The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

Joe Ortiz Pain de Campagne - wonderful

sweetbird's picture

Joe Ortiz Pain de Campagne - wonderful

I can’t seem to resist any opportunity to watch a sourdough culture get its start. I’ve made many starters over the years but it never loses its fascination for me. I love watching the miracle of wild yeast emerge. That’s what drew me to this formula in Joe Ortiz’s book The Village Baker. It had the added charm of being an authentic formula that has been passed down through the ages. According to the author, it has been in use for hundreds of years by home bakers who gathered once a week in the French countryside to bake in communal ovens. I was drawn to it like a moth to a flame.

It takes about 6 days to complete this, but that’s because you’re building a sourdough culture from scratch. You could substitute an already thriving sourdough culture of your own, but you’d miss out on all the fun (and probably end up with a good but different-tasting loaf). This deeply wheaty and tangy levain lets you know, without any doubt, that it is there in the final loaf.

As I did with my previous Joe Ortiz formula, I’ve done metric conversions while still providing his original measurements for anyone who prefers those. I didn’t convert the tiny amounts to metrics. Also, as in my previous Joe Ortiz loaf (the Pumpkin Seed sourdough), I’ve increased the quantity of salt from 2½ tsp. to a rounded Tbs. and have used Celtic salt.

He isn’t very specific about temperatures, instead using terms like “warm” or “very warm.” I used my judgment and generally took “warm” to be in the mid- to upper-80sF and “very warm” to be anywhere from the 90sF up to 100F. Of course, it also depends on the weather, etc., so it’s best left up to the baker.

This makes one large 2-lb. or approximately 1034 gm loaf.

Chef (2-3 days):

78 gms organic whole wheat flour (½ C.)

46 gms warm water (scant ¼ C.)

1/8 tsp. cumin

½ tsp. whole organic milk


First refreshment (18-24 hrs.):

117 gms organic whole wheat flour (3/4 C.)

72 gms warm water (1/3 C.)

44 gms chef (2 Tbs.)


Second refreshment (10-12 hrs.):

115 gms levain from the first refreshment (½ C.)

117 gms organic whole wheat flour (3/4 C.)

70 gms organic unbleached AP flour (½ C.)

115 gms warm water (½ C.)



420 gms organic unbleached AP flour (3 C.)

342 gms levain from the previous step (1½ C.)

285 gms very warm water (1¼ C.)

15 - 16 gms finely ground Celtic salt (approx. 1 slightly rounded Tbs.)


For this loaf I used organic Central Milling whole wheat flour and King Arthur unbleached AP four. And spring water, which I always use rather than tap because it gives me better and more consistent results.


To make the chef:

His method (presumably the method used for hundreds of years) is to make a mound of flour on your work table and make a well in the center. Into the well pour about two-thirds of the water, and then add the cumin and the milk. With one finger, start mixing and pulling the flour in from the outer ring. Adjust as necessary until you have a firm but somewhat sticky dough. Knead 5 - 8 minutes.

I did it a little differently: I mixed the flour and cumin in a large, wide bowl, made a well, added the liquids and incorporated the flour from the outer ring slowly with a small spatula. I kneaded it right in the bowl; more of a stretch-and-fold technique than a traditional knead.

Transfer to a ceramic or glass container. (Don’t coat with oil.) Cover and let sit in a warm place free from drafts for 2 to 3 days.

A crust will form on the top, but when you peel that back you’ll find a spongy, inflated chef. He describes the aroma as “slightly sour but fragrant and appealing,” which is exactly what I found.

I did my first refreshment after 2½ days, and that happened to be at 8 o’clock in the morning, which turned out to be perfect timing for the rest of the steps, leaving me with a baking schedule that would suit most of us I suppose, which is to bake during daylight hours. I can’t say I planned it that way but once in a while we non-planners get lucky.

First refreshment:

Remove the crust and take 2 Tbs. (about 44 gms) of the sponge. Make a well of the flour, put the chef into the well and add the warm water. After the chef dissolves, begin to draw in the flour from the sides of the well. You should end up with a very firm but still slightly moist ball of dough. You may not even be able to incorporate all the flour. Try to do so, but don’t worry if you can’t.

Transfer to a ceramic or glass container, cover, and let stand for between 18 and 24 hours. I left mine for the full 24 hours. When ready it will have risen noticeably and fallen a little. It will have a “pleasing, alcoholic aroma.” Mine did.

