Monday, February 08, 2010

Pain a l'Ancienne

Sunday, February 7, 2010
I think a l'ancienne means something like "in the old-fashioned, or traditional, style." But I like to think of it as "bread of the ancients," or even "bread for old people," which is right up my alley. Those ancients knew how to make bread.
Reader Paul has been urging me to try this recipe from Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I wanted to try it, but when I looked at the recipe, I just didn't get how to shape it. As it turns out, you pick up the dough and it shapes itself. It's as if it has gone to obedience school. (Cakes, on the other hand, never go to obedience school. At least they don't graduate).
What the ancients like to do with bread dough is mix it up with ice cold water. This is very counter-intuitive, isn't it? Even though I don't proof my yeast any more, I still fear that too hot or too cold water will kill it, and I usually try to give it a nice, room-temperature water that won't shock its sensitive little system. But in this recipe you want to shock it. The idea is to make it ferment very, very slowly to develop flavor.
Here it is after being mixed with ice water and then put immediately in the refrigerator to retard its growth overnight. I let it rise for another three hours in the morning, and dumped it onto a well-floured counter. With more flour on top, it shapes easily into a rectangle.
This rectangle of dough is cut into six pieces. I used three of them for baguettes, and put three in the freezer, in individual small ziplock bags, for later use--probably for pizza. At least, I'll try one for pizza and see how it works.
Now here's where I didn't understand what was supposed to happen. There are no directions for shaping the bread into baguettes, but once I picked up a strip, I saw why there was no need for directions. If you just pick it up, you barely even need to stretch it. It stretches itself and goes right into the baguette pan, practically of its own accord.
It really was the most remarkably docile bread dough, especially considering that it's a pretty wet dough. It was not quite so tractable when it came time for it to be slashed. In fact, Reinhart says that you can skip the slashing step if the bread is uncooperative, but I don't think you should skip it. He also suggest using scissors, but I thought the scissors were less effective than my usual little lame.
When you see the breads ready to go into the oven, you can tell which one was scissored and which ones were lameed. (Spellcheck is not going to like that word).
You know how wonderful the kitchen smells when bread is baking? Well, this bread smells even more so.
Good as the aroma is, the taste is better. The loaves have a toasted wheat flavor that's quite remarkable. Despite the length of the instructions in the cookbook (and below), it's a very easy bread to make. All you have to do is remember to start it ahead of time. It has only the one rising, most of which is done in the refrigerator.
Between this recipe and the food processor baguette recipe from Mark Bittman, there is very little excuse not to have a few fresh baguettes every week. Well, except for laziness and lack of planning. Since I suffer from both, I assume I won't be having the weekly baguette I'm trying to convince you to make.

A few other pictures, before the recipe. I haven't blogged for a few weeks, but I have been baking something every Saturday morning in January for the neighbors. Three weeks ago, it was caramel rolls.
These were a big hit. The dough is from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day, so all I had to do on Saturday morning was shape the day, fill it, and let it rise. (I still had to get up at 6:30, though, which is not my usual hour of rising on Saturday).
The next week, I wanted to do something easier, so I made blueberry muffins--a recipe I'd never tried before, from King Arthur. Although it's been my experience that muffins are the least popular of the January breakfast treats I make, these were eaten up within 45 minutes and roundly praised.
And now January is over, and the poor neighbors have to fend for themselves on Saturday mornings.

