Sunday, November 29, 2009

A Miche is Born...

A link to this video has been posted on The Fresh Loaf a couple of times but I only saw it today. I thought it was too neat not to post it on Farine as well. For a quick recap of who Max Poilâne is, click here. Since my mother now lives close to a Poilâne bakery in the 15h arrondissement of Paris (do click on the link if you have time, it'll take you to a virtual bakery that looks exactly like the one I know), I have had plenty of opportunities over the past few years to sample its miche, currant rye, walnut rye and other baked goods (which, dare I confess it? I find okay but not as overwhelmingly delicious as the Poilâne reputation would lead one to believe) but I have yet to taste a Max Poilâne loaf. I'll put that on my (evergrowing) list of Things to Do in Paris When Visiting My Mom and report back. The Max Poilâne website is under construction but if you go check it out, you'll see a nostalgic rendition of an itinerant baker walking towards a mill alongside his donkey (is it a mule?). The bag on the donkey/mule's back is probably the one where he keeps his firm levain, deeply buried in flour. The picture sent me back to a little look I found at a book fair a couple of years ago, Confessions of a French baker by Peter Mayle and Gerard Auzet. Baker Auzet reminisces about his great-grandfather: "He was a traveling baker, making his way along the backcountry roads from farm to farm and village to village throughout the Luberon with his mule and his cart. By his side was a large jug filled with eau de vie to ward off the chill of the winter mistral, and a generous supply of precious and all-important levain. [...] With his levain and his skill, Great-grandfather Auzet would stop at each farm on his route, and turn the farmer's flour into a batch of bread before moving on to his next call. In villages, he would use the communal oven. Wherever he went, he brought un peu de bonheur, leaving behind him a trail of warm and aromatic kitchens. Not surprisingly, he was a wecome visitor". "Eau de vie" is moonshine and "un peu de bonheur", a little bit of happiness. The jug of moonshine isn't apparent on the Max Poilâne picture but the baker does look happy and, hey, what's not to like when your job is to wander through Provence creating fragrant loaves whereever you go, especially if you are lucky enough to have a donkey or a mule to lug the heavy stuff?


  1. I have tasted the Max Poilane's Miche in Lyon. It's really amazing! It had a complex sour flavor, far beyond my sourdough bread :(
    Every time I bake I hope to get something close to that miche. I'm going to think the key is the T80 stone grounded flour. Maybe one day ...

  2. Hello, Giovanni, now you really make me want to try it for myself!
    Re: the aromas. Gerard Rubaud would tell you that, yes, the flour is very important and that it is the reason why he grinds a portion of his grains before each feeding of the levain and each final batch as well. But the frequent feeding of the beasties and the temperature at which they are kept all have an impact too. I have already resigned myself to the fact that I will never be in a position to feed my levain every 5 hours as he does. So the best I can shoot for is a fraction of the aromas he gets...

  3. I never had Max Poilane's miche, but I am obsessed by the miche! It's such an honest and austere country loaf, always good for a tartine, always good with cheese or ham, saucisson! Often I write or photograph my favorite miche and will continue to do so, thanks for your wonderful post!


  4. what is that little thing they add while pre-shaping

  5. @Jeremy, the miche isn't my favorite bread but I can understand how someone can go wild about it. It is a majestic bread (the word I'd use in French would be "auguste"), rich with the lore and fervor of the old days.
    @Anonymous, the "little thing" is a piece of surplus dough the baker took off the previous loaf because it would have been too heavy.

  6. Hi MC

    Re: To feed a levain every 5 hours

    Do you not think all that you would get from such frequent feeding is a levain that is very active and robust, but perhaps a bit "flavour-less"? I heard sometimes to get a very "sour" levain, bakers even put their ripe levain into the fridge for a day before using it to build their dough. To my way of thinking, two feedings a day seem like plenty, which I can't even keep up.

    But then again, I am not very experienced when it comes to "levain." I haven't explored all the possiblities with a levain.

    The video is very interesting. Thank you, MC, for putting it up here. Poilane is a name that all aspiring artisan bakers want to know about. Very interesting post.

  7. Hi, Shiao-Ping, I could never feed my levain every 5 hours (first of all, I wouldn't be able to plan on being home every 5 hours, much less, set the alarm clock in the middle of the night) but that's the schedule adopted by Gerard Rubaud (the French baker I visited in Vermont) and let me tell you, his levain is so aromatic it makes my head spin just to sniff it... More about his technique next week as I am going back to see him (weather permitting).

  8. Hi MC
    Goodness me - it made your head spin! I would take your word for it.

  9. MC
    I read your Gerard Rubaud post yesterday, a most beautiful story!
    I just had an idea. 24 divided by 5 = 4.8 times a day. The 5 hours feeding is not a rigid time schedule, right? depending on the weather, the room temperature, etc? It would be more like 5 - 6 hours a feed; would that be correct??



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