For the past few months I’ve been busy baking and I think I’ve developed a bread that is absolutely delicious; it isn’t perfect but it is a pretty good step towards becoming the bread of my dreams. When I was in northern California for the holidays last month I took one of my loaves to the bread master himself, Chad Robertson at Tartine. I was eager for his critique.
Chad started by telling me that I wasn’t shaping my bread properly so the center of the loaf was a little too dense. After he straightened me out on that score he taught me something else: He put my bread in his oven and showed me how to bring a baked loaf back to the state of just baked freshness. Of course, this magic will only work with bread that has been made with a natural sourdough starter but it worked. The loaf I’d baked a day before was almost as fresh and moist as when I’d first taken it out of the oven.
I learned a bit more about the starter from Chad as well. I had taken my starter up north with me and fed it several times a day though I never had time to bake a loaf. Chad explained that there is a special moment when the starter smells perfect and you know it is ready. It will take time for me to be attuned to this and to really be in sync with my starter but that is,I learned, what baking is all about.
(By the way, Chad also gave me a look at his new book, Tartine Bread, which will come out next fall. It’s absolutely original and inspiring. Anyone interested in making bread will want to own this book. I don’t want to give away what makes it special so I’ll just leave it at this: I’ve never seen anything like Tartine Bread.)
At this point in my journey, I can say I am pleased with my progress. When you consider that I don’t have professional equipment and that I’m turning out loaves on a stone in my little domestic oven, I’m doing okay. I have to keep making adjustments and improvisations. Right now I’ve decided that because I haven’t been able to get the crust I want, I am going back to baking in my cast iron Staub pot for the next few times. I think it’s the only way for me to get the kind of heat that a professional oven can supply.
I’ve also started experimenting with pizza dough. I’ve been baking it in my Weber egg shaped grill. I heat the Weber with wood before putting in a pizza stone. More about my methods and the results in a future blog. And more about the great flour from Central Milling too.
Studying bread and baking pain levain at home is the most satisfying experience I can imagine. I am taking every step necessary to achieve the perfect loaf.