Pain a l'Ancienne
--from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, Peter Reinhart

6 cups (27 oz.) unbleached bread flour
2 1/4 teaspoons (.56 oz.) salt
1 3/4 teaspoons (.19 oz.) instant yeast
2 1/2 to 3 cups water (19 to 24 oz.), ice cold
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

Combine flour, salt, yeast, and 2 1/2 cups of water in the bowl of the electric mixer 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.
Lightly oil a large bowl and immediately transfer the dough with a spatula dipped in water into the bowl. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator and retard overnight.
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. 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.
When the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated 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 the dough as little as possible as you transfer 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 (or knife) into cool water to keep it from sticking to the dough, and cut the dough in half width-wise with the pastry scraper by pressing it 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 length 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.
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 one of the dough and transfer it to a parchment-lined pan, gently pulling it to the length of the pan. (Or, easier, use a perforated three-loaf baguette pan)
If it springs back, let it rest for 5 minutes and then gently pull it out again. Depending on your pan size, place 3 strips on the pan. Prepare another pan, and repeat with the remaining strips.
If you don't want to make all six loaves, divide them and refrigerate or freeze the remainining amounts. You can use them for baguettes, focaccia, or pizza.
Preheat the oven to 500°F and make sure to have an empty steam pan in place.
Score the dough strips as for baguettes, slashing the tops with 3 diagonal cuts.
Place the pans inside the oven. Pour 1 cup hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, open the door, spray the side walls of the oven with water, and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. After the final spray, turn the oven setting down to 475°F and continue baking.
The bread should begin to turn golden brown within 8 or 9 minutes. If the loaves are baking unevenly, rotate them 180 degrees. Continue baking 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bread is a rich golden brown.
Transfer the hot breads to a cooling rack.


faithy, the baker said...

Wow! your bread looks so good! I still haven't dare to venture trying the baguette after the last! Will try them out again soon..

Melinda said...

I haven't made this from Peter's book yet. You truly have inspired me to try it out. Those baguettes look so crusty delicious...wowee!
How wonderful to know you have this in the freezer to make up for whenever you fancy.

The pecan rolls look good. Was there a scrum to get at them?
And it is a sad day when muffins are the wallflower at the coffee morning. They look very friendly and delicious. I will miss your January coffee mornings!

Anonymous said...

Your baguettes look good Marie, as did the others you did a few weeks ago. I really like a crusty fresh baguette!
I mad the Buttermilk loaves you did from Peter Reinhart's book last week and Tom, my OH, is enjoying it toasted with his marmalade for breakfast each morning. A very successful recipe! Thank you!

doughadear said...

I've been intrigued by the Pain a l'Ancienne since I bought the Baker's Apprentice way back and I still haven't made it. I guess I’ve been apprehensive about its unconventional method of making bread but after seeing your excellent results I really need to give it a try. I especially like that it basically forms itself!
I’ve made Mark Bittman’s super easy baguettes twice already since you posted yours and they are my son’s favourite.

evil cake lady said...

I learn so much about bread baking from you, Marie. These baguettes do look so nice and crusty. Did you try them with your leftover curd?

Hanaâ said...

That bread looks amazing! Seriously! Wow! Your bread making experience is really inspiring me to get back into making bread. I was never GREAT at it, but as they say, practice makes perfect :o)

breadbasketcase said...

If I were you I wouldn't trust my baguette recommendations! I did think this one was easy, though.

Jim and I are always at sixes and sevens the first Saturday of February when no one drops by our house and it seems so cold and quiet with no one in the dining room drinking coffee and pondering whether to take a doughnut, a muffin, or both.

When I bake a baguette, I think it's my favorite bread in the world, and when I bake a buttermilk loaf, I think that's my favorite bread in the world, and .... well, you get the picture. That buttermilk bread does make fine toast.

I'd like to do a blind taste test between the two baguettes, because they're both quite good. If you ever do that, let me know the results.

I did try them with the leftover curd--c'est magnifique!

I find bread baking so restful and enjoyable. I think whoever said practice makes perfect must be talking about LOTS of practice. At least, more than I've had, because I'm still waiting for the perfection to kick in.

Mendy said...


Your bread looks great! Aren't they wonderful?

Vicki said...

Beautiful bread Marie! If you ever do a bread bake along, put me on the list. The rolls look too amazing.

Nicola said...

Now I am in trouble!

