The Fresh Loaf

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Real French bread

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Altariel's picture
Altariel

Real French bread

This was not posted in 1969!

When visiting France as a child (many many years ago) I ate 'real' French bread...slightly sour, porous and sticky and utterly delicious.

On recent visits it appeared that bakeries sold the same kind of ubiquitous bread sticks one finds in the world's supermarkets.  Has anyone a recipe for the genuine article? I love making bread, both by hand and machine, but this one eludes me. Is there a secret in the flour?

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mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

You can find an excellent recipe for a delicious baguette type bread in the BreadBaker's Apprentice (by Peter Reinhart, aka the BBA) called Pain A L'Ancienne that I think will remind you of the rustic baguettes of old that you remember. There is also a regular French baguette recipe in that book as well, and also country French boules - all in all a worthwhile book to get for the recipes as well as the excellent bread-making instruction. I find the Pain A L'Ancienne recipe to be quite simple to make - you mix the dough the night before baking, refrigerate it overnight, take it out 4 hours before baking the next day to warm it up, cut the dough into strips and stretch to make baguette shapes - no folding or scoring because the dough is way too slack, but already very extensible. Here is what mine looked like when I made it 3 weeks ago: Pain A L'Ancienne

 

Of course, if it is a sourdough French Pain Au Levain that you are looking for, that is different, and you will need to become immersed in wild yeast starter techniques to tackle that one, but the BBA book also has all that information in the later sections.

 

I go to France about every other year with my husband to visit his family, and we always manage to find excellent bread at the local boulangeries (quality varies, so seek out the best by word of mouth), but we do notice that the French supermarkets all carry more mass-produced breads that are not as good and we avoid those. The main difference in quality is due to mass production (same in US), where the dough is whipped by machinery and a lot of commercial yeast is added , both of these factors speed up rising, eliminating a second rise altogether for speedy production. As most know here on this forum, it is slow fermentation that draws most of the flavor from the flour in the dough, the slower, the better. There is still a very strong tradition of excellent breadmaking in France using the old methods at the local shops. Good Luck.

Floydm's picture
Floydm

The secret is more in technique than ingredients, though ingredients factor in as well.

If you are interested in learning about why over the last 40 years French bread got progressive worse and now, finally, is getting better, check out Good Bread Is Back. He goes in great detail into the changes in technique as well as the changes is the formulation of the flour.

Sylviambt's picture
Sylviambt

Altariel,

I've got a batch of Reinhart's Pain A'Lancienne going right now in the frig.  Should know by tomorrow if I've captured the crust and crumb I savoured in Paris 30 years ago.  I echo Floyd's recommendation of Good Bread is Back.

Sylviambt

In search of the perfect crust & crumb

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

Here's a link to a site I found really interesting - come the spring, I'm going to get on Eurostar (train) to Lille and try it for myself....
http://www.viamichelin.com/viamichelin/gbr/tpl/mag5/art20060701/htm/gastronomie-croquet.htm
Andrew

titus's picture
titus

Thanks for that link, Andrew!

Lille is only about 3 hours from me; a nice weekend break!

It sounds like it will be well worth the trip. Let us know when you go and how it is. If I get an opportunity, I'll post about it, too.

Sylviambt's picture
Sylviambt

Here it is, Sunday evening, and I've worked three batches of dough for pain l'ancienne since Friday.  I threw out the first -seemed absolutely dead; baked the second -  loaves never reached the size (length or rise) as pictured in BBA; and third batch was better, but it also had too tight a crumb and didn't have the sweet flavor of the second batch.  Can't figure it out. 

I've had repeated success with the BBA ciabatta (wonderful, big holes), but this French baguette has got me stumped.  The loaves just don't seem to rise.  Any ideas out there?

Sylviambt

In search of the perfect crust & crumb

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Here are some questions that may help figure out what happened:

Maybe your yeast is too old?

Are you using instant yeast or active dry?

Are you following the recipe in BBA to the letter, including retarding overnight in the fridge?

Are you measuring by weight or by volume?

Did you let the dough warm up the next day after the overnight retard for at least 3 or 4 hours at 70F or warmer until it doubled in volume?

Did you barely handle the dough when dumping out of the bowl, dividing, and shaping so as not to degas in the slightest? Not even folding it? Just stretching it into a rectangle, cutting into strips, resting the dough, then stretch gently to form a long thin baguette -like shape?

 

Sylviambt's picture
Sylviambt

Hi Mountaindog,

Thanks for your many questions.  They've made me recollect my process and ingredients.  I think yeast may be an issue - I'm not sure of the freshness of my instant yeast - and I think that I may be handling the wet dough too roughly as I dump it out and pull it to shape.  I'm pretty sure I've been degassing it.  Funny how this isn't a problem with my ciabatta but an absolute trial with this baguette!

I will try, try again.  Thanks.  I'll report back next weekend.

Sylviambt

In search of the perfect crust & crumb

Sylviambt's picture
Sylviambt

Thanks, Mountaindog

You helped me trouble-shoot my technique and make several pain a l'ancienne baguettes worth biting into.  As you suggested, I made a point not to overmix, I let the dough ferment in a warmer environment (because my kitchen's ambient temp is 65 degrees F or less, I used the microwave to bring a full cup of water to near boil and then used the warmed microwave as a proof box), and I worked more gently so as not to degass the dough when pulling into shape.

Now, I'm still not getting the complexity of flavors described, but I'll continue working at it.  Any thoughts?  Thanks.

Sylviambt

In search of the perfect crust & crumb

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Hi Sylviambt - so glad you got better results. Flavor: I guess keep in mind that since this is a yeasted bread, you won't get the complexity of flavors you would from  sourdough, but for such an easy, relatively quick yeast recipe, I think the flavor is very good, obviously from the overnight fermentation.

 

You may be able to obtain even better flavor by using better quality flour if you don't already - that would probably make a big difference. What kind do you use now? Using a better quality flour, or blend of flour, may help. Be sure to use unbleached flour, and I personally would avoid bread flour, I think the higher protein levels make baguette-type bread too dense and chewy and less flavorful. I would use a good quality all purpose flour like King Arthur AP if you can find it. The KA AP flour has a protein content of around 11.3% and an ash/mineral content of .56%, this is very similar to the flour used in France for baguettes, where the higher mineral content apparently provides more flavor (most white flours in the US have lower mineral contents, around .43 or so if I remember correctly). The ash/mineral in wheat comes from the layer near the germ, so how the wheat is milled I think accounts for the difference - the French flours have more germ in them.

 

I also like to mix a little whole wheat flour into part of the total flour called for in the recipe, about 25% (this is suggested in Dan Leader's "Bread Alone" book to mimic a high extraction flour used in European breads). So if a recipe calls for 400 g of flour, I would meaure out 100 g of fine ground whole wheat (again, King Arthur is a good one) and 300 g of white AP King Arthur flour. The little bit of whole wheat gives the bread a creamier color and a bit of a wheatier flavor without the overwhelming whole wheat taste.

 

Hope that helps...Good luck and let me know how you make out.