Good Bread

Good Bread

About 55 years ago, my maiden aunt, who had actually lived in Paris, gave me a copy of “Larousse Gastronomique”.

Under the entry “Bread” it says:

A good quality loaf should have a pale yellow or light brown bottom crust and a golden yellow or light brown top crust, which should be thick, domed and resonant when tapped. Both crusts should adhere to the crumb and  together equal one-fifth of the weight of the loaf (the thicker the crust, the less water there is in a loaf).  If the crusts of a slice of bread are pressed together the slice should quickly regain its original shape.

The crumb should be homogenous, without any white or yellowish lumps, without gray, red or black spots; it should not stick to the fingers; holes in it should not be uneven, not too big (which is a sign of badly kneaded dough) , nor too small (which is a sign of in sufficient fermentation); the smell should be sweet, the taste clean and pleasant. . . . . .  And so forth for another 4 paragraphs.

I took all this very much to heart, and it comes back to me every time I walk into a bakery, and every time I bake.

Most professional bakers bake things that look good, regardless of how good those loaves are to eat. One exception is: 

MAISON POILÂNE.

Poilane bakes bread for eating.

As a kid I also read a lot of historical fiction. Where bread is described, it is , dark, dense, and thereby bad.  However, Poilane teaches us that bread does not have to white and fluffy, to be good.  There are many recipes around for those that would replicate the bread of Poilane.  However, they miss the essence of what makes Poilane so good.

Fresh, stone-ground flour is the critical key to bread that is as good as Poilane’s . No roller milled whole wheat can approach the flavors and texture of fresh stone ground flour. Stone ground flour that has been sitting for a few days will not have the flavor of fresh milled flour. The advice to allow home milled flour to mature for 30 days is has its purpose, but making bread like Poilane is not that purpose. 

After much experimentation, I think traditional “Pain de Campaign”, was very much like the bread produced by  Maison Poilane. It was based on fresh, stone-milled flour. it had flavor. Leavens similar to those used by  Maison Poilane were used. It was baked in a wood fired oven.  They had gray sea salt. And, they did not rush the process.

It was (sometimes) good bread.  As I have been baking with fresh, stone-ground flour, I have had to recalibrate, everything I have read about past cuisine and feasting.  

To replicate such bread, I have to “temper” my grain before I mill.  Thus, I am not real sure about the moisture content of my flour,  and thus baker’s percentage for hydration means little. Fresh flour also changes the fermentation schedule. These changes completely upset modern bread making recipes. I have more or less reverted to Soyer’s 1854 recipe for bread. In it’s essence, it does not deviate from what I have read about Poilane’s method and technique.