Pain à l'Ancienne

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In Peter Reinhart's book 'The Bread Baker's Apprentice', he discusses a technique which involves long and cold fermentation. 

This is a technique that has been made popular by Philippe Gosselin, a Parisian baker whose boulangerie, 'Gosselin' at 123 rue St Honore, 75001, Paris (Les Halles) has earned world-wide respect for the quality of its bread and its baguettes in particular.

It involves a process of delayed fermentation through the use of ice-cold water, long cold fermentation in a refrigerator and very little manipulation. 

Through these factors, the activation of the yeast is delayed and this brings out different flavours from the flour than are released during usual baking. 

The final loaf has a sweetness and nut-like character that is quite different from bread produced through a more conventional method. 

Reinhart uses the dough for ciabatta, baguettes, stirato (Italian Style baguette), pain rustique, pizza, focaccia and pugliese. 

It should be stressed that this method does not work with enriched doughs or ones that contain sugar or other flavour-altering ingredients. 

This method is adapted from Peter Reinhart's book and also draws on experiences of professional bakers over at BreadClub20


1. Make sure your refrigerator is close to 4⁰C (40⁰F)

2. Chill the flour for a good hour in the refrigerator

3. Chill the water to ensure it's at the temperature of the refrigerator

4. This is a very loose and sticky dough. The use of a stand mixer, food processor or bread machine on an instant start programme is advisable. 


756 gms strong white bread flour (chilled)

540 gms ice-cold water

13 gms crushed sea salt

6 gms instant yeast

rice or semolina flour for dusting


Day One

On the morning of Day One, mix together the flour, salt, yeast and the water.

Using a stand mixer, food processor, bread machine (instant start programme) or, by hand, continue to mix the dough until the dough is sticky on the bottom but is coming away from the sides of the bowl.

If needs be, add a sprinkle of flour if the mix is too wet or a dribble of water if the mix is too stiff. 

Transfer the dough to a lightly-oiled bowl. 

A wet hand, scraper or spatula is ideal for this. 

Mark the side of the bowl to indicate where the dough should be if it roughly doubled in volume.

Mist the top of the dough with oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a shower cap.

Immediately place in the refrigerator for 24 hours. 

Day Two

Check the dough. It will have partially risen but may not have doubled in size. 

Remove the dough from the refrigerator leaving it in its bowl.

Place the bowl and the dough on a work surface at room temperature for 2 - 3 hours to allow it to wake up, become acclimatised and to continue fermenting.

2 hours later - and we're ready - you may need to wait a little longer? 

Eventually, the dough will double from the size it was before it was refrigerated. You will have a mark on the bowl to indicate the level you would have expected it to reach if it doubled in volume. 

Gently tip the dough out onto a well-floured work surface. Rice or semolina flour is ideal for this. 

Try not to degas the dough. Having well-floured hands and a misted spatula might be useful at this stage. 

Decide on what you are baking.

For baguettes, ease the dough out into suitable lengths and divide across the dough into baguette lengths. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes.

For ciabatta - ease the dough out into a long rectangle 8 inches x 6 inches. Using the scraper, pinch off portions. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. 

For a pain rustique - gently mould the dough into a loose boule  and gently move  the boule around the work surface to develop some surface tension. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes. 

I've decided to cut mine into random shapes - squares, rectangular and triangles - for sandwiches and for 'dipping'. 

Preheat the oven to 240⁰C . If you have a baking stone, preheat this as well. 

If you can add water in your oven to create steam, now is the time to do this. If not prepare the mist the dough and the oven chamber well when you start baking. 

Take the dough and gently shape it. 

Transfer it to parchment paper, a peel or a baking tray. 

Score as necessary.

Ensure that your oven has developed some steam or be ready with a hand mister. 

Place the dough in the oven and mist twice at 30 second intervals. 

Bake the dough at 240⁰C for about 8 or 9 minutes. 

Turn the heat down to 230⁰C and continue to bake for 10 to 15 minutes until the bread is a rich golden colour and the internal temperature is 96⁰C. 

Transfer the bread to a cooling rack and allow to cool for about 20 minutes. 


Happy baking. 


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