If I lived in Paris or even in Warsaw I would not even bother. I would just go down the street and buy it. But because I live in Washington DC, whenever I crave warm bread straight from the oven, I need to bake it. Yes, I can buy baguettes in my neighborhood's upscale stores, such as Balducci's or Marvelous Market, but they are not exactly what I have in mind when I recall the baguettes I used to buy in some places in Europe.
Actually, it was not in Paris, but in Geneva, where I ate the best baguettes ever--always gold and crispy on the outside, and fluffy and incredibly white inside. You could buy them warm, also on weekends. My apologies to all the French readers who may stumble upon this post, but during my last visit to Paris I spent 30 minutes on Saturday morning standing at a lovely boulangerie in Marais, to buy famous French bread--precisely a baguette--and have never been more disappointed. Unfortunately, this was not the only culinary disappointment that I experienced during that trip.
I come from a family of bakers--my grandfather owned a bakery before WWII and later he continued to work in a state-owned bakery. Therefore, appreciation for good bread runs in my blood and I eat quite a lot of it. I used to make bread in Poland, and I still experiment with different recipes here. Years ago, when I first came to the US, I bought a bread machine and made wonderful rye bread that once got even high reviews from my Italian friends, but recently, I bake bread directly in the oven, because I find the bread made in the machine too soft and lacking the crispy crust, which I like very much.
I still have not been able to make a perfect baguette. One of my French friends maintains that the secret of the baguette lies in the quality of the flour it is made of, and the best quality flour is not commonly available outside France. Having that in mind, I decided to make rolls of whole wheat flour and not be disappointed that they are not as perfect as they should be. Still, when I ate them warm, just with butter, they were exactly what I was looking for.
(Makes 12-16 rolls)
2 and 1/2 cups flour,
1 cup whole wheat flour,
1 and 1/2 cup warm water,
3 tbsp oil,
2 tsp yeast,
1 tbsp salt.
2 tbsp oatmeal or sesame seeds.
1. Put all the ingredients in a stand mixer and using the dough hook attachment let it run for about 5 minutes. You can also make the dough just with hands, and knead it until the dough is smooth.
2. Take small pieces of dough, roll in hand and place on a cookie sheet tin.
3. Cover with plastic foil and let it rise for an hour.
4. Preheat oven to 375 F.
5. Remove the foil and sprinkle the rolls with sesame seeds or oatmeal.
6. Bake for 20-30 minutes.
Let the rolls cool down a little bit before you eat them, but they taste best when they are still slightly warm. You can make a large batch and freeze some of them for later.