a bread success!

I’ve been working on my sourdough bread for about 9 months now. It was a rough beginning with sad, flat loaves of super sour bread. Still, I was determined. I dreamed of crusty, deep brown, slightly sour loaves of airy but chewy bread. I tried different recipes, different flours, adding commercial yeast to supplement the wild yeast. My breads were ok, but nothing close to the better artisan breads you can get here in San Francisco.

Everything changed when my sister bought me the Tartine Bread cookbook for my birthday. I’ve raved about Tartine Bakery on the blog before, and now I will proclaim that their bread cookbook changed my life. In it are the secrets to amazing bread, simply yet throughly explained, with amazing pictures alongside. While I’m going to go through the process briefly here, if you want to make wonderful bread, you should just buy their book.

The general idea is this: Take your starter. Make a leaven by adding water and flour to a very small amount of your starter. The next morning, take part of your leaven and add more flour, water and a bit of salt. Then start the rising process. The first rise is in a large bowl or tupperware and lasts about 4 hours. Shape the loaves. Now for the second rise with the dough shaped in bowls. The second rise lasts about 4 – 6 hours. Now bake each loaf in a 450 degree oven for 40 minutes.

While each step of this process is extremely important to creating the bread of your dreams, perhaps the most obvious innovation that I took from Tartine was cooking the bread in a cast iron dutch oven. You heat the cast iron to 450-500 degrees in the oven, plop the loaf into the bottom of the pan, cover it with the top and bake for 20 minutes. The dutch oven creates a mini steam chamber very similar to a commercial bread baking oven, but impossible to achieve in a regular home oven. Steam is crucial for a proper rise and also for creating the chewy crust. Using the dutch oven in this way allows the bread to steam itself! Amazing! Then you remove the dutch oven top for the second 20 minutes of cooking and the bread browns to perfection.

Following Tartine Bread’s detailed schedule, I began a sourdough starter from scratch. After culturing my starter for a few weeks, I made my first loaf. It was beautiful, so tasty and almost perfect. My first real bread success! I was so pleased! I gloated by sending photos of this bread miracle to my mother, sister and friend.

I’ve since made bread many times using Tartine’s method and I couldn’t be more satisfied with the results. Seriously good bread.  I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit to match Jordan and I’s tastes, but it has turned out incredibly well every time. Bread from scratch is time-consuming —we’re talking a day of baking here— but it is so fulfilling when it turns out well.

Recently, I’ve been experimenting with the rise and proofing times to figure out the best way to fit this bread into my regular schedule without devoting a day to baking. And, I think I’ve worked it out! I make the leaven before bed 2 days before I plan to bake. Around 3 – 4 pm the next day I mix the bread and do the first rise. I shape the loaves that night before bed and then put them in the fridge. Around 3 pm the next day, Jordan takes the breads out of the fridge for their final rise. They rise until 7 when I get home from work and have preheated the oven and then I bake! Maximum bread, minimum “wasted” down time!

And now I’m really going to brag … last night Jordan said that my bread was better (!!!better!!!) than Acme Bread! Maybe he is biased, but I’ll take the compliment anyway. I set out to make bread that was as good as Acme – and now I’ve done it!

-Emily