Sunday, October 25, 2009

BBA Challenge Week 21—Pain á l'Ancienne


Although I'm sure I'm butchering the pronunciation of this bread when reading it to myself, I'm also sure that it's utterly delicious and surprisingly simple. Welcome to bread #21, Pain á l'Ancienne, a superb, French (duh) bread that seeks to draw as much flavor from the flour as possible.

I took a surprising number of pictures of this bread making process, so be prepared. Gird your bandwidth loins—it's going to be a long and photo-filled post!

I'm baking my way through Peter Reinhart's award winning book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice, along with 200+ other amateur bakers. Want to join in the madness, or just learn more about this semi-crazy undertaking? Check out the following links:
This bread starts as many lean breads do, with bread flour, yeast, salt and water, although the water is ice cold as opposed to the usual room temperature or slightly warm. The idea is to slow down the fermentation as much as possible, which is also why the dough is immediately placed in the refrigerator after kneading in the mixer. No sitting on the counter until doubled, just mix and pop in the fridge until tomorrow. Easy peasy.

Day 2 is a bit more involved, but not difficult. First thing you must do is prepare the work area, covering the surface with plenty of flour and have a scraper and water handy for getting the dough out of the bowl and for splitting. 

The dough literally pours out of the bowl, hence the need for plenty of flour.
First, you must coat the dough with yet more flour so that you can gently shape it to roughly 8" x 6". Then you divide it into two width-wise. I goofed and divided it length-wise. Oops. It seems I have to have at least one "oops" in each bread making session. Fortunately, this one was minimal!
A quick note about the photos: I have the timer function set, so I hit the shutter and go about my work while the camera counts to five then fires. Because the light is rather weak and I have the aperture fairly closed, the exposure is relatively long—long enough so that my hands are blurred. I really don't move Superman-fast, as it might appear in the photos!
I decided to use half the dough for baguettes and half for focaccia. The baguettes were quick and easy. Let's see:

First I prepared the pizza peel with corn meal. I would use this to transfer the baguettes to the preheated stone.
Next, I split half the dough into thirds.
Here's where I realized my mistake. The dough pieces were already long and stretched very easily. They quickly became too long for the peel and baking stone. I had to double back the dough onto itself as you would ciabatta.
I had the oven setup for "hearth baking" which means cranking the temp to 500°F and having a steam pan at the ready. Aside from setting off the smoke alarm, the baking went perfectly and the baguettes came out beautifully. I was very pleased with the color. And they smelled fantastic.
Once the cooled a bit, I sliced into them to check the crumb. Success!
From this photo, you also get an idea of the size of the baguettes. They're rather small. But the size certainly did not affect the taste. These were so good. They were crusty and chewy and had an almost buttery flavor. There was just the right amount of saltiness to them as well, which helped bring out the other flavors. Dwight and I really enjoyed them. Naturally, they are best the same day, but do well reheated in the oven (or toaster oven) wrapped in foil.
Now about that other half of the dough. As I mentioned, I'd decided to make focaccia and took my inspiration from fellow BBA baker, Heather of BodaciousGirl. Heather posted a photo on Twitter and I knew that I had to follow her lead—Apple Cinnamon Focaccia. Well, I added walnuts, so mine was Apple Walnut and Cinnamon Focaccia. Let's check it out, shall we:

I took the other half of the dough and placed it in an oiled pan, spreading it out a bit, then covering it for an hour or two to rise.

First, I had to prep all of the ingredients, starting with the apple.
Although it looks like I was about ready to cut off my thumb, I did move it in time, and am happily still attached to all of my digits.
Next is the sugar mixture. I used dark brown sugar to start.
I also added a bit of white sugar, along with a healthy scoop of Penzey's Baking Spice.
Next I chopped a handful of walnuts. Now on to assembly. I should have started with the nuts, but live and learn:
Ready to bake.
The next time I make this, I'll be sure to add some oil or butter—or both—to the top before baking. Even so, it was delicious, especially 20 minutes out of the oven. A great way to enjoy great bread and fall flavors all together.
Did you survive the post? I told you it would be long. But it was worth it, right? I certainly enjoyed this bread and documenting the process. If you're interested in making a great, rustic bread, I highly recommend this recipe. It's most certainly a keeper!
Why not check out some of the other BBA baker's delicious posts:


  1. The foccacia looks delicious, perfect for fall. My dough was so stretchy I burnt myself trying to get it in the oven.

  2. I cant wait to make this one...your loaves look perfect! Happy Baking!

  3. You did a fantastic job with this recipe Kelly. I love that focaccia and can't wait to try it like that!

  4. You made me laugh with your Superman reference! Beautiful holes in your baguette! I loved the taste of this bread too.

    Your autumn focaccia looks so pretty!

  5. You make bread making look so simple. I love the apple bread, it seems so rustic, warm and inviting to me!

  6. Haha. I knew exactly what happened in that one photo before I even read it. I love this bread. And I've also made the baguettes too long, though they have to be really short to fit on my baking stone.


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