Ist Bread

We’ve been staying in this particular studio in Arcachon since 2005. That includes one three month stint, one two month, and this is the second one month, so it doesn’t exactly take a long time to settle in.

The studio is what was once a servant’s quarters in the grounds of a very grand house which has a lengthy white pebbled terrace right onto the beach of the Basin d’Arcachon. The owners returned home from La Reunion where Monsieur was a judge last year and Madame has now got into her stride in rearranging the place the way she wants it. Out has gone the ancient TV to be replaced by a smart little flat-screen, HD model with Blue Ray. That’s OK, BUT – out has gone my tin box oven:

– to be replaced with:
I wouldn’t say it is shiny – it’s so reflective it’s almost impossible to photograph. Madame almost smugly regretted I wouldn’t be able to bake bread anymore (well, fair enough, who wants people slinging flour in their holiday let?). But we are not so easily defeated.

This year I nearly couldn’t be bothered to bring a starter but having relented at the last minute I was pretty determined to use the thing. It took half an hours reading to work out that the oven was not just a microwave but a combi that can be used just as a convection oven – a glimmer of hope.

Arriving on Saturday evening in torrential rain had it’s good point because Marc Brion – the Boulanger of Biganos, just up the coast – has his stall
outside the market on Sunday morning so we stocked up with his excellent Pain de Campagne and Wholemeal Seigle and took home a bag of organic T65 supermarket flour for the starter.

Problem No. 1. Madame has also rationalised the electronic scales I left here last year. I’ve been plagued this year with US cup conversions so I thought I might as well have a go at converting back the other way. The problem being my logic. Lying awake in bed I thought, if I take three cups of flour, two cups water would be 60% and one cup starter 30%, a little salt and away with the mixer. Dickhead. As soon as I started mixing the small thought entered my head that we are talking percentage by WEIGHT not volume so I continued to add flour until I arrived at a very wet dough, kneadable with a couple of plastic scrapers – shades of Pain a la’Ancienne. A few kneads and into the fridge overnight.

First attempt, I took a piece and stretched out a big, thin pizza base – miraculously my pizza tin hadn’t been confiscated – made a tomato sauce, spread it over the dough with chunks of aubergine, Toulouse sausage, blue cheese and parmesan. Then came the battle with the oven which claims to have a top temperature of 230C. First problem, the black-on-black oven controls, just impossible to see. So, with instruction book in left hand, torch in mouth and stabbing finger of right hand made at least six attempts to set the oven (perhaps they have lessons at school these days). Finally succeeded to turning the oven to convection, setting the temperature, starting the thing and bringing the temperature up to 230C (230C in less than five minutes?), getting the pizza in the oven and setting the timer. Removed torch from mouth, mopped brow – PING!!! -oven stopped. Having avoided using a microwave all my life I had set the timer for 15 seconds instead of minutes. Replaced torch in mouth ….

Several attempts and 15 minutes later scrutinised the pizza. It looked pale and ready to be cooked. Returned it to the oven. After a further 15 minutes the topping was sizzling and cooked and the edge of the dough was brown(ish). How could a wafer thin base not be crisp after 30 minutes at 230C?

The topping was lovely – the base was like eating a long, thin, waterlogged, slimy dumpling and about as appetizing.

The rest of the dough got a couple of folds and a short prove, was tipped straight onto a tray and into the oven without any attempt at shaping. Apart from looking in need of some sunshine, this was pretty successful and I thought I was beginning to win.

Adapted Carol Field’s Pugliese off the Kindle at very roughly 3.5 cups flour, 1.5 cups water & 0.5 cups starter and whacked it in the fridge overnight. Next day it looked dead – obviously the ice cube/dough temperature ratio favoured the cocktails. Tried to fold some life into it and bunged it into the oven (no longer any need for the torch). Oh dear:

Next try, the pugliese mix with a little more water. Managed to make some sort of misshaped baguettes that rose a bit and were edible. Timing all wrong – concentrating too hard on the holiday. So, finally a little discipline. Same mix using T80 semi-complete with 200 grams of wonderful Greek black olives from the market. Morning mix, four hours fermentation with a couple of folds, three-and-a-half hours prove, 60 minutes at 230C. Bingo.

Pale and interesting but bloody good bread. Of course, now I’ve made it we are already back round to Sunday and M. Brion’s bread stall.

6 thoughts on “Ist Bread

  1. The thermometer on our trusty old gas oven (well, not that ‘trusty’ – I’m just used to it) has finally given up the ghost. Your struggles with the new oven will inspire me to keep experimenting to find the best way to bake in a box which gets hotter and hotter and hotter…

    1. Shouldn’t really be a problem – the hard thing usually is getting domestic ovens up to a decent temperature.

      I used to bake great bread in an ancient gas oven with the dial turned up to max – not as dry as electricity

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