There is a wonderful Italian meringue-type cookie called, “Brutti Ma Buoni.” The literal English translation is “Ugly but Good.” This week’s bread, in the Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge, Pain a l’ancienne, reminded me of those cookies. It also brought back memories of my dating days, before I was married, when I would go on blind dates. I would ask my friend who was fixing me up to tell me a little bit about the guy. She would say, “Well, he has a great personality.” Everybody knows that’s just code for not so good looking! That in a nutshell is Pain l”ancienne! This was not the most attractive bread we have made, but the taste and texture more than made up for it!
The procedure for making this dough is a little unusual and different from what we have done in the past. Instead of using warm or room temperature water, so that the yeast is activated right away, we used ice cold water in this recipe.
Then the dough is refrigerated overnight. It is not until the next day, that the dough is removed from the fridge and allowed to come to room temperature, that the yeast begins to wake up and do it’s thing. While the yeast was sleeping in the fridge overnight, the enzymes had a chance to break out more sugar from the starch in the dough. All this excess sugar that was created by delaying the yeast’s work, helps to produce a more flavourful dough and a more deeply caramelized crust.
The ice cold water is mixed with bread flour, salt and yeast. The dough should be very sticky and only release from the sides of the mixing bowl, and not the bottom. My dough released from both the sides and the bottom, so I dribbled in more water, and continued mixing. I really had no clue as to when I had mixed enough. The recipe said only to mix for 6 minutes, but after 6 minutes my dough looked like cottage cheese, with tons of little lumps. This had me very worried. I was convinced I had missed some crucial step or ingredient. I read the recipe again and could not find any errors, so I stopped mixing, transferred the dough to a bowl, covered it with plastic wrap and refrigerated it overnight.
When I took it out of the fridge the next morning, it had barely risen at all. It took almost 4 hours at room temperature for the dough to double.
Next, I dumped the dough out onto a heavily floured counter and gently patted into a rectangle, 6 x 8 inches.
Using a wet metal bench scraper, I divided the dough in half, and then cut each half into 3 strips, ending up with 6 skinny lengths of dough.
I gently stretched each piece of dough to the length of my baking stone, (about 16 inches) and then placed them on an upside down baking sheet, covered with parchment paper and cornmeal. Each baking sheet held 3 loaves. We had the option not scoring the dough, but I was excited to practice my slashing skills. The dough did not have great surface tension, so the lame sort of dragged, rather than making a clean slash.
I carefully slid the parchment with the loaves off the baking sheet and onto the stone I had heating in the oven. The slide was smooth and no disaster ensued! I added hot water to the pan in the oven and sprayed the oven walls, all without shattering any glass. Wow, this was going way too well. After 8 minutes, I turned the parchment and loaves 90 degreees for more even browning. After an additional 10 minutes, the loaves were done.
After 30 minutes I sliced into the dough. I was rewarded with the biggest holes I have produced to date. I was so excited.
Although the shape of the loaves looked like fat squiggly worms, the taste was amazing. The crust had a hefty chew, which I love, and the flavour was kind of sweet and nutty. This bread was one of my favourites so far and I will definately be making it again.