French Pain de Campagne

pain de campagne bread loaf“David, would you like to do some baking today?”

“Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!”

Even though he is now 12, he still responds the same way as he did when he was 4 years old and excited about doing something. “Yeah! Yeah! Yeah!” is an indication that he’s going to be totally interested and will be expecting that his help will be needed, or at least desired. Yesterday and today were no different. It actually started Friday night, when I came across a video of Canadian Dale Calder preparing and baking his style of a French Pain de Campagne loaf. Mr. Calder however, used a multi-grain flour, which I did not have on hand, and the traditional loaf would have used a white flour anyhow.

But nevertheless, it looked interesting and after watching the video with me, David decided it was something he definitely wanted to try.  I should point out that it was quite the busy day for us, as he and I also baked a “no knead loaf” that we also started Friday night, and while David pigged out on my fermented garlic (he eats it like it’s candy to him), we made labneh coated with oregano and basil, and covered with  olive oil. Yes, we make our own yogurt as well…

But getting back to the Pain de Campagne loaf, we started out pretty much following Dale Calder’s recipe and method, at least for the poolish, but when it was time to mix water and flour with the poolish, we had to diverge a bit, in the amount of flour we used. We had to increase the flour quite a bit, and perhaps this is because we were using white bread flour, while he was using multi-grain. But following his directions, we ended with a very very wet and sticky dough that was just crying out for more flour.

If you’re going to try this bread, be prepared – you need to start it the night or afternoon before you bake it, and it is a bit more work than the “no knead” bread. However, like the “no knead” bread, Dale Calder shows how to do this loaf in a Dutch Oven, which is what I bake my no knead (and some other) loaves of bread in.

So here are the steps:

Poolish (Prepared Night Before You Bake):

  • 1 1/2 cups white bread flour (for this, we used Robin Hood brand of bread flour – I’m sure King Arthur all purpose unbleached will work fine).
  • 1 cup luke warm water
  • 1/4 teaspoon instant rise yeast.

I like to mix the yeast into the water and let it dehydrate for a few minutes first. I know many bakers simply add all the dry ingredients together, but when it comes to salt and yeast, I prefer to add them to the water that will be poured into the dough.

Anyhow, whatever you choose, mix all of the above ingredients in a bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put in a warm place – an ideal temperature is 75F or above – but not too hot. Mr. Calder puts his in the oven with the oven light on. I wouldn’t do that as when I leave my oven light on, the oven will reach a temperature of 110F or a bit higher – perfect for making yogurt, but a bit too warm for bread making in my opinion.

Leave for a minimum of 16 hours to allow the fermentation to take place – time is a wonderful element that brings out flavours in bread, wine, and many things!

By the way, a poolish is a “sponge” that is used in French bread making, and is usually around equal amounts of water to flour.  Italian style baking will often call for a sponge that is referred to as a “biga,” but is not as wet as a poolish. Why is it called a “poolish?” Well, although it is often associated with French style bread making, it was actually originally a Polish method that was introduced to France – hence the name “poolish.”

Bread Dough (The Next Day):

I’ll list Mr. Calder’s ingredients and then comment where we changed a couple of things…

  • 1 cup of poolish (after stirring the poolish and getting air out)
  • 1 heaping teaspoon of Himalayan salt (Mr. Calder uses one level teaspoon – but with Himalayan, because it’s not pure salt but also contains additional minerals, I’ll add a bit extra).
  • 1/4 teaspoon of instant rise yeast
  • 1 cup of lukewarm water
  • 1 1/2 cups of flour (we found that this was not nearly enough however).
  • A tablespoon or so of olive oil (or other oil – you don’t need to use olive oil if you don’t have it).
loaves of bread and irish soda farls

David & I Were Busy Today – No Knead Bread, a Pain de Campagne loaf, and Irish Soda Farls

Transfer 1 cup of poolish to another clean bowl. Add salt and yeast to water, and stir well, so the salt is dissolved. Add water to the 1 cup of poolish, and stir well, breaking up the poolish as best you can. This could take several minutes.

Stir in 1 cup of flour into the poolish and water mixture. In Mr. Calder’s method, he reserved 1/2 a cup for flouring his wooden board that he kneaded the bread on. We found that we needed to add the full 1 1/2 cups of flour to the poolish and water mixture, and then needed even more flour to dust the board as well as to knead into the bread dough. Probably a good 1/2 cup more, but we did not measure it.

Basically, we kneaded flour into the dough until it was slightly tacky, and then kneaded another 15 minutes.  And this is where David shone! “Is it my turn to knead it now, Dad? My turn!” 🙂

At first, because the dough is wet and sticky, Mr. Calder uses a “baker’s knife” to assist with scraping the dough from the surface. I have a nice sized cleaver that does the job equally as well 🙂

After kneading for 15 or so minutes, put a small amount of oil into the bottom of another clean bowl (large enough to allow for the dough to double in size).

Form the dough into a ball shape and coat it with the oil in the bottom of the bowl, and then coat the sides of the bowl.

Cover with plastic wrap and leave in a warm place for about 2 hours and allow the dough to rise.

After two hours, punch out the air out of the dough, remove it from the bowl and put it on a floured surface and knead for about five minutes, before forming it back into a ball shape.   After the dough has been worked back into a ball shape, place it on a large size piece of parchment paper – large enough that you will use the parchment paper to pick the dough up, and then put it all.. parchment paper and dough, into the Dutch oven.

Cover dough with a damp tea towel and allow dough to rest for 30 minutes, and it will also rise during this time.

After 30 minutes, press out the air, and knead another few minutes before shaping the dough into a ball, and once again, place back on the parchment paper and cover with a damp tea towel. I let the dough rise another 90 minutes.

After one hour, preheat oven to 500F and put Dutch oven into the oven to heat up as well. After another 30 minutes, remove the damp tea towel from the dough, and cut into the dough with a sharp knife – make two cuts along the sides and then two more crossing the two you made, across the top and bottom.

Remove the Dutch oven (be careful, it’s very hot – best to put it on top of your stove), and then grasp the corners of the parchment paper, and lower it and the dough into the Dutch Oven.

Now, to get the effect of steam while the bread is cooking, get about a 1/4 cup of VERY hot water. If you are using cast iron, do NOT use cold water!  Cold water and hot cast iron do not go well together – if you’re water is cold, you could cause the cast iron Dutch oven to break. So get as hot as water as you can, close to boiling, and gently pull on the parchment paper so that you can pour the 1/4 cup of water directly into the Dutch oven. NOT on the bread.

Put a lid on the Dutch oven, return it to the oven and cover with a lid.

Bake for 30 minutes. After 30 minutes, remove the lid from the Dutch oven and bake another five minutes.

This seems like a lot of work, but it’s not. In fact, the most time you will need to be doing any work is during the phase when you mix the poolish with the other ingredients and knead for about 15 minutes. All of the other steps only take a few minutes, while you let time do most of the work for you.

I highly recommend you watch Mr. Calder’s video to understand the process, and bear in mind the differences noted above as my son and I used white bread flour, while Mr. Calder was using a multi-grain flour.

If you decide to try this yourself, please let David and I know your results! And anything you might have done differently, as well!

This entry was posted in Bread.

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