The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

So, one of the nice things about Tartine Bread is Chad Robertson's recipes for use of the day old bread.  Sometimes one has a half loaf in the bread box and a fresh loaf just out of the oven.  It is difficult to eat that "day old bread" when there is a fresh loaf sitting out calling my name.

His french toast recipe calls for a 1.5 inch thick slice of bread. That is a lot of bread.  But, fortunately, I had enough old bread to make two slices.

He says to soak the bread for an hour. He says nothing about turning it over. So I put the egg mixture into a square baking pan, positioned the bread, and then poured the mixture on top of both slices and eventually filled up the bottom of the pan.  I let the toast soak for 30 minutes in the fridge, and then turned the pieces for the second 30 minutes.

He suggests using 2 Tbsp of butter to grease the pan.  I did not see why so much butter was needed. I took remainder of the butter out of the pan once the pan was well greased.

Here is the soaked bread, just placed in the pan:

The photo up top is of the "bottom", caramelized side, which he suggests be served facing up. You basically fry the bread on medium-low heat for a few minutes and then transfer the pan to the 350F oven for 15-20 minutes.

I found that the french toast was not quite ready enough for me on the top side, and it did not appear like it was going to get ready any time soon after baking for 20 minutes at 350F. So I turned the broiler on low for a few minutes to cook it up some since I am not a fan of wet french toast.  It may very well be that the "custard" is supposed to be wet on top, but I was afraid to try it that way and his directions weren't all that clear.

He says not to turn the toast, but even after putting the broiler on, I wanted the "tops" to be cooked more, so i did wind up flipping them and letting them sit for a minute or so in the hot cast iron pan. Here is the second slice after I cut into it:

I believe that I served it to myself upside down as the darker side is probably on the bottom.

So how did it taste?  I really enjoyed it.  I had it with Grade B maple syrup. It was a lot of bread, delicious and very filling.  Plus, it gave this vegetarian an opportunity to break out the steak knife. 

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

There is a lot of discussion of Chad Robertson's Basic Country Loaf, as written about in Tartine Bread. This was the first truly successful loaf I ever baked, having purchased the book because I wanted something extraordinary to bake with the sourdough starter that I had been in the process of developing while trying to figure out how to bake with yeast. 

For those of you who find yourself in a similar "boat", meaning, learning to bake for the first time, I can't emphasize enough how helpful it is to have an actual book to work from. Beg, borrow or steal one that gets good reviews, and which has given a lot of people great results.   Sure, everything is available on-line these days, and you can get great recipes everywhere, from TFL to King Arthur Flour.  But, there is something to be said for the quietude of a book, with a formula, some text, and some photographs. Lacking a dozen "comments" from those who have modified it, or did it differently, there is nothing to confuse you.  You just follow the directions and if it doesn't work out the way you liked, you do it again.  Maybe re-read the relevant pages and see what you did differently, or where you may have gone wrong.

Anyway, enough of a pointless introduction.  I've been baking the bread for a number of months now (you can see my first bake at the beginning of my blog here on TFL), and have always used a towel lined bowl,either glass or stainless steel, to let my dough proof.  I have had the dough stick twice. My loaves always came out nice, but what a pain it was to dirty so many towels.  Plus, I wanted to have rings on my loaves. And, more importantly, the towels always got in the way and made it more difficult to turn the loaves out.

This is to say, I wanted Brotforms because the heart wants what the heart wants.

My first purchase was through Amazon, and I ordered two of them. However, they were smaller than I wanted, and back they went.  Next, I purchased from The Lucky Clover Trading Company, which advertises quite a bit on TFL.  Boy oh boy, those Brotforms are considerably less expensive, and I was hard pressed not to buy more than I needed.  In fact, I bought more than I needed.

I am quite content with my purchase.  Pictured above are two 8" Rounds, 1, 12"  Long Oblong, Four Large 9" Round and one Oblong Wide 9".

Ordinarily, when I make my Tartine Basic Country Loaf, I make enough for four loaves. In other words, I use all of the Levain, divided into two batches of the basic formula.  This is why I never had enough bowls and didn't like using so many towels. Granted, I don't usually make four loaves, because I make pizzas from some of it.  But, the heart wants what the heart wants, so I ordered a bunch of brotforms. The above cost me $70.55.  A bit steep, but better to get it all done at once and have what I "need" on hand. :)

So, my process usually begins the night before.  I take the tablespoon of my starter and I mix it with flour and water to make the levain.  Usually, I do this in a glass bowl.  Pictured below, I did it in a plastic piece of Snapware. 

This time, I left it out overnight, from 7pm to 7 am, at which point I placed it in the refrigerator, took it out the following morning and let it come to room temperature.  I did this, mostly because it did not look airy enough.  When I deemed it ready, it looked like this:

I don't bother spooning out the levain to see if it passes the float test when I see all of the bubbles along the side, and have such a nice looking levain.

I have written that my levain doubles or triples in size before I use it.  This does not look like it even doubled. I think that has something to do with it being in a rectangular container rather than the glass bowl, which obviously deceived me. Still,you can see that the levain has "filled out" nicely, no longer looking so hilly.  In fact, it didn't really reach all the way to the back of the container when I first mixed it, but you can see in the second photograph that it went all the way to the back.  Here is a top shot of the final levain:

You can see a number of gaseous bubbles. I scrape out half of the levain into my bowl and add the water.  It floats "okay", or at least, it does not all sit on the bottom.  I can slide my hand underneath rather easily once the water is added.

Next, I disperse the levain in the water. You can do this with your hands, but I find it takes less time and is more easily dispersed using my danish whisk.  By the time I am done whisking, the water and levain are nice and bubbly. Looks a bit like almond milk.

Chad Robertson suggests using a large mixing bowl.  The largest bowl I have is a salad bowl. It is flat on the bottom but has nice deep sides, which helps keep the flour in the bowl.  I save my empty 5Lb bags of flour and I fill them with my 1000 grams of flour to be used for this formula.  That way I can just dump the flour into the bowl when I am ready to make the dough.  I have taken to creating a "well" in the middle of the flour, into which I pour the above dispersed levain. 

Once the liquid is sitting in the bowl, I just mix it up, either with my hands or with my danish whisk, until it all comes together (even with the whisk, I eventually have to use my hands as the dough looks "floured" unless I squeeze it between my fingers to get this shaggy mess (mass).  By the time I am ready to let it "rest"/autolyze it looks like this:

After the 30-45 minute rest, I add the salt and the water.  I find that this makes a pasty dough, and wonder whether I should be using less water, or maybe using more of the 50grams of water in the earlier mix.  In any case, this is what it looks like after the additional water and salt are incorporated (it is back in the plastic container as I need the bowl for round two).

Here it is from the side:

I went for a 2 hour walk and can't recall if I did any stretch and fold's before I left. If so, I did only one.  When I returned I did another, and then another two over the remaining two hours.  I never know if the dough is "ready", and here is what it looked like when I scraped it out onto the counter.   Hopefully, this photograph is helpful to others wondering if they have it right.  I don't know if this is correct, but if yours looks like this, at least you know that your bread can come out looking like mine. :)

My second set of the dough came out looking like this:

 I sprinkle a wee bit of flour on the surface, perhaps less than I ought to, but I find that I like the dough to stick to my counter when I flip it, because it makes it easier to shape whether pre-shaping of final shaping:

I cut the dough in half, never bothering to weigh the pieces, flip them over and then fold them (because the flour is on the outside, even the little bit of dough sprinkled above does not wind up in the crumb, as it stays on the outside where the crust will be).

These are then shaped, more or less, into balls. The french call their balls "boules". I am cosmopolitan.

This is not perfect, and I think the lack of flour causes a bit of tearing (look at the upper right of the photo. That is because the dough stuck to the counter.

My second set of dough was used to make two smaller boules and two pizza doughs. After dividing and shaping, it looked like this:

The smaller ones were weighed, which is why they look so awful, as I had to keep handling the dough.  But for pizza, I don't mind so much because they just wind up going in the fridge for a day or two before being shaped and baked.

And now, I had to flour my brotforms -- I used a 50/50 AP Flour/Rice Flour mixture and tried to rub it around with my fingers.  I had no idea how much.  I figured it should be enough to coat, but not so much as to drench.

Here are the large boules after the bench rest.  I sprinkled the tops with some more flour. I can't recall if I used the 50/50 mix or the AP.  I do this because I want the surface that comes in contact with my baskets to be non-sticky. That should maximize my chances of getting an easy release the next morning when the dough is ready to come out.

