pain a l’ancienne

Cooks Illustrated’s Chicken with 40 Cloves of Garlic recipe is cooked through a combination of roasting and braising, which keeps the meat moist and the skin crisp. Once the chicken is cooked, the braising liquid is made into a delicious garlicky herbed sauce. I supposed you could make some creamy rich mashed potatoes to serve with the sauce, but I love to dip bits of delicious artisan breads in it. For this meal, I think you need the absolutely best bread you can get. I haven’t found a fantastic bakery in my area, so that means I have to make it myself.

I know this is supposed to be the Dinner Party Menu Ode to Cooks Illustrated, but I strayed from them for the bread. They do have a great recipe for baguettes that you should check out if you have access to it, but I wanted to try Peter Reinhart’s pain a l’ancienne. Reinhart loves this recipe – he discusses it in length in the introduction before providing his recipe later in the book. I had made it once before with mixed results.

The recipe is actually less work than many other bread recipes, especially flavorful artisanal breads. Like all of Reinhart’s recipes, it’s developed to squeeze out as much flavor as possible from the simplest list of ingredients (flour, salt, yeast, water). Instead of requiring a pre-ferment, which basically means that the dough has to be made twice, pain a l’ancienne needs only be mixed and kneaded once, and there’s not even any proofing to worry about.

The key is that the dough is made with ice water and then immediately refrigerated overnight. The yeast slowly wakes up and does its thing, making its way through the flour and releasing every bit of flavor possible. All that’s left to do the day of baking is give the dough a chance to warm up and rise some more, mold the very wet dough into some semblance of loaves, and bake.

The result is some of the best bread I’ve ever made. I can’t think of how to describe the smell, but it’s so much more than homemade bread. The flavor matches the rich smell, and the crumb is chewy and tender.

The problem I’m having with the bread is the crust. The first time I made this recipe, which was a year or two ago, I followed Reinhart’s instructions to sprinkle the parchment paper with cornmeal before putting my dough on it. The result was a bottom crust ingrained with cornmeal. It wasn’t like pizza, where you don’t even notice the few grains; the wet dough had incorporated a thick layer of cornmeal. This time, I skipped the cornmeal, which is unnecessary anyway since the bread is baked on parchment paper. However, the crust was still far too thick, much thicker than is shown in Reinhart’s photo. It’s a straightforward problem to fix by adjusting the baking time and temperatures, and I put notes in the recipe instructions for how I’ll cook it next time.

With that small problem worked out, this is a truly fantastic bread recipe. The flavor is just about unbeatable. And, again – it’s less work than other recipes. You can’t go wrong.

Pain a l’Ancienne (from Peter Reinhart’s Bread Baker’s Apprentice)

Bridget note: The only alteration I made to the recipe was to skip the cornmeal Reinhart calls for. I did put a note at the bottom about the cooking temperature and time, in order to correct the crust problem I had.

Yields 6 baguettes

6 cups (27 ounces) unbleached bread flour
2¼ teaspoons salt
1¾ teaspoons instant yeast
2¼ cups plus 2 tablespoon to 3 cups ice-cold (19 to 24 ounces) water

1. Combine the flour, salt, yeast and 19 ounces water in the bowl of the electric mixer with the paddle attachment and mix for 2 minutes on low speed. Switch to the dough hook and mix for 5 to 6 minutes on medium speed. The dough should be sticky on the bottom of the bowl but it should release from the sides of the bowl. If not, sprinkle in a small amount of flour until this occurs (or dribble in water if the dough seems too stiff and clears the bottom as well as the sides of the bowl). Lightly oil a large bowl and immediately transfer the dough with a spatula or bowl scraper dipped in water into the bowl. Mist the top of the dough with spray oil and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

2. Immediately place the bowl in the refrigerator and chill overnight, to retard fermentation.

3. The next day, check the dough to see if it has risen in the refrigerator. It will probably be partially risen but not doubled in size (the amount of rise will depend on how cold the refrigerator is and how often the door was opened). Leave the bowl of dough out at room temperature for about 2 to 3 hours (or longer if necessary) to allow the dough to wake up, lose its chill, and continue fermenting.

