Producing a Tender Crumb – Tartine Basic Country Bread
But, first, the weather. Thunder, lightening and hail may not be a big deal to people in some localities. But in Northern California, they are rare as reliable weather-forecasting. Saturday, our morning coffee was interrupted by a crashing downpour of (admittedly small) hail. It went on for many minutes and accented our garden with glistening ice.
Now, back to bread.
I posted a question here a few days ago, asking how to achieve an airy, tender crumb in a sourdough bread, like the ones I’ve had from some local artisan bakeries. Several wise advisors suggested higher hydration, and mentioned Tartine’s Basic Country Bread in particular. I am among the diminishing group at TFL who had not previously baked that bread. This weekend I ended my holdout. And the result was just the crumb I’d been hoping for.
I found the formula at the breadexperience blog (http://breadmakingblog.breadexperience.com/2011/02/tartine-country-bread.html). I refreshed my basic sourdough starter (70%AP/20%WW/10%Rye at 75% hydration) on Friday morning. On Friday evening I made up the Tartine Leaven (50% white flour and 50% whole wheat at 100% hydration), using Central Milling Organic Artisan Baker’s Craft (malted) white flour and KAF whole wheat flour. By Saturday at 9 a.m., the leaven was bubbly, and passed the float test noted in the formula.
The final dough was very fluid, but after a 30 minute autolyse and four hours of fermentation, with a four or five stretch and folds every 45 minutes or so, it became somewhat firmer and silky, though still quite sticky. The sticky dough did not cooperate in the pull-stretch-rotate boule-forming technique, but I tightened the sheath as best I could, and plopped two blobs into well-floured 8-inch wicker brotforms. They proofed for about four hours at room temperature, and grew about 25%, passing the poke test.
Then the real mess ensued. Those blobs did not want to come out of their brotforms. The edges of the blobs stuck to the rims of the brotforms and the “loaves” (if you can call them that) spread out on the parchment, defiantly declaring themselves to be pains rustiques. I had decided to bake the loaves on stone with lots of steam, instead of in Dutch Ovens. And the spreading blobs didn’t quite fit on my stone. They melded together in the middle and almost oozed over the edges of the stone.
Thank goodness for a fully-preheated stone and the steam power of Sylvia’s Magic Towels plus a cast iron skillet with lava rocks. The steam heat quickly gelled the oozing masses into something like loaves before they totally lost all form. And they rose up like they were full of gas.
After 20 minutes of steam, I turned the oven from 450F to 420F with convection, and let the loaves bake for a total of 38 minutes, then left them on the stone with the oven door ajar to dry the crust for another 10 minutes.
Though these are not the best formed loaves I’ve baked, I could tell from their weight the moment I moved them from the oven to the cooling rack that they were going to be light-crumbed and open-celled.
This is pretty close to immediate gratification. I go to TFL with a question. I get some answers. I follow the advice. And it works!! The crust was fairly thin and crispy when just cooled yesterday (or toasted today), and only slightly chewy today. The crumb is deliciously tender and moist, even the day after. The flavor is subtle, compared—say—to San Francisco Sourdough or the Hamelman Vermont, but very nicely complex in a delicate way.
We made a “bread dinner” of things that go great on sourdough—tuna salad, proscuitto, gorgonzola and a spread of chopped pear, chopped pecans and gorgonzola. Washed down with a nice Pinot Noir Rose'. And it was gooood!
Thanks to all for the very good guidance. I got a happy result, but my crumb quest continues--can I achieve this crumb texture consistently?