Monday, May 18, 2009

Orange & Plum Miche with Two Preferments

This miche wasn't supposed to be. Always eager for the taste of whole wheat, I had decided to make a "pan bigio" from Carol Field's The Italian Baker, a book I have owned for quite a while and certainly not used enough as it is full of attractive recipes which I have yet to try. Most of them are yeast-based but they can and should be converted to natural starter. Maybe I'll give it a try this summer.
Anyway I had dutifully made the biga (starter dough made from small amounts of flour, water and yeast allowed to ferment for at least 24 hours) two days before and when it had become deliciously and deliriously effervescent, I started to prepare the other ingredients for scaling.
But (why so many buts in life?), just as biga requires commercial yeast (fresh, dry active or instant) , so does the final dough for Pan bigio and, as I was reaching for it, my eyes fell on my liquid starter, forlornly bubbling away in its glass jar. As I hadn't baked with it the day before, I actually needed to use some of it (or throw some out) to make room in the jar for its daily meal.
So I made up my mind on the spot, decided to keep the pan bigio recipe for a day when I wouldn't have enough starter (as if that was likely to happen anytime soon) and to strike for a new (to me) frontier in bread-baking: use two preferments in the same dough (I wasn't about to throw away the biga, as you can imagine).

I still wanted an at least partially whole-wheat bread but now that I was no longer bound by a recipe, I could give free rein to my imagination as to the other ingredients. So I gazed out of the window: looming dark clouds, misty lawn, dripping trees. It felt like fall, or maybe early spring (it was cold in the house with the heat off), and I tried to think of a flavor that would warm us up.
I closed my eyes and must have been visited by the ghost of Christmas past because, all of a sudden, I had a craving for dried plums and oranges, very little of both, just enough to give the bread a different fragrance and make it more festive. I briefly considered alternatives (mango and Brazil nuts?) but in the end, I stuck with the plum-orange flavor, which is a traditional one in French cooking and baking (although not in bread, at least not in the old days) and very pleasant in a quiet sort of way.
Since the two preferments had been made with regular bread flour, I decided to put at least 50% whole wheat flour in the final dough, and as a final treat (I love huge breads), I decided to make a very big loaf, so that I could give some to family and friends. It did come out big (1.8 kg) and fragrant, not sweet at all which is what I wanted. Too bad web-sampling hasn't been invented yet. I'd love to have you taste it and tell me what you think...
For the biga

  • 135 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 115 g water
  • 1/8 tsp instant dry yeast 

For the final dough

  • 445 g whole wheat flour
  • 420 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 390 g water
  • 250 g biga
  • 225 g liquid starter (100% hydration)
  • 50 g plump dried plums, chopped
  • 18 g salt
  • 5 g dried orange peel, soaked for 20 minutes in hot water, drained and finely chopped

