The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

covered baking

ehanner's picture

The only way for me to make any relivent decisions about how best to use my new combo cooker is to bake the same basic formula repetedly, making procedural changes and noting the change in outcomes. So, this bake is another in a series of the Basic Country Bread from Tartine. I did make one small change in the formula to suit my personal prefrence in flavor. I really like the flavor of a French style bread with around 5% rye in an otherwise white bread flour mix. When you get the ferment right there is a great nutty after taste that is IMHO the essence of that great full flavor French bread.

My levain was made from 50g of AP and 50g of whole rye mixed with 100g of warm water. Left to ferment at 78F for 12 hours, it had a fruity fragrance and had just peaked I believe.

The dough was made with 950g of bread flour, 50g of whole rye, 700+50g of warm (80f) water and 22g of salt. The salt number is a reflection of taking into account the 100g of flour in the levain which Robertson forgot about.

I have been adding the salt to the last 50g of warm water but honestly, I find it hard to get it all out of the cup when I dump the water in as it isn't completely dissolved. I think I'm going to go back to adding the salt dry and pouring the water in over it.

The stretching and folding has become more relaxed as I get more comfortable with this process. I mix the dough well with my fingers cutting the last 50g of water and salt in. It looks and feels like I'm damaging the strands as the dough becomes a disorganized and chopped up mess. But 30-40 minutes when I do the first stretch, the dough has become connected and cohesive as a mass. I have been trying to stretch and fold in the container every 30-40 minutes with the exception that at 4 hours of fermenting when the dough is well aerated, I pour it out on a lightly oiled counter and do a standard tri fold both directions. I think the letter fold is less damaging to the structure and it gives me a chance to give it a good stretch and feel the development. Then after another 30 minutes or so, I divide and shape using a linen lined dusted basket.

The suggestion of the author is to pre heat the cast iron cooker at 500F. The oven is set at 450F after loading the dough. While it may be easier to load the dough in a cold cooker, I have found I like the crust and spring better using Robertsons suggestion of preheating. The change I made to the suggested procedure this time was to shorten the amount of time the top is on and baking covered. Robertson says 20 minutes covered and 20-25 minutes open baking at 450. My bakes have produced thin crusts using those times. This time I removed the cover at 15 minutes and for the second loaf, 12 minutes and open for 25 and 28 minutes respectively. At the end of the bake I opened the door a crack to help dry out the crust some.

My conclusion is that the 20 minutes of covered baking is to long for this high hydration dough. The crust is so thin and soft after the bread has cooled, slicing is difficult. You can see in my image taken when I removed the cover at 12 minutes, the dough is just starting to take on color and has started forming a crust after expanding. The crust then is more substantial having been exposed to dry heat for a longer time, making a crust that is still crisp in the morning after baking.

The oven spring was so great that the dough crested in the top of the cooker. You can see the flour marks in the cover where the top of the loaf kissed the iron top. Remarkable spring if I do say so.

My next effort will be to make a similar sized loaf but at a lower hydration.


Uncovered after 12 minutes. The spring hit the cover!

This is what it's all about. Just perfect!

Nickisafoodie's picture

Boule covereduncovered on left


I made one large 7 pound recipe for two loaves (Hamelman's "Vermont Sourdough with Increased Whole Wheat").  Given they were 3.5 lbs each I baked one at a time. Both were retarded 13 hours in the fridge (okay, one was 12 and one was 13 hours) then placed directly on the hot stone after slashing, steam used first 12 minutes.

The first loaf used a large stainless bowl covering for the first 15 minutes of baking.  When removing the bowl some of the dough stuck to the side and pulled away, but it finished nice and the tear is not too noticable.  Thus my decision to bake the second loaf without the bowl - a big mistake (on the left in the first picture and in the single shot picture). 

You can see how the bowl made the first loaf on the right better looking with tiny bubbles and a nice crust.  The "mistake loaf" on the left and bottom has a dull looking crust in addition to a demarcation line about one inch up the side and all over the bottom which essentially matches the look and sheen of the crust from the first covered loaf.  The better looking blisters and color must be from the heat of the stone which can be seen when looking at the side of the loaf.   The top part of the uncovered loaf in the second picture doesn't have the nice color and tiny bubbles on the skin that the covered one has. 

I expect them both to look and taste the same when they cut on Thanksgiving- but visually speaking (and poor slashing technique aside) the loaf on the right looks much better.  So my take away is to stay with a covered loaf going forward. 

