There is something primal about making and serving bread. The fact that you can control the transformation from dry ingredients to the living breathing thing that will become what you want is incredible. Then in the fire it emerges as bread with crust and crumb and texture. Serve it with butter or oil for dipping alongside dinner, toasted to a brittle and delicate crisp for breakfast, perhaps topped with a poached egg, make sandwiches to take on a picnic.
This is a teaser post. I really want to write about bread but I don’t have the step by step pix yet.
For a couple of years I have been perfecting a dense loaf full of seeds and goodness that my wife calls a meal in a slice. It is solid enough that it broke the gear box of my top end Kitchen Aid stand mixer twice, and I had to buy a Hobart commercial mixer. Here’s how it looks fresh out of the oven.
But what secretly fascinates me is high-hydration breads made in the Tartine style: very wet, made in a tub, folded not kneaded, and by hand, cooked almost to burning. I ate Tartine sourdough bread in restaurants, and enjoyed its almost charred crisp crust and highly textured interior, but I truly fell in love with this bread when I read Tad Robertson’s Tartine Bread book and, following their instructions, was able to bake their bread quite successfully at home. This was my first experience with high hydration doughs.
But I found that maintaining a sourdough levain when you only bake bread once every couple of weeks is way too much hassle. I was discarding more flour than I was using. I started wondering how to use a pre-ferment instead of the sourdough. I actually began to do arithmetic with baker’s percentages,when, luckily for me and for you, gentle reader, I found that people a lot more knowledgeable than I had written books about it.
I came across Rose Levy Beranbaum’s “The Bread Bible” then “Flour Water Salt Yeast” by Ken Forkish. They focus on making breads with pre-ferments that sit out or in the fridge overnight. This slow fermentation creates lots of flavor compounds in the same way that sourdough does, but different compounds. The taste is not identical to sourdough, but I’m not trying to imitate sourdough. The goal is to use clever techniques to make great bread without excessive effort.
One of the better things about the Tartine technique is that you do the whole thing by hand in a plastic tub, so you have only one thing to clean. That is apart from many hairs on your hands and wrists, which, no matter how well you clean yourself, will collect tiny pellets of dough to be picked off later, when hard.
This dough is like no other material I have ever encountered. As you dig your wet hand into it, drag out a lobe and slap it back over the other side, it feels nothing like a classical stand mixer bread dough. The dough is so delicate and filled with gas and yet so malleable. When I was forming the dough into loaves, it jiggled.
Here’s a finished product made from the Forkish book. You can see the characteristic big holes. It shows a remarkable amount of oven spring, even after I had to maul it because it stuck to the proofing basket. (Much more flour next time. When I watched Ken’s videos I realized he uses a LOT more flour than I did, in general). But the mishap created an interesting gnarled exterior, and it has gorgeous color, gorgeous texture, fabulous flavor, perfect as toast. Next time a little durum flour for the creamy color.
More on this soon.