Skip to content

Secret Santa Gift Swap And A Loaf Of Bread

Gift Swap

Gift Swap

I have been an active cook on Food52 for almost 2 years now, it’s a wonderful community of kind and giving cooks/chefs some very accomplished home cooks and other culinary professionals. I have made some good friends and count myself very lucky to know them.

Last year one of the community members (Noelle/Enbe) offered to organize a Secret Santa gift swap for members for the Food52 community, it was a huge success and Noelle organized it again this year. I registered and sent a very nice package to South Carolina and the day after I sent my package I received a beautiful package from California. I was thrilled to find out that my Secret Santa was Helen (Antonia James on food52), She put together a thoughtful and beautiful basket, home canned blueberry jam and blueberries in syrup, assorted homemade (delicious) cookies, Levain that Helen started and a brotform proofing bowl. I was thrilled and a little scared, well I was scared because I have never baked bread using a levain nor have I fed or cared for levain before. I thought, geez I kill every single houseplant that comes into my house, not on purpose of course, will I kill this too?  Helen so carefully cultivated and shipped it  to me and I really wanted it to work.  Luckily, she was kind enough to give me instructions on the care and feeding of levain, I followed her directions and was delighted that my levain thrived and grew.

Levain is fed and starting to bubble

Levain is fed and starting to bubble

Yesterday I made the bread dough, following William Alexanders recipe for baguettes, it fermented overnight in the fridge and I am going to bake it today.

Bread dough after fermeting overnight look at those bubbles

Bread dough after fermeting overnight look at those bubbles

I baked a baguette and a boule and they turned out pretty well, I need to work on the shaping of the loaves but all in all I think my first try at baking bread with levain was a success. I am so grateful to Helen for sending it to me, I have learned a lot!! I also used the brotform mold to proof the boule ,love the circular lines on the loaf. Below is William Alexanders recipe for baguettes. Please visit his wonderful website and buy his book he is genius. I have to say the bread is exceptional, a thin crisp crust and soft interior, it’s a little work caring and feeding levain but the results are well worth it.

Boule and baguette

Boule and baguette


375 g all-purpose flour (13.23 oz)
250 g levain (8.8oz)
215 g water (7.58oz)
¼ teas. instant yeast
10 g salt

  1. Prepare the dough

  2. Feed levain at least 2 hours or the night before beginning.
  3. Mix all ingredients and allow dough to rest, covered (“autolyse”) for about 25 min.
  4. Knead by hand for about 7 minutes until dough is silky and elastic.
  5. Cover with oil-misted plastic wrap. If doing an overnight fermentation, place immediately in refrigerator. For same-day baking, ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, then ferment in refrigerator an additional 4 hours.
  6. Remove from refrigerator and wait for dough to reach temperature (2 to 3 hours).

    Form loaves and proof

  7. Place an old cast-iron skillet on the bottom shelf of your oven and a pizza stone near the middle rack.
  8. Preheat oven to 500°F.
  9. On a floured countertop, divide dough into 4 equal parts of about 212 grams each (don’t go crazy trying to make them all exactly the same), shape into balls, and allow to rest, covered for 15 minutes. (I sometimes omit this step if in a hurry, but it does help to relax the dough for the next step.)
  10. Press each ball into approximately a 3- by 5-inch rectangle, and form baguettes as shown in the accompanying video. You should have nice little blisters or bubbles of gas in the dough – leave them!
  11. Proof in a floured couche (a heavy linen canvas) or, lacking that, between folds of parchment paper, for 45-60 minutes.

    Score and bake

  12. With four baguettes to place into your oven, it’s sometimes easier to use a wide baking sheet rather than your peel. Sprinkle the sheet liberally with corn meal or rice flour (or cover with a sheet of parchment paper), transfer the baguettes to it (I use a narrow piece of quarter-inch plywood as a flipping board, but you can use transfer them by hand as well).
  13. Using a fresh single-edged razor or a lame, make several overlapping diagonal slashes on each baguette.
  14. Transfer the baguettes to the stone with a clean jerk back of the baking sheet. Quickly add a cup of water to the skillet and turn oven down to 480°F.
  15. Bake for 20-25 minutes until crust is a rich brown and center registers 210°F or a rap on the bottom of the loaf produces a hollow percussion sound.
  16. Cool on rack.
8 Comments Post a comment
  1. Woo-hoo!!! Congrats!! I predict you’ll be hooked on this, although I admit that caring for the beast can get a little old after awhile. Been there. But so worth the effort. What a wonderful gift idea of Helen’s!! And I love, love, love the rings that the bowl formed.

    December 19, 2012
    • Thank you, I have levain left that I am feeding and hope to make more loaves I have to look up different recipes to try, It is so much fun and I love working with the levain. I always wondered how they got the rings, the brotform bowl is genius. Thanks so much Suzanne, I am hooked!

      December 19, 2012
  2. petit4chocolatier #

    Congratulations to you and your wonderful community! Love your boule and baguette. The bowl design is incredible!! The aromas in your house must have been incredible!!

    December 19, 2012
    • Thank you so much Judy, it is an incredible community and I loved making the bread today, it really did turn out wonderfully. You are so right the smell in the house was terrific, can’t get better than homemade bread.

      December 19, 2012
  3. Oh my Suzanne! That bread looks so gorgeous and I bet smells INCREDIBLE!! I wish I was in your house when that was baking in the oven! You are so talented!

    December 20, 2012
    • Thanks so much, I am learning as I go and I so enjoyed working with levain. The bread really is great, and wow, the house smelled so good!!

      December 20, 2012
  4. What a lovely gift from Helen! I joined in the swap, too, and received a thoughtful, delicious gift, too. Love the connections these swaps can make! And your bread is beautiful – congratulations!

    December 21, 2012
    • Thank you yes Helen sent the most wonderful gift, I am really enjoying the levain and the bread is wonderful. It really is so much fun participating and meeting albeit long distance so many wonderful people of like mind.

      December 21, 2012

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: