tartine’s country bread; a lesson in bread making

IMG_5912On 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.

IMG_5863The 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.

IMG_5871There 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.

IMG_5873As 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.

IMG_5875Using 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.

IMG_5879As 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.

IMG_5883When 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.

IMG_5891After shaping, it is allowed to rise in a cloth lined bowl which has been floured.

IMG_5893The 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.

IMG_5895Once 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.

IMG_5896IMG_5900IMG_5903Beautifully 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.

pain de campagne; a tuesdays with dorie post

IMG_5411This week, the recipe was a true challenge that took two weeks to complete.  Now if that doesn’t deter you from trying to mix up a batch of this bread, not much will!  To make a traditional Pain de Campagne, you have to save a piece of the dough from your batch to act as a starter for your next loaf which means you are always working with a bit of old dough called a chef.  If you find yourself without a chef, you have to start one with whole wheat flour and water and pray the yeast feels like cooperating.

This loaf was off to a bad start because not only was I chefless, I was also out of whole wheat flour.  Because I was determined to make this bread, I grabbed my tub of whole grain rye flour and my tub of graham flour and when ahead and mixed up a half batch for two chefs-one with each of the flours.  The worst part was knowing I would have to wait two days to see if either one grabbed yeast.  They did ferment a bit and not in a nice sourdough smelling way.  Even so, I kept on with the process and letting them sit longer than the recipe suggested just to see if it would increase the rise.  In the end, I was only half successful.  The rye chef never really got going and the graham flour only got going with about half of the rise.

IMG_5420The rye is on the left, the graham is on the right.  What a disappointment it was, I had assumed that since I do a fair amount of bread baking here that there would be plenty of yeast to grab and get the starter going.

IMG_5426Out of curiosity, I sliced the loaves to see what the interior looked like.  It was dense, moist and a bit gummy.  Both of them were.  It was pretty obvious that there just was not enough yeast in the chef and then the levain to give rise to the bread.  Honestly, I was surprised that the graham loaf had a ribbon of raw dough along the bottom crust-it had risen pretty well.  The flavor was surprisingly sour, a mild sour but it was there.

With that same determination that got me started on this loaf, I pulled my sourdough starter out of the fridge and measured out a tablespoon and placed it in a bowl.  With my tub of graham flour still out on the counter, I mixed up another half batch of dough starting with the chef.  After all of the refreshments, I actually had a piece of dough that showed some promise…

IMG_5436The little ball of dough rose nicely and because I ran out of time, I decided I would put the basket of dough in the fridge to rise overnight.   Because I am curious, I pulled off a walnut sized piece and set it aside in the fridge; I was going to use it as a chef for a full batch of dough.  The next morning, I pulled the basket out of the fridge and let it sit on the counter to warm up and rise a little more.

IMG_5434When the time came to bake the loaf, I was excited-this one actually rose!  There was oven spring too-it rose more!  The only thing I did not understand was the pale color of the crust on the top, it browned nicely on the bottom.  The interior looked nice, no stripes and no gummy crumb.  It also had a nice sour flavor.  As for that piece I set aside, I used it to start a new loaf but this time, I made a full batch.

IMG_5438The shaping was easy to do and I cannot remember when I did this type of baking last-perhaps at school…My wheat stalks in the bottom of the basket.

IMG_5439The loaf was placed over the wheat stalks.

IMG_5443The loaf gets wrapped with a braid of dough and then it is left to rise in the basket.  Two hours later, I turned it out onto the peel and let it rise some more.  Just before baking, I brushed the loaf with a wash of egg whites and snipped the wheat stalks.

IMG_5444Fresh out of the oven, my wheat stalks look more like paws.

