The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pain a l'ancienne comes out mediocre

PeterPiper's picture

Pain a l'ancienne comes out mediocre

I followed PR's pain a'lancienne recipe to the letter, but something obviously didn't go right with my baguettes.  The dough did double, though it was slow and still cold after 2.5 hours out of the fridge.  The dough was incredibly slack and didn't feel like it had many air bubbles.  Even though the oven was at 550 for the first few minutes, I maxed out the baking time, and internal temp was around 207 when I took them out, the color is pale like it wasn't hot enough.  Texture is pretty dense with smaller bubbles, and the crust is pale, soft, and thin.  The only thing I can think is that the steam creation sucked too much heat from the oven, and it never recovered to really brown up these baguettes.  What do you think?  Should I try a different baguette recipe?

pain a l'ancienne

Ford's picture

Slack dough is hard to handle, if you have not experience handling it.  It appears to me that you have a problem with shaping the baguettes.  And there appears to be no slashing.  Do not steam during the entire bake period, only the first six to ten minutes.

I would suggest you make a batard until you get the hang of shaping, then try the baguettes.  The shaping is more of a stretching across the diameter, rather than along the length.  Rather like squeezing on the underside and letting the cylinder grow by itself along the length.  I like the way Emily Buehler in "Bread Science" explains shaping.  See also Jeffrey Hamelman, "Bread, A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes" (King Arthur Flour).

I just found a video that you may find useful.  There is a section on "scaling", followed by "preforming", then forming.  See;


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Ford.

These baguettes are very slack. Reinhart's instructions are to just divide and stretch the dough into "baguettes." There is no "shaping" in the usual sense, and, if you follow the formula, scoring is futile.

Hi PeterPiper.

Reinhart's recipe looks like it ought to be fool proof. Yet the results I've seen on TFL from various folks trying it have been very inconsistent.

If you are new to baguettes, I would advise starting out with a more "traditional," 65-72% hydration recipe.  Also, if you are new to shaping loaves altogether, Ford's advice to start with batards or boules is good. Baguettes are about the hardest shape to do well. Give yourself a break.


hsmum's picture

Whew!  Your reassurance that "Baguettes are about the hardest shape to do well" comes as a great relief to me too.  My attempt at this same recipe looked much the same as PeterPiper's.   I've tried 3 different baguette recipes and all come out looking really pathetic (although they did taste terrific, so that's some consolation!  But my dear husband chuckles each time I make them and it's quite understandable).  I guess I need to watch some online videos to try and figure out what I'm doing wrong in my shaping & scoring!  In any event, your words are comforting.


PeterPiper's picture

Hi Ford,

There wasn't much shaping to be done with these.  The dough was so slack, they literally poured out of my hands and onto the parchment.  I scored half of them but it was like cutting custard.  I've worked with slack doughs before, like with the ciabatta below, and got good color and structure.  But this is my first shot at a long cold full pre-ferment with no double proofing.  I may try a more standard baguette recipe and still do the long pre-ferment to see if I can get the flavor profile I want without the hassle of liquid dough.

janij's picture

I think for a first attempt at that recipe you did very well.  I haven't made it in awhile but remember it being harder than I thought it would.  It was very slack and I don't think I got great color either.  If you want a baguette I would try a more traditional baguette recipe first.  But I bet they still tasted good!!

LindyD's picture

The color could be a bit deeper, PeterPiper, but you have to keep in mind that this is a rustic bread of around 79.6% hydration.  It is neither shaped nor scored.   Rather, the dough is cut into strips which are gently stretched out as they are placed on the parchement covered peel. 

True, a high hydration dough is always a challenge the first time you handle it, but I've learned that it gets easier the more you bake it (my first batch looked like they had been stepped on). 

I've also learned that the dough has to be handled very gently and lightly once it is poured out of the container.  I cut the first three strips and get them in the oven. The remaining dough is not cut until the first three have been baked.  

Are you using an oven thermometer and a stone?  Was your oven preheated?  Something is off because the temperature you note and the length of bake (around 20 minutes) should result in a more deeply colored crust than you're getting.  

If you followed the BBA instructions and kept opening the oven door to add more steam, that could be the culprit.  I think that routine is folly so I just pop a few ice cubes in a pan about five minutes before I'm ready to bake to add some humidity to the oven, then load the bread and pour a cup of hot water in another pan.  After that, the oven door stays closed.

The ancienne baguettes are my family's favorite.  They aren't very pretty, but they sure taste good and I hope you give them another try someday.


rainwater's picture

Anis Boubasa's recipe gets my vote for the best baguette for me to handle....about 75% hydration, and easy to make. 

AllenCohn's picture

Another possibility is that there was too much yeast and/or too much bulk fermentation time...

If the yeast had eaten up all the free sugars then there would be little/none left to caramelize on the crust.

It is also possible that this lack of free sugar explains the lack of rise & oven spring.

San Francisco

Ford's picture

Here is a recipe that I have used with good success.  I also have one using sourdough starter.  Perhaps this will help. --  Ford


Note: I have tried for years to make an authentic loaf of French bread.  This recipe gives a more open structure than other recipes that I have tried, and it is as good as I have tasted.  It has a slightly sour taste, large holes in the crumb, and a crisp crust.  The dough is very slack (wet), very hard to handle, and most difficult to knead by hand.  The people at King Arthur tell me that the wet dough is the key to getting the open structure of artisan breads.  I recommend that the ingredients be measured by weight for greater accuracy.  If you cannot weigh, then sift the flour to get it to its greatest volume.  Sprinkle the flour into measuring cups and scrape off the excess flour with a straight edge.  Don’t measure the flour in transparent cups that use graduations to show the volume.  The difference in these loaves is only in their shape.  The baguette is a long thin loaf; the batarde is a fatter loaf; and the boule is a ball shaped loaf.

