How to Make Pain de Campagne [French Country Bread]

Published Categorized as Sourdough Bread Recipes

Mastering the art of baking Pain de campagne, a classic French country bread, can be challenging. Many home bakers struggle to achieve the ideal crusty exterior and chewy, flavorful interior. In this article, we’ll share the secrets on how to make Pain de campagne, drawing from professional expertise and rigorous testing. You’ll learn the essential steps to ensure your next loaf is a resounding success.

How to make pain de campagne

Table of Contents

What is Pain de Campagne?

Pain de Campagne, which translates to “country bread” in French, is a rustic, artisanal bread known for its crisp, golden crust and tender, flavorful crumb. Originating from the rural regions of France, this hearty loaf was traditionally made with locally milled flour and natural leavening agents, often baked in communal ovens.

Pain de Campagne has inspired numerous variations, with bakers incorporating different types of flour, seeds, nuts, or dried fruit to create unique flavor profiles and textures. Its versatility makes it a perfect foundation for building sandwiches, dipping into soups and stews, or enjoying on its own with butter or olive oil.

Despite regional adaptations, Pain de Campagne remains a beloved staple in French households and bakeries, celebrated for its rich history and simple, satisfying taste.

Ingredients Needed

  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 tsp active dry yeast or instant yeast
  • 1 1/2 cups water (filtered or bottled)
  • 1 1/2 tsp salt

Required Tools

To bake a delicious loaf of Pain de Campagne, you’ll need a few essential tools. A reliable oven that maintains a stable temperature is crucial. You’ll also need sturdy mixing bowls, large enough to accommodate your dough as it grows during fermentation. A dough scraper, also known as a bench scraper, is a baker’s best friend for dividing, shaping, and moving dough around.

Other handy tools include a kitchen scale for precise measurements, a sharp knife or razor blade for scoring loaves, a spray bottle for creating steam in your oven, and a cooling rack for your freshly baked bread. While fancy equipment isn’t necessary, having the right basics will make your bread-making journey a breeze.

Preparation of Dough

Mixing the Ingredients

To begin your Pain de Campagne journey, gather all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Start by combining the bread flour, whole wheat flour, and salt. Create a small well in the center of the dry ingredients and pour in the water and yeast. Using a wooden spoon or your hands, mix the ingredients until they come together to form a shaggy, sticky dough.

Kneading Techniques

Once your dough has come together, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. It’s time to develop the gluten through kneading. Using the heel of your hand, push the dough away from you, then fold it back over itself. Give the dough a quarter turn and repeat the process. Keep kneading for about 10-15 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth, elastic, and slightly tacky to the touch.

If you’re using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook and knead on medium-low speed for 6-8 minutes. Keep an eye on the dough – it should clear the sides of the bowl but stick to the bottom.

Fermentation and Rising

After kneading, shape your dough into a ball and place it in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover the bowl with a clean, damp kitchen towel or plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free place. This first rise, or bulk fermentation, typically takes about 1-2 hours, or until the dough has doubled in size.

During this stage, the yeast consumes the sugars in the flour, releasing carbon dioxide and developing the bread’s flavor and structure. Be patient and let the dough do its magic!

First Fermentation

After kneading, your dough is ready for its first rise, also known as bulk fermentation. This crucial step allows the yeast to work its magic, developing the bread’s flavor, texture, and structure.

Time and Temperature

The key to successful fermentation is providing the right environment for your dough. Aim for a warm, draft-free spot, ideally around 75-80°F (24-27°C). If your kitchen is on the cooler side, you can create a cozy proofing box by placing a bowl of hot water in your oven (turned off) alongside your dough.

The duration of the first rise can vary depending on factors like room temperature and the strength of your yeast. Generally, it takes about 1-2 hours for the dough to double in size. Keep an eye on it, and trust your instincts – when it looks puffy and has grown significantly, it’s ready for the next step.

Proofing Baskets

While not essential, proofing baskets, also called bannetons, can take your Pain de Campagne to the next level. These woven baskets, often made from rattan or wood pulp, support your dough during the final rise and leave beautiful spiral patterns on the crust.

