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pain de campagne

not only has it been a while since i last posted (sorry), it’s been a long while since i’ve made bread from scratch (double sorry). i had convinced myself that i would try to make fresh bread each week so i could stop buying it from the grocery store, but it’s proven harder to keep up than i thought.

luckily, baking bread is like riding a bike in that the old mixing, kneading and shaping methods become instantly familiar again once you dive in. it felt good to be throwing flour all over the counter again and making a giant mess.

i was lucky to get a few brotforms for my birthday and this seemed like a great opportunity to test one out. a brotform is essentially a bowl with ridges that helps shape and create designs on the dough during the final proofing. since these pieces of dough were pretty small, the effect was less dramatic than i had hoped, but it looked cool nonetheless. next time i need to remember to dust the inside of the brotform with whole wheat flour instead of unbleached white, because the whole wheat is much easier to get out. afterward. susan at wild yeast blog has a must-read tutorial on brotforms [1] that i consulted more than once.

oooh, see how pretty?

here i tried another technique where you snip the top of the dough with kitchen shears to make the whole thing look like a hedgehog. i had never done it before, but i think it’s usually reserved for smaller dinner rolls instead of entire loaves. oh well!

after a long day of apartment hunting (more on that later), it felt great to open the oven to find these beauties ready to be sliced and slathered with butter or sweet pea puree [2] – delicious! pain de campagne is an all-purpose french bread (literally countryside bread) that has no one single recipe – it allows for a lot of experimentation using different fours and rising methods,  so it’s a good way to play around and learn.

the hedgehog bread came out looking and tasting great, but those spikes were surprisingly sharp. like cut your finger/mouth open sharp. i may have to refine my technique next time.

pain de campagne
from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice [3]. makes 3 loaves.

pate fermentee
1 1/8 cups all-purpose flour
1 1/8 cups unbleached bread flour
3/4 tsp salt
1/2 tsp instant yeast
3/4 cup water, at room temperature

final dough
3 cups pate fermentee
1 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour
1/3 cup whole-wheat or rye flour
3/4 tsp instant yeast
3/4 cup water, lukewarm
semolina flour or cornmeal for dusting

1. day one: make the pate fermentee: stir together the flours, salt an yeast in a large bowl (or in a stand mixer). add 3/4 cup of the water, stirring until everything comes together and makes a coarse ball. adjust the flour or water so the dough is not too sticky or too stiff.

2. transfer the dough to a counter sprinkled with flour and knead for 4-6 minutes. lightly oil a bowl, transfer the dough to the bowl, roll around to coat with oil. cover with plastic wrap and let rise for 1 hour. remove the dough from the bowl, knead it lightly, return it to the bowl, cover with plastic wrap and place in the refrigerator overnight.

3. day two: remove the pate fermentee from the fridge 1 hour before making the dough. cut it into about 10 small pieces and cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour to take off the chill.

4. stir together the flours, salt, yeast and pate fermentee in a large bowl (or stand mixer). add the water, stirring until everyting comes togerther and makes a coarse ball. the dough should be soft and pliable. transfer the dough to a floured counter and knead for 8-10 minutes. lightly oil a bowl, transfer the dough to the bowl, roll around to coat with oil. cover with plastic wrap and ferment at room temperature for 2 hours, until the dough doubles in size.

5. sprinkle flour on the counter and gently transfer the dough. divide into 3 pieces. shape the dough into your desired shape. sprinkle baking sheets with semolina flour or cornmeal and transfer the dough to the pans. mist the dough with spray oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap. let rise for 1 hour. preheat the oven to 500F (with your baking stone inside if you are using one) and place a steam pan on an oven shelf beneath where the loaves will bake.

6. slide the dough to your baking stone or place the baking sheets directly in the oven. pour 1 cup of hot water into the steam pan and close the oven door. after 30 seconds, spray the oven walls with water and close the door. repeat twice more at 30-second intervals. after the final spray, lower the oven setting to 450F and continue baking for 10 minutes. if necessary, rotate the loaves 180 degrees for even baking. continue to bake for 10-15 more minutes. they should be a rich golden brown all around. the bread should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

7. transfer the bread to a cooling rack. allow the bread to cool for at least 40 minutes before slicing or serving.