Friday, March 30, 2012

Pissaladièr: A Bakers Philosophy

This is what I listened to during this post, and I would like to spread the joy, like melting plugra on warm toast. (It makes no difference, Danko's voice will melt your heart!)

You might find this a bit absurd but I love this bread for the same reason that I love The Band. Both contain a wonderful balance of simplicity, intricacy and harmony. This is a bread that I have come back to time and time again and I love it. It has the wonderful taste of caramelized onions, a mild flavor, great texture from the whole wheat flour and excellent crust development due to the high amount of surface area. I have baked this bread at least five times in the last year, but this is the first time I have baked it since I made my New Year's resolution. I am very excited about it.

I always find caramelizing onions to be a transformative and spiritual experience. I love watching the starches in the onions slowly being transformed into sugars. Watching as the white onion slowly turns into the color of wet autumn leaves is pure bliss. The smell that is released, is something that I associate with joy. I come from a long line of onion caramelizers. My Grammy Shanie's oatmeal stuffing combines an obscene amount onions which are caramelized in chicken fat for a very long time. Oatmeal and flour is then added with a bit of salt and chicken stock to create one of my favorite foods in the world. In the words of John Steinbeck "It is a roof over the stomach, a warm cloak against economic cold". The smell of those onions cooking just brings be back to my childhood, and it is a real joy. Onions are truly the pillar of my cuisine, I would be a lost cook without them. Onions are the roots of the tree of my soul.

This bread is made with a Pate Fermente, which means that a very small piece of dough is prepared the night before (salt included). If you are baking everyday, you can simply save a portion of the previous day's dough. Hamelman uses this technique a lot. It is a bit more difficult to mix a Pate Fermente than it is to mix a biga or a poolish. Pate Fermentes are typically very sticky. They are hydrated somewhere in between a biga and a poolish. They taste much more like a finished dough due to the presence of the salt.

Here is a photo of the Pate Fermente after 12 hours of development. Due to the salt, it did not rise very much, but it did achieve wonderful gluten as you can tell from this photograph. 
The gluten development in the Pate Fermente

Like Hamelman's Pizza Dough, this formula contains a small amount of olive oil. It is important that you do not add this olive oil until the mixer is increased to second speed. Also, due to the presence of the oil, the dough is mixed on second speed for 6 plus minutes. The oil tends to form a film around the dough, and the dough slips around. The additional three minutes is absolutely necessary for the dough to come together. Note that we use an addfitional mixing technique here: The pate fermente is added in chunks once the dough begins to come together in the mixing bowl. This helps to ensure that the preferment is distributed throughout the dough. 

Once the mixing is complete the dough receives two hours of bulk fermentation with a fold after one hour. There will be wonderful gluten development, but the fold is necessary because of the oil in the dough. This same practice is used when making pizza dough. I did not take a picture of this fold, but I want you to know that the dough was very soft and loose, with a wonderful aroma. I am excited that I will be eating this wonderful bread tonight. 

Just out of the mixing bowl
I would like to share a few notes on the preparation of the onions. The onions are Julienne. I find that the easiest way to do this is to cut the ends off of the onion and then slice the onion in half from point to point. Remove the skin and place one half of the onion flat side down on the counter and slice as thinly as possible (without bleeding). It is sometimes helpful to come in at an angle, following the natural lines that are present on an onion. The onions are then cooked in a small amount of olive oil. I find that a medium low heat for about 30 minutes while stirring gets the best results. After about twenty minutes, season them with a pinch of fresh thyme and salt and pepper. Remove the onions from the heat and allow them to cool completely. I typically cook onions much longer than this, but remember: this is eventually going to be baked at close to 500 degrees and we do not want the onions to carbonize now, do we?!

After the bulk fermentation is complete, the dough is allowed to rest for twenty minutes. Then it is shaped into a rough circle and rolled out with a rolling pin on a floured bench. This is then covered with the sautéed onion mixture. It is then allowed to rise for an additional 20 minutes. The Pissaladièr is then baked until it is done. IMPORTANT NOTE: Baking time will vary tremendously from oven to oven, so remember to watch it very closely!

This one will make you happy! Trust Me! I know these things!! On a personal note, I would like to thank Jeffrey Hamelman for this formula because it makes me tremendously joyful. I am going to be eating this one with a Roasted onion and caramelized Apricot and Red Lentil Soup. I encourage any of the readers who have tried this soup to comment. It is one of my favorite things to make..... and to eat!

Breakfast the next day:
Slice of Pissaladier with a poached egg and fresh thyme

Philosophical Note:
I am a cook for two reasons. First because I am able to communicate with food and second because I truly love feeding people. After putting my heart and soul into preparing food and then being able to share that food with someone I care about, or am close with is to me the meaning of life. Food is such an emotional and cultural enterprise. It sustains me. It sustains us. It keeps us going! It keeps us alive! Being able to share that sustenance with another is such a powerful and heartwarming feeling. I was able to do that last night, and it made my week. 

Remember to leave an 1" of crust around the onions, this allows the crust to rise and almost trap the onions in the center, it also creates a wonderful crust.

To my readers, keep on reading
To my bakers, keep on baking
To my eaters, keep on eating



  1. Replies
    1. Allison, it always great to move you musically! We share musical minds, there is not a Dylan or a The Band song that does not make me think of our musical conversation in Ohio!

  2. As one of those who have eaten the lentil soup, I will say that it's the kind of soup you could easily end up eating the whole pot in one sitting! It's Armenian style and has apricots in it, which gives it a sweet tanginess that sets up the lentils so well. And the color is just fabulous!

    1. It is a personal family favorite! We especially love it on Sukkot, the Jewish Harvest festival in autumn, which takes place right around the time of the barley harvest and the late wheat harvest!