Sunday, January 13, 2008

Recipe: Old-Fashioned Baguettes (Παραδοσιακό Γαλλικό Ψωμί)

This is one of the best breads I remember making. Although most fresh-from-the-oven loaves taste wonderful, this bread is unusually good.

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.

Our HomeThe 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.

Old-Fashioned BaguettesOld-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.

White whole wheat flour

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.

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.

Old-Fashioned Baguettes:
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.

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.

Baguettes at RestPull, 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.


Patricia Scarpin said...

Those baguettes look wonderful - so crusty!

Peter M said...

Laurie....grand slam! The baguettes look fantastic. I want my bread to look like these!

Gretchen Noelle said...

These baguettes look delicious! I have bookmarked this and hope to try them soon. I am eager to try my hand at some starters this year. Thanks!

Finla said...

Wow the baguettes look so delicious.

Suganya said...

I seem to have problems with following your instructions, Laurie. Please explain further. Do you have to feed the starter for 9 days to make the baguette? Did you make another bread with the 'discarded' starter portions? How much starter were you left with, at the end of the process?

Laurie Constantino said...

Patricia, for me, the best part of baguettes is the crust!

Thanks Peter! If you don't have one, I'd encourage you to get a baking stone - it really makes a big difference.

Gretchen, I'd love to hear about your experience if you try them!

And they are, Happy Cook! Thank you.

Suganya, sorry to have confused you! You do not need to feed the starter for 9 days - you can make the Old Fashioned Baguettes any time after the starter develops a slight sourdough flavor, which takes two to three days. I am making the starter to make a Sourdough Wheat Bread recipe. I got tired of discarding part of the starter, so I used the part I would otherwise discard to make the Old-Fashioned Baguettes recipe.

In other words, the night I decided to stop throwing the starter away, I used one half to make the Baguettes (Starter 2) and the other half is still fermenting for the Sourdough Wheat Bread (Starter 1). That evening, Starter 1 and Starter 2 were the same size. The next morning when I split and fed Starter 1, I took the discard half of Starter 1 and mixed it with Starter 2 and then used all of this (Starter 2 plus the discard half of Stater 1) to make the Baguettes.

If I'm still not making sense, let me know and I'll try again. It may sound complicated, but it's really quite easy.

Thistlemoon said...

Whoa! Those loaves look tremendous! I can't believe you didn't eat an entire one yourself! :)

I wish I had thte patience to bake such bread. It is really glorious!

Mike of Mike's Table said...

I love baguettes and find myself begrudgingly buying a loaf each week. I'll definitely give this a try

pam said...

Gorgeous bread!!!

test it comm said...

Great looking baguettes!! What an amazing looking crust.

Laurie Constantino said...

Jenn, it really doesn't take much patience because most of the time it is working by itself. I could've eaten a whole loaf, but It Would Have Been Wrong!

That's great, Mike. I hope you do!

Thanks, Pam!

Baguettes are all about the crust, don't you think Kevin? At least, that's what I like best!

Anonymous said...

Why don't you save part of the starter in your refrigerator? That is what your mother does and from it emanates the great sourdough pancakes and waffles. Dad

Cheryl said...

The bread looks fantastic but so does your cozy home. I really, really miss snow!

Laurie Constantino said...

Hi Dad! I now have a jar of sourdough sitting in the refrigerator and another piece all about my talented mama (plus your Don Campana story!).

Thanks Cheryl! And here I was missing Greece where we didn't have to deal with snow! (Although I don't miss the constant Greek wind, that's for sure.)

Y said...

Your baguettes look fantastic! Plus that view out your window ... *sigh*! I'm voting for your contribution to the comfort food cookoff :)

Maria Verivaki said...

i just shaped the first baguette and getting it ready for cooking, with enough dough left over for a pizza (i halved the recipe)

looking fantastic...!/photo.php?pid=5792391&id=139760680066&comments&ref=mf

Maria Verivaki said...


Laurie Constantino said...

So happy to hear that!