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March 22, 2008 / Tony

Pain al’Ancienne

This is another interesting bread from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.  I have written about his pizza dough recipe and like that recipe, this one uses ice cold water to work it’s magic.  Here’s what I came up with:


As you can see, this is definitely an artisanal-style loaf with a crisp-chewy crust and an airy crumb.  I didn’t quite get the air bubbles inside the loaf that I was hoping for but the flavor of the loaf was outstanding.  It is wheaty, chewy, and satisfying.  It may be the best home-loaf I’ve ever made.  Here’s the recipe:

Pain al’Ancienne

6 cups (27 ounces) flour

2 1/4 tsp (.56 ounce) salt

1 3/4 tsp (.19 ounce) instant yeast

2 1/4 cups plus 2 T to 3 cups (19 to 24 ounces) water, ice cold

Semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

Combine the flour, salt, yeast, and 19 ounces of water in the bowl of the electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix for 2 minutes on low speed.  Switch to the dough hook and mix for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed.  The dough should be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but it should release from the sides of the bowl.  If not, sprinkle in a small amount of flour until this occurs (or dribble in water if the dough seems to stiff and clears the bottom as well as the sides of the bowl).  Lightly oil a large bowl and immediately transfer the dough with a spatula or bowl scraper dipped in water into the bowl.  Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator and retard overnight.

The next day, check the dough to see if it has risen.  It will probably be partially risen but not doubled in size.  Leave the bowl of dough out at room temperature for 2 to 3 hours (or longer if necessary) to allow the dough to wake up, lose its chill, and continue fermenting. 

When the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated size, liberally sprinkle the counter with bread flour (about 1/2 cup).  Gently transfer the dough to the floured counter with a plastic dough scraper that has been dipped in cold water, dipping your hands as well to keep the dough from sticking to you.  Try to degas the dough as little as possible as you transfer it.  If the dough is very wet, sprinkle more flour over the top as well as under it.  Dry your hand thoroughly and then dip them in flour.  Roll the dough gently in the sprinkled flour to coat it thoroughly, simultaneously stretching it into an oblong about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide.  If it is 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 widthwise with teh pastry scraper by pressing it down through the dough until it severs its, then dipping it again in the water and repeating this action until you have cut down the full length of the dough.  Let the dough relax for 5 minutes. 

Now, place a baking stone in the bottom of your oven and preheat it to 500 degrees F.  Also, place a baking pan or a cast iron skillet on the top rack of your oven.  Cover the backs of two half sheet pans with parchment paper and dust with semolina or cornmeal. 

Cut the dough into 6 roughly equal strips using the dough cutter.  Using floured hands, gently transfer the dough to the prepared baking sheets (3 to a pan).  Be careful to space them as you do not want them to touch.  Using a very sharp knife or kitchen scissors, make three incisions on the top of each loaf.  Spray with oil and then cover with plastic wrap and let them rest until the oven is ready, roughly an hour. 

Heat about 3 cups of water to a simmer.  Measure out 1 cup of it.  Have a spray bottle full of room temperature water at the ready.  Open the oven and slide the parchment paper (with the bread, of course) directly onto the baking stone.  Then pour in the 1 cup of water into the baking pan or cast iron skillet.  Close the oven door and wait 30 seconds.  Then spray the walls of the oven with water.  Repeat two more times.  Then reduce the heat to 475 degrees F.  Bake for 15-20 minutes, rotating midway through the baking time if the loaves are baking unevenly.  When golden brown and the internal temperature is at least 205 degrees, transfer the loaves directly to a cooling rack.  Repeat the baking process with the remaining loaves, remembering to increase the oven temperature to 500 degrees. 

Cool for about 20 minutes on a rack and enjoy. 

As you can see from the recipe, there are a number of unique methods.  Namely, the use of ice cold water in the beginning and the immediate stashing of the dough in the refrigerator.  There’s a host of science behind it and if you want to know about it, well, buy the book.   

A few notes:  1)  This is a very sticky dough, probably the stickiest you’ve ever worked with.  Resist the temptation to add flour to make the dough easy to work with.  Else, you’ll get a much different product.  2)  If you don’t have a baking stone, it is possible to bake the bread directly on the sheet pans.  3)  Don’t get into a tizzy about shaping these loaves perfectly.  I sure didn’t and they still turned out delicious.  Furthermore, these are artisinal breads, not mass-produced breads.  A little individuality in each loaf is a good thing.  Plus, the dough is so wet that trying to shape them is pretty much a lost cause.  4)  This bread goes fabulously with olive oil. 


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