I know the phrase â€œEpicâ€ is totally played out and is tossed around way too easily, but seriously how else do you describe a 4 pound loaf of bread that is over a foot and a half across. If a loaf that large is not considered Epic, what would be? The name for this large style of bread is â€œmicheâ€. According to the Internet it is French slang for â€œbutt checkâ€, which is why I donâ€™t trust the Internet. It is generally a rustic style, round, rather flat loafâ€¦ that is extremely large.
The first version I tried was from Bread Bakerâ€™s Apprentice, it is the bread featured on the cover that is larger than the bakerâ€™s head. It is based on the famous loaf from the Poilane bakery in France. The recipe calls for high extraction flour, which is somewhere between whole wheat and white flour. It is also not easy to come by, so of course I just used whole wheat insteadâ€¦ and that of course just produced a dense hard loaf; a 2 foot hockey puck. I think a couple things contributed to this. I tried kneading it by hand and I also didnâ€™t increase the amount of water since I was using whole wheat.
A stronger man would have had another go at it, but I decide to wave off and try a different recipe. For the second attempt I went with recipe from Artisan Baking, which is a really great book that does not get enough love. It not only covers how to bake bread, but also the people that are drawn to making bread. The recipes are truly stellar too.
The miche in Artisan Baking stills uses only sourdough to rise, but it has a mix of flours; whole wheat, white and rye. This makes it easier to build up gluten. It could have been just luck, or all the fact that I used my mixer to knead, but this loaf was amazing. I wouldnâ€™t try using any old mixer for this large a loaf with such dense dough. I have a Kitchen Aid Pro 600 and it seemed to handle it fine. A smaller mixer, like the Kitchen Aid Artisan, may not have done so well. While it produce a tons of bread (roughly 4 pounds), the bread stayed fresh for 3 weeks and tasted great with just a light toast. For most of the time we stored the bread with the cut side facing down on the cutting board. It could be that most bread will last this long, it just isnâ€™t usually large enough to last 3 weeks. I would like to that the sourdough goodness helps keep it fresh longer.
One of the things I love about the Artisan Baking book is that she profiles the different bakers & bakeries she gets the recipes from. The recipe for the French country miche comes from Thom Leonard in Lawrence, Kansas. There are some great videos of him explaining how to make naturally leavin bread here.
Thom Leonardâ€™s Country French Bread
- 25 grams (1 1/2 tablespoons or 0.8 oz) fermented firm sourdough starter refreshed 8 hrs before (17%)
- 140 grams (2/3 cup or 4.9 oz) water, lukewarm (100%)
- 140 grams (1 cup minus 1 tablespoon or 4.9 oz) unbleached bread flour (100%)
- 350 grams (about 12 oz or about 2 1/2 cups) Coarsely ground whole-wheat flour, preferably milled from an organic, hard winter wheat (eventually 25%)
- 750 grams (26.5 oz or 5 cups) unbleached bread flour, preferably organic (75%)
- 30 grams (1 oz or 1/4 cup) organic whole-rye flour (3%)
- 660 grams (24 oz or 3 cups) water (66%)
- Fermented levain (30%)
- 23 grams (0.8 oz or 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons) salt (2.3%)