I received a new cookbook for christmas from my Head Chef. It’s this amazing book from the San Francisco bakery, Tartine. Some of you may have heard about their bread. Crusty, burnished gold, blistered loaves adorn the pages making your mouth water. Tartine is all about sourdough bread. As much as I love sourdough, it takes a lot of planning and dedication to keep a starter dough and to bake bread every week.
For those of you who don’t know what a bread starter or ‘leaven’ is, here’s the low down. A levain is a pre-ferment that will eventually be added into your bread loaves to give extra flavour. These also create the yeast for your dough. You start off with water and flour. You feed this everyday by discarding a percentage of the mix and add in more flour and water. The levain grabs yeast from the air and as it ages, the taste becomes sour and acidic. After a few weeks, its ready to use. As it ‘grows up’ it needs less attention and can be left in the fridge for longer periods of time.
It sounds complicated but I think once your levain has developed and you get familiar with its characteristics, it becomes easy.
However, for an impatient girl like myself, when I want to bake some bread; I’m going to. I’m definitely going begin a levain soon and begin a sourdough journey that maybe you can come on with me.
One thing I have adopted from the Tartine book is the way they bake their bread. They use a Dutch oven. When I first read this I had no clue what that was. Like what?
A Dutch oven is a mini oven you put into your big oven, but it just looks like a cast iron shallow saucepan with a deep lid. Do I have one of those? No. But according to the internet, a large casserole pot does the same thing. Yes I have one of those.
The Dutch oven locks in the steam thats released when the bread is baking. The steam enables the bread to stay moist, therefore the crust doesn’t set as early in the baking. This means that the bread can expand for a longer time and has much more of an open texture. It also helps the bread to build a thick chewy crust. For the last part of baking, you remove the lid so that the crust can set and brown up. This all results in amazingly crusty bread with a moist crumb.
Ok so it’s all been a bit sciencey.
Take a moment, absorb it all and go bake some artisan bread.
Ingredients – Recipe adapted from The Clever Carrot
- 340g strong white flour (bread flour)
- 165g strong wholemeal flour (bread flour)
- 1/4 tsp. instant yeast
- 1 1/4 tsp. salt
- 330ml warm water
The night before
- Place the two flours and salt into a bowl. Mix together so that the salt is distributed within the flour. Add the yeast on top and pour over the warm water. Stir with a spoon to combine. It should look shaggy. Now get your hands in there and squish it all up. After all the flour is equally wet, place the dough into a lightly oiled container/bowl and cover with cling film. Make sure your container is big enough, the dough will more than double in size. Leave the dough prove for 14 hours.
On the day
- Place some baking paper on a work surface. Scatter some flour onto the top. Pull out your dough onto the worktop and start to pull the sides into the middle. Do this on every edge of the dough so that it becomes tighter and is circular. We are just knocking some of the air out of the dough so that it can prove again and we are also creating some shape.
- If you have a proving basket: Flour your proving basket liberally and place your dough into it, smooth side down. Cover and leave to prove for another hour in a warm place.
- If you don’t have a proving basket: Slide your parchment paper and dough onto a baking tray so that you can transport it somewhere warm. Loosely cover it and keep warm for 1 hour while it proves. This dough is perfectly fine without a proving basket, a proving basket just gives a thick flour coating and more shape.
- About half an hour before your dough is going to be ready to bake, put your oven on. Turn your oven up to 245 degrees C. Put your dutch oven into the oven to pre-heat. It is very important that your pot is hot before your dough is placed inside or it will stick to the pot. You also want a burst of heat on the bread to give it extra lift.
- Note: If your casserole dish has a plastic handle on the top, cover it with aluminium foil otherwise it could melt.
- Once your dough has proved for an hour and doubled in size…
- If you are using a proving basket; gently turn your proving basket upside down with your hand holding the dough underneath to ease it down. Turn it out onto the floured baking paper. If you aren’t using a proving basket, your dough will already be on the baking paper.
- From now on, all steps are the same if you are using a proving basket or not:
- Using a sharp knife, cut a square into the top of the dough. Quickly take out your dutch oven/casserole dish, take the lid off and get ready to transfer your dough. Very carefully lift up your dough and place into the dutch oven. Do this quickly as you don’t want to knock out the gases that have built up during the proving. Be very careful of your forearms and hands as well, remember your pot is very hot.
- Put the lid back on your dutch oven and place everything back into the oven.
- Reduce the heat to 200 degrees C and bake for 40 minutes.
- After 40 minutes with the lid on, take the lid off and leave to bake for another 15-20 minutes.
- Leave to cool for 1 hour before eating.