Pain Poilane might very well be one of the most famous breads made in France. The process to make it is convoluted and slow. The bread has a crumb that is not very open, with deep, complex flavor. All in all, a super hearty bread. I’ve made a few versions since I started playing with sourdough 15 years ago, but today I share one of the simplest ways, in which time does most of the work for you. Handling the dough is reduced to a bare minimum. If you are searching for a light tasting bread with very open crumb, this is not it. It is a superb bread to make Croque Monsieur or to enjoy with toppings such as smoked salmon or the very best ham you can find. 

(adapted from several sources)

for the fermented sourdough component:
200g water
120g sourdough starter (at 100% hydration)
240g whole-wheat flour

for the dough:
275g water
85g light rye flour
170g spelt flour
250g bread flour
12g salt

If you have a chance to turn your regular sourdough into a rye-based, you can do that by feeding it for about 3 days with rye flour instead of regular white flour. If you don’t have any, just use your regular sourdough.

In the evening, mix all the ingredients for the fermented component in a medium-size bowl. Leave it at room temperature for 12 hours. It won’t rise much, but you should notice fermentation next day.

On the morning of the next day add the water to your starter and mix well. Add all the flours and salt, and knead with the KitchenAid for about 3 minutes. Remove from the KitchenAid, place in a large bowl, and leave at room temperature for 90 minutes. Knead by hand for a couple of minutes at the 30 minute and 90 minute mark. Cover and place the dough in the fridge overnight.

Remove the cold dough from the fridge, form into a ball, and place in a lightly floured banneton, with the seam side up. Leave at room temperature for 5 to 6 hours. Heat the oven to 450F, invert the dough on parchment paper, score the surface and place in a Dutch oven, with the lid on. Bake for 30 minutes, remove the lid and bake for further 20 to 25 minutes.

Allow the bread to cool completely before slicing, preferably overnight.


to print the recipe, click here

Comments: Contrary to regular sourdough, this version that contains so much whole-wheat and rye flour, is not appropriate to fold and stretch. It is – if I am to be honest – not very nice to handle. There is a harshness associated with the coarser nature of the whole-wheat component, which in this case is a pretty substantial part of the formula. So, instead of folding, I opted for minimal kneading, a technique Dan Lepard is quite fond of. It is actually the basis for all his breads in The Handmade Loaf, which was my personal introduction to sourdough baking. This bread turned out super flavorful! It was a huge hit with the husband, who already requested that slices of “Poilane” be found in the freezer at all times…

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The BBA Challenge arrives at the “King of Breads”,  Pain Poilane, the most traditional bread in Paris!

Of course, pain Poilane brings us great memories! Every couple of weeks, we slightly changed our normal walking route from home to work, in order  to stop at the Poilane Boulangerie on Rue Grenelle in the 15th  arrondisement, and grab one of those huge “boules”, that we enjoyed to the last crumb on the succeeding days.

Lionel Poilane himself  trained each of the bakers that worked in his boulangerie, a process that started by making sure they could not only properly light their wood ovens, but also know when the oven temperature was correct for baking without a thermometer,  by using just their bare hands to “feel” the heat inside.    Each baker was responsible for the entire process of making each loaf, beginning to end.    This kind of passion and commitment fascinates me.

To mimic the great Poilane bread, Peter Reinhart uses 100% whole wheat flour, and a sourdough starter fed with whole wheat flour before being incorporated in the dough.  It makes a huge loaf, but I divided it in two and baked them on consecutive days, retarding one of the “boules” in the fridge overnight.  Kneading this dough is not for sissies.  It’s impossible to knead the full recipe in a KitchenAid mixer, no matter how powerful.  He recommends kneading by hand – which I’ve done in the past, but had to reconsider this time – my wrists simply could not take handling such  a large amount of dough.

So, I improvised – divided the dough in 4 small portions and… used the food processor to knead it.  Twenty to thirty seconds per portion did the trick, the dough ended up very smooth and elastic, with clear gluten development.

Here are some photos of the process, which, fortunately, went quite smoothly….

The whole wheat starter….

The dough, ready to rise for 4 hours….

The final shaping and slashing…. right before going into the oven…

And the result: a dough with impressive oven spring (I wasn’t expecting that, because I was a little too enthusiastic with my blade and probably slashed it too deeply), tight crumb, complex flavor  (you’ll have to take my word on that one…)…

Don’t you love a happy ending? 😉

as to the second bread:   it did not have as much oven spring, even though I kept it at room temperature for a full 4 hours before baking.   But the flavor was better than the first loaf.

I am submitting this post to Susan’s Yeastspotting….

If you want to see the “real” Poilane…. jump to next page….

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