Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge: Pain à l’Ancienne

Baguettes Out of Oven

This seems to be one of the most talked about breads from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and I’ve been looking forward to giving it a try since first starting the challenge.  While I’ve read plenty of rave reviews of this bread over the years, I was attracted to pain à l’ancienne for a couple of other reasons.  First, the photo of rustic-looking baguettes in the book is beautiful and I’ve always wanted to make bread that looks like that.  But I was also very intrigued by the method.

Peter Reinhart teaches us about the delayed-fermentation method with this bread, manipulating temperature to delay the activation of the yeast, which in turn allows more sugar to be released from the starch.  This results in a bread with more flavor and a crust with more color, without the addition of extra ingredients.  According to Peter Reinhart, the delayed-fermentation method evoked a fullness of flavor from the wheat beyond any other fermentation method he had encountered up to the point of publishing this book, in 2001.

Lots of Baguettes

Have I confused you yet?  It turns out that once you get past all the scientific explanations, this is one of the easiest breads in the book to make.  When I say that we manipulate temperature in this bread formula, it just means that we start with ice cold water instead of warm or room temperature water like most of the previous breads in the book.  Keeping the dough cold and fermenting it in the refrigerator is what delays the activation of the yeast.

The day before you want to bake the bread, mix up a simple dough of bread flour, salt, instant yeast, and ice cold water.  It’s a wet dough, similar to ciabatta, so it’s easiest to mix and knead it in a stand mixer.  Once the dough is mixed and kneaded, transfer it to an oiled container, mist the top with spray oil, cover it, and immediately place it in the refrigerator.

Dough Out of Fridge

The dough might rise a bit in the refrigerator overnight, but won’t come anywhere close to doubling in size if you started with cold enough water.  The above photo shows my dough as soon as I took it out of the refrigerator in the morning.  The black line on the pitcher indicates the dough level from the night before.  After removing it from the fridge, let the dough sit out at room temperature where it will gradually warm up, wake up, and start to rise.  Allow it to double in size.

Dough Doubled in Size

My dough took about 5 hours to double from its original size, but my kitchen wasn’t very warm that morning.

Ready to be Divided

As soon as it has doubled, liberally sprinkle the counter with flour then gently remove the dough from the proofing container.  You want to deflate the dough as little as possible when you’re dumping it onto the counter.   The dough will probably be very wet, so dust it and your hands with flour.

Flattened into an Oblong

Gently stretch the dough into an oblong, about eight inches long and six inches wide, making sure to keep flour under the dough so it doesn’t stick to the counter.

Divided in Half

Using a bench scraper that has been dipped in water, divide the dough width-wise.  The water prevents the blade from sticking to the dough.  Continue dipping in water between cuts until you have completely divided the dough.  Let the pieces rest for 5 minutes.  Meanwhile, preheat the oven with a baking stone and steam pan inside.

Each Half Divided in Thirds

Next, using the same cutting method, divide one half of the dough into three equal pieces.  Repeat with the other half.  You should end up with six short lengths of dough.

Stretched into Baguettes

Cover the backsides of two half sheet pans with parchment paper.  Sprinkle the parchment with semolina flour or cornmeal.  Now flour your hands and gently stretch each piece of dough to the length of the sheet pan.

Six Baguettes

Each pan will hold three strips.  Although it wasn’t specified in the book, I dusted the loaves lightly with flour after stretching them, mainly for decoration.  Unlike most of the breads we’ve done so far, these loaves don’t have to proof before baking.  Mine sat for a while because the oven wasn’t quite ready, but not long enough to double in size.  They are ready to go as soon as your oven is ready.

Scored Baguettes

Right before baking, they can be scored.  Because this is such a wet dough, slashing the tops of the loaves can be a bit tricky.  I used a very sharp serrated bread knife instead of a razor and I tried to score them as if for a baguette.  They weren’t perfect, but I wasn’t worried about it since these loaves are supposed to have a very rustic look.

As soon as they are scored, it’s time to bake.  You can either slide the loaves, parchment and all, directly onto the baking stone or bake them on the sheet pan.  I chose to bake the loaves directly on the stone.  You can only bake three loaves at once, so just let the others ones wait their turn.  Or, you can spray them with oil, cover with plastic, and refrigerate them for up to a day before baking.

Cooled Baguettes

The delayed-fermentation method seemed to have worked because the pain à l’ancienne baguettes did have more color than the French baguettes.  The bread also had good flavor.  It was quite delicious, actually.  I must say that I prefer the flavor of the French bread to this one, but this was so easy, I’ll probably make it more often. However, I’ll definitely be revisiting both breads in the future.

