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.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Bread article is food journalism award finalist

Devoted followers with exceptional memories and uncluttered brains (that is, my kids) may remember that last May I authored a cover story on American Bread in Saveur magazine. I've learned the the piece is a food journalism finalist for the 2013 IACP awards (that's International Association of Culinary Professionals) next month in San Francisco. I'd ask you all to stuff the ballet box, except there is none (and besides, that strategy didn't work for the Quill Book Awards in 2007). Win or lose, as Sarah Palin might say, "I'm just so proud to be nominated."

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

All Things Bread named to top food blogs

All Things Bread, the blog you are reading, has been named as one of 100 Magnificent Sites for Chefs by, a site devoted to leveraging the Internet to chefs-in-training. This is what they have to say about All Things Bread:

Best-selling author William Alexander shares his passion for the baked loaf at this blog. His cookbook, 52 Loaves, is all about baking the perfect loaf of bread, and his blog takes that perfection even further.

In other words, they liked the pretzel dog recipe. Thanks to the kind folks at Culinary Programs for their recognition and check out the other sites, but not if it means you're going to read those blogs instead of mine.

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Pretzel Dogs!

Since they first appeared on the scene (longer ago than you'd think) I've been a fan of pretzel dogs, food that is greater than the sum of its parts. At shopping mall pretzel stands, however, they have often been sitting out for hours, the poor hot dog shriveled and dry. So why not make them at home? Lye, that's why. Real pretzels are dipping in lye, which I was wasn't quite ready to tackle. But then I saw Harold McGee's article on getting the lye effect (which both adds flavor and gives you that great mahogany sheen) from plain baking soda, so I no longer had an excuse. I can't say that baking soda aspect quite worked out, but more about that later. Making pretzel dough is easy (I even made some with my beloved sourdough, but they didn't prove to be any better, so I'll give the basic recipe here, with a nod to the New York Times, from which it's adapted. The result? Absolutely fantastic! And I can attest to the fact that they reheat well.

Pretzel Dogs

6 hot dogs (preferably natural casing dogs such as Nathan's or Boar's Head
425 grams (about 3 cups) bread flour
236 grams (about 1 cup) tepid water
1 Tbl instant yeast
1 Tbl lard or unsalted butter (of course, I used lard)
1 1/2 teas kosher salt
1-1/2 teas brown sugar

1 cup baking soda (for dipping)
1 egg, mixed with 1 Tbl water (optional)
Coarse sea salt

  1. Prepare the baking soda dip: sprinkle about 1 cup of baking soda onto a small pan and bake at 300 deg. F for one hour.
  2. Mix flour, yeast, kosher salt, sugar, lard and water and let sit for 20-25 minutes, covered with a dish towel. If mixture is too stiff add up to another 10g water.
  3. Knead on a countertop for about 8 minutes. Dough will be very stiff and tight, but should become glossy as you knead.
  4. Cut dough into six equal pieces of about 115 g each
  5. Cover and allow to rest 5-10 minutes
  6. Roll out pieces into long ropes about 20-22 inches long
  7. Spiral each rope around a hot dog. Cut off any excess.
  8. Cover with dishtowel; allow to rest 30 minutes
  9. Place in refrigerator for at least 1 hour, and up to overnight.
  10. Preheat oven to 425 F.
  11. Prepare you "lye" dip. Now here's where it get's interesting. McGee says to dissolve 3/4 cup of the baked baking soda with 2 cups water. I couldn't get that much soda to dissolve in only 2 cups water, and most other recipes that use baking soda use that much in 2 quarts of water. I think Mr. McGee may have a typo, and it should be 2 quarts. Whichever way you go, dip the pretzel dogs in the baking soda mixture, then rinse in clean water; pat dry and place on baking sheet.
  12. Optionally paint with egg mixture (this shouldn't be necessary, but my first batch had no sheen at all) and sprinkle coarse sea salt onto top of each.
  13. Bake for 15 minutes or so, until pretzels are deep golden brown. Let cool a few minutes before eating. Great with Dijon mustard and a cold beer

Monday, January 21, 2013

One Grain More

Occasionally, I get asked about gluten-free breads, a subject about which I'm nearly totally ignorant. But any of you have grappled with the difficulty of turning of delectable edible  gluten-free baked goods or lactose-free dairy  -- or anyone who's seen Les Miz -- or anyone with a sense of humor--  will devour this hilarious Les Miz parody.

Bravo, Michael and Lily! 

Friday, January 11, 2013

Now THAT's dedication

I really thought I was a model of determination and persistence when I baked the same loaf of bread every week for a year,  a whopping 52 loaves of peasant bread, trying to get it right (at first, trying to get it just edible), until I received the following e-mail from a fan of 52 Loaves, the book the details my half-baked adventure:
My neighbor loaned to me your $64 Tomato last summer.  I loved it since we have grown tomatoes in our garden for 40 years. I just finished your book, 52 Loaves.  I couldn't put it down since I could relate.  I have made this same bread for 42 years for our family (4 loaves every 2 weeks). 

Forty-two years?!  That's 4,368 loaves (compared, remember, to my 52). Surely that's qualifies for an entry in the Guinness Book of records, no?  (By the way, this looks like darn good sandwich and toasting bread.) But, wait, it gets better. She and her husband (who also bakes) grind their own wheat, in this wonderful plywood contraption here, something called a Miracle Mill, that they purchased in 1973. No little countertop Williams-Sonoma mill for these hardy Oregon (no surprise, there) homesteaders-- they feed this beast with 50-pound bags of flour!

 I feel like such a wimp! But it's a great (and encouraging) story, and thanks, and bravo!, my anonymous friends, for sharing and allowing me to share with you. Occasionally, something comes into your inbox which makes you feel good -- and hopeful -- about America. And for me, at least, surprisingly often, it has something to do with bread.

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