Pain De Campagne Boule Using Cold Soak Method

Pain De Campagne Boule

(adapted from The Real Bread Campaign’s basic recipe printed in The Sunday Times)

The Sunday Times printed this recipe a few years ago, back in the day when I was afraid of yeast and winced at the thought of calculating hydration percentages, and didn’t know my strong white flours from plain flour or bread flour. On that particular day, I licked my finger and flicked the page along to see the latest fashion faux pas of the paparazzi-hounded celebs in London. Well, we all have our weaknesses, and I suppose that’s a small one I can admit to.

P1010120 (824x1024)

Anyway, back to bread… and here’s the way the final masterpiece looks, by the way!

My friend at Zeb Bakes, which by the way is an excellent blog and well worth a visit, told me about a method using stale bread to make a “cold soaker”. Her article is at  so I decided to try but using white bread flour rather than Zeb’s rye flour. I figured if I failed, well – halleluiah, bread crumbs.

So I cut up some bakery-bought stale sourdough that was as hard as a brick within 3 days of purchase and as tough as a postman’s shoe when it was fresh. I sliced it into small cubes, and set it aside while I weighed out 340g water. I poured 150g of that measured water into a small glass bowl, and dropped the bread cubes into it. Stir, stir, blew it a kiss goodnight, and then I went to bed.

In the morning the cubes were still holding their shape, which made me slightly grumpy. I removed my watch, plunged my hands into the bowl, and squeezed the water and bread so it would disintegrate (or at least turn the water cloudy!). That sort of worked but I had floaty bits of bread, which were clearly identifiable as bread, bobbing around in the water. I grabbed them in my fist, squeezed the life out of them (and any remaining water), and tossed half of the little hangers-on into the bin. Then I sat down with a cup of coffee and wondered if I was stark raving. I decided to take the dog for a walk rather than answer that question. Note to my silly self: slice the stale bread as Zeb suggested next time, rather than being lazy and cutting cubes.

P1010109 (1024x768)With the dog emptied, I set about measuring the flour, salt, and active yeast into a large bowl. Tossed and mixed it by hand. Then I strained the water with the soaked bread, added the reserve still in the cup from last night, and then topped up the weight to 340g. I scooped up a heaping dessert spoon of the bread goo, and slung that back into the jug of water, and give it another stir. The whole cloudy mess was then poured into the flour, and I started mixing by hand being sure that no dry bits remained.

P1010110 (1024x768)It was one heck of a sticky, wallpaper-paste mucky mess. I oiled the worktop lightly, and clawed the dough from the bowl directly on to the work surface. The dog was watching all this, and she barked at me, thinking that I was grumbling at her, so I quickly apologised for my language. And then I re-read The Real Bread recipe, which advised to leave the dough to rest for 10-minutes at this point. Gladly, I nodded at the dog, as I tried to chip away quickly drying dough from my cuticles and fingernails.

I didn’t know whether to cover it or not for those 10-minutes, so I applied the Misky Law: If in doubt, just do it. I reckon there’s nothing I can possibly do that’s that’s so horrible that the world will slip off its axis, causing a magnetic polar shift and continental swing. That sort of catastrophe is just beyond my abilities, like bread used to be…or still is, I thought, looking at the sticky mass. 
Ten minutes and one coffee later, my dough was ready to knead. Unfortunately, it had other ideas and clung to the surface like a limpet caught too high on a P1010114 (1024x958)rock at low tide. I needed something to pry this sucker off the granite surface. I used an old credit card that I found at the back of the junk drawer. That worked a treat. I started kneading the heap by hand…for 10-minutes…10 muscle-squeezing, shoulder-wrenching, fingers-falling-off minutes. I’m using my Kenwood next time. After 8-minutes, I no longer needed to tempt the dough by waving a credit card at it. It rolled, and squeaked, and puffed, and stretched and swelled just like it should do. I oiled a bowl, gently placed the dough in it, giving it a quick swirl to coat it lightly with the oil, and then fitted a shower cap from the Admiral Hotel in Copenhagen on top of the bowl. “Sove godt!” I said the dough, telling it to rest well in its Danish shower cap. I set the beeper for 1 hour and ran upstairs to strip the beds of sheets, change the linen, and scrub the bathrooms.

