05 July 2009

Donnez-nous aujourd'hui notre pain de chaque jour

Gee, who studied French in a Catholic high school? Thank you Soeur Assumpta, after nearly 30 years I can still recite the Notre Père cold. Anyhow, since everybody in the US is at the beach, the stragglers and non-US-ians who read me are going to get a bonus from my kitchen today.

I fancy myself to be a baker of some competence and I have been on a bread making kick lately. To that end, I've been playing around with a baguette recipe that I am now declaring fully tweaked and a consistent producer of some really good bread.

I'm convinced that bread baking is easy, but few kitchen projects offer such a rich return on investment. Bread baking is a contact sport which is what led me to it originally. It's also easy to fit into a schedule. Most bread recipes require short bursts of activity spread out over the better part of a day so it's easy to work around. In addition to those benefits, there is no food so satisfying to prepare. To me anyway. Flour, water and a friendly mold work with a baker to produce a food that's still the bedrock of most diets the world over. Human beings have been baking bread since the Stone Age and I mean that literally. Baking bread in 2009 isn't a very different process from how someone in 9,500 BC would have done it.

Well, that's not entirely true. The recipe I've been playing around with is for a baguette, an archetypal French loaf that's only been around since the mid-1800s. And without further ado, here goes.

1 teaspoon active dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 ½ cups warm water (105°--115° F)
4 to 4 ½ cups bread flour
2 ½ teaspoons salt
olive oil

In a large bowl, take ½ cup of warm water, 1 cup of flour and a pinch of the yeast and mix together. Cover and let sit overnight at room temperature. The next day, add a cup of water to your starter and mix. Dry mix 3 cups of flour, sugar, salt and yeast and then fold into the larger bowl. Mix thoroughly with a wooden spoon.

Take the remaining ½ cup of flour and use it to lightly flour your hands and a kneading surface. Turn the dough in the bowl onto the surface and knead thoroughly for 10 minutes until smooth and elastic. Rinse and dry the bread bowl. Lightly oil the bowl and transfer the dough back into it. Turn the dough to oil it top and bottom. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise at room temperature until it doubles in size (1 ½ to 2 hours).

Preheat oven to 400° F.

Take a cast iron skillet and fill it ¾ full with water. Set in the lower rack of the oven.

Punch down the dough, turn it out onto the floured surface and form it into a long, slender loaf around 3" in diameter. Lightly grease a baking sheet and set loaf onto it. Let rise for ½ hour at room temperature.

Make 3 or 4 diagonal slashes across the the top of the loaf. Lightly brush the top with olive oil. Bake on the center rack for ½ hour or until the crust is golden. Remove from oven and cool on a rack.

This is a simple recipe and it yields a loaf of surprising complexity and texture. Though the resulting loaf is fatter than a true baguette, its size makes it perfect for sandwiches. I like it still warm from the oven with good oil and a pinch of salt. When it's toasted and slathered in apricot jam on day two it will make you never want to buy bread in a bakery again.


  1. Atkins can kiss my carb-loving butt -- I ADORE BREAD!!!! Seriously, I'm addicted to bread -- the fresher and softer and warmer, the better!! I generally eat whole grain bread, but I make exceptions now and then. Like for the amazing cheese & onion sour dough bread from the local grocery store. YUM-MY!!!!

    And of course, I love baguettes!! I use them to make panini -- the bread comes out so crunchy and good on the outside, and stays soft on the inside. YUM-MY AGAIN!!!

    Your baguette recipe is great, Paul :-) It's so easy to make, and tastes so good :-)

    Happy baking!!


  2. Oh, and on a totally different topic -- THANK YOU for taking off the comment moderation and the letter verification thingy :-) SO much easier to leave a comment now :-)


  3. Ladies and Gentlemen, what we have here is an unpaid endorsement of my baguette recipe. I think Kelly uses whole wheat flour for hers though. Right?

    I can't get enough of the stuff either. Fresh bread, olive oil and salt is all I need to be happy. I swear, I have to have been an Italian in a former life.

  4. I'm fond of saying all I need to live is beer, bread and cheese. Thanks for the recipe!

  5. The secret's in the steam. That recipe makes me look like Julia Child. Play around with it and make it yours. I think that's my favorite part about baking. Recipes ask to be messed with, but the chemistry of it is such that there's only so far you can push something. I think that's my substitute for living on the edge.

  6. Sucess! So GOOD! plus the whole house smells great!

    I dared to mix in a 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour - talk about living on the edge!

    thanks for the great recipe. i have been wanting to graduate from the Cuisinart bread-maker we got as a wedding present last year, and this was just the push i needed. simple recipe, and totally worth the extra effort.

  7. Hurray! Another happy baker, thanks for reporting back Mike and i'm glad to hear of your success. I have to report that I used bread flour instead of all-purpose flour the two times I baked this recipe and it makes for a subtle improvement in the texture. Bread flour uses higher protein wheat than all-purpose so I suppose there's a nutritional benefit too.

    Welcome to the bread club Mike, there's really no substitute for bread you make yourself the old-fashioned way.

  8. I shall be making this french bread for this weekend. It will go in a french onion soup (and I will greedily eat all not needed for the soup). I wonder if I should make it a few days in advance so that it dries out a little bit and can stand up to be placed in the soup. Thoughts?

  9. Eat that bread the day you make it, it doesn't age well at all. When that bread comes out of the oven it will have a crust on it that's almost the consistency of a saltine cracker and the crumb inside will be like a dense angel food cake. The crust softens within hours and although it still tastes great, I love that recipe for its texture. If it were me I'd start it on Friday night and bake it Saturday afternoon and I'd eat it Saturday night.

  10. I want crouton-like bread to put in the soup, since I want it to provide a nice texture on top of the broth and under the melted cheese.

  11. Ahhhh, I thought you wanted it to eat in ragged chunks alongside the soup. If you want it to use as crouton, make it ahead of time. It will set up perfectly in a day. I made my Thanksgiving stuffing with this bread this year and it was perfect. It held up beautifully even when stuffed inside a turkey. I baked it a day ahead of time and then sliced and cubed it as soon as it cooled. I set the cubes in a bowl on the counter for a day and then made my stuffing. If I were you I'd bake it a day in advance and then roll it in a kitchen towel until you're ready to slice it into your soup. It will set up better at room temperature and the towel will keep it from drying out. Now you have me craving onion soup...

  12. After months of having this recipe I finally tried it! I make bead a few times a month and this is, by far, the best recipe I've ever used! Thank you, thank you, thank you!

  13. Hurray! Having that recipe made and approved by my favorite niece is the ultimate endorsement. Thanks kiddo!


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