The Metrification of Panera’s Country White Bread Loaf

My daughter-in-law gave me a copy of “The Panera Bread Cookbook”  for Christmas a few years ago. Panera is a very popular American Bakery-Café, and much to my surprise I discovered that Peter Reinhart wrote the book’s Foreward for it. He entitled his contribution “Building a Bread Culture in America”. Much of what he wrote is his own take on the ancient and modern history of bread, grain, and cultures — not leavening but bread culture as in cafe culture. This is what caught my imagination, because I have developed a small but close group of friends who love baking bread — the magic of it, the thrill of watching it rise and spring and crunch and return the affection that we impart on it as we knead and shape the dough. Reinhart’s Foreward sent me quickly into the recipes with a hopeful and excited heart. The recipes were all in US measures: Fahrenheit, cups and ounces. Should have known.

So it’s taken me nearly 2-years (to find the time) to convert this recipe from US volume measurement to metric so that I knew what I was doing, not that I have any better clue for having done so. Conversions were done with the help of a calculator and my husband who double-checked the baker’s percentages for me. There are also ingredients in the recipe that I can’t obtain in the UK without paying through the nose…and since my nose is slightly stuffed at the moment, I can say without fear of exaggeration, ‘you can stuff that’.

Here are the substitutions: I switched vegetable shortening for the same weight in half olive oil or half rapeseed oil. The latter gave the loaf a slight and subtle warm colour. I’m sure that using all olive oil would work fine. I also substituted the clover honey for the same weight in agave nectar (issues with low GI requirements). In addition to the recipe’s starter, which isn’t really a starter but a poolish, I had 50g of leftover Sedrick (my ‘real’ sourdough starter) that I removed from the jar on feeding. I used that for flavour, but whatever addition Sedrick might have contributed, it wasn’t in flavour. Couldn’t taste him at all. I suspect his contribution was entirely leavening as this loaf had gravity-defying oven spring. And then there was the usual problem of finding fresh yeast. I substituted fresh yeast for dry active yeast. I’m apt to try less commercial yeast next time.

One last thing. The recipes in this book are written for stand-mixers. This is the first time that I’ve made bread using an electric stand-mixer with a dough hook attached. I’m not sure that I like it. I have no feel for what the dough is doing, no feel for gluten development — it’s all visual rather than touchy-feely. I’m a touchy-feely type of baker. My silver-colour Kenwood did precisely as required but I just think I’m happier making bread by hand. It was darned fast though.

I fed Sedrick a bit to give him some oomph, and let him sit for a couple of hours until he bubbled and bounced like my boy always does. The poolish, or starter as Panera calls it, only ferments for 30-minutes. That surprised me because I thought it would need longer but in 30-minutes it was definitely ready. Another step in the method that surprised me was the short proving time — just two stints of 30-minutes each time. It’s all very different from how I learnt using Dan Lepard’s method but there’s no doubt that Panera’s methods work. Good flavour, good proving rise, excellent oven spring. I gave the round boule to my J. (youngest son) and his partner; they ate the whole thing with tuna fish for dinner. Crumbs. I kept the bâtard shaped loaf, and P. (hubby) and I enjoyed a slice before bed.

This is not a sourdough loaf with big open crumb and holes. It’s a light and very flavoursome white loaf with a hint of sweetness from the agave nectar/honey. It suited mature cheddar cheese and a cup of Earl Grey very nicely.

Panera’s Country White Bread

237g Warm Water
1 teaspoon Active Dry Yeast (or 2 t. fresh yeast)
138g Plain Flour

163g Warm Water
3 tablespoons Clover Honey or Agave Nectar
2 teaspoons Active Dry Yeast (or 4 t. fresh yeast)
56g vegetable Shortening (I used olive oil)
624g Strong White Bread Flour
1 tablespoon Fine Salt
50g Sourdough Starter
The Poolish

Make the poolish first: In a medium bowl, mix the warm water and yeast together, stir well. Wait until it foams, and then add the flour. Stir it all well, and then cover the bowl with a cloth. Allow the poolish to ferment in the bowl at room temperature for 30-minutes. The first photo is Sedrick, and the second photo is the poolish.

After 20-minutes, start making the dough by mixing the honey, warm water and yeast in the bowl of a stand-mixer. Stir well to dissolve the yeast, and wait until the yeast covers the top of the water with foam (5-8 minutes). Add the shortening/olive oil, flour, salt, the poolish and sourdough starter (if using). Mix at minimum speed until the ingredients start to combine, and then switch from a paddle attachment to the dough hook, and continue mixing for 2 minutes. Test the gluten development by pricking off a piece of dough and stretching it slowly for a gluten ‘windowpane’ to appear — if it quickly tears, mix for another 1 or 2-minutes. Test again. That should be enough; be careful not to over-knead.

Scrape the dough on to your work surface, and cut it into two pieces that weigh 624g each. Roll each piece into a small round, and then place each one in an oiled bowl that’s covered with a damp tea towel for 30-minutes. Alternatively, you can let it rest on your work surface covered with an oiled piece of cling film.

Turn on the oven, and preheat it to 400F/200C, and a metal roasting tray at the bottom of the oven. This will produce steam when the bread bakes. Just put the empty tray in the oven for now, without water.

