This is one of the best breads I remember making. Although most fresh-from-the-oven loaves taste wonderful, this bread is unusually good. The Old-Fashioned Baguettes came out of the oven thirty minutes ago. Every corner of our log home is filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread. A fire roars in the fireplace. The sun is sparkling off snow in the trees. Life is good. White whole wheat flour To store sourdough starter for the future, put the starter you want to save in a jar and refrigerate it. It will keep indefinitely, so long as you feed it with flour and water every other week or so. To make starter for Sourdough Wheat Bread, continue feeding and watering Starter 1 in the morning and evening. Preheat a rimmed baking sheet and baking stone, if using, for at least 30 minutes at 500°F. The rimmed baking sheet goes on the oven’s lowest shelf, and the baking stone goes on the shelf just above it.
It tastes faintly of sourdough, the off-white crumb is chewy and elastic, the top golden and lightly caramelized, and the crust thick and crisp. I made three loaves; they came out of the oven around seven in the evening. By the time we went to bed, one loaf had been entirely devoured.
My sister gave me a cookbook from the Belgian-based bakery/restaurant franchise, Le Pain Quotidien, for Christmas. The recipe for its signature loaf, Sourdough Wheat Bread, requires a sourdough starter (levain) that takes 10 days to make. Le Pain Quotidien’s website says the starter only takes 5 days but, ever the glutton for punishment, I’m sticking with the directions in the book. I’m now on Day 9, and will post the recipe after I make Sourdough Wheat Bread.
The recipe for “Le Pain Quotidien’s sourdough starter” requires you to mix a flour and water sponge and leave it at room temperature to ferment. Every morning and every evening you discard half the sponge and feed the remainder with flour and water. The sponge gradually develops a pleasantly sour taste and the capacity to leaven bread.
A few days ago I balked at the direction to throw away half the sponge. Instead, I split it in two and, before going to bed, fed both halves with flour and water. The next morning, when I split the sponge, I continued feeding half of it and mixed the remaining half with the second sponge I’d created the night before.
I used this second sponge as the foundation for an adaptation of the recipe for “Baguette a l’ancienne (old-fashioned style)” in Le Pain Quotidien's cookbook. The result was so good, I made another three loaves (and a pizza crust) the next day.
I’ve taken liberties with the original recipe: simplifying it for American kitchens and leaving out directions that didn’t make sense. For example, the recipe directs you to cover the rising baguettes “with a plastic sheet (not food film).” What's that supposed to mean? Food film (plastic wrap) works just fine for this purpose. If you have problems with the recipe, blame me, not Le Pain Quotidien.
Old-Fashioned Baguettes (Παραδοσιακό Γαλλικό Ψωμί)
Makes 3 - 4 loaves
Adapted from Le Pain Quotidien: cook + book memories and recipes by Alain Coumont and Jean-Pierre Gabriel
Sourdough Starter for Old-Fashioned Baguettes:
These are directions for making baguette starter; if you want to also make starter for Sourdough Wheat Bread (or to keep some on hand in your refrigerator), see the notes at the end of this section.The starter used in this recipe is based on “Le Pain Quotidien’s sourdough starter” (not the starter for Le Pain Quotidien’s “Baguette a l’ancienne”). I used King Arthur Flour’s white whole wheat flour, but the starter may also be made with regular whole wheat flour, bread flour, or all-purpose flour. The starter may be used for baguettes as soon as it develops a light sourdough flavor, which takes two or three days.
Day 1 morning: Mix 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup water in a stainless steel, glass, or pottery bowl. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperature.
Day 1 evening: Add 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup water to the starter, and stir just until the ingredients are combined. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperature.
Day 2 through Baking Day, morning and evening: Discard half the starter. To the remaining starter, add 2/3 cup flour and 1/3 cup water, and and stir just until the ingredients are combined. Cover with a plate and leave at room temperature.
