Saturday, December 10, 2011

Obsession: Bread

My brother David has been on my mind a lot lately for a variety of reasons. Maybe as the holidays approach, the ache caused by his absence becomes more acute. Whatever he reason, I search for evidence of his life in mine still.

It always comes back to bread for me. One of the things I got from his house was his "brotform." Actually my mom had it then she read, here, I think, that I would have loved to have it, so she passed it on to me. And I brought it to my new home in my suitcase.
My Brotform. It was David's brotform.

 First things first...I thought you baked the bread in this thing. Um. That would have started a fire, I do believe. I googled how to use it and you use it ONLY FOR THE FINAL RISE. That is what gives the loaf its lovely lines.

So anyway, I reached for Tartine Bread by Chad I-knew-him-when-he-was-still-in-school Robertson. As I read about Chad's search for making great bread, it was almost like reading some stuff David might have written. He talks some about the science of it and about ..well, good bread. Life is too short to eat crap bread. (Go on, needlepoint that onto a pillow. NOW.)

I started reading Tartine Bread last week and mixed up a starter pretty quickly. Make up a 50/50 mix of white and whole wheat bread flours.  Make a thick batter of water and mixed flour. No, as a matter of fact, NO YEAST IS ADDED. There are natural yeasts in the flours, on our hands, in the air. And that is what is going to make the bread rise (I know: amazing, right???)

I start the starter.
Let sit.

And sit. And sit.

And sit.

It should become stinky and bubbly. And it DID. Then you toss 80 percent of it and add equal parts water and flour to the starter. Lather rinse repeat. Until you think it's ready.

Then? THEN you mix ONE FRIGGIN TABLESPOON of that starter with 200g of warm water and 200g of flour (50/50 mix). And overnight, it should become nice and aerated and bubbly.
And then?
THEN you add 1000g flour (900g white, 100g wheat) Annnnnd...700 g water. Let rest. Add 50g warm water and 20g salt. Mix. Rise in bowl, making turns (go buy Tartine Bread to really learn). Divide into two rounds. Rest. Shape into 2 loaves, let rise THREE HOURS. Bake. (Oh, and totally bake using Chad's method, I do not care WHAT recipe you are using. It is IMPORTANT. And it is why I am now coveting a Lodge Combo Cooker....)

The real story is that the first batch of leaven (when you mix starter w 200g each water and flour) never ever even looked like...anything.
I pitched it.
I tried to will the second batch into rising. And I persevered and baked it off and I got bricks.
Tasty bricks.
Tasty bricks, mind you, but bricks.

Then I tried one more time with the leaven. This time, I mixed the leaven in the same container the starter was in. This time, the leaven floated the way it was supposed to. This time, I did the turns timed as Chad instructs (although i still wasn't please with it after three hours. It wasn't fluffy enough.)
But I did a better job of shaping the loaves. They had more structure.
When I baked them off?
Ooh, pretty.
Ooh, big, aerated, hole-y loaf.
Pretty damn good. There's nice big aerated holes in the loaves, just the way a really good loaf should have. There's FLAVOR. Texture. Moisture. Man, this is good bread. And I think it's going to get better...

And now? Now I'm a textbook case of someone trying to live by bread alone. OH OKAY! Bread AND Butter alone.

But man, it is soooo worth it.

And buy the book for anyone in your life (you?) who makes bread. Unbelievable. The whole combo cooker technique is amazing.

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