Of the bread baking books I’ve read, they all tend to stick to techniques and recipes for fermenting, proofing, shaping, and baking bread dough of various types. Each one offers a slightly varied approach or unique tips for these processes. I just recently read my review copy of Chad Robertson’s Tartine Bread, and there was something different and kind of ingenious about this bread book. After all the the interesting tips and information about making a wild yeast starter and crafting dough and the different types of breads and how to bake them, there’s a section full of suggestions for using day old bread. Seeing several dishes made with bread made the thought of having a house full of home-baked loaves even more delightful. The various, seasonal kinds of bruschetta, sandwiches, uses of breadcrumbs and croutons, and the delicious photos of all those things give you one reason after the next to bake more bread. So, I just had to decide which bread to make first. The beginning of the book is devoted to describing how to make a basic country loaf, and then all of the other breads are some sort of variation on it. I was distracted at first by the brioche dough and the beignets made from it, but I chose to begin with a whole wheat bread packed with flax and sunflower seeds. If you don’t have a sourdough starter in your possession, Robertson suggests a simple enough way of making one, and he recommends feeding it with half white and half whole wheat bread flours. My starter is always fed with white bread flour, so I began by separating some starter and feeding it with the recommended mix of flours for a day before beginning this bread dough.
There were two key elements to the bread making process in this book. One of those was the baking method which I’ll explain more below, and the other was the goal of achieving a not so sour taste in the bread by only using a scant tablespoon of the mature starter when making the leaven. The night before the dough was to be made, one tablespoon of starter was mixed with warm water and white and whole wheat flours and left at room temperature until the next morning. For whole wheat dough, the leaven was then added to more warm water, all-purpose flour, and whole wheat flour, and it was mixed and left to rest for about an hour. Robertson explains that a whole wheat dough requires a longer rest after mixing that a white flour dough. After resting, salt was added, the dough was transferred to a clean bowl for the three hour bulk fermentation, and it was left until the turning began. Every 30 minutes, the dough was folded or “turned.” For the flax and sunflower seed bread variation, one cup of sunflower seeds was toasted, and one cup of flax seeds was soaked in boiling water. I would have expected the seeds to be added with the salt before the bulk fermentation began, but instead they were added after the second turn or one hour into it. Now, soaking the flax seeds causes them to become a little sticky and mixing all those little seeds into the dough takes a bit of squeezing and folding and mixing by hand. That seemed like a lot of working of the dough at that point of the bulk fermentation, so I may try adding them earlier next time. The next steps involved dividing the dough in two and giving both pieces a bench rest, and then each piece was shaped into a boule, rolled in one cup of raw sunflower seeds, and placed in bowls lined with towels that had been coated with all-purpose and rice flour for the final rise. I placed mine in the refrigerator for about twelve hours before baking. And, the baking involved that other interesting technique I mentioned. Rather than introducing steam in the oven with a spray bottle of water or by pouring water into a pan placed on the oven floor, a cast iron pan with a lid was used. The pan was heated in the oven with its lid, the dough was placed in the hot pan and carefully slashed, the lid was placed on top, and the bread began baking at 450 degrees F. After 20 minutes, the lid was removed, and the bread finished baking.
Because this was a rather wet dough, the lidded cast iron pan captured all the steam escaping from the dough as the bread baked and resulted in a crackly, crisp crust. My only disappointment was the lack of the open, holey crumb that I saw in other breads in the book. I suspect that was due to the bread being dense with seeds and the working of the dough in getting those seeds into it. Still, it was a nutty, flavorful bread that worked perfectly for sandwiches or simply toasted and slathered with butter. Now, I have more bread to bake so I can turn back to that last chapter of the book with all those ways of using it.
I’m submitting this to Yeastspotting where you’ll find some seriously well-made bread.