On my last birthday, my husband gave me a copy of the Tartine Bread book. We were out on a rainy Saturday, wandering through the shops in Merchant Square and I had a chance to look through a copy of the book. The cover shot, the dark loaf with the blistered crust…Yes, it was bread lust at first glance. However, I suspect my husband was also lusting over that loaf of bread and now that I have made the Country Bread, I am sure of it!
Like so many of the popular books on bread available, this one relies strictly on techniques created by the author and many aspects of the methods used seem at odds with traditional bread making. Most notably, the lack of extensive kneading to build structure and instead, the use of an autolyse so the flour can expand and absorb the water and a longer bulk rising to allow the gluten to develop slowly. Now, to be perfectly honest, the first section of the book consists of only one actual bread recipe with sub-recipes that rely on the basic recipe with various additions, but to really understand the technique, you must master the Country Bread. The entire collection of bread recipes in the book rely on the methods outlined in that very first recipe!
What I love most about the Country Bread recipe, simplicity. Especially the equipment list. First of all, you must have a scale that measures in grams. The rest of the list includes a thermometer, bowl, plastic bowl scraper, a bench knife and an oven proof dutch oven or covered casserole dish. The recipe is worked in percentages, called baker’s percentages and the weights are all in grams. The good news is that weighing it all out in grams guarantees consistency.
The only step I did not follow was creating a starter to leaven the bread because I have a starter that I grew from grapes that were growing in the Demonstration Garden that I worked in when I lived in Tennessee. The starter has been in use since 2009 and when we moved in 2014, it was one of the things I was most worried about losing! We had a 12 hour drive, stopped multiple times for the dog and for the night in the middle of that drive, the entire time the starter was tucked in a cooler with some ice. It made the trip like a champ and nearly 2 years later, I am still using it.
The starter is fed and allowed to develop overnight. If you read the recipe, you will be given many bits of information to help you along and I find that very helpful when using a new recipe. The instructions tell you to measure out the warm water, add the starter to it, and if it floats, it is fully developed and ready to go. As you can see in the photo above, my starter is floating in the water.
There are two schools of thought on adding salt to flour dough. One says add it to the dough as you add the flour, one calls for holding it back and adding it later because it can affect the structure of the dough. At Tartine, they hold the salt and a small amount of water back and add them after the initial mixing and resting period. The salt is sprinkled over the dough, water is poured on and using your hand, you squeeze and squish and work the dough onto itself to mix it all in.
As the dough develops during the bulk fermentation, bubbles form around the sides of the bowl. Rather than dumping it onto a table and forcibly kneading it, the dough is “turned” in the bowl every thirty minutes for three hours.
Using a wet hand, the dough is pulled up from the bottom of the bowl and stretched across itself, turning it. This is done 2-3 times each half hour, each time is called a “turn” and it is all the kneading the dough will get.
As the dough develops and rises, it gets softer and lighter and you need to take care not to press the air out in the process of turning the dough.
When it is ready, dumped onto a table and cut in half. A minimal amount of flour is used to help with shaping. The folding and shaping is probably the most complicated step and it is completed with one hand and a bench knife. Lifting and stretching the dough across it’s center, it is carefully shaped so that it is not deflated.
After shaping, it is allowed to rise in a cloth lined bowl which has been floured.
The loaves rise for about 3 hours and because most of us do not have two dutch ovens or even the ability to bake with two of them simultaneously, you will want to hold one back by placing it in the fridge for a while.
Once the oven and the dutch oven are heated properly, flour the surface of the dough (do not forget this step-it will not come out of the pan if you do!) and turn it into the hot pan. Using a lame or a very sharp blade, score the dough, cover it and place it in the oven. Twenty minutes covered, twenty minutes uncovered and it will be ready to take from the oven.
Beautifully colored, perfectly blistered. Let it cool completely before cutting into the loaf.
To see the recipe, please consider purchasing a copy of the book Tartine or at the very least, borrowing it from a library. There are many great videos of the author as well as other bakers making bread using the technique described in the book and they are worth watching so consider looking them up. The Country Bread recipe is available, reprinted with permission on the New York Times website.