before turning it out (right side up) and leaving it to come to room temperature.
6. To serve as a nibble with drinks, cut into thick slices, then into fingers or bite-size pieces.
NOTE: Toast the nuts in a dry medium skillet over medium-low heat for several minutes or just until fragrant and lightly browned, shaking the pan as needed to prevent scorching. Cool completely before using.
At about 4 p.m. for gouter. While the word "gouter" is pretty much reserved these days for kids' afterschool snacks, the practice of stopping for something sweet continues among adults, giving all of us grown-ups a kind of bonus: the chance to see friends and to be indulgent."L'heure de l'apero." The cocktail hour.
Apero really is just about an hour, but it needn't be cocktails that are served. Most often, the beverage is wine and the accompaniment is something nibbly: a tasty tide-you-over tidbit that will hush tummy rumbles yet leave room for a meal (which usually doesn't begin until 8 or later).
The go-along might be something as plain as salted nuts, a few slices of dried sausage or cherry tomatoes (a big French favorite that I don't fully understand), or it might be a kind of cheese bread, a member of the "cake sale," or savory cake, family. Yes, the French say "cake"; they use the word for almost anything baked in a loaf pan.
I had my first cheese bread about a decade ago in Reims, the champagne capital of France, and I've been a faithful fan ever since. Essentially a quick bread, meaning that it gets its rise from baking powder, not yeast, the cheese bread is hardly a light little nothing. Rather, it's a substantial loaf that, when cut into slender fingers or snackable cubes, is just the right thing with a glass of white wine or, yes, champagne.
Although the bread comes in as many varieties as there are cheeses, the one I make most often uses those not-at-all French classics, cheddar and Gouda, as well as bacon, walnuts, very untraditional apple and, for a surprise, cumin. I like to pack as much texture into the bread as I can, so I make the batter with grated cheddar and small chunks of Gouda; the cheddar melts into the bread completely, and the Gouda half-melts and half keeps its form. As for the cumin, it's a new addition chez me, one I adopted after having Gouda that was made with cumin seed.
The bread is the kind of thing a resourceful French cook would make with whatever cheese was left over at the end of the week. This means that although you should respect the proportions of the recipe, you can go your own way with the cheese. Pick one you can grate for the batter, then choose whatever you'd like for the chunky add-in.
I use ground cumin in the bread; it's an ingredient I always have on hand. But you can use cumin seeds, if you prefer. You could even go halfsies, using some ground cumin in the batter and some seeds along with the mix-ins.
When you're combining the wet and dry ingredients, take it easy. There's no need to get a perfect blend, because you'll soon be stirring in the cheese cubes and their mates. With quick breads, undermixing beats overmixing.
Cajole the batter into the corners of the pan - it's a thick, unusually spongy batter, and you'll need to nudge it into place - and don't give much thought to smoothing the top.
You'll need an 8 1/2 -by-4 1/2 -by-2 1/2 -inch loaf pan.
Wrapped well, the bread can be kept overnight at room temperature; it can be frozen for up to two months.
When you slide the bread into the oven, pop some white wine into the refrigerator. By the time the bread bakes and cools, it'll be "l'heure de l'apero" and you'll be on top of it. Cheers!