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This French Country Bread Is the Ultimate Weekend Baking Project

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Bread Alone founder Daniel Leader shares a classic, crusty recipe from his new cookbook.

Tourte de Meule recipe

Photo by Joerg Lehmann

Reprinted with permission from Living Bread by Daniel Leader with Lauren Chattman (Avery).

Tourte de Meule

Thirty years ago, the only bakers making this classic French country bread (“millstone bread”) were the Poilâne brothers and a handful of others trying to keep bread traditions alive in an era of increasing industrial bread production. This bread was generally made with a firm levain starter, which fermented slowly and reliably at cool room temperature (these bakeries were often at basement level). This starter gave breads a more pronounced sour flavor because of the predominance of acetic acids produced during fermentation.

The Poilânes and their cohort were successful to such a degree that today you can see large miches almost everywhere in France. I myself was an early adopter, producing a Poilâne-style loaf at Bread Alone from the very beginning of my business.

With the renewed popularity of big country breads, there has naturally been some experimentation. One of the most important realizations has been that today’s artisan flour, because of careful wheat selection and improved milling practices, can absorb more water than the flours used 30 years ago, especially if the water is added in a particular way. Younger French bakers like Rodolphe Landemaine are more likely than their predecessors to employ the technique of bassinage, in which extra water is slowly added to the dough after autolyse.

The result is similar to the classic miche, but with a moister, softer crumb and a larger cell structure. After watching Fabrice Guéry, the head baker at Minoterie Suire, employ bassinage in the mill’s test bakery, I revised my own recipe and this is how we make pain au levain at Bread Alone today.

Makes: one 1.5-kilo loaf

Start to Finish: 13 to 15 Hours

  • Firm levain starter: 6 to 8 hours
  • Au tolyse: 30 minutes
  • Knead: 22 minutes
  • First fermentation: 31/2 hours
  • Final proof: 2 hours
  • Bake: 50 minutes

INGREDIENTS

BAKER’S %

METRIC WEIGHT

FIRM LEVAIN STARTER
Firm Sourdough Starter (page 182)

20

20 g

Water

65

65 g

Type 85 or equivalent flour (11 to 11.5% protein)

100

100 g

FINAL DOUGH
Type 85 or equivalent flour (11 to 11.5% protein)

100

726 g

Water

80

580 g

Salt

2.5

18 g

Firm levain starter

25

185 g


Method

1. Prepare the firm levain starter: In a small bowl, mash together the sourdough starter and water to loosen the starter. Stir in the flour until well incorporated, then knead by hand in the bowl for a few minutes until smooth. Cover and let ferment at room temperature (68 to 77 degrees) until doubled in volume, 6 to 8 hours.

2. Autolyse: Combine the flour and 525 g of the water in the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. Mix just until a rough dough forms. Cover and let rest 30 minutes.

3. Make the final dough: Add the salt and levain starter to the bowl. With the dough hook, mix on the low speed(2 on a KitchenAid mixer) until the dough comes together and begins to smooth out, about 5 minutes. Pull the dough off the hook. With the mixer still on low, slowly drizzle the remaining 50 g water, about 10 g at a time, waiting between drizzles until the water is absorbed, about 15 minutes. Turn the mixer to medium-low speed (4 on the KitchenAid) and continue to mix until the dough is soft, elastic, and shiny, another 2 minutes.

4. First fermentation: Use a dough scraper to transfer the dough to a lightly oiled, clear 4-quart container with a lid. Turn the dough over so all sides are oiled. Cover and let stand until the dough is pillowy, 2 to 3 hours. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter. Pat into a 6- by 8-inch rectangle and fold like a business letter. Slide both hands under the dough and flip it over so the folds are underneath. Slip it back into the container, cover, and let stand another 1½ hours.

5. Final proof: On a lightly floured countertop, gently round the dough. Place in a lightly floured banneton, seam side up. Cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let rest until pillowy, about 2 hours.

6. Bake: About 1 hour before baking, place a baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and a cast-iron skillet on the lower rack. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees for 1 hour. Cover a baker’s peel or rimless baking sheet with parchment. Tip the loaf onto the parchment-lined peel. With  a  lame, a  single-edged  razor  blade, or a  serrated  knife,  make  four  slashes, about ½ inch deep, to form a square. Make two small cuts in the center of the loaf to form a small X. Place 1 cup of ice cubes in the skillet to produce steam. Bake until the loaf is golden brown and well risen, about 50 minutes. Slide the loaf, still on the parchment, onto a wire rack. Cool completely. Store in a brown paper bag at room temperature for up to 1 week.

Notes for Professional Bakers

In order to maintain a consistent level of acidity and a balanced flavor in the levain, and therefore in the finished breads, it is very important to be consistent in the feeding process: the proportion of the ingredients (especially starter), water temperature, maturation time, and temperature. At Bread Alone, we scale our levain into 15-kilo pieces, store them in a temperature-controlled environment, and check the development at precise times, measuring the increase in volume and the pH as well. We also taste the levain frequently, to make sure that it is meeting our flavor expectations.

Miches can be retarded overnight after shaping, allowing you some flexibility in your production schedule. At Bread Alone, we hold our miches at 48 degrees for 12 hours, then proof them at 73 degrees until ready for the oven.

Variation: Walnut miche

Add 250 g toasted and cooled walnut pieces to the dough after the bassinage at the end of step 3 and before the final 2 to 3 minutes of mixing. Blend slowly, stopping the mixer in 30-second intervals until the walnuts are incorporated.

From Living Bread by Daniel Leader with Lauren Chattman, published on October 1, 2019 by Avery, an imprint of Penguin Random House, LLC. Copyright © 2019 by Daniel Leader.


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