Second refreshment:

Discard any crust but use most of this levain (should be about 115 gms). Hold back some of the flour until you’re sure that you need it. It should be slightly moist to the touch but firm, as the first refreshment was. Let this rise, covered, for between 10 and 12 hours. Mine became active very quickly and rose like a champ throughout the day. It was raring to go by 10 hours, so I went on to the next step, mixing the final dough, which I did in the evening in preparation for a bake the following day.

Beginning of 2nd refreshment:

After 4 hours:

After 8 hours:


Make a well in the flour, add all the levain (broken up into pieces) and all the water and mix as before, stopping when you still have about a cup of flour left to incorporate. Add the salt and then incorporate the rest of the flour. Knead for 5 minutes until firm and elastic.

Let rise, covered, for 8 to 10 hours. It should double. I left mine overnight in a cool room (probably about 66°F, give or take a few degrees throughout the winter’s night) and it had doubled beautifully by morning. It was domed, so it hadn’t begun to fall, and it smelled nicely of fermentation.

Deflate gently on your work surface and save a walnut-sized piece of dough for your next bake. About 44 gms or 2 Tbs. is a good amount. You can refrigerate this for a day or two or begin another loaf right away if you like. To make another loaf you would let it sit at room temperature for 4 to 8 hours and treat it as the “chef,” using it in the first refreshment, then continuing on with this formula.

Pre-shape the dough and let rest for half an hour.

Cool trick: when you’re ready to shape, remove another small walnut-sized piece of dough and put it in a Mason jar (or any medium-sized glass jar) filled with room temperature water. Shape your dough and put the dough and the jar with water together in the same warm place. When the little ball of dough pops up and floats in the water, the bread is ready to bake.

Joe Ortiz calls for an 8 to 10 hour rise, but I found mine was ready to go at 3 hours, so you need to be checking your dough as you always do (even if you’re using the Mason jar trick). The important thing is to have your oven and baking stone ready when your dough is ready, so some educated anticipation is called for. The author makes the point that the final rise plus the previous step (the dough rise) should total 16 hours, but I found my levain to be too active to push it that far. That seems like it has to be left up to the baker.

By the way, for large loaves like this one, I’ve used an Easter basket lined with cloth for years and it works great. It cost about 99 cents. I searched around for one with the size and shape I wanted; this one is nicely rounded from rim to rim, and once the handle was removed it was perfect.

Preheat the oven and stone to 450°F about 45 minutes before you expect to bake, and prepare for steam. Score and load the loaf and adjust the temperature down to about 400°F or 425°F if your oven tends to bake hot. Mine does, so I went down to 425°F. Remove steam apparatus after 10 - 12 minutes and rotate halfway through for even browning. He recommends baking for a full hour, but mine was ready at about 40-45 minutes or so. I turned the oven off and left the door ajar for 10 minutes.

When I transferred this loaf to the peel, I had a bad feeling that I had over-proofed it. It seemed flabby. That may—or may not—account for my inelegant scoring:

I didn’t think I was going to get any oven spring, but I ended up getting a moderate amount. Not perfect by any stretch, and a bit of a clumsy shape, but not a disaster. The color was deep (somewhere between the film noir shot at the top and the sun-drenched shot just above) and the crust was nicely blistered with signs of fermentation. The real joy came when I tried my first slice. I LOVE this bread! It has a genuine, pronounced sourdough tang and the flavor of well-developed, long-fermented wheat, which is brought about by the leisurely development of the levain, but also by the generous proportion of levain in the final dough.

My husband Angelo especially loved it too. He has a wheat sensitivity (but not an allergy, thank goodness), so he’s not supposed to eat much wheat, but he can’t resist trying some when I bake. I am thrilled with it and will make it again and again. Someday I’ll try it with one of my standard starters and report back on the results. At the moment, I’m in the process of refreshing the “old dough” from this bake in preparation for another loaf in a few days.

This little sweetie seems to like the smell of freshly baked bread, because she has a habit of showing up when I do my "photo shoots." Now I have a good shot of her face so I'll know who the culprit is if some of my bread mysteriously goes missing!

