This Four Hour French Country Bread recipe will produce an artisan loaf with a crispy crust and a soft, moist, and, depending on how much water you add to the dough, an airy crumb.
I’m really excited about this bread!! When it emerges from the oven, the crust sings and crackles away as it cools. It’s all I can do not to sit there and record the sounds as the bread cools. I am a bread geek after all.
I’ve made this bread every week over the last few weeks, making it in various vessels and oven set ups. The only thing I have not been able to accomplish is getting a great bread “ear” with the crust. As you can see, my scoring skills need some work.
The one thing I haven’t tried yet is doing the final rise in the refrigerator, which might help with the whole “bread ear” problem. However, I’m pretty sure that negates the whole four hour concept, right?
French country bread, or pain de campagne, is a combination of white and whole wheat flour, and is typically made with sourdough, but can also be made with baker’s yeast.
I have a lot of French country bread recipes on this blog, including this one, that takes a couple of days to make, this one, that requires a three to four hour rise, and this, my pride and joy, which requires a couple of days.
What I’m hoping is that once you try this bread, you will definitely want to venture off into the slower breads mentioned above.
The photos above are from the last time I made this bread. While I typically bake this bread in a preheated Lodge Combo Cooker, in this case, because I wanted a batard, I baked the bread on a baking stone under a hotel pan on top of my baking stone.
Of course, you could add steam to your oven by setting a pan under the stone to create a steam oven if you don’t have the hotel pan. I love rigging up lots of combinations with my baking stone and various pans to create steam. You can even use foil roasting pans to trap steam, like I did with these baguettes.
I’ve also made this bread into a boule (a round loaf) and baked it in a preheated Dutch oven. That’s pretty much my go-to method.
With the slightly lower hydration, I got a wonderful crumb, albeit not quite as airy.
I’ve given away several of these loaves and they all have received raves.
I love this bread!! It’s great sliced and spread with butter. It makes excellent toast… and the grilled cheese… there is nothing like a grilled cheese sandwich where the cheese melts through the holes of the bread and gets all burned and delicious! I like to add some freshly grated Parmesan to the butter on the outside of the bread, just to add to the charred cheesy goodness.
If you’d like to make a loaf of crusty and airy artisan bread, but don’t have a lot of time, give this recipe a try. It’s really quite flavorful! As in, jump up and down, I can’t believe I actually made this myself, delicious!
If you decide to use the Dutch oven method, be sure to check out this post about transferring the dough into the screaming hot pan. If you decide to use the overturned stainless steel bowl/pan, be sure to check out this post for Hack #3.
As for shaping the dough, I recommend using a good bench scraper and your floured or oiled hand. The goal is to achieve a tight “skin” on the top of the shaped loaf, without deflating the dough. Be gentle. I highly recommend the books Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish or Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson for in depth photos and instructions on shaping. This method has been inspired by both of these books.
- 450 grams bread flour
- 50 grams whole wheat flour
- 365 to 380 grams 90 to 95 degrees F water. The amount of water should depend upon how much hydration you are striving for.
- 10.5 grams fine sea salt
- 4 grams instant yeast
- Rice flour for dusting
- Combine the flours and the water in a large bowl or dough rising bucket. Mix with your hand until all of the flour is incorporated. Cover with plastic wrap, and let rest for 20 minutes.
- Sprinkle the top of the dough with the salt and the yeast. With a wet hand, fold the dough over the salt and yeast, and then pinch the dough with your fingers. Continue to wet your mixing hand and fold the dough over itself, and continue to pinch and fold, until the salt and yeast are dissolved. Cover the bowl with a towel or plastic wrap, and let rest for 20 minutes.
- Fold the dough by picking up each “side,” stretching it, and folding it over the middle. Cover again. Fold the dough again after 20 minutes. Cover the dough with plastic wrap, and let rise until tripled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
- Gently scrape the dough out onto a floured surface, and shape it into a boule or batard by gently folding the dough over itself from all “sides.” Flip the shaped dough over so that the seam side is on the counter. Using a bench scraper, draw the loaf toward you, and then away from you, to tighten up the top of the dough. Cover with a towel and let rest for 10 minutes. In the meantime, dust a banneton or towel lined bowl with a 50-50 mixture of wheat and rice flour.
- After 10 minutes, place the bench scraper under the shaped loaf, and scoot it around from all four sides to tighten up the loaf a bit. Place the shaped dough into the banneton, seam side up or down. If you do it seam side down, you won’t need to slash the dough before baking, as it will open naturally.
- Cover the dough with oiled plastic wrap or a clean towel, and let rise until puffy, about an hour. Preheat the oven to 475 degrees F with either a Dutch oven or baking stone placed on the middle rack.
- When the dough has risen, turn it out onto parchment lined plate. Either lift it into the heated Dutch oven, or slide it onto the baking stone. Cover with the lid, or in the case of the baking stone, cover with a stainless bowl or hotel pan.
- Bake for 30 minutes, remove the lid or pan, and bake for 15 to 20 minutes more, until the bread is a deep brown and reaches an internal temperature of about 205 degrees F. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Yield: 1 24 ounce loaf