For the biga
  1. At least 1 day before but preferably 2, mix yeast and flour in a small bowl and add water
  2. Stir to incorporate thoroughly, knead briefly until smooth and leave to ferment for 24 hours
  3. After 24 hours, if not using immediately, refrigerate for another day
  4. On the day of the baking, bring back to room temperature before using
For the final dough
  1. Put the biga and the starter in the bowl of the mixer and mix slowly with the paddle attachment until incorporated
  2. Add 250 g water (reserve the rest), mix again and add the flour
  3. Mix on low until well incorporated, stop the mixer, cover the bowl and let rest for 20 minutes (autolyse)
  4. Add the salt and mix on medium speed (3 on my old Rival Chef Excel) with the dough hook, adding water as needed for at least 6 minutes (depending on the flour you use you may have to use more water than I did in this recipe. I used a Hudson Valley artisanal whole wheat flour which doesn't absorb water readily and I had to adjust for that), until the dough has achieved the right consistency (neither too firm nor too slack, one clue would be to see how well defined the edges are. If the edges are sharpish-looking, you need to add water)
  5. Give the dough the windowpane test (wet your hands, pull a piece of dough from the mass and gently turn and stretch it. If you manage to create a "window" in the dough without tearing it, it is ready)
  6. Add the fruit and orange peel
  7. Mix on low for a minute
  8. Take the dough out of the bowl, transfer it to a (lightly) flour-dusted countertop and finish incorporating the plums and orange peel by hand making sure they are evenly distributed in the dough
  9. Oil a big bowl or dough bucket and transfer the dough to it. Close the lid tightly
  10. The first fermentation should take 1 1/2 to 2 hours
  11. After that time, the dough should have at least doubled. Take it out and shape it roughly into a ball. Let it rest covered for 20 minutes
  12. Shape it into a tight boule (ball) and put it, seam down, on a semolina-dusted board. Stick the board in a big clear plastic bag. Blow once into the bag before closing it to create a dome and stick the whole thing in the refrigerator for the night (or 8 to 10 hours during the day if more convenient)
  13. In the morning, turn on the oven (450 F/232 C) after putting in it a baking stone (if using) with an empty metal pan on the rack under it
  14. Take the bread out of the refrigerator and let it rest a while at room temperature while the oven heats up (or a bit longer)
  15. Take the bread out of the bag and transfer it to a semolina-dusted parchment paper
  16. Stencil and score the loaf as desired
  17. Pour a cup of cold water in the metal pan, transfer the bread (still on the parchment paper) to the baking stone and spray some water on the walls of the oven (taking care not to aim towards the oven light) to create even more steam
  18. Close the oven door and let bake for 40 minutes
  19. After 40 minutes, open the oven to take a look at the bread. It is so big that it will not be done yet but it will probably be already brown enough. If that's the case, remove the parchment paper, lower the oven temperature to 390 F/199 C and bake another 15 minutes
  20. Take the bread out and use an instant thermometer (insert on bottom surface) to check its internal temperature. (Mine had been put in the oven while still pretty cold and after 55 minutes, its internal temperature still hadn't reach 200 F/93 C)
  21. If necessary, let bake another 10 minutes on 335 F/168C) until the bread's internal temperature reaches 204 F/96 C
  22. Take the bread out of the oven and let it cool on a rack. It'll take a while but it's well worth the wait...
As always, the loaf has been submitted to Susan, from Wild Yeast, for her weekly Yeastpotting feature. I can't thank Susan enough for her beautiful, instructive and fun blog and for the kindness with which she displays other bakers' work. If you haven't visited Wild Yeast yet, you are in for a BIG treat! Enjoy!


  1. MC, that is one beautiful-looking bread! Too bad I can't taste a piece. I'm going to have to get to work on that web-sampling technology! :)

  2. Beautiful bread, I agree with Steve (but who would'nt?!). If only you could save a little piece I could taste in June, when you'll be in France!
    PS : are dried plums and prunes and pruneaux the same?

  3. Thank you, Steve and Flo! How I wish I could set up a tasting booth on Farine!
    And yes, Flo, dried plums = prunes = pruneaux (in French). It's just that prunes don't sell unless they are called dried plums. So dried plums are what they are. :-)
    In all fairness I have to say these moist and delicious fruit have nothing in common (except maybe the color) with the pruneaux I remember from my childhood. For more info on our dried plums, take a look at this website:

  4. MC, I am never disappointed when I visit your blog! I get such inspiration here. Thanks so much for the kind words also, and thanks for sending this lovely bread to YeastSpotting.

  5. Bonjour!
    Wow! That is a stunning loaf of bread. Thanks for posting it. Merci. Je voudrais faire quelque chose comme ca!

    Happy baking,
    Heather/Flour Girl

  6. Beautiful loaf, and it sounds delicious with the orange peel and dried plums!

  7. This is such a lovely looking bread. There is so much to be learned here. have a good weekend.

  8. I love your story of how you came to make this bread - and it is a real beauty.
    J'irai voir ton autre blog maintenant! Bis!

  9. So very pretty, and I'm sure it tastes as wonderful as it looks. I am curious to know what you used to do the stenciling?

  10. Susan, where would we all be without YeastSpotting? Thank you so much for showcasing our work each week alongside with your beautiful loaves!
    Heather, it isn't really that complicated. You start getting ready for a yeast bread, have a change of heart mid-way into it and here you go! A new bread...
    Lisa, thank you. Yes, it was really tasty. Wish it'd be easier to share over the Web
    Shelly, merci de venir me voir et sur Bombance et sur Farine !
    SulaBlue, hello and thanks for your kind words. For this loaf, I used a round cake cooling rack. I had to look around a lot to find one with that particular pattern (I had seen breads stenciled with it before and thought them lovely). I am sure other cooling racks with different patterns would be great too.



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