Pain a l'ancienne Crumb

If you’re following along in the challenge, the formula can be found on page 191 of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  The next bread I’ll be baking is Pain de Campagne, a French bread with a country-style crust.  I’m looking forward to Pain de Campagne because I’ll be trying out some new shaping techniques!

Want to Join The Bread Baker’s Apprentice Challenge?

There are several ways for you to join in the fun!  First of all, you need a copy of Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  Read the first section of the book carefully, as this will prepare you for the bread recipes in the second section of the book.  Then just jump in and bake some Anadama Bread, which is the first bread formula in the book.  You may also visit The BBA Challenge Page for more details on how to participate in the group.

If you haven’t already, you might want to bookmark the BBA Challenge Page.  From there you can see which breads are coming up soon, find answers to Frequently Asked Questions, visit and/or add yourself to our World Map, see the BBA Challenge Blogroll, and check out the continually updated slideshow of BBA Bread photos from our ever-expanding group of bakers!

Pain à l’Ancienne from other BBA Bakers:

  1. pam

    Great step-by-step post! Maybe since I’m off for the summer, I’ll try a few of these breads!

    4:12 am  Jun 7th, 2010
  2. Abby

    Your loaves look beautiful! We loved the flavor of this one . . . and the ease of it! =)

    4:23 am  Jun 7th, 2010
  3. 12th Man

    Really great photography and step-by-step breakdown. All you need now is a Madden-esque tele-strator!!

    4:38 am  Jun 7th, 2010
  4. SallyBR

    Great photos of your project….

    I haven’t made this bread again, even though we really loved it. There’s definitely too many breads in the world, and not enough time to bake them all 🙂

    4:42 am  Jun 7th, 2010
  5. The Italian Dish

    I love making these delayed fermentation breads. We have fresh bread almost every night now because of them. I like this method for baguettes – I will have to try it! Your photos are so nice.

    4:51 am  Jun 7th, 2010
  6. Nick (Macheesmo)

    Wow. Your crumb on those looks really perfect. I’ve kind of been avoiding trying these, but I’m not sure that I can wait much longer.

    Great photos as always Nicole!

    5:02 am  Jun 7th, 2010
  7. Samantha Angela @ Bikini Birthday

    This was probably my favourite bread from that book so far. It has such a different flavour!

    5:09 am  Jun 7th, 2010
  8. Cindy

    Wow Nicole, you got great holes in your crumb!!

    6:07 am  Jun 7th, 2010
  9. A Teenage Gourmet

    Beautiful! I adore bread-making and these photos are making me giddy, especially the one with all of the holes. 🙂 You did a great job. I also bake from the same book pretty often. Thanks for sharing! . . . If you have the chance, I’ve started a new blog and I’d really love your comments/ thoughts. Thank you.

    6:25 am  Jun 7th, 2010
  10. Georgia

    There’s something about having your own bread that you produced with your very own hands… I made homemade German pretzels this past weekend and it was my favorite thing that I’d ever made. Not necessarily because of the taste, though they were delicious… it was just very satisfying.

    12:01 pm  Jun 7th, 2010
  11. Devany

    I have not been very good about posting my breads and I have not made this one yet… so I am making it tomorrow. This really looks lovely. Thanks Nicole!

    6:12 pm  Jun 7th, 2010
  12. Louise

    i tip my hat to you! 6 months of bread baking and 20 pounds later (culinary school) i know first hand the effort it takes to make bread. it’s an art- i read nancy silverstons book, from the la brea bakery- good reading for bread makers. nice job-

    7:06 pm  Jun 7th, 2010
  13. Sarah

    Oh man! This looks delicious. I want to make bread like this.

    7:39 pm  Jun 7th, 2010
  14. Trina

    Beautiful photos! This is one of my favorite breads – the method in Peter’s new book, Artisan Breads Everyday gives all of the flavor and half the work of this recipe! My class made it and most said it was their favorite bread ever!

    3:29 am  Jun 8th, 2010
  15. Becky

    I am making these now… yours look great. I did put my parchment paper on my pizza peel to make it easier to get the loaves on the pizza stone.

    12:07 pm  Jun 11th, 2010
  16. Daniel

    As usual, amazing photography. And beautiful bread. I love the holes!

    I generally get great flavor by leaving this bread in the fridge for three days. i think the longer time develops the flavor further. On the day I’m going to bake it, I take it out at six in the morning, and have it in the oven by eight- even though the dough is still cold. When it comes out, it’s completely baked through, and piping hot. The flavor is amazing.

    This is the first bread I made from the book, and one of the main reasons I joined the Challenge!

    2:01 pm  Jun 15th, 2010
  17. Drama-Otaku » More Drama Please! » Pan da!: New Challenge Pain à l’Ancienne Rustic Baguettes

    […] If you want a more detailed explanation of this method, follow this link. […]

    11:38 pm  Jun 3rd, 2013
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