Saturday, January 23, 2010

Pain Poilâne

Yeah, I know it is National Pie day and I did the pie thing but I decided yesterday that this weekend I would try once again to make a traditional pain Poilâne. My other attempts were good but not great so I try again for the great loaf. This is a real bread baking challenge since it is a huge loaf (2Kg) and almost all whole wheat and naturally fermented. The truth is that even though it is called 'whole wheat it is actually made from what the French call 'gray flour' or 85% extraction flour(some but not all of the wheat bran is retained). We can't get that here in the U.S. easily so I make my own using a blend of mostly King Arthur White Whole Wheat and King Arthur bread flour.
The bread is named after Lionel Poilâne whose bakery or boulangerie is most famous for a round, two-kilogram sourdough country bread referred to as a miche or pain Poilâne. I was fortunate enough to actually visit the original boulangerie on rue du Cherche-Midi in Paris. It took Madam and I 3 days to eat just the half loaf I bought but it was one of the highlights of our trip to Paris. A lot of people consider the pain Poilâne the standard by which all other bread should be judged. I make sourdough whole wheat bread every week but I cheat and use a little yeast and regular whole wheat and all purpose flour. Making a loaf of bread with only a sourdough starter for leavening is another challenge altogether. Add the additional challenge of almost all whole wheat and the low gluten and you really are talking baking.

I made the first phase levain (firm starter) yesterday and this morning made the final dough which is fermenting(rising) now. Since it is so large it can't be made in the big Kitchen Aid mixer and all of the kneading had to be done by hand. It is one large loaf. I am actually going to make two boules instead of the one large one so I can freeze one. It is only Madam and I after all.

If anyone is interested in a real bread baking challenge I will share my recipe and method.

I did manage to find a picture of the giant pain Poilâne resting in the shop in Paris....isn't it gorgeous? Notice that all are scored with a big 'P'. Cool!

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