What Makes Country-Style Bread Unique?

Country-style bread is no longer found only in the countryside. Beloved for its craggy crust and coarse crumb, this rustic loaf has made its way from farms and homes to the cozy bakeries and cool markets of the world's biggest cities. Sometimes called by its French name, pain de campagne, country-style bread is generally baked freeform (or in a Dutch oven) into large, oblong loaves that have a picturesque quality befitting a rural still-life scene.

Country-style bread is defined primarily by its appearance and textures, rather than by a particular baking technique or flavor. As with most simple breads, it is made by hand with flour, water, salt, and some kind of leavening agent, such as yeast. What makes this bread unique is its classically beautiful rough exterior, and the way its crust shatters when sliced with a serrated knife, giving way to a soft and chewy interior characterized by uneven holes.

Tips and tricks for making country-style bread

It may seem intimidating to make country-style bread at home, and it will certainly take some practice if you don't do much baking, but the beauty of this kind of old-fashioned bread is that you can tailor it to your own preferences and needs. Country-style bread can be made with white or whole wheat flour. If you like hearty bread with earthy or nutty flavors, try using rye flour. With whole wheat flour, you'll want to pay extra attention to how much time your loaf spends in the oven since it may be harder to tell when the crust is baked to perfection. As the flour starts out brown, checking doneness by sight is a touch trickier.

The oven temperature is key when making bread. You'll want to pay attention to moisture, too, though there are ways to create a crusty loaf without steaming your oven. Try spritzing the loaf rather than soaking it to get steam without soaking your kitchen. The tools you use are also important. A cast iron pan, for example, is great for conducting heat, which can help form an even, crunchy exterior on your bread.

What to do with country-style bread

A good loaf of country-style bread is perfect as it is. Slice it and serve it simply with a pat of butter or a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil for a snack on its own. It's also an ideal foundation for toast, topped with jam, cheese, or avocado. Note that while the firm crust helps to keep the individual slices of bread intact, the large holes in the softer parts may allow some toppings to seep through.

After a few days, country-style bread will start to become stale, but there's no need to throw it out. You can bring it back to life with just a little water or make something new with it. Stale country-style bread makes for great croutons when cut up into small cubes — or crackers for dips when sliced thinly. For a sweet breakfast option, you can soak it in custard to make French toast or bread pudding.