Now that the weather has finally cooled off, it actually feels good to turn the oven on in the house. The first roast chicken of the season graced our table last week, and this weekend I got a serious hankering for a nice crusty loaf of artisan bread. Full of lovely holes (known as alveoles) where the olive oil or the butter can pool, producing a burst of heavenly flavor, a Pain de Campagne is an easy and satisfying bread to make.
I started with a pre-ferment. I combined 1 cup of flour with 1.5 cups of warm water and 1 tsp of Active Dry Yeast in a bowl, mixed it well, covered it, and left it out on the counter to bubble and toil overnight. The yeasty-beery smell it gave off was a sure indication that the yeast was having a great feast on all the carbohydrates the flour had to offer, and I knew that adding this concoction to my bread dough the following morning would guarantee a deeper flavor.
For making the actual dough, I took another 3/4 cup of warm water and ‘rained’ a 1/2 tsp of yeast over it. Once that signature aroma started wafting across my nostrils and bubbles formed on top of the water I placed it in a mixer fitted with a dough hook, and added in the pre-ferment, 3.5 cups of flour and 1.5 tsps of salt. After kneading it for about 5 minutes, I covered it, and allowed it to double in size, which took about 45 minutes.
After it had doubled, I pushed on it slightly, giving the yeast access to more flour to munch on, continuing the fermentation process. I then divided the dough into 2 equal balls and placed them on my counter covered in plastic wrap for about 10 minutes. It was time to turn on the oven to 450F, with a pizza stone set on the bottom rack.
I quickly shaped them into the shape I was looking for (in my case a rather bulbous looking baguette known as a ‘batard’), placed them on the back of a parchment-lined sheet pan and re-covered them for their final rise.
About 1/2 hour later, the loaves were ready to be baked. I knew this because when I lightly touched the dough, the place where my finger had touched it left a little dent. I grabbed the sharpest knife I own and made quick, shallow ‘tic-tac-toe’ marks on the top of the loaves, spritzed them with a little water from a spray bottle and slid the parchment paper directly onto the stone with a quick flick of my wrists.
About 20 minutes later, once the internal temperature of the bread had reached 200F, I had 2 gorgeous, fresh loaves of bread infusing the house with their lovely aroma and demanding to be eaten. I resisted the urge to cut into one right away, which gave the crust time to firm up a little, and ensured a moist and chewy — but not doughy — interior.
But 45 minutes later, once the soup I’d made for dinner was nice and hot, we tore off chunks of this deeply delicious bread, lathered them in butter and dipped them in the soup, reveling as we did in the simplest of satisfying meals.