I picked up a copy of the San Francisco Tartine Bread book at the library because the pictures made me drool.
I had no idea it would forever revolutionize the way I make bread. No joke, no hyperbole. For real, the Tartine technique is a game changer for this baker.
First of all, the recipes utilize what’s called the “baker’s percentage.” The total flour in the recipe equals 100%, and then all the other ingredients are measured against the weight of total flour. This recipe, which, may I remind you, changed everything for the way I do bread, is thus written:
Tartine Style Country Bread
What’s brilliant about using baker’s percentages is you never need to remember cups and tbsp, or grams. You can make whatever scale of bread you want, from one loaf to thousands of loaves. This is how bakeries and boulangeries communicate recipes. Even though I only make one or two loaves at a time, I feel rather slick talking bread percentages, Oh you like this bread? It’s 75% hydration. Makes me feel like a bread engineer. For this basic recipe, I chose easy numbers so I wouldn’t need to bust out a calculator:
Water 750 g
Sourdough 200 g
Wheat flour 100 g
White flour 900 g
Salt 20 g
But it wasn’t just baker’s percentages that I learned from the Tartine Bread book, they have an entirely different approach to kneading called bulk fermentation. So here’s the deal, the new deal. Roosevelt, eat your heart out.
Mix the water (all but 50 grams), sourdough and flours together. Cover with plastic in the bowl, and let REST for 40 minutes.
Then mix the remaining water and salt, and let rest for 30 minutes. Now, instead of kneading on a floured surface, every 30 minutes for 3-4 hours, you simply “turn” the dough in the plastic container. This means, you pick up one edge of the dough, and fold it on top of the rest, a motion you repeat with all four corners of the circle (I know this is an oxymoron, but you get it, don’t you?). The dough will seem very wet, like ciabatta dough.
It would be a complete mess if you tried to knead it on the counter, and there is no need to knead (smile)—this process accomplishes the same degree of development. As the dough gets more billowy and aerated, be gentle to not expel the gas from the wet dough. The volume should increase 20-30 percent, and lots of bubbles will form along the edges toward the end.
After 3 or 4 hours, lightly flour a work surface and use a knife to cut the dough into two segments. Work each half into a round boule. Then let both rounds rest on the surface, covered, for 30 minutes. Prepare two bannetons (which is a towel in a bowl, not a towl in a bowel as I originally typed the phrase by mistake, giggle), and sprinkle rice flour and wheat flour along the towel so the inverted dough rounds don’t stick. Plop them in there and let “proof” –final rise—for 3 or 4 more hours.
Heat a baking stone in the oven to 500 degrees, and put a cast iron pot inside. Be careful, but when everything is hot enough, slip the dough from the banneton into the hot pot, slash the top, and put the lid on. Put the pot back in the oven, and reduce the temperature to 450 degrees. What this does is capture the steam of the water that wants to boil out of the loaf. Steam makes an incredible crust on loaves of bread. In the past, I have been practically rusting my oven by spraying water inside while I bake. This method spares the metal of your oven, and accomplishes the same objective. Bake for 20 minutes with the lid on, and then remove the lid and bake for another 20-25 minutes. The bread will be crackling and crisp and deeply caramelized. I’ll never make bread the old way again.
My pictures are no where near as good as the Tartine Bread book, but the bread is Definitely the Best I’ve Ever Made. I feel like I can retire; there is no higher peak to climb.