IMG_5446The scissors did a nice job on the stalks.  It was fun to make this loaf and now it is sitting on the counter taunting me…IMG_5450May have to make another one just so I can make those wheat stalks again!  Be sure to visit the Tuesdays with Dorie to see how the other bakers did this week.

cooking the books: breads from the la brea bakery

IMG_3111Fans of sourdough bread baking will most likely be familiar with Nancy Silverton’s book, Breads from the La Brea Bakery.  Some folks would agree that it is one of the necessary “textbooks” on home baking of sourdough bread.  When I found a copy of it at a local antique mall, I did not hesitate in making the purchase; this book has been on my “must buy” wish list for a long time.  As a matter of fact, when I grew my own grape starter from the grapes growing in the Demonstration Garden at Ellington Ag Center in Nashville back in 2009, it was a method attributed to Ms. Silverton and now that I have the book to refer to, I can say it is her method but I only had half of the directions.  The chapter on growing the starter, maintaining/replenishing it and using it is lengthy and a definite must read for anyone attempting one of the many recipes in the book.

Recently, I made a batch of sourdough English muffins from the final chapter in the book.  For those of you who have never looked at the book, the final chapter is a collection of recipes that give you a way to use excess starter that comes from the portion of starter that is discarded during feedings rather than the larger amounts grown in the majority of recipes throughout the book.  A word of warning, most of the recipes in the book, including the last chapter, take a full two days to execute and this does not include the time necessary for a normal feeding of the starter.  The English muffin recipe is a little different in that it is a single day recipe and also one that calls for both fresh yeast and starter.

IMG_3083This recipe is the second bread recipe I have tried from the book, the first being the Country White loaves from the chapter on growing a starter, and it was a true learning experience.  As with many of the recipes I have glanced at so far in this book, there is an ingredient list that is longer than you would expect and an equipment list that calls for specialized baking tools.  Anyone who has ever been to my home knows that I do not generally shy away from purchasing tools and equipment.   On occasion, I will try to use something similar rather than adding to the clutter unless it is a bundt pan or a cookie cutter; a baker can never have too many shapes to choose from.  However, a long list of tools and ingredients that I must shop in several stores to find is always a little off putting, even for a dedicated baker like myself.

Besides the starter, this recipe called for milk, bread flour, dark rye flour, fresh yeast, wheat bran, wheat germ, flax seeds, rye chops or flakes, sunflower seeds, barley malt syrup, vegetable oil, sea salt, rice flour (just for dusting the dough), butter (for greasing the rings) and finally, semolina flour, also for dusting the dough but it was labeled as optional.  That’s a lot of ingredients, a lot of ingredients that can be tricky to find in one store here, at least until Whole Foods opens in the summer.  So with this in mind, please note my concern when I began mixing the dough and realized that I truly had a bowl of what looked a lot like lumpy porridge.  After an extended shopping trip to find the ingredients and fermenting the sponge for about 2 hours, I was truly discouraged.  Although I closely followed the recipe and made only on substitution-whole grain cooked cereal blend for the rye chops, I was at a loss for what I could have done wrong.  In the end, I doubled the amount of flour in the dough from 8 ounces to a pound and finally had a dough that seemed to be what is called for in the recipe.  Honestly, a book as technical as this one really should have more photos especially since so many steps in the recipes call for specific results and without photos, you have to rely on your interpretation of the wording.

IMG_3085The recipe states that you should have a dough that is wet and sticky and may not hold its shape and I am pretty sure I nailed that part.  It is dumped out onto a dusting of rice flour and covered with a dusting of rice or semolina flour and allowed to rest for 20 minutes before shaping.


Remember my mention of specialized equipment?  Well, I was hesitant to purchase English muffin rings because I did not want to have to find a place to store them.  A suggestion in the recipe is to save tuna cans and cut the bottoms out to make your own rings.  We do not eat that much tuna and if you have looked at a can of tuna lately, you have probably noticed that they no longer have a bottom that can be cut out, they are pressed from a single sheet and only the tops are removable which eliminated the cans as an alternative.  Then while at work one morning, I spied cans from the crabmeat being used for crabcakes and thought they might work, they are a little tall, but the bottoms were removeable.  There were 8 cans and that meant I could make either half a batch or do two bakes; I chose to do two bakes.  In the future, I would attempt to get a weight on the entire batch of dough so that the muffins are of an equal size.


