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Pain a l’Ancien – Ancient Bread

Pain a l'Ancien

I got the directions from Linda Beaulieu’s article on master bread-baker Peter Reinhart, author of The Bread-Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread, in the March 20, 2002 issue of the Journal Inquirer.  This is actually a modern invention and could not be made without refrigeration. Probably it is called ancient because of the rough texture.  It is very different from a regular baguette, which is somewhat dry.  The secret is the delayed fermentation – the enzymes (in the flour?) break out the sugar from the starch overnight, before the yeast has woken up.  When the yeast warms up, it feasts on sugars that weren’t there the day before.

I suspect the directions are too fussy, though having made it only once, it is harder for me to tell what is useless advice.  I already pooh-poohed half the directions, and it was still very good.  You could probably follow these directions with most any dough.  You do need a mixer with a dough hook – it’s too wet to do by hand.

Here’s how I did it:

  • 3 c white flour
  • 1 t salt
  • 3/4 t yeast
  • 1-1/4 c cold water (he called for ice water, I used tap)

Mix the above in your stand mixer with the dough hook.  Add additional flour or water if necessary until it is quite wet, sticking to the bottom but not the sides.  Let the machine run 6 minutes.

Cover bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and leave in the fridge overnight.

The next day, take it out and let it warm 2-3 hours.  Using 1/4 c of flour on your counter, carefully remove the dough onto the counter.  Do not punch it down – there is no second kneading. He recommends various implements and having wet hands and then dry hands – it was all too much to keep track of – I had no problem with a bit of flour and dry hands.  The dough easily stretched to the length of my double baguette pan.  I then used a metal pastry scraper dipped in water to cut the dough in half the long way.  I lifted both pieces carefully onto my pan, and then used scissors to cut three long diagonal slashes in each loaf.  He says a razor won’t work on such a wet dough.

You probably don’t have a baguette pan – it’s really a ridiculous thing to own – so you can use a pizza stone (use parchment paper to slide the dough around) or the back of a cookie sheet.

He doesn’t mention any second rise time, so I think you could just preheat your oven here.  I had something else in the oven, so the dough waited about half an hour, but didn’t rise much.

Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, with a pan in the bottom – I have a gas stove, so I can put mine right on the floor of the oven between the flame slits.  Heat 2 c water in your microwave to nearly boiling.  Put the bread in and pour 1 c water into the pan and close the door.  Scoop up 1/4 c hot water while waiting 30 seconds, then open the door and toss the 1/4 c water onto the wall of the oven (this is in lieu of a spray bottle, which I don’t have).  Repeat two more times and then turn heat down to 475.  Let cook 8 min.  Turn bread 180 degrees if cooking unevenly.  Cook until bread has an internal temperature of 205 degrees.  This took about 5-10 min I think.

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