Thursday, November 24, 2011

Pain á l'ancienne

Unfortunately, availability of good bread is extremely scarce in Singapore, or should we say non existent. This is of course an issue that is not just limited to this island, due to accelerated times for industrial and mass production, but at least in places like Italy or France, you can find good bread if you know where to shop.
Walking into a Bread Talk or a Cedele branch doesn't quite give you the same sensory emotions as you would get from a proper bakery. The smells and colors aren't quite the same, and in any case you won't find bread with the traditional flavours and textures that can only be achieved through the natural, long leavening times of the classic recipes.

Pain a l'ancienne is perhaps my favourite bread I have produced so far. I love its colour, texture and flavour. The golden brown cracking crust, the white airy crumb, the sweetness that is released as you chew it. I like having this straight out of the oven (after a 15 minutes resting period), soaked in quality olive oil. It doesn't need much more to keep you eating it!

I would like to share my recipe, which is a mix of the baguette recipe I found in my bread book, and some tips from the master baker.
Following, the ingredients for about 4 loaves:

Bread Flour   120g
Water         120ml
Dry Yeast     0.1g (a pinch)
Bread Flour   244g
Water         120ml
Dry yeast     1g
Salt          7g

Two days in advance (I usually start Friday night for bread that I bake on Sunday morning), mix the flour and water (in which you will dissolve the yeast first) for the poolish in a small plastic container that you can hermetically seal. Also, mix the flour and water for the main dough (244g flour and 120ml water), knead until fully incorporated, shape into a ball, wrap it in cling film, and store in a separate tightly sealed plastic container. Put both containers it in a wine cellar at about 12-14C, and let ferment for about 18-24 hours. The poolish should look very bubbly and airy through the plastic container.

The next evening:
  1. Pull out the two doughs from the fridge 30 minutes in advance, and prepare the remaining yeast, which you will have dissolved into a tiny amount of water, and the salt.
  2. Put the stiff dough in the mixer at the lowest speed, then add the water and yeast mixture, then gradually, spoon by spoon, the poolish. Let the stiff dough incorporate the added poolish, perhaps helping it a bit using a spatula, then add more of it, until it's all incorporated.
  3. Add the salt, then bring the mixer to a higher speed and knead for another 5 minutes.
  4. Put the dough into a large plastic container, and let it ferment at ambient temperature (30C) for 1 hour.
  5. Take the dough out of the container on a lightly floured surface, then stretch it and fold it onto itself. Place it back into the container for another hour.
  6. Take the dough out again (it should have doubled in size), then divide it into 4 equal pieces, possibly elongated. Flatten them out, then let them rest for 5 minutes. Note that you will need to dust this dough with flour, since it's quite lose.
  7. Now shape the baguettes by folding the flattened squares, like in this video. Do the folding twice. Note that the dough in this recipe is a bit more lose than the one in the video. If you are not comfortable with the shaping, you can just fold the dough once and elongate it and roll it a bit. You will still get good bread.
  8. Place all the loaves onto a large piece of baking paper, then enclose them into a large plastic box for raising. It's important that you keep them enclosed so that they don't dry out during the raising process. I place them into a wine cellar overnight, and they will be ready the next morning. Alternatively, if in a rush, they will be ready if you let them ferment at ambient temperature for 2 to 2-1/2 hours.

The next morning, take the box out of the cellar 60 minutes in advance, and switch on the oven at 270C. I highly recommend you have a baking stone (I purchased a lava stone from Hup Kiong cut to exactly the size of my oven, and it works wonders). Make sure that the stone is fully heated, and that will take at least 40 minutes of pre-heating at maximum temperature before you insert the bread. I also insert a pan full of boiling water about 10 minutes before inserting the bread, to ensure appropriate steaming in the oven.
Before inserting the bread in the oven score the loaves and spray them with a very fine water spray. insert them in the oven, and bake until ready (time varies, depending on the oven). You will know when they are ready, as the color of the crust speaks for itself.
Once out of the oven, try to be patient and let the bread rest for 15-30 minutes before cracking it open!


Pete said...

Thanks once again for complete and consistent instructions with pictures that help - I'm going to try this out over the next few days. We had the first snow here today so the wood burning stove will be on more often, which usually means more baking and chutney making ;-) A presto!

amiscell said...

POete - this bread is wonderful. You just have to adjust this a bit for your climate (maybe you won't need the wine cellar, but it will take longer to raise when you need it to!). Do you have a hole for baking in the stove? That sounds like any baker's dream! Let me know how it goes.

Irvan said...

Hi there,

Do you mind to share where you buy your bread flour and yeast? There isn't many choices here in Singapore. Your bread looks wonderful, I am really eager to be able to make bread looks like that.

amiscell said...

Irvan - Absolutely! I just use the local "Prima" brand bread flour. You can find it in any store in Singapore, as it's the most commonly found flour in Singapore. I have also tried other European flours, with no noticeable differences.

AdriBarr said...

Wow. What a wonderfully comprehensive discussion. I can not wait to try this one. As always, a job well done. Bravo!

AdriBarr said...

Hello again - It is the Abruzzo connection again - I don't know if your family used to drink Punch Abruzzo, a 90 proof liquore from Borrello (Chieti). I wrote about it a while ago. Perhaps you might enjoy the article. I hope your holiday season was grand. Happy New Year to you. May you enjoy many fine meals, and may you enjoy them in the best of health!

Anonymous said...

I want to give this a go!

If you don't have a wine cellar can it be left in a normal fridge? What amount of time would you recommend?


amiscell said...

My wine cellar is set at 12C. It depends on the temperature of your fridle. There is an easy formula to calculate. I suppose at about 8C it would take 50% longer or more.

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