When Pastry Monkey and RJ were still working at the factory, they had the pleasure of visiting La Boulangerie, an artisan bakery located in Forest Hills, Queens. It is run by Francois Danielo, a fellow classmate of RJ’s! who’s bakery in the short time it’s been open has gotten wonderful reviews, especially for it’s prized french baguette. Upon returning to the factory the next day, Monkey brought me the one bread beloved by most FCI classmates and my personal favorite, the pain bordelaise. A hearty, light combination of 3 mixed grains and levain, it covers all the bases, sweet, sour, soft and crunchy. What more could you want in a naturally leavened loaf? Sampling Francois’s bordelaise brought me back to the first day of school, when Chef Johnson offered us a sample of this fine French sourdough. It was the first time I fell in love with real bread, and it’s what drives me to keep working on the craft of bread baking. Kudos Francois, I will be making a visit to your fine bakery soon.
With my starter in peak condition, it was time to make some bordelaise in the SOURDough kitchen, and see if I could replicate the same taste and texture at home. People have many fears about baking bread at home. Looking into the window of any commercial bakery can be quite intimidating, especially viewing the large Hobart mixers and deck ovens producing massive amounts of dough into bread. No fear, bread has been made with the bare essentials for thousands of years, and with a little ingenuity you can make bakery quality loaves at home. Don’t have a starter ready? King Arthur Flour or Williams-Sonoma sell pre-made ones. Having a good stand mixer at home does make mixing the dough easier, but it can be done by hand. A heavy pre-heated sheet tray and ice can produce steam for the bake. The one essential item? A baking stone. Nothing retains heat and produces great oven spring and crustiness for loaves and pizza like a good one.
The most important technique you can bring to improving the quality of your homemade bread is patience, and paying attention to all the little details. Your baking skills will only improve with practice, so bake as often as possible. Get out and visit the great bakeries in your city and sample their breads, and if you catch the bakers during a down moment in production, ask as many questions as you can. Bakers are usually pretty accommodating and love to talk bread. There are also many great print and online resources available, look up Jeffrey Hamelman or Peter Reinhart for bread knowledge and inspiration. Most culinary schools do offer amateur classes that focus on particular breads, and they’re reasonably priced. Just never stop learning if you want to produce great bread. My breaducation didn’t end the day I got my grand diplome from FCI, it is a quest for bread knowledge that will I will pursue my whole life.
One final tip: you can test whether your bread is ready to bake by poking it. If you poke it and the hole comes back quickly it’s under-proofed and needs more time. If it comes back slowly, it’s ready to bake. If it doesn’t come back at all? It’s over-proofed, get it in the oven already and stop playing with your IPhone!
Excerpt from The Fundamental Techniques of Classic Bread Baking
French Culinary Institute by Judith Choate
Makes 1 loaf
For the liquid levain:
Bread flour 63 grams/ 2 1/4 ounces
Cool Water 79 grams/ 2 3/4 ounces
Liquid levain culture 6 grams/ 1/4 ounce
For the final dough:
Bread flour or all-purpose flour 334 grams/ 11 3/4 ounces
Coarse rye flour 30 grams/ 1 ounce
Whole wheat flour 7 grams/ 1/4 ounce
Water 222 grams/ 7 3/4 ounces
Liquid levain 148 grams/ 5 1/4 ounces
Salt 9 grams/ 1/3 ounce
Prepare the mise en place for the liquid levain, taking care that the water is about 75°F (25°C).
To make the liquid levain, combine the bread flour and water with the culture in a large mixing bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon to blend. When blended, scrape down the edge of the bowl, cover with plastic film, and set aside to ferment at 70°F (20°C) for 12 to 14 hours.
Combine the bread flour, coarse rye, and whole wheat flours with the water and liquid levain in the bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with the hook. Mix on low speed until blended. Stop the mixer and autolyse for 15 minutes.
Add the salt and mix on low for 5 minutes. Increase the mixer speed to medium and mix until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, feels elastic, and gives some resistance when tugged.
Lightly oil a large bowl or container.
Scrape the dough into the prepared bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic film and set aside to ferment for 1 hour.
Uncover and fold the dough. Again, cover with plastic film and set aside to ferment for 2 hours.
Lightly flour a clean, flat work surface.
Uncover the dough and form it into a neat round on the floured surface. Cover with plastic film and bench rest for 15 minutes.
Cover a large cutting board with a couche and dust the couche with flour.
Uncover the dough and, if necessary, lightly flour the work surface. Gently press on the dough to degas and carefully shape into a batard. Place the batard on the couche-covered board. Cover with plastic film and proof for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, or until the dough has finished proofing. (Alternatively, place the dough in the refrigerator for 12 hours and when ready to bake, transfer the loaves directly to the oven.)
About an hour before you are ready to bake the loaf, place the baking stone(s) or tile in the oven and preheat to 470°F (243°C). If using a pan to create steam, place it in the oven now.
Uncover the dough and, using a lame or a razor, immediately score the loaf. To make the required steam, add 1 cup of ice to the hot pan in the oven. Using a peel, immediately transfer the loaves to the hot baking stone(s) in the preheated oven.
Bake, with steam, for 45 minutes, or until the crust is a deep brown color and the sides are firm to the touch. If the crust darkens before the bread is finished baking, reduce the oven temperature to 440°F (227°C).
Remove from the oven and transfer to a wire rack to cool.