You make it look so easy. I am going to give the old people bread a go. I can see that my cake pans are going to have to fight for space amongst one of those wavy bread baking thingy's.

Those caramel rolls - would you mind just sending them over?

I am now regretting my decision to leave The Bread Bible in storage in Australia...

Anonymous said...

OOOOOOOHHHHHH you tried it!
and you did such a nice job getting that nice dark european style carmalized crust.

Now you see why I think it is really special.

Glad you got to try it and it played nice with you.


Barbara said...

Love your blog...first time visiting. And I really, really would like one of those sticky buns!

Hanaâ said...

The dough has been in the fridge since 8:30pm last night. It's pretty sticky and "blobby" (spell checker doesn't like that word either!). I made only half the recipe. I can't wait to bake the bread tonight. My perforated bread pan only has room for 2 but I might bake 1 loaf only anyway, to try.

Natashya KitchenPuppies said...

Your results are excellent!
We loved this bread too.
You know when Leonard Cohen sings "We are ugly but we have the music" -> he could be singing about pain a l'ancienne baguettes. :)

Jane E. said...

Thank you for the suggestion to use Wondra Flour for my popovers. I used to make perfect popovers, but for several years they just haven't been right. I will try again with Wondra Flour. Do you think Cake Flour would work too?

breadbasketcase said...

Yes, they are wonderful indeed.

Thanks. I remember once in the first year of my bread blog thinking it would be fun if a few people baked the same bread at the same time--never in my wildest dreams did I think anything like Heavenlycakes would ever happen!

I love thinking of these loaves as old people bread. Wrinkled and lumpy, but still wonderful!

I was afraid you'd come after me if I didn't try them. But, yes, now I see why you're a fan.

There would be something wrong with you if you didn't!

I hope you liked it!

I love comparing the bread to a Leonard Cohen song!

Jane E.,
I think the idea with Wondra is that it dissolves so quickly that it makes a perfect batter. Since cake flour doesn't have that quality, I'm not sure it would work better than regular flour.
I should disclose that a friend of mine recently tried these after I told her they were a can't-miss recipe, and she said hers failed. Who knows why?

Hanaâ said...

The bread tastes great. It smelled like "bread" if that makes sense. No strong yeasty odors at all. My bread didn't look as pretty as yours but I took pictures anyway. Once I sum up enough courage, I'll post them on my blog :o)

Anonymous said...

I found your site by searching for references to the steam maker you blogged about in 2007. Are you still using it?

breadbasketcase said...

I know exactly what you mean by smelling like bread. It's just what bread should smell like--the essence of bread.

Yes, I'm still using it and still like the results. I bought the smaller size, so I can't use it for everything (it doesn't fit well over the 3-baguette pan, for example), but it's a good size when you make just one loaf.

Jenn said...

Marie, that first picture of the 1/2 baguette is a beauty! Looks like a picture in a magazine.

Jane said...

Hello Marie,

Your bread looks amazing!
You have inspired me to try and bake the Pain a l'Ancienne for my Father's birthday dinner tomorrow night.

I am just perplexed by one aspect of the directions.
The part where it states to "pour 1 cup hot water in the steam pan, and close the door," did that mean to pour the hot water in to the bread pan? That did not sound right. Do ovens have a steam pan compartment? Am I supposed to just add an extra pan filled with hot water, to the base of the oven?

I hope you can reach back to me by tomorrow morning. I'm going to try this no matter what though, so wish me luck! Hopefully, that will not be a major set back in the result of my bread. :)

Happy Holidays!

breadbasketcase said...

Hope this response reaches you in time for your bread! To get more steam in the oven for a crispy crust, just put any kind of baking pan (a jelly roll pan, for example) in the oven when you preheat the oven. You can put it either on a rack at the top of the oven or a rack at the bottom of the oven. At the same time you put the bread in the oven, add water to the pan, and it will create a burst of steam.
Hope this helps, and good luck on the bread.