If you’ve had Tartine bread, you know there’s nothing in the world like it. It’s just the right exact texture, crisp on the outside, fluffy with slight chewiness on the inside. The taste is just divine. The problem with Tartine bread is scarcity, and if you know us, you know scarcity doesn’t go over well. Bread is usually made 6 days a week, at 5PM daily and is gone by 6PM — so it’s really rare to go home with a loaf — especially if you’re planning on going to work that day! So we’ve attempted to make it at home — K is really the baker here, I just took the photos and fed the starter yeast while he was gone on his work trip.
This is an involved process, and has made me appreciate what bakers do. It’s less of an art and more of a science actually with exactness around every step. It’s very ‘chemical’ in nature with very little room for deviation. It’s also a large test in patience as the starter needs days of training before it can become a Leaven. And dough does a ton of resting, hours at a time, with periodic turning and kneading, before it becomes ready for baking. You have to be alert, watching for the signs. You have to be in-tune with the climate of your kitchen, temperature this, humidity that. It’s definitely a process that requires commitment. So if you’re interested in attempting this, go with that in mind. The process started on Thanksgiving weekend, with the starting of the starter, and the dough making and the baking happened this weekend.
Luckily, Tartine Bakery published a book on how to make its bread, and it’s extremely comprehensive. I commend the book on not only being thorough but extremely scientific, which for an engineer is very important.
On Thanksgiving weekend, we began with the starter, basically water and flower (white and whole wheat), accurately measured. You want to encourage natural yeast to grow and have a regular cycle of feeding — a process that is when mature can be used to create the Leaven that produces the bread. We had to feed it daily, dropping the volume by 80% and adding equal amounts of water and flour (getting it to 100 -110% of the original volume).
Once the Leaven is ready — you observe the signs of course, from smell to density — you can start the bread-making process. The ingredients of flour, water at 80F, Leaven and salt.
You mix the ingredients and you end up with wet dough — that is a bit difficult to work with at the beginning but becomes a cohesive mass after you let it sit.
After a few hours of sitting and periodically turning/kneading, you’re ready for cutting into two portions and additional kneading, allowing air to come in, encouraging additional fermentation. Every step of waiting is so important – so prepare to exercise your patience.
If not ready to bake immediately, you can slow down the fermentation by placing in the fridge overnight.
When you’re ready to bake, you want to use a two-in-one dutch oven (only one part shown here), because you’ll want to bake the bread covered for the first 20 minutes to keep it moist. Then you can uncover to bake for the rest of the time.
45 minutes later, the bread is ready! The amazing thing about this process is you may see all the signs that indicate success along the way, but the moment of truth is only at the end when the loaf comes out of the oven, having risen enough and the dough having cooked all the way through. Most importantly it’s when you take that first bite, and you’re hit with that familiar taste of Tartine bread.