The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pain de Compagne

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PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Saturday, August 20, was a busy day in the kitchen.  And a bit more daunting than normal.  Friends had invited us to dinner that evening and asked if I would bring some bread.  When I asked what they would like, the answer was “something that would go well with snoek paté.”  Did I mention that Marthinius had previously been executive chef and partner in an up-scale restaurant?  And did I also mention that I’ve never had my baking critiqued by a chef whose training is in classic French cuisine?  Hence the daunting.

Well.  A challenge.  Bread to go with snoek paté.  Whatever that might turn out to be. 

I wound up choosing two breads: Reinhardt’s pain a l’ancienne and a pain de compagne.  Both French in origin or influence.  Neither one required complex techniques but each offered layers of flavour from levains or long ferments; one somewhat more ethereal and one more hearty.  (Hedging, don’t you know.)  And each being something that was started the previous evening with the final dough preparation (the pain de compagne) or shaping and baking (the pain a l’ancienne) on Saturday.  Because each was at different stages of readiness Saturday morning, it also gave me better opportunity to manage oven timing without a train wreck between two different breads that had to be baked at the exact same time.

And, since we were also invited to a braai (barbecue) on Sunday afternoon, I followed those with Portugese Sweet Bread using Mark Sinclair’s formula.

The breads, happily, proceeded without a hitch.  Just as happily, temperatures were starting to moderate; enough that the house temperature was in the low to mid-60s instead of the 50s.  I still spiked the final pain de compagne dough with about a half-teaspoon of yeast as insurance and used a make-shift proofer for the bulk ferment.

Handling the pain a l’ancienne dough is, except for temperature, not unlike handling taffy or melted mozzarella cheese.  It is so wet that it has very little internal support and wants to stick to everything.  Nevertheless, I was able to get it divided and “shaped” as per instructions.  One or two were rather raggedy in appearance, so they didn’t make the trip to dinner that evening.  Which is not to say that they weren’t eaten.  In spite of knowing how difficult it is to slash such wet dough, I made the attempt.  The slashes were not a thing of beauty but they did serve a purpose.  You can see in the photo that the greatest expansion occurred at the slash locations.  Rather than repeatedly opening the oven for steaming by spritzing, I relied on pouring boiling water into a preheated pan in the oven to generate steam.  The oven in this house only heats up to 230C, which is a bit less than I needed, so I relied on the convection setting to boost the, um, “effective” temperature.  While I would have liked to have a prettier bread, this gave me a baguette-like bread with great flavour but without the technical demands of producing a classic baguette.  I’ve tried but my present setup just doesn’t permit me to hit that target even if my technique is bang on, which it frequently is not.

The pain de compagne is more familiar to me and went very smoothly.  The only glitch was my being a bit impatient about getting it into the oven.  I could have waited another 20-30 minutes at those temperatures and avoided a couple of small blowouts.  Other than that, some very tasty bread.

The Portugese Sweet Bread is lovely stuff.  The dough is easy to handle and absolutely silky compared to the whole-grain lean breads that I usually make.  I have no complaints with the process or the finished bread.

Eventually it was time for dinner, the moment of truth.  Marthinius made the snoek paté with snoek that he had smoked at home.  I don’t know entirely what was in it (mayonnaise? minced celery? other?) but my wife, who is ordinarily not a lover of things involving fish, thought it was absolutely wonderful.  I concurred.  After asking me to describe each of the breads and then sampling each, Marthinius decided that he liked both (whew!) but preferred the pain a l’ancienne with the paté.  I think the complex play of flavours appealed to him.

There were two main courses.  One was a deboned haunch of springbok, larded with garlic cloves, lightly smoked, then wrapped with bacon and finished in a slow oven.  The other was chicken breasts stuffed with feta cheese and spinach.  Both were excellent.  They were accompanied by baby corn, roasted sweet potatoes, and a pilaf.  Dessert was a vinegar pudding, as it is called by the Afrikaners.  Those from a British background would probably call it a nutmeg pudding.  It was a thoroughly enjoyable meal and evening.

The weather on Sunday was absolutely gorgeous.  There was plenty of warm sun and a cool breeze.  With chicken, steak and boerwors on the braai, delicious side dishes, and lots of conversation, it made for a marvellous afternoon. 

We are definitely happy about moving back to the States soon but we will miss times like these with friends like these. 

varda's picture
varda

Today's bread is a pain de compagne.   I used and modified Bernard Clayton's instructions for Madame Doz's bread.   Compared to the milk bread I made yesterday, this is long and involved, with many steps that make the scheduling difficult, especially for a beginning bread baker, who generally can't hang around the kitchen all day.   So I allowed myself more flexibility on the times than what Clayton specified, and looked more at the condition of the dough than the clock to decide if I could get away with going late or early on several of the steps.   I have made this bread a few times already and this came out the best yet.   It starts with a "starter" with flour, water, vinegar, buttermilk, and yeast (belts and suspenders?) that goes overnight.   Then add whole wheat, water and wheat germ to that to make the levain, which hangs around on the counter for most of the day.   Then mix up bread flour and water into a dough.   Then merge the levain and the dough - balls of around equal size - into one big blended dough.   The step that I really don't understand and haven't seen elsewhere, is that when the two pieces of dough are merged, only then do you add a solution of salt in water and work that in.   Can't argue with the result though - even though this uses a fair amount of whole wheat flour, it still comes out very mild and light.   Although Clayton's total kneading time is around 20 minutes, I tried to do as little as I could and still get the dough mixed up, so as to have more of an open crumb.   I baked this in a dutch oven instead of on a stone with steam, removing the top for the last 15 minutes.  