P1010116 (1024x768)An hour flew by, and when I came back downstairs, the dough had definitely risen double in size. I took it out of the bowl, pressed out the air and shaped it into a square. Then I pulled up the corners, pressing them into the middle, then pulled up the un-tucked edges into the middle also, and then flipped it over and shaped it into a tight ball. I set it lovingly, and with some degree of pride, on a sheet of baking paper (because my baking sheet is not fit for human eyes to see), and then covered the ball of dough with the large glass bowl. I reset the beeper for 30-minutes, knowing that an hour proving was recommended. I just wanted to ensure that it didn’t P1010119 (1024x746)over-do-itself. Then I turned on the oven to 230C and set a shallow metal baking tray at the bottom of the oven to warm. After 30-minutes, the dough had more than doubled. I opened the oven door, poured a jug filled with 500ml cold water into the hot baking tray at the bottom of the oven to create steam, and then immediately put the baking sheet with my lovely dough into the oven. 15-minutes on the beeper, then reduce the heat to 200C for 30-minutes. When the beeper went off, I stuck a thermometer into the bread to ensure that the internal temp was at least 99C. It was. It was done.

And it was gorgeous!

Pain De Campagne Boule
(adapted from a Sunday Times recipe from The Real Bread Campaign)

500g strong bread flour (white, wholemeal or 50:50 of each)
50g table salt (approximately 1 teaspoon)
6g dried active yeast (1 rounded teaspoon) (not fast-acting)
340-360ml lukewarm water (including the cold soaker water)
1 glob (a rounded tablespoon) cold soaker bread solids

1 teaspoon oil for the baking sheet (and a bit for kneading)
1 square baking paper
Large shallow baking tray and 500ml cold water for oven

In a large glass or plastic bowl, put the flour, salt and yeast, and then mix well with your fingers so it’s evenly distributed. Slowly pour in 340ml water for white flour or 360ml for wholemeal (350ml if using 50:50). Add the cold soaker bread solid to the water jug if using.  Mix well using your fingers so that no dry bits of flour or cold soaker remain. The dough is sticky, particularly if you use Allison Flour (which I did), so allowing the dough to rest for 10 minutes helps it to relax before you knead it. When the 10 minutes is up:

Remove the dough from the bowl and place on your lightly oiled work surface, kneading until the dough is soft, pliable and bouncy. For me, that was about 10-minutes by hand.

Put the dough back into the bowl and cover with a shower cap, cling film or clear plastic bag (see you can see through it), and leave until it’s doubled in size – about an hour if the room temperature is about 20c. Now lightly oil a baking sheet, or use baking paper, and set aside. When the hour is up, place the dough on the work surface again, gently press the air out of it, and stretch it into a square. Bring each of the corners up and into the middle, pressing down firmly so they stick in place. Now turn it over, and cup the dough with your hands to tug and shape toward the bottom, resulting in a tight round surface across the top. Place your ball on the baking sheet, and cover with the inverted bowl over it. Allow the dough to prove for 30-60 minutes, or until double in size. Now turn on the oven: 230c/Gas Mark 8 (for my fan oven: 190c) to preheat and place the shallow baking tray on the bottom of the oven to heat up. Just before putting the bread in the oven, pour 500ml cold water into the baking tray and immediately close the oven door. This creates steam for a crispy crust.

Bake 230c/Gas 8/My Fan 190c for 15 minutes, and then reduce the temperature to 200c/Gas 6/My Fan 170c for 30 minutes. If you want to check the internal temperature for doneness, it should show 99c. Or just tap the bottom for a hollow sound.

16 Comments Add yours

  1. Joanna says:

    What a tale of epic proportions! And what a fabulous result you got! I think I ought to revisit that post and maybe add some tips to the method, like getting out a ‘whizzer’ and turning the soaked bread to a fine slurry before adding it to the dough, particularly if you are going to mix and knead by hand.

    I’ve never tried adding old white sourdough to a new white bread, my recipe was for one full of seeds, so a little lumpy bit of old bread goes quite unnoticed in there. I take my shower cap off to you – well done 😀

    1. Misk Cooks says:

      Oh my! My handblender! I can’t believe that I didn’t think of that. Where is a brick wall so I can go bang my head…

      ….epic, as in when the heck is that ol’ crone going to shut up? LOL!

  2. Joanna says:

    I’m going to send you a dough scraper too… 😉

    1. Misk Cooks says:

      I bought a silicon neon-orange one in Horsham today. Not sure how good it’ll be though; it cost less than the espresso I bought next door to shop. :O

  3. Misk Cooks says:

    For some reason, the photos wouldn’t cling to the left side, so I hope everything loads as it should for you guys.