1 1/2 cup (6.4 oz.) King Arthur All-purpose flour
3/4  cup (6 oz.) cool water, 60 °F
1/8 tspn. active dry yeast
Poolish hydration: 94%

Combine the ingredients and mix just until blended in a bowl allowing enough room for the dough (94% hydration) to rise to triple its volume.  Yes, there is only an eighth of a teaspoon of yeast in this poolish.  Cover the bowl with plastic and allow it to ferment for 12 to 24 hours.  It should become bubbly and form a dome.  It is best to catch it before it falls (so I am told), but don’t worry if it does fall, it will still work.  The poolish will also work if refrigerated.  If refrigerated, let it sit at room temperature for two hours, to come to room temperature, before proceeding.

3 cup (12.8 oz.) King Arthur All-purpose flour
2 tspn. active dry yeast (the remainder in the packet)
2 1/2  tspn. (0.5 oz.) salt
All of the poolish
7/8 cup (7 oz.) cool water, 60 °F
Dough hydration: 67%

Dissolve the yeast in a little of the water.  Then add all of the ingredients to the bowl of the mixer you intend to use.  (I have used a Cuisinart Food Processor, also a Hobart’s Kitchen Aid 5 quart MIxer with dough hook.)  Mix the ingredients until just barely combined.  Let the dough (68% hydration) rest for 20 to 30 minutes.  (autolyse)

Knead the dough until it is cohesive and elastic, but not perfectly smooth.  It should form a ball and clean the sides of the bowl, but it should still have a rough surface and not the smooth one of fully kneaded dough.  King Arthur bakers estimate it takes 7 minutes in a bread machine, 5 minutes in a mixer, or 1 minute in a food processor.  Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover it and let it rise for about 2 hours.  During this period, with well-oiled hands, lift the dough, gently deflate it, fold it over on itself, and then replace it in the bowl.  This folding helps strengthen the gluten.

After two hours or so, transfer the dough to a lightly oiled surface.  I find that an oiled piece of parchment paper on the counter top does well.  Divide the dough into three pieces (about 10 1/2 oz. each) and gently form them into rough logs.  Let them rest for about twenty minutes then shape them into 13 to 14 inch long thin baguettes as described in the next paragraph. The dough may also be formed into batard, boule, or rolls.

Preheat the oven to 500°F with the baking stone in place, if you have one. Working with one piece at a time, flatten the “log” and fold it in half, side to side, so as to maintain its length.  Seal the seam with your fingers or the heel of your hand pulling the surface giving the dough a tight skin and to form a 13 to 14 inch long baguette.  Place the baguettes on the lightly oiled baguette pan, seam side down, and let them rise for about 45 minutes.  (Traditional directions call for the rising to be done covered in the folds of a lightly floured couche (linen or cotton cloth).  They may also rise on a lightly oiled parchment, then parchment and all transfered to the baking stone.  Since I have a baking stone and I have had trouble moving the formed pieces of dough, I have let them rise, covered, on a wooden peel that has been dusted with cornmeal.  I have also shaped them on a lightly floured surface and shaped them with lightly floured hands.  Ford)

Place a pan of boiling water under the baking rack.  After the loaves have risen, gently slash each loaf with four diagonal cuts about 1/4 inch deep and at a 45° angle, not straight down.  Place pan (or slide the loaves) on to the baking stone and spray them with water.  They may also be baked in the greased baguette pan or on the greased parchment paper.  Reduce the oven temperature to 475°F and bake the loaves for about 20 minutes to a deep golden brown color (195 to 205°F interior temperature).  Remove the baguettes to a cooling rack.  Let the loaves cool completely before slicing; otherwise, the interior will be gummy.  Because there is no milk or fat in this bread it will get stale rather quickly.  It can be frozen then refreshed by placing the loaf directly on the rack of a 300 – 350°F oven for about 5 or 10 minutes.

Compilation of recipes from King Arthur Flour Co.;

PeterPiper's picture

I am going to try again with baguettes.  Ford--I want to try your recipe since it looks more straightforward and the dough hydration level looks like it'll be easier to shape and handle.  One question--you use just AP flour with no bread flour mixed in?



Ford's picture

Yes, BUT it is King Arthur Unbleached All Purpose Flour.  It has a higher protein content (about 11.7%) than many other all purpose flours (as little as 10%).


reyesron's picture

I started baking Pain A L'Ancienne about two weeks ago and I think I've gained 5 pounds since I started baking PR's recipe.  It's the bread I've always wanted to bake myself, and I can't stop eating it.  Yesterday morning, I made a batch and I made my wife give most of it away. 

I experiment a little bit with it, and my first batch yesterday looked like the batch in the first pictures above.  I had noticed in the BBA that the steaming pan was above the baking stone, and I tried that, and I got those results with the first three loaves.  I switched it back as I had been baking the loaves with the steam pan below and my results have been consistently wonderful.  Its probably my oven, but following that particular direction of PR didnt work for me very well and probably didn't for the creator of those loaves.  Steam pan under the loaves, is my suggestion. 

The most significant thing I have learned from Peter Reinhart in acheiving consistently good bread is taking the internal temperature for doneness.  Whoodathunkit?

Ford's picture

I always have the steam pan below the baking shelf.  It is reasonable since steam is about half the density of air and it will rise to the upper level.  (water molecular weight = 18, oxygen = 36, nitrogen = 28)

I also have a pizza stone on the baking shelf.