Pain de campagne

Pain de campagne is a classic white French loaf, round in shape with a firm crumb.

Following on from my last post on starting a levain culture, here is a recipe for using it! The recipe for this beautiful bread is from Ken Forkish’s book Flour Water Salt Yeast: The Fundamentals of Artisan Bread and Pizza.

This bread mostly uses levain as a rising agent, with a tiny bit of yeast (1 gram) for a bit of added lift and a slightly lighter texture than a pure levain loaf. The bread has a lovely crumb, with subtle but complex flavours from the levain. It makes great sandwiches and toast.

Pain de campagne, which means “country bread” in French. This is the finished loaf – proofing in a banneton basket gives it the characteristic lines.
The inside of the bread – the loaf was baked for ~50 minutes in a covered Dutch oven at 245°C, to ensure it was cooked all the way through, with a golden brown crust.

Schedule:

Bulk fermentation: ~5 hours

Proof time: 12 – 14 hours

Sample schedule: feed the levain at 8am, mix the final dough at 3pm, proof the loaf overnight and bake at around 8am to 10am the next morning.

Ingredients:

Makes one loaf – I’ve halved the quantities in the original recipe to make one loaf, rather than two.

370g white flour

30g wholewheat flour

310g water, 32°C to 35°C (90°F to 95°F)

10g salt

1g fresh yeast (you can also use instant dried yeast)

180g mature levain

A little rice flour (for shaping)

Method:

1a. Feed the levain

About 24 hours after previously feeding the levain, discard everything but 100g of levain, leaving the remainder in your container. Add 400g of white flour, 100g of whole wheat flour, and 400g of water at 29°C to 32°C (85°F to 90°F) and mix by hand until incorporated. Cover and let rest at room temperature for 6 to 8 hours before mixing the final dough.

1b. Autolyse

After 6 to 8 hours, mix the 370g of white flour and the 30g of wholewheat flour by hand in a large mixing bowl.

(The flour should be at room temperature. If it feels chilly, you can warm it beforehand in an oven on its lowest setting for 5 – 10 minutes. If the bowl it’s in becomes too hot, tip the flour into another).

Add the 310g of 32°C to 35°C water and mix by hand until just incorporated. Cover and let rest for 20 to 30 minutes.

(My kitchen is on the chilly side, so I used 35°C water and at every stage of resting, I wrapped the bowl in a blanket to keep the warmth in).

2. Mix the final dough

Sprinkle the 10g of salt and 1g of yeast evenly over the top of the dough. Transfer 180g levain from its container to the dough mixture.

(Notes here:

  • I use Maldon sea salt flakes, which I grind in a mortar and pestle beforehand.
  • If you buy Ken Forkish’s book (and I really recommend you do!) it will give instructions on how to transfer the levain using water / wet hands. Personally, I don’t use wet hands at all during the process. Even though the dough does stick to my hands, I found that with wet hands I inadvertently added extra liquid to the dough mixture, resulting in a very slack dough that was hard to work with.)

Mix by hand, alternating between using a pincer method and folding the dough to fully integrate the ingredients. The target dough temperature at the end of the mix is 25°C to 26°C.

The pincer method involves making four or five pincer cuts with your thumb and forefinger across the entire mass of dough. When folding the dough, ease the edges of the dough free of the container, gently taking lifting a quarter to a third of it, pulling it as far as it will stretch without breaking, and then folding over the mass of dough to the opposite side. Then repeat for all sides of the dough. The idea is to build tension in your dough without kneading, which helps give the dough its strength and contributes to good volume in the final loaf.

3. Fold

This dough needs three or four folds. It’s easiest to apply the folds during the first 1 ½ to 2 hours after mixing the dough. When the dough is about 2 ½ times its original volume, it’s ready for shaping.

A good cue for when the dough needs a next fold is when the dough has relaxed from being a ball with structure to flattening out in the bowl.

4. Shape

Dust a bread proofing basket liberally with rice flour, making sure you catch all the sides with flour. If you don’t have a banneton basket, you can line a colander with a non-linting kitchen towel and dust it liberally with rice flour.

Lightly flour a work surface (you can use regular bread flour for this step) and with floured hands, gently ease the dough out of the bowl onto the surface. Shape the dough into a medium-tight ball, by using the folding technique mentioned in step 2. There’s also really good instructions here on shaping. Place the dough seam side down in the proofing basket and dust the top of the loaf with a light coating of flour.

5. Proof

Place the basket in a nonperforated plastic bag and refrigerate overnight. The next morning, 12 to 14 hours after the loaf went into the refrigerator, it should be ready to bake, straight from the refrigerator. It doesn’t need to come to room temperature first.

6. Preheat

At least 45 minutes prior to baking, put a rack in the middle of the oven, and put a Dutch oven on the rack with its lid on. Preheat the oven to 475°F (245°C).

7. Bake

For the next step, please be careful not to let your hands, fingers, or forearms touch the extremely hot Dutch oven.

Place a piece of greaseproof paper on the countertop and invert the proofed loaf onto it, keeping in mind that the top of the loaf will be the side that was facing down while it was rising. At this point, you can slash your bread if you want with a razor blade / lame, which will help to control how it rises.

Remove the preheated Dutch oven from your oven, remove the lid, and carefully place the loaf in the Dutch oven seam side up. Cover and bake. If you prefer a golden-brown loaf, bake for 45 – 50 minutes with the lid on the Dutch oven the entire time. If you like your crust baked dark, bake for 30 – 35 minutes then uncover and bake for 15 – 25 minutes, until medium dark to very dark brown all around the loaf.

Check the loaf after 15 minutes of baking uncovered in case your oven runs hot.

Remove the Dutch oven and carefully tilt it to turn the loaf out. Let cool on a rack or set the loaf on its side so air can circulate around it. Let the loaf rest for at least an hour before cutting into it.

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