Pain à l'ancienne

So the picture is not fantastic, but this pain à l'ancienne is my favourite of the breads I've made. It has gorgeous, giant air bubbles that I haven't yet achieved in my other breads, a perfect, crisp crust, soft, buttery insides, and a great taste. It's easy too, so I'm afraid I won't find much to say about it. I made it for the same Japanese visitors who enjoyed my mille crêpes, making our meal a French-American feast of meatloaf, mashed potatoes, honeyed carrots, pain à l'ancienne, and mille crêpes.

I used the recipe in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, and only had one problem, mostly related to my own stupidity and laziness. The recipe calls for the dough (pretty thick, but not thick enough to knead) to be mixed for a certain amount of time (2 minutes, 6 minutes?) with a mixer. Now, the only mixer we have is a little hand blender that can put peaks on egg whites and make whipped cream, but would never get through anything much thicker than cake batter. So I do all my mixing by hand. Someday, someone is going to challenge me to an arm wrestling contest, and that day, I will win. But until then, I have to struggle to stir with a wooden spoon really thick bread dough long enough to form the same amount of gluten as an electric mixer for x minutes.

So, after a while, my arm was about to fall off, and I could see the dough was developing gluten. I decided to call it good enough and put it in the fridge to rise. The next day when I took it out and gently moved it to a heavily floured surface, being careful not to deflate any of the air bubbles in the dough, and it flattened out into a rectangle much larger than the 6x8 inch one I was trying for. Rolling the dough, as the recipe suggested, only caused it to flop over into an equally large rectangle on another side. So, annoyed and panicky, I folded it up. I got my 6x8 inch rectangle, but I also got a lot of floury parts folded inside. Besides having big pockets of flour (gross!) the parts touching it didn't cook as well, and it messed up my beautiful air bubbles. I think that more mixing (oh, my arm aches to think of it!) would have helped that problem. As would folding the dough before I had floured it.

Still, not every loaf had flour inside, and only parts of the affected loaves had large amounts of flour. It was a bit like a lottery. Except you just win... flour, and you don't even get to be king for a day.

The three loaves on the left were baked immediately, and the three darker loaves were sprayed with oil and left to rise another hour. Both were equally delicious, but slightly different.

Recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart