Pain de campagne (“country bread” in French), is typically a large round loaf (“miche”) made from either natural leavening or bakers yeast. Most traditional versions of this bread are made with a combination of white flour with whole wheat flour and/or rye flour, water, leavening and salt.
For centuries, French villages had communal ovens where the townsfolk would bring their dough to be baked, and the miches weighed from four to as much as twelve pounds. Such large loaves would feed a family for days or weeks, until the next baking day.
When commercial yeast became readily available at the turn of the 20th century, pain de campagne fell out of favor in French cities, where it was replaced by the baguette. However, with the rise of artisan breads in the 1970s, pain de campagne has been growing in popularity, both in Europe and the US.
Chef Terry, hautemealz.com’s resident baker, often makes Pain de campagne, as well as baguette, challah, and, most recently, pretzel-rolls. Seldom does his work last long enough to fall to room temperature.
Here’s one of his favorite recipes, in honor of the day…
French Country Loaves
This is an adaptation of a Jaques Pepin recipe that we have used and shared with so many folks. This is a very soft dough and is not worked by hand until after the second proofing.
Active Time: 15 min. Total Time: 7 hr.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour (1 lb. 5 oz.)
- 2 tsp. instant granulated yeast
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2 cups cool water
- 1 tbsp. all-purpose flour (for dusting)
- 6 lg. ice cubes
Place the 4 cups of flour, yeast, salt and water in the bowl of a food processor and process for 15 seconds. Transfer the dough to a large bowl (or bucket, for multiple batches), cover with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 3 1/2 hours.
Deflate the dough by releasing it from the sides of the bowl with your fingers and pressing it firmly into the center of the bowl; repeat until all the dough is deflated and in a ball. Cover the dough again with plastic wrap and let rise for 2 hours.
Deflate the dough as before and form into a ball. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper or a nonstick baking mat. To prevent sticking, moisten your hands with water and break or cut the dough into 4 equal pieces and then arrange them evenly spaced on the lined baking sheet, as either round or oblong loaves.
Flatten the dough pieces slightly with your hand. Place an inverted roasting pan over the baking sheet to simulate a proofing box to prevent the dough crusting over as it rises for 45 minutes.
While the dough rises, place your bread stone (opt.) on the center rack of your oven and another empty baking sheet on the lowest rack possible (this will be used to produce steam) and preheat to 425 F.
After the 45 minute rise, remove the roasting pan and dust the tops of the loaves with flour. If you are using a bread stone, carefully slide the liner from the baking sheet onto the heated stone. Otherwise, slide the baking sheet onto the center rack.
Quickly and carefully spill the ice cubes onto the empty baking sheet and close the oven door. Bake the bread for a total of 35-40 minutes.
Remove the loaves from the oven onto a wire cooling rack and let them cool at least 10-15 minutes.