"This bread takes three days to make from start to finish..."
Yes! This was a very satisfying weekend project. The recipe came from a book called Bread For All Seasons by Beth Hensperger, something I picked up on a Barnes & Noble clearance table years ago. It's an interesting book that includes a lot of food history and cultural detail on breads from around the world, and reading it will give you a serious urge to knead fragrant, yeasty-smelling dough.
The pain de campagnard recipe that caught my attention says this: "Here is a superb bread similar to the earthy wheat-rye loaves once made with sharecroppers' grains at harvest time in the French, Italian and Hungarian countrysides." See what I mean?
While the bread involves a three-day process, the amount of actual work involved is around 30 minutes. I tweaked the recipe ever-so slightly, using partially sprouted rye grains (yep, from the sprouting jar) instead of soaked wheat berries and using a higher proportion of whole wheat flour. I also used fresh yeast instead of dry active yeast just because I find fresh yeast to be one of the most intriguing and alluring ingredients of all time.
I usually make quicker breads like focaccia or normal whole wheat bread, which only have to rise for about an hour total. The longer fermentation process with this bread gave it a seriously alluring crust that I haven't been able to achieve otherwise. So here's the recipe with my modifications:
Pain de campagnard
2 Tablespoons crumbled fresh yeast (2 teaspoons active dry yeast)
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1 cup tepid water (around 90°F)
11/2 cups tepid water
1 cup all-purpose (white, unbleached) flour
1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/4 cup sprouted rye seeds (or 1/4 cup wheat berries, covered with boiling water and then left to soak for 4 hours)
1 Tablespoon crumbled fresh yeast (1 teaspoon active dry yeast)
1/3 cup rye flour
3 to 4 cups whole-wheat flour
1 Tablespoon salt
Day one (starter):
Place the yeast and tepid water in a large container with a lid (I used a large cast-iron stockpot). Add the whole-wheat flour, whisking hard until a smooth batter is formed. Cover and leave at room temperature for 24 hours.
Day two (sponge):
Blend the whole wheat and white flours. Alternately add the tepid water and the flour in three additions. Whisk to combine until a smooth batter is formed. Scrape down the sides of the container, cover and allow to sit for 12 to 24 hours at room temperature. The sponge will begin to bubble and has a sweet and pleasant aroma, as suggested in this shot by my sticking my nose in it.
Day three: Dough
Sprinkle the yeast and the sprouted rye (or wheat berries) over the sponge.
Beat the sponge down with a wooden spoon to combine. Add the rye flour and the salt, beating hard to combine. Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time. When the dough starts to pull away from the sides of the container, use your hands to knead in the remaining flour.
This dough remains very sticky throughout, so I just kept kneading it in the container rather than trying to turn it out onto a work surface. Rather than flouring your hands, try wetting them to keep the dough from sticking too much to your fingers (it will still stick a little though). Knead for about 3 to 5 minutes.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl (or two lightly oiled bowls, as I did), and allow to rise at room temperature for 2 hours, until it has doubled in bulk.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and divide into two equal portions.
My oven is small and does best with small bread shapes, so I opted to bake the first portion of this dough in a silicone muffin pan. So I just divided one of the halves of dough into six and filled the little muffin cups about 3/4 full.
With the other half, I tried to do a miniature version of what the original recipe suggests. Divide the portion in two and flatten each half into a fat rectangle. Roll up the rectangle from a short end to form a tight cylinder. Twist the ends of each cylinder and tuck them underneath, so the shape is slightly less thick at the ends (a batard form). Place the loaves onto a lightly oiled baking sheet.
Loosely cover the dough with plastic wrap or with a slightly damp dishtowel. (I had some sticking problems here, so I ended up concocting a sort of tent with damp dishtowels and various props). Allow to rise for around 1 hour. Twenty minutes before the hour is up, preheat the oven to 425°F (around 220°C).
Bake until the crust is browned and hard and sounds hollow when tapped. This could vary between 20 to 35 minutes, so keep an eye on your bread.
Wait until completely cooled before slicing!
The batard shapes didn't turn out so well, honestly. They were undercooked underneath, they stuck to the pan, and they didn't rise very well. The muffin-tin ones were a great success, though!