On the Virtues of Improvisation

Lots of emails also this weekend about pain à l’ancienne, mostly from people without a mixer (and/or the other pieces of gear I referenced) who still want to make the bread. The answer is you don’t absolutely have to have all that stuff, though if you don’t have a mixer you’ll need to do some fast and furious stirring. Having experimented with a few of these very wet doughs this past year, I’ve come to the conclusion that Peter Reinhart’s recipe does not need to be mixed as much as he specifies. The dough is so wet, all those gluten molecules will tend to find each other without a whole lot of agitation. So if you don’t have a mixer, use a big metal spoon, and mix as best you can for a maximum of 6 minutes. Much after that, the dough will start to warm up and you’ll defeat the whole purpose of the ice water.

As far as the other accoutrement are concerned, a chef’s knife will stand in for a bench scraper and a large bowl for the dough rising container. However I want to interject here how nice it is to have a nice dough rising container in your kitchen. They’re cheap, readily available (from any restaurant supply store…a local pizza joint may even have one they can sell or maybe even give you), and they take all the guesswork out of the rising process…for any bread. So go spend the six bucks, please. I promise you won’t be sorry.

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