This book changed my life may be the utterance many an author longs to hear. Knowing that the labor, the sweat, the creative birth in writing a work actually alters another’s existence is heady stuff. Tartine Bread has done this for me. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5kKeKSfyOE
I have made sourdough bread for years. I’ve used the same method from the same book getting, mostly, the same results. The bread has been good but it has never been amazing. Chad Robertson, author of Tartine Bread, has been searching for an old-soul loaf since he left culinary school in the early 1990’s. He apprenticed in the US, worked with bakers in France, then set up his own oven in Northern California, settling, finally, in San Francisco’s Mission District. He decided to document his search and alter his resulting method for use in a home kitchen after taking on his first mentee. The resulting book is beautiful.
Robertson’s method of bread making is very different for me. The dough is more hydrated & soft, it is not kneaded in a conventional way, it requires a more gentle handling than I had previously learned. Attention to time and temperature is acute. I keep a starter but a smaller amount.
The first step towards bread is to use a bit of the starter, just a tablespoon added to flour & water, to form a levain. The levain, in turn, mixes with more flour and water to form the dough. The dough remains in a bowl after mixing, resting, mixing again, with kneading accomplished by periodically folding the dough onto itself. The schedule requires folding every 30 minutes during the first two hours, keeping a constant temperature of 78 – 82F; before I begin this process, I must plan my days activities according to my limited freedom.
When the dough has developed, it meets the work surface for the first time. I divide the dough, preshape into boules and leave to rest, again. I shape the dough once more using a series of gentle stretches and folds before placing it in the proofing baskets. The dough can now sit for 3 hours or 10 hours in a cool place. Robertson says to use the refrigerator but an unheated part of my basement provides a constant mid-50’s temp, slowing the fermentation without stopping it. A short final rise works with this bread, but the longer rise develops more flavor.
The last piece of this bread making is the baking. Professional ovens inject steam during the first minutes of baking, keeping the dough moist, enabling oven ‘spring’, while giving the crust color and texture. This is not easy to make happen at home. Enter the cast iron. Cast iron radiates heat like a brick oven and when lidded, traps the moisture escaping the loaf, providing the necessary injection of steam. Robertson instructs to use a 5-qt combo cooker but I use a cast iron skillet, with an inverted cast iron dutch oven as a lid. I preheat the pans to 500F, place the dough in the skillet and score, attach the lid and into the oven it goes. My adaptation is heavy and precarious, but it works. After reducing the heat to 450F and 20 minutes, I remove the lid and the first glimpse of the swollen, scored loaf takes my breath away, every time. An additional 20 minutes finishes the bread.
This is the bread I’ve always wanted to make. The resulting loaves are worth the attention to detail. They seem ancient and alive; they are real, as well as whole, food. They are delicious and I am changed.