Sunday, January 5, 2014

Speaking of French bread...

To those of you who've wondered why (or been relieved that) my posts here have gotten sparse, let me assure you that I'm still baking as much as ever, but I've embarked on a new project: trying to learn French. The result is the New York Times bestselling book Flirting with French.

Writing so much about feeding my mind, I've slacked on writing about feeding my stomach. The good news is, you can learn more about my French activities at my other blog (also now not too active), and and writing adventures in general at William Alexander's Books on Faceboook.

À bientôt!!

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Coucou, tu as pris le pain?

In another sad sign that French culture is being dragged down to American levels, the French bakers and millers lobby has started a national campaign modeled on our "Got Milk?" program to reverse the declining consumption of bread in France. The slogan Coucou, tu as pris le pain? means “Hi there, have you picked up the bread?”and their hope is that simply the casual greeting coucou will become synonymous with bread.

Good luck.

The delicious irony of this is that the campaign is being directed in part by the commercial bakeries  -- the very same people responsible for the decline of French bread to begin with. After the Second World War, the traditional, sourdough-leavened, long-fermentation baguette was replaced by machine-made bread full of additives that strengthened the dough against the rough handling of mechanization and shortened the rise time. The result: lifeless baguettes that tasted like cotton.

The commercial bakers would like nothing better than to see the French return to their earlier levels of bread consumption. That would be -- are you ready for this -- a whopping THREE baguettes per person per day in 1900!! As recently as 1970 the French still averaged an entire baguettes per person, and the current level is about half a loaf. Which is still a lot of bread by American standards.

You can find my own artisan baguettes recipe here, if this posting has made you hungry.

Monday, April 22, 2013

Bienvenue, Eric Kayser!

Judging by the lines out the door at Eric Kayser's Upper East Side boulangerie Sunday morning, I'd have to say his French bakery is being well-received -- yet another encouraging sign of the bread renaissance underway in New York. Add waiters wearing classic black-and-white French t-shirts and a French manager, and you might think you're living on Rue Monge, where a couple of decades ago, Kayser was one of a handful of young bakers determined to bring good bread  back to France.

Kayser wanted to used a liquid levain, or sourdough, in his breads (so you can see why I'm a fan) and when he couldn't find a machine that could maintain one, designed his own. When I went on my bread odyssey in Paris a few years ago, Kayer's pain de compaign came as close the my ideal loaf as I found. In New York, his banquette Monge may be the star, although, his sourdough boule, pictured here, is a very nice loaf, especially toasted. Also try his nut loaf, which has just a beautiful crumb and a perfect -- crispy but not hard -- crust.

The shop has a restaurant as well as the boulangerie, where you can order a bread basket sampler and a killer croque madame, served, of course, on his own bread (with house-cured ham). Kudos to Kayser for raising the bar for bread in America another notch. And if you can't make it there, you can make your own baguette ancienne that is even better than his. See 52 Loaves for details.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Bread article wins 2013 IACP award

Am thrilled to announced that my Saveur feature on American Bread won the IACP award last night for best instructional food writing of 2012. Thx to the terrific editorial and photography team at Saveur magazine and the folks at the International Association of Culinary Professionals. full list of awardees at

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Sourdough dinner rolls

Woke up with a hankering for rolls Sunday morning, so decided to do something I'd never made: Pure sourdough (no commercial yeast) dinner rolls. I took my part-sourdough baguette recipe, ramped up the starter (levain) by a hundred grams, and left out the 1/4 teaspoon of yeast. The rolls didn't miss the yeast, as you can see from the photo. Fantastic a few hours out of the oven with braised short ribs that Anne made. Here's the recipe:
  • 285 grams all-purpose unbleached flour
  • 40 g corn flour
  • 350 g levain (sourdough starter - see here for directions on making your own)
  • 12 g salt
  • 170 g water
  1. A few hours before baking (or the night before) feed the levain
  2. Mix all ingredients thoroughly. Cover and let sit 20-25 minutes
  3. Knead by hand 4-5 minutes until dough is elastic
  4. Return to bowl misted with oil; cover with oiled plastic wrap and ferment for 4-5 hours in a cool place
  5. Preheat baking (pizza) stone on center rack with old cast iron pan on bottom rack at 550 degrees or as hot as your oven will go at least an hour before baking
  6. On a floured countertop, divide dough in about 125g pieces. Form into rounds by gathering the dough and pulling down to the bottom, forming a small knot at the bottom. The idea is to create some surface tension by pulling tightly.  You can also form some into miniature baguettes, which is fun
  7. Place rolls between folds of linen couche; cover and let rise about 1 hour
  8. Transfer to peel and place in oven. Pour 1 cup water into cast iron pan (wear oven mitt!)
  9. Turn oven down to 480 and bake until golden brown and interior is 208-210 degrees. Partway through cooking you may need to turn oven down to 440 or so if crust is browning too quickly.
  10. Cool rolls on wire rack.

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