A new formula and a new schedule


have been playing around with two different things - Peter Reinhart’s pain a l’ancienne, and some of the techniques discussed in the Jim Lahey recipe in the New York Times.

This is the result ‘Pain au levain a l’ancienne’, a sourdough version of the Reinhart recipe at 80% hydration with almost no kneading.

Day 1 evening
Starter 10g (22%)
Water 25g (56%)
Flour 45g (100%)

Day 2 morning
Starter 60g (60%) (a little less than all of the above, so you can put some aside)
Water 60g (60%)
Flour 100g (100%)

Day 2 evening
Starter 200g (40%)
Water 425g (85%)
Flour 500g (100%)
Salt 10g (2%)

Squidge the dough roughly into the water. Add flour and salt and mix in the bowl roughly. That is all you need to do.

NB in warm temperatures with an active starter the ’starter’ will be reasonably soft. If it is more firm, it may need a little kneading in to distribute it.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and put it in the fridge immediately.

Day 3 morning
Get the dough out of the fridge. Pour a little oil over your hands, and gently knead the dough in the bowl for no more than 10 seconds. Put it back in the fridge.

Day 3 evening
Get the dough out of the fridge.
Flour a worksurface.
Put a bit of olive oil on your hands, and scoop out the dough from the bowl. It will be sticky, but the oil will help to get it out in one piece. Plonk it on the floured bench, and give it a fold
(Dimple it out with your fingers into a rough rectangle. Fold the far end in towards you, then the near side over the top (in a letter fold). Stretch out the right side of the folded dough out towards the right then fold in halfway. Stretch out the left free end of the dough, and fold again back over in a letter fold. Turn the dough over.)
Place the dough back in the bowl, and leave out at warm room temperature for an hour

Repeat folds at hourly intervals until the dough is bubbly and light. (Slashing the dough to see if there are bubbles below the surface is possible but a little tricky with this very soft dough).
My last couple of tries (Melbourne is quite warm this week - temps in the mid 20s in my kitchen) have been ready after 3 hours.

Divide if desired (this quantity will make 2 small baguettes and a mini batard, or a large single loaf)
Shape the dough into a boule. Cover and rest for 10 minutes.
Shape into a batard. Slip it (seam side up) onto a well-floured couche, or proving basin or banneton. Cover with a tea towel, then put the whole thing inside a plastic bag. Put it in the fridge overnight.

Day 4 morning
When you get up put a large heavy duty casserole (with lid) in the oven, and turn it on. Leave it to warm up for ~45 minutes.

Once the oven has warmed up, you can just slip the dough directly into the pot (from proving basin). However the safest way (and most effective is to use a peel). For transfering to the pot I use a thin flexible plastic cutting board, over which I sprinkle semolina.
Turn the dough onto the peel. Slash (you may need to dip the blade in water because the dough is very moist). Slide the dough into the hot pot (careful!). (The flexible board means that you can fold up the edges beside the dough and direct its slide into the pot). Put the lid on, and put into the oven.

Bake covered for ~25 mins, then take lid off and bake uncovered for ~another 25 minutes.

And the results:

pain au levain a l'ancienne

10% wholemeal

pane francese 'a l'ancienne'

The advantage of this technique is its flexibility. The periods in the fridge can be shortened/stretched depending on your life.
Baking in the casserole gives enormous oven spring - but without the bulges/crazy shapes that I have often created. It also gives a great crust, though the moist dough needs a good long bake for the crumb to bake fully.

The high hydration makes the most of the baking in a pot, as it generates plenty of steam. The dough is much easier to handle after the folding - so don’t miss this step. Without the folds it is pretty difficult to shape/slash.

Although the schedule seems long it works well for me baking a couple of times a week. I start to refresh a new batch of starter when baking the dough, so by the time that we have finished one loaf I am ready to make another one.

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