The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Why do you need cold water for initial mix Pain a' l'ancienne?

gelenn's picture

Why do you need cold water for initial mix Pain a' l'ancienne?

Using Reinhardt's method of using yeast in the original build I understand why the cold water is used--retarding the start of yeast activity.  I have tried Gosselin's method of just water and flour the last couple of times and started wondering if cold water is necessary since no yeast is involved until after the delayed fermination.  Anyone with an answer.

MichaelH's picture

might be that Gosselin used organic and/or fresh ground flour, which usually contains natural yeasts in small amounts on the wheat berries. Also, professional baker's (especially rustic types) bakeries are permeated with air borne yeasts just due to the nature of the business.

If any of this is true, then he would want to use cold water to retard these natural yeasts. There is probably a better explanation, but the above occured to me.


LindyD's picture

Hi Gelenn,

If you have a copy of the BBA, look at the last paragraph of page 20, where PR describes his visit to the Gosselin Boulangerie.  He writes:  

The important difference between this dough and others is that it is made by a delayed-fermentation technique caused by using ice-cold water to mix it, without yeast or salt, and then immediately refrigerating it. [Emphasis added]

Flour and water ferment naturally.  Wild yeast is on the grain at harvest and is still present once the grain is milled.  Those bags of flour in your pantry contain a lot of wild yeast.  Pat (Proth5) recently reported an interesting fact she picked up during the IBIE conference:

One gram of regular flour contains 13,000 wild yeast cells and 320 lactic bacteria cells, and

One gram of whole-wheat flour contains 320,000 yeast cells and 62,000 lactic bacteria cells.

This was also cited in an article by Didier Rosada.

So, while you may not have added yeast to the flour and water mix, it's not a barren environment -  there's still plenty of wild yeast in play and they are going to ferment.  

Slower fermentation develops more flavor.  Cold water slows down the rate of fermentation, but not the process.  

Hope this helps.

gelenn's picture

Thanks, thats what i kinda suspected.  I have a batch ready for today using room temp water to experiment, hope it turns out ok. 

fthec's picture

Holy coincidence.  I've been meaning to post the exact same question for the last week.  I've wondered about it for years and have thought about trying a controlled experiment but never had the chance.

I'm looking forward to your update.



ananda's picture

Hi Gelenn,
I think the initial cold mix acts like an extended autolyse. This means the protein in the flour will slowly develop, the protein and starch will slowly take up the water, and the enzymatic reactions will all begin, but will be a little slow as the temperature is a little cool for them. However, it really is too inclement for yeast activity of any great degree, given the dough is mixed cold.
Fermentation kicks in at the secondary point, when the yeast is added.
Best wishes