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.