Pain à l’Ancienne, From My (make-do) Hearth To Yours

posted in: Cooking | 2

I was browsing shortly after moving here when I came across a book called The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. It looked like a good book so I got it. When I received it, I immediately sat down with a block of sticky notes and proceeded to look through it. Much to my delight, this book was the book where the cinnamon buns for the September challenge of the Daring Bakers came from. The book is just superb and it’s not just the recipes, although I did bookmark most of them. The best part of this book is the first half, which is all about the science of bread baking.

I just couldn’t wait to try something, anything, from this book (cinnamon buns aside). Last night I bit the bullet and started some dough. I am a big, big fan of crusty, rustic bread and I specially love ciabatta so the Pain à l’Ancienne seemed like a great idea. Of course, the dough itself is simple to make and handle, it’s the baking that’s a pain (pun intended). This is a hearth bread and because I don’t have a pro oven that ejects steam into the oven, it had to be done by hand. In all actuality, it isn’t that difficult, it just takes some prep work and a bit of fearlessness LOL.

This is going to be a long recipe so grab some munchies, sit down and relax.

Pain à l’Ancienne

Days to make: 2
-Day 1: 10-15 minutes mixing
-Day 2: 2-3 hours fermenting, shaping and panning; 15-30 minutes baking.

Makes 6 baguettes

6 cups (27 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 1/4 tsp (0.56 oz) salt
1 3/4 tsp (0.19 oz) instant yeast
2 1/4 cups plus 3 tbsp to 3 cups (19-24 fl oz) water, ice cold
semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

1. Combine the flour, salt, yeast and 19 oz of water in the bowl of an electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix for 2 minutes on low speed. Switch to the dough hook and mix for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed. The dough should be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but it should release from the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle in a small amount of flour until this occurs (or dribble in water if the dough seems too stiff and clears the bottom as well as the sides of the bowl). Lightly oil a large bowl and immediately transfer the dough with a spatula or bowl scrapper dipped in water into the bowl. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

2. Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator and retard overnight.

3. The next day, check the dough to see if it has risen in the refrigerator. It will probably be partially risen but not doubled in size (the amount of rise will depend on how cold the refrigerator is and how often the door was opened). Leave the bowl of dough out at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours (or longer if necessary) to allow the dough to wake up, lose its chill, and continue fermenting.

4. When the dough as doubled from its original pre-refrigerated size, liberally sprinkle the counter with bread flour (about 1/2 cup). Gently transfer the dough to the floured counter with a plastic dough scraper that has been dipped in cold water, dipping your hands as well to keep the dough from sticking to you. Try to degas (deflate) the dough as little as possible as you transfer it. If the dough is very wet, sprinkle more flour over the top as well as under it. Dry your hands thoroughly and then dip them in flour. Roll the dough gently in the sprinkled flour to coat it thoroughly, simultaneously stretching it into an oblong about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. If it is too sticky to handle, continue sprinkling flour over it. Dip a metal pastry scraper into cold water to keep it from sticking to the dough, and cut the dough in half width-wise with the pastry scraper by pressing down through the dough until it severs it, then dipping it again in the water and repeating this action until you have cut down the full width of the dough. (Do not use this blade as a saw; use it as a pincer, pinching the dough cleanly with each cut). Let the dough relax for 5 minutes.

5. To prepare the oven for hearth baking, place an empty heavy duty metal pan on the top rack or floor of the oven (for steam). Turn the oven on to 500°F / 260°C. Cover the back of two 17 by 12 inch sheet pans with baking parchment and dust with semolina flour or cornmeal. Take one of the dough pieces and repeat the cutting action, but this time cut off 3 equal-sized lengths. Then do the same with the remaining half. This should give you 6 lengths. Flour your hands and carefully lift 1 of the dough strips and transfer it to the parchment lined pan, gently pulling it to the length of the pan or to the length of your baking stone. If it springs back, let it rest for 5 minutes and then gently pull it out again. Place 3 strips on the pan, and then prepare another pan and repeat with the remaining strips.

6. Score the dough strips as for baguettes, slashing the tops with 3 diagonal cuts. Because the dough is sticky, you may have to dip the razor blade or serrated knife (or scissors) in water between each cut. You may also omit the cuts if the dough isn’t cooperating.

7. Take 1 pan to the preheated oven and carefully slide the dough, parchment and all, onto the baking stone; or bake directly on the sheet pan. Make sure the pieces aren’t touching. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 3o seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30 second intervals (the idea is to make steam, not wet the dough). After the final spray, lower the oven temperature to 475°F / 245°C and continue baking. Meanwhile, dust the other pan of strips with flour, mist with spray oil, and slip into a food-grade plastic bag or cover with a towel or plastic wrap. If you don’t plan to bake these strips within 1 hour, refrigerate the pan and bake later or the next day. If you’d like to bake them as rustic, ciabatta-style breads, leave them at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours and then bake. As the loaves proof, they will resemble and perform like ciabattas.

8. The bread should begin to turn golden brown within 8 or 9 minutes. If the loaves are baking unevenly at this point, rotate them 180 degrees. Continue baking 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bread is a rich golden brown and the internal temperature registers at least 205°F / 120°C.

9. Transfer the hot breads to a cooling rack. They should feel very light, almost airy, and will cool in about 20 minutes. While these are cooling, you can bake the remaining loaves, remember to remove the parchment from the oven and turn the oven up to 500°F / 260°C before baking the second round.

My fingers hurt from typing all that!

It seems like a very complicated recipe but it’s really not that complicated. I don’t have a stand mixer so I used a hand mixer with the dough spirals from the beginning of the mixing process. I don’t have a baking stone either so I baked right on a 15×10 jelly roll pan. For spraying the walls of the oven, I bought an all purpose spray bottle from a pharmacy and it worked great. The only problem I had and it was entirely my fault, was that the bottom of the breads burned just a tiny bit. The pan was too close to the heating element. I am baking the other half of the loaves tomorrow morning and I will correct this.

Burned bottoms and all, it was delicious bread and it’s almost all gone. I have said this before but I will say it again, there is nothing as good as fresh, just-out-of-the-oven bread; nothing. I am looking forward to making more breads from this book. Thanks Peter Reinhart!

2 Responses

  1. Deborah

    After making the cinnamon rolls from that book, I have decided that I want it! And this bread looks great!

  2. Pille

    That pain a l’Ancienne looks wonderful. Hhhmm. Looks like I should add this book to my Amazon giftlist:)

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