One Sour, One Saltless, One Sweet: The Tale of Three Breads
Baguette à l’ancienne (Old World Baguette Redux)
Pain de campagne (French Country Bread)
Pane di Pasqua (Italian Easter Bread)
Once upon a time there was a wiry little baguette, who had, it must be said, a sour disposition. His name was Francois. He had two siblings: Marguerite and Jean. They were the more or less legitimate children of Madame Levain and Monsieur All-Purpose Flour (an American francophile who regularly turned up wherever Madame Levain was to be found), though they were reared in all manners by a certain Mrs. Chestnut–an amateur home baker and, as it were, bread nanny. Francois in particular had ambitions of being the platform for delectable goat cheeses at an Easter day feast. However, by no apparent fault of his own, neither he nor his siblings rose to the occasion in the way Mrs. Chestnut had hoped. They heard her grumbling again and again to herself as she peaked in the blazing oven, “The levain just wasn’t at its peak. I should have waited.” Little did Mrs. Chestnut know, that despite the childrens’ sour dispositions, they were doing everything in their fermented and fridge-proofed power to make the most of the less than ideal circumstances. They put much of their energy into developing a perfectly blistered and honey-colored crust, which, Mrs. Chestnut’s fellow feasters would later remark, was “amazing.”
Having never looked after baguettes before, Mrs. Chestnut simply did not know what kind of rise to expect from the imperfectly shaped, and, it must be said, rather stubby little loaves. When she peeked in on them after their chilly night’s sleep fermenting in the fridge, she troubled over what to do if they decided not to rise at all. She could not serve doughy, hard, dense baguettes at an Easter feast, so she set about making provisions should the baguettes prove to be inedible. Besides, Madame Levain was now at her frothy, bubbly peak, and simply begged for another rendezvous with Monsieur All-Purpose. And so les belles boules, Beatrice and Bianca came to be. Mrs. Chestnut doted over the two flowering beauties, and was ever so sure of herself that these loaves–these beautiful boules would be the hit of the feast. Still, she brought along Francois, Marguerite and Jean, more out of sheer curiosity for how they would behave at such an event as an Easter feast than any confidence that they would–as they did–prove to be the crowd favorite.
The energy the triplets put into forming their crust paid off. And, in spite of Mrs. Chestnut’s judgment, their rise–though not dramatic–was more than sufficient to reveal a chewy, open crumb. The twins on the other hand! Despite their beautiful exterior they proved to be bland and flavorless. But, let it be said, by no fault of their own. Developing flavor and character takes time, and les boules did not have the slow, overnight fermentation in refrigerated dream-land to produce a tangier flavor. They had been hurried along and hastily primped to be ready in time for the feast. Plus (and more to the point) Mrs. Chestnut had forgotten the salt.
Having learned some lesson from these nannying affairs (Fais attention!), Mrs. Chestnut decided to make one more yeasty Easter loaf. Well, six to be precise. All named Isabela Maria. And in truth they were more nests than loaves. The Pane di Pasqua were, for the most part, a success: sweet, enriched dough cushioning an egg, and–joy!–colored sprinkles loudly proclaiming, “Celebrate!” “If only the eggs would have taken to the beet dye and taken on a more vibrant hue,” Mrs. Chestnut lamented. Not that it deterred her from eating two of the ample nest-breads on the spot before–somewhat reluctantly–giving the others away to friends.
Below is the baguette recipe. It is my submission to YeastSpotting. If I make the boule recipe again anytime soon–and with salt!–I will give you the recipe. Until then, you can find it in Local Breads, by Danial Leader. The Italian Easter Bread Recipe is from The Italian Dish.
Baguette à l’ancienne (from Local Breads by Daniel Leader)
8-12 hours to prepare the levain
20 minutes to mix and rest the dough
8-20 minutes to knead (depending on whether you have a mixer or work by hand, as I do)
2-3 hours to ferment
12-24 hours to retard
20-25 minutes to bake
50 grams liquid levain (I use a 100% hydration sourdough starter)
175 grams tepid water
135 grams flour
Combine and let ferment in a covered bowl at room temperature for 8-12 hours.
150 grams tepid water
300 grams flour
310 grams levain starter
10 grams (1.5 tsp) salt
1. Pour the water into a large mixing bowl, add the flour and mix until the water is absorbed and a rough dough is formed. Let stand for 20 minutes.
2. Stir the levain and add it to the dough. Sprinkle the salt over the dough. Work the levain and salt into the dough (and I mean work). Resist adding more flour!!
3. Knead the dough as much as possible in the bowl, with a spatula. When it is smoother and more elastic, scrape it out onto an unfloured counter. It will stick, no matter what. Resist adding more flour! Lightly oil your hands as necessary to knead the dough. It will come together, it will be workable. But you must be ever so persistent. Knead for 10-15 minutes. Take a break. Knead some more. Give the dough a windowpane test: Tear off a golf-ball sized piece of dough and flatten it into a little pancake. Gently stretch it until the dough is thin enough to see through. If it tears, press the dough back into the mass and keep kneading. Test again after a little while.
4. Place in a lightly oiled bowl or container. Ferment at room temperature for an hour, or until the dough has doubled in volume.
5. Fold the dough and return to the container. Let ferment 1-2 hours, or until double in volume.
6. Dust a counter with flour. Turn the dough out and cut it into three pieces. Gently pat each into a rectangle and fold the rectangle in half. Sprinkle with flour and cover with plastic. Let rest 10 minutes.
7. Cover a peel or rimless baking sheet with parchment. Shape each piece of dough into a baguette about 12 inches long and 3 inches wide. As you roll the log, increase pressure at the ends to taper the tips. Handle gently and don’t overwork the dough!
8. Dust the parchment with flour and place the baguettes on the parchment, seam down, about 2 inches apart. Lift the parchment up between the loaves, making pleats and drawing the loaves close together. Tightly roll two kitchen towels and slip them under the parchment beside the two outer loaves to lend support. Dust with flour and cover with plastic.
9. Retard the loaves in the fridge for 12-24 hours. Two hours before baking, remove them. They will not rise noticeably.
10. Prepare the oven and heat the stone to 450F. You will need steam, so prepare for that, too.
11. Score the loaves: starting from the tip, make three slashes, at a 45 degree angle, about 3 inches long and 1/2 inch deep.
12. Remove the stone. For steam, I put a rimmed cookie sheet with approx. 2 cups of water on the bottom rack, beneath the stone. Slide the loaves–still on the parchment–onto the stone. Return to the oven and bake with steam for 20-25 minutes until the crusts are a deep, reddish-brown.
13. Cool the loaves on a wire rack.