Tartine Bread … because I haven’t updated this in a while

My first loaf of Tartine Bread's "basic country loaf."

Haven’t updated on Tartine bread because, well, it was pretty damn successful the first time I made it. Figured, hell, what do I need to say besides, “It works!”

But you know with gambling — and this is what I’ve only heard — is that if during your first time gambling you win big, you just assume you’re always gonna win big. Similar thing here.

My first batch of bread was pretty damn good. Seriously, better than anything I’ve had from the bakeries in my neighborhood. But …

1) Too much bench flour on the exterior

I’ve now made this recipe about 5 times. Until tonight, I had a hard time pre- and final-shaping it. It is very wet. Going by the written instructions, I had a hard time shaping into a ball with the proper surface tension. (There is supposed to be enough surface tension built up to hold the dough in a ball shape — this is meant to contain the expanding loaf so it keeps its roundess.) I watched a bunch of videos on shaping high-hydration boules, and there are a number of techniques. I used one similar to what I use to pre-ball my pizza doughs, and that worked. It took a fair amount of bench flour to keep my hands dry, but I think I can slowly cut down on this flour as I get better. The trick is to work quickly and confidently, handling the dough as little as possible — both so your hands don’t stick and so you don’t overwork it.

2) It was maybe a little overdone

By just a little. Initial bake with the lid on the Dutch oven is 20 minutes. Final bake (with lid off) is 20 to 25. I’ve since learned that in my oven, 20 minutes on final bake is sufficient.

3) It was a bit too sour

It tasted fine to me, but wasn’t as light on the sourdough flavor as the recipe hinted. And my wife likes it less sour. Easy solution here. I simply have to pay more attention to the bulk rise time and the final rise. In my first batch, total rise time was about 6 hours. This is 2 hours longer than the recipe recommends. What can I say, sometimes life (and laundry) gets in the way. I’ve since timed things carefully and end up with good flavor without excessive sourness.

The crumb of my first Tartine Bread loaf.

Further observations

  • Scoring the bread: Scoring the dough — slashing it with a sharp razor — is not only decorative but allows the bread to rise higher than it would unscored. Remember I talked about surface tension? Scoring the dough along controlled lines breaks some of that surface tension and allows the bread to spring up dramatically higher and in a dramatic, visually pleasing fashion. At first I was trying this with a single-edge razor blade (like one you’d use to scrape masking tape off a window). I finally found the double-edge face-shaving razors at my local drugstore and used those. They work much, much better.
  • Temperature: On my latest round of breads (tonight), I preheated the Dutch oven at 550°F for far too long and then neglected to drop the oven temperature down 50°F. MISTAKE. The recipe calls for 500° initial preheat and 450°F final bake time. I burned the shit out of the bottom. Plus, I did this in our top oven (we have a dual-oven range), which seems to run much hotter than indicated by the dial.
  • Storage: I need to find a good way to store these loaves. We tear through about half a loaf with dinner, but the whole other one and a half … I need to look up good ways to store. Not that it lasts long in our house.