Pain a l’Ancienne – Rustic French bread


Pain a l'Ancienne French Bread

Few things rival the sort of bread you can buy in France. In Australia, there is now a growing artisan bakery movement, and these days I can buy beautiful bread not far from home, but we have never been able to make anything at home that competes….until now.

The recipe comes from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Making Classic Breads with the Cutting-edge Techniques of a Bread Master. This is the best bread book we have by far, and from it you can learn how to make the most wonderful of breads without being a master. I would be so cheeky as to say that the best bread recipe in the book is this one – Pain a l’Ancienne. Although its name suggests that it is an ancient type of bread, it is the exact opposite. The technique used is quite different to how most of us view making bread (if we have any preconceived notions at all).

The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Making Classic Breads with the  Cutting-edge Techniques of a Bread Master

Firstly, it doesn’t involve warming the yeast – instead you mix the yeast using ice cold water, and then let it prove in the fridge for 1 to 2 days. During this time the delayed fermentation of the sugars in the flour mean that the bread develops a wonderful crust (as shown above), but is fluffy and white and non-yeasty tasting on the inside. When it comes out of the oven, you just have to get out the butter and eat it.

The other great thing for us is that because this dough spends time in the fridge, we have a few going at a time, and when we need bread, take it out, rest it on the counter for a few hours, cook it and then eat it. It’s easier than normal bread.

Last Sunday some friends came around for wood-fired pizzas. Tom served this bread with dips before lunch. By the time lunch came around no one was hungry – and the bread was all gone.


  • 6 cups unbleached organic bread flour
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons salt
  • 1 3/4 teaspoons instant yeast
  • 2 1/4 cups plus (make extra and add as needed) ice cold water
  • Semolina flour for dusting

What you will need

  • Electric mixer with a dough hook (this dough is very wet so it’s hard to do by hand)
  • Large bowl – lightly oiled
  • Dough cutter
  • Pizza stone
  • Ovenproof dish for the base of the oven

What to do

  1. Combine the flour, yeast, salt and 2 1/4 cups of ice water in the electric mixer and mix on low for 2 minutes
  2. Then mix on a more medium speed for 6 minutes
  3. The dough should stick to the bottom of the bowl but be free from the sides. If not, add more flour or water to adjust the dough consistency
  4. Add the dough to the large oiled bowl
  5. Cover with plastic wrap
  6. Refrigerate – at least overnight, and at the longest for 2 days

When ready to cook the dough

  1. When you take the dough out, check the dough has risen. It won’t have doubled in size, but should have risen slightly
  2. Leave the dough bowl out for 2 – 3 hours until it has doubled in size (pre-refrigerated size)
  3. When it has doubled, sprinkle the counter with bread flour (be very liberal)
  4. Gently transfer the dough to the counter
  5. Sprinkle flour on top of the dough
  6. Very gently roll the dough in the sprinkled flour – but try not to degas it too much, gently rolling and stretching it (until it is about 8 inches long)
  7. Using a dough cutter or pastry cutter, cut the dough in half length wise
  8. Do this for each half until you have 4 baguettes (or you can make a bigger loaf if you wish)

Prepare to cook

  1. Prepare the oven – I turn it on has high as it can go (250 degrees C), and have a pizza stone a mid-level
  2. Have a water dish at the bottom of the oven
  3. When the oven is hot, add a cup of boiling water into the oven dish to create steam and shut the oven
  4. Gently lift the dough onto a heavily floured wooden board
  5. Score the dough with a knife deeply along the length as common for baguettes
  6. Add the dough onto the pizza stone and quickly shut the oven
  7. The dough will rise quickly with the steam
  8. Leave for 6-8 minutes, and then open the oven and turn the bread around. Most of the steam will escape – which you want, as you now want the dough to form a crust
  9. Cook for another 12 minutes. To tell if the bread is ready, it is good to stick a thermometer into the centre of the bread. If the temperature is 80-90 degrees C, then it’s good to go
  10. Cool on a rack or if you can’t wait, just break open and eat!

Pain a l'Ancienne - French Bread

One Comment Add yours

  1. Sonia says:

    OMG Geri! That looks awesome! Will have to pop in when you make your next batch… you truly are a domestic goddess!


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