I know the phrase “Epic” 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 “miche”. According to the Internet it is French slang for “butt check”, which is why I don’t trust the Internet. It is generally a rustic style, round, rather flat loaf… that is extremely large.
The first version I tried was from Bread Baker’s Apprentice, it is the bread featured on the cover that is larger than the baker’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 instead… 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 didn’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 wouldn’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 isn’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 Leonard’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%)
The evening before baking – making the Levain:
- Dissolve the sourdough starter in the water in a small bowl. Add the flour and beat this batter-like dough until very smooth. Place in a covered container and let it ferment overnight for 8 hours, or until fully risen and just starting to sink in the middle.
- Sift the whole-wheat through your finest sieve or flour sifter. The large flakes of bran should be caught in the sieve (use them for flouring your peel or for muffins). Measure out 2 cups 3 tablespoons (8.8 ounces, 250 grams) sifted flour. Mix this dark flour with the bread flour and the rye flour in a large bowl or in the work bowl of your mixer.
- Add the water to the fermented levain to loosen it from the container.
Mixing the dough:
- By hand: Pour the watered levain into the flours and stir with your hands or a wooden spoon just until a rough dough forms. Turn the dough out onto the unfloured work surface and continue kneading until the dough is very smooth and shiny, about 10 minutes. This is a lot of dough and will take some muscle. Sprinkle on the salt and continue to knead the bread until the salt has fully dissolved and the dough is very smooth and shiny.
- By stand mixer: Add the watered levain to the flours in the work bowl and stir the dough together with a wooden spoon or your hand (this will make the mixing go more quickly). Using the dough hook, mix the dough on medium speed for about 10 to 15 minutes, or until the dough is very smooth and almost cleans the bowl. Add the salt and continue mixing until the dough is much tighter and cleans the bowl, about 5 more minutes. This should be a soft, sticky, and extensible dough.
Fermenting and turning the dough:
- Place the dough in a container at least 3 times its size and cover it tightly with plastic wrap. Let it ferment until it is airy and well expanded but not yet double in bulk, about 3 hours. Turn the dough 3 times at 30-minute intervals, that is, after 30, 60, and 90 minutes of fermenting, then leave the dough undisturbed for the remaining time.
Rounding and resting the dough:
- Flour the surface of the dough and your work surface and turn the dough out. Tuck the edges of the dough in to tighten it, round it, and cover it loosely with plastic wrap. Let it rest until well relaxed, 10 to 15 minutes. While the dough is resting, sift flour over a linen-lined basket or line a large colander with a well-floured tea towel.
Shaping and proofing the dough:
- Shape the dough into an even and tight round loaf without deflating it. Place the dough topside down in a linen-lined basket or large colander, lightly sprinkle it with flour, and cover it well with plastic wrap. Proof the dough until it is well expanded, about doubled in volume and remains indented when lightly pressed with a floured finger, after about 4 hours.
Preheating the oven:
- At least 45 minutes before the dough is fully proofed, arrange a rack on the oven’s second-to-top shelf and place a baking stone on it. Clear away all racks above the one being used Preheat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
Baking the bread:
- If desired, just before baking the bread, fill the oven with steam. Turn the bread out onto a sheet of parchment paper or a floured peel and slash 3 to 4 diagonal slashes and 3 to 4 horizontal slashes into the top. It will look like a skewed grid with diamond-shaped openings. Slide the bread, still on the paper, onto the hot stone and bake until the bread is dark and evenly browned all around and sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, 70 to 80 minutes, rotating it halfway into the bake. If the bread is browning too quickly, reduce the oven temperature to 400°F (205°C), but still bake the bread for at least 70 minutes. Let the bread cool on a rack.