Cast Iron

Pain à l'Ancienne

April  7, 2010
3 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland
  • Serves four 12-inch baguettes
Author Notes

I have baked bread for the family every Sunday and Wednesday now for almost ten years. I really enjoy bread and I have so many favorites that it's hard to choose just one. I have begged, borrowed, and stolen techniques and formulas from whomever and wherever they can be found. I am by no means the creator of this recipe. Although I have seen many different versions over the years, and I am sure all have had their influence, I have to give credit to two bakers who have influenced me and this bread the most: Peter Reinhart and Jeffrey Hamelman. If you want to make bread, search out their books.

I used to make sourdough only, but with the increase in quality flour prices, it just got to expensive to feed the beast (the starter). So I looked elsewhere for flavor.

Why this bread? The cold fermentation and amylase period create a flavor profile that no other breads have. It is nutty and has a mild sweetness. It's a simple dough to make with a mixer fitted with a dough hook—though it's very wet and not so simple to handle. The addition of the olive oil makes the crust tender-crisp not crunchy-crisp. I add the oil because I am willing to give up that crunch for shelf life. The crumb in this is exceptionally tender. I use a baking stone, but if you don't have one, use a parchment-lined sheet tray to bake the bread. I also place an old cast-iron skillet in the bottom of the oven to create steam. —thirschfeld

Test Kitchen Notes

The dough was fantastic to work with -- simple to knead and gather, both by hand and with the stand mixer/dough hook. (I made the recipe twice. I added 1 more teaspoon of salt on the second round.) Loved the toasted wheat germ and the texture and scent it provided the bread. I'm glad I had eight loaves to learn the "cut and lift to the parchment paper" method. On the 8th loaf, I had it down. This is a nice recipe for a soft crusted loaf, perfect for paninis or bahn mi. Thirschfeld's instructions are clear and it's just a miracle -- all that ice cold water is added to flour and you end up with these pretty loaves. - MrsWheelbarrow

—The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 2 1/2 cups ice water, as close to 32° F as possible
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 6 cups bread flour
  • 1/3 cup wheat germ, toasted
  • 2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • cornmeal, for dusting
  1. To measure the ice water, I fill an 8-cup measure half with ice and the rest with cold water. Then I pour off 2 1/2 cups cold water.
  2. In the bowl of a mixer fitted with the hook attachment, place 1/4 cup of ice water and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let the yeast dissolve.
  3. Add the remaining 2 1/4 cups of the ice water, the flour, wheat germ and salt. Mix with a dough hook. As the dough comes together, add the olive oil. The dough probably won't even gather around the hook, but it should pull around it. If it seems too loose, err on the side of a stiff dough and add more flour in 1/4-cup increments. You should see gluten development.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 24 to 36 hours.
  5. Remove the dough from the fridge. Sprinkle the counter with a good 1 1/2 of flour into about a 12- by 12-inch square.
  6. Flour your hands and dump the dough gently onto the flour. Spread it out to be about 8 inches by 8 inches. Dust the top of the dough with a good coating of flour and then spray it with nonstick spray and cover with plastic wrap. Set a timer for 1 hour and 30 minutes.
  7. Place a baking stone on the middle rack of the oven and heat the oven to 500° F. Place a cast-iron skillet in the bottom of the oven. Keep it close to the edge, as you will be pouring water into it.
  8. After the bread timer sounds, gently remove the plastic wrap. If some of the dough is stuck to it, pinch it and gently pull to get it off.
  9. Place a piece of parchment onto a peel (or sheet tray, if you are not using a stone). Sprinkle it with cornmeal.
  10. Using a dough cutter dipped in water, cut the dough into 4 pieces. (If your oven or stone isn't big enough, only cut what will fit on your stone or in the oven and leave the remainder of the dough whole and covered until needed.) Score the loaves in several places using a sharp knife or a razor blade. Place the peel right next to the dough.
  11. Now the tricky part. You want to do this quickly. Put one hand at each end of the loaf. Lift it—the middle will start to stretch and drop—and quickly move it to the peel and stretch back to 12 inches. Repeat with what will fit on your peel or fit in your oven. I do two loaves at a time.
  12. Slide the dough onto the stone. Carefully, but quickly, pour a half cup of water into the skillet and shut the door. Turn the heat down to 450° F and set a timer for 12 minutes. Do not open the door.
  13. When the timer goes off, rotate the bread 180° and bake and additional 4 minutes. Remove to a rack to cool. Repeat with remaining loaves.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • cucina di mammina
    cucina di mammina
  • Kathy R
    Kathy R
  • marynn
  • Niknud
  • boulangere

