Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Pain à l'ancienne

Until recently I was not a bread baker. But this is changing, and I've been making bread quite regularly these last few months. My cousin gave me The Bread-Maker's Apprentice (among other wonderful cookbooks, thanks so much!), and it was worth her purchasing it and schlepping it to Europe for this bread recipe alone.

A recipe worth the effort
We live in a country that makes good bread, no doubt about it. But we sometimes miss French white bread. Now this recipe doesn't make fluffy, light baguettes. It's flatter, and a little heartier. But the crust is just right, crackling without being too hard, and the flavor of the bread (especially with butter) is excellent. And when the kids specifically ask for "Mommy's bread," I can't help but think the effort is worth it.

Cold fermentation releases flavors
The secret to the flavor of this bread apparently lies in its long, cold fermentation, which releases flavors trapped in the flour... Reinhart explains this process at length and with great enthusiasm in his book, but I'll keep this post as brief as possible. It's good, that's all I can say. And once you get the hang of it, this bread is easy to make. You have to plan ahead, yes, but the actual handling time is brief.

Bake for the whole week
I always make two batches, to justify turning on the oven so hot for so long. I don't double the recipe as my KitchenAid wouldn't be able to handle it, but making a second batch of dough takes an extra ten minutes, max. This bread gets stale fairly quickly, so once it's baked and cooled, I freeze most of the bread and defrost later by placing it in the microwave on medium for 40 seconds, then putting it in the oven at 150°C for about five minutes.

Recipe: Pain à l'ancienne
Adapted from The Bread-Maker's Apprentice

[I'm being a little lazy and not referring to the book for instructions, as I've made this recipe so many times I have it memorized. Also I've modified the quantities so that one batch makes four breads that can all fit at the same time in my oven. If you feel the explanations aren't clear enough, let me know. Otherwise these sites seem to have posted the exact recipe. For good process photos see my friend Tanya's post.]

- 500g bread flour*
- 10.5 to 11g salt
- 10.5g fresh yeast** (or 3.5g instant yeast I believe)
- 360g ice cold water (under 4°C), more or less
- flour for shaping the dough the next day (about 1/2 cup)

Special equipment
The following make my life a lot easier with this recipe:
- Stand mixer: the dough is very sticky, so hand-kneading would not be fun
- Plastic scraper: you can use a silicone spatula
- Bench scraper: you can use the largest knife you have
- Pizza peel: not essential but so comfortable to slip the bread into the oven. Replace with the back of a cookie sheet
- Ceramic pizza stone, or quarry tiles. If you don't have one, you can perhaps layer several cookie sheets on top of each other and preheat them well.
- Spray bottle for squirting water: the kind you use for plants

The day before
- Prepare your ice water. I place water from the fridge in the freezer for about 15 minutes, but you can also add ice cubes.
- Prepare a large mixing bowl by oiling it lightly.
- Place flour in bowl of stand mixer. Bury the salt under the flour so it doesn't come in contact with the yeast. Break up the fresh yeast over the flour. Pour the cold water on top.
- Mix the dough with the dough hook at speed 1 until all the flour is absorbed by the water, then mix at speed 2 for 5 to 6 minutes. The dough should be quite wet: it should clear the sides of the bowl, but stick to the bottom (so a small circle of dough stays permanently glued to the bottom of the bowl as the dough hook swings the rest of the dough around the bowl). Add water drop by drop if it seems too dry, or a little flour at a time if it's too wet.
- As soon as you are done kneading, take a wet plastic scraper and scrape the dough into the oiled bowl. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

The next day

1. Shaping the breads
- Take the dough out of the fridge. It may or may not have risen in the fridge. Let it come to room temperature for at least two hours, possibly more if after the two hours it still hasn't at least doubled in size. I've let it sit on the counter for I believe up to four hours or more.

The dough after it has fully risen. I always work with two batches at a time.

