Country French

Pain de Compagne, or country French is something Trish and I have had all over France. It's the most common bread offered while dining in France. Although its quality and characteristics vary from brasserie to brasserie, it has some common features. It's usually wheat, a round loaf, crusty with large holes and is derived from a starter of some kind but does not have a strong sour flavor. I've yearned to make this style forever (to a level I was satisfied with). I tried again this weekend. Twice. The first, unfortunately, was not as good but we brought it to dinner anyway (sorry Gail and Roger for taking a less than perfect loaf but thanks for an exceptional dinner!). The second attempt, I was absolutely thrilled with. It reminded me of the better loaves I've had in France.

The breakthrough came as I caught the end of America's Test Kitchen on our local PBS station a couple weeks ago. They were making Rustic Country Bread. Breads like this have extraordinarly simple recipes. Flour, water, salt, a trace of yeast and optionally, low levels of enrichment (honey and/or olive oil). It's ALL process. You have to see these loaves prepared to appreciate the subtlety of the methods involved. What caught my attention on this show is how long they baked it. A final internal temp of at least 210F but more importantly, they cooked it to a dark brown. Dark. This method calls for a sponge, but I believe the way in which it's described, it's actually a poolish.

This site is free but requires a registration; absolutely worth the time. Their recipe is probably sufficiently detailed to follow. I made a couple critical changes: i. I used Montana Sapphire unbleached white flour and some wheat and rye, ii. to prepare the final dough, I used a bread machine to knead and do the first rise (this is a slack dough and I don't have the patience to knead a slack dough and it's messy). A bread machine is great at kneading slack doughs. The honey addition looks a bit odd but the concentration is small enough to not make the loaf sweet. I also baked my loaf at 425F and cooked the crap out of it. I believe I baked it a full 50 minutes. I let it cool an hour and sliced it up. Julian's parents and Trish and I savored this rustic loaf with a bit of Egyptian feta for a quick snack. Reviews were quite favorable.

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