Wednesday, April 14, 2010

BBA Challenge #33: Poilâne-Style Miche

Here is is. The bread on the cover of the Bread Baker's Apprentice.

This is part three on my experiences with Pain Poilâne. The first two posts can be found here and here.

Last year, after much poking about on The Fresh Loaf website, I decided to get a few bread books. Feeling intimitdated by people's comments on Hamelman's Bread, I decided to get The Bread Baker's Apprentice instead, figuring that it was a good place to start.

The Bread Baker's Apprentice is where I first really learnt about Baker's Percentages, and where I made my first bread using weight measurements. I made the Pain a l'Ancienne maybe about twice when I kept reading about this challenge to bake through the Bread Baker's Apprentice, which I had gotten just a few weeks before, and which I was reading cover to cover. I hesitated for a bit, but in the end, contacted Nicole from Pinch My Salt, and decided to join. I thought I would probably bake maybe about half the book, and then lose interest.

But here we are. To date, I'm only three breads shy of completing the Challenge, but still a way to go in posting.

Since the beginning- Since the day I got the book, I've wanted to make this bread. Indeed, I've made variations and have also eaten about a dozen loaves of Pain Poilâne- for the sake of research, of course- and I've visited the original bakery on Rue Cherche-Midi in Paris. Because this bread is made with sourdough, however, I couldn't even think of baking it. Instead, I stuck to the Pain a l'Ancienne with its rich flavor and awesome provenance.

As soon as I started my own sourdough starter, I've wanted to bake this bread. But I didn't make this exact recipe until I got to it in the order of the Challenge. I have baked other variations, as in my last post, and the results have only gotten better as time progresses. My oven and I have gotten to know each other fairly well, thanks to the thermometers who helped our relationship.

For the cover bread, I decided to make two variations. The first, with sifted coarse-ground whole wheat flour, the second, with Type 1050 flour- which is finely ground. I didn't really scientifically stagger any of the times, so the 1050 loaf actually got about an hour more rise time in the bulk ferment.

I prepared the pre-ferment the night before, using Beatrice, having fed her sifted whole-wheat the week before. You'll notice bran specks here and there on the loaf made with the 1050 flour. Here, the sifted whole-wheat is on the left, the 1050 on the right.

Here's the whole-wheat pre-ferment. I pulled up some of the top layer to reveal the structure underneath. Essentially this is the same as a firm starter.

The 1050 pre-ferment also had a beautiful structure, though it was a bit tighter.

Here's the mise en place for the miche made with the sifted whole-wheat flour. In addition to the flour and pre-ferment, all you have is water and salt. I still find it quite amazing to bake breads that have so few ingredients.

As usual, in the Electrolux Assistent, water goes in first, followed by the pre-ferment and a little bit of the flour.

Eventually, all the flour is added in and the machine is allowed to work its magic. I love taking pictures like this. It looks like the machine is going super-fast when it's just going moderately fast.

Note that even with 2kg of dough, this mixer does not even break a sweat. I've even mixed the occasional miche with a schedule of 12min mixing on low, 5 min rest, 12 min mixing, 5 min rest and a final 12 minute mix. It makes wonderful dough. I'd like to see your Kitchen-Aid do that!

This is the ball of dough at the end of the mixing. I put in some hand mixing for good measure. Because it is sifted coarse whole-wheat flour, you inevitably get some bran in the final product, which does cause the dough to take longer to develop.

Here's the part where I would normally talk about my secret weapon. But the truth is that I have none. I do, however, have ready access to salt from Brittany, which is used in the original Pain Poilâne. This is a kilo of grey sea salt. Because the grains are so large, I usually grind about a quarter kilo at a time in my coffee grinder (which has actually never seen coffee) and use it up as I need.

The mise en place for the miche using the Type 1050 flour.

Again, the DLX handles the dough with ease. Even though the machine goes to a crazily fast speed, I rarely mix the dough above the slowest speed. It's just that good.

And just to reiterate: It kneads wonderfully even at the slowest speed.

Here's the comparison shot with the 1050 miche on the right. Because that flour is finely ground, the dough was less lumpy, probably because of the quicker flour absorption. Curiously, that dough was also much more slack even though the two had equal amounts of water.

I usually do a bulk rise in the 8 liter bowl of the DLX if I'm not using it.

Otherwise, I'll use the largest glass bowl I have.

My proofing basket is a colander, lined with a square of linen. I actually sewed it in with a length of kitchen thread and a large needle.

The miche with the sifted whole-wheat came out quite stiff. I was worried that it would come out too dry.

It came out maybe a tad dry, but overall, it looked good.

Even the bottom was pretty brown despite all the flouring. Of course, I only got a few cracks, nothing like the complex structure of real Poilâne loaves.

The scoring was lovely, but not perfect.

And the loaf was not as dark as it could have been.

I even complained about the height. The loaf was simply not wide enough, and not low enough. I realized that the dough should have been wetter. It would have spread out more.

And while we're on the complaining part, the crumb was merely so-so. It was pretty tight in the middle, with some holes towards the outside, but it really could just have been sandwich bread. Again, hydration was too low.

The miche made with the 1050 flour was a whole nother beast. Because this flour is pretty much finely ground, the dough was quite slack. Usually, it takes me less than a minute to have the dough plopped on the peel, photographed, scored and shoved into the oven. I take a pause of a few seconds before pouring water into the pan on the floor of the oven.

It was obviously underproofed because there was tons of oven rise. Also, if you look closely, you'll see a ring of lines in the middle of the loaf. That's from the thread at the bottom of the proofing basket.

