The Couronne Bordelaise is a beautiful bread form that has the appearance of having been artfully scored, whereas it is all actually done by shaping. This suits me perfectly as my scoring skills are still, to say the least, rudimentary.
Couronne means crown or wreath in French, and at its best this loaf has a spectacular crest of dough at its centre which really does look like a crown or diadem, surrounded by six or eight rounded buns.
However I have found this effect surprisingly difficult to achieve.
My first loaf was disappointingly flat on top, and the central disc completely failed to detach from the balls below. But it was still a handsome loaf and, as couronnes often do, it had a beautifully patterned underside.
Six loaves later, I think I do now know the secret. Some of it lies in the tensions built into the balls as they are being formed. As they expand in the oven this tension will tend to pull them away from the top disc. So the first important factor is to form the balls really well (roughly speaking that means making them really tight).
The second factor is the use of oil or water brushed onto the interface between the disc and the balls. This makes it difficult for them to stick together. Both oil and water work well but they seem to work differently, to judge from my experience so far. Oil will cause a very marked separation but the resulting crest will have a rounded edge. With water, the crest will rise much less but it will have a jagged edge like a classic “grigne”. And of course, using nothing at all will mean no crest at all.
I’m not sure whether I prefer the effect with water or oil, so I have included pictures of both so you can choose which to use if you make this bread. The loaf shown at the top of this post used oil. The one below used water.
The Proving Basket
I am a bit of an equipment fanatic and so I was happy to splash out on a purpose made couronne proving basket. At about £15 it wasn’t cheap, but nor is it essential. A number of people have had great success using dishes and tea towels. For an example see Susan’s excellent Couronne post over on Wild Yeast. For this recipe you’ll need a dish between 25 and 30cm.
For the Poolish
- 130g Strong white flour
- 130g water
- 1/16 teaspoon quick action yeast
For the Final Dough
- All of the poolish
- 485g Strong white flour
- 12g Fine sea salt
- 3g quick action yeast
- 230g warm water
- 10ml well flavoured olive oil
About 12-14 hours before you plan to make the final dough, mix together the poolish ingredients. Cover with plastic and leave in a warm place. It should end up quite bubbly.
To make the final dough combine the poolish with all the other ingredients until thoroughly mixed. Cover with plastic and leave to rest in a warm place for 20-30 minutes.
Turn the mixture out onto an unfloured surface and knead for about 5 minutes until smooth and elastic. Return to the bowl, cover and leave to rise until doubled in size (about 1-2 hours).
Dust your couronne proving basket (or equivalent) generously with flour.
Scrape the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. De-gas it slightly by patting it gently into a rectangle then rolling it up like a sausage roll.
Shaping the Couronne
Form the larger piece into a ball and set aside to rest while you form the 8 smaller pieces into tight balls.
Roll the larger piece into a disc large enough to drape over the central boss of your proving basket and extend 2-3cm over the bottom. Keep lifting the dough up as you roll, as it will tend to stick and will almost certainly shrink back on itself. This is probably the hardest part of the whole process.
Drape the disc over the boss and stretch and pat it out so it makes a fairly regular circle on the base.
Brush oil or water over this circle and about 2cm up the boss as well. Coat well but don’t drench it or leave any pools of liquid.
Place the balls regularly over the base, with their “seam” sides facing upwards. Tuck them gently in around each other and try not to press them down onto the base more than you can help.
Now you need to cut the dough that is covering the boss into eight triangular segments that can be folded out like the petals of a spikey flower. To do this cut upwards from between each ball to the centre of the boss, starting your cut just where the ball meets the boss. Use a sharp knife for this, but take care not to press too hard or you will cut into the fabric of the basket.
Fold each triangular piece outwards and press it gently down onto the nearest ball.
Dust the base with flour. Cover and leave to rise until doubled in size (45 minutes to an hour in a warm place).
Preheat the oven to 220C (fan).
How you bake the loaf depends on what equipment you have. Either way you need to invert the loaf, whether it’s onto a baking tray lined with baking parchment, onto a peel for transfer to a baking stone, or, in my case, into the base of a baking dome.
It is likely the flour from the basket will not be covering the loaf evenly so you can gently redistribute it using your fingers or a brush.
If baking on a tray or baking stone you will need to try and get some steam into the oven, by throwing some water in a preheated roasting tray and/or spraying water into the oven. Give the loaf 10 minutes at 220C, then turn the heat down to 200C and give it another 25 minutes or so.
With the baking dome, I bake at 220C throughout, for 40 minutes with the lid on, then for another 5-10 minutes with the lid off. I check regularly during this last phase as it browns very quickly once the lid is off.
This bread is best made using a quite stiff dough, of about 60-62% hydration. I have made it with both sourdough and conventionally yeasted dough. The sourdough one was one of the best, but of course it takes a lot longer!
I used a poolish in the above recipe mostly to give the finished bread more flavour.
The reason I dust the base of the loaf with flour when it is first put in the proving basket is that as it expands it will leave unfloured areas around the triangles on the base. These will darken in the oven, more so than the floured areas, and this will emphasise the flower-like pattern that they make.
I would like to thank Joanna of Zeb Bakes whose How to make a Couronne Bordelaise contains lots of useful advice and links.