Delayed Fermentation Method - Pain a l'Ancienne
I went to my favourite neighbourhood coffee shop a few days ago to enjoy a cup of flat white. The lady owner there has a bit of an alternative flair about her and I enjoy the free air that she exudes to her place. She really knows her stuff because the sourdough she serves for snacks is one of the best in town. She told me her supplier is "Leavain Bakery " in Brisbane. I thought I might go and visit Leavain Bakery sometime so I Googled it when I got home. Wow - I had no idea! Leavain Bakery supplies to some of the best restaurants in Brisbane! I though, Shiao-Ping, well done! I am so privileged to have the same sourdough in this little café as those that would be enjoyed by patrons to some of the best restaurants in town. One of the restaurants is Philip Johnson's E'cco Bistro . The New Zealand chef in Brisbane, Philip Johnson, has some of the best dessert recipes I've ever seen, something to die for.
As I was reading up on Leavain Bakery  on the net, it was brought to my attention that John Downes , the man behind the Australian sourdough movement in the late 70's has a cook book out. As I was buying the book on the Australian Sourdough Companion  website, an user, Johnny's beautiful crumb shot caught my attention. His Ciabatta Integrale  (a wholemeal ciabatta with multi-grains) involves a procedure which is most unusual to me. I would like to summarize it below, if I may:
- The night of Day 1: refresh the starter (in 2 feedings over 24 hours)
- The night of Day 2: combine all ingredients (except salt) and autolyse 20 minutes, then add salt, mix by hand for 1 or 2 minutes, then straight into the refrigerator overnight
- The morning of Day 3: take dough out and fold once, return to the refrigerator
- The night of Day 3: take the dough out again and over the next 4 - 5 hours stretch & fold the dough once every hour; shape and place the dough in a banneton, proof for one hour, then into the refrigerator again overnight
- The morning of Day 4: Bake!
I find Johnny's procedure very "elegant"- the least effort that allows you to arrive at the best possible result. The essence seems to be in his minimalist approach and its beauty is that it is great for a person who has a busy work life. I have since found that SourDom, another experienced baker of Sourdough Companion, talked about this flexible schedule at length in his Sourdough Timetables  article. But (and this is a big BUT), I did not understand what made this timetable work for sourdough bread; I mean, what was happening behind the scene; ie, what was happening to the natural yeasts in the refrigerator?
I went to Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Under page 191 of Pain a l'Ancienne, it says:
The unique delayed-fermentation method, which depends on ice-cold water, releases flavors trapped in flour.... The final product has ... character that is distinct from breads made with exactly the same ingredients but fermented by the standard method....
The cold mixing and fermentation cycles delay the activation of the yeast until after the amylase enzymes have begun their work of breaking out sugar from the starch. When the dough is brought to room temperature and the yeast wakes up and begins feasting, it feeds on sugars that weren't there the day before.
Peter Reinhart adds,
... this delayed-fermentation method... evokes the fullness of flavor from the wheat beyond any other fermentation method I've encountered. As a bonus, and despite all the intimidation science, this is actually one of the easiest doughs ... to make."
How beautiful is that!
Without further ado, let me go straight to my bread. My Pain a l'Ancienne is an adaptation of Peter Reinhart's formula, as well as that of Johnny's Ciabatta Integrale. Thank you Johnny, and thank you Peter.
My formula for Wholemeal Pain a l'Ancienne
- 182 g starter @ 75% hydration (5% rye)
- 475 g Wholemeal flour (13.1% protein)
- 414 g ice water
- 11 g salt
Total dough weight 1.08 kg; overall hydration 85%
My formula for White Pain a l'Ancienne
- 182 g starter @ 75% hydration (5% rye)
- 455 g Unbleached bread flour (11.9% protein)
- 358 g ice water
- 11 g salt
Total dough weight 1.01 kg; overall hydration 78%
I recommend anyone to read SourDom's Sourdough Timetables . While SourDom's intention is to give home bakers flexibility in scheduling, the delayed fermentation achieved means that the home baker has everything to gain in terms of crumb flavor. Try it and wish you happy baking!
Grilled Pain a l'Ancienne with buffalo ricotta by Australia's Paesanella
Cheese Manufacturers, drizzled with honey and garnished with honeycomb
Note 1: My Google translator tells me Pain a l'Ancienne means "old bread." According to jackal10  of eGullet Society for Culinary Arts and Letters, "A l'Ancienne" is a technique where the dough is mixed cold, and then retarded. The long cold period allows a long period for enzymatic breakdown of the starch into fermentable sugars but because of the cold there is little yeast activity, so that when the dough is later warmed up the yeast has more food available than would otherwise be the case. With slack dough it can give a highly aerated open structure."
Note 2: Johnny did not use ice cold water; however, his retardation schedule would mean that he would have achieved the same benefits. Peter Reinhart's formula calls for one night retardation only.