Also, on a closer inspection, there is a curious line on the bottom of my loaf! This wrinkle resulted from having to readjust the loaf on the stone so that it wouldn't fall off. In the last two posts I mentioned that the Poilâne loaves have odd markings on the bottom. In addition, the last loaf of Pain Poilâne that I bought was curved inward at the bottom. I stacked them to photograph, and the two pieces fit perfectly. So the markings could also be from a cooling rack, or from being packed tightly on a rack to cool.

The 1050 miche came out flat. Maybe a tad too flat, but it definitely had the right form.

The oven spring, on the other hand was just too much. The bread split open.

And revealed its bready guts.

I actually liked the crumb of this one better, even though it was too hydrated.

A quick comparison shows the major differences between the two miches.

As for the taste? I found them not as sour as the original, but still good, with that rich taste of almost-whole grain. The crust was chewy and the bread was remained soft when left out. Of course the exposed parts dried out, but once that piece was chopped off the rest- the inside was still soft.


Not being one satisfied with half-perfect bread, I re-did the recipe the next weekend and hit the maximum allowed hydration with the coarse-ground whole-wheat flour. I even left it in the oven longer than usual. AP269 of Family and Food mentioned that she got a sour flavor by retarding the bread in the oven overnight.

I did just that for the last rise and the bread pulled out a much better sour profile. Curiously, while the original loaves did not get much sour as the days progressed, this one did. The flavor underwent a transformation on the third day. Of course, I didn't even cut into it until the day after baking, so it was officially the second eating day.

The flour dusting, again, is not ideal. Poilâne has lots of flour on the top that turns into a rich light brown, perhaps serving to insulate the crust undeneath, and the scored parts, exposed to the heat, are almost black.

As for the crumb. Open and light. Almost perfect!

Other bakers that have dared to bake "The Bread On The Cover" include:

Oggi from I can do that!

Janice from Round the Table

Sally from Bewitching Kitchen

Anne-Marie from Rosemary and Garlic

Cheryl from A Tiger In The Kitchen

Cindy from Salt and Serenity

AP269 from Family and Food

txfarmer's blog in chinese, but with lots of pictures

Phyl from Of Cabbages and Kings

Others BBA Bakers on the cusp of baking the Miche:

Kelly from Something Shiny

Mags from The Other Side of Fifty

Rebecca from Grongar

Chris from Eating is the Hard Part

Victoria from Goth Panda

Originator of the Challenge, and all-around awesome blogger: Nicole from Pinch My Salt


  1. Love this post and the comparison of the three loaves!! Mine definitely looks most like your first one (the sifted whole wheat): didn't spread much, a little dry . . . so my guess is it wasn't hydrated enough? And it sounds like the overnight rest in the fridge is really the way to go!

  2. Just wow! I admire your dedication to this project! I learn so much from you. I haven't actually made this one yet, but it's next on the list for me. (I'm still deeply wounded from the 100% sourdough rye)

  3. Nice posts. You mentioned I retarded it in the oven which resulted in a more sour flavor. I retarded it in the fridge overnight, though! Still haven't managed to go to Lafayette to buy the real one. When I leave work I'm always in a hurry to catch the train home to pick up the kids from daycare... Oh well, one day I'll find the time...

  4. Daniel
    Did you put them in one of your nicely saved bags? And I am so glad that you a close to solving the mystery of the strange marks on the bottom of the loaves.

    My you are so critical, I am sure that it was delicious.

    I am only three recipes in Hamelman, but he kind of annoys me sometimes.

    Anne Marie

  5. Another wonderful post and an great end to the series. I love seeing the comparisons between the loaves and am humbled by your dedication to the process. Well done!

  6. Almost perfect! That's great for a homebaked Poilane miche. As usual your post is educational and entertaining.

    What I love about this bread is it gets more sour and flavorful as it ages. I will try to make again when I find the time.

    Nice new photo, btw.:)

  7. Abby- Yeah, it's weird how different flours react to hydration. I thought they would come out the same. I almost adjusted the water, but I wanted to have a good, equal comparison. The second go round with more water came out much better, though.

    Mags- Thank you so much! This bread is actually the opposite of the 100% Rye. It takes a bit of time and faith, but the end result is amazing.

    ap269- You're right. That's what happens when you're too tired to carefully read your own post. Now, how do I edit? Hmmmm... I can't believe you haven't made it down to Lafayette yet!

    Anne Marie- I did actually put them in one of the nice bags. Whenever I make a miche. Plus the bags are top quality- they last a while and they soften with age!

    Kelly- Thanks. I am humbled by your beautiful loaves. I can't wait to see what wonderful creation comes out of your oven!

    Oggi- Thanks. Yeah, I thought the flavor wouldn't change, but it was amazing how much it did. Thanks about the photo. I dislike photos of myself and am usually lucky in that because I'm usually the only one taking photos. But it was too good a photo to not include it in this series.

    Thanks again to everyone for your kind comments.

  8. Okay Daniel, I crown you "King of the Bread Freaks." You have gone above and beyond in your quest for the perfect miche. I loved all three posts about this bread. The Paris one had me very jealous. Do they really sell pillows that look like bread? I think I have to have one.

  9. Thanks Cindy. Yes, they do, but I mistook them for actual loaves and got a linen bag instead.

    I started with the Paris post because I knew it would be the easiest, and it would be the one that would also get people more excited about the bread. It's altogether too bad there aren't any pictures in the BBA book of the wonderful bakery.