Monday, July 20, 2009

French Country-Style Sourdough Bread

Otherwise known as “Pain de Campagne,” this classic French, country-style loaf is a perfect example of what a rustic, sourdough bread should be. It's tangy flavor, dense and springy texture and chewy crust make it a great accompaniment to almost any meal. I think it's great all by itself, with a glass of milk or herbal tea. The addition of rye flour gives it an extra boost to the flavor, although you can substitute whole wheat flour, if you'd like.

The French traditionally proof this dough in a basket to help the dough retain it's shape before they bake it. I don't have a basket so I proof mine in a large mixing bowl, about 8 to 10 inches in diameter. Either way, line the basket/bowl with a dish cloth, dusted with flour before you put the dough in.

Equipment Needed
Mixing bowls
Wooden spoon (plastic is fine)
8" basket for proofing (optional)
2 dish towels
Baking sheet
Cooling rack

1 cup simple sourdough starter
1 teaspoon dry yeast
3/4 cups water
1/3 cup rye flour
2 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1 1/2 teaspoon salt
Extra flour for dusting

Make sure you have enough sourdough starter on hand. If you refrigerate it, like I do, remove it from the refrigerator and allow it to come to room temperature, while you read the rest of the ingredients.
Remove 1 cup of starter for this recipe. Don't forget to replenish your remaining starter.

Sprinkle the yeast into the water in a small bowl. Let it sit for 5 minutes, and then stir to dissolve. Mix the rye flour, one cup of the unbleached flour, and the salt in a large mixing bowl, making a well in the center.

Pour the sourdough starter and dissolved yeast into to the flour. Using a wooden spoon, mix in the flour from the sides of the well. Add the remaining flour, a little bit at a time, until you form a soft sticky dough. You may not need all the flour.

Lightly flour a clean counter top or other flat work surface. Turn the dough out onto the surface and knead until smooth and elastic – about 10 minutes.

Put the dough into a clean, lightly oiled, mixing bowl and cover with a dish towel. Let the dough rise for 2 hours. Punch down the dough and let it rest for 10 minutes.

Prepare a basket or clean mixing bowl by lining it with lightly floured dished towel. Shape the dough into a round loaf and place in the bowl for proofing. Cover with a clean dish towel and let it rise until double in size, about 1 1/2 hours.

If you want to, you can proof the dough on a lightly floured baking sheet. It will spread out a little more than if you were to proof it in a basket, but it's perfectly acceptable. Doing this will avoid the extra step of getting the dough out of the basket.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit (220 degrees Celsius)

Remove the top dish towel and dust the top of the loaf with additional flour. Place a baking sheet, upside down, over the basket, centering it over the dough. Gently invert the whole thing. Remove the basket and floured dish towel, revealing the loaf. Dust with additional flour if desired, although you probably won't need to. Cut three or four parallel slashes, approximately 1/4 inch deep, across the dough and three or four at right angles to create a crosshatch pattern in the dough.

Place the dough and pan in the preheated oven and bake for about 1 hour, until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped underneath. Cool on a wire rack.

I like this bread broken apart instead of sliced, served with soups or fruit jam.

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