A mom's journal of the sweet things in her life...

Monday, July 12, 2010

The Modern Baker Challenge: Pain de Campagne

Dear Fellow Modern Bakers:

I've been a bad Modern Baker. I apologize. I've not been keeping up with the rest of you. It's not because I don't love The Modern Baker book because I do. I love it a lot. I think Nick Malgieri is a genius. His recipes are fool-proof and delicious and I've been baking from it regularly. (In fact I've made 4 quick breads that I haven't blogged about.) The problem is that I keep going back to those darn Cocoa Banana Muffins. The fact they're labeled 'muffins' and not 'cupcakes' does wonders in alleviating the guilt factor. I've made them 7 times. I'm hooked - and so are my kids. This addiction makes it difficult to tackle anything else. Damn those muffins!

However, the Modern Bakers are now on the bread section, and since I volunteered myself for the Pain de Campagne bread, I was determined to rise to the occasion, no pun intended. Besides, I made a batch of muffins yesterday so I'm all set. Time to move on. Even I can see that.

Baking breads is something I've managed to avoid for years. Yeast scares me - I had a bad experience a long time ago with buns that didn't rise. They felt and sounded like lead weights when I dumped them in my garbage can. I have steered clear ever since. Until now.

Phyl let us each pick which bread we wanted to bake and I chose the Pain de Campagne. I can't tell you why that bread specifically spoke to me, it just did. 

Since we aren't posting the actual recipes from the book, I took lots of pictures. Lots and lots of pictures. I'm giving a step-by-step pictured narrative for those who are interested. You are interested, right? Who wouldn't want to see picture after picture of a white blob of dough transform itself into a round loaf of deliciousness? 

But, before I begin, I would be remiss if I didn't mention the fact that this bread is time-consuming. If you're looking for a quick loaf to throw together at the last minute for dinner, this is not the recipe for you. If however, you are home-bound because the weather is crap, and you're looking for something to keep you busy in the kitchen because your husband is glued to the World Cup game and you don't care to watch yourself, this one is perfect. I made a massive batch of spaghetti sauce and enough meatballs to feed my family four times over while I made this bread. Don't you love when you have a productive day in the kitchen?! If I really wanted to show off, I could have made dessert too, but we all have our limits. 

There are 2 doughs. The first one consisted of half all-purpose flour, half whole wheat and water. They are combined in the bowl of an electric mixer until dough is elastic and clings to the paddle. Then it rests of an hour. 

While your first dough rests, you start the second dough. More all-purpose flour, salt, water and yeast stirred in a large mixing bowl with a rubber spatula until the ingredients are evenly moistened. It will look shaggy, like this:
Then you cover the second dough and set it aside until the first dough is finished resting. An hour after the first dough has rested, you add this second dough to the first, initially mixing the 2 doughs together with a spatula, and then eventually mixing the 2 with the dough hook of a stand mixer until thoroughly combined:
Then...another rest. This time for 15 minutes. After it rests, you turn the mixer back on a low speed and mix for a further 2 minutes until smooth and elastic. Scrape the dough into large oiled bowl, 
cover and allow to rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.
Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured surface and fold it onto itself several times. I managed to tear my husband away from the TV long enough to take this picture of me folding the dough. What a sport.
Cover dough and, yes, let rest for yet another hour. After it rests, scrape dough onto floured surface and cut into 2 equal pieces.
Cup first piece of dough with both hands, pushing inward at the bottom and rotating in your hands to make it round, pulling uneven edges of dough underneath the sphere you are forming.
This dough surprised me. It was easy to work with, which was a huge relief, given my fear and lack of experience.  Once your dough is shaped, you let it rise until doubled in size for 1 to 2 hours.
I threw mine into the oven with the light on. I've heard from many people that this is a bad idea. It's unsafe apparently. Hmmm. I guess I'll live on the edge because it frees up your counter space for all the other kitchen projects you'll want to tackle while you wait and wait and wait... Once the dough has doubled in size (mine took an hour and a half) you score the top with a razor blade. Nick used a single edge razor. I searched high and low through my husband's medicine cabinet for one. No luck. So I grabbed an exact-o knife from the garage and sanitized it. It worked well, but my diamonds did not look as nice as Nick's. Go figure.
By now my husband had grown tired of taking pictures of me working with the dough so there is no action shot here. Sorry to disappoint but I'm sure you can use your imagination. Once the loaves are scored, they go into the oven at 400 degrees and bake for 15 minutes, at which point you rotate your baking sheets and bake for a further 15 to 20 minutes.  Then... you have this:

The crust was crisp and chewy and, despite its plain Jane appearance, it was delicious. It really was. I would totally fess up if it weren't. 
We all enjoyed it but my 2.5 year old couldn't get enough. I was really thrilled that I'd overcome my fear of making bread. Heck, I didn't just overcome my fear, I conquered it. I kicked its ass. I'm so looking forward to trying the other recipes in this chapter. I even found those elusive black sesame seeds for the Armenian Barbary Bread. I'm armed and dangerous. I'm ready to go. Give this bread a try - it's worth the effort. I may even forego a Cocoa Banana muffin tomorrow for breakfast and make toast with this bread. It's just that good.


  1. Nice job! Your bread looks great, and I love all the pictures.

    Your slashing doesn't look bad -- just a little tentative. It takes practice and confidence. A friend of mine refers to "mental mise en place", picturing your slash and drawing it in the air a few times before you take knife to dough. It really helps you slash with greater confidence.

  2. Love the step-by-step photos!! And don't feel bad; I had a similar weakness that prevented me from baking anything else (butterscotch scones...mmmmmmm....may have to go make some now!) =)

  3. This looks fabulous. I am so eager to try this as we made a version in BBA and I love the thought of comparing the two recipes while the BBA is still fresh in my mind. Yours looks great, and obviously it was a big hit!


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