Pain a la Ancienne

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From Daniel Shumski

[Says Daniel: “So I made two types of bread. Here’s the recipe for the better and more popular one. It is essentially the Pain a l’Ancienne recipe from Peter Reinhart‘s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.

“Better bread can be made, and less effort can be expended. But to my mind this is the bread with the best effort-to-quality relationship.”]

Yields 6 baguettes

Time required:
Day 1 – 10 to 15 minutes
Day 2 – 2 to 3 hours fermentation, shaping and panning, plus about 1 hour of baking

Ingredients:

6 cups (27 ounces) unbleached bread flour*
2.25 teaspoons salt
1.75 teaspoons instant yeast (this is not rapid rise or active dry)
2.25 cups plus 2 Tablespoons water, ice cold (about 40 F)
Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting
Spray bottle filled with water

* I typically substitute a few ounces of cornmeal for just a bit of the flour, which lends a bit of sweetness and texture to the bread. Adding a tablespoon or two of gluten is nice if you have it on hand.

1. I usually make this bread in the food processor. Combine the flour, salt and yeast. Add the ice-cold water. ICE. COLD. (Fill a pitcher with water and ice, let it sit for 10 minutes, and then pour off the needed amount). Give the mixture a whirl until it combines then let it rest a few minutes so that the flour hydrates a bit. Process for another minute or so until you’re left with a very sticky dough. (If you make this in a stand mixer, it will take about 6 minutes.)

2. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough into the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap.

3. Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator and let rest overnight.

4. The next day, check to see if it has risen. It will probably have risen a bit, without doubling in size. Let stand at room temperature for a few hours while it loses its chill and continues to ferment.

5. When the dough has doubled from its original size, liberally sprinkle the counter with flour. With a wet plastic scraper or spatula, gently transfer the dough onto the counter, deflating it as little as possible. If the dough is very wet, sprinkle flour on top of it as well as under it. Roll the dough gently in the sprinkled flour to coat it, while stretching it into a 8-by-6-inch rectangle.
6. With a metal bench scraper or sharp knife, cut the dough in half widthwise. Don’t saw the dough – push through it with the sharp edge so that it breaks cleanly. Let the dough relax 5 minutes.

7. Place a cast-iron pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.

8. Cover two sheet pans with parchment paper or Silpat and dust with semolina or cornmeal.

9. Take one of the dough pieces and cut into 3 equal lengths, using your blade to pinch off the dough rather than sawing. Do the same with the remaining half. You now have six lengths of dough. Flour your hands and lift a length of dough carefully onto the pan, gently pulling it to the length of the pan. Place two more strips on the first pan. Use the other pan for the remaining three strips.

10. Onto the top shelf of the blazing hot oven goes the first pan. Pour 1 cup of hot water into the cast iron pan on the bottom shelf, taking care not to burn yourself because the oven is at FIVE HUNDRED freaking degrees and there will be a lot of steam. Close the door immediately after pouring the water. After 30 seconds, open the door and give the oven walls a few spritzes of water from the spray bottle. Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. After the final spray, lower the oven temperature to 475.

11. Meanwhile, cover the second sheet pan of bread with plastic wrap. These baguettes can rise at room temperature for another hour or so, if you’d like. Or you can refrigerate the covered pan and bake them the next day.

12. The loaves will need about 18-25 minutes in the oven. Check midway to make sure they are baking evenly and rotate the pan 180 degrees if they are not. The bread should be a rich golden brown.

13. The finished loaves should feel very light. Cool on a rack.

This bread freezes beautifully. If you’re ambitious, you can wrap each loaf in aluminum foil and then place in a plastic freezer bag. But I always skip the foil. The frozen bread can be thawed on the counter for a few hours, or in a 300-degree oven for about 10 minutes.

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One Response to “Pain a la Ancienne”

  1. Anastasia Says:

    I have been dreaming about this bread since I ate about a loaf of it at Soup and Bread last Wednesday. Seriously, dreaming about it. Thank you for the recipe.

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