Imagine stepping into a bakery in rural France and pointing to a rusty brown baguette standing upright in a basket next to several others. You know it’s not just a typical French baguette, and the first bite confirms it. The crusty exterior gives way to flavorful interior that is both soft and chewy.
Pain de campagne, roughly translated, means “country bread”. However, it is so much more than that. It is French bread with a fully developed gluten structure that achieves its complex flavour from the sourdough process. I would recommend this pain de campagne recipe for everything from dinner rolls to sandwiches loaves. And having a slice toasted with butter is an unbelievably delicious way to start your morning.
The fact that it is mostly white gives it good loft, and means that it can hold up to the weight of added ingredients. However, the addition of some whole grain flours develops the complexity of the flavour.
- Initial Starter:
- Sourdough starter (1¼ oz or 5 tbsp)
- White flour (5 oz or 1 cup)
- Whole wheat flour (1 oz or ⅓ cup)
- Warm water (5 oz or ⅔ cups)
- Main Dough:
- Strong white flour (26 oz or 5¾ cups)
- Whole grain flour (2 oz or ½ cup) wheat and/or rye
- Amaranth (1/4 oz or 1 tbsp) optional for authenticity
- Warm water (22 oz or 2¾ cups)
- 1 tbsp salt
- Start with an initial feed of your starter. Warm 5 oz of water (approx 29-32 C / 84-90 F). Mix with the sourdough starter and starter flour, cover with a towel and leave at room temperature for 6-8 hours. If you have created your starter just for this recipe, then this step can count as your last "feeding".
- Warm the remaining water (approx. 32-35 C / 90-95 F), and mix with the flour. Leave the flour to hydrate for 15-30 minutes.
- Mix in the remaining ingredients, including the initial starter.
- Allow to rise in a warm location until doubled in volume (about 6-12 hours). Use the dough folding procedure 3-4 times during this rise.
- Place the dough on a well floured surface and cut into 2 equal pieces.
- Gently shape the dough into a ball, using flour as needed, but avoid kneeding.
- Place the dough balls in floured baskets (or bowls lined with floured tea towels) and allow to rise one last time for 2 hours (or overnight in the refrigerator with an air-tight lid.)
- Preheat to 500 F (250 C).
- Gently put the loafs in the baking vessels (see notes for suggestions). Score the top of the loaf with a sharp knife.
- Bake for 50 minutes until dark brown.
- Cool on a rack before slicing.
-Depending on the virility of your starter, you may want to add 1/2 tsp of commercial bread yeast. It is traditional for French loaves to contain a mixture of commercial yeast and starter. Just reduce the initial rising time to 4-5 hours.
-Depending on the shape that you want, you can bake this bread in a loaf tin, or on a baguette pan. Use a pizza stone for a flatter bread and dinner rolls. I like using a cast iron dutch oven to make a traditional boule.
-If you want even browning then place cast iron pot in the oven to preheat. Then place loaf directly in the pot (hot from the oven). Bake for 30 minutes covered then cook uncovered until dark brown (the remaining 20 minutes).
This bread can handle the weight of additional ingredients. To add in additional ingredients allow your dough to rest for 10 minutes after the initial mixing, then sprinkle the dough with the ingredients. They will get mixed in during the folding process. Continue with the usual rising, folding and baking instructions.
A few of my favourite flavours are: 2 cups of walnuts, 2 cups of grated cheese, 1 cup of caramelized onions, 1/4 cup of mixed herbs and/or 1 tbsp of diced garlic.