Monday, February 25, 2013

Pain de Campagne

Caitlynne had to babysit yesterday afternoon so a trip to Ayutthaya was not going to happen. Having nothing too important to do, I decided to make bread. I tried a new recipe, "Pain de Campagne", mainly because I was intrigued by the description, "for a crusty artisan style bread, start with a sponge or poolish and let the flavors build during a long slow fermentation process."

From beginning to end, this bread took me 9 1/2 hours to make. Yikes! It was a good thing that I was able to plan my errands and the making of the butternut squash & spinach pasta dish around the steps of this recipe. 

First, I made the sponge or poolish - yeast, warm water and whole wheat flour - and let that develop for 3 hours. The recipe called for the poolish to develop 2 - 8 hours but, after I went through the recipe and calculated how many hours were required at all of the other steps, I felt three hours was enough development time - unless I wanted to be baking bread at midnight.

The poolish. 
A poolish (also called mother bread) is a pre-fermentation starter used in bread making and is widely used in artisan bread recipes. Making a poolish starter in the bread-making process allows more time for yeast and enzymes to act on the starch and proteins in the dough. This improves the keeping time of the baked bread and creates greater complexities of flavor. There are two varieties of pre-fermentation starters - "sponges" which use baker's yeast (like mine) and the starters used to make sourdough breads which are based on wild yeasts and lactic-acid bacteria. To be honest, I had never even heard of a poolish until yesterday morning - thank goodness for the internet.

The poolish - nice and bubbly - after fermenting for 3+ hours.
After the fermenting time was up, I added 2.5 cups of warm water and some more yeast to the poolish, stirred well and added 6 cups of flour (cup by cup and combining well after each addition). The directions then called for the dough to be kneaded for 12 minutes. Oh, my aching arms - peeling & cutting squash and then 12 minutes of dough kneading are better than all the strength training in the world! 

After the 12 minutes of kneading was finished, the next step was rather unusual. The recipe called for me to sprinkle 1 tablespoon of kosher salt over the dough and knead for another 5-7 minutes. I would have expected the salt to be added either after the fermenting process (at the same time I added the water and yeast) or with the 6 cups of flour. I was very curious as to how the salt would be evenly distributed and absorbed into the dough. More on that later.

I let the dough rise for almost 3 hours.
The recipe called for the dough to be divided in half, covered with a damp cloth, rested at room temp for 30 minutes and then formed into two baguettes.

The two portions of my dough after resting.
Another odd direction... the baguettes were to be placed seam side up on a heavily floured cloth, separated by a fold in the middle of the cloth, covered with a damp towel and left to rise for 2 hours. Whew. 

I have no idea why the baguettes couldn't have been placed to rise on a floured baking sheet or cutting board but the recipe was very specific about using a cloth. Since I was investing so much time into this bread, I followed the instructions to a "T". 

Isn't my fold beautiful? 
After two hours, the baguettes were huge! But that fold kept them separated for sure. 
Next time I will use a pastry cloth for this step instead of the towel. Although the bread did not stick to the towel, the flour did not "absorb" into the towel - maybe because of its loose weave and texture? When I flipped the baguettes to move them on to the baking sheets, there were big clumps of flour stuck on the "tops" of the baguettes. I tried to dust off the clumps but eventually ended up just baking the baguettes with the seam sides up. I think that baking with the seam side up contributed more to the rustic look. 

The baguettes then went into the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes. I have an oven similar in size (maybe even smaller) to the "Barbie Bake With Me Oven" and whenever I bake more than one dish, I must constantly rotate the dishes between the oven shelves so everything is evenly cooked. I also need to allow at least 15 minutes longer baking time than what the recipe calls for. 

The first loaf looked pretty good. The baguettes were so large that I had to squish both of the baguettes a little so they would fit on my 9 x 13 baking trays. In my opinion, the squishing gave them more of a rustic look.
 This one got squished a little too much. One end looked like the face of a pug.
 Both loaves. Lots of bread! 
Christopher and I did a taste test and the bread was delicious. After the pasta dinner earlier and then "testing" the bread, I better plan to run long tomorrow! 

There are several things in this recipe I would like to either get more information about or experiment with. I wonder if and for how long the poolish could be stored in the refrigerator? If it is "fed" like sour dough starter, maybe I could keep a batch on hand to use when the urge to bake bread strikes. Having the poolish already made would knock at least 3 hours off of the time required for this recipe. I would also like to experiment and add the salt with the 6 cups of flour instead of midway through the kneading process. When I was spreading the dough to form the baguettes, I could see and feel some patches of salt. I also had a few bites of bread that were noticeably saltier than others.

This recipe made way too much for our family of four (minus Kevin for another three weeks) to eat over the course of a few days so one loaf went right into the freezer. 

Have a great Tuesday!

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