I always try to eat delicious food. Unfortunately I don't have that much money, so I have to cook a lot of it at home. But thats OK because I love cooking and I love eating at home with my wife. This is a website with my favorite recipes and a little bit of commentary.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Pain A L'Ancienne Baguettes

There are a few interesting things in this recipe. One very surprising thing is that the author of The Bread Baker's Apprentice prefers to use what he calls 'instant yeast' in his recipes. Instant yeast is just rapid rise yeast or quick rise yeast depending on the brand. He likes to use it because he says you don't have to dissolve it in water (proof it) before using it. The reason it is surprising is that most of the bread books I have read are real snooty about the yeast and very strongly discourage using rapid rise yeast. I never understood why because it is the same strain of yeast as in regular (active dry) yeast, there is just more live yeast present per volume in rapid yeast. I have always used rapid rise yeast just because I am impatient. I proof it anyway just because I have gotten bad yeast before and spent all day waiting for some dough to rise that never did.

The author, Peter Reinhart, is a genius I am convinced. Not because of any one particular recipe but because of the system he presents. He has an amazing grasp of the microbiology and chemistry involved in bread making. He learned the following method in France from a baker in Paris. The author thinks that the cold fermentation method will revolutionize baking in America. I think that it is a great method for making bread and crusts and things, but I hate to be the one to break the news. Making dough up the night before and letting it chill in the refrigerator overnight has been around since fridges were invented. My grandmother has been making her dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, pecan rolls etc using that method since the 1940's. Also, I think a lot of pizza restaraunts that get their dough made elsewhere end up with refrigerated dough. And finally, you can go to any grocery store in America and buy ready made dough in the fridge/freezer section. So hes right, but he was right 50 years ago. The cold fermentation method DID revolutionize bread baking in America.

I am now making an effort to start baking using baking formulas by weight. I will present the Baker's Percentage Formula and the wieghts that I used. I would suggest buying the book to figure out how to use the Formulas. He explains it very well.

Pain A L'Ancienne Baguettes

Baker's Formula
Bread Flour 100%
Salt 2%
Instant Yeast 0.7%
Water (approx) 79.6%

Here are the wieghts I used (in grams)

500 g Bread Flour
10 g salt
3.5 g yeast
400 g water

His method is as follows:
Have the water refrigerated ahead of time. Pour it into a container and add ice cubes. Let it sit for 2 minutes and then measure out the correct amount. Combine the dry ingredients in the mixer and then add the water. Using the paddle attachment, mix it together for 2 minutes. Then using the dough hook, mix it for an additional 4 minutes. Spray a little spray cooking oil on top of the dough, put it in a bowl, cover it, and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, 4 or 5 hours before you are going to make it, take it out of the fridge and let it warm up and rise until double at room temp. You will need a lot of flour to make this into baguettes, because the dough is very wet. Without degassing the dough too much, divide it into 3 even pieces. Let dough rest 5 minutes. Then stretch it out and form a baguette, again without degassing it too much. There is a lot of art involved in doing this, and I will defer to the book to explain it. He left out the proofing step and went straight to the oven, but I think it was a mistake. Let the baguettes rise up, covered with oiled plastic wrap for about 45 minutes. Meanwhile heat the oven to 550 with a baking stone positioned somewhere in the bottom 3rd of the oven. On a rack above, have a cast iron skillet waiting. Have 1 cup water boiling on the stove. Before putting loaves in the oven you need to slice the tops on the diagonal with 3 cuts. Transfer the loaves into the oven and dump a cup of boiling water into the cast iron skillet to make a blast of steam. 30 seconds later mist the sides of the oven with water to make a little more steam. Do this 2 more times, then lower the temperature to 475 degrees. Bake until golden brown and then cool on a cooling rack for 20 minutes or so.

He gets the loaves into the oven by inverting a cooky sheet. He then puts a sheet of baking parchment down and sprinkles a little semolina flour or corn meal down. Then he puts the dough logs on that to proof and covers with oiled plastic wrap. He puts them into the oven by sliding the parchment and loaves together onto the baking stone. He doesn't remove the parchment and he bakes it in there with the loaves. Anyway my dough is rising right now. I will let you know how everything turns out.