Celebrating a big birthday with a presentation loaf of long fermented bread is something I do for friends. And no one deserved this special loaf more than Jacques Pépin, who finally turned 80 in December. There was a fun 18-month run up to the actual date with preplanning, benefits dinners, TV show filming and the debut of Heart and Soul, his final program for public television. (And a frightening medical episode, which Jacques survived with his usual aplomb.)
We celebrated with dinner at the Pepin’s where Jacques cooked his own birthday meal. A 1934 Sauternes was served at one memorable moment. And this loaf of a white, whole wheat and rye loaf with a preferment. I make a yeast-free decorating dough that is pliable and browns nicely during baking. Priscilla creates the letters then attaches them to the loaf after proofing. We have to work quickly during this stage. The loaf is ready to bake but applying the letters takes time. And you need to wait a bit for the water to soften the decorating dough causing it to adhere to the surface of the loaf.
Scoring the loaf is key. It has to be low so that the loaf rises evenly without disturbing the lettering.