While reading David Lebovitz’ blog today about his hassles with store clerks, I realized that France and Mexico have at least one thing in common: the customer is not always right.
I recently bought a bag of sea salt at Mega Commercial, the one that is outside Bucerias. The price posted on the shelf was 12 pesos, but when I got home and checked my receipt, I had been charged 54 pesos. As I had opened the bag and used some of the salt, I asked for the difference in price when I returned to the store. You would have thought I was trying to hold them up. They didn’t call the police, but it seemed to come close to that.
The cashier called a woman over. She talked to a guy with a radio standing at the front of the store. He wouldn’t look me in the eye. Have you noticed how people won’t look at you when they really don’t want to even listen to you? You are not even acknowledged? I stood my ground, so she had to talk to someone else. She came back and told me it had been “muchos dias” since I bought the salt. I told her it was only 6 days ago. I wish I was fluent enough to say, “You’ve got to be kidding!”
The shelf where the salt came from still had the sticker price of 12 pesos, which she promptly removed when I showed it to her. Two more people were then involved in the conversation. Twenty minutes after I had begun this parody of a client-business relationship, I had my money back. Neither side felt very good about it.
I went about my shopping. When I checked out, the original woman I had spoken to, the same one who finally returned my money, came up to the cashier, asked her to step aside, and did some fast finger work at the cash register, the register screen went blank, and she told me my total. I carefully examined my receipt, and could find nothing amiss, but I know she got the money back.
I still like salt, and I will still shop at Mega. It beats driving all the way into Puerto Vallarta.
To calm my frayed nerves when I came home, I baked a loaf of French bread with Ibarra chocolate and coarse sea salt (yes, the same salt that caused me grief). Baking is always soothing, and nothing beats a warm slice of freshly baked bread with a cup of tea if you have had an encounter with an uncooperative store clerk.
My regular readers will know by now that I am attempting to use Mexican Ibarra chocolate, which is sold for making hot chocolate, in recipes that would otherwise use Belgian bittersweet chocolate, or other comparable, high-quality chocolates. So far, I have not been disappointed. If you try this substitution in other recipes, use less sugar than is called for to compensate for the sweet Ibarra.
French Bread with Ibarra Chocolate and Sea Salt makes 2 loaves
8 oz. whole wheat flour
8 oz. unbleached white flour
2 teaspoon instant-rise yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1 cup tepid water, plus more if necessary
2 (6.2 oz./180 grams) discs Ibarra chocolate (or bittersweet chocolate)
4 teaspoons of coarse sea salt for sprinkling on top of loaves (optional)
Read recipe through completely, assemble and weigh or measure all ingredients. Chop chocolate to about the size of chocolate chips. Ibarra chocolate is harder than most chocolates, because it contains less fat. Micro-wave the discs for 10 seconds to soften to make chopping easier.
Place flour, yeast and water in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix for 2 minutes on medium speed (I used speed setting #4 on my Kitchen Aid). If the dough is too dry, add more water, 1 tablespoon at a time. Add salt and knead 8 minutes. Add chocolate pieces and knead just until chocolate is incorporated, about 1-2 minutes.
At this point, you have the option of kneading by hand for a minute or two. I always like to finish bread dough by hand to form a smooth ball. It may not be necessary, but after years of kneading dough by hand, I can’t turn it over completely to a machine.
If you feel that you don’t need this manual connection, form the dough into a ball, place on a floured surface, and cover with a large bowl. Allow the dough to rest for 10 minutes.
Using a dough scraper, cut the dough evenly into two pieces. With the heel of your hand, shape each piece into a rectangle about 10″ by 4″ (25 cm. by 10 cm.). Starting with a long side, roll up the rectangle into a cylinder. Pinch the seam closed along the length, place on an oiled baking sheet seam side down, and slash the tops diagonally with a serrated knife.
Cover the loaves with a linen dish towel that has been dusted with flour. Allow to double in size, about 1 hour. While the dough is rising, pre-heat the oven to 450 deg. F. (230 C.).
When the bread has doubled in size, spritz with water, using a spray bottle, and sprinkle with coarse sea salt. Bake for about 20 minutes until golden brown. To test for doneness, pick up a loaf, using a clean dish towel, and tap the bottom. There should be a dry, hollow sound. If the sound is more of a dense thud, return to the oven for 5 minutes more and test again.
When done, cool on a cake rack for at least 30 minutes before slicing. Allowing the bread to cool slightly before cutting will give a texture that is dry, not steamy and gummy.