Archive for May, 2011

Tartine Bread

May 28, 2011

At Christmas, my sister-in-law, Katina, and her husband, Jeff, gave me a new bread book called Tartine Bread, which was written by a (locally) famous baker in their city of San Francisco.  I had only seen the cover before and not read much about it.  At the time I was just delving into a fairly new book about bread called Whole Grain Breads by Peter Reinhart.  This would be my second major bread book after his Bread Baker’s Apprentice.  I have checked out other books from the library and I have read many, many blog posts on thefreshloaf, but my main guidance and formulas have been from Reinhart since I began baking, aside from a loaf here and there, which has been these last 6 years.

Since my father recently became interested in baking, I decided it would be fun to do a lot of baking when we went to Kansas.  I also decided it would be interesting to bring the Tartine book with us – it had been getting a lot of attention on the blogs of, and I knew there was something to the dutch oven technique after seeing what the no-knead bread could do.

I reinvigorated my sourdough starter, Ralph, a couple of days before we traveled, feeding him with freshly ground flour.  One morning I began the Basic Country Loaf in this book, intending to cook it in an enameled dutch oven my mother had.  While we were in Joplin, MO, my dad decided to buy two Lodge Combo Cookers – one for himself and one for us.  This is the style of dutch oven used in the Tartine book.  We happened to purchase them at a great price ($30/each) at a store that has now been destroyed by tornado.

The first Reinhart book introduced me to baking – in particular I learned to bake sourdough breads and to use a retarded fermentation to develop flavor.  The delayed fermentation was a focus of the book while the sourdough was mostly a side note.  The second book introduced me to techniques more suited to whole wheat breads, such as using a soaker overnight to fully hydrate the flour.  It was still difficult getting whole wheat breads that compared in look and crumb texture to the white flour breads I had been baking before.  The taste was different, but that was to be expected.  I had also read here and there on and in one Reinhart formula about the “stretch and fold” technique as a gentler and simpler method of kneading.  I hadn’t had much success with it on Reinhart’s ciabatta formula and decided it should wait until further study.

I was also familiar with what’s known as “no-knead” bread.  This is the kind of bread that Elizabeth makes.  It is a high hydration dough that is not kneaded but left to an “autolyse” process for a long period of time.  This bread came out with a fairly consistent crumb full of holes, though the flavor and overall shape did not seem well developed.

Tartine put some of these different ideas together into what has been a very successful and consistent method.  It involves sourdough for leavening, a high hydration level, the stretch and fold method, significant autolyse, and a dutch oven baking environment (as does the no-knead).  This dutch oven, however, would be shallow (to allow scoring of the loaf) with a deep lid (to allow significant oven spring), vastly improving oven spring and appearance.  He also allows for a retarded fermentation to develop more flavor and a soaker for whole wheat, though neither is necessary for successful bread.

The purpose of the dutch oven is to retain high heat after preheating and opening the oven door and to retain moisture.  When I was first baking I would splash water onto the oven walls to create steam in the oven.  There were two problems with this: I could see the steam escaping the oven and I eventually cracked the oven glass.  I then moved to boiling soaked rags and putting them in a loaf pan in the bottom of the oven.  These released steam as long as they were in the oven, but they didn’t release enough, and what was released into the oven quickly escaped out of the vents.  The dutch oven does not need additional steam because it traps all of the moisture and steam released from the dough itself and keeps the exterior of the bread moist.  Why do you need steam?  In order to prevent the exterior of the loaf from immediately hardening and to instead allow the entire loaf to expand with what is called “oven spring” – this can be the difference between a dense and a light loaf.

When we came home from Joplin, I took the retarded loaves out of the refrigerator and preheated the dutch oven.  Reinhart usually says to wait two hours for refrigerated dough to warm up, but the Tartine book said to only wait about 20 minutes.  I then dusted what would be the bottom of the loaf with some rice flour so it would not stick during cooking.

I then made my approach to place the loaf into the preheated skillet / dutch oven.


Scoring (next to impossible in a traditional dutch oven):

Putting the bread in the oven and placing the lid on top.

The results:

1st attempt:


2nd attempt:

3rd attempt:

4th attempt:

This was a 70% whole wheat bread.  I made a few mistakes with this one, the most obvious of which is partly dropping the lid on the top of one of the loaves before it was cooked!

(the edge nearly always looks nicer than the middle!)


