Yeast of Eden

A frequently heard lament around my house is our inability to locate a good and authentic Parisian baguette anywhere in the city.

Fresh baked bread, Parma butter and speck

I’ve driven hours, all over the city, in search of the elusive loaf. Any time I see a French bakery, I stop and purchase a baguette. Some are decent, most are bad… but none are great. All of which led me to the conclusion that perhaps if I wanted a good baguette, I should be making it myself. But after researching the equipment and time required, and guessing that the result would likely be no better than anything I’d encountered in my Ulyssean travels about town, I realized I would not be adding the baguette to my baking repertoire.

Not that there is much of a repertoire, as I’m not much of a baker. I make a decent ciabatta which I’m never sure is worth the work when others do it so much better. And I make a killer stuffed savory rustic bread which is based on a pizza dough that I sometimes bring for a gift to parties. But that’s about it. Or, I should say that was about it… until my neighbor and friend, Glennis, arrived one afternoon with a freshly baked boule that was one of the best breads I’ve ever had. “And you wouldn’t believe how easy it is!” she said.

Adapted from a recipe developed by Jim Lahey at Sullivan Street Bakery in New York, the bread is a revelation. The crust is golden and crisp, the inside airy yet toothsome with strongly developed glutens. We ate it with Parma butter, a ripe cheese from Boulogne in France, and some smoky speck from La Quercia in Iowa. A couple days later, I made my own (pictured above). We ate it sliced thick, slathered with creamy butter and served with a langoustine bisque. Tonight I will start another to eat tomorrow with the two pounds of mussels in the fridge that I bought just for the occasion. Glennis’ son, Max, a fine cook in his own right, introduced her to the bread. We all owe Max a debt of gratitude for this one.

This bread is one more reason — as if you needed one — why everyone should own at least one Le Creuset dutch oven. Sure, they’re expensive — but you’ll use them for everything, they come with a lifetime warranty and will last even longer (consider it an heirloom to be passed to your children and their children). And if you shop around, you can sometimes find them on sale.

If you want step-by-step pictures and a nice bit of writing on the same recipe, check out Glennis’ own lovely blog, Doves Today. Here is the recipe, for those of you who just want to get on with it.

*   *   *

Easy French boule

2.5 cups flour
1.5 cup cold water
heaping ¼ teaspoon instant yeast
1 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

1)   In a large bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, and salt.

2)   Add the water, and mix until the dough has a uniform consistency, scraping excess flour off the bottom and sides of the bowl as you go.

3)   Cover with plastic and leave to rise at room temperature for 12 to 18 hours. By the time this is done, the dough should have more than doubled in volume and be sticky and elastic.

4)   Pour the dough onto a generously floured work surface, using a rubber spatula to scrape out any that stays stuck to the bowl. Fold the dough over itself several times and dust the top with flour. Cover loosely with plastic wrap, and leave to rest for 15 minutes.

5)   Lay a sheet of baking paper over one half of a cotton tea towel (not terry cloth), and dust generously with flour. Using floured hands, pick up the dough, form into a rough ball, and drop on the paper. Dust the top of the dough with flour and fold the exposed half of the tea towel over the dough, tucking in the edges to make a closed package. Leave to rise for 2 ½ hours.

6)   30 minutes before the dough is finished rising, place a large, heavy, coverable, flat-bottomed, oven-safe pot or casserole in the oven and preheat to 450 degrees F.

7)   Unfold the tea towel and remove the pot from the oven. Sprinkle the inside of the pot with a little cornmeal or semolina flour, so the dough won’t stick. Pick up as much dough as you can off the baking paper, shape into a rough ball, and drop into the centre of the pot. Use your hands to scrape up any dough still stuck to the paper, and drop this on top of the dough-ball in the pot. If the dough is distributed unevenly, give the pot one or two quick shakes.

8)   Cover the pot and bake. After 30 minutes, remove the cover and bake for 15 to 30 minutes more, or until the bread is a beautiful golden brown.

9)   Remove from the oven and cool on a rack, listening to the bread crackle as it cools.

14 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Joe A
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 00:12:59

    I’m just getting into baking and was looking for a good bread recipe. Kismet much?!


  2. Jamaica Singletary
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 01:15:00

    You should check out Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoë François. It really changed my mind about the difficultly level of making good, flavorful bread daily.


  3. Lisa Gaskin
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 01:27:33

    I’ll have a whole new love for YOU if you make me one 😉

    Why a Dutch oven…you don’t make it in a DO do you?


  4. paul
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 02:02:09

    Do you think a regular non enamel Dutch Oven would work just as well as the above mentioned Le Creuset? Looks like I’m trying out a new bread recipe this weekend.


  5. Michelle
    Jan 13, 2012 @ 22:22:35

    Jim Lahey is truly a god. Every time we make this (well, when my husband makes it… I’m not much of a bread maker), I’m amazed. Revelation indeed.


    • scolgin
      Jan 13, 2012 @ 23:25:29

      Thanks Michelle. I feel validated! 😉 (Got some bread in the final stages of rising right now… oven, here we come!) Happy long weekend!


  6. glennis
    Jan 14, 2012 @ 22:57:08

    Yours looks wonderful – as of course I knew it would.

    I experimented the other day with a mix of flours – 2 parts white, 1 part whole wheat. Another time I folded sauteed shallots and thyme into the dough for the second rising. It was perfect. Now I have some rising where I used 1/2 buttermilk and 1/2 water. We’ll see how that goes.

    It’s an amazing adaptable recipe.

    For those who don’t have a Le Creuset, even a Corningware covered casserole will work!

    I’ll send Max a link to your blog.


  7. Trackback: Capturing the Heart of Texas for Imogen | skinny girls & mayonnaise

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