We move out of a stretch of sandwich breads and back to the chewy, crusty, open-textured breads....at least if they come out right. I was more than a little surprised at my success with the Pain à l’Ancienne on my first shot. The method is the thing here--the bread is one of those most basic ones, with just flour, water, yeast, and salt. But the water is ice water, and the bread goes immediately into the fridge so that the yeast won't start working. The goal is to retard the yeast action to let the bread develop more flavor. After a night in the fridge the bread comes out for a sit at room temperature to let the yeast get going, until the dough doubles. You then move it from fridge to oven with as little disturbance as possible, for the baguettes anyway.
My loaf proceeded a little differently than the above plan, but the results were still great. My dough almost tripled in the fridge. Yes, the fridge is at the recommended temperature and no, the door wasn't opened very much over the rising period--I think I've just got enthusiastic yeast. I did let it come to room temperature, then gently eased the dough out of my rising bucket onto a pile of flour (the dough was very soft), and it was already a good bit larger than the size suggested. I cut it in half, cut three strips from one half, moved them to a piece of parchment paper with no stretching needed (they were already as long as my baking stone), snipped them with a pair of scissors, and popped them into the oven on the baking stone and poured hot water into my steam pan. After the couple of sprays of water at the sides of the oven, all I had to do then was take the lovely browned loaves out when done. The whole procedure seemed like a snap, which might be a combination of true "relatively easy recipe" and "I'm getting better at these skills".
The other half of the dough got split into 4 pieces for pizzas, and went back into the fridge. I had a carb day--I ate most of a baguette for lunch with a little Jarlsburg cheese and some herbs in oil for dipping, then made pizzas with the folks next door in the evening.
Pizza: I went with 4 pizzas, knowing that we generally end up with a variety of opinions on what the toppings should be. I wanted thin crust pizza and as crisp as possible, so we fired up sister-in-law's oven to 500 degrees and put in her baking stone. The dough was quite soft, too soft to consider trying to toss it as even draping it over the backs of my hands had it almost putting apart. With a combination of stretching and rolling (and a little patching) we got 4 pizzas roughly 12" in diameter. Toppings were:
tomato sauce, mozzarella, pepperoni
olive oil, roasted garlic, mozzarella, chicken, spinach, and parmesan
tomato sauce, mozzarella, chicken, and bacon
margherita--olive oil, buffalo mozzarella, fresh tomatoes, and basil from the garden (tomatoes were not from the garden, as I just got the plants in a week or so ago...much later than I'd intended)
The bread makes for a sturdy, chewy pizza crust, very much to my taste. Sister-in-law would prefer part whole-wheat the way I've been doing pizza crusts lately, so perhaps I'll try the pain à l'ancienne again with 1/3 or so whole wheat flour. The kids didn't find the crust to be notably different from the last homemade pizza we had, but found the overall results very satisfactory. Our first experiment with pizza margherita was not a complete success, as we overdid the toppings and things got soupy in the middle. We will also apply the basil after the pizza comes out of the oven next time.