When I worked in the bakery, I started off on the pastry station. I lasted around one month before I switched to bread. Pastry, it turned out, was awfully repetitive, much too boring for me. While I loved baking scones and weaving lattices at home, that love simply didn’t translate to large-scale baking.
Bread baking, however, captured me: it seemed visceral, physical, intuitive in a way that pastry wasn’t. I’d always been a bit of a sourdough hobbyist, making loaves occasionally at home and playing around with flours and percentages, and I was excited to learn more about the craft.
Baking sourdough on a bakery scale, was, as I expected, completely different than baking at home. Instead of two loaves to shape, there were tens- on some days, hundreds. The starter weighed several pounds and required serious arm strength to feed and ingredients came in 50 lb. bags. It was different, thrilling- and terrifying. I got the stimulation I’d wanted and at the same time, felt tremendous pressure to swiftly adapt and perform.
I got the hang of mixing, dividing and shaping most loaves pretty quickly. But baguettes eluded me. Their dough was tricky, finicky; it seemed like I’d never master it. My hands weren’t deft enough, my dough stuck to the bench, and I used too much flour. Even after all my efforts, the resulting baguettes emerged wonky and misshapen from the oven, a crushing sight. I dreaded shaping them.
It took me weeks to produce a baguette that wasn’t terrible. The head baker was a patient teacher and under her guidance, my shaping gradually improved. I started timing myself, racing against the clock, and practicing on weekends. I was determined to get it right.
Then, one day, I produced a batch of baguettes that were near perfect. They were gorgeously browned, had open, even scores, and ends so pointy they could be used as a weapon. I picked one up, amazed that my hands had managed to turn a mass of dough into this, a graceful, elegant miracle of fermentation. Practice, I learned, might not make perfect, but it can make something damn well near it.
I came to love baguettes, once the bane of my existence. I was obsessed, continually refining my technique and fawning over scores and crumb. The steep learning curve made success all the more gratifying.
Sometimes, baguettes would fall off the peel on their way from the oven to the cooling rack. We called them floor baguettes, and being that we couldn’t sell them, they were fair game for staff lunches. I often ate floor baguettes for lunch. After being up since 4:00 AM, working hard with no break or food, there was nothing more delicious than that fresh bread, ripped into hunks, sometimes stuffed with cheese.
These crostini are a little fancier than those floor baguette sandwiches, but at their essence, they’re the same: a simple, delicious way to make use of good bread. I spread these with homemade peach jam and tangy goat cheese and topped them with honey broiled peaches. They’re a revelation in salty sweet flavor and when topped with fresh, shredded mint, black pepper and floral bee pollen, they’re also a simple, beautiful appetizer.
These crostini are impressive finger food, but if you serve them with a big salad, crisp white wine and berries and cream for dessert, they can even be dinner. Best of all? They come together in minutes, barely any oven needed. Homemade baguettes aren’t necessary, but will receive extra points. Your call.
Yields: 10 crostini
Why I love this recipe: roasting peaches with honey gives them intensely juicy texture and helps them caramelize and the tangy goat cheese spread over sweet peach jam adds savory flavor to the otherwise sweet crostini. Simple and seasonal, these are a wonderful pre-dinner appetizer and delicious with white wine.
Variations: substitute ricotta for the goat cheese. Use plums or nectarines instead of peaches. Shred basil over the peaches in place of mint.
For the crostini:
- 1/2 baguette, sliced into 10 pieces, on a bias
- 2 peaches, sliced into quarters
- 1/4 cup honey, plus more for drizzling
- 1/3 cup peach preserves or jam
- 4 oz. goat cheese
- black pepper, to taste
- 2 tablespoons mint, shredded, for topping
- 2 tablespoons bee pollen, for topping
- Preheat the oven to 425°F. Bake the baguette slices for 10-15 minutes, watching closely to make sure the bread doesn’t burn.
- Once browned, remove the bread from the oven and transfer to a platter.
- Broil the peaches: brush the peach quarters with the 1/4 cup of honey. Broil on high for 7-10 minutes, or until really blackened, caramelized and bubbling.
- Let peach quarters cool. Slice further into 20 slices.
- Spread each baguette slice with peach jam. Top with goat cheese and use a knife to smear the goat cheese into the bread, mixing it with the jam.
- Grind fresh black pepper over the goat cheese and jam.
- Top each crostini with 2 broiled peach slices.
- Sprinkle with shredded mint and bee pollen and drizzle with more honey. Serve immediately.