Miche / Pain Poilâne

So I finally baked the bread off the cover of The Bread Baker's Apprentice. I'd been sort of lusting after it for a while, reading more about the bakery where it originated, Boulangerie chez Poilâne. Their website, available in English and French, includes a form for ordering loaves to be shipped. What I made would cost me $35.95 to have shipped to my home. I'm not sure how to react to the fact that that doesn't seem excessive for a loaf of bread. I wouldn't eat it every day, certainly, but I'd consider trying it once, even just for the coolness of having bread come in the mail. I also like that their website has food pairing ideas for all their breads.

The bread is a 2kg (~4lb) loaf of very sour, dense, wheat bread. It is essentially the opposite of this pain de campagne I made before. That was a mild whole wheat sourdough starter made with white flour, and this is a fairly acidic white sourdough starter made with wheat bread. Both are delicious (and beautiful) but I think the pain de campagne is a more accessible taste. At least, no one in my family has been making sandwiches on this one. It's also possible they just don't like slicing it though. It is very dense.

I'd been putting off making it because I wanted to do it right. It's just big enough that kneading it is a bit of a challenge, and I wanted a strong sourdough starter. I'm extremely pleased with how it came out though. The book suggested scoring a pound sign on it, but I really liked the stylized 'P' on the real Poilâne loaves, and decided to carve a 'G' on mine for my first initial. (Since a 'K' for my last name wouldn't have looked as nice.) I may have to make that my signature loaf-scoring. It would be nice if I could get good enough at changing the angle of the cuts so that mine looked like calligraphy like theirs do.

The only things I would change if I bake this again would be to dust it with flour to make the scoring stand out more (it looks like they dust at Poilâne, but the cookbook didn't mention it, and the one in their photos aren't floured) and to bake it a bit longer. I pulled mine out at the earliest of the range of baking times, but it was still a little doughy inside. It's possible it's just very dense and is supposed to be like that. I thought a desem-style bread I made recently was underbaked, but I bought one from a local bakery and it had a similar texture. Maybe whole wheat sourdough breads just stay squishy.

One thing I really like about this recipe is that it is apparently too big for most home mixers, even the fancy ones, so even people who have nice things have to do it by hand like I do.

Poilâne-style Miche

Recipe from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.


3 1/2 cups bread flour
2 cups water, room temperature
1 cup sourdough starter

Stir ingredients together, cover with an air-tight seal and let ferment at room temperature 6 hours, or until barm is bubbly. Open to let gas escape, then recover and refrigerate overnight. It will remain active for up to three days.

Firm starter

1 cup barm
2 cups medium grind whole wheat flour
1/2 cup water, room temperature

Stir together the barm, flour, and enough water to make a firm ball of dough. Knead about three minutes, place in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap.

Ferment at room temperature 4~6 hours, or until doubled in size. Refrigerate overnight.

Remove firm starter from refrigerator one hour before making the final dough. Cut into 12 pieces and let sit to take off the chill.

Final dough

7 cups medium grind whole wheat flour
3 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 ~ 2 3/4 cups lukewarm water
semolina flour for dusting

In a large bowl mix flour, salt, and starter pieces. Add at least 2 1/4 cups of water to form a soft ball. Adjust flour and water as needed.

Knead on a floured surface for 12 to 15 minutes, continuing to adjust flour and water as needed. The dough should pass the windowpane test.

Let rise in an oiled bowl covered with plastic wrap for about 4 hours at room temperature, or until nearly doubled in size.

Transfer the dough to the counter and form a boule. Proof the dough, seam-side up, in a banneton or large proofing bowl. (I just used the same bowl I had used before... -TFB) Spray the exposed side with oil and cover with plastic wrap.

Proof at room temperature 2~3 hours, or until about 1 1/2 times its original size, or retard overnight in the refrigerator. If retarding the dough, remove from the refrigerator 4 hours before baking.

Preheat oven to 500*F, with a baking stone and a steam pan.

Put a sheet of baking parchment on the back of an inverted sheet pan and dust with semolina flour. Turn the boule out onto the parchment and score.

Slide the parchment and boule onto the baking stone and pour 2 cups of boiling water into the steam pan. Reduce heat to 450*F and bake 25 minutes. Rotate the loaf 180* for even baking, reduce the temperature to 425*F and bake an additional 30~40 minutes.

If the top begins to burn, make a tin-foil hat tent for it, or place an inverted sheet pan under it, if the bottom is burning.

Move the bread to a cooling rack and let cool two hours before serving. Store in a brown paper bag; it should be good for 5-7 days.