  4. Joanna says:

    Thinking a bit more, there is nothing to stop one using the bread before it becomes rock hard, I suppose one could use it simply a day old, the important thing is to incorporate the crust which has gone through the Maillard reaction process for the flavours. I use boiling water in the steam tray. Dramatic and loud, I believe some people use ice cubes, though I don’t know why they do that. Some people keep a tray of rocks or pebbles and pour their boiling water on that. Some people squirt water into their ovens with a homemister gadget. And some people bake in a closed pot to keep the steam in. That works brilliantly but it is heavy to lift and quite hairy getting the dough into the pot sometimes as it has been preheated…. Did I say I loved this post Misk? Well I do 😀

    1. Misk Cooks says:

      I have another loaf proving while I write this. 🙂 I’ve used the cast iron pot method all along but now I’m doing the water-in-a-tray method. The first method is, true enough, cumbersome, but it doesn’t give brilliant results. Last time I used Azelia’s cold water method. This time I’m trying your hot water method. Bets on that there’s no diff. 😀

  5. drfugawe says:

    A Quite beautiful loaf! In reading, I was struck by the fact that you say your 3 day old store-bought sourdough was ‘rock hard’ – well, that raises a question as to how a real 3 day old sourdough could be so hard, since sourdough bread stales much slower than yeast bread. I’ve had sourdough loaves which set out on the counter for more than a week, and they were still quite usable as sliced bread. So, I wonder just how much sourdough that loaf had!

    I often use the dutch oven, slow rise method made popular by Mark Bittman and Jim Lehey back in 2006 , with wonderful results – and it’s easily the easiest good bread ever. That bread was an epiphany for me.

    1. drfugawe says:

      Here’s a link to the orig Bittman article for the bread:

  6. Misk Cooks says:

    I don’t know how much sourdough was in that store-bought loaf but it definitely had the correct flavour. 🙂

    That no-knead method of making bread in a hot lidded-pot was my first experience with baking bread. It was a revelation for me, or as you say, an epiphany. I suddenly discovered that baking bread was actually something that I could do, and it gave me the courage to continue experimenting and producing more loaves. Some better than others, by the way. I make what my husband likes to eat, and he prefers the boule shape to the uniform loaf tin shape. I tend to agree. For some reason, and I don’t know why, it tastes better as a boule.

    Do you still use the Bittman method?

    1. drfugawe says:

      Oh yes! I’m fascinated with the fact that Bittman’s approach is so simple as to be almost effortless – and in all the complex and fancy ways I’ve now experimented with for making good bread, I still have never had a more satisfying experience than with the slow rise, dutch oven loaf. There’s a message in there for us.

  7. Misk Cooks says:

    Do find that the Bittman method’s dough often spreads and flattens during its proving stage? I can’t figure out why sometimes it does, and other times it doesn’t. I don’t change anything and yet I’m seeing variable behaviour in the dough.

    1. drfugawe says:

      Tell me what you mean by Bittman’s proving stage – as I remember it, there’s a long fermentation period, followed by a forming of the loaf, and then it gets dropped into the hot pot. Technically, it doesn’t have any more of a proof than that it gets during the long fermentation period.

      1. Misk Cooks says:

        When the dough is hurled into the hot pot. Sometimes it doesn’t seem to rise as high as other times. Can’t figure out why. Same flour; same yeast; same recipe; same heat — diff shape almost every single time.

        1. drfugawe says:

          Hummm … perhaps the best response I can make is that bread baking is a science, not an art, and that there are more variables than we realize – and although we think we are very observant, there are really subtle changes in the obvious variables that slip by us. This is why the home baker is inconsistent (I speak for myself), while the commercial baker is not.

          May I ask if, when you do the Bittman method, you do the long fermentation in a cool or room temp environment? And how long do you do it? I ask because this gave me a problem when I first used it.

          BTW, I learned a trick that makes the transfer of the formed loaf from the board to the hot pot much easier – I use a half sheet of baker’s parchment (I bought a box at the restaurant supply store long ago), and put the formed loaf on it, then I lift the corners of the parchment up and into the pot – the paper does not impede the rise or baking of the loaf in any way, and it takes the danger of the process away.

          1. Misk Cooks says:

            Hi there. 😀

            Okay, it perks at room temperature for about 16-18 hours. Minimum is 12-hours. The room isn’t cool; it’s normal room temp.

            I’m going to try the parchment paper. I have some, too.

            My latest loaf that I made today turned out very well, so I’m a happy girl right now. 😀

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