First time making Tartine's Basic Country Bread - please help!
So I'm sure nobody here is remotely sick of reading posts about beginners who struggle making Chad Robertson's Basic Country Bread. Nobody at all. No problems. Please continue.
Today I baked my first basic loaf using the recipe (err, formula) described in the widely-read, wildly-quoted Tartine Bread cookbook. Very nice book. Loved the pictures.
Things I needed to learn how to do for the first time before making this loaf: Just about everything. I had never made a starter. Or leaven. Or, obviously, sourdough bread. As for the terminology, oh my. Baker's percentages? Percent hydration? Bulk fermentation? Bench rests? Oven spring? And my personal favorite: Autolyse. Great word.
Anyway, I read the instructions closely, taking three pages of notes. I Googled and Googled and checked out two books from the library. (The first is "Bread: a baker's book of techniques and recipes," by Jeffrey Hamelman and "The bread baker's apprentice: mastering the art of extraordinary bread," by Peter Reinhart." I need techniques and recipes and I want extraordinary bread. That was my logic.)
After giving my starter about 20 days, I decided to take the plunge. I dove right in. I sunk, in fact, just about as fast as a spoonful of my leaven did in water. But more on that later.
I followed Tartine's directions religiously. Or so I thought.
Here's the crust (not bad, I think): http://www.flickr.com/photos/87861647 @N04/8040706434/in/photostream
Here's the crumb (whoops! My dad suggested I put a small plastic mouse in one of the holes...seems about right): http://www.flickr.com/photos/87861647 @N04/8040705056/in/photostream
I wanted to bake Sunday morning, so I started this project on Friday night. Late Friday night, as it so happens.
I took a tablespoon of my starter and mixed it with 200 g of 78 degree water (so specific!) and 200 g of flour. So I now have my leaven. I went to bed.
The next morning, after about eight hours, I gave it the float test. It sank. I gave it a couple more hours. It sank again. I placed it in a warm place. Finally, after probably 12 or so hours, it floated - mostly. I moved on.
I mixed the leaven with the appropriate amounts of water and flour (100 percent all-purpose, in my case). I let it rest, as called for in the recipe. I then added salt and water. I folded it on top of itself and moved it to a clear rectangular plastic container (read: cookie jar).
There I did my bulk fermentation and did my turns, as instructed. I didn't really see much of an increase in volume. It never really appeared to get billowy. Although, I'm not entirely certain I would be able to tell if it did. Next time, I'll be more diligent about marking the starting point.
All in all, I probably let it ferment for about 3 1/2 hours.
When I took it out of the container, I was amazed by how sticky it was. It was set, pulling back very strongly as I tried to get it out of the container. Once again, not knowing if this is a deal-breaker, I moved on.
Shaping time + more resting
I think many of my problems with the loaf come from the next steps. I think I worked the dough to death.
It was so sticky that I added more flour to the top and bottom in order to keep it form latching onto my cutting board.
I did the initial shaping. Gave it a bench rest.
I tried to follow the folding instructions as best as I could for the final shaping, but the dough was so wet and stuck to the cutting board. In an effort to firm it up, I ended up doing maybe twice as many folds as called for in the recipe.
Finally, I put the two loaves in the fridge. By this time, it was Saturday night. I let them rest in the fridge until Sunday morning.
I woke up Sunday excited to bake. I cranked the oven up to 500 degrees and pulled out my first loaf. When the dutch oven was good and preheated, I popped the dough in and gave it a stylish square cut. Into the oven. I turned it down to 450 degrees.
Despite all the warning signs throughout the baking process, I was hopeful when I saw the loaf after 40 minutes in the dutch oven. Although the oven spring was minimal, it had a nice golden brown crust. I tapped on the bottom and it sounded hollow. This might just work.
Ha. What a tease, this bread.
The crust tasted good, but the crumb was dense and doughy looking. There were gigantic holes on the inside in some parts, making it look like Swiss cheese. It definitely was not light and airy.
I'm resolved to get better.
So I only have one question:
Where do I begin?
I suspect my starter is a little weak. Although I've been doing it for roughly 20 days, it seems to have little activity (mild bubbling). I don't really see the dramatic rise and fall. I know have four different starters and my kitchen looks a little bit like a mad scientist's laboratory. Two of the starters come from my old starter and are being kept in sealed bell jars (after two days, they smell a bit like apple cider...what does that mean?). The third is in an open container, just like in Tartine. Still minimal activity. The fourth I am starting from scratch, using instructions I saw on the Tartine Bread Experiment. I'm hoping to see more activity in one of these.