- About 45 minutes to an hour before you want to bake your bread, start preheating your oven to its maximum temperature, preferably with a ceramic pizza stone (or quarry tiles?) placed in the lower half of the oven. The stone conducts heat efficiently and creates a nice crust. If you don't have a pizza stone, use the thickest cookie sheet you can find, or several cookie sheets. Perhaps they don't need to be preheated quite as long.
- About 10 minutes before baking, place a large metal pan in the top of the oven to heat it up. This will be used later for creating steam. Also start boiling the of cup of water that will later be poured into this pan.
- Prepare: flour, a bowl of cold water, a bench scraper, a plastic scraper, a piece of parchment paper on the back of a cookie sheet, or on a pizza peel if you have one.
- Liberally flour a work surface (about 1/2 cup of flour?)
- Very gently pour the dough out of the bowl, helping it along with the wet plastic scraper so as to prevent stretching as much as possible: you don't want to degas the dough and risk losing the precious air bubbles.
- Sprinkle flour generously all over the dough, and with floured fingers, gently lift the dough around the edges to add more flour and to gently shape it into a rectangle.
- Dip your bench scraper in the water bowl, and cut the rectangle into the first of four slices. You want to press down and pinch with the scraper, as opposed to making a sawing motion. After each slice, dry and flour your hands, then carefully lift the strip of dough with two hands onto the parchment paper, where you will gently stretch the dough to the width of the paper, as you lay it down. This should be fairly easy to do, I find gravity does all the work for me. But if the dough is very springy and resists being stretched, let it rest for five minutes to give the gluten a chance to relax. Repeat with all four slices of dough, making sure they don't touch each other.
- A light touch with the dough is essential to keeping if from deflating. Make sure your fingers are always either wet or floured to prevent the dough from sticking to them.
- Scoring dough that is this wet is not easy. I don't know the first thing about scoring, but scissors dipped in flour work fairly well. The recipe says you can skip scoring altogether if the dough doesn't cooperate.
- You don't have to wait for the baguettes to proof, you can proceed with the baking step right away.

2. Baking the breads
The first few minutes of baking are a little hectic. The goal is to create as much steam as possible in the beginning, as this helps the bread rise and creates a pleasant crust. Since most of us don't have professional ovens, Reinhart proposes workarounds (I think he calls this hearth baking):
- After putting the bread in the oven (just slide the bread together with the parchment paper onto the preheated stone or cookie sheet), immediately and carefully pour 1 cup of boiling water into the metal pan that has been heating at the top of your oven. (In the beginning I used a large Pyrex dish, which was great, till I poured water that wasn't quite hot enough into it, and it shattered over my precious bread.) Close the oven.
- 30 seconds later, open the door and quickly squirt water onto the sides of the oven with the squirt bottle. Work as quickly as possible, and try not to squirt water on the bread or on glass (lights, the door of your oven) or the thermal shock could cause cracking. Close the door of the oven, wait 30 seconds, do it again. You'll squirt the walls of your oven a total of 3 times in this way.
- (In the interest of full disclosure, let me say I use yet another steam gadget, though I have no idea if it contributes in any way to the success of my breads: I discovered my oven has a little doo-hicky that lets you squirt water inside to create steam. It may be superstition on my part, but I do my utmost to generate as much steam as possible as soon as I put the bread in the oven).
- After the final squirting, you can lower the oven temperature to 245°C. The temperature was higher in the beginning to compensate for all the door opening.
- After about 8 minutes, check to see if the bread is browning evenly. Turn it around to ensure even baking. Take out the steam pan if it still contains water, as now you want a dry environment for the bread.
- I take my bread out 10 minutes later. The target internal temperature is 96°C (205°F). One blogger suggested leaving it longer makes for a tougher crust. I often go by the color of the bread.
- Let the bread cool on a rack for 15-20 minutes. This is the hardest part, but worth it, as the texture of the bread won't be settled if you break in too soon.

This is rustic bread, uneven shaping and scoring really don't matter.

* A word about flour
Every country has different flour. Even within Western Europe, flour is different in France, Switzerland, Germany... The recipe came from an American book, that specified bread flour, which I cannot get here. My friend Tanya has done a lot of research on flour substitutions, so I will keep this brief.

Let's just say I tried many different flours and flour combinations: French T65, Halbweissmehl, Weissmehl, I even carted a huge bag of bread flour from the US (to see what I should be aiming for) as well as some vital wheat gluten to add to white flour to strengthen it.

