Pain de Campagne
Sep. 17, 2009 6:21 pm
Updated: Oct. 31, 2009 3:29 pm
Seattle has such great bakeries that I almost never bake my own bread. Last week, though, during a spate of cool weather, I got the bread-baking bug. I wanted a nice crusty European-style loaf with a long, slow fermentation to develop the best flavor. I chose the French Country Bread recipe. As I wrote in my recipe review, if I lived in the middle of nowhere, this might be the recipe I'd use for everyday bread. It had a wonderful spongy texture, mild flavor, and chewy crust.
I made the starter one night, and shaped the dough the next day. I made one loaf in a pan and one as a round, which I proofed in a Brotform, a wooden bread mold that gives the baked loaves a wonderful rustic design. This is a very wet dough, which is a good sign: as some of the great bakers I've worked for say, the wetter the dough, the better the loaf. It does make the dough difficult to work with, though: I kept kneading it in a big mixing bowl, without transferring it to a counter. (It was more of a flopping-the-dough-around action than kneading.) I transferred my sloppy dough ball into a clean well-oiled bowl to proof; by the time I was ready to shape the loaves, the dough had tightened up nicely.
Because I didn't have time to bake the shaped loaves that night, I covered them with oiled plastic wrap and put them in the refrigerator overnight. The loaves got very slightly overproofed, but it was worth it for the convenience factor. (How can you tell if bread is over-proofed? Well, I'm not crazy about the puffy mushroom shape of my loaf pan-baked bread; I'd prefer a nice tall rounded dome instead. Also, when you cut a slice of cooled bread, it looks just a little bit denser down at the bottom of the slice—it doesn't have the same airy structure throughout the entire slice. Really, though, I was only critiquing it out of habit, the way one of my bread instructors would've looked at it…I thought the loaves were beautiful!)
I scored the loaves using a lamé, but a serrated knife works well, too. You score loaves both for a decorative look, and also because it allows gas to escape in a controlled manner—sometimes really active doughs burst at the seams and result in ugly misshapen bread. Score the loaves seconds before you put them in the oven—letting them sit out any longer deflates the dough. I baked the loaves on a preheated baking stone, and covered them with preheated cast iron Le Crueset-type pans to trap the steam that the loaves gave off as they baked.
I baked my bread a lot longer than the recipe specified; I just kept adding an extra five minutes to the timer until I got the color I wanted. Then, when I took the one loaf out of the loaf pan, it didn't seem firm enough or dark enough for my liking so I returned it to the oven and put it directly on the baking stone, without the loaf pan, until it was nice and golden and sounded hollow when thumped with a finger. I probably baked the loaves around 50 minutes or so.
I left them on the kitchen counter to cool. Our friend's dog, who was staying with us for the week, snatched the gorgeous rustic loaf and ate half of it while I was out of the room. O! The teeth-gnashing and woe! Our dog will steal butter from the butter dish if it's left on the counter, so together they make a good pair. At any rate, the bread was delicious and enjoyed by all—human and canine.
Pain de Campagne (French Country Bread)
Loaf in the brotform: I dusted it well with light rye flour before putting in the dough seam-side up
Scoring the loaf with a baker's lamé, a razor blade with a slight curve in it.
Sliced loaf: beautiful crumb structure!
Another view of the French Country Bread.
Dog-chewed loaf. Bad dog!