Hancock Artist Delights in Making French Bread

HANCOCK — David Graeme Baker is best known for his fine oil paintings featured regularly at Courthouse Gallery in Ellsworth and beyond. In recent years, though, the artist has become devoted much time to another pursuit — baking bread.

With two young boys in the house, he is often called upon to make pizza dough, in addition to his baguettes and a favorite recipe for croissants that gets trotted out from time to time.

The baking, he says, is somewhat meditative.

“As my paintings are taking increasingly more time and thought to complete, routine activities like baking bread and walking the dog allow me to let my mind engage with a painting in a discursive way,” he said. “More often than not, I can resolve the narrative or visual elements in a painting while away from the easel.”

As a teenager, Baker lived in France for a year and became enamored with the ritual buying of fresh bread. The smell of the baguette’s crisp crust evokes a boulangerie in Chatillon near where he lived.

His wife, he said, is a superb and inventive cook. He is most often sous chef, he says, to her.

David Graeme Baker says the following bread recipe is one he has used over the years, but is closest to the basic dough recipe from Richard Bertinet’s “Dough.”

Baker’s Baguettes

  • 20 oz. bread flour (He often substitutes a combination of whole wheat, rye, and buckwheat flour for up to 4 oz of the bread flour)
  • 13 oz. water
  • ½ tsp. yeast
  • 1 Tbsp. kosher salt
  • 10 oz. sourdough starter (If not using a starter, just substitute an extra 5 oz. bread flour and 5 oz. water)

Start the dough the night before baking by mixing 10 oz. of starter with 13 oz. of water and 12 oz. of the flour in a large bowl. This makes a very wet batter consistency mixture. Cover tightly and let it sit overnight. In the morning, add the yeast, salt, and the remaining flour. Mix for a couple of minutes until combined. Let sit for 20 minutes. (Time to make coffee and wander to the studio and check in on the day’s projects).

Knead the dough in a standing mixer with a dough hook attachment (it is quite a wet dough) for about two minutes at a slow speed. Increase speed to medium for 8-10 minutes. When dough is satiny, stop kneading, remove dough hook, cover, and let it rise for 4-6 hours. (With such a small amount of yeast the dough moves along slowly and its timing is very forgiving).

Shaping the loaves: Once the dough has doubled in size — just after lunch if I’ve started the bread in the morning — turn dough out of the mixing bowl onto a heavily floured board/counter. If making baguettes or small rolls, divide into five portions, approximately 8 oz. each, and lightly roll each portion into a ball. Let sit for 10-15 minutes.

For baguettes, stretch the ball gently to make a flat football shape. Then lay it flat and fold it into thirds as you would a piece of paper to put into an envelope. Gently seal the top “flap” by pressing down with the heel of your hand. Then roll out the dough with your hands to make it about 14-inches long. Set it on a heavily floured tea towel or cloth. Dust with flour. Repeat for remaining balls of dough. Cover the five shaped baguettes and let rise for about an hour. Preheat the oven and baking/pizza stone to 475 degrees.

Bake two or three at a time. Gently lift baguettes from floured tea towel and place on the preheated baking stone. Quickly make several slashes on the top of the loaves with a very sharp blade. Place a pan of hot water in the oven under the stone. Spritz the loaves with water from a spray bottle a couple of times in the first few minutes of baking, Bake for 15 minutes.

Sourdough Bread

Yogurt Sourdough Starter

  • 1 cup skim or low-fat milk
  • 3 Tbsps. plain yogurt
  • 1 cup bread or all-purpose flour

Sterilize a 1½ quart glass, ceramic, rigid plastic, or stainless steel container with boiling water. Wipe dry with a clean cloth.

In a saucepan heat the skim or low fat milk to 90-100 degrees F. Remove from heat and stir in the yogurt. Pour into the warm container, cover tightly, and let stand in a warm place for eight to 24 hours. The starter should have the consistency of yogurt. If some liquid rises to the top, stir it back in. However, if the liquid has turned a light pink, it indicates the milk has started to break down, discard and start again.

After the mixture has formed a curd, which will flow only slowly when the container is tilted, gradually stir the flour into the starter until it is smooth. Cover tightly and let stand in a warm place until the mixture is full of bubbles and has a good sour smell, two to five days. When half of the starter has been used it can be replenished by stirring in ½ cup milk and ½ cup flour.

To store, refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.

Recipe adapted from Richard Bertinet’s “Dough.”

For more details pick up a copy of The Ellsworth American.

Nicole Ouellette

Nicole Ouellette

When Nicole isn't giving advice she's completely unqualified to give, she runs an Internet marketing company in Bar Harbor, where she lives with her husband Derrick and their short dog Gidget. She loves young adult novels, cooking and talking French to anyone who'll talk back. [email protected]