And here are the smaller boules and pizza doughs, after the bench rest:

And now the boules go into the baskets. They really don't look like much at all, and I wonder whether they will actually turn into decent loaves or whether I will get something unpleasant. I had yet to get an unpleasant loaf, so my hopes were pretty high.

Into the fridge they went.  One had a shower cap on top of it, one a towel, and two shared a large clear garbage bag.

The next morning, the expanded a bit. Here are the larger rounds followed by one of the smaller:

The real question was, of course, will they come out?  I assumed the answer would be yes, because the cold dough did not seem too sticky.  I brought out my super peel and added some flour to it, as well as to the top (soon to be bottom) of my loaf  I turned the basket over onto the peel and nothing happened. So I lifted it 1/4 inch, and tapped it down a bit harder and out the dough came!  Wahoo!

The photo below shows my lame scoring. No pun intended.

The smaller boules were actually quite tiny.  I was afraid they were not going to bake up well at all.

But, they baked up very nicely.

They still look small compared to my hand, but whereas my fingers could touch the table when palming the dough, that was not possible when palming the loaf.

Here are the two larger loaves -- I think the square scoring looks the best.

And here are all four loaves chilling.

I froze three of the loaves and cut into the fourth this morning.  Here it is sliced.  This is the top shot of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.



David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I live in New York, and I have a pretty good selection of fine pizzerias from which I can get pizza.  The same can pretty much be said for having a good selection of fine breads.  In fact, every day, I walk through Grand Central Station and pass by a market that has some very good loaves at reasonable prices (unlike everything else in that market.)

That said, I wanted to make my own bread, and with my own bread came the desire to make my own pizza. Fortunately, among the first books I picked up was Tartine Bread.  I say "fortunately," because the Basic Country Loaf that forms the foundation of the book, is also recommended for pizza dough.  Talk about killing two birds with one stone!  In Tartine Bread, Chad Robertson recommends the use of the Lodge Combo Cooker, a cast iron set of frying pans, one deep, the other shallow, which works perfectly for making the Basic Country Loaf.  Once I had that bread down, I decided to buy a Lodge Cast Iron Pizza Pan, based on the reviews I had seen.

Now, there are those who make better pizza then I.  I've seen the photographic evidence of it. They also make better bread than I.  But, I am happy to say that I have been making a lot of very fine pizza in addition to a lot of very fine bread.  I have found the Super Peel to be a pretty good aid in getting pizza dough onto a hot pan, whether it is the cast iron combo cooker or the cast iron pizza pan.  (I heat both to 500 degrees, and find the Extra Long Oven Gloves to be great for handling the hot cast iron.

By now, I am seeing that I have spent a boat load of money buying bread baking stuff, but it all pales in comparison to the grain mill I am still waiting to pull the trigger on...

Anyhow, my usual process is to drain a can of crushed tomatoes (lately, I have been using and preferring organic fire roasted crushed tomatoes), saute some chopped onions in olive oil, mix in the crushed tomatoes and divide it into 1/2 pint wide-mouth mason jars. Incidentally, this is what I store my starter in as well.  I use a screw on plastic lid but don't screw it down tight. 

Typically, I have been sauteing chopped onions and then adding a can of crushed tomatoes to make the sauce. I also keep my chopped onions in one of the jars as well, but use the standard rings to keep them sealed tight.  This keeps the onion odor out of the fridge and lets me store onions all week for use whenever I need them.

 On Saturday, I made some dough and let one pizza's worth sit in the fridge until Tuesday evening.  When I went to make the pizza I realized that I did not have any of my sauce made, and I did not want to dirty a pan, so I opened up the can of crushed tomatoes, poured it into a colander to let the water drain out cooked my pizza dough.

The process is as follows: I put the lodge pizza pan in the oven and heat it to 500 degrees.  I take the pan out of the oven, drizzle olive oil on the pan (which lets the dough brown better in my experience) and then use my peal to put the pizza dough on the smoking hot pizza pan for a 5 minute bake.  Once the dough is set and maybe a little browned (in this instance, I actually overcooked the dough since it was very thin in the middle and it became crisp like a cracker....turned out delicious), I add the sauce (1/2 pint jar is enough sauce for the whole pie) and top it with sliced mozzarella, at which point I return it to the oven for a few minutes, and once the cheese is all melted, I take it out, sprinkle some fresh Basil leaves on top and return to the top rack of my oven where I put the broiler on High and broil for a few minutes until the cheese just starts to brown.

