Dan Lepard’s pain blanc (a baguette) ~ In search of ‘le pain quotidien’

If you have been around awhile in this space, you must have noticed that this year I had almost sworn off wheat thanks to Jr.H’s intolerance, but one thing led to another and I went back to indulging in my favourite therapeutic form of exercise for the arm and the being – bread making. It all started with the zaatar focaccia I posted last week. Since that day I have been craving bread, more because I enjoy the making of it rather than the eating. The latter is a pleasure but the former is the driving force. In hindsight I am sure this bread making session was triggered off by the sight of lovely boules hanging at ‘Le Pain Quotidien‘ (luh Pan koh-ti-dyan). Don’t fret over the pronunciation too much if you are ignorant about European accents like me. It is tricky and is simply translated into ‘the daily bread’.

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Bruschetta platter

The Friday before last, the ‘Mumbai Food Bloggers’ as we call our motley, vibrant, local food blogging community, met at a quaint bakery by the Gateway of India. I came to know about the European style bakery-cafe last year some time when it was due to open, but I was also reluctant to visit. I wondered whether there would be much on the platter for a vegan.   I should have known I could never go hungry in a bread boulangerie!  Le Pain Quotidien, through Rushina, had kindly organized a meet for us and offered us a chance to taste their authentic European fare with an intimate gathering of like minded people around their communal table, a signature feature in all their cafes around the world.  I love the idea of the communal table which provides for intimate gatherings, a meeting point for friends and family, a time to cheer the good life, eat and be merry!  Live music would have completed the scene, but never mind about that.  It was so noisy with all of us talking at once with one another that I am sure if any music was playing, it would probably not even be heard above the din of our voices!

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The weather was good that day and I was assured that the bakery was good too. I wasn’t disappointed! You can read all about the inception of LPQ in their site.  It’s almost a story and I love stories.  The interior is understated with textured walls in tan, offset by a colourful rug or window panes to add a splash of colour. The dining area on the ground floor is small, but the low lighting ensured enough warmth to carry on comfortable conversation and grab a quick bite. Ideal for people on the go. The mezzanine floor where we were entertained was just beautiful. There was this rustic, very used table that caught my fancy. It is a photographer’s dream background! I know any picture of a dish taken on that surface would definitely stand out beautifully! The small group of graters placed on a section of the opposite wall was another lovely touch! They were ornate and yet not flamboyant. Little things that add to the ambiance without making it opulent.  I like is that the bakery manages to keep a balance of aesthetic sense without intimidating the first time curious visitor. What I loved were the rows of various organic preserves, some quite unique for Indian taste buds – morello cherries and rhubarb. I bought a jar of the rhubarb preserve and it is lip-smacking enough to make a second or third visit. It would be unfair to the reader if I did not mention that the cost burns a neat hole in the pocket.

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Yes, the breads were very good.  Crusty on the top, perfectly done inside.  I being the only vegan amongst us had the usual fare of tomato bruschetta and hummus to go with the breads.  I would have liked the breads toasted than raw.  I was surprised that there was no vegan fare for main course, but the chef improvised a quick penne pasta with tomato sauce.  While the taste was good, I felt it could have been a little thin and used more seasoning.  I am not sure whether I gorged on too many bites earlier, but I filled up pretty quick and the pasta portion seemed too large for one person!  I credit Jyotika for the double treat I got instead from LPQ.  Since the bakery does not cater to vegan customers on a regular basis they did not have a dessert course for me.  Jo motivated the chef to try out something new and imaginative as all basic ingredients necessary for a good dessert was available in the bakery.  There was dark chocolate, fruits, jam, nuts…and imagination.  Well, I got a treat much better than any dessert the others got!  A box of very tasty, chocolate nut truffles!  LPQ also put together customized goodie bags for all of us.  Slices of various kinds of breads.

Don’t just read all this!  Go there, make a visit and take your friends along! I am sure you will love it.