If you’re using a proofing basket, dust it generously with flour to prevent sticking. Gently shape your dough into a ball and place it seam-side up in the basket. If you don’t have a proofing basket, a bowl lined with a clean, floured kitchen towel works just as well.

Remember, patience is key during fermentation. Resist the urge to rush the process, and let your dough develop at its own pace. The reward will be a loaf with unbeatable flavor and texture.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When baking Pain de Campagne, even the most experienced bakers can sometimes run into trouble. Here are a few common mistakes to watch out for:

Over-Fermenting the Dough

One of the most frequent issues is letting the dough ferment for too long. While it’s tempting to give your dough extra time to develop flavor, over-fermenting can lead to a sour, overly tangy taste and a slack, difficult-to-shape dough. To avoid this, keep an eye on your dough during the first and second rises, and don’t let it more than double in size.

Under-Kneading the Dough

On the flip side, under-kneading your dough can also cause problems. If the gluten isn’t fully developed, your bread may turn out dense and heavy, with a tight crumb. Make sure to knead your dough until it’s smooth, elastic, and passes the windowpane test – when you can stretch a small piece of dough thin enough to see light through it without tearing.

Rushing the Process

Patience is key when it comes to baking Pain de Campagne. Rushing the fermentation, proofing, or baking stages can lead to subpar results. Trust the process and give your dough the time it needs to develop flavor and structure.

Forgetting the Steam

Steam is crucial for creating a crisp, glossy crust on your Pain de Campagne. If you forget to create steam in your oven during the first few minutes of baking, your crust may turn out dull and soft. Always remember to place a metal pan filled with hot water on the bottom rack of your oven, or spray the walls with water before loading your loaves.

Shaping the Dough

After your dough has completed its first rise, it’s time to give it some shape. Shaping is an essential step in creating a beautiful, well-structured loaf of Pain de Campagne.

Dividing and Pre-Shaping

If you’ve made a larger batch of dough, start by gently dividing it into the desired number of loaves using a bench scraper. For each piece of dough, perform a quick pre-shape by folding the edges into the center, creating a rough ball. Let the pre-shaped dough rest for 10-15 minutes, allowing the gluten to relax.

Final Shaping

Now it’s time to give your loaves their final shape. Gently flatten each piece of dough into a rough rectangle. Fold the top third of the dough down to the center, and then fold the bottom third up over the top fold. Rotate the dough 90 degrees and repeat the folding process.

Finally, roll the dough towards you, using your thumbs to create tension on the surface. Pinch the seam closed at the bottom of the loaf.

Proofing in a Banneton

Once shaped, place your loaves seam-side up in floured bannetons or proofing baskets. If you don’t have a banneton, you can use a bowl lined with a clean, floured kitchen towel.

Cover the bannetons with plastic wrap or a damp kitchen towel and let the dough proof for 30-60 minutes, or until it has puffed up and looks ready to bake.

Second Fermentation

After shaping your Pain de Campagne loaves, they’re ready for their second rise, also known as proofing. This stage is crucial for developing the bread’s final flavor, texture, and structure.

Rise and Shine

Place your shaped loaves in proofing baskets or bowls lined with clean, floured kitchen towels. The cloth liner will help prevent sticking and give your loaves a beautiful rustic appearance. Cover the baskets loosely with plastic wrap or a damp towel, creating a humid environment that prevents the dough from drying out.

Patience Is Key

The second fermentation typically takes 30-60 minutes, depending on factors like room temperature and the strength of your yeast. Keep an eye on your loaves – they should look noticeably puffy and have risen by about 50%.

To check if your dough is ready for the oven, gently poke it with your finger. If the indentation slowly springs back, leaving a small visible dent, your loaves are ready to bake. If the dough quickly bounces back, it needs a bit more time.

Temperature Matters

For best results, aim for a proofing temperature around 75-80°F (24-27°C). If your kitchen is cooler, you can create a makeshift proofing box by placing your covered dough in the oven with a bowl of hot water, which will provide a warm, humid environment.