38 Reviews

Thi March 2, 2014
I was worried when I mixed the ingredients together, it's a lot more liquid than most recipes and it did not rise in the time span given. It took a longer time to rise and when it finally baked, it taste awesome! The best bread I ever tried, the flavor is so much better even though it's the same ingredients I used in other bread. The different here is the amount of water and the method. Thanks so much for sharing your recipe!
cucina D. July 25, 2013
love this recipe... will need to try this out soon!
Kathy R. September 22, 2012
My research shows that you can indeed kill the yeast with 32 degree water.
thirschfeld September 23, 2012
Then why can we freeze doughs and then remove them from the freezer for the final rise? Kathy R, it is pretty hard to kill yeast with cold temperatures. I have a sourdough starter that I keep in the freezer, has been there for two years, and occasionally I thaw it and remove some of the starter and refreeze the remainder. It always starts bubbling away within a day or two. I am not going to say yeast can't die at 32 degrees but it is more likely it was bad yeast to begin with and not the cold water.
Trink F. September 16, 2012
I'm new to using a stone. Is the dough transfer in steps 11 & 12 done with the stone hot (as in 500 degrees) with the oven door open or is the stone taken out of the oven to a counter for the transfer and then put back in the oven?
Pat E. September 22, 2012
Use a peel or the back of a cookie sheet to slide the bread, parchment and all, onto the hot stone. Don't take the stone out of the oven. That would be very scary!
thirschfeld September 23, 2012
Pat in ScCal is right. Leave the stone in the oven. I always put it on parchment and slide it into the oven off of a peel but is it a big loaf a sheet tray is perfect. Lots of people use cornmeal on their peel and not parchment but then i always find bits of cornmeal burning away in the bottom of the oven and with the corneal it is a little more difficult to get the bread off the peel.
sullymorgan August 11, 2012
This bread is great, flavorful & versatile. The dough freezes well too. At step 7, after making the 8" square, I cut it into 4 pieces. For 2 of the loaves, I proceeded as directed, and 2 I wrapped in plastic & froze (3 weeks). Defrosted in plastic at room temp for 2 hours, let rise 2 hours, then shaped/baked as directed. Turned out great, no appreciable difference as compared to the version that wasn't frozen. And so nice to be able to pull it out of the freezer and bake it. Thanks for this wonderful recipe.
Marylou S. January 25, 2012
This looked so very interesting! I want to make this, but I am big into whole grains and whole wheat. Any idea how to incorporate some w/w flour into this? perhaps 1/2 w/w half bread flour?
thirschfeld January 25, 2012
I, over time, have started to make all my bread 75% or more whole wheat. I have not made this with that percentage though. What I have been doing And I think it would work just fine here is to add a tablespoon of vital wheat gluten per cup of whole wheat flour. It seems to add enough elasticity to the dough to give it the spring you want for the crumb and air bubbles.
Susan January 20, 2012
I made this bread with dry active yeast, like it says above, and it did not rise! My loaves looked like sad tree branches. What did I do wrong?
Kathy R. January 7, 2012
I'm a fairly experienced bread baker, but this bread didn't rise at all for me. I baked 2 loaves, thinking I'd get some oven spring, but no. What did I do wrong? I'm letting the other 2 loaves proof some more. We'll see.
thirschfeld January 7, 2012
Kathy, I have had that happen once before and it was because I didn't let it warm up enough and rise a little bit before I baked it. Which it sounds like you are letting the other loaves warm and proof a bit more. I hope this takes care of it for you and the remaining two loaves get a good crumb.
