It’s Chanterelle season right now in the Bay Area and I have finally given in and purchased a bunch of these headily fragrant fungi, showcasing them in a Mushroom Bruschetta recipe worthy of their heavenly flavors. With Peter Reinhart’s French Bread next on my BBA Challenge list, we had an indulgent Saturday lunch sitting in the fridge waiting to happen, I just had to put it together….a few days in advance.

As is the case with most of Reinhart’s bread formulas in his book, the French Bread begins its existence as a pâte fermentée, a 20-minute affair of mixing and kneading followed by some resting time and and spending a night in the fridge. While it might seem like a lot of trouble to have to prepare a dough before you start on the real thing, this is, in Reinhart’s words, “one of the baker’s most effective tools for manipulating time”, as pre-ferments give the final loaves a flavor and structure comparable with those found at your favorite bakery.

And comparable they were. The soft crumb of the long slender loaves were packed with flavor and a sweetness only achieved through an extended fermentation process. My pâte fermentée ended up with a three-night sleepover in the fridge before I set to work on making the final product, giving the yeast plenty of time to break down the complex starch molecules in the flour and release its sugars in the process.

With this formula, you essentially make the same dough twice – one is left in the fridge for a few nights, while the second is made on the day that you bake and incorporate with the earlier batch along with a substantial amount of kneading, throwing, punching and stretching. I shaped them into three baguettes, scored the tops and left them to rest and rise while transforming my home oven into a steamy one: like Ciabatta, French Bread is hearth-baked,  where direct heat and bursts of steam will cause my loaves to “spring” and develop crisp crusts. The baking process went without a hitch and after about 20 minutes, out popped three freshly-baked baguettes.

The verdict?

I was happy with their firm crusts, sweet flavor and soft crumb, which made the perfect foundation for an aromatic blend of mushrooms, thyme and parsley. However, the loaves looked a tad too pale for my taste and I’m wondering what could be done differently to achieve better caramelization in the crust. I’ll have to work on my slashing technique too as I was clearly too gentle when scoring the dough, resulting in loaves without the trademark slashes usually associated with les baguettes.

Compared with the lunch we had though, these were just cosmetic distractions that had nothing to do with the bread itself. M, the pain coinnosseur among the two of us, pronounced it delicious, and more importantly, we had an ample supply of bread on hand for our bruschettas.

Mushroom Bruschetta recipe
Makes about 12 pieces

I used a mix of Chanterelles, Shiitake and White Button mushrooms in this version, but there an infinite number of combinations and possibilities.

2 tablespoons butter
3 garlic cloves, minced
Half a white onion, diced
8 ounces of mushrooms
, sliced
3 to 4 sprigs of fresh thyme, leaves picked
A good glassful of dry white wine
2 tablespoons créme fraîche
1 garlic clove, halved
1 baguette, sliced into half-inch pieces
A handful of fresh parsely sprigs, finely chopped

Melt the butter over medium-high heat in a large saucepan, then add the garlic and onions and let them sweat for two minutes, until fragrant. Add the mushrooms and thyme, mix until they start to soften, about a minute, then add the wine and let it bubble off. Add the créme fraîche, stir, then cover the pan and reduce the heat to low. Let the pan sit and the flavors meld while you prepare the bread.

Rub the garlic halves on one side of each slice and toast them in a pan on the stove-top, garlic side down, until the edges start to turn a dark brown.

When the bread is ready, serve, either heaping the mushrooms on each slice and garnish with parsley or place the entire pan on the table with the bread by the side for everyone to help themselves.

For more BBA French Bread stories and step-by-step photos, check out these adventures:

I’m submitting this French Bread to YeastSpotting, a weekly round-up of all things good and yeasty by Susan at Wild Yeast.