Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Pain a l'ancienne

Days to make: 2
Suggestion: start at 6pm, prove overnight, cook in morning for brunch or lunch.

Interesting facts about this bread:
The ice cold water used during mixing and the fermentation in the fridge delay the activation of the yeast until after the amylase enzymes have bengun their work of breaking out sugar from the starch. When the dough it brough out to room temperature the yeast wakes up and starts feeding on the sugars that were not there the day before. Since the yeast cannot convert all of the sugar available to alcohol and carbon dioxide, a reserve of sugar remains in the fermented dough to flavour it and caramelize the crust during baking.
This bread dough is good to make when you have a lot of people coming over because you can pre-make a few batches and leave in fridge until needed as it only takes about an hour to warm up for baking on a summer day.

6 cups white unbleached bread flour
1 ¾  teaspoons instant yeast
2 ¼  teaspoons fine sea salt
2 ½  cups to 3 cups ice-cold water
Semolina or cornmeal (polenta) for dusting.

Place half the water in a large bowl or bowl of your mixer.
Add yeast, flour and then salt. Mix with a spoon to bring it together slowly adding the rest of the water.
You may need to add a little more water depending on the 'thirst' of your flour. Australian flour is such good quality that I find I always need more water (up to 4 tbsp). Before adding more however, start the mixing to hydrate the flour properly. Mix on low with a dough hook for 2 minutes (or on the bench).
Add more water by the tbsp to make it tacky but not too sticky. It needs to be sticking to the bottom of the bowl while mixing but clearing the sides of the bowl in generally a large mass.

Once together, mix on medium speed for 6 minutes, or 10 minutes on the bench.
Immediately cover with plastic or lid and refridgerate overnight.

The next day, remove bowl from fridge and let come to room temperature for at least one hour or until it doubles in size from the previous day (it will have risen slightly overnight).
Next, position two oven shelves, place an empty steam pan in bottom and preheat to maximum temperature.
Lightly dust the bench with flour and place the dough on it, degassing as little as possible.

Decide what loaves you want to make.
This will make 6 nice long pain le ancienne breads.
Or, you can shape the dough into 4 baguettes, 24 small rolls, or 3 large batards. However these will take longer proving again as they must rise after the shaping.
For pain le ancienne form the dough into a rough rectangle and use a knife or bread/pastry cutter to cut the dough in half in the middle of the long edge. You should have two squares.
Cut three rectangles from each square.
Place two pieces of baking paper on two oven trays and dust with semolina or cornmeal.
Pick up each piece of dough gently by the ends and stretch it out lengthways as you place it on the paper.
It should be roughly as long as the tray. Repeat.
In the photo below I made square rolls, plaited and short pain a l'anciennes.
Open the oven and pour boiling water in the steam pan.
Place the two trays in and close the door.
After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water.

Do this in 30 second intervals total 3 sprays.
Bake for 10 minutes.
Adjust trays if loaves are browning on one side.
Continue baking for another 10-15 minutes depending on the size* of your shaped loaves.
*For Baguettes or Rolls 10min, for larger loaves like Batards (wider, larger) 15min.
Loaves should be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped underneath.

IMPORTANT: Allow the loaves to cool for at least 30 minutes to one hour.
They need to continue cooking. If you eat them right away they will be doughey inside.
During the cooling time they continue to evapouate moisture, and this intensifies the flavour. theya re also still gelatinzing (a chemical reaction when starch and liquid are heated and starch thickens, clarifies, becomes translucent or semi-opaque and solidifies to be solid enough to cut. This is why the bread will be doughey if you do not let it rest.

If you want to taste fully the bread itself, with all its subtle nuances, then cool it completely on a rack to prevent condensation on the bottom. This is the perfect bread moment.

Thereafter the bread will soon become stale (the day after).
The best way to store bread is to remove all air (wrap) and freeze.
Remove 2 hours before using and warm briefly in the oven to freshen.

This bread is lovely with an omelet and tomatoes

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