What makes the Tartine Country Loaf so absurdly delicious?
I've been baking for a while now. I consider myself reasonably good. Not a professional or a master by any means. And I would not presume to have the nuanced knowledge or touch of someone like Chad Robertson. But, even while attempting to preserve that humility, I truly don't get how they do it.
I went to Tartine yesterday, got some bread and butter there, and proceeded to melt into my chair like the whipped butter on their warm bread. It's way too good. It makes no sense. I've had the bread at Kens. It's good. I've had the bread at the actual best bakery in Portland—Tabor Bread—and it's great. I've been to Gjusta and Lodge, in LA, and Bien Cuit in NY. All fantastic. Fine. Great. But Tartine is doing something else with their country loaf and I want to know what the hell it is. What is this sorcery?
The answer to that question is not found in his book—at least the first one (perhaps in the second?). I've been baking from that book for years, with good results. Here's my latest loaf, a rough approximation, with my own tweaks.
I'm happy with it. I get about as much satisfaction from this loaf as when I used to frequent Lodge in LA. It's a fine loaf that brings me joy. BUT IT'S NOT THE TARTINE COUNTRY LOAF. WHY IS CHAD LYING TO ME?!? I cry.
A few clear differences:
Shape: The actual tartine loaf is larger, significantly wider, not nearly as tall. I've seen their proofing baskets, and they are not a standard 10" banneton. Probably closer to 15 inches, with very low sides.
The crumb: clearly less open, less gummy (but in a bad way), less of a consistent pattern. Lacking that special sauce.
The crust (this to me, is the biggest difference): the Tartine crust is this dark, rich mahogany, at least a few shades darker than mine, but with almost no charring in the flavor. It's crisp and robust when you buy it, which is not unlike mine. But I think it must be thinner than mine, or there is some other magic in it, because on day 3, a nicely toasted slice (I like to pan -fry with butter) yields this delightful chew that requires no tearing, but also isn't soft or limp. And bear in mind, I have no bread box or special storing. That's simply from staying in two reversed paper bags.
So what is he doing? I don't think this is necessarily an answerable question. I'm not looking for THE ANSWER. Unless, I suppose, you've worked for him or have some secrets. But I'd love to hear some spitballing. Is it the oven he's working with? Is he cooking at much higher temps than the book prescribes for home bakers? What gives the crumb that chewy yet soft magic? Is it the quality of the flour? (For reference, I am working primarily with fairly fresh T85 from central milling. It's a great flour that Chad has endorsed). Is the shape they're producing better in some way? HALP PLZ. :)