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A New Look at the Noble Miche!

Regard the noble miche on the knee of the man at far right. “Les Canotiers de la Meurthe” by Emile Friant, 1887.

You can see it in paintings from the old world, an enormous loaf on a table along with roasted meats, overflowing bowls of fruit, flagons of wine. The bread is rustic, crusty and the sight of it, along with everything else on the table, evokes taste, aroma, a sense of plenty, celebration.

The loaf is five pounds or more. Someone may be holding it on a knee while cutting into it with a knife. The thick, rough slices will be passed around the table to other revelers. The conversation will flow, the glasses filled, the guests will unite in this shared experience. Brought together by food, but mostly by the bread and wine. This communion.

This large loaf is a thing of the past, a thing of dreams. You won’t see them in stores unless you travel to places like the Poilâne bakery in Paris. I’ve seen them in Italy, too, where you can buy a quarter loaf or even two slices and paid for by weight. They are wrapped in paper, tied neatly, carried home in a basket.

But I’ve been seeing the large loaf in my dreams for years. 1

The large, round loaf

It’s called a miche. It is literally translated, “the round loaf” but has gone by many other names, including pain boulot (“plump bread”), gros pain (“large bread”), or pain de campagne (“country bread”).

Happy Monk loaves are mostly below one kilogram, by comparison. Half the size of these ones!

They’re typically made with the simplest ingredients: stone-milled whole wheat flour (lightly sifted), a bit of salt, water, and a generous amount of stiff sourdough starter. It’s about as rustic as you can get.

The ones I made on the weekend as an experiment — two of them — were a little over 2 kg each. They came out of Mildrith, golden and brown, flatter than the puffy Salish Sourdoughs. Whole wheat flour doesn’t rise the same way as white, but what it lacks in rise, it surpasses in flavour! You’re getting the full taste of B.C.-grown Red Fife wheat.

So why make a miche, or buy one if you’re looking?

It’s an old bread, made in older days when French workers were allotted two pounds of bread per day. The miche, like other sourdough breads, is fermented long hours in the fridge to develop its tangy sourdough flavour and bring out the wheat terroir.

So large, it’s dramatic to behold, dark, and rustic looking. It’s weighty to hold, huggable!

What a contrast to the modern image of a Parisian woman carrying a pair of long, thin baguettes in her bag! In the 19th century, that person might have been hefting a large miche. People baked their bread once a week, so it made sense to make large loaves to last.

And last they do! The Poilâne miche is good for a week or more, sitting on the cutting board, and at its best three days after it comes out of the oven. That’s due to the combined effect of the natural oils in the whole flour and the sourdough’s acidic qualities.

Baguettes are sublime, but …

Baguettes are delicious, but they’re made of highly refined flour and begin to stale about six hours after coming out of the oven.

The baguette is sublime, I must add, with its flaky crust and open crumb. It can be flavourful, too, when made with superior flour. It excels as a neutral accompaniment to food, such as wine and cheese. But the miche can be a far grander part in a meal!

As I discovered with the miches I made, there is nothing like the heft and bulk of a massive whole grain loaf, held warm against your chest. The sheer joy of so much bread!

And wholesome, too, with such simple ingredients!

Something forgotten in the modern world

It’s something we’ve forgotten in the modern world, where advances in technology have made the smaller preservative-laden loaf more practical, economical.

The baguette is a modern phenomenon. It appeared after the Second World War when new milling techniques could produce the kind of highly refined flour they require. Commercial yeast production and mechanical, high-speed kneading machines made it economical and fast to create them. Automated dough shaping machines, too, could pound out thousands of baguette loaves a day.

The miche is not a loaf that could easily or often be made by the Happy Monk Baking Company. It’s time-consuming and needs hard-to-find extra-large proofing baskets. The loaves take up a lot of space in the oven, too, meaning only a few could be baked at a time. Mildrith is one of the loves of my life, but she’s not well enough endowed to be an oven for miches.

Too much bread?

Moreover, I can’t imagine many in our community who’d be interested in a five-pound loaf, other than the sheer novelty of it. It’s such a lot of bread!

The Pender Farmer’s Market may be an excellent venue for a stage appearance. I haven’t got plans for being part of the market soon. Still, a miche could enjoy a dramatic moment in the spotlight before slicing into halves, quarters, or slices.

I’d encourage Happy Monk customers to think of special one-off orders for miches. If curiosity gets the better of you, I’ll make you one.

When COVID subsides, and larger dinner parties begin to happen, plan for a miche as the centrepiece of your table. I’ll make you one.

Com panis … with bread

The miche, once the prized loaf of peasants and bourgeoisies, is now the awkward over-sized geek of the bread world. Loaves have shrunk, people have become wary of gluten, carbohydrates, and wheat belly. No one knows what to do with all of that crust and crumb unless making it a novelty.

I think it’s time for a slow return of the miche, a revisiting of this noble loaf of the past. Bread brings us together. “Companionship” comes from the Latin words, com panis … with bread! What more splendid celebration of friendship and plenty could there be than a rustic miche raised on a pedestal at the centre of a table laden with food, wine, and great conversation!


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#penderisland #southpenderisland #happymonkbaking #happymonkbakery
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1 thought on “A New Look at the Noble Miche!

  1. May I be the first to order a miche? I’ve been waiting for you to offer them.

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