Monday, March 26, 2012

Pain a l'Ancienne - Baby its cold out there!

Thinking outside the box most of the time results in some pretty amazing things. The box in this case is "Dough needs temperature to rise". Which is true. But also "Dough needs time to develop flavour". Peter Reinhart is one who thinks outside the box. His passion is slow rise. He actually dedicated a whole book to it: Brother Juniper's Bread Book: Slow Rise as Method and Metaphor.

The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Making Classic Breads with the Cutting-edge Techniques of a Bread MasterIn his other book (see on the left) he has a recipe for Pain a l'Ancienne which is used to make Baguette and can be used for other breads as well. Because it introduces a method rather than a specific recipe: cold fermentation. The secret is to keep your dough as cold as possible and maintain a cold temperature for a long time to develop maximum flavour.

In his recipe he states that the water should be at 4 deg Celsius. But since I use my new dough mixer and this mixer is quite efficient in doing its job I wanted to keep the friction temperature to a minimum. The idea is to put the stainless steel bowl and the dough hook for 30 minutes into the freezer as well. I meanwhile learned that people even put the flour in the fridge overnight before using it.

1000gm strong wheat flour (100%)
20 gm Salt (2%)
14 gm Instant Active Yeast (0.7%)
795 gm Water (79.5%) at 4 deg Celsius
Additional flour for dusting.

Dough mixer
Scoring knife
bowl or bin
Baking paper
baking trays (2)

This dough is very wet so it is recommended to use a machine for mixing. If you want to knead by hand I recommend to use a sturdy wooden spoon as long as possible. This will also keep the dough cooler as if you knead too long with warm hands (which will become cold anyway ;-) )

Mix flour, salt, yeast and water (leave some out for later adjustment) with a paddle on lowest speed for about 2 minutes r until all is combined. Switch to the dough hook and knead for 5 - 6 minutes on medium speed. The dough should come off the walls of the bowl but still stick to the bottom. If it is too water add some more of the water. If too wet add a little (!!!) flour.

Oil a large bowl or bin (I use the Systema Klip-It 7 litre storage container), scrape the dough into this container and put straight into the fridge (5 - 8 deg C). Leave at least overnight.

You dough should have now risen slightly but not too much. This is expected at these low temperatures. Get the bowl or container out of the fridge and leave for 2 -3 hours at room temperature (21 - 25 deg C).

Don't forget to preheat your oven. It need to be ready by the end of the 2 -3 hour period. Set it as hot as possible. Mine goes to 265 deg C. If you can get it to 290 even better. Add a steam pan at the bottom. Straight onto the floor of the oven.

If you want to bake on a stone, prepare a baking tray which is as wide as your oven, use it upside down and put a piece of baking paper on top. This will act as your oven peel. Sprinkle it with semolina and set aside. Otherwise line a tray with baking paper and sprinkle with semolina.

When the dough has doubled, scrape onto a well floured bench and sprinkle flour over the top of it. Be gentle. The less you degass the dough at this stage the better it will rise in the oven. Coat the dough with flour. At this stage you should use a lot of flour on your hands and on the bench etc. The dough will be almost liquid and will flow into a flat oblong shape. Try to steer it gently to get a wider oval shape.

Use a big dough scraper or bench scraper (plastic or steel) and pinch off strips of dough. Everything now has to be done gently and with feeling! Transfer the strip of dough onto your baking paper and stretch it gently to the length you want. Don't force it. If it doesn't want to stretch, leave it for 5 minutes to relax the gluten. Transfer other strips onto your tray, leave a 3 cm gap between the pieces.

I got 7 baguettes from the dough so I needed to bake in two batches. Cover the second tray with a tea towel and keep out of drought.

Score the bread using a razor blade. This can be a bit tricky because the dough is very soft. Peter Reinhart mentions to use some sharp scissors but  haven't tried this.

Put into the hot oven and pour a cup of ht water into the steam pan. Be careful to not burn yourself from the steam. Close the oven door as quick as possible to not loose to much heat. Bake for 10 - 20 minutes. Don't get too hung up on the times but rather the look of your baguettes. Bake them to a deep golden brown. Still stop the time how long it takes to know for the second batch how long to bake.

Let cool on a rack.

So that's it. Really simple. But the results, well taste it for yourself. With the organic wheat flour I use it comes out really delicious. You can taste the grains and some nutty-ness and maltiness. This is one of those breads where I actually don't want to eat anything on top. Maybe some homemade butter. I had it with smoked fish which was great. But I love to just eat it plain and enjoy the flavor of the bread without any distractions.


Coquo, ergo sum!


  1. Ooo, another fan of Reinhart! I got hold of his books and learnt to make wonderful bread using his 'wet' methods. I loved his book 'American pie', too.
    All power to you..

    1. Thank you for your comment. If I look at my bookshelf then Peter Reinhart is leading with 3 books ("Bread Bakers Apprentice", "Brother Juniper" and "Crust & Crumb") ahead of Richard Bertinet ("Dough" and "Crust") and Dan Lepard ("The Handmade Loaf" and "Exceptional Breads"). I can recommend Richard Bertinet to get a more European view if you want. Oh and not to forget Ciril Hitz.


      Coquo, ergo sum!