Beautiful Bread

I’ve now made three batches of bread using the methods of Chad Robertson, outlined in his book Tartine Bread, and I’ve finally gotten the hang of it.

Today's Loaf

Today's Loaf

The first attempt came out quite dense, with all the air distributed in one giant hole located around the centre-top of the loaf. It was so dense it was hardly edible. It only really rose in the spot where the air was trapped. And while Robertson advocates for a less sour loaf, I wanted to attempt to achieve a fairly sour flavour, and this didn’t yet have it. Unfortunately most of the loaf was pitched because it wasn’t very edible after it cooled, due to it’s density. I figured I hadn’t turned it effectively during the bulk rise phase.

Beautiful crumb, with evenly distributed holes

Beautiful crumb, with evenly distributed holes

For my next attempt I made one of the loaves with dates, and the other just plain. Both of these turned out much better. They rose well and the holes were well distributed. For the date bread, I baked it after leaving it for it’s final rise in the fridge overnight. The round version of the loaf did it’s final rise in the fridge with the date loaf, but then I left it on the counter for the majority of the day, too. The result was a very flavourful loaf, even though it spent twice as long in the final rise as outlined in the book.

Great ears

Great ears

Isn't that lovely?

Isn't that lovely?

For the latest loaf (pictured at the top of this post) I split the recipe in half. The one in the book makes two loaves and we just don’t have the capacity to eat all that bread. My process is that I keep my starter in the fridge until the night before I intend to make leaven. Then I pull it out, feed it, and the next morning or evening, start the leaven (which needs to ferment about 8 to 12 hrs). This weekend my leaven was ready on Saturday morning, so I got the bread going and did the bulk rise phase through the day, turning it every so often. It spent about 15 hours or so in a basket for the final rise, overnight, and I baked it this morning. It tasted fabulous, and as you can see, had very well distributed holes.

A version with dates

A version with dates

Big holes

Big holes

First Tartine Bread Loaf

First Tartine Bread Loaf

Poorly distributed holes (er... um... hole)

Poorly distributed holes (er... um... hole)

I find that making the dough and the following bulk rise phase are the most challenging to time. I want to start playing with the timing, to see if I can tighten it up. It’s a 3 to 4 hour phase in the book, and I just find that so challenging to make happen during the week. It’s clear I can let the loaf take a really long time during the final rise without the loaf becoming overwhelmingly sour, so if I can get the dough made a couple times a week and then bake the bread when I get home from work, that would be the best option. On weekends its easier to manage but we easily eat half the loaf almost immediately, so it won’t last us more than a day or two.

Not Tartine Bread, but baked Tartine style

Not Tartine Bread, but baked Tartine style

Anyway, I am quite pleased with how the loaves are turning out now, and I feel like I can start getting creative with flavours, making things like olive bread, date caraway bread, and other fun things. The Dutch oven is key to the incredibly satisfying crunch of the crust. That caramelized, blistery surface is just gorgeous.

Another backpack with owls, another sleepless morning

Backpack for Auria

Backpack for Auria

Here I sit, at 4 a.m., when all other reasonable people and creatures (at least in my household) are sawing logs (rather loudly). This has been an extraordinary week at the ol’ day job, and as a result of the insane number of balls in the air, my brain just can’t let go. Even though all the crazy (or most of it) culminated in a big bash last night celebrating OCAD University graduates; even though the end is in sight. Even though by mid-day tomorrow (Friday) I’ll finally be able to relax. Sleep alludes. I realized about a half hour ago (at 3:30 a.m.) that I was hungry. And then… oh yeah! I didn’t get dinner last night! Sigh.

Backpack for Auria

Backpack for Auria

Up until this week I’ve actually gotten quite a bit of sewing and a little bit of knitting done. I’m prepping some gifts for overseas that my parents will take to a friend and her family in Norway. I made the toddler backpack above for my coworker’s little girl, too. I simply adore this fabric. I think my friend Alice’s infatuation with owls has rubbed off! And there is just so much great owl-themed ephemera out there these days. This fabric is called “It’s a Hoot, Jewel” by P Kaufman, and I picked it up via Tonic Living. Isn’t it adorable?

I’ve also continued on with my bread experiments using the methods in the book Tartine Bread. The first batch of loaves turned out not so edible (a post to come soon) but the second batch was really fabulous. This week hasn’t been a good bread week but I intend to get right back on the bandwagon this weekend. I think I can safely say that I now have a really good grasp on the properties and procedures to making great artisan sourdough breads.

Anyway, time for me to try my hand at courting the Sandman again.

Converting to the Church of Chad Robertson

On Monday I went to Kensington Market for my every three-month trip to the dentist, and took the opportunity to visit my favourite butcher in the city, Sanagan’s, as well as my favourite cook book store, Good Egg. Specifically I was on the hunt for a good bread book.

I’ve been working with my sourdough starter about once a week. I’d like to be baking more frequently, but in following Peter Reinhart’s instructions, I find the process incredibly complicated and even with my Virgo brain, scheduling in the process for making one of his simple loaves of bread has been a real challenge in my 9 to 5 life.

So far as the quality of the bread itself goes, I’ve progressed to achieving dependably airy loaves, with lots of (sometimes giant) holes, but so far, the flavour leaves a lot to be desired. Until I picked up Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, I haven’t been able to understand why my sourdough just isn’t sour. The answer it seems, is in the bulk fermentation. Following Reinhart’s model, I’m pretty certain this is where I’m going wrong. His bulk fermentation is not long enough, at least not for me, and his books don’t offer a lot of help in troubleshooting or adjusting your timing and process according to variables like humidity, temperature, etc. Everything I know about bread goes against the rigidity of Reinhart’s directions. Robertson embraces experimentation and adjustment as a core principle of perfecting one’s bread.

Only two days into reading Tartine Bread, I’m totally re-inspired to keep pursuing my version of a satisfying loaf. Robertson has taken decades of refinement of his own bread recipe at his hugely popular bakery, and condensed it into ratios and techniques that will work for the home baker. He explains ingredients as percentages (and weights) and makes it really easy for the average baker to understand. One of Robertson’s techniques that differs entirely from Reinhart’s is the use of a dutch oven to get the right texture both of the crumb and the crust. He explains that because a conventional home oven is designed to allow moisture to vent, it is impossible to obtain the characteristics of bakery bread without a better way to trap steam, which a dutch oven does perfectly. I have two rounds of dough in the fridge right now (from Reinhart’s recipes) that I plan to bake this way. I’m really excited to see how they’ll come out, even though they haven’t been made with Robertson’s recipe. I also intend to convert my starter to Robertson’s proportions and method — the version I’ve been following by Reinhart makes a ridiculously large amount, and I just can’t bear to be throwing so much (expensive) flour away with each feeding.

So here’s to a whole new world of bread. My co-workers have already offered to be test subjects!

And… later that same evening…
LOOK AT THIS.

BREAD!

My first loaf baked inside my dutch oven

Doesn’t that look YUM? It’s far more appealing than any past loafs. In fact the last couple have been so underwhelming that I couldn’t even bare taking photos of them. I can’t wait until this cools enough to crack into it. Speaking of cracking… it’s cracking as it cools. Robertson calls this the song of bread. Isn’t that so poetic?