Pain de Campagne


I’ve been guilty. Guilty of baking and not posting. It’s a whole lot easier to post on Instagram and Facebook. Putting it here requires a lot, lot more time and I’m happy I’m finally here. This is easily one of my favourite sourdough recipes and it has never ever failed to deliver. It’s a high hydration dough and shaping high hydration loaves are aways a challenge. What has worked for me is getting comfortable with the stickiness of the dough. High hydration equals sticky dough and the less you fight it – the easier it gets. It’s like swimming – you can’t do it unless you get wet. So, shall we get comfortable being uncomfortable? 🙂

Unlike many of the breads I baked that uses a liquid starter (100% hydration – ratio of water to flour) this one calls for a firm starter (50% hydration). I prefer to preserve and sustain all my starters @ 100% hydration – as they have a gentler tang. I converted my liquid starter to a firm starter using the formula below. While I could have reduced the quantity of the starter – I thought it more prudent to refrigerate the left over for a later date. While firm starters have a longer ‘shelf’ life – I find that mine, like all starters, got acidic after a few days – imparting a more tangy edge to the bread.

Firm starter:
35 grams active starter
77 grams water
135 grams unbleached flour (Maida)
15 grams whole wheat flour (Atta)

Mix the ingredients in a bowl, cover with cling film and let it ferment overnight. Your firm starter will look a little puffy and will smell a little funky the next morning. This simply means you’re in business.

126 grams firm starter
506 grams water @ Room Temeprature
634 grams unbleached all purpose flour (Maida)
70 grams whole wheat flour (I used Emmer and this can be replaced by Atta)
19 grams Himalayan Pink Salt (fine sea salt works too. Avoid the commercial iodized table salt)

1. Mix the starter and water in a large bowl till the mix is frothy and you don’t have any lumps of the firm starter. This can be a challenge if you’ve refrigerated your firm starter. In such situations, I get my hands squeaky clean, dunk them into the bowl and squish the starter whenever I feel lumps. Doing this while some upbeat music is playing is great fun too. 🙂

2. Add the flour mix till the flour looks well hydrated and you don’t have any dry patches. Let it sit for 30 minutes.

3. Add the salt to the dough, and using your thumb and index finger like pincers cut through the dough and remix. Essentially, you want to ensure that the salt is evenly distributed across the dough. The dough will be sticky, so it’s advisable to have a bowl of water close by to wet your hands every time you find the dough sticking to your fingers and palm. Cover with a kitchen napkin and let it sit for 30 minutes.

4. This formula calls for ‘turning’ the dough thrice.These turns are done every thirty minutes, so you’ll be done with the turns in 1.5 hours. Keep the dough covered in between the turns. This step replaces the conventional kneading (this dough is way too sticky to ‘knead’ the dough) and is essentially to develop the gluten. Here is Ken Forkish video that shows you how to ‘turn’ the dough. Leave the dough covered for 2 to 3 hours or till you see air bubbles along the sides of the mixing bowl – indicators that the fermentation is done and the dough is ready to be shaped and proofed.

5. Flour the inside edges of the mixing bowl and using a moist silicon spatula, gently nudge the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Quickly flour your fingers and stretch the dough (pulling outwards from under the dough) so that it’s flattened on the work surface. Now, stretch and fold the dough and pre-shape into a ball. Cover with a damp kitchen napkin and let it sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile, dust a kitchen napkin generously with a 50-50 mix of rice flour and wheat flour. This is what you will be transferring your shaped dough into. Shape the dough and transfer into the proofing basket. I’ve used plastic colanders to shape bread and I’ve found that they do the trick perfectly. Here’s another video that shows you how to do this step.

6. Leave the dough covered in its proofing basket. In about 2 hours or so, the dough should be puffy and ready. One way to check if the dough is ready is to do the finger dent test. Here’s a video with more details.

7. Pre-heat oven to max temperature (250C) with a Dutch Oven (DO) in it. I normally heat it for 40 minutes. This needs to be timed in a manner that when the dough is proofed and ready, the DO is also hot and ready. From experience I know that the dough will be proofed and ready, 2 hours after shaping and keeping that in mind I time the pre-heating of the oven. I also like my sourdough bread mild and am not a fan of sour tones – something that can seep in very easily with longer proofing time. Ken Forkish (who’s video link is there below) doesn’t slash his breads and he also transfers them to the DO seam side up. I transferred the dough seam side down and I also scored the surface. Bake for 20 minutes at 250°C with the lid on followed by 20 – 25 minutes with the lid off at 225°C or till the loaf is a gorgeous medium dark brown. When this is done, transfer to a cooling rack and it rest for 30 minutes before slicing. Here’s yet another video in which Ken shows you how to do this step.

Recipe credit – Della Fattoria Bread

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