I saved half of the levain in the refrigerator, but don't really know how to use it other than to just make another big boule soon.    It is not a starter, so I don't know if I can just add to it later without the "starter" component" when I'm ready to bake another Madame Doz.


Tomorrow - Multigrain batard using no-knead techniques.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Between last weekend's experiments with varying hydration levels, locating rye flour, and tuning up my sourdough starter over the past few days, things took a turn for the better with this weekend's bake.  If I had to rank the importance of those three, it would be a difficult choice.  I'd probably nominate the improved starter as the most important but that wouldn't have happened if I hadn't obtained some rye flour.  Of course, having a notion where things were headed because of the hydration experiments gave me confidence in what to expect, so, I suppose I'm back to where I started...


I'll start with the starter.  It was initially propagated with whole wheat flour and orange juice (didn't find pineapple juice at the store until several days later) and has always had an intense acidity.  It's residents may also have been a little too active in pumping out enzymes because it tended to go gooey after a few hours at room temps (it's summer here in South Africa) in spite of being maintained at approximately 50% hydration.  I took a tablespoon or so of the starter, mixed it with another couple tablespoons of mineral water and enough rye flour to make a soft paste.  I repeated this regimen with morning and evening feedings for two days.  Over the next 3-4 days, I introduced bread flour until the mix was mostly bread flour and a couple of pinches of rye flour, always discarding all but a tablespoonful before the feeding.  By the end of the third day, the starter was much bubblier and the odor and flavor were much less acidic.  The starter now has more of a yeasty/fruity odor.  


With a now lively, less-acidulated starter in hand, I decided that Leader's pain de compagne looked like a good candidate for a trial run.  The hydration level is approximately 67%, which is right in the sweet spot of the previous week's hydration tests.  All of the required ingredients were on hand, so I mixed up the liquid levain on Friday evening before going to bed.  The next morning it was evident that the levain had more than tripled overnight and was already subsiding, so I mixed the dough before breakfast.  Here's where I have a slight quibble with the process.  Leader directs you to mix up the final dough, sans salt and levain, let it autolyze for 20 minutes, then mix in the salt, followed by the liquid levain.  Nothing unorthodox there, except that the final dough without the levain is about 50% hydration.  Try mixing a liquid levain into bagel dough!  By hand!  At least I had the good sense to chop the dough into small pieces before starting to mix in the levain (the directions do not suggest this step).  Still, it was a long, slow, laborious process to mix the dough and the levain into a uniform mass.  Toward the end, I was effectively doing stretch and folds with the dough in the bowl, trying to get everything folded in and combined.  Needless to say, I settled for a few rounds of French folds instead of the recommended 12 minutes of kneading on the bench.  I can attest that the dough was well developed by that point.


Bulk fermention, shaping, final fermentation and baking all proceeded pretty much as advertised in the book.  It was extremely gratifying to see strong oven spring with this bread, after having had a few less-than-stellar bakes.


Here's how the finished bread looked:



 


I like the coloration of the crust.  Apparently I'm starting to get better acquainted with the oven, too.


The crumb, shown below, has a mix of smaller and larger alveoli.  Not classic pain de compagne texture but it will work well for sandwiches, which is how most of it will be consumed.



The crust, though thin, was more chewy than crunchy.  After sitting overnight in plastic, it has softened considerably.  The flavor is definitely more French than San Francisco: only slightly tangy and thoroughly wheaty.  The crumb is somewhat moist and feels slightly cool upon the tongue.  Very pleasing to the palate.


All in all, a very pleasing outcome.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

SF SD Pain de Compagne


SF SD Pain de Compagne


SF SD Pain de Compagne crumb


SF SD Pain de Compagne crumb

This came out of the oven this evening in time to cool ... almost cool ... for our obligatory bedtime snack.

It is basically the same bread as that described in my last blog entry except that I built the dough directly from the starter rather than elaborating an "intermediate starter," and I made it with slightly higher hydration. As a result, it did not have the first clear flour, and it had proportionately more whole wheat and rye in the starter. This was a sticky dough that I avoided over-kneading. It fermented for 3.5 hours with one folding at 90 minutes. I shaped a single boule of about 830 grams. It was retarded in the refrigerator for 18 hours.

The boule was proofed in a linen-lined banneton and baked on a stone, covered with a stainless steel bowl for the first 15 minutes of a 40 minute bake. It was left in the turned off oven with the door ajar for another 10 minutes.

The crust was really crisp after 90 minutes of cooling. The crumb is tender but chewy, how I like it. The taste is medium sour with clear notes of whole wheat and rye which I expect to be more subtle by the morning.

My next project is to use the same dough at a lower hydration to make sourdough baguettes.

David

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