Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Tartine Basic Country Bread

I love a freshly baked loaf of bread, especially when it is smothered with butter and jam. I recently discovered that bread making is an artful process, not as intimidating as I thought, and with the help  of a few wonderful cookbooks I finally took the plunge to learn this functional art. My favorite bread books are Tartine Bread, Flour Water Salt Yeast, and The Bread Bakers Apprentice . I chose start with the Basic Country Bread recipe from Tartine Bread because I found that I could wrap my brain around it the best. Using the simple ingredients of yeast, flour, water and a little salt makes a loaf of bread that can be enjoyed at any meal.

Fresh bread with peach ginger compote

During almost the who process of making bread, one is dealing with a living organisms in the dough that have to be nurtured and understood the whole time. I think the most important part of the bread making process is making sure you have a thriving starter. The starter is the living yeast and bacteria that make the bread rise and produce a full flavor.

Your starter should be full of bubbles! All these bubbles say that fermentation is happening between all the little organisms living in the starter and the leaven.

And the leaven will float in water.

Grow baby grow!

Mix the flour, water, leaven and salt and nurture the dough through the first rise or bulk fermentation where the dough will increase in size about 20%. This dough never has to be kneaded, just "turned" in the container at half hour intervals. This step takes about 4 hours.

The dough will be sticky and loose.

Pour the dough on to a smooth surface, divide it in half and shape into discs. This begins to build tension on the outside surface of the dough, then give the dough a little bench rest.

Tightening the surface

The dough is now ready to be shaped in the final loaf.

Tightening some more

In the final shaping, the dough is folded over itself in each direction which tightens the tension of the loaf even more.

Baskets with washable cotton covers

For the final rise, I placed the dough in these bread baskets I purchased from the San Francisco Baking Institute.

An overnight rest in a basket

There are a couple of ways to do the final rise, the quicker way is 3 to 4 more hours of resting at room temperature or the delayed method where the bread in put in to the refrigerator overnight. I do the delayed rise because I think it gives the dough a little more time to develop a deeper flavor.

The next morning....

When baking my dough I use a couple of different dutch ovens. The idea with using a dutch oven is to keep the stream from baking the dough surrounding the bread which allows the loaves to expanding without forming a hard crust. The ovens I use are a 5 quart Le Creuset and a 10" Lodge Combo Cooker.

Be careful...these pans will be super hot!

This pan is so hot the orange color turns red.

Score the top of each loaf which lets the dough expand so you don't winding up with a flat dense loaf that didn't rise to its full potential.

Place the covers on the ovens and begin baking.

Notice that the dough does most of the rising through the score.

After 20 minutes

Bake another 20-25 minutes with the covers off.

A little extra crisping

Then I continue to bake the loaves on just on the racks for another 5-10 minutes to add color and crunch to the crust.

color and texture

Beautiful crumb, crust and flavor. Check out the Tartine Bread book or any good bread book for recipes and detailed instructions on the practical art of bread making. It took me several rounds of practicing before I finally was able to really bake a wonderful loaf. Each time I tried, I learn something about nurturing the living dough and kept adding the knowledge to the next attempt. I enjoy putting my hands in the dough and feeling how it changes through all the hours of rising and of course the anticipation of breaking off a chunk and slathering butter and fruity jam on it.

This post is also a part of Simple Lives #123 hosted by Sustainable Eats


  1. That looks (and I can almost smell it too) fabulous! Congratulations on a successful bread making journey! I don't have those books, but I imagine I can incorporate some of your ideas anyway. Thanks for posting!

    1. I wish you success with your bread making. Thank you for stopping by.