Sunday, March 28, 2010

Compagnon (or Whacked Bread)

Sunday, March 28, 3010
This is a recipe from one of my newer bread cookbooks--one that's been out of print for a while, and I finally just ordered it for myself: The Village Baker, by Joe Ortiz.
I've seen good reviews of this book, which was one of the earliest of the recent spate of books on artisan bread baking. (Compare the 1993 date of The Village Baker to the 2003 publishing date of The Bread Bible). Ortiz has some great stories about traveling around Europe talking to (what else?) village bakers. Unfortunately, Ortiz gathered up the European recipes and painstakingly translated all the weights into volume measurements. Scale snob that I've become, I was dismayed by this. If I want to try the recipes, I may have to go through the book and re-translate into grams.
The reasons I picked this recipe were: 1) It's a simple, direct-method dough that requires nothing other than flour, water, salt, and yeast; and 2) it directs you to whack the bread violently about 100 times with a rolling pin. It "helps to break down the gluten." (I'll just bet it does). It is also supposed to give the bread a very uneven texture.
I wouldn't call this a "very uneven" texture, so perhaps I didn't whack hard enough, although I certainly gave it my all.
You can't really tell from the still photos how enthusiastically I'm whacking the bread with the rolling pin. It might have worked better if I'd had the handleless French kind instead of the American pie-rolling-out kind. After all, it is a French bread. Although I may not have ended up with the uneven texture I was supposed to have, I will say that the whacking technique brought that dough into line.
This is what the dough looked like when it came out of the food processor, before getting assaulted.
And here is what it looks like after being punched into docility.
After the bread rises in its shaped form, it gets double-slashed.
And then it's glazed with a very diluted (one-half cup water and one egg white) egg white mixture.
I usually glaze with a slightly diluted egg yolk, so I wondered what the difference was. It turns out that an egg white glaze gives you a less shiny and not as dark loaf of bread. I prefer the result from the egg yolk glaze, which is shinier and more dramatic.
This compagnon (it means companion or company: synonyms include compère, camarade, condisciple, confrère, collègue, maître, intime, copain, complice, amant, associé, baron, collaborateur, acolyte) is a good basic bread, although the only thing truly extraordinary about it is that you attack it with a rolling pin. I can tell you that that will get the full attention of anyone who's with you in the kitchen, and that that person will be nicer to you the rest of the day because he's not completely sure what you may do next with the rolling pin.

Direct-Method Compagnon
--from The Village Baker, by Joe Ortiz

2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 3/4 cups water
3 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
Glaze: 1 egg white beaten up in 1/2 cup cold water.

Mix yeast and 3 cups flour in food processor fitted with plastic blade. Pour 1/4 cup cold water in food processor and pulse two or three times. With the motor running, slowly add 3/4 cup water and process for 30 seconds. With the processor still running, slowly add the rest of the water. Sprinkle the salt onto the dough and process for another 15 seconds. Add all but a handful of the remaining 1/2 cup flour, a little at a time, and pulse a few times.
Sprinkle the remaining flour on a countertop, and pour the dough out onto the table. Beat it vigorously about 100 times with a wooden rolling pin, folding the dough over onto itself several times. If the dough is too sticky, add a little more flour. After the dough is beaten, it should be moist, elastic, and satiny.
Let the dough rise in a covered bowl for 45 minutes. Put it on the counter, press it into a rectangle, and fold it over, business-letter style. Return to bowl and let rise another 30 minutes.
Flatten the dough and roll it into a tight, oval loaf or divide it in two and make two small loaves. Place the loaf, or loaves, on a parchment-lined baking sheet, cover with a towel, and let rise for 1 1/2 hours.
Slash two long, parallel cuts on the top of the bread. Glaze the loaves and place them in a preheated 450-degree oven. Immediately spray the oven with an atomizer filled with water. Bake a large loaf for 35-40 minutes and small loaves for 25-30 minutes.
Remove when crust is golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.


Anonymous said...

A lovely looking bread Marie, and an interesting method of making it! Strange how some bakers say to be gentle with your dough and others want you to attack it in this way!
While I like the look of the bread I enjoy reading your accounts of how you make them just as much! You have a gift for writing and making your readers smile! And thank you, for your sweet message, we appreciate it very much.Jeannette

doughadear said...

Well then, next time I'm feeling frustrated and in need of a punching bag I may just make this bread instead (after I purchase the book).

breadbasketcase said...

I thought of that too--that some bakers say you shouldn't punch the dough at all, and here's this recipe that has you punching the daylights out of the dough.

I'm going to add the recipe later. I just forgot to do it last night.

Anonymous said...


That's quite all right. Just put the rolling pin down and step away...


breadbasketcase said...

Yes, that is exactly the reaction you get with this bread.

Vicki said...

Votrez vous Marie! Whack away.....

Sarah said...

Marie, I have just started to cultivate my bread-baking obsession. I too received a bread bible (although not Rose's) for Christmas and it has been a loaf a week since then. Reading your early posts makes me laugh, because you sound so much like me! I am constantly doing crazy bread things that my boyfriend shakes his head at - including taking a fresh loaf to the bedroom!
Thank you for your blog. Seeing the progress you have made is so encouraging.
Take care,

Jenn said...

Oh my, never heard of bread being whacked! This recipe sounds fun and the result looks amazing. Thanks for posting the recipe, I might give it a go!

breadbasketcase said...

Oh, you're lucky--you have a lot of adventures waiting for you! Not to mention a lot of good bread.

Yes--try it out!