I came back from England determined to make the absolutely delicious ‘Alpine baguette’ that has become one of my sister’s signature loaves. While we were visiting she used it to make little thin toast rounds, on which to serve a soft goat brie with just a touch of honey, all gently grilled. Quite an hors d’oeuvre.
The irony was that the recipe was from a book I had given my brother in law - LOCAL BREADS, by Daniel Leader. It’s in my kitchen too, but I had never read far enough to find that recipe.
The recipe uses a rye sourdough starter - cultivated in the usual way over 3-5 days, unless you already have a dormant one in the fridge just waiting to be called into service. After that the flour is all unbleached white bread flour, but the secret of the bread lies in the rest of the ingredients: sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, flax seeds, sesame seeds, all soaked overnight with rolled oats, before being incorporated into the dough.
The danger of adding seeds and nuts to a bread dough is that they will dry it out in the baking - absorbing the available moisture. The genius of this recipe is that soaking the seeds, and also adding soaked oatmeal, ensures that the final product will still be moist, while chock full of all the flavor and texture the seeds add.
The first time I baked the baguettes I borrowed a baguette pan from Barb Fernald, island almost-neighbor and fellow bread enthusiast. It had three perforated ‘valleys,’ and one recipe produced three petite and crunchy loaves. I’d made a double recipe, so the others had to sit on a flat baking sheet. That was OK, but they were a bit flatter, and the bottoms not as crunchy. Then I ordered a pan, but the one I found had only two bigger valleys, and although they accommodated the dough just fine, the bigger loaves just aren’t quite as pleasing, at least to this baker.
So yesterday we were ‘off island’ with a long list of errands, and found time to hit Ellsworth’s premium cookware and specialty food store - Rooster Brothers. Sure enough, they had Barb’s three-baguette pan, so now I’m the proud (if somewhat guilty) owner of not one but two professional pans. A tangent - the day was wicked hot, and by the time we got to Rooster Brothers we badly needed a cold drink. I had my first cucumber soda - utterly fantastic.
Two final things to say before getting to the recipe. The first is that I’ve discovered you can add a half cup of the soaked oatmeal/seed mixture to the New York Times no-knead recipe, without adjusting any of the other measures, and come up with one more tasty variation on your basic loaf. I used one cup of white, one cup of spelt and one cup of pumpernickel rye for the flours - but I think any flour combination would be just as successful.
The second thing to say is that I’m discovering that my Achilles heel with these recipes that require multiple stages for proving and resting and kneading and so on is that there comes a point in the day when my schedule deviates from the dough’s schedule - and if I take liberties with the timing, I sometimes get away with it, but not always! A few days back it was so hot in the middle of the day that I went for a swim, just to lower my body temperature, and when I got back my doughs had over-proved and collapsed. If the day had been less hot it probably wouldn’t have happened - but equally I wasn’t in the kitchen when I should have been.
I’m thinking about how to rewrite the recipes for myself so that the time line is more front and central - and I can judge more easily whether the day is going to accommodate both my needs, and the dough’s.