Monday, 5 October 2009

Pain À L'Ancienne Baguettes: BBA Challenge

This week in the BBA Challenge, we made Pain À l'Ancienne Baguettes using the delayed fermentation method.  You can also make pizza or Foccacia using this dough. I've been making lot's of pizza recently so I wanted to try my hand at the baguettes.

"The unique delayed-fermentation method, which depends on ice-cold water, releases flavors trapped in flour in a way different from the more traditional twelve-stage method.  The final product has a natural sweetness and nutlike character that is distinct from breads made with exactly the same ingredients but fermented by the standard method, even with large percentages of pre-ferment."

-- Peter Reinhart, The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread

Nancy Baggett utilizes a similar method in her book Kneadlessly Simple. In fact, she mentions that she got the idea from Peter Reinhart. I've made several breads using the delayed fermentation method from Kneadlessly Simple and Artisan Bread in Five Minutes. I really like this method although I'm still getting the hang of working with the wet dough.

You might also enjoy some of these other Artisan Breads.

You can find the list of ingredients for this bread in the book.


Making the Dough: (Day 1: Thursday, Oct 1st)
Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and water in the bowl of your electric mixer.  Mix with the paddle attachment  for 2 minutes on low speed.  Since this dough is really wet, it is best to use a mixer to mix it rather than using a spoon.
Switch to the dough hook and mix for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed.  The dough will be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but should release from the sides of the bowl.  If this doesn't happen, sprinkle in a little flour or if the dough is too stiff and clears the bottom as well as the sides of the bowl, dribble in a little more water.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oil bowl using a spatula or bowl scraper dipped in water.

A rubber spatula dipped in water works well for this step.
Fermenting the Dough
Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover with plastic wrap.  Place the bowl in the refrigerator and let it retard overnight.

The next day check the dough to see if it's risen in the refrigerator.  It probably won't be doubled in size.  Take the bowl out of the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours or longer to allow the dough to wake up, lose its chill, and continue fermenting.
I actually let my dough retard for two nights.  I didn't have time to make the loaves on Friday so I left the dough in the refrigerator until Saturday morning.  I took the dough out of the refrigerator early in the morning and let it sit on the counter for several hours until I was ready to make the loaves.

Here is the dough after retarding in the refrigerator for two nights.

This is the dough after fermenting on the counter for several hours.

Preparing the Dough for Shaping (Day 3: Saturday, Oct 3rd)
Once the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated size, sprinkle the counter with bread flour (using about 1/2 cup).  Gently transfer the dough to the floured counter.  Try to degas the dough as little as possible as you're transferring it. A plastic spatula dipped in water works well for this step.  You may also want to dip your hands in water as well to keep the dough from sticking to them.  If the dough is very wet, sprinkle more flour over the top as well as under it.

Dry your hands really well, then dip them into the flour.  Roll the dough gently in the sprinkled flour to coat it thoroughly, and stretch it into an oblong about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. If it's too sticky to handle, continue sprinkling flour over it.

Dip a metal pastry scraper into cool water to keep it from sticking to the dough, and cut the dough in half width-wise.  Do this by pressing the pastry scraper down through the dough until it servers it.  Then, dip it into the water again and repeat this action until you have a clean cut down the full length of the dough. (Don't use the blade as a saw, just pinch the dough cleanly with eat cut.)
I performed this step three times before the cut went all the way through.  Let the dough relax 5 minutes.


Prepare the oven for hearth baking
Prepare your oven for hearth baking by placing a baking stone and an empty steam pan in the oven according to the instructions on pages 91-94.  Preheat the oven to 500 degrees (or 550 degrees if your oven goes that high).  My oven goes to 550 but it is a very hot oven so I only preheated it to 500 degrees.
When I bake hearth breads in my oven, I've found it works better to have the baking stone on the middle shelf and the steam pan on the lower shelf rather than placing the baking stone on the bottom shelf and the steam pan above it (or on the floor of the oven).  Having the steam pan underneath seems to work more effectively and keeps the bottom of the loaves from burning before the tops bake completely.  I prefer chewy loaves over crispy ones so having the baking stone on the middle shelf helps prevent the loaves from getting too crispy.  I burned several loaves of bread to a crisp before I figured this out. You'll probably want to experiment to find out what works best for your oven (and your taste preferences).
Cover the back of two 17 by 12-inch sheet pans with baking parchment and dust with semolina flour or cornmeal.  I have a rimless baking sheet so I just covered it with parchment and sprinkled it with cornmeal.
Shaping the Dough
Note: I didn't have enough hands to work with the wet dough and take photos at the same time so I wasn't able to capture all the steps on film.
Score the dough strips as for baguettes (refer to page 90), by slashing the tops with 3 diagonal cuts.  I used a serrated knife dipped in water.  I have a lame but the serrated knife seems to work better because it's heavier.  Since this particular dough is so wet, you might even want to use scissors to slash it.  Some of Peter Reinhart's students recommended using scissors and this is also the tool that Nancy Baggett uses in her Kneadlessly Simple method.  I had to dip the blade in water several times in between each cut to keep it from sticking to the dough.


Shaping Pain a l'Ancienne Baguettes
Refer to the instructions on page 193 for shaping the baguettes.
Take 1 of the dough pieces, and using the pastry cutter dipped in water, cut off 3 equal-sized lengths.


Do the same thing with the remaining half.  This will give you 6 lengths.

Flour your hands and carefully lift one dough strip and transfer it to a parchment-lined pan and gently pull it to the length of the pan (or to the length of your baking stone if it is smaller).  If it springs back, let it rest for 5 minutes and then gently pull it out again.

Place 3 strips on the pan, and then prepare another pan and repeat with the remaining strips. I put the 3 strips on the parchment paper, then transferred that to the baking sheet. That seemed to work well.

Take 1 of the pans to the preheated oven and carefully slide the dough (along with the parchment paper), onto the baking stone.  Or, you can bake directly on the baking pan if you prefer.
Pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan and close the door.   After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door.  Repeat this process two more times at 30-second intervals.  After the 3rd time, lower the oven setting to 475 degrees and continue baking.
In the meantime, dust the other strips of dough with flour, mist with spray oil, and cover with plastic wrap until you're ready to bake them.  You can leave them on the counter a few hours if you want a more rustic-style bread or refrigerate them until the next day if that fits in better with your schedule.

The bread should begin to turn golden brown within 8 or 9 minutes.  If necessary for even baking, rotate the loaves 180 degrees.  I did this to make sure they were browning on all sides.  Continue baking 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bread is a rich golden brown.

Cooling the Loaves
Transfer the breads immediately to a cooling rack and let them cool for 20 minutes.  They should feel very light, almost airy.
I used a pizza peel to remove the loaves and parchment all at once.

While these loaves are cooling, bake the other loaves.  Just remember to turn the oven back up to 500 degrees to begin the process and remove the used parchment paper if you haven't already.

The loaves ready to be eaten!  They have nice holes and taste great!  Chewy just like I like them.

Thanks for joining us this week in the Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge.

The next bread in Bread Baker's Apprentice Challenge, is Pain de Campagne.  I love this country-style French bread!   I'm looking forward to making it. 


Happy Baking!

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