Though I always try two different flours or flour combinations at the same time, I do not have the discipline for a truly scientific approach: I always forget which batch is which, or else I hate to break into two breads at the same time so I can't really compare them... After all these tests and trials, I would say I have a slight preference for baking with organic French T65 flour, which perhaps gives the best flavor, and it may be worthwhile to add a little vital wheat gluten to make it stronger (this seems to make bread that is a little less flat, but some say it also makes the bread too chewy or rubbery...) Really, any kind of white (not bleached though) all-purpose or bread flour works.

One thing I don't recommend, is adding whole-wheat flour. I tried that too, as little as 10%, but it just doesn't go with this kind of bread. Or so the lovers of white baguettes in this family believe.

I believe when I took these side-by-side pictures, my intention was to show the difference between two flours. Alas, I can't remember which was which. I'm pretty certain though that for the bottom photo, the left-hand bread used American bread flour and the right-hand bread used French T65. I think the bread flour gave more rise, but was slightly more chewy, whereas the French flour had better flavor. But don't hold me to it, I am no Cook's Illustrated!

** A word about yeast
Use instant yeast or fresh yeast, not dry active yeast, which needs to be soaked first. My flattest breads came from using the wrong kind of yeast (or from rough handling of the dough). Of course in Europe the yeast is called differently, so if you have a doubt, I believe instant is the very fine powdered yeast, and active dry yeast is the kind that comes in bigger granules. Fresh yeast comes in a cubic package -- at least here it does -- and must be kept in the fridge, for a maximum of two weeks.


Aran said...

Gorgeous! I have been waiting for a while for a new recipe from you. I discovered your blog during the last croissant attempt. I have been checking everyday to see what else you have been making. This has not disappointed me, let me tell you, this bread looks wondeful! I love making bread but it requires so much love and attention is not always possible to make it but you have inspired me to pick up some yeast again. Fantastic!

Astrid said...

Thank you so much Aran! Your blog is a treasure trove for me, I only just glanced through it and saw you master macarons, which I'm struggling with. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

Tanya said...

Your loaves are looking so tall and beautiful. Yay! I'm inspired to bake some more of these. I love this recipe. I'm going to try the french 65 flour. I also got some Austrian "bread" flour that I'm anxious to try.

linda said...

Wow, those look so professional! And delicious too!

Kai Carver said...

Looks delicious. Haven't read in detail, but it's bookmarked along with the bagel post, and I hope to try them soon.

- proud member of LCSLC (La Cerise Savory-Loving Cabal)

Kai Carver said...

PS: oh and just for the heck of it, from the sublime to the ridiculous, would you consider posting a donut recipe? I miss donuts here in France, where Dunkin' Donuts doesn't exist (yet, probably).

The fact that I even for a second considered buying such a machine as this must mean I really miss donuts.

mthrum said...

Bravo Astrid ! Je crois que je vais me mettre au pain aussi !

Astrid said...

Tanya - T65 flour is sometimes hard to find even in France. Let me know how the Austrian bread flour shapes up! (Where did you get it?)

Linda - Thanks!

Kai - Welcome back! I'm curious to see what your little oven can produce, do send photos! But I feel bad for the members of the LSCLC... Savory recipes are few and far between on this blog! As for donuts, you've picked perhaps the only sweet that I don't like at all. Never ever tempted by donuts. The only thing that might tempt me is a beignet, preferably apple beignet (do you remember a neighbor in Rueil Malmaison who used to make these for us? I have a very vague but yummy memory of apple slices dipped in batter and fried...)
Anyway, there was recently a blogger event concerning donuts, so you should find everything you need in this compilation of posts.

Claire - (Car je suppose qu'il s'agit de Claire, à moins que Marc ne se soit mis à la pâtisserie?!) C'est génial de faire du pain, et surtout dans ton coin du monde, tu ne dois pas avoir beaucoup de choix en matière de pain. Au fait, les croissants, tu m'envoies une photo de tes oeuvres?!

Claudia said...

I love Peter Reinhart's book. Did you know that the pain à l'ancienne dough makes a good pizza as well? I tried the pizza with parma ham and arugula.

Kai Carver said...

Mmm, donuts... I forget you're not a real American like me :-p

Thanks for the links, they look great.

Please consider overcoming your dislike for the sake of your children. Donuts are an important part of their heritage. And what's not to like about toroidal food, like bagels and Cheerios?