_MG_4000 Chocolate truffles

Megha, one of my friends, who blogs at i2cook sells homemade goodies under the same brandname.  She handed us samples of ‘Moroccan candied peanuts’ that is in the pipeline.  Nikhil who seems to always have yummy and thoughtful delicacies to share, brought us candied orange slices coated with dark chocolate.  I came back home, full of happy thoughts and satiated appetite.

peanuts and orange

Obviously the breakfast next day was very European.  Breads of all kinds, rhubarb preserve to go with it, candied orange and a round of peanuts for all of us.  Very delicious! Though impressed I find it disturbing that there is no choice for a vegan.  The LPQ pantry on their site proudly shows a board that has ‘vegan chilled gazpacho’ scribbled on it.  Sadly, the pantry did not have much idea what a vegan menu meant.  I am not undermining the talent of the boulangerie.  I am hoping that if I go there the next time with my daughter (who is also gluten intolerant), we both will find something to munch on, talk over bread and coffee and finish our meal with a dessert!

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Having written about a boulangerie it is quite natural that I should end with recipe of a bread.

Over the few years of blogging journey, I have learnt that breads are tastiest when they have a crusty, fairly hard top and light interiors with airy holes. I have also learnt through experience that it is almost as tough as rocket science if not easier.  Take heart – practice helps!  This time I fell upon Dan Lepard’s pain blanc from the book ‘Exceptional Breads’. In the past I have tried Julia Child’s French bread and Peter Reinhart’s Ciabatta. Both turned out great but call for extreme patience and many hours of fermentation. Dan Lepard provides some relief from that point of view.

The taste was great.  The bread had a more dense inside than the earlier baguettes or ciabattas I have made. While scoring the breads I realized that despite my love for cooking and being a food blogger, I still do not have very sharp knife! Or maybe I am not a good ‘scorer’ yet! I was also not very happy with the holes in the bread. In this aspect my vote definitely goes to Julia Child’s recipe. The search is not over yet! I still have to try recipes from other bread bakers! The ‘hole problem’ does not appear to be restricted to only me. I found this post on ‘The Fresh Loaf‘ where another baker had the same result – less holes and a baguette that resembled mine. I also found that Dan himself has answered and provided a solution – reduce the yeast and increase the baking time. Next time I will! I am also buying a good knife and scoring better. My recipe is adapted from Dan Lepard’s ‘pain blanc’ (Page 96) from his book ‘Exceptional Breads‘. I highly recommend the book for the illustrations of forming the batons and other shapes. Well explained, and some great recipes. I interchanged the flours recommended in the recipe as I had less of the bread flour. I am sure it is not very different from the strong white flour recommended in the book. I added 7g of yeast to the pre-ferment instead of half of it to the sponge and half later. I wonder whether the result would have been different. Also I used my hand and not a bread mixer.  The recipe calls for a baking stone which I do not have.  I used my usual baking tray.  I also used the steam technique Peter Reinhart demonstrates here.  My crust was definitely great!

This might be last of the bread posts for some time.  I am determined to go on a gluten free and wholegrain diet for sometime at least.

_MG_4516 Pain Blanc

Dish: Dan Lepard’s pain blanc (a baguette)
Adapted from a recipe by Dan Lepard in his book ‘Exceptional Breads’
Yield: 4 baguettes

Ingredients:
Sponge:
7g – dry active yeast
175 ml – warm water
75g – strong bread flour
100g – plain white flour

Final Dough:
175ml – cold water (I had to use a little more than this)
125g – strong bread flour
250g – plain white flour
10g – sea salt (I used saindhav namak – pink salt)
Olive oil to grease the bowl
Poppy seeds and sunflower seeds to top the bread (Original recipe uses semolina to peel and there is no topping)

Method:
Sponge:
Place the yeast in a bowl with a 1/4 cup warm water and a pinch of sugar. Leave to froth.

In a bowl stir the flours with the frothed yeast and rest of the water for the sponge. Whisk well into a rough dough, cover with a cling film and leave in a warm place for 2hours, till the sponge rises by at least one-third. There should be lot of bubbles and the sponge must be very active by then.

