William Alexander spends 324 pages (and 52 weeks) in the book 52 Loaves trying to perfect his pain de campagne. It’s a recipe that takes a lot of time, since all of the rises are at room temperature and it uses sourdough (or levain, if you want to sound fancy) for the rise. This gives the bread a better flavor and texture.
I didn’t follow all of the instructions exactly, which is probably why my bread didn’t turn out “perfect”. For one, he gives weight measurements for accuracy, and only in metric. I don’t have a digital scale, and I’m not going to buy one to bake one loaf of bread, so I used my kitchen scale which not only is not digital, but also only shows grams in increments of 25. His recipe calls for things like 130 grams of water and 13 grams of salt. I had to guesstimate a lot. So much for accuracy.
I may not have handled the dough gently enough during shaping. As you can see, my bread had no big bubbles. I’m not sold on holes as a sign of whether bread is good or not, but if the recipe is supposed to have them, well, mine didn’t, except a few at the edges. Mr. Alexander spends a great deal of time in the book obsessing over the lack of holes in his bread.
I also didn’t let the first rise go as long as the recipe indicated. I’m not sure if that would have affected the holes or not. The recipe says to ferment for 4 to 5 hours, and in the book (but not on the website), says that in this time it should have risen by about half. After 2 or 2 1/2 hours, mine had risen by half or more, so I went ahead and shaped it. The second rise was closer to what the recipe says, though still shorter. But different starters are likely to have different rise rates.
Anyway, it is also possible that the bread did not have as much flavor as I was hoping for because shortened rise time. It had a good flavor, but after all the time it took to make, and the pain in the neck that is working with high hydration dough, I was really hoping for more.
Finally, the crust was tougher than I like and the oven spring (amount the dough rises after it has been put in the oven) wasn’t very impressive. I think those are both linked to the fact that I completely forgot about steaming until the bread was in the oven, so instead of putting water into a skillet to create steam, I spritzed a bit of water in a big aluminum roaster pan and put that over the boule, which isn’t the best way to get steam, at least in my experience.
Overall, though, I’m pretty happy with this bread. It’s one of the nicest looking loaves of bread I’ve ever made. And it did taste good. I’ll probably give the recipe another try or two. But next time I’ll shape it into a batard instead of a boule, because a big round loaf is kind of a pain to cut and portion out.
I also got to bust out my new Christmas
toys presents: the clear acrylic cookbook holder (Thank you, Rachel!) that kept me from having to flip through my new book with floury, sticky hands, and my bench knife (Thank you, Sherry!) which makes working with sticky dough less of a pain, and also makes clean up easier.