One other thought that surprised me: the oven spring was better on these breads coming right out of the refigerator and into the oven than those of the past where I would take them out one hour to warm up at room temp while the oven was preheating.  The chilled dough seems to not spread out to lower height and wider loaf by keeping the pent up energy intact until released by the heat - resulting in a higher rising loaf than otherwise. 

Happy Thanksgiving all...

ehanner's picture

I have had my copy of Chad Robertson's "Tartine Bread" book for some time now and have read the posts here from those who have baked his breads. As has been pointed out by other posters, 100 pages are dedicated to recipes that use bread in them which is nice but isn't normally part of a "Bread Book". It is a beautiful book and the images take up many of the pages. The book was delayed in publishing for what seemed like forever. Several critics gave it rave reviews so I was hopeful.

The text is written like it is aimed primarily at new bakers or those who have heard about the bakery in California and want to learn to bake the Tartine breads. The author talks about how anyone can pick up this book and make good bread using just the chapter on the Basic Country Loaf. Robertson details his basic formula and attempts to de-mystify bakers math so you learn to "think like a baker". The working formula for building the leavan calls for double the amount needed in the dough build. Then his representation of the recipe or formula is in my opinion very non standard and confusing. Additionally the discussion of bakers percents and the listed percents do not add up correctly with the amounts in the formula. The total hydration of his basic country bread is off by the amount of the leavan. The total amount of flour is also off by the amount of the flour in the leavan. I wonder if he really understands bakers percent math. Small mistakes are one thing but any professional baker would be or should be embarrassed by this interpretation of bakers percent math. A new baker will gain nothing useful by the confusion created on pages 47) para 1. and page 48. In addition the percent for salt is shown to be 2%, which is a common ratio for that ingredient but then since the flour in the leavan isn't included in the total flour, the amount shown in under the salt column is off by 10%. That mistake won't ruin the bread but, the instructor/author should stay true to the universally accepted use of Bakers Math.

The concept of baking in a cast iron combo cooker is in my opinion, an accident waiting to happen. While covered baking has been demonstrated to be an effective way to avoid the venting issues in a gas oven, the weight of a dutch oven at scorching 450F heat being held upside down is very difficult to manage. Yes, it can be done but the results are attainable using any one of many far safer methods. Remember the book is aimed at folks who have never baked bread. Even the famed "No Knead" breads only have you removing a lid on a dutch oven.

The one redeeming component of the book is the discussion of managing fermentation to manipulate the outcome. The idea of using the leavan prior to it's maximum activity is interesting. I made the basic country bread yesterday and found it to be demanding. The fermentation time for my room temperature was 5 hours, during which I had to stretch and fold every 30 minutes to build the gluten strength. The proof time ended up being 4 hours before I finally called an end to the wait and baked it in 2 sessions under a clay le choche bell cooker. I left the second loaf in  the oven unmolested for the full 20 minutes after removing the cover and got a darker color. The first loaf, I checked a few times and rotated the loaf which looses a lot of energy.

I like the bread. A good crust and a moist crumb with mild sour flavor the first night. It's hard to say for sure but I'm not sure the starter feeding schedule lowered the sour notes. It's about the same as usual for my regular Pain au Leavan. I might do some further experiments with controlling fermentation and using the starter before it is at its maximum ripeness. This is the only area of the book where the method put forth is new and unique to me. This is an advanced technique in my opinion. It's difficult to determine how far along the activity has progressed by using your sense of smell. Waiting for it to begin to fall is at least a stage most people can understand, and knowing your starter will double or triple in a given length of time is quantifiable.

I don't want to be taken as a mean spirit here. But. I feel  a responsibility to speak the truth where it conflicts with normal conventions. I appreciate that it is hard to get a book published and off to market. In my opinion this book is not for a new baker and maybe not for anyone who is just learning to bake with sourdough. You have to be experienced enough to know on your own that the formulas are all wrong. At the least you have to know that every other bread author in the world uses bakers math in a different way to arrive at a final dough. The in depth description of all of the phases of baking are well written and helpful but the basic concept of using bakers math is flawed. There are many good books on the market to help aspiring bakers learn the basics. Reinhart's "Bread Bakers Apprentice" is one, and Hamelman's "Bread" is another to name the first that come to mind. Daniel DeMuzio's "Bread Baking" or Dan Lepard's offerings are some others who are well known and follow standard conventions. In conclusion, my advice would be to pass this book over. Its basis is factually sloppy and the method is unnecessarily difficult.I don't mean to be harsh but, it is what it is. Lots of good books out there to choose from.



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