The result:


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Every day, I pass a homeless lady who stands in the side-doorway of church that I pass by on the way to work.

I decided that I ought to give her one of my extra loaves of bread, and this morning I did so.  She was very appreciative and, dare I say, excited to be gifted the loaf.

I told her it took me three days to make it, and she said "Three days?!" so I explained it was a sourdough and she understood right away.

Here it was after proofing overnight in the fridge.

Here is my lame lame.

My scoring...

After 20 minutes in the covered combo cooker:

And, after it was taken out of the oven

Alas, no crumb shot for this loaf.  Tomorrow, when I pass her, I will ask if she had an opportunity to enjoy it, and see what she has to say.

In part, I did this because I had baked three loaves this weekend and had to freeze one but did not want to freeze two.  In part, I did this because I thought it would be nice to give something to someone who would otherwise never get something like this.

Obviously, she didn't have a bread knife with her. I hope that she enjoys it nonetheless.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I have been baking these breads for several months.  I typically use my unfed (for a week) starter straight from the fridge, mix it with 200 grams of water, 100 grams of King Arthur AP and 100 grams of King Arthur White Whole Wheat.

This last time, I made the leaven on Thursday morning, stuck it in the fridge on Thursday night and mixed dough for two loaves Friday night giving it a few turns over the course of 3 hours, shaped and placed in the fridge overnight.  I baked the next morning and the results are the top and bottom loaves. They were underwhelming in terms of size. I gave them away without cutting them.  However, on Saturday, I took the remaining 200 grams of leaven (made Thursday) and mixed up enough dough for two more loaves. I turned at 30 minutes, and three more times over the next 3.5 hours. Shaped, and stuck in the fridge.  Those loaves are the ones on the cooling rack. They bloomed very nicely.

The crumb was just what I want -- soft, chewy and tangy.  It was spectacular.  And no big holes through which peanut butter and jelly can escape.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I have been baking nothing but the basic country loaf now for several months, and my breads have always come out pretty good, though varying considerably in flavor.

I am a weekend baker and have wanted to get my bakes done early Saturday instead of late Saturday night or early Sunday.  So I decided to take another stab at doing things backwards.

Friday morning, I took my starter out of the fridge (last fed, a week earlier), and created the leaven.

Friday night, I mixed the dough and 90 minutes later, I added the salt and did one turn 30 minutes later, before placing it in the fridge.

Saturday morning I took out the dough, and did another turn. About an hour later I shaped and let it proof at 69 degrees, for 4 hours before baking.

The breads had a decent amount of oven spring.  The crumb was a bit dense.  The flavor was okay.

I would not say it was my favorite bread.  I reheated it on Sunday afternoon and it went over very well. I thought it was a little chewy and maybe a little gummy, like it was under baked slightly.  The second loaf I cut this morning and made a sandwich out of it. I do prefer less holes because it is easier to make PB&J without big holes running through my bread.  Again, the bread was a bit chewy but not too hard to eat. Gave my mouth a workout.  It did not taste gummy.  The flavor was okay.  I had a piece with butter and that was delicious.

So, it is not a ringing endorsement for baking bread for early Saturday afternoon, but I know that if I really need bread for Saturday, I can get it done in a pinch.  I might try it again with the proofing done at a warmer temperature, since the dough stayed pretty cool throughout the proofing.


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

This weekend's bake started Friday evening -- I removed my starter (housed in a 1/2 pint mason jar) from the fridge and added a tablespoon (yes, I use a tablespoon and it generally weighs from 18-22 grams) of starter and added it to 200 grams of cool water. I added 100 grams of KA organic all purpose flour and 100 grams of flour that I blended from hard winter red wheat berries the previous week and let the mixture sit overnight.

In the morning my leaven was ready to go, so on Saturday I mixed the leaven and water with 2000 grams of flour (a mixture of flours on hand), let it autolyze for a couple of hours and then added the salt.  I do this in two batches, each batch making 2 loaves.

After stretching and folding for at intervals of 30 minutes for the first two hours, I let did another 3 folds over three hours, divided the dough and shaped.  I pinched off a bit to make two pizza doughs so that one of my three loaves are smaller than the other.

