Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Red Onion Soup with French Country Bread and Gruyere Soufflé

 Our Daring Bakers Host for December 2011 was Jessica of My Recipe Project and she showed us how fun it is to create Sour Dough bread in our own kitchens! She provided us with Sour Dough recipes from Bread Matters by Andrew Whitley as well as delicious recipes to use our Sour Dough bread in from Tonia George’s Things on Toast and Canteen’s Great British Food!

            Frankly speaking, it was my first Daring Bakers challenge and since I got registered last month I was anxiously waiting for the beginning of December. I anticipated some sort of a beautiful gateau or a stunning dessert waiting for me at the forum of the Daring Kitchen (it would have been great to create something outstanding right from the beginning of my “daring” journey!). So, can you imagine my surprise and, frankly speaking, frustration when I opened the website only to find out that the task for December is to bake bread? Bread! And not even a usual one, but with sourdough which means using only three ingredient: flour, water and salt to make the batter. It sounded so boring to me! – and, at the same time (let me be honest with you) intimidating because I have never ever made a bread in my life. I seriously thought of skipping the first challenge, but when I told my husband about it (it was right after we had stuffed quails for dinner) he said: “But you’ve never deboned a quail before as well, have you?” And I realized that he’s actually right: it is supposed to be a challenge and, in the long run, what’s the point of the whole thing if you just cook something you’ve always been good at? The idea is to learn, to get new skills by pushing yourself in the kitchen and facing unknown without any fear, but with enthusiasm. I realized that I shouldn’t even think of skipping this month task; on the contrary, I should be grateful to Jessica for the opportunity to learn how to work with sourdough and …to overcome the kitchen fears.

           To say true, it was incredible to watch the starter improve from day to day and “feeding” it every night helped me understand what is so special about the homemade bread: you give it your love and attention until it comes to life and you “nurse” it like a child until it becomes strong enough. When I got my loaf out of the oven, I felt really proud of myself. Despite the fact that it looked not so perfect (which is not a disaster for a country bread: the rustic look actually adds more charm to it) it smelled so incredibly that it was a difficult task to prevent myself from cutting the first, warm slice of it straight away (I had to wait for the morning to make a good picture of it). The following day, however, I finally rewarded myself with a piece of my bread: with a nice crust, airy filling and a bit sour taste. 

            When it came to representing the bread as a part of a dish (which the challenge called for) I didn’t think a lot before deciding to make an onion soup (another French classic) with a toasted slice of my bread and cheese soufflé. It was a real pleasure “to break” the top of the pot and to let the bread soak in a flavourful stock for a while before eating it (or should I better say – enjoying every spoon of it?).


French Country Bread (the original recipe by Jessicamyrecipeproject.blogspot.com)

Wheat Starter - Day 1:
40 gm whole-wheat flour
45 ml water

Wheat Starter - Day 2:
40 gm whole-wheat flour
45 ml water

Wheat Starter - Day 3:
40 gm whole-wheat flour
20 ml water

Wheat Starter - Day 4:
120 gm unbleached all-purpose flour
100 ml water

Refreshing the leaven
160 gm wheat leaven starter
 50 gm whole-wheat flour
 150 gm unbleached all purpose flour
 120 ml water

Final dough
100 gm whole-wheat flour, plus more for dusting
300gm unbleached all-purpose flour
3 gm table salt
300 ml water
300 gm production leaven

Red Onion Soup
300 gm red onions, thinly sliced
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
¼ cup sherry
½ tbsp balsamic vinegar
½ tbsp Worcestershire sauce
¼ tsp dried tarragon
1 cup chicken stock
1 cup beef stock
1 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
3 black peppercorns
salt and black pepper to taste

Gruyere Soufflé
15 gm butter
15 gm flour
75 ml milk
25 gm Gruyere, grated
1 egg, separated
½ tsp garlic powder
salt and black pepper to taste


  1. For French country bread, make a starter on the first day by mixing flour and water into a paste. Cover and leave in a warm place. Repeat the process on the second, third and fourth days, adding the necessary ingredients to the starter. By the end of the forth day it should be bubbling and smell yeasty. On the fifth day, refresh the starter by adding the ingredients, cover and set in a warm place for 4 hours or until expanded slightly.
  2. To make the final dough, mix all the ingredients except the production leaven, knead it on unfloured surface for 8 – 10 minutes getting the tips of your fingers wet if you need to. Smooth the dough into a circle, then scoop your production leaven into the centre (you will use only about 2/3 of your production leaven). Fold the edges of the dough up to incorporate the leaven and knead for a couple minutes until the leaven is fully incorporated in the dough.  Spread some water on a clean bit of your work surface and lay the dough on top. Cover with an upturned bowl, lining the rim of the bowl with a bit of water. Leave for an hour, so that the gluten can develop and the yeasts can begin to aerate the dough.
  3. Once your dough has rested, you can begin to stretch and fold it. Using wet hands, stretch the dough away from you as far as you can without breaking it and fold it back in on itself. Repeat this in each direction. Heavily flour a banneton/proofing basket with whole wheat flour and rest your dough, seam side up, in the basket. Put the basket in a large plastic bag, inflate it, and seal it. Set aside somewhere warm for 3-5 hours, or until it has expanded a fair bit. It is ready to bake when the dough responds to a gently poke by slowly pressing back to shape.
  4. Preheat the oven to 220°C. Line a baking sheet with parchment, then carefully invert the dough onto the sheet. Make 2 – 3 cuts on top of the loaf and bake for 40-50 minutes, reducing the temperature to 200°C after 10 minutes. Allow to cool on a rack.
  5. For red onion soup, bring the stocks to a boil together with star anise, cinnamon and black peppercorns, simmer for 5 minutes, then cover with a lid and let steep for 15 minutes. Strain and discard the spices.
  6. Heat olive oil with butter in a pan, add onions and salt, cover with a lid and cook over medium heat until the onions are nicely caramelized, stirring frequently to prevent burning, about 20 – 30 minutes. Add sherry and reduce to a syrupy consistency. Add balsamic vinegar, Worcestershire sauce and the stock. Bring to a boil and cook over medium heat for 15 – 20 minutes. Divide the soup among the two heat-proof bowls.
  7. Preheat the oven to 180C. Cut the slices of country bread to the size fitting the top of the bowls. Toast them on both sides till golden brown in colour and arrange on the top of the soup bowls. Increase the temperature of the oven to 200C.
  8. For Gruyere soufflé, melt butter in a pan, add flour and stir to make a paste. Pour in milk, stirring vigorously to prevent lumps from being formed. Add egg yolk, cheese, season to taste and remove from heat. Beat the egg white till stiff picks, then using a spatula gently fold it into the egg yolk mixture. Spread the soufflé mixture on the toasted slices of bread and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. Serve immediately.


  1. I couldn’t find the unbleached all-purpose flour but as I made some research on making the bread (well, of course, I did – it was my first time experience after all!) I found that organic flour will do, so I used it for my dough.
  2. Make sure you toast the bread slices finely. If they are too soft, they won’t hold the soufflé mixture and it will sink.
  3. You will have 1 cup of production leaven left after making the final dough for the bread. I used mine to make pancakes – they turned to be well aerated and yummy!

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