Wednesday, March 5, 2014

french boule

What the heck is a pâte fermentée? In American English we’d call it a starter. For me, however, that nomenclature has always conjured the notion of wild yeast sour dough breads, which I love, but which this is not. A pâte fermentée is a semi-stiff dough that is fermented for a long period time to improve flavor and stability in lean bread doughs. In contrast to other pre-fermenting methods this is, in ratio at least, a smaller version of the finished dough which is fermented first at room temperature and then stored under refrigeration for between 4 or 5 hours up to over night.

I’ve been making sandwich style breads for a while now. This is my very first, free form bread so I started with the simplest shape, a ball or boule. When I am confident that the results above are not beginners luck, I will move on to the torpedo or Bâtard style, and eventually to the quintessential French bread Baguettes.

Recipe following cut:

extra-large 7.5L – 11L [8qt – 12qt] capacity mixing bowl, 6.5L [7qt]  mixing bowl, 6.5L [7qt] capacity heat proof bowl, 250ml [1 cup] capacity measuring cup with spout, flexible bowl scraper, rigid bench scraper, plastic wrap, silicone pastry brush, 30cm x 38cm [12” x 15”] flat metal baking tray, parchment paper, plastic spray bottle with clean water, 30cm x 46cm x 5cm [12” x 18” x 2”] pan for water

145g unbleached all purpose flour [~1¼ cups]
145g unbleached bread flour [1¼ cups]
5g fine grade sea salt [~¾ tsp]
4g instant yeast [~½ tsp]
175g water, room temperature [~¾ cup] 180ml

145g unbleached all purpose flour [~1¼ cups]
145g unbleached bread flour [1¼ cups]
5g fine grade sea salt [~¾ tsp]
4g instant yeast [~½ tsp]
175g water, room temperature [~¾ cup] 180ml

- vegetable or canola oil for fermentation bowl and plastic wrap
- semolina or corn meal for baking tray
- additional water and flour as needed

Mise en place:
Make the pâte fermentée:

Weight both of the flours into the 7.5L mixing bowl, place measured salt on one side of the bowl and yeast on the other.

Weight/measure the water into the measuring cup with spout.

Mix the ingredients together with the fingers of one hand, and form a well in the center of the bowl.

Pour the water into the well. With your fingers of one hand slightly spread, use an orbital motion to mix the water into the flour to form a ragged dough, while turning the bowl with the opposite hand. Change to a kneading motion to incorporate all of the available flour in the bowl.

The dough should naturally begin to pull away from your fingers, if it does not, pull it from you fingers with your clean hand and rub your hands together briskly to continue to remove dough. Knead again until dough is a uniform supple texture that is tacky but not excessively sticky. It is easier to add flour during the kneading process than water, if you are unsure, err on the side of a slightly sticky dough.

Transfer dough to a floured work surface and knead for 6 – 8 minutes. Alternate a rolling and folding motion with stretching the dough in alternate directions. The finished dough should be smooth and elastic, with slightly tacky but not sticky exterior.

To check your work, stretch a small piece of the dough out as far as you can without breaking it. It should have enough structural integrity to stretch thin enough to see the shadow of your hand through the dough, this - in the trade - is called the window pane test.

Place the pâte fermentée into the oiled heat proof bowl and ferment, covered in plastic wrap, at room temperature for 2 full hours.

Gently deflate the dough by turning it once in the oiled bowl. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

Approximately 1 hour before making the dough, remove the pâte fermentée from the refrigerator. Cut this into ten small pieces and place them in the largest 7.5L – 11L [8qt – 12qt] bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and bring to room temperature. 60 minutes minimum.

Wash and prepare to reuse the heat proof bowl.

Weight the flours and add them to the bowl. Weight the sea salt and yeast as before, keeping these elements separate until ready to mix.

Toss the pieces of pre-fermented dough in the flour and add the water.

Repeat the orbital motion, using one hand to mix and one to turn the bowl. Adjust the texture as before and knead into a ball.

Transfer dough to a floured work surface and knead, adding flour as needed for 8 – 10 minutes. The finished dough should have a tacky but not sticky exterior. Be quite aggressive, stretching and manipulating the dough until you have a smooth, and elastic ball that passes the window pane test.

Place the dough into the oiled heatproof bowl and ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, or until doubled in size. If dough doubles in size prior to the end of the 2 hour fermentation, degas the dough gently without removing it form the bowl and replace the plastic wrap.

Carefully transfer the fermented dough to a lightly floured work surface trying to degas the dough as little as possible. Turn once in the flour and pinch the bottom to form a loose balloon shape. Place the seam down on the counter. With the backs of your hands against the work surface, slide your hands together underneath the dough, bring it together, pinching and rotating the dough to form a ball. Gently cup the ball in between both hands and rotate it on the counter to finish shaping.

Lightly oil a flat cookie sheet, or the back of a sheet pan, and line with parchment paper. Sprinkle the parchment with semolina flour or corn meal to prevent sticking and give the baked loaf a characteristic tooth.

Transfer the shaped dough to the prepared sheet pan. Cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap and proof at room temperature for 75 – 90 minutes.

Place a large pan in the bottom of the oven and preheat oven to 260ºC [500ºF]

Remove the plastic wrap for the final 10 – 15 minutes of the proofing stage. When ready to bake, score the boule with a pound symbol #.

Place 500ml [~2 cups] hot water into the large pan on the bottom of the oven, and immediately place the flat cookie sheet on the rack above the steaming water.

Close the door for 60 seconds, open and spray the walls of the oven with water.

Repeat this two more times.

Bake at 260ºC [500ºF] for 10 minutes, and then reduce oven temperature to 235ºC [450ºF.] Bake for an additional 10 minutes, and then rotate the boule 180º.

Continue baking for 20 minutes at 235ºC [450ºF.]

Reduce oven temperature to 180ºC [350ºF] and bake for ten more minutes.

Note: If the loaf begins to look too dark, turn the oven off during the final ten minute baking period.

Total baking time: ~ 40 – 45 minutes.

Cool the finished loaf for minimum 1 hour before cutting. The bread is still baking at this stage. You will hear some crackling and even hissing as the bread cools.

Make ahead:
There is nothing like fresh bread, however, a homemade loaf that has been frozen soon after cooling and then gently reheated beats anything contemporary grocery stores have to offer.

Freeze bread double wrapped in plastic wrap and tin foil. For long term storage, place the wrapped bread into a 7.5L [~2 gallon] zip top bag. 

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