As soon as the starter is ready, you can use all of it in the Old-Fashioned Baguette recipe.
NOTES: If you want to keep some starter (a) to store for the future or (b) to make Sourdough Wheat Bread, instead of discarding half the main starter (Starter 1) in the evening, use it to create a second starter (Starter 2). Mix Starter 1 as usual, but instead of discarding half, put the discard half in a stainless steel, glass, or pottery bowl and mix in 2/3 cup flour, 1/3 cup water, and a pinch of salt and cover it with a plate (this is Starter 2). You will now have two identical starters: Starter 1 and Starter 2. The next morning, instead of discarding half of Starter 1, add it to Starter 2 and begin making the Old-Fashioned Baguette with Starter 2.
I prefer using a baking stone when I make bread as it helps my home oven maintain an even temperature and gives the baguettes a crisper crust. I also have an old baking sheet with edges that I preheat and throw water on to create a steamy environment for the bread. Don’t throw water directly on the oven floor or it will warp. A good baking sheet will also warp, which is why I have an old baking sheet, rusty and warped, that I use only for baking bread.
Starter for Old-Fashioned Baguettes (see above)
2 cups warm water
2 tsp. yeast
1 Tbsp. coarse salt
5 – 6 cups “type 65”, bread, or all-purpose flour
In a stand mixer with the paddle attachment (or by hand), mix the starter, water, and yeast. Add the salt and 4 cups of flour, and mix until thoroughly combined. Start mixing in the remaining flour. When the dough starts clumping together, switch to the dough hook (or to kneading by hand), and keep adding flour until you have a moist, but not quite sticky, dough. Knead for 4 minutes with the dough hook (or 10 minutes by hand).
Leave the dough to rest in the bowl, with the dough hook, for 80 minutes. Every 20 minutes (4 times total), turn on the machine and knead the dough with the dough hook (or by hand) for 20 seconds. The Le Pain Quotidien cookbook says the purpose of doing this “is to stir and compress the dough, to give it more body.”
Flour a large smooth piece of cotton (I use flour-sacking dish towels) and put it on a thin metal baking sheet. Dump the dough onto the well-floured cloth and divide it into three or four 1 to 1 1/4 pound pieces (the weight of the dough will differ depending on the type of flour you use). Let rest for five minutes.
Pull, stretch, and roll the dough pieces into 16” baguettes, being careful not to tear the dough. Return the baguettes to the floured cloth, adding more flour as necessary, and pushing folds of cloth up between the baguettes. Lightly flour the tops of the baguettes, cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 30 minutes.
Carefully lift the edges of the floured cloth and roll the baguettes directly onto the thin metal baking sheet. Slash each baguette 5 times diagonally with a razor blade.
Put the bread and baking sheet in the oven, directly on the baking stone, if using. Just before closing the oven, dump a cup of water onto the rimmed baking sheet (which is on the shelf just below the bread), quickly shut the door, and turn the heat down to 450°F. Bake for 20 minutes, turn the heat down to 325°F and bake for 15 minutes.
Cool, cut, and serve.
Crusty baguettes, eaten hot with fresh creamery butter while sitting in front of a crackling fire, are the ultimate comfort food. This is my entry for The Garden of Eating's Comfort Food Cook-Off.
The Old-Fashioned Baguettes came out of the oven thirty minutes ago. Every corner of our log home is filled with the aroma of freshly baked bread. A fire roars in the fireplace. The sun is sparkling off snow in the trees. Life is good.
White whole wheat flour
To store sourdough starter for the future, put the starter you want to save in a jar and refrigerate it. It will keep indefinitely, so long as you feed it with flour and water every other week or so. To make starter for Sourdough Wheat Bread, continue feeding and watering Starter 1 in the morning and evening.
Preheat a rimmed baking sheet and baking stone, if using, for at least 30 minutes at 500°F. The rimmed baking sheet goes on the oven’s lowest shelf, and the baking stone goes on the shelf just above it.