Remove the proved rounds of dough from their bowls on to a lightly floured surface, give them a quick knead or two, and shape into loaves or into tins. Cover again with a warm, damp cloth at room temperature for 30-minutes to prove.

Five-minutes before the proving time is complete put the kettle on to boil, and then fill the searing hot tray at the bottom of the oven with boiling water. Careful – it will spit steam at you. Quickly close the oven door so that the steam doesn’t escape.

Slash the loaves with a sharp knife, spray lightly with a mist of water, and then bake for 30-45 minutes until the crust is golden brown. During the first 10-minutes of baking, spray with loaves with a fine mist every 5 minutes. Do not spray the sides of the oven as this will reduce the oven temperature — just mist the loaves. This will keep the crust moist and pliable, thereby allowing better oven spring (so I’ve read somewhere but can’t remember where now. If it was ‘you’, thank for the brilliant tip!).

An internal temperature test indicated that this loaf was done way before it actually was, so don’t trust the thermometer test on this one. Instead, rap the bottom of loaf for a hollow, echo sound to test for doneness.  (Note: I allowed the loaves to cool while sitting in the oven with the door fully opened as the crust started to soften almost immediately.)

Allow to cool at room temperature for at least 30-minutes before slicing into the loaf.


8 Comments Add yours

  1. emilydev9 says:

    Nice loaf, nice compromise between yeasted and sourdough! I kind of like Panera; for a chain, they do have quite decent bread. I imagine it’s centrally baked and distributed.

    1. Misk Cooks says:

      The Panera in Pittsburgh bakes on-site. My daughter-in-law and I used to go down there first thing in the morning when I visited for our brekkie treats. Even Panera’s sourdough isn’t what we consider the real thing – not like what you’d buy in San Francisco as an example. They do make a yummy sandwich though! And their soup! Oh yum!

  2. ceciliag says:

    I have noidea of the technical side, (we all know that) and your loaves look FANTASTIC! I am still learning how to make a sourdough loaf.. with one in the oven right now.. you made gorgeous bread and well done with all the mathematical trickery! c

    1. Misk Cooks says:

      Hi Cecilia! I am also new to sourdough, and baking bread for that matter. I always thought it was beyond my abilities. But all I can say is that if I can do it anyone can! I’m not always successful, and I certainly don’t boast about those loaves that go waaay wrong. LOL! I hope to see your loaves soon, as I love exchanging info and experiences about baking bread. I had help with the maths; numbers are I are like chalk and cheese. Happily, my hubby is numerical whiz.

  3. Joanna says:

    Lovely looking loaf Misk! You shape some of the most perfect boules I have ever seen 🙂 That’s a fair bit of yeast in there, no wonder it was a speedy rise. Start to finish how long does the whole thing take?

    I always thought a poolish was made with equal amounts of water and flour and a teeny tiny bit of yeast and left over night to rise, but your Panera book must use the term differently, presumably reflecting what they do in their bakery. It is one of the great frustrations for me of reading too many bread books, that they all use these words differently. It reminds me of Lewis Carol sometimes and that Humpty Dumpty character…

    1. Misk Cooks says:

      Start to finished was just under 3 hours (mixing, kneading, rising, baking, and walking the dog). Fastest loaf I’ve ever produced. You would think it would be bland with such a short rising time (2x30mins) but it’s actually a very tasty loaf. I’m still surprised by it.

      Panera’s definition of poolish seems to be any method of fermenting part of the recipe’s total flour and water (and yeast in this case). The old 2006 No-Knead Bread recipe from the NYTimes was actually a form of poolish, although the entire recipe was fermented rather than a portion of it. Now, that’s a very tasty loaf, the No-Knead one that bakes in a cast iron pot. I’ve yet to meet anyone who doesn’t like the taste produced from that recipe.

      I just bought Hugh’s Bread book. Do you have that one?

      Have you ever tried that NY Times recipe?

  4. Joanna says:

    I have Hugh’s bread book but am yet to bake anything from it…

    I’ve never baked the NYTimes bread either, though I have experimented with pot baking in the past. There are so many hundreds of bread recipes out there, and I am still working my way through the Hamelman project and I have missed quite a few of those out in the last few months. Maybe my enthusiasm for baking different recipes all the time is waning. We’ll see 😀

    1. Misk Cooks says:

      Peder looked at the heel-end of the loaf on Saturday, and then asked “Are you going to bake another of this one?” That’s why I’ve never considered taking on something like the Hamelman project because Peder likes what he likes, and if he’s not enchanted with it he usually won’t eat it. Oh, he’ll have a slice or two, but then the rest of loaf is left in the freezer or for me to finish off. He really likes Dan’s sourdough, the Vermont sourdough, the No Knead (a lot!), and the Panera Country White. The rye and spelt mix boule was a success the first time that I made it, but not so much the next time. I loved your cheese and bacon but ended up eating most of it myself. So it comes to the point where you have to cut your losses, and just make what you know will be eaten.

      I want to make Dan’s Saffron Loaf that was in the Guardian a few weeks ago. Looks interesting. Have to buy some saffron though.

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