Sunday, February 16, 2020

A French Regional Bread with the Babes

Books are an amazing thing. Each one has a whole world within. They can capture your interest and take you places you never imagined. This is particularly true of fiction, but even non-fiction can surprise you. Recently I came across a book in a bookstore, saw the photo above in it, and that renewed my interest in bread baking.

Now if you have been reading this blog for a while you probably think, "What do you mean renew your interest in bread always seem to have an interest in it?" Well, it looks that way but in truth I had even considered no longer baking bread. Sweetie has no resistance to freshly baked bread and it adds pounds he is not interested in. I don't need those calories either. How many more new breads are there, anyway? The book answered that last question...and surprised me with a whole lot more new breads and new techniques and shaping methods. For my birthday my thoughtful daughter and her Sweetie gifted me with an amazing book that must weigh ten pounds and that will undoubtedly inspire me further (plus I learn new things about bread each time I open it!) More on that in another post. Let's look at today's bread.

So the bookstore book is called French Regional Breads by Mouette Barboff and, since I am Kitchen of the Month, I chose the corkscrew bread for the Babes to bake this month. It's official French name is Pain Tordu and there are two versions in the book, one that is traditionally baked in the region of Ger and another baked in and around Lot-et-Garonne.

The romantic in me likes the idea of a February bread that looks like two lovers twisted around each other. The bread baker loves the idea of a bread that has a lot of crust!

Le Tordu Du Gers et De Gascogne is a twisted bread, likely from the old provinces of Gascony and Guyenne, now in the Lot-et-Garonne. It owes its name to the fact that it is twisted into a corkscrew shape. To obtain this shape, the bread baker uses a wooden rolling pin (or their arm! for really large loaves) to depress the shaped dough down the center, creating two parallel long rolls of dough linked by a thin film of dough that aids the twisting process. You twist it by holding the dough at both ends, and twist, as though wringing out a wet towel. The tordu is described as having two, three or four grignes (little lips of raised crust) according to the number of twists it's given before being set to rise. The crumb is a creamy color, very honeycombed and elastic (although my bread ended up without honeycombs to speak of). The bread is made with a sourdough starter and has a good wheaty flavor.

Because the dough is fermented, the loaf keeps for a long time. "The five-pound pain tordu was what people on farms used to eat after the war; there were a lot of large families and people ate a lot of bread, In the morning we used to cut it into small pieces and dip it in the vegetable soup.
At 10 o'clock we would eat it as a snack in the fields; and we would eat it with our midday meal and again in the evening. At tea time, my friends and I used to love it rubbed with garlic, sprinkled with salt and dipped in groundnut oil, since in our region olive oil didn't exist."

Pain tordu has more crust than other shapes of loaf. Not only is it dipped in the morning soup, but it's taken into the fields for the mid-morning snack with cold meat, sausage or ham. Big slices are cut and spread with butter for the children at tea time. It is eaten with poultry, with duck, including with roast duck and duck confit, and with goose confit.

All of the information about this bread and the recipe come from the book French Regional Bread by Mouette Barboff. The book is published with support of four independent flour mills to champion the values of craftsmanship, of craft baking, of localism, and of the preservation and transmission of traditional skills and expertise, and is a salute to the rich and fascinating history of the crafts of bread baking and flour milling.

The challenge here, beyond the twisting of the dough, is taking a recipe meant for commercial production and making it work for home baking. Elizabeth of blog from OUR kitchen kindly re-sized the quantities. I used the smaller of her amounts and it made about a 1 kg loaf that was about 15" long. I used a supported couche to proof it and laid in on a piece of parchment, crosswise, on a rectangular baking stone to bake it. Crushed ice went into a preheated pan on the rack right under the stone for steam.

You'll surely want to be a Buddy this month, these long, twisty breads are so delicious! Just make the  loaves (see above for your two choices for the loaves, and instructions), then email your link ( or email your photo and bit about your experience if you don't have a blog) to plachman *at*sonic*dot*net and please add as your subject 'BBBuddy'. I will send you a Buddy badge. Deadline? March 1.

Also, be sure to visit the other Bread Baking Babes blogs to see which variation they chose (or perhaps they have another variation!).

A Messy Kitchen - Amazing Crusts and shaping. HERE
blog from OUR kitchen - Humorous and detailed write up and interesting shape. HERE
Bread Experience - Shaping Photos and a proofing conundrum. HERE
Judy's Gross Eats - Four variations! HERE
Karen's Kitchen Stories - Great oven spring and crust from using a bright red baker. HERE
My Kitchen in Half Cups - Three variations on this corkscrew bread, with rye. HERE

Mine had a nice shape, although the twists had merged together during the final rise (which was an hour, not 10!). It also had a nice crust. The end was so hard that Sweetie cracked a tooth! Not the best thing to say about a bread, but be warned. The rest of the crust wasn't nearly as hard. I used some of this loaf for grilled turkey sandwiches and they were superb.

Le Pain Tordu as made in the Lot-et-Garonne
(for 2 large Corkscrew breads)

1000 grams strong white bread flour (Type 55)
600 milliliters (approximately) water
6 grams yeast [I'm guessing this is dry yeast]
20 grams salt
250 grams levain (sourdough starter) [25% of the amount of flour]

Le Pain Tordu as made in the Lot-et-Garonne
(for 1 large Corkscrew breads)

500 grams strong white bread flour (Type 55)
300 milliliters (approximately) water
3 grams yeast [I'm guessing this is dry yeast]
10 grams salt
125 grams levain (sourdough starter) [25% of the amount of flour]

This bread is white, has a long fermentation and contains very little yeast. The quantity of flour is always the same, but the amount of water depends on the absorption of the flour.