4. When the dough has doubled from its original prerefrigerated size, liberally sprinkle the counter with bread flour (about ½ cup). Gently transfer the dough to the floured counter with a plastic dough scraper that has been dipped in cold water, dipping your hands as well to keep the dough from sticking to you. Avoid punching down the dough as you transfer it, to expel as little as possible of the carbon-dioxide gas that has built up in the dough during fermentation. If the dough is very wet, sprinkle more flour over the top as well as under it. Dry your hands thoroughly and then dip them in flour. Roll the dough gently in the sprinkled flour to coat it thoroughly, simultaneously stretching it into an oblong about 8 inches long and 6 inches wide. If it is too sticky to handle, continue sprinkling flour over it. Dip a metal pastry scraper into cool water to keep it from sticking to the dough, and cut the dough in half widthwise with the pastry scraper by pressing it down through the dough until it severs it, then dipping it again in the water and repeating this action until you have cut down the full length of the dough. (Do not use this blade as a saw; use it as a pincer, pinching the dough cleanly with each cut.) Let the dough relax for 5 minutes.

5. Prepare the oven for hearth baking, making sure to have an empty steam pan in place. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees, or 550 degrees if your oven goes this high. Cover the back of two 17-by-12-inch sheet pans with baking parchment. (I just used my pizza peel.) Take one of the dough pieces and repeat the cutting action, but this time cut off 3 equal-sized lengths. Then do the same with the remaining half. This should give you 6 lengths. Flour your hands and carefully lift one of the dough strips and transfer it to an inverted parchment-lined pan, gently pulling it to the length of the pan or to the length of your baking stone. If it springs back, let it rest for 5 minutes and then gently pull it out again. Place 3 strips on the pan, and then prepare another pan and repeat with the remaining strips.

6. Score the dough strips as for traditional baguettes, slashing the tops with 3 diagonal cuts. Because the dough is sticky, you may have to dip the razor blade, serrated knife or scissors in water between each cut. You may also omit the cuts if the dough isn’t cooperating. (I tried cutting, but the dough was so wet that it didn’t seem to make a difference.)

7. Take one pan to the preheated oven and carefully slide the dough, parchment and all, onto the baking stone (depending on the direction of the stone, you may choose to slide the dough and parchment off the side of the sheet pan instead of off the end); or bake directly on the sheet pan. Make sure the pieces aren’t touching (you can reach in and straighten the parchment or the dough strips, if need be). Pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan and close the door. After 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. Repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. After the final spray, reduce the oven setting to 475 degrees and continue baking. Meanwhile, dust the other pan of strips with flour, mist with spray oil, and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. If you don’t plan to bake these strips within 1 hour, refrigerate the pan and bake later or the next day.

8. The bread should begin to turn golden brown within 8 or 9 minutes. If the loaves are baking unevenly at this point, rotate them 180 degrees. Continue baking 10 to 15 minutes more, or until the bread is a rich golden brown and the internal temperature registers at least 205 degrees. (I think this is the part that didn’t work for me. I think I should have left it at the high heat and cooked it for only about 15 minutes.)

9. Transfer the hot breads to a cooling rack. They should feel very light, almost airy, and will cool in about 20 minutes. While these are cooling, you can bake the remaining loaves, remembering to remove the parchment from the oven and turn the oven up to 500 degrees or higher before baking the second round.

Other recipes part of this recommended dinner party menu:
Salad with Herbed Baked Goat Cheese
Chicken with Forty Cloves of Garlic
Sauteed Shredded Zucchini

Just about any dessert works well with this meal.
Many wines work well with this meal, but I especially like full-flavored whites such as Chardonnay, and medium-bodied reds such as Pinot Noir.


  1. Seriously? Just 4 ingredients?! I need to make time to try this because I’m so intimidated by yeast. I’ve worked with it in the past, but it never looks as good as I hoped. Thanks for sharing… Id be lucky if my attempts look 1/2 as good as yours!

  2. Hah! What does CI know about bread?! Hee hee, I’m being mean 🙂 But Reinhart is the best, apparently– and it shows in the lovely loaves you’ve created!

  3. Very nice. I love this bread too. It’s just so…good.

  4. This looks fabulous – I’m going to have to doggy ear it to try very soon!

  5. I really like this bread too. It’s the earlier version of no knead bread!
    I haven’t been round your blog for such a long time. I will enjoy a leisurely gander! I like it when i have lots to read.

  6. Mmmm…that bread looks so good! Thank you for sharing the recipe and your tips. It’s going in my “to make” file! 🙂

  7. wow, those are beautiful loaves!

  8. hmm – this is exactly the recipe i was looking for – but don’t get bread flour in india, and we don’t have a stand mixer either. will try kneading by hand, and all-purpose and see if it looks half as gorgeous as yours! 🙂

  9. arundathi – If you can find vital wheat gluten, you can add some of that to all-purpose flour to make it similar to bread flour. That’s actually what I did. Also, this dough would work well in a food processor as well, if you have one. It’s going to be tricky to knead by hand because it’s so wet. I would probably recommend keeping it in a bowl instead of putting it on a floured counter.

