Bites & Pieces: Easy-Peasy Crusty Artisan Bread

French Onion Soup a la Alton Brown

I always thought that making French onion soup would be difficult until I saw this episode of Good Eats (and then got the cookbook).  But this is really, really simple also.  I’ve found that I need to use an electric skillet for this, as it’s difficult to get a burner down low enough, but other than that it’s a snap.

5  lbs   onions (I like to use a mix of sweet and red, just don’t use all hot onions)

3  Tbs   butter

3  tsp   kosher salt

2  cups white wine

3 cups beef consumme or homemade beef broth (use good stuff)

2 cups chicken broth

1 bouquet garni

1 loaf  Mike’s bread (or other good, fairly dense, bread)

1 splash Cognac (optional. . . but it won’t taste the same without it)

4 oz   Fontina, Gruyere, or other melting cheese

  1. Turn electric skillet (12″ skillet) to 250, or place a 4-qt sauce pan over low heat.  Peel the onions, cut them end-to-end and then slice into thin half moons.  Melt the butter in the skillet, then add the onions in three layers, salting each layer with about 1 tsp of the salt.
  2. Sweat the onions for 15 – 20 minutes without stirring (don’t let them sizzle or brown).  Continue to cook, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, or until they’re mahogany colored and reduced to about 2 cups.
  3. Add just enough wine to cover the onions, then turn the heat up to 375 (high) and cook until the wine is reduced to a syrupy consistency.  Add the beef consumme, chicken broth, and bouquet garni, reduce the heat and simmer for 20 minutes.
  4. Set an oven rack in the top third of the oven and set the broiler to high.  Cut out rounds of bread to fit into the top of your soup crocks, place the rounds on a sheet pan and place under the broiler until they just start to brown (about 1 minute).
  5. Season the soup with salt and pepper and the cognac (if using) and ladle into the crocks.  Place the rounds, toasted side down, on top of the soup and cover with the cheese.
  6. Broil until the cheese is bubbly and golden.
  7. Enjoy!


No Knead Bread (a la Mark Bitman)

This is a nice crusty bread. Since you bake it in a covered pot, there is no need to spray/brush with water to harden the crust. It takes some time to rise because there is so little yeast. If you use 1 packet of yeast (1/4 oz), you can cut the first proofing time to 4 hours.

3 cups all-purpose or bread flour, more for dusting

¼ teaspoon instant yeast

1¼ teaspoons salt

Cornmeal or wheat bran as needed.

1. In a large bowl combine flour, yeast and salt. Add 1 5/8 cups water, and stir until blended; dough will be shaggy and sticky. Cover bowl with plastic wrap. Let dough rest at least 12 hours, preferably about 18, at warm room temperature, about 70 degrees.

2. Dough is ready when its surface is dotted with bubbles. Lightly flour a work surface and place dough on it; sprinkle it with a little more flour and fold it over on itself once or twice. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rest about 15 minutes.

3. Using just enough flour to keep dough from sticking to work surface or to your fingers, gently and quickly shape dough into a ball. Generously coat a cotton towel (not terry cloth) with flour, wheat bran or cornmeal; put dough seam side down on towel and dust with more flour, bran or cornmeal. Cover with another cotton towel and let rise for about 2 hours. When it is ready, dough will be more than double in size and will not readily spring back when poked with a finger.

4. At least a half-hour before dough is ready, heat oven to 450 degrees. Put a 6- to 8-quart heavy covered pot (cast iron, enamel, Pyrex or ceramic) in oven as it heats. When dough is ready, carefully remove pot from oven. Slide your hand under towel and turn dough over into pot, seam side up; it may look like a mess, but that is O.K. Shake pan once or twice if dough is unevenly distributed; it will straighten out as it bakes. Cover with lid and bake 30 minutes, then remove lid and bake another 15 to 30 minutes, until loaf is beautifully browned. Cool on a rack.

Yield: One 1½-pound loaf.


Mark’s pretty EZ and rich cream of mushroom soup.

For 8 big bowls of cream of mushroom soup, first make about a quart of clear vegetable broth.
2 carrots
1/2 red onion
3 celery stalks
3 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley
1/2 tspn thyme
1/2 tspn ginger
2 cloves of garlic
5 coriander seeds [you could use something else here or nothing if you don’t like coriander]
5 black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1/2 tbsp sea salt
4 cups of filtered or distilled water, unless your tap water has no off flavor.

Wash and cut veggies into big chunks and place in a large pot. Add everything. Cover and bring to a full boil. Reduce the heat and gently simmer until all the vegetables are beginning to fall apart / 30 min. Strain the mess to get the clear stock. Let the stock cool.

For the cream of mushroom soup we need 2 lbs of cremini mushrooms or baby bellas, not whites.
1 Tbsp lemon juice
half a stick of unsalted butter
3 chopped green onions
1 teaspoon thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tspn salt
1/2 tspn pepper
4 cups heavy cream
4 cups veggie stock
a little tapioca flour to thicken at end
parsley for garnish

Coarse chop the mushrooms with the lemon juice in the food processor. Melt the butter in a big skillet and saute the chopped green onions until they are limp and the white parts are translucent. Dump in the mushrooms, thyme, and bay leaf and saute on low medium for 15 minutes.

Have the veggie stock and the cream slightly simmering in a big pot on the next burner. Dump the mushroom mix into the cream and stock mix. Add salt and pepper. Simmer for ten minutes, and only use the tapioca starch [or cornstarch] if you think it needs thickening. Stay away from flour here it changes the flavor, IMO.

Ladle into bowls and sprinkle with parsley.

7 Responses

  1. Mike: since the rise is what gives bread its taste, I like slow-rising breads over quicker rising. Eighteen hours sounds intriguing.

    1 5/8 cups water??! That is a measurement that only a scientist could love. 🙂


  2. Michi:

    18 h rise plus a 2 h secondary rise. Not very much yeast though.


    Interestingly, most recipes from Europe/UK are now in metric (g or ml).


  3. Mark: we do, but “5/8” sounded so persnickety. 🙂

    Mike: yeah, I saw that–that long rise is what I think makes it sound so nice. I’ve got an Indian cookbook from the 80s and all of the recipes are in metric (with no conversion factors, so the ones I’ve tried have arithmetic all around the margins!)


  4. Excellent. . . thanks, Mark!


  5. Next time I do a batch of the ‘artisan bread in 5 minutes/day’ I’m going to try baking in the dutch oven. I’m having trouble getting a good crust; trapping the steam may be the trick.


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