leighbe January 4, 2012
This look delicious!! Can't wait to try it. There is nothing like homemade bread!!
Elana January 3, 2012
I made this and we had it fir supper - I felt like a pro. It looked beautiful, smelled fabulous and had a rich flavor and just the right tender chewy texture of old style breads. Thanks for a great recipe and instructions.
smbpc January 1, 2012
We bake often, most times using a many year old sourdough starter but also making other breads. Two comments. We use a Hearthstone insert in our oven rather than a stone. All the difference in the world. Your oven essentially becomes a full brick oven. The temperature remains very stable and the crusts you get are outstanding. We have two ovens and leave the insert in most of the time. It removes and replaces in about a minute. I don't know if the company still makes them, but you can find them on eBay. We have a wood fired oven outside the the results are comparable. Second, we put a pan with very hot water in the bottom as the oven warms. Enough so it won't all evaporate in the process. Moisture is created as the oven comes to temp and you get a very moist oven without the complexity of trying to pour into a hot oven.
marynn December 31, 2011
Might I suggest dropping a few ice cubes in that hot cast iron pan on the bottom shelf of the oven? I am a klutz when it comes opening the oven door, pulling out the pan, carefully and quickly adding water, and not burning my forearm. Cubes I can manage!
MakeThatMakeThis January 4, 2012
That is such a good idea!
Niknud December 30, 2011
I want to eat my computer screen right now. Seriously.
Niknud December 30, 2011
Actually, I want to slather my computer screen with butter and salt and then eat it.
boulangere December 1, 2011
I'm looking forward to trying this. Probably this weekend. Peter Reinhart was my breads instructor in school. The loaves are gorgeous, and I'm looking forward to seeing the crumb.
La P. November 28, 2011
Excellent Loaves thirschfeld! They were perfect with my pork chops and my husband thinks I'm a bad a$$. I was nervous at first because they didn't really rise when I set them out for 2 hours but as soon as I tossed them into the oven they puffed up beautifully. I can't wait to make the other 2 loaves tomorrow night with cookinginvictoria's sunday pork ragu. Thank you.
bottomupfood July 28, 2011
P.S. It seemed strange to me to preheat the oven to 500 an hour and a half in advance, so I waited until the dough was done rising under the plastic. Any reason to do otherwise?
bottomupfood July 28, 2011
I'm so glad I finally got around to making this bread. The number of instructions made it seem more complicated than it was. I used whey instead of water, which worked great. My loaves came out a bit flatter than those pictured, but they were still delicious. Great crumb, very light, and almost springy. Strangely, they had a bit of an English muffin flavor. Is that normal?
melissav May 31, 2010
Hi thirschfeld - This breads looks lovely and I can't wait to try it. If I don't want to make all four loaves at once, can I freeze the dough or is it best to make all 4 loaves and then freeze the leftover loaves? Thank you!
thirschfeld May 31, 2010
I hadn't thought about it but I would freeze the dough. I always think bread is best out of the oven. I really think you have a good idea so let's know how it freezes.
alexandsnakes May 17, 2010
I made this, using my stand mixer/dough hooks and it was wonderful. I scaled down the recipe to 2/3, used 1/4 cup of blue cornmeal as I had no wheat germ, and used the refrigerator pitcher of water . It's got a really nice texture and taste. I'm making another batch right now with toasted corn bran instead of wheat germ.
kaykay April 19, 2010
Your photography is as good as your cooking!
thirschfeld April 19, 2010
thank you kaykay I really appreciate that. thank you, again.