Taste test: Country-Style Miche

Michael London, Cindy Corbett

Michael and Cindy at our miche taste test

A miche is a rustic loaf made with levain and flour that has retained most of its outer coating of bran and aleurones. Its most distinctive feature is its volume: the typical miche is 4 pounds or more and spreads out in the oven to the size of your head or bigger. The taste is intensely “wheaty” and it gets better (and more sour) as the days pass and easily lasts for a week or more.

The flour of choice for a miche is “high extraction” flour which has had some of its bran and germ removed, but retained 85% of the original amount. (Whole wheat is 100% extraction, meaning no bran and germ have been removed.) But high extraction flours are pretty hard to come by so I wanted to explore some options. One was a mix of 40% whole wheat and 60% bread flour that approximates 85% extraction. (Bread flour is 70% extraction, so this formula actually yields 84% extraction overall.)


Preferment after overnight rise

In addition, I wanted to compare a miche made with high extraction flour to a miche made with First Clear flour. First Clear is a completely different animal consisting of flour after the whitest part of the endosperm (the nutritional center of the grain) has been removed; it’s the flour traditionally used for Jewish ryes in a culture where pure white flours were highly prized and this was what was left over. I was fascinated by some conversations on The Fresh Loaf, a bakers’ blog, where First Clear and High Extraction are sometimes described as interchangeable. Composition wise they’re not—to quote Martin Phillip, a King Arthur baker who provided technical support on this project, they’re “apples and oranges”* —but could the taste be anything similar?

Fully proofed loaf

Fully proofed loaf in banneton; the dots were used to tell them apart.

I started with Jeffrey Hamelman and James McGuire’s “Miche, Point-à-Callière”, a recipe in Hamelman’s classic Bread, but followed some modifications made by Jeffrey when my class baked it with him, and another modification suggested by Martin Philip. I’ll publish this recipe separately. It calls for an overnight preferment with the dough prepared the next day so everything happens pretty quickly. As with my kettle bread, I baked the loaves in 5-qt cast iron dutch ovens. All the flours were from King Arthur.

We waited two days for the tasting which was conducted at Max London’s, a well regarded local restaurant here in Saratoga Springs. My tasters were Michael London, a renowned baker and owner of Max’s as well as Mrs. London’s bakery next door, and Cindy Corbett, an accomplished home baker with a wood fired oven (that’s how we met, at a WFO class at King Arthur) who describes herself as “also a a practicing chocolatier and now pizzaiola (in warm months only)!”

Finished miches in dutch ovens

Finished miches in dutch ovens

The loaves were sliced for the first time during our testing, and tasted plain and with available butter. Michael first tasted the First Clear loaf and felt the texture was “gummy”—too much moisture! But in the end he liked the taste of this one best and commented it may be the moisture helped concentrate the flavor. (Moisture is also why it has such excellent keeping qualities.) He also commented favorably on the nose of all three loaves.

Left to right: First Clear, hybrid, High-X

Left to right: First Clear, hybrid, High-X

Cindy preferred the High Extraction, as did I. It has a wonderful nutty aroma and strong wheaty taste. The BF/WWF combination, which would be the only option available to most home bakers, looked very similar to the others in color and crumb but was a notch down in flavor, unfortunately. But if this was the only way you could make a high-extraction miche, I expect you’d be very satisfied.

Michael had a few other thoughts and tips for us. In his baking, he uses only KA organic flours because he knows they’re free of asbestos, insecticides and bromates and also “organic flour is going to be more lively when you mix it.” (For my bake, only the Hi-X was organic.) He complimented the salt level and mentioned that 90% of the breads he tastes lack sufficient salt. He recommended I switch to sel gris from Normandy which is what he uses exclusively–with only four ingredients, why use anything but the best for your salt?

Michael London

Michael London shared some of his own bread for comparison.

In the next few days, I continued to taste the First Clear and High Extraction side by side and they became even more similar to the point I really couldn’t tell them apart. Maybe it’s because all these loaves were made with the same North Dakota wheat, grown and harvested at the same time and then processed into different configurations.

I’m going to do a follow-up test with KAF High-Extraction against Central Milling Type 85 Malted, a very different High-X that is praised by bakers. When I do that I’ll reduce the size of the loaves by 25% to fit my dutch ovens better and see if that solves Michael’s gumminess problem (assuming is indeed a problem, and not just a characteristic of this 78% hydration formula). Stay tuned.

UPDATE: this post has been updated to correct the math regarding the WWF/BF blend.

* Specifically, he wrote me: In terms of comparing Type 110 with an ~85% extraction rate [i.e. High Extraction Flour] to First Clear which lacks the patent portion would be to compare apples and oranges at least from a functional standpoint (the patent portion contains the highest quality protein in the endosperm).
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