Final dough:
Pour the sponge in a large mixing bowl. Add cold water and mix well so that the sponge is fully combined with the water. This took me a good five minutes.

Now add the flours, and salt and work the water slowly into the flours till you get a rough ball of dough. Another 5-7 minutes.

Knead the dough well for 10-15 minutes till it feels smooth and elastic. Transfer into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with a cling film and rest for 30 minutes and go to the next step. At this stage I transferred the bowl into the refrigerator overnight and worked with it the next morning, after allowing it to rest out for an hour.

Divide the dough into four pieces. Transfer a piece onto a floured surface (I used wooden). Shape into a an oval, and place smooth side down on a floured plate. Cover with a damp cloth and set aside to rest for 15 minutes.

Take a tea towel (I used linen) and sprinkle flour on it shaking excess flour. Lay the cloth, flour side up, on a large tray. Pull up the cloth every 5cm to create folds.

Take a piece of the dough and place the smooth side down on a lightly floured surface. Shape into a baguette using the technique given in this video.

Carefully place the loaf on the floured cloth with the seam upwards in one of the depressions between the folds. Repeat shaping the other baguettes and place each baguette in another depression. You can make rolls instead of baguette shapes too. Cover with a slightly damp cloth and leave to rise in a draught-free place for about 2 hours or till doubled in bulk.

Pre-heat oven with a centrally positioned rack at maximum.  I went upto 250 deg. C.

Scatter poppy seeds on another baking tin.  Using the cloth to help, carefully transfer a baguette from the cloth onto the tray and place it with seam side down on the poppy seeds.  Baste the top with a little water and top with poppy seeds or sunflower seeds if desired.  Score with a sharp knife at an angle at regular intervals.  I placed two baguettes at one time on my tray.

Open the oven door, place the tin on the rack.  Prepare oven for steaming following the technique shown here.  I placed a grill tray in the lower groove and filled a jelly pan with hot water.  A grill tray helps the bread cook evenly.  Placing a baking tray will not help.

Bake for 10 minutes and lower the temperature to 200 deg. C.  bake for another 15-20 minutes till baguettes are golden in colour with a firm crust.  The loaves should sound hollow when you tap them on the base.

Remove when done and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Serve with bruschettas topped with firm ripe tomatoes seasoned with herbs, salt and extra virgin olive oil.  Alternatively use sundried tomatoes, olives, lightly sauteed olives, or just hummus.

 

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Comments

Have your say

  1. Ofcourse I know le pain q..:) quite famous here and great bread. Love your bread too..:)

  2. Those truffles… look oh so good! I wish you had a recipe to share for them!

    I am familiar with Le pain quotidian, first came across them in Belgium. They make good bread, but being from a country that has sourdough bread (rye) as its staple, they don’t quite measure up to my demands – I like my sourdough bread denser and moister than what I remember from LPQ (unless they changed their recipes… it’s been a few years).

    • I get your point, Alualuna. For us this is amongst the best we get. I have had better ciabattas but their breads were really good. I like my sourdough bread dense too, but I cannot compare these with any other yet.

  3. Great pics as usual 🙂
    Truffles look real yummmm!!

  4. Your home was most likely filled with the wonderful fragrance of baking bread. It makes me want to head into the kitchen.

  5. Always love to read about these get togethers you guys have. And love the look of that bread … especially that platter tempts me to try my hand at baking this. Am a bruschetta fan myself so that is inspiring enough. 🙂

  6. Nice pics.. and the bread looks too good… I never dared to experiment with yeast .. somehow I fear that I may fail 🙂
    Love your new template!!

    • Spandana, you should go ahead and give it a try! Yeast is easy to handle. Why not start with an easy bread recipe? I am sure that will make you happy and spur you on! And thanks! I am glad you like my new template. 🙂

  7. Wonderful post and the recipe looks amazing.
    Thanks for sharing such valuable post. 🙂

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