I placed the shaped boules into the fridge Saturday afternoon, baked one loaf Sunday morning and two on Sunday evening. 

I used my chef's knife to score the loaves.  It finally didn't stick.

I also experimented and flipped the towel-lined bowl out onto my super peal and transferred it to the cold dutch oven from the peel.  Then baked as per Tartine Bread.

Sadly, I have no idea which bread was baked in the morning and which bread was baked in the afternoon.  I think the smaller one was done in the morning and I gave that away to my neighbor. I am eating one of the larger ones now and it is not sour tasting.  It is also a bit chewier than usual.  Very moist, but still a bit chewier than usual.  I like it. Made a great peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

Waiting to hear back from our neighbor to see if they liked it. Hope it was delicious.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I have been grinding flour in my bleNader, using 200 grams hard winter red berries to 800 grams all purpose flour and making my 200 grams of levain with either 100 grams of the fresh flour or using a 50/50 blend. 

I have also varied the autolyze period from overnight to an hour. I add the levain and salt after the autolysis. I can't say that I can't ell the difference in the finished loaves but the dough is somewhat easier to handle because it is less sticky.  It feels odd to incorporate the levain into the autolyzed mixture but it seems to incorporate just as well as when I disperse it in the water and then add it to the flour and water. 

I dont know if there is any benefit to doing it this way, and am posting just so folks know there are other options out there. That way if you "mess up" you can rest assured that the end product won't suffer. 

I suppose one benefit is if the levain is not ready you can get mixing thr flour and water and let it sit while the levain develops and then just spoon out your 200 grams of ready levain into the dough and get mixing with those hands. 

One thing I note for sure, when adding the 50 grams of water and salt after the autolysis, the water does not incorporate as well into the dough and the dough itself seems wetter than usual. 

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Went to visit friends this weekend and decided to being my Tartine Basic Country Loaf to share. I learned her parents use to be wholesale bakers with 30 retail customers, so I finally had a worthy critic to test my bread. 

The loaf had been frozen for a week or so, thawed on Friday and reheated on sunday. I heated it at 350 for 10-13 minutes and then cut it up. She said it rivaled the finest bakeries. 

It it was a great complement. She also said I can open a store. That is when my wife stopped translating!

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Lately, when making the Chad Robertson Basic Country Loaf, rather than "save" the remaining 200 grams of levain (recall, baked with it all for my first loaf, by accident.  The bread came out nice but I think it was a bit too chewy), I have been making another 2 loaves worth of dough.  This results in a surplus bread.   So I have been making Pizzas:

I basically take the dough and shape it then bake it either in a cast iron griddle (in the stove) or cast iron pizza pan, depending on how big the dough gets. Bake is at 500 degrees for 5-10 minutes, until they get browned on the bottom. I actually take the griddle out and add some olive oil to the bottom to get the crust to brown better.

After they cool, I wrap the doughs in plastic wrap and slip into the freezer. To bake the pie I top it with some home made sauce and some mozzarella and I place the finished pie back on the cast iron and place it on the top shelf under the broiler set to high for 5 minutes.  At 4-5 minutes I take it out, put some basil on top and than broil for another minute.

David Sifre's photo.

Honestly, I think I enjoy eating the pizza  more than the bread, but I enjoy baking the bread more than the pizza.  Go figure.  Probably because I only make peanut butter sandwiches, grilled cheese, and toast with the bread.

That said, look how gorgeous last night's loafs came out:


You're probably wondering, how the heck did I get the sandwich loaf to look so amazing.  I used the lodge cast iron bread pan.  Two of them.  And I made my own combo cooker.  I let the dough (half the country dough recipe) rise in the pan for 4-5 hours and then baked it after preheating the top. Just slipped it in the oven and put the other pan on top and let it sit for 18 minutes and then baked uncovered for 18 minutes. All at 450.

To get the ears on the round loaf, I put the first dough in the cold dutch oven pan and I used kitchen shears to cut the square.  But I was careful to lay the shares horizontally along the dough rather than perpendicular to the dough.  That way the cut went across the top of the dough and not too far through it.

The sandwich loaf is in the freezer, one of the rounds is in the freezer, the two pizzas are in the freezer and one of the rounds is going to my parents house to thank them for raising me. :)




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