The reason that I was crazy enough to go on this venture again was right near the beginning of Chad Robertson’s book:
Tartine Bread is devoted to the use of natural leaven, often called sourdough. I promote the use of “younger” leaven with very little acidity. It’s a sweet smelling, yeastier relative of the more sour and vinegary-smelling sourdough.
The process is simple. […] The thought, borne out by our test bakers, is that anyone can pick up this book and make a good loaf of bread using this chapter alone. […]
-Chad Robertson, Tartine Bread, p. 15, 42
We love simple processes! We wanted to use a natural leaven too. But over the course of our last experiment with wild yeast, we learned to LOATHE sour bread.
We never wanted to have sour bread again!
And when I smelled how sweet and lovely the first starter made with Robertson’s method of capturing wild yeast, I got really excited. It was wonderful! It smelled like wheat. No vinegar. No scrunching up of the nose and mouth as if I’d just taken a big bite of a lemon.
And so, I began to mix the dough.
Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!
(Do you hear the warning bells? Can you see where this is going?)
Why on earth would editors allow the first basic recipe (a recipe that is used throughout the book for the other bread recipes) to be a meandering 26 pages of prose?
Just give me the ingredients and instructions for mixing all on one page!! Or two, if necessary. Make sure they’re facing pages! Put the instructional steps into a succinct numbered list. Add the longer numbered list that includes notes about how to think like a baker later.
Granted, there on page 48 is a handy list of the ingredients. I don’t mind that it’s in percentages. That’s a-okay with me.
It drove me crazy to have to scrabble through the book to find out “Why is the water divided??”, “When do I add the salt???” and “What do I do with the extra starter and WHY is there so much left over?!”
And really?! On page 52, to find out about maintaining my starter, I’m told to refer to step 3 on page 46 if I’m baking bread every few days OR to go to page 71 for instructions on maintaining the starter intermittantly? Ummm… Page 71?? Try 10 paragraphs later on page 72 to finally find the instructions. Note that the instructions do NOT give any sort of schedule for how often and how much to feed a refrigerated starter to ensure that it stays alive.
In the early evening on the day before baking the bread, I performed Robertson’s Float Test: if the starter floats, it’s ready to be mixed with flour. Whoohooo!! It passed the test – no water wings for it!
The resulting dough was beautiful and silky. It smelled wonderful! And I admit it. I was starting to get tired of having to read paragraph after paragraph of detail after detail. I decided that I knew (I’m SUCH an expert) how to mix and knead bread!
I was a little casual about the temperature of the water (and air). I didn’t measure either to make sure that the water was 80F and the air 70F. (I do wish that Robertson put the temperatures into Celcius… I know roughly what those Fahrenheit temperatures are but, but, but….) The water felt like getting into a swimming pool and that was good enough for me. The air temperature was blissfully cooling down after a 3-day disgrace of being over 30C and humid.
I was also a little casual about mixing the dough in the bowl. ie: I didn’t.
It was too difficult. When it came time to mix the salt and water in, I turned the dough out onto the board and kneaded it there. I know. Robertson says not to. He says to turn it every half hour or so inside the bowl
I HATED having to knead the salt and water into the basically finished dough. I’m NOT doing it that way again! I don’t understand why it’s necessary. Unless it’s to teach me patience.
I left the dough to rise while we had dinner, I imagined that I would be shaping it late that night and baking it early the next morning. The dough had hardly budged by 23:00. It was quite cool in the kitchen by then so we put a plate on the bowl and left it to its own devices overnight.
Early the next morning, the dough had barely doubled. But it HAD doubled.
And it stank. Really stank. Putrid stink. Horrible cheese stink.
As I pulled the dough out of the bowl, the stink dissipated and switched to smelling not unpleasantly sour. I shaped it anyway, thinking “all that flour!! …all that expensive flour!!” I covered the shaped loaves with a tea towel and left them to rise, imagining that it would take 3 or 4 hours, as per Robertson’s instructions. Ha. Finally at 13:15, it was ready to go in the oven. (Did I mention that it smelled even sourer?)
Just before baking, I slashed each loaf and sprayed them liberally with water. I slipped them onto the hot stone in the oven and baked them until the internal temperature was 100C. I was quite pleased with the slashes. And I was surprised they got so much oven spring. (Even though I remembered reading about it, I chose to ignore the fact that I was supposed to bake the loaves under a dome.)
In fact, the bread looks good, doesn’t it? A little flat maybe, but pretty good.
But it smells sour!! It tastes sour!!!
Strongly acidic bread occurs when a high percentage of acidic leaven is used in the dough and/or the rising times are overly long, either during the bulk fermentation or during the final rise.
-Chad Robertson, Basic Country Bread, Tartine Bread, p. 72
Oh sure. NOW I notice that part.
So much for my beautiful sweet smelling starter!
Maybe one has to live in California to make sweet tasting Tartine Bread.
Clearly, unless it’s disgracefully hot outside, our kitchen is too cold. Any ideas on how to keep our kitchen around 25C without causing major discomfort and/or a complete depletion of our bank account to pay for furnace fuel?
All of it.
Perhaps we’ll smother it in some sort of sauce that will distract us from the fact that it’s SO sour.
Now, excuse me while I go to rummage through the fridge to find that bowl of sludge so I can commit Saccharomycicide for the second time in my life.
I see I’m not the only one to be dissatisfied with Tartine Bread book… take a look at E Hanner’s post, Tartine Bread- A Dissenting Viewpoint
Tartine Yeast Capture Experiment:
- Day 1: Creating a Culture …Again
- Day 3: It’s Alive!!
- Day 5: Oh oh… it appears to be working
- Day 6: Attention! Attention! There is NO cause for alarm!
- Day 8: 1st Attempt at Tartine Bread: Looks good, doesn’t it?
- Day 14: a second attempt at Tartine Bread…
edit August 2017: Whoohoooo!! It turns out that it IS possible to make completely non-sour Tartine Bread in OUR kitchen: Tartine Bread: 3rd time’s the charm