Baking the Bread

Now that your Pain de Campagne loaves have completed their final rise, it’s time to bring them to life in the oven. Baking is the crucial last step in your bread-making journey, transforming soft, pillowy dough into crisp, golden loaves.

Oven Settings for the Perfect Loaf

To achieve the perfect crust and crumb, preheat your oven to a scorching 475°F (245°C). This high heat will give your loaves an initial boost, promoting a rapid rise and creating a crisp, caramelized crust.

Place a baking stone or a heavy-duty baking sheet in the oven during preheating. This will provide a hot surface for your loaves, helping them develop a crisp bottom crust.

Steam: The Secret to a Crispy Crust

One of the secrets to a shatteringly crisp crust is steam. Professional bakers often use steam-injected ovens, but you can achieve similar results at home.

Just before placing your loaves in the oven, slash the top of each one with a sharp knife or razor blade, creating a decorative pattern. This allows the bread to expand during baking without tearing the crust.

Next, create steam in your oven by placing a metal pan on the bottom rack and carefully pouring in a cup of hot water. Alternatively, you can spray the walls of your oven with water using a clean spray bottle.

Quickly place your loaves on the preheated baking stone or sheet, and close the oven door to trap the steam inside.

Baking Time and Temperature

Bake your Pain de Campagne loaves for about 35-45 minutes, or until they’re a deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.

After the first 15-20 minutes of baking, reduce the oven temperature to 450°F (230°C) to prevent over-browning. If your loaves are coloring too quickly, you can tent them with aluminum foil.

Once your loaves are baked to perfection, remove them from the oven and transfer them to a wire rack to cool. Resist the urge to slice into them right away – letting the bread cool allows the crumb to set and the flavors to develop.

Wrap Up

Pain de Campagne is a timeless French country bread loved for its simplicity and rustic charm. By following the steps in this article, you can create your own delectable loaves at home. Patience during fermentation and proofing is key to developing its signature flavor and texture. With a crisp crust and tender crumb, Pain de Campagne is a versatile addition to any meal. Give this classic bread a try and savor the satisfying results!

How to Make Pain de Campagne: FAQs

What is Pain de Campagne made of?

Pain de Campagne is a traditional French country bread made with wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast or sourdough starter. It may also include a small portion of rye flour for added flavor and texture. The bread is characterized by its thick, crispy crust and a slightly chewy, dense crumb with irregular holes.

What is the difference between sourdough and pain de campagne bread?

Sourdough bread is made using a sourdough starter, which is a mixture of flour and water that contains wild yeast and bacteria. Pain de Campagne can be made with either commercial yeast or a sourdough starter. The main difference lies in the flavor profile, with sourdough having a more pronounced tangy taste due to the longer fermentation process.

What is the difference between pain au levain and pain de campagne?

Pain au levain is a French bread made exclusively with a sourdough starter (levain), resulting in a more complex flavor and slightly acidic taste. Pain de Campagne can be made with either commercial yeast or a sourdough starter and often includes a small portion of rye flour, resulting in a milder flavor and denser texture compared to pain au levain.

What to eat with Pain de Campagne?

Pain de Campagne is a versatile bread that pairs well with various accompaniments. It is perfect for making sandwiches with cured meats, cheeses, and vegetables. The bread also complements hearty soups, stews, and salads. It can be enjoyed on its own with butter, olive oil, or your favorite spread. Pain de Campagne is also an excellent choice for making crostini or bruschetta.

By Natasha Krajnc

Hi! My name is Natasha and I'm specialized in home sourdough bread baking and currently based in Slovakia - a very small country in Central Europe. My bread baking story began in 2011 when I decided to give up commercial yeast. I felt tired all the time (especially after eating bread and other foods made with yeast), I wasn’t motivated to do anything, had trouble concentrating throughout the day, my abdomen was bloated and I was like a trumpet on steroids – basically, I was quite a wreck. I was a big bread lover (and still am) and having to stop eating bread was quite hard at that time but I felt I was on a right way to give my body a chance to heal itself.

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