  10. Your bread looks great! I love Reinhart’s recipes, and this is on the top of my list to make. Your post makes me want to bake some really soon!

  11. Yay! Interesting…

  12. Nicole says:

    I can’t resist a great loaf of bread and this looks delicious – plus it’s a bonus that it seems fairly simple to make. I look forward to trying it!

  13. macmarklemore says:

    I am actually making this bread from Reinhart’s [inspiring] book right now (still fermenting in the refrigerator), then I found this. Perhaps mine will be as successful as yours.

    To the rest of you, if you have any inhibitions about baking bread, I think this book is the answer. It motivated me to get busy and finally make some bread. Perhaps this is the first step toward the mastery I desire.

  14. I don’t think I own a professional baking steam pan. Is there an adaptation that would work as an alternative?

  15. Jane Dark – I’m sorry, that’s unclear. I’ll fix it. What it means is just to put a heavy baking pan (Reinhart recommends a baking sheet, but I find that cake pans are a little easier to work with) on the top rack while the oven heats. You’ll pour hot water into that in step 7, which will make the oven steamy.

  16. Last week I checked out Reinhart’s BBA from the library. Yesterday I mixed the dough for Pain a l’ancienne, and today I used it to bake an amazing boule of the best bread ever.

    My oven is tiny, and I don’t have a baking stone or a water spritzer so this is what I did. The racks were separated to the top and bottom slots on the oven. On the top rack I placed an 8″ Al-clad frying pan. On the bottom rack I placed a 14″ cast iron griddle. The boule (on parchment) went onto the griddle, and I poured about 1/4 cup almost boiling water into the frying pan to create the steam. Three times after I just threw about 1/4 cup hot water onto the sides and bottom of the oven at 30 second intervals like Reinhart says.

    I’m pretty sure that this oven runs cool. It took about 22 minutes to get the bread to 190 degrees, and I could have probably gone a few minutes longer.

    I halved everything in the recipe and it worked out just fine. When I put it into the oven I wasn’t sure what would happen because the dough just didn’t look right. It seemed a bit flat, even though I was careful to avoid degassing it when taking the dough from the bowl.
    Cool as my oven runs, and I had it cranked up as high as it would go, I got a great oven spring on the loaf. It was all I could do to wait 20 minutes to sample this bread.

    By itself it’s amazing. I cut a couple of slices and toasted them to go with a couple of fried eggs, and its the best tasting toast I’ve ever had.

  17. Good to know about the oven temperature issue – I’m planning on baking this on Sunday 🙂

  18. Another Caitlin says:

    I also planned on baking that on Sunday, coincidentally, but it didn’t work out for me. So, I put the pans of formed and risen dough in the fridge and baked them right before class. Let me tell you, my classmates were jealous! I put the dough in oiled ziplock bags instead of a covered bowl, and I baked it at a lower temperature. I didn’t get the crust, but it was still delicious!

  19. Briana says:

    So. I’d just like to say, first things first. I use the recipes from your site often. Never have I had a disappointing one.

    Now. I’ve made this particular one twice. The first time…Well that was an experience. I put a glass pyrex dish in the oven for the steam pan. Then I preheated the oven. When I went to pour the water into the steam pan…it shattered right in front of my face. Very scary. Good thing it was safety glass. There weren’t any tiny pieces. After the hour it took me to clean up the mess, I tried again, minus the steam pan. I also didn’t mist inside the oven, because I don’t have a squirt bottle. Both times I’ve made this I made it without the misting, or steam pan. The first time I baked it on a sheet pan, the second on my pizza stone.

    Both times the bread loaves came out perfect. Thank you for your amazing website. I will continue to use your site for ideas, and amazing recipes. (Your cinnamon rolls were amazing too)

  20. Abhilash says:

    Hi Arundhati,

    There are ways to get around the Bread flour issue. We can purchase Gluten from a company that makes “Tower Brand Gluten” in India. The Gluten does help! Since the flour that we get in India isn’t that strong, the Gluten helps in strengthening the flour so that the crust does not crack during the baking process. Bread improver is a new addition in my breads and it does seem to help! Also Peter Reinhart’s book is now available on flipkart. Happy Baking!

  21. Emily says:

    do I have to use instant yeast or can I switch out regular yeast?

  22. Emily – You can use regular yeast, but stir it into the water before you add it to the flour.