Friday, August 3, 2012

Gérard Rubaud's Apprentice Loaf

The Apprentice Loaf is Gérard Rubaud's teaching bread. He has developed the formula in collaboration with two of his former apprentices, Trenton and Justin, largely in response to customers' request for more whole grains. It is still a work in progress (what isn't with Gérard anyway?): his parting recommendation to me when I left was to adjust the hydration down.
The picture above is of one of the loaves I made at home based on the formula. Gérard wouldn't have given it his quality control stamp as he doesn't do grignes (the ears in the crust): his customers eat his bread mostly for breakfast and in sandwiches and grignes get in the way. Plus he himself doesn't like the hard bite or the concentrated taste. So he always scores his bread shallowly and at a sharp angle. I am the opposite: I adore anything crusty: grignes, quignons (bread endings), etc. Since my only "customers" are family and friends, there is enough of both textures in any given loaf to satisfy everybody!
To my mortification, I forgot to take a picture of the loaves Justin kindly gave me for my grandchildren  (they were not to be sold and he had enough for himself and his friends). When I reached my daughter's house, the kids -who are huge bread fans- were so happy to see my load of loaves (and hopefully me as well) that I forgot all about photography! When I remembered the day after, there was still a half-loaf left and I took this shot of the crumb.
Neither Justin nor Gérard were satisfied with this batch: the loaves were overhydrated and as you can see, they didn't get enough of an oven rise. I used a tad less water and my crumb came out a bit tight (see shot below). 
I'll keep working on it until I get it right. Meanwhile my little grandkids pronounced my loaves to be even better than the apprentice's (Sorry, Justin! They are seven- and five year-old and a fiercely loyal bunch. I am sure that if they had met you, they would have said both our breads were equally good.). As it is, the seven-year old granddaughter said: "Wow! This is so good. The best bread ever. As good as an artichoke!". Since artichokes are her favorite food in the world, I consider it a huge compliment.
And truly the bread is good. Spelt tastes endearingly sweet almost as if a dollop of fragrant honey had been added to the dough during the mixing, a practice which Gérard (who despises adding to bread dough anything but the -very- occasional walnut, olive or flax seed) definitely wouldn't condone.
Gérard's Apprentice Loaf Formula
  • 76% unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 24% freshly milled whole spelt
  • 82% water (to be adjusted as needed)
  • 2 to 2.6% salt (according to taste)
  • 17% levain at 58% hydration (percentage to be increased in the winter as needed)
My adaptation of the formula

Ingredients: (for four loaves scaled raw at 627 g) 
  • 1028 g unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 252 g whole spelt (I used freshly milled as does Gérard)
  • 972 g water (Gérard uses all of the water for the autolyse but I like to reserve about 50 g in order to adjust the hydration later as needed. So I used about 900 g+ for the autolyse and added the rest as I mixed. This may vary each time I make the bread as it depends on the flours, the weather, the temperature, etc.)
  • 31 g salt
  • 253 g mature levain at 58% hydration
Method: (this dough was mixed by hand)
  1. Mix both flours with the water until the flour is completely hydrated and let rest, covered, for about 40 minutes
  2. Add levain to the autolysed dough and hand mix until incorporated (Gérard recommends pulling long filaments off the levain instead of cutting off chunks as they incorporate much more easily. Not only did I follow his recommendation but I placed these long pieces of levain on top of the dough during the autolyse, so that everything would be exactly at the same temperature. It worked beautifully but I got a surprise: the dough actually swelled up as it usually never does in the absence of a leavening agent and I can only think that some of the wild yeasts from the levain transferred to it even without mixing. Which means that it wasn't a real autolyse...)
  3. Add the salt
  4. Mix until incorporated and adjust the hydration as needed
  5. Cover and leave to ferment for 4 to 6 hours or more (depending on room temperature), giving the dough a few folds as needed
  6. Scale at 627 g and pre-shape as a boule
  7. Let rest, covered, for 20 to 30 minutes (again depending on room temperature)
  8. Shape as a batard
  9. Let proof about one hour or until the dough stops bouncing back under the gentle pressure of two fingers
  10. Bake with steam in pre-heated oven (470°F/243°C for 10 minutes then lower the oven temperature to 450°F/232°C and continue baking for another 20 to 25 minutes, turning the loaves half-way through to ensure even baking (again these temperatures are given solely as an indication. I am spending the summer in a little cabin where the oven is small, very old and rather weak and I have to crank it up to the max to get a rise out of my bread. I actually set it on 500°F+  for the initial 10 minutes and on 470°F for the remaining 20 minutes or so but, from past experience with my regular home oven, I would say 470° F and 450°F should do the trick. If your oven is very efficient however, these temperatures might need to be adjusted down).
  11. Cool on a rack.
  12. Enjoy!

Gérard Rubaud's Apprentice Loaf is going to Susan from Wild Yeast for her weekly edition of Yeastspotting.

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  1. Another beautiful post, MC!
    How does this compare, in your opinion, with the original GR formula?

  2. Thank you, ml! I would say the flavor is a bit milder than the original GR formula (the rustic batard) which remains my all-time favorite, probably because of the freshly ground rye which adds another level of flavor and complexity. But as spelt breads go, it is excellent and I can see why Gérard's customers rave about it. Of course it is "powered' by the same fantastically aromatic levain which requires a passion and dedication most of us would have difficulty marshaling, let alone sustaining...

  3. Hi MC,
    Hope your baking vacation is going well!
    Can you tell me the ingredients used in the Apprentice loaf, & what you used in your levain?

  4. Oops! I meant what is the makeup of the levain in both breads ;)

  5. Hi ml, I am not sure what you mean by both breads. Anyway I currently have two levains and as long as the weather remains hot, I'll keep them on a white flour diet so that they don't ferment too fast. Proportions: for the liquid one, 50 g starter, 100 g water and 100 g flour; for the firm one, 50 g starter, 58 g water and 100 g flour. When it is really really hot, I also add a pinch of salt to both. They get fed twice a day and remain on the counter around the clock (that's when I bake a lot. When I don't, they go in and out of the fridge on a 48-hour basis). Hope this helps!

  6. I love grignes, too! I like the look and that its so crunchy.
    The formula sounds very good. I love the fact that it contains spelt and no rye, because I try to avoid rye at the moment to allow my poor skin to recover after baking / eating brad with rye to often in the last month (I know that I should stay away from the stuff, but sometimes I can not resist).
    Your grandchildren are really sweet :-)

  7. Hello, Stefanie, thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment. I am intrigued by what you say of the effect of rye in your diet. I have always heard and read that rye is one of the healthiest whole grains as it is high in phytase (the enzyme which neutralizes phytic acid). What symptoms are you encountering? If you had time to tell me more, I would love to hear it (you can email me at as I am very interested in nutrition in general and whole grains in particular. Thank you!



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