How to Make Pain à l’Ancienne

I’m a perfectionist about a lot of things, but pain à l’ancienne isn’t one of them. I take the term “rustic” seriously here, so the more oddly-shaped, bulbous and goofy these things turn out, the better. I don’t even care if my dough portions are the same weight…is that gettin’ nutty or what?

This bread is basically a messed-with ciabatta. If it proofed longer, it would be that very thing. However I think it’s a pretty terrific (and terrifically easy) thing as it is. Outside of the no-knead breads that are so popular right now, this bread probably provides the best effort-to-return ratio of any bread I’ve ever tried. And while it isn’t quite as easy as a no-knead, it delivers a whole lot more flavor and a better crust. Even baking without a professional oven, you get an open crumb like this:

Need I say more? Let’s get started. Begin by getting that ice water ready.

Is it cold? I mean is it really cold? Then put your dry ingredients into the bowl of your mixer.

Add your water (straining out the ice of course) and mix on low for about a minute, until everything’s nice and wet, like this.

Put on the dough hook, turn the mixer up to medium and knead for no more than five minutes. By then though dough should pull away from the sides but still stick to the bottom of the bowl, like this:

Scoop the dough out into a rising container or a large bowl. Use your hand, it’s the best way. Just shape your fingers like a shovel and scoop. Don’t be shy — get in there!

You’ll have a little more than a quart of dough. Now then, promptly, and I mean don’t even take time out to wash your hands, stash the container in the coldest part of the fridge: bottom shelf in the back. Shut the door.

Thus endeth day one. The next day, take the dough out of the fridge. It will probably have risen at least a little.

Let it rise for about three hours (preheating your oven to 500 after two of those hours), until it’s twice its former volume and nice and bubbly, about like so:

Amply flour a wooden board. Amply.

Turn out the dough and sprinkle it with more flour.

Shape the dough into a rough rectangle, then with a bench scraper, cut the dough in half. Then cut each of those halves into three pieces.

Lay the pieces out, stretching them slightly, onto pieces of parchment that are sitting on the back sides of sheet pans or cookie sheets. These will serve as your peels for laying the bread in the oven.

When ready to bake, slide the loaves into the oven, paper and all. Do this by planting the far edge of the pan at the far edge of the baking stone, then just slip the pan out from under. It’ll be hot, but don’t worry, you can do it.

Do the steaming thing as in the post How to Make Your Home Oven More Brick Oven-Like, then bake for 10 minutes. Rotate the loaves (which is easy because they’re sitting on paper…you can just grab the curled up corner of the parchment with your fingers), then bake about 15 minutes more. You loaves will look something like this:

Nice and golden and crispy, with that nice “this is artisan bread” dusting of flour on the top. Take the loaves out with tongs, throw away the parchment and bake the other three loaves, which won’t have suffered any from their extended proofing. Cool on a rack for at least 20 minutes, then go get the butter.

But how about that for easy, eh? Minimal kneading, idiot-proof rising and no shaping to speak of. For the result you get, this is a truly amazing bread. All courtesy of Mr. Reinhart. Thank you, Peter!

5 thoughts on “How to Make Pain à l’Ancienne”

  1. Hi – is there someplace where I can get the list of ingredients and their measured amounts for making this? Thanks!

    1. I’d have sworn I had the recipe up for this! Sorry! I’ll put it up as soon as I can. In the meantime if you simply google “pain a l’ancienne recipe” you’ll get lots of sources (it’s a popular bread).

  2. Still hoping for this recipe 🙂 I <3 your site, amazing work all around and a pleasure to read with straight forward discussion and directions (unlike countless other super-pretentious food blogs out there)…

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