Mix the flour, water and yeast for 5 minutes on low speed; this helps to obtain the right texture 'when you need more flour you add a little. This is called contre-frasage, or 'counter-mixing'.

Knead for 15 minutes: Add the levain and once incorporated knead for another 10 minutes at medium speed, adding the salt 5 minutes before the end. The dough should be at 23 degrees C.

Leave to rise for 45 minutes to an hour: The dough is always left to rise in the mixing bowl. The time varies according to the temperature in the room.

Divide the dough into pieces weighing 1 kg, 1.3 kg, and 1.5 kg. (Elle's note - I think you choose which size you want and make all the balls the same size and those are your three choices, but not sure. I chose 1 kg.)

Roll the pieces of dough into balls.

Leave to rest for 30 minutes.

                                                      photos on shaping from the book

Once the dough has rested, you shape it. You take a round ball and fold it over to make it a long shape; you flour it, and with a wooden rolling pin you separate it into tow long rolls. You turn it over, flour it again, and press down with the rolling pin to separate the two rolls well. Then you turn the dough on the diagonal, passing one roll over the other and you make the corkscrew shape by letting the twist by itself. There are tordus with one turn and tordus with two turns. The rolling pin is quite slender, like a broom handle, and 70 cm long. The tordu is 80 cm long. (I used my long French rolling pin and it worked pretty well, but the connecting dough was still pretty thick, so the twists don't have the same definition as in the photo at the top, from the book.)

The two rolls coiled round each other are now put back into a wooden panneton known as a baquet, you put a thin layer of jute inside before putting the loaf in. This is unique to the Lot-et-Garonne and the Gers regions. You don't need to flour either the couche or the loaf, as the dough is very dry. (Note from Elle - I used a lightly floured linen couche, not a panneton, because even dry dough tends to stick for me and this wasn't as dry as I should have made it.)

Leave the dough to prove for 10 hours. (I suspect this is for cold proving, I proved mine at room temperature for about an hour and it was ready to bake...lost a lot of it's shape by then and was plenty puffed up.) This bread needs to prove on average for hours in order to bring out its full flavor and character. (By the way, this bread was almost always produced by bakeries, not by home cooks, and sold around the countryside.)

The baker turns the baquets upside down on the peel, removes the couche and puts the loaves in the oven. (There is no oven temperature given since these were baked in commercial bread ovens but I used 325 degrees F.)

A 5-pound loaf will need 1 hour 30 minutes in the oven, a 1 kg loaf will need 45 minutes to an hour. The bread should be well baked.

Because the French Regional Breads book as a second recipe, from Gers, for Pain Tordu, I thought it might be useful to put that up, too, for those who would prefer to do the one with malt and rye flour. I divided the recipe by 4 to bring it down to home baker proportions! Should have done that with the original, but Elizabeth did a lovely job of making it more reasonable for our ovens. Other than dividing by four, this is exactly what is written in the book. The items in quotes are from the baker in Gers who bakes this all the time. The only thing I might suggest is two 500 g or so loaves instead of one 800 g loaf.

Pain Tordu de Gers
(for two large corkscrew loaves)

1 kg strong white bread flour (Type 55)
100 g medium rye flour (Type 130)
20 g table salt (2% per kg)
15 g yeast (1.5% per kg)
3/4 l water at 12 degrees C
5 g malt (0.5% per kg)
30% fermented dough

Place all the ingredients in the mixer bowl, except the fermented dough, and mix for 3 minutes on low speed. "I make a pain de campagne dough because it has a better consistency. The sourdough starter is from the previous day's batch. The malt helps the dough to rise and give the crust color; since sourdough contains little sugar, the malt enriches the dough a little."

When the dough is well mixed, add the fermented dough and knead for 4 minutes at medium speed. The dough temperature should be 23 o4 24 C. "What we have now is a pate batard (standard bread dough). To make shaped breads like this is is better to have a dough that's a bit firm, that holds it's shape, otherwise it doesn't look as good."

The dough is left to rise for 30 minutes.

The baker divides the dough into pieces weighing 800g.

The dough is left to rise for 15 minutes in the fermentation cupboard "to prevent a crust from forming".

To shape the baker folds each piece of dough twice across its width, first from one side then from the other; he slaps it with his hands and presses down the wooden rolling pin in the center to make tow rolls of dough, one on each side.
Then he turns the dough upside down, sprinkles it with a mixture of wheat and rye flours, and pressed the rolling pin down the middle again to separate the two rolls. Holding the roll further away from him with both hands, he lifts the dough and passes the roll over the other one, then sets it on its side. The two rolls are now side by side. He rolls them together, making two twists, using both hands to hold it tight as he lifts the dough up and places it on a couche.

The dough is left to prove for 1 hour or 1 hour 15 minutes.

The bread is baked in a hot oven, 230 degrees C, with steam.

Bake 25 minutes for tordus weighing 800g.

Tanna of My Kitchen in Half Cups made this version.


  1. I'm so glad you were inspired to continue baking bread. Corkscrew shape - what a great way to describe the shape. This was a wonderful choice for the 12 Anniversary! Thanks!

  2. Such a tasty bread, thanks for picking it!

  3. Thanks for introducing me to this bread!

  4. This one inspired me to at least apply baker's percent once! And I did love Elizabeth talking about mixing that 10kg in her bath tub.
    I baked this one 3 times! We really have enjoyed it. This starter I've got going now is super happy, hope I can keep it that way.
    Many thanks for this one Pat.

  5. What a good idea to use a couche. And how I wish I had managed to retain how many twists to make - your bread looks perfect.

    We cannot get over how well this bread keeps. We had some this morning with breakfast and it was easily as fresh-tasting as ever.

    Many thanks again for choosing Pain Tordu.

  6. Our local bread! How fun! I'm going to look at the boulangerie tomorrow and see if they have it.