Bread-o-lution - February Pain de Campagne

It has taken me a while to write this post up, partly due to time commitments, and partly due to the type of the bread I’ve chosen to make. February project is Pain de Campagne – a traditional French sourdough loaf. I have first seen a recipe for Pain de Campagne about I guess 10 years ago, and as a beginner baker I found it really interesting. Its French – I love all things French, its sourdough – which sounded difficult and I love all things difficult and it requires basket/banneton proving – I didn’t even know what a banneton was at the time, so that’s sounded intriguing enough – and yes, I do love a bit of intrigue …

I am afraid to tell you this, but now 10 years on, looking at a recipe as an experienced baker, I find this recipe slightly boring. I won’t blame you if you give up reading about now, but if you a bread nerd like moi (see, French! :), then read on.

First of all, I must say that I was surprised at the number of different variations on the basic recipe – for a recipe as old as this one I would have expected the recipe to be pretty formed and established. However, I found quite a few different recipes – yeasted or sourdough, wheat flour or rye flour, butter or no butter – the only thing all the recipe seemed to have in common is the level of hydration (high) and the length of proving time (long).

The best sourdough recipes I found were “The Bread She Bakes” and “Weekend Loafer” – both excellent sources of sourdough recipes with great pictures and instructions. I decided to try out the weekend loafer version, as it seemed a bit less complex and I was running out of time to make my February loaf.

Pain de Campagne 

320 g wholemeal starter (130% hydration) 
440 g white flour 
30 g wholemeal flour 
30 g rye flour 
250 g filtered water 
10 g salt

I had quite a wet starter, around 130% I am guessing so instead of following a two phase approach – mixing a starter and mixing dough – I decided to skip build of starter step and went straight for mixing dough. In hindsight, I should have put in the effort and built up a fresh starter, and the one of lower hydration.

Again, if you are new to bakers percentages, don’t get scared – it represents amount of total water to total flour. To determine how much flour and water I have in 320g of starter which is 130% hydration : 

Flour = 320 (starter weight) / 230 (100 points flour to 130 points water) * 100 (points of flour) = 139 g 
Water = 320 (starter weight) / 230 (100 points flour to 130 points water) * 130 (points of water) = 181 g

To determine total recipe hydration, divide total water over total flour in the recipe (counting starter) : 

Flour = 139 g (starter) + 440 g + 30 g + 30 g (flours in the recipe) = 639 g 
Water = 181g (starter) + 250g = 431 g Loaf hydration = 431 / 636 = 67% - which is a pretty high hydration I must say! 

So, back to the recipe – whisk the starter into water until you see bubbles – to be perfectly honest I have no idea why you need to do that, but I have noticed that a lot of rye based recipes ask you to do that. Add flours and mix it all together until all the water has been incorporated – you will end up with something that can only be described as a grey shaggy mess – leave it for 10 minutes. Add salt to the shaggy mess and mix for 10-20 seconds until all the salt is evenly distributed, leave for further 10 minutes. By this time the mess should look less shaggy and more wet-dough like. Now its time to work the dough, and I mean work it hard - Richard Bertinet style – slap and stretch that sucker, “show the dough who is the boss” in the man’s words. The whole process should take no more than five minutes, and you should see the dough transfer before your eyes – from a sticky, messy unworkable mess into a smooth and live dough.

Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover with clingfilm and leave to prove at room temperature for 5 hours. At the end of 5 hours you should see some increase in volume, but don’t expect it to double or anything.

Oil the counter slightly (to prevent the dough from sticking), pour the dough out and shape it into a boule. This is where I started to suspect that things might have gone slightly wrong – either my initial starter was slightly too liquid or I have proved the dough for too long or both. Anyway, I wasn’t going to give up, I floured my banneton VERY heavily, shaped the dough as best as I could, covered it with clingfilm and placed it in the fridge for 12 hours. After a long rest in the fridge, take the dough out and leave at room temperature to warm up for 4 hours.

I decided to bake my loaf in a Le Creuset pot to give it a really nice crust and to help it keep the shape a bit – it was looking so wet I was worried that I was going to end up with a loaf as flat as a pancake or crêpe :) If you are planning on using a Le Creuset or any other cast iron pot, start pre-heating it (lid on) about an hour before you want to bake to get it nice and hot.

Preheat oven to 230C, gently flip the dough into a pot, slash it - not too deep- put the lid back on and bake in the oven for 20 minutes. Take the lid off and turn down the heat to 200C, bake for further 10 minutes.

The loaf came out not as light or as high as I would have liked, but the texture is quite nice, and the flavour is good too. I am not wild about it, and probably won’t be making it again, but I am glad I tried making it, even if not as successful as I would have liked


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