I'm not sure I remember the Rueil beignets. I often find beignets too greasy. I know. But for me, the key to enjoying donuts (plain) is eating them cold, so you don't notice the grease. I once microwaved a donut. Never again!

Astrid said...

Claudia - Your pizza looks delicious! I did read it's possible to use the dough for pizza, but wondered how on earth you could shape dough that is so wet.

Kai - Argh, all my waist-line needs is deep-fried sweets to push it to the point of no return... But don't worry, the kids got a taste of their (other) heritage this morning: I made pretzels. They turned out pretty well, considering I didn't dare dip them in lye (Lauge), as I should have (but who wants to wear protective goggles and gloves in the kitchen?!)

Jessy and her dog Winnie said...

Your bread looks great! I love this bread recipe! I have made it twice before, and it always turns out wonderful!

Gay said...

Astrid -
that bread looked so yummy! I've tried the Atkin's diet a few times and the carbs I miss most is really good bread - not the sliced store stuff - but crusty Tuscan style, or French baguettes or even good old sour dough!
I love the dialog between you and Kai! He didn't specify which kind of donuts he likes - cake or the fluffy kind. I cannot imagine never being tempted by a donut! such restraint! But given your talents, the lowly donut cannot compare!
I used to bake bread many moons ago - I used my bread baking machine to mix the dough then took the dough out and baked it in the oven. Now that I have the standing mixer, I should try again - with your recipe!
I think of pretzels as being American - most of the commercial ones are baked here in Lancaster, PA because the water is best for their flavor (a good amount of lime in the water, I believe) and soft prezels are uniquely Philadelphian, especially with yellow mustard on them. (I guess pretzels originated in Germany?)
I love reading your posts - keep them coming....

Astrid said...

Gay - Thanks for leaving a comment! No, it's not that I consider the donut lowly -- if Sherry Yard can serve it to Julia Child, it is noble enough for me -- it's just I don't like it. Maybe I only tasted bad donuts. The smell of the grease they're fried in makes me a little queasy.
Using a bread machine for kneading and rising the dough I think is quite a good system. You should try this bread recipe, it's really quite easy. And yes, I do believe pretzels originated in Germany (or Austria or Switzerland, who knows). But I'm sure Pennsylvania pretzels are quite special (like pizza: you can no longer say it's only Italian).

Matt said...

Hi, thanks for the recipe! It's a great one. I have just two quick tips: there's no need to oil the bowl; if you are careful, you can coax the dough out with a flexible plastic bowl scraper after flouring the top of the dough and the insides of the bowl. Not a big deal, really, but oil is unnecessary so I prefer to leave it out. Also, let the dough rise in the mixing bowl. Since it cleans the sides as it is mixed, you already have a perfectly clean bowl to use. Why give yourself something extra to wash when you are done?

NH said...

Hey, I wonder if you might know what flour in America would be roughly the equivalent of T65? Or is there none, really? I'm just wanting to make some baguettes, but not if they don't taste right!

Astrid said...

Hi NH. The original recipe is American, and calls for bread flour. I would use that. If you find the bread too chewy, maybe you can do part bread flour, part all-purpose. Let me know how it goes!

Mensk said...

I use a dry active yeast for this bread and have been having great success...

Kai Carver said...

Hi Astrid, I am trying this recipe for the first time, and I would like more photos, I think it would make it easier for first time bakers. What does the initial rectangle look like, do you cut it into four pieces lengthwise or breadthwise, what kind of stretching do you do to get to the final loaf shape, what does scoring look like... I'll let you know how it turns out, I'm in the middle of doing it right now

Kai Carver said...

It came out pretty ok for a first time and with flour that was not ideal :D

Astrid said...

Hi Kai, I haven't made this recipe in ages, so I don't remember much about it. If I remember correctly, I dumped it out on the counter (so it was a roundish shape if it came from a bowl), and cut it in 3 "slices". Then I lifted each slice from each end and sort of pulled. Scoring was almost impossible to do I think...
Yours looks very nice, though it looks like you used some wholegrain flour? I haven't had much luck adding more than approx. 10% wholegrain flour to my baguettes. It seems to change the crust and crumb too much.
Anyway glad you're having fun with bread, imagine if you had a good oven!