Here is the first batch rising in the crabby cans.  Using the cans was okay, the strip of metal left from the top and bottom after removal was jagged and despite having used a pair of pliers to flatten the edges, the dough still stuck in the tiny crevices.  The rough texture of the metal made getting the muffins out a bit of a chore.  For the second bake, I buttered the cans and then dipped them in semolina and they definitely did not stick to the cans.  The down side to the extra semolina, the muffins were coated in semolina which made them a bit messy to handle.  Looks like I may make the plunge and buy rings or just start hoarding biscuit cutters!

IMG_3108For a first attempt, they were pretty good.  Not enough nooks and crannies when sliced with a knife but fork splitting them leaves bigger holes for the butter to collect in.  Until next time, these are already gone!

Country White bread; the learning curve


Recently, I picked up a copy of Nancy Silverton’s Breads from the La Brea Bakery.  If you aren’t familiar with the book or the bakery, it is a Los Angeles area landmark and a the breads are the type that most home bakers only dream of making.  The focus of the book is to start and maintain your own sourdough culture and to use it to make bread using the recipes that follow.  Sounds simple but I will warn you, there is not much room for creativity; the procedures and recipes need to be followed closely if you want the loaf to resemble those sold in the bakery.

Another note, this book is not for the beginner and to get the most out of it, you really should have some idea of bread baking.  That said, I will suggest that if you have had some experience (at home, in a restaurant or a bakery) and you want to take it a step further, pick up a copy of this book and start at the very beginning.  This is one of the few books that I feel you really must read all the information that comes before the recipes and then, read it again a few more times.  Yes folks, this is more like a textbook and a workbook rolled into a collection of recipes.

Personally, making artisan breads leavened with a natural yeast culture is another of those skills I have always wanted to develop but even though I am a pastry chef and I bake for a living, I have never pursued bread baking as a career.  Having had some time to spend in my new kitchen, I decided to take my own sourdough culture out of the fridge and try it in one of the recipes.  Because there is a need for exact measurements and conditions, I took a cup of my starter and began the process of feeding it as the book instructs.   And to test it, I started with the Country White bread, the very first recipe in the book. 

Nancy instructs you “not to do a thing until you read the recipe carefully and calculate the times involved” and that is just the beginning.  This recipe is 14 pages long.  Suddenly, I was intimidated and the reasons I have never sought out a job baking bread for a living were staring me in the face.  Never the less, I did as told and read, reread and then read the recipe again.  Once I had written out my bread schedule, I got to work on making my first loaf, a two-day bread baking experience.


There are so many steps, resting periods and so forth that I would be in danger of plagiarizing the book if I typed it out here so let me suggest that if you want to try making a loaf, get a copy of the book.  Truly this book is a worthwhile reference on bread making and it deserves a space on the shelf of serious bread bakers.  For a first attempt, I think the bread turned out pretty good and if I judge it by the amount my husband ate that first day, I would say it was a successful attempt.  Was it perfect?  Absolutely not.  Somehow, I added too much flour to the dough and I will say that the way the instructions for mixing by machine are written, they tell you to add the flour, meaning all(measured with a scale-not by the cup) of it at once.  It isn’t until several sentences later that it suggests holding some back to adjust the consistency.  Too late.  My dough was a little stiffer than it should have been and it made the machine kneading process impossible-I could hear my 6 quart Kitchen Aid struggling and switched to kneading by hand.  This was not an easy task and I kneaded the dough quite a bit longer than called for.

Just as the instructions are involved, so are the ingredients called for throughout the book.  A quick glance at a few recipes had me wondering where I could find rye chops and food grade lye near my home.  Then I looked at the equipment needed, I really need to find some english muffin rings or tuna cans that can be opened on both ends…This will be a learning experience, a slow one and one I plan to enjoy, one loaf at a time.