The day has finally come for me to brag about my successful baking of Tartine’s “basic” country bread! After failing to make my first starter, I pushed forward and created a new one. Wild yeast can be finicky, or maybe I just did not grasp it well enough the first time around. My second starter had a better overall appearance and smell, and within 4 days of starting the feeding process, I had a mature starter. Within a few hours of feeding I could see the rising and falling process happen. Once you see this consistently, you are ready to bake some bread!
“A baker’s true skill lies in the way he or she manages fermentation. This is the soul of bread making.” -Tartine Bread
Actually, when your starter matures, you are ready to make a leaven, which then makes you ready to bake bread! A leaven the vessel by which your dough rises. To create it, you need only 1 tablespoon of mature starter. When I read this, my heart sank. One tablespoon! After you take that small measurement out, you are free to dump that starter down the drain. Talk about palpitations. I put my trust into the instructions Mr. Chad Robertson and proceeded. You may remember from my first bread post that a 50/50 blend of wheat and white bread flour is used for the starter. This blend is also used for the leaven.
Create your leaven the night before you want to bake. In the morning, you should notice a significant increase in the size and it should smell floral, sweet, and milky. To test if the leaven is ready, drop a spoonful of the mix into room temperature water. Make sure that the bowl is quite deep. I only used a cereal bowl the first time and thought that it was not ready to go. When I used a deeper bowl 30 min later, the leaven floated perfectly!
Once the leaven is ready, it is time to mix up your ingredients! You will definitely need a food scale to make this bread, and one that reads grams. Baking bread is much more scientific than I had originally thought and is based on ratios. The book goes well into depth describing these ratios, so I will not bore you with the jargon.
After everything is combined, the first rise begins. This is called bulk fermentation. During this process, which lasts for about 4 hours in a warm kitchen, the dough must be turned every 30 mins. It is when the strength, flavor, and structure of the dough are set. At Tartine, they place their dough in clear plastic containers to monitor the fermentation and rising. No kneading is completed table top. This is where the turning comes into play. As you turn the dough, it becomes smooth and airy. By the end of the 4 hours, you will notice an increase in rise and you are ready to shape the loaves.
Shaping the loaves was a pretty specific process involving folding and pulling, but not hard. Luckily the book provides pictures for reference. Once the dough is shaped, the final rise can begin. This lasts another 4 hours.
About 20 minutes before it was time to bake the bread. I preheated my oven to 500 degrees and placed my dutch oven inside. You want it to be nice and hot. The dutch oven will be used to bake the bread for the first 20 minutes. It simulates the steamy oven used in a bakery. Be VERY careful as the cast iron will be 500 degrees when you work with it. After 20 minutes of baking, I removed the top of the dutch oven and noted the crust looked shiny and pale. This indicates a well steamed loaf.
I baked the bread for another 15 minutes, though it was recommended to go in for 20-25 more. The crust looked significantly browned so I figured it was ready. To be certain, when tapped on the bottom, the loaf should sound hollow, and when squeezed, the crust should crackle. I tapped and it sounded hallow and ohh did we have a symphony of crackle. If only I could have recorded the sound to post here.
I let the bread cool just for a little then cracked that baby open. Steam poured forth and revealed a fluffy interior. I did my happy bread dance. After 2 weeks (due to the failed first starter) and 9 hours later, SUCCESS! We served the bread up with butter, lightly sprinkled with Muldon’s flakey sea salt, and a side of clam chowder. Let me tell you folks, this girl is addicted to this bread. It was a big hit at dinner, and just about as big of a hit the next morning for breakfast, warmed up with some nutella slathered on top.
This bread definitely challenged my baking skill and I’m so glad to have completed the process. I’m looking forward to preparing the dough again and trying it out as pizza crust and even making additions to the bread such as rosemary and olive oil, or even olives! Step out of your comfort zone and try this bread!
**A few extra things you will need before you bake the bread that you may not already possess:
-Combination cast iron dutch oven
-Razor blade and wooden coffee stirer
-Food scale read in grams