The process is significantly less labor-intensive.  The attentiveness required is little more than the Reinhart sourdough was.  The results are much more consistent.  As compared with the “no-knead”, the stretches and folds help the bread build up more structure so that the final shape and crumb holes are both more impressive.  The sourdough leaven provides both better flavor and longer keeping qualities.  The dutch oven technique produces consistent and great oven spring, as well as great color and crust thickness.

I’m not yet completely satisfied with the whole wheat.  It seems better than the no-knead variety we’ve made before.  Hopefully without the same mistakes it will spring more and there will be more visible signs of strong gluten development.  As we went further into the loaf there remained some large holes, but between the holes was significantly denser than I would have liked.

Overall, I think this is a wonderful method for the home baker.  It is not that difficult – no time kneading away at the table, not that I don’t like kneading.  This will be my go-to bread aside from experimentation here and there.  I’m particularly interested to mix Reinhart’s soaking method with this book’s stretch and fold technique, if I can.

The book is filled with a few other breads and then several food recipes in the back to be used with the breads in the book.  Today we are going to try making pizza per the book’s crust instructions, which basically means using the dough from the Basic Country Loaf without shaping into a boule or proofing.

I’ll let you know how it turns out!

Thank you, Katina and Jeff.
Thank you, Papou Sam.


P.S. This has also convinced us to embrace cast iron cookware wholeheartedly.  Helpfully, this has contributed to our kitchen beautification project.


Tripping in Nebraska and Kansas

May 22, 2011

We are in the middle of one of my “intersessions,” and since Elizabeth was given travel clearance (for now!) by her doctor, we decided to visit my folks before they head off to Taiwan.

On the way we thought it good to visit my Grandma Birdie in Nebraska, as well.

Here we are eating and greeting at a rest stop along the way.  It’s nice to picnic on a roadtrip.

He enjoyed his time (as did we) with his Pro-Yiayia in Nebraska.  A loud train goes by right behind her house and there is a rooster living across the street.

A pleasant surprise to our trip was that not only did we see my grandmother and cousin, but my aunt and uncle we there, as well.  On our way out of town, we got to stop by and visit with some cows, horses, and large dogs.  Basil liked it only after the fact.


We also decided to stop by Eighth Day Books in Wichita, and were warmly greeted by another cousin of mine who bought us lunch and took us to the bookstore.  There were some gems in the store, but books can be so expensive…

Then we finally made it to Cherokee to see Yiayia Brooke and Papou Sam.  One of the first things Yiayia did was break out some of my old toys.  Basil had no problem studying the methods of diversion of the late 1980’s and early 1990’s.

While Basil was playing cars with Yiayia, his Papa (me) was busy doing serious work with Papou Sam.

We baked a ton.  Papou Sam bought us a new Lodge Combo Cooker that you will be reading about in the next post.

One of the most celebrated features of my parents’ home location are the deer.  Basil enjoyed them immensely.

Basil read many books when he wasn’t driving cars around or looking at wild animals.

Basil had a wonderful time playing with both Yiayia Brooke and Papou Sam.

While Basil was getting close to his grandparents, his Mama and Papa were afforded some date time!  How did we spend it?  Geocaching in rural Kansas.

At a cemetery:

At the base of a telephone pole:

At a rural bridge:

At another, more historic bridge:


We also went on a more typical date to the restaurant I worked at in high school.  The sirloin and brisket are still tasty.

The nearest Orthodox church we could visit that had a priest serving was in Springfield, 2 hours from my parents’ house.  We decided to all go to Springfield and afterwards visited a local restaurant of “throwed rolls” fame – Lambert’s.  This place is unique for three reasons: 1) “throwed rolls”, 2) several fixin’s brought from table to table, and 3) free seconds on any order.  None of us ordered seconds, though Basil might have if we let him.


My father noted the Travel Channel’s conclusion that this restaurant is the top “pig out” place in the country.

On the way home we stopped at an Amish store / welcome center in Iowa.

There Basil became infatuated with pet pillows.  Since they were $30 and weird he was not allowed to take one home.

They also featured some cows out front that scared Basil until he was able to investigate them himself.

He was more comfortable but less fascinated with them than the real cows in Nebraska.

Overall it was a wonderful trip.  Thanks, Yiayia Brooke and Papou Sam!



May 22, 2011

Ever since the cold went away and Spring actually showed up in Minnesota, the humidity has revealed some things about Basil’s hair:


If the curls only show up with humidity we’ll know they’re Mama curls, but if they spring up year-round they’re like Papa’s.  Pro-Yiayia Birdie (my grandmother) insisted they were from her!

Needless to say, we’re very happy with Basil’s accomplishments.