One of the best sites for French colonial interpretation in North America is the Fortress of Louisbourg, which sits on the eastern tip of Cape Breton Island, Nova Scotia. The Official Research Site for the Fortress of Louisbourg National Historic Site of Canada, is well worth exploring for excellent research on New France. <http://fortress.cbu.ca/>
I have often gotten questions about the Soldier’s bread recipe that they posted on their site. <http://fortress.cbu.ca/behind/bread.html>
In my humble opinion there is simply too much flour suggested in the recipe, which lends itself to most people making too heavy of a bread for most people’s palate. This recipe can also be made with all whole wheat flour or substituting the rye flour for white all-purpose flour. Rye flour was common in France but not so common in many parts of New France. The city of Louisbourg imported it’s grains, including rye, while other parts of New France grew their own grains, primarily wheat and corn, and were “bread baskets” for the colonists outside of the St. Lawrence river valley.
I suggest reducing the amount of flour to 15-16 total cups of flour; 4 cups rye and 12 cups whole wheat flour, rather than the 16-18 that the original recipe suggests. A dough rich in whole grains will be moist and slightly sticky when done mixing, but the water will absorb into the flour in time, and leave you with supple and pliable dough for the final shaping. If you try and get firm dough in the beginning of the mix, you will end with a heavy and dense bread in the end.
This recipe is based on the Louisburg example but utilizes the period method of using a levain rather than modern yeast. Adjust the timing to fit your schedule. If you wish to use modern yeast then follow their method of making this bread and use 2 Tbs of instant yeast and a few less cups of flour.
Day 1- 8 p.m.
˝ Cup levain
2 Cup water
4 Cup whole wheat flour
Mix until combined and set aside in a cool place,
covering the bowl with a towel.
Day 2- 8 a.m.
4 Cup water
4 Cup rye flour (I prefer stone ground medium rye flour)
7 Cup whole wheat flour
2 Tbs salt
Mix dough without salt until smooth and slightly sticky (about 10 minutes by hand), after 20 minutes add salt and knead for another 5 minutes, let rise 1 hour, knead dough another 5 minutes, divide into 4 pieces (they will each be about 2 lbs), rest for 20 minutes, form into shape and place on baking pans, rise/proof for about 1 hour, bake at 400’ for 30 minutes. Turn down oven to 350’ and bake another 30 minutes. You can steam your oven when you put the bread in the oven for a thicker crust. This is best accomplished by using a spray bottle with water. Squirt water several times into oven when you put the bread in, this will create a steam mist that will caramelize the crust and make it thick and golden brown.