So, because I’m stubborn, I tried making Chad Robertson’s Tartine country bread again. But I only re-attempted it after I’d eaten all of Attempt No. 1, which I had sliced up and frozen – even though it really wasn’t a very good bread at all. But I felt bad wasting all that flour, so I used it for sandwiches.
Attempt No. 2 was much, much more successful. Being able to compare it to the first time, I could tell right from the beginning that everything just seemed to be more “right:” my starter was lighter, my dough was more supple, the gluten was more developed.
I think I figured out a few things that went wrong before:
1) My starter wasn’t mature enough;
2) I hadn’t incorporated the salt well enough, which means my dough never had a chance to develop properly, as it wasn’t properly holding together in the first place;
3) My kitchen was a tad too cold; this time, I turned my oven into a proofbox, by turning it on for 1 minute and turning it off again before putting my dough in it.
My clumsy slashing skills aside, the crust was nearly perfect: thick, crisp, and golden. It didn’t quite make that lovely crinckling sound as it cooled, but it was still a beauty. As for the crumb, although it still wasn’t as light and aired as what I was going for, it was still miles above my previous result.
So, how does this bread, which requires an entire day of preparation and care (you have to stretch and fold it every half hour during the bulk rise, so you can’t really leave it alone for too long), measure up to Jim Lahey’s easy-peasy no-knead bread? Honestly, it’s a very close call so far. The no-knead recipe is foolproof and yields amazing loaves. Chad Robertson’s bread, on the other hand, requires serious skill and experience to obtain similar results. But there is one thing that gives this bread the potential to outshine its laid-back competition: flavour. The no-knead bread has an impressive flavour, born from its overnight rise; but the Tartine bread has even more aromas and a hint of acidity, thanks to the starter. This was evident even in my less-than-perfect second loaf. Just for that, I’m going to keep trying to master this bread.
And, well, there are bragging rights, of course: “I made this bread with yeast I cultivated myself!” It just proves how big of a food geek I’ve become that I find this incredibly cool. So, in the spirit of pride and experimentation, bring on the Tartine bread!