Friday, May 20, 2011

Life of a Loaf: Tartine Bakery Homemade Bread?

Kitchen Culture

In the January article about Tartine Bakery (Martha Stewart Living magazine page 112), the owner and master baker Chad Robertson indulges us with a little secret.  Here, he teaches us how to make amazing bread right at home. As a James Beard award winner, this guy definitely knows his stuff.  He claims that you, me and heck even my next door neighbor could make bread as good as his in our ovens. Well Chad, I'm going to try it.  I've never been one to make a mean loaf.  After following your directions, I'm sure it will be a world apart from what I make now.  Who knows? I do know that the pastries (or as I call them, bakery bling) made at your bakery in San Francisco are out of this world delicious!

The Starter

It takes about three weeks to make the starter.  I'm basically creating a micro biology experiment right in my kitchen.  That makes me excited! This takes me back to my days studying biology at UCLA deep in a lab somewhere in Westwood.  After donning my long, white lab coat, I would spend long hours in lab working on various experiments. OK, well back to the present moment.  I'm off to my kitchen for some culturing.  Come the end of February, I will give you an inside look into my kitchen laboratory.  Hopefully, I will be one step closer to making Tartine quality bread.  Wish me luck!

For the starter:

white bread flour     1,135 grams

whole wheat flour     1,135 grams

water(lukewarm)     455 grams

Water(78 degrees)     per feeding

1.  Mix white bread flour with whole-wheat flour.  Place lukewarm water in a medium bowl.  Add 315 grams flour blend (reserve remaining flour blend),  and mix with your hands until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter.  Cover with a kitchen towel.  Let rest in a cool, dark place until bubbles form around the sides and on the surface, about 2 days.  A dark crust may form over the top.  Once bubbles form, it is time for the first feeding.

2. With each feeding, remove 75 grams; discard remainder of starter.  Feed with 150 grams reserved flour blend and 100 grams warm water.  Mix, using your hands, until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter.  Repeat every 24 hours at the same time of day for 15-20 days.  Once it ferments predictably (rises and falls throughout the day after feedings), it's time to make the leaven.

Three months later......

"Never give up, never surrender" were the ever-so-famous words of Buzz Lightyear from Toy Story. Actually, at the most trying times in my life my eldest son Jordan would whisper that line into my ear at the exact moment that I needed to hear it.  As I worked on this project in a funny sort-of-way Buzz Lightyear (and Jordan too) kept me mixing strong for several months while I attempted to make bread by hand.

While laying the foundation for good bread, I felt industrious and earthy as I ritualistically added the ingredients to my mother sponge bowl each day.  I felt the connection to my ancestors as I fed the sponge daily at the exact same time, 10:05AM and not a minute before or after.  This began about three months ago and ended abruptly a few short days ago.  You see, I'm not one to give up (it might be the teen mom in me turned college grad thing.  Who knows?).  I've never thrown my hands up and just anything.  Stubborn, hard-headed, stupid, call it what you will.  If I have quit, I just consider it to be a long (or short) hiatus or change in destination.  It's all in your perspective. 

But here, I gave up.  Quit.  Washed the mother sponge bowl out with warm soapy water and shined the bowl clean with my kitchen towel.  I have a science background and understand the process of what I was doing.  Nonetheless, as I plopped the lump of sponge into a glass of warm water (to test for doneness) it sank to the bottom of the glass like an anchor. And so I'd wait another day because surely it just needed a few more days, right?  And then another and another.  I'd continually (at the exact same time of day) add exactly what the recipe called for every single day.  I could vaguely hear the song "I'll Be Missing You" by Puff Daddy et al as I apprehensively washed out the sponge bowl, the wanna be bread-slop.

Oh well.  When one route to a destination is closed, simply look for the signs that say "alternate route ahead".  So I did.  I found my alternate route in MaryJanes Farm magazine.  The recipe for homemade bread is awesome.  In fact, two years ago I actually was making my own sourdough every week for about six months, while following her recipe.  I've begun the process again and I'm just as in love with it as the day we met (yes, I believe in love at first sight).

I hope that you push aside any preconceived ideas that good, homemade sourdough is complex or time consuming.  The efforts are minimal and the results are astounding.  The daily ritual is one minute long with a weekly investment of five minutes.  Now that's my idea of a good thing!  Buzz, I guess you're right,   although it's hard to NOT surrender at times.  When you "never give up, never surrender" I guess Life has a funny way of redirecting you to a much better path, or to a better recipe for that matter.

Below is the recipe from MaryJanes Farm magazine Feb-Mar 2009 issue.  Feel free to also check out for more detailed bread making information and commentary.

Photo Gallery

Here is the mother sponge in all her glory. (Using the MaryJanes Farm recipe)
Each day, add the flour and water and stir.  That's it! It's that easy.
Shown below is the olive-garlic mix but you can also make a traditional farmhouse bread as well.  Check out her website at for more info.
Here is the flour that I used for the recipe. 
The rye flour is only used in the olive-garlic recipe once the sponge is ready to personalize (sponge has matured for baking). 
Take it from me, just keep the dough in bowl and "knead" as MaryJane suggests inside of the bowl.  She says that you can "knead" it inside of the mixing bowl by simply stirring it. 
The shaped loaf is now ready to bake.
I put a few slits on the dough and then topped with egg wash and coarse sea salt (not shown here).
Let the bread rest for four to six hours.
Here it is...the funny white on the bottom left is from too much egg wash on the corner.  That can easily be wiped off to make a more perfect-looking loaf.
Here is a picture of the inside.  Soft, doughy but perfectly cooked with just a daily investment of one minute! 

~Rise to the occasion even if it takes you a couple of times to get there~


Carl said...

The leaven, sounds like heaven. Waiting for it...........

The Green Mama said...

Here we are March 30th and STILL no bread! I've been feeding my mother EVERY day and at the same time every day just to keep her happy. I keep testing the leaven to see if it's ready and it's not. Maybe the recent warm weather will ripen her up? Will keep you updated.

The Green Mama said...

When I got back from LA, I found out that my "mother sponge" had passed away” (I'm not going to blame anyone or name any names). Anyway, I'm back at a fresh batch again. Hopefully, in three weeks I will be ready to proceed to the leaven stage and then onto hot, fresh bread. After several months of waiting...I'm really anticipating the bread emerging from the oven!

Carl said...

Very good loaf of sourdough bread...looks that way from here. Flour, water, a pinch of salt, and WHAM! The Mother Sponge goes ballistic.

Google this: The History of Sourdough Bread. Good article online...I think it looks like it is sponsored by Boudin's French bakery in San Francisco, the bakery that goes back to the Gold Rush. Something is in San Francisco's climate that gives sourdough there a very special taste, hard to duplicate.

Carl said...

Never give up. never surrender! That line I first heard in the movie Galaxy of my fave movies...perhaps the Toy Story writers lifted it.

Maybe you could craft a fantastical figurine with sourdough bread dough scaps and call it SourdoughSpongeBoy, or ChefSourdoughboy, you know, like the Pillsbury Dough Man.

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