A few days ago my copy of "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" arrived. I have been casually baking bread for friends and myself for a while but I wanted to better understand and appreciate the finer nuances of the so called 'artisanal breads.' The author, Peter Reinhart, teaches baking at the famous Johnson & Wales University in Providence, Rhode Island. He writes with the passion and enthusiasm of, in his words, a 'bread freak.' One of his favorite memories was a trip he took to France where he spent a day with the masters such as the late Lionel Poilane and Philippe Gosselin. It is from Gosselin he learned the technique of pain a l'Ancienne that has so enamored Reinhart. I have made thin crust pizza dough with the overnight retardation method so it wasn't new to me, but then, his experience was about 13 years ago so who knows when it first started.
Pain a l'Ancienne is a bread that has been fermented overnight in the refridgerator and the next day gets formed into baguettes, boules, or foccaccia and then baked with the steam injection method. The result is a bread with a deeper flavor than the traditional baguette. My loaves turned out fairly well but I rushed the process a bit by thawing the dough too quickly and thus, denied the yeasties to deepen the flavor even more. Another batch of dough is thawing as we speak, though and I will not rush this one!
Here is the basic ingredient list but as the whole recipe and technique is rather long I will only include a brief summary:
6 cups (27 oz) unbleached bread flour
2 1/4 tsp (.56 oz) salt
1 3/4 tsp (.19 oz) instant yeast
2 1/4 cups plus 2 tbs to 3 cups (19 to 24 oz) ice cold water (40 F)
semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting
1. Combine all the ingredients (except semolina) in a bowl of a mixer with dough hooks and mix on medium for 6 minutes. Dough should be sticky on bottom but will release from sides. Lightly oil a large bowl, transfer dough to it, mist top of dough with spray oil and cover bowl in plastic wrap. Place bowl in fridge to retard overnight.
2. The next day check to see if the dough as risen. Leave bowl of dough out at room temperature to wake up.
3. When dough has doubled from original pre fridge size, sprinkle counter with bread flour, about 1/2 cup. Gently transfer dough to counter, degassing as little as possible. Sprinkle flour all over dough. Stretch to shape. Let dough relax for 5 minutes
4. Prepare oven for hearth baking – use a pan of water and waterspray bottle to simulate steam injection oven methods. Heat oven to 550. After final steam injection, lower temperature to 475 F.
5. Cover two 17 x 12" sheet pans with baking parchment and dust with semolina. Proceed with shaping.
6. Score the dough strips for baguettes by slashing with 3 diagonal cuts
7. Carefully slide parchment and loaves onto baking stone
8. Bake 20 to 23 minutes or until the bread is rich golden brown and internal temperature registers at least 205 F.
9. Transfer to a cooling rack.
Above text is taken from "The Bread Baker's Apprentice" by Peter Reinhart, copyright 2001.
If you like to bake bread and are looking for a book to demistify what happens in bread making, get this book. Be warned, this is not a book for the novice as it is much more a tome on techniques than a cookbook. Many pages are devoted to explaining and describing the processes one goes through to achieve the desired product. Reinhart will entrance you with vivid descriptions of his experiences at the boulangeries of France and awaken your curiosity of what goes on in the dough. Interestingly, he is the first bread maker I've come across who advocates using instant yeast. The other bread bakers whose books I've read disdain the stuff.
I must admit that I am a bit skeptical of all the hoopla surrounding the French and their love of bread. To me it is very similar to oenophiles and their love of vintage wines. Sadly, I will never be a wine connisseur as I simply do not like the taste of sour grapes. Being a super taster doesn't help either. I've gone to wine tastings and have never enjoyed any of them. Of course there is always the possibility that a bottle of wine costing $1,000 will sit well with me. But I digress…although I appreciate well made breads and yes, white Wonder bread is a far cry from them, I still wonder what all the fuss is about. I hope to be able to sample the French baguettes of Paris in person someday soon (read: when the dollar strengthens against the Euro).