if some is good, more must be better

Recently, Amy (Beauty Joy Food) talked about bread baking tips from the novel, Bread Alone by Judith Ryan Hendricks.

I got the book out of the library and read it (I have to admit that being the snob I am, I thought it was just one step up from a Harlequin romance. But there were indeed good bread making tips and a number of recipes.) One of them was couronne Pain de Compagne (was at http://www.judihendricks.com/bread/related_pg.html#recipies (scroll down to ‘couronne’)) shaped in an entwined double ring.

The recipe starts with a poolish made entirely from whole wheat flour (the wholewheat flour we have is around 13% protein); I’ve always thought that some whole wheat added to white flour in a poolish is a good idea so 100% wholewheat must be a great idea. I decided I had to give the recipe a shot. I made the poolish late on Thursday night – I love making poolishes because they are so labour free!) and left it on the counter overnight – the kitchen is cool enough now that the night temperatures are dropping.

The next morning the poolish had bubbled beautifully and I proceeded with the rest of the recipe. Because I use active dry yeast, I was already having to make a few alterations… but being incapable of following a recipe exactly, I decided to use unbleached all purpose white flour instead of the bread flour that was recommended. As far as I can tell from any reading I’ve done, the French bread makers don’t use strong bread flour. I could be wrong, of course, but it’s my understanding that our Canadian all purpose flour (11.52% protein) is fairly close to French bread making flour.

At any rate, the resulting dough was on the loose side – which is always fun to knead by hand. It rose slowly and beautifully over the course of the day. When it came time to shape it, I formed the baguettes and then – feeling radical – shaped the entwined rings on the parchment paper covered peel right away. I floured the dough, covered it with plastic and let it rise to one and a half times, errrr… double. Drat!! Why oh why can’t I pay attention at this stage!!

[…] the couronne, the crown-shaped loaf, originated in rural areas of France […] The four-to-six-pound loaves of bread would last a whole family for a week […]

And Hendricks wasn’t just whistling Dixie, this makes into a HUGE loaf.

So there it was double and the oven hadn’t yet been turned on!! I decided not to risk total failure by doing any slashing. I preheated the oven to the highest it would go, willing the dough to stop rising any more!!! and half an hour later, just after spraying the shaped bread liberally with water, into the oven it went. With some difficulty. It had spread out somewhat beyond my peel. Which meant it was larger than the bread stone too. I stuck bits of parchment paper on either side of the peel before sliding the bread onto the hot stone in the oven.

Luckily, there wasn’t much overlap… when the official end of baking time came, I used my handy instant-read thermometer to measure the temperature and the internal temperature was still below 200F. One person argued about baking the bread longer, insisting that it was done. But someone else prevailed and the bread went back into the oven for another ten minutes with the temperature lowered to 350F.

The bread ended up being quite flat and on the dark side – but not burnt… even though someone kept insisting that it was burned on the bottom. One side was definitely charred where it had hit the back of the oven wall. (Did I mention that this loaf is enormous?)

The final analysis? Well!! Fabulous. We dipped pieces into herbed olive oil and had it with grilled porkchops, peas with mint and zucchini/onion/pepper ratatouille.

This recipe is definitely a keeper. I’ll probably not make it into entwined rings next time – or at least not unless more than two people will be eating it at one sitting. Don’t get me wrong. It is stunningly beautiful. But it’s just too big for two people and somewhat difficult to divide in half for storage!

The double wedding ring couronne is, in all modesty, a thing of beauty - two interlocking circles of crusty, golden bread. And it smells like heaven.

-Judith Ryan Hendricks, Bread Alone: A Novel


edit: Please take a look at our take on the couronne – pain de compagne recipe.

6 responses to “if some is good, more must be better

  1. ejm Post author

    It is really great. We had a picnic lunch today of tunafish sandwiches made with a section of the bread sliced in half horizontally and filled with tunafish salad (solid white tuna, celery, mayonnaise, pepper, salt and thinly sliced onion).

    And because the other half of the loaf is far too large for the freezer, tonight we are going to have some of it with shish-ka-bobs.


    (Did I remember to mention that I did NOT oil the rising bowl? Now there’s another completely unecessary step that is in some of the bread baking books published recently in North America. As far as I know, oil is not used in making “correct” French bread.)

  2. amy

    Now, I wondered what this loaf would be like in real life. If I could ever finish moving, maybe I’ll try making it for Christmas–I’m cooking for the family this year so I could def. use a bread recipe that feeds many!

    (BTW, I totally agree with you about the book–the story is def. on the fluff side, but the parts about bread were really interesting to me)

  3. ejm Post author

    For Christmas, Amy?? You’ve got to make it before then! What about Thanksgiving? I think I’m going to make it for our Thanksgiving feast which is coming up soon (eeeeek!!! It’s next week!)

    (I’m so relieved. I was a little afraid to say anything disparaging about the book, just in case there were people who absolutely adored it. I found myself rolling my eyes at some of the main character’s actions and one or two times I actually said Oh pul..lease!! out loud as I read.)

  4. amy

    LOL….I’m not cooking for Thanksgiving this year! And actually, I’m kinda disappointed about it. But I will probably have 15+ people for Christmas, so I’m sure I’ll get my fill of cooking then!

  5. ejm Post author

    Then Thanksgiving is the perfect time to bake the bread because you won’t be overwhelmed with having to cook a huge turkey dinner for 15+ people!

    You’ve really got to try this bread. It’s fabulous.

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