A few weeks ago I posted on Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread titled A Dissenting Viewpoint. Several other members have posted reviews about the book and their breads since then. One thing I didn't care for was Robertson's confusing and incorrect description of bakers math through out the book. It is true however that if you follow the directions, you will get a great bread, regardless of the math.
Aside from the above, there are a few interesting, and I would say ingenious details within the book that need to be discussed. First, I like the idea of with holding 50g of warm water in the final dough to be added with the salt, after the autolyse. I haven't seen this procedure suggested by any other authors and it works well. I have never been convinced that the salt is properly distributed and dissolved when added after the autolyse. The water helps dissolve the salt and get it incorporated into the dough. Robertson suggests using your wet fingers to cut the additional water into the dough. Again the use of fingers to cut the new water and salt in is a new procedure that is simple and works well. It feels a little funky at first but the dough comes back together in the bowl later just fine.
Another more subtle thing that the author suggests is using 80F water in the dough. It's a way to assure that the culture starts off in a temperature range that wakes the culture up and gets it started eating and multiplying and creating co2. The result will be a more airy loaf, earlier in the proof. Judging by the loaves other members have posted on, I'd say the warmer water is a good idea.
Then, the Lodge Combo Cooker. I resisted buying the suggested combo cooker and used instead a couple of my collection of DO's and a covered steamable pan that I use on the stone. That is until yesterday. I found the Lodge CC at my Ace Hardware on sale for $33. It isn't that I didn't get good results using my other covered baking solutions. But as they say here in Packer Football country, "Good is the enemy of Great". I see DMsnyder has posted about his first Combo Cooker bake also so I suggest you read his details about his use. After Sylvia and Franko showed us how beautiful their bread are using the CC, I started wondering if the proportions of the cooker were helping the spring. Also the idea of not heating the pan first is definitely worth checking out.
I was surprised at the size of the Combo Cooker. It is perfectly sized for a 2# loaf. If you cut the handles off it would fit inside most of my DO's. At Sylvia's suggestion, I proofed the first loaf in the smaller component pan, covered with the deeper pan. I sprinkled some grits on the bottom before loading the dough from the banetton. No extra oil or parchment were used.
As for the actual baking. I thought the crust was to thin and after cooling, not crisp for my tastes. I followed Robertsons advice on this and left the cover on for 20 minutes followed by another 20 uncovered. I thought it was a little pale so I baked it another 5 minutes for a total of 25 minutes. The second loaf was placed in the still hot base with a small handful of additional grits under the dough first. The top was still slightly warm and I spritzed some water on the inside of the cover. At the end of the second bake, I shut the oven down and let the crust dry for an additional 5 minutes. I liked the second crust a little better.
The next time I use this method, I'll take the cover off after 12 minutes. This will make the crust a little thicker and crispier I believe. Here are my first 2 boules of Tartine Basic country Bread, using the Combo-Cooker.
Robertson has brought several ingenious methods to light in his new book. I think it's worth taking a look at to learn and understand these unique hand methods.