I make bread all the time. We have two favourites currently - challah (either braided or not, always with sesame seeds), and a Danish rye bread (no yeast!) that is super easy and just delicious. (http://richlerrecipes.blogspot.ca/2013/06/meretes-danish-rye-bread-from-susan.html). The other day we were having family over for brunch and I decided to make something new - a crusty and rich "blue ribbon" winning bread served hot out of the oven with shakshuka. Yummy. But that is not this recipe.
This recipe is the one that I passed by on my way to the other recipe. This recipe is the one I read, with great interest, and then decided I was too lazy to attempt (this bread takes three days to make). Then myself spoke to myself and said, "Of course you have to try the recipe", and here we are.
One of the things that caught my eye when I read this recipe was the fact that it is from Poilane in Paris. Poilane is one of the best bakeries in Paris and this is their feted peasant loaf (theirs is 2 kg in size and is in the form of a cluster of grapes). The bread contains both whole wheat and white flours, has just the right level of saltiness, and a beautiful golden brown crust. And it takes three days to make. For real.
I am here to tell you that it is worth three days. It's not like it's three full days of work anyway - the first two days are mostly spent watching the yeasty mixture bubble, rise, and then fall, again, and again, and again. Then on day three the fun starts - it comes in the form of kneading, rising, rising, shaping, and finally baking. Last, but most certainly not least, you get to eat it.
If I were you I'd take a look at your calendar and pencil this one in.
This is Pain de Campagne Poilane from Bernard Clayton's New Complete Book of Breads (awesome book and a great resource: http://www.amazon.ca/Bernard-Claytons-Complete-Book-Breads/dp/0743287096)
FOR THE STARTER:
1 cup fine or stone ground whole wheat flour (I used regular whole wheat flour)
1 tbsp nonfat dry milk
2 packages dry yeast
1 cup hot water (120-130 degrees F)
FOR THE SPONGE:
2 cups hot water (120-130 degrees F)
3 cups bread or all-purpose flour (I used all-purpose)
FOR THE DOUGH:
1 tbsp salt
3 cups bread or all-purpose flour (I used all-purpose)
(Note: Clayton provides the method for a food processor as well as by hand and using a mixer. I am going to provide the directions I followed.)
MAKING THE STARTER:
Measure the flour, non-fat dry milk, and the yeast into a medium-sized bowl. Stir in the hot water (it will look like a batter). Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and leave for 24 hours at room temperature.
For a description of what will happen over the first 24 hours, see above.
MAKING THE SPONGE:
After 24 hours, this is what the starter looked like when I removed the plastic wrap:
At this point I switched the mixture to a larger bowl (glass salad bowl).
Pour the hot water into the starter:
Then stir in the white flour:
The batter will be thick, as in the photo below.
MAKING THE DOUGH:
This is what the sponge will look like after the second 24 hour period:
Stir the mixture. Then add the salt and stir again. Add the white flour, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring after each addition, by hand or by mixer. If it gets to hard to stir, you can opt to use your hands to mix it together instead. (I stirred the additions by hand). This will take up to 20 minutes depending on which method you choose.
KNEADING THE DOUGH:
Once the flour was added, I tossed the whole thing into the mixer with the dough hook for the kneading. I added at least another two cups of all-purpose flour on top of what the recipe called for, once it was in the mixer. The amount you will need to add will depend on the humidity. Knead for approximately ten minutes.
Grease a large bowl with oil or spray with cooking spray. Pop the dough into the bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Leave at room temperature. The first rising should last 1 1/2 hours, until the dough has doubled in size (at least).
At this point my Mom took over (for the rising, rising, shaping, and baking) because I had to go to work! What this means is I don't have her photos, but if you are reading this blog tonight, rest assured I will add her photos tomorrow.
After 1 1/2 hours, punch down the dough and plop it out of the bowl onto a floured work surface. Divide into four balls of dough (my Mom made five smaller loaves, you could also make one gigantic loaf, or whatever you want). The dough is soft so it may fall if you don't use bread pans (we used bread pans). Cover with wax paper and leave at room temperature for two hours (until the loaves triple in size (at least).
Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. About 20 minutes before you're ready to bake the loaves, place a boiler pan on the bottom rack of the oven to warm up. This next part could get dangerous - about five minutes before you're ready to bake, take one cup of hot water and pour it into the hot broiler pan (be careful, will ya?!?).
Before you put the loaves in the oven, brush the tops with water and make cuts in the tops (like an x, see photo below). These cuts allow the bread to expand further in the hot oven.
Let the loaves bake for 20 minutes and then change their positions for the rest of the baking time (15-20 minutes). The total cooking time is 35-40 minutes. The water in the broiler pan underneath should evaporate in this amount of time. Clayton suggests using less water next time if it hasn't evaporated by then. The crust should be golden on all sides and if you tap the bread, it should sound hollow. If the bottom crusts are not golden brown, you can turn the loaves over in their pans and bake them for another 10 minutes.
Allow the loaves to cool completely on wire racks.