Sunday, May 1, 2011

Pan à l'ancienne
From Peter Reinhart's "The Bread Baker's Apprentice"

This bread, lo and behold, is your shortcut to a perfect almost sourdough like french baguette, with a crunchy golden crust and wonderfully chewy inside. It is, in other words, pretty much the easiest complex looking bread you can make. The secret is using a technique called delayed fermentation. You basically put the baking "on hold". I can only tell you this. Pan à l'ancienne is a bread far from labor-intensive, perfect for the lazy bums who still have a desire to enjoy rustic-looking and flavorful bread. 

Now always keep this in mind when making any kind of bread. Storing a dough in the refrigerator over night is always an option, if you have to put the baking on hold. It also benefits the flavor of the bread, giving the result a more profound and intense aroma. Now, for the recipe. It does not contain any sour dough starter at all, but instead instant yeast. I've always found it irritating when baking with yeast, just because the result of the bread always turns out too "store bought"-soft and without any a good crust. But, what I've discovered now is that if you don't have the time or motivation to start from scratch with your own sour dough, just go ahead and use instant yeast but make sure you combine it with the technique of delaying the fermentation. Sure, you will have to start the dough the day before you bake it, but how big of a deal is that? The bread or pizza crust will turn out to be delicious, with almost the same flavor and texture as of a real sour dough baguette/pizza.

Makes 6 small baguettes or 4 pizzas
6 cups high protein flour (King Arthur is what I normally use in the US. In Sweden I'd go with Jan Hedhs Monitoba Cream or just Vetemjöl Special)
2 1/4 teaspoons salt
1 3/4 intstant yeast (in Sweden I'd use fresh yeast)
3 cups of ice cold water

How to do it:
Day 1:
Combine the flour, salt, yeast and the water in a bowl. If you have an electric mixer, go ahead and use that to mix the dough. I myself prefer doing it manually, especially when handling a dough that is pretty small like this one. When the dough is mixed it should release from the sides of the bowl but still be sticky on the bottom. Lightly oil a large bowl, and immediately place the dough in it. Dust the top with flour, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator.

Day 2: 
The next day, the dough should be partially risen (at least a little bubbly). Leave the bowl of dough out in room temperature for about 2 to 3 hours prior to baking. I have a funny routine of placing my doughs on top of the washing machine in the laundry room, just to give it some extra warmth and comfort while rising. This will allow the dough to wake up, lose it's chill and continue fermenting.

Preheat the oven to 500 ̊ F ( 300 ̊ C). Make sure you have a stone or a baking sheet placed in the oven to bake the breads on. When the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated size, sprinkle the counter with plenty of bread flour. Gently scrape out the dough on to the counter, making sure not to press out any air from it. These are the bubbles that we want to keep! What you have now is a big wet dough laying like flat pancake on your counter. What I do is I dust the dough with plenty of flour, making sure it's coated all over. Then I cut it lenghtwise into 6 longs pieces of dough. Each piece of dough is then placed on a baking sheet with baking parchment and pulled out lengthwise to create a baguette. The dough might look very flat and wet, but I can assure you that it will rise and puff up in the oven. I place three baguettes on each baking sheet. Let them rest for 5 minutes.

When the oven is heated, open it and slide the parchment paper with the breads on to the stone or the baking sheet that is already in the oven. I usually throw in an ice cube or spray in a good amount of water to give the bread a good crust. After 8-9 minutes they should be golden brown and have puffed up into nice round baguettes. Take them out and place them on a cooling rack.

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