Happy baking to all,


p.s., submitted to Susan for yeastspotting


teketeke's picture

Thank you for taking the time to write up such a great post!sweetbird! I have a question. You cover the container completely, as I see. Is it correct?  I just curious about it. 


teketeke's picture

Thank you for taking the time to write up such a great post!sweetbird! I have a question. You cover the container completely, as I see. Is it correct?  I just curious about it. 


sweetbird's picture

Hi teketeke,

It's good to hear from you. I suppose I'm flirting with disaster by closing the lid the way I do, but I'm never very far away so I can keep an eye on things. I do it to maintain more moisture in the dough's environment and to prevent a heavy, dry crust from forming. The author's method is to cover with either plastic wrap or a damp towel, which lets some air in and doesn't invite explosions.


teketeke's picture

Thank you for your quick reply, Janie. Your way of making sourdough is impressive.  Did you open the lid sometime during the process? Did you smell alcohol when you opened the lid ?  Your starter looks pretty strong and healthy.  I like your photagerphy too.   Very crust looking loaf, Janie.

Haapy baking


sweetbird's picture

Thanks for your comments, Akiko. When I began the first part of this process (the "chef") I used a small glass jar with a fitted plastic lid. That's the part that can take up to 3 days, so I did check on it from time to time by lifting the lid, and it did have an alcoholic smell at that point. Once I moved on to the first and second refreshments, when the levain was beginning to develop, I switched to the larger glass jar with the clamp-type closing. I opened that periodically to see how things were going, and the alcohol smell receded as the smell of fermented wheat began to be more prominent. When I got to the dough stage, I moved on to a larger container -- a plastic bowl with a fitted plastic lid. That was left without my checking on it overnight, and that had a very appealing smell -- not sharp or alcoholic at all -- in the morning when I checked on it.

All the best to you,


varda's picture

Janie,   I have been enjoying your posts - bread and photography.   I hadn't heard of Joe Ortiz, but you certainly have made some nice breads from his book, so yet another book to add to the list.  -Varda

Isand66's picture

Your crust looks awesome and the bread sounds like it is worth the effort.  I'm not sure I have the patience to make a new starter from scratch, but it sounds like it was worth it.


Janetcook's picture


What an interesting process you went through to get the final loaf.  Speaks loudly about your patience!

I had never heard of the proofing trick.  I will have to give that a try.

I am surprised you have ladybugs out this time of year....I have to wait several more months before ours appear....

Thanks for another informative post!

Take Care,


sweetbird's picture

I can't believe Mini Oven's timing! She just posted a video and a question about the whole wheat-cumin sourdough starter that I've just written about here. The video shows Joe Ortiz teaching Julia Child how to make this Pain de Campagne. For some reason I couldn't post the link to the video here, but I'll try posting a link to Mini Oven's post and see if that works:

Thanks, Mini Oven. I enjoyed that.


dabrownman's picture

you went more rustic this time.  I saw Ortiz with Julia the other day on TV making this bread except he decorated his with wheat sheaths on top.  She also towered over him.  I guess that wheat and white would be the classic  rustic country bread of France.  I think I will be using my old ancient starter I made from milk for this bread though.    Very nice Janie.  You to have been a busy baker indeed.  Do you ever feed your starter milk from time to time?

sweetbird's picture

...and thank you for your nice comments.

owsprings1, for some reason I didn't see your comment until this morning, so I'm sorry to be late in answering. The trick with the ball of dough in water that Joe Ortiz describes is used for the final rising just before baking, and I've used it quite often with success, but I always back it up with my own checking of the dough, especially since during the final rise you need to make a judgment about when to start preheating your oven. I suppose it could be used for any part of the process when you wanted to get confirmation that the levain was fully developed. I neglected to say in this post that I forgot the little dough ball trick when I shaped this loaf, so for this one I went by my own judgment by watching the dough.

dabrownman, I was surprised by the fancy decoration he did in that Julia Child video. He probably thought that would be more appealing to her audience. He bakes this as a rustic loaf in his book The Village Baker, although he does have a small section at the back showing some bread decorations. I don't feed any of my starters with milk, but have made milk- or yogurt-based starters before and love the flavor.

It's nice to hear from you, Varda. The Village Baker is a book I love having on the shelf and delving into from time to time. I've never been disappointed in anything I've tried from it. I'm not sure whether it's still in print, but it's worth hunting down, I think.

Janet, this has been an odd, warm winter and many things in nature seem out of step, including the arrival of the ladybugs. I'm always glad to see them, though!

All the best,


gdstuart's picture

jessiesystem, try this recipe:

"In Search of the Perfect Loaf: A Home Baker's Odyssey" by Samuel Fromartz.

It's on Food Network; search for pain-de-campagne.  This blog would not accept the link.

The timings are vastly different but the resultant loaf was very good. My results with Joe's recipe right out of the book was just like yours.  Fromartz' technique and timings seem to work better.