It’s time for a proper bread baking post. It’s been a long time since I’ve dedicated an entry to bread and the last one was not that informative. It’s truly fascinating as to how much we can do to stretch the capabilities of what flour and water with a bit of bacteria (yeast) can do. The first loaf I ever baked I credit to Jamie Oliver more than 14 years ago. He made it sound like a no-brainer to bake a loaf of bread. Ditto with the first ever naturally leavened loaf (sourdough). I made my starter using his method and have been maintaining it for 12 years or so. Since then I’d like to think I’ve come a long way and the credit for this post really goes to Chad Richardson of Tartine bakery/books, to a blog called Girl Meets Rye and to the couple from Ideas in Food.
100% Rye Starter on the left and the Levain on the right
Tartine bakery is now a very popular and duly lauded place in San Francisco. I’ve never been there but have heard about the place and seen the books. I did not think that I needed yet another bread book until I saw Tartine Book No.3: Modern, Ancient, Classic, Whole at Powell’s Book Shop in Portland. It focuses on whole grain baking and highlights ancient grains and flours like Kamut and Einkorn. Chad Robertson’s recipes only use natural leaven and no commercial yeast at all. The book really pushes what you can do with flour and water using long fermentation times, fermented grains, porridges, sprouted grains. There is one master recipe or more like process and almost all formulations in the book follow that process to make mostly round rustic loaves.
A loaf made with 20% rye flour, whole wheat and white flour
While doing some research about Tartine methods of baking I stumbled on the Girl Meets Rye blog. My key takeaway from that blog is to switch to using a 100% rye starter for my bread – all my naturally leavened bread. So, I took a portion of my old white flour starter and converted it into a rye starter. It’s made a huge difference in the flavor and fermentation activity due to the high levels of enzymes in rye. Another simple trick I learned from Girl Meets Rye is to store my starter in small jar and refresh it in there using 50 gr starter, 50 gr rye flour, 50 gr flour. How do I know easily how much starter is in the jar? Well weigh the empty jar first and record the weight right on it (stupid obvious, but I had not thought of doing that!). My jar weighs 260 gr, so I ensure I have a total weight of 310 gr with the starter and then add the flour and water. She also streamlines the baking process by using parchment paper to move the bread from bowl to pot. A very helpful tip when dealing with a crazy hot cast iron pot.
I typically refresh the starter about three times before proceeding to the next step per Robertson, making a leaven. The recipes in Tartine No. 3 all use this leaven made from a tablespoon of active starter and equal amounts of flour and water (200 gr each). That makes a lot of leaven and is enough to make more bread than I need. It actually makes more than you need to make any of the recipes in the book (typically each recipe makes 2 loaves). So I usually make half of that for my leaven and it works great. Robertson uses “High-extraction flour” a lot but this is not something easily found in my local grocery store. This flour is basically similar to white flour but has more of the wheat bran still in it, almost like a halfway flour between whole wheat and white. That explains why Robertson advises homebakers to use a mix of 50-50 of whole and white flour to mimic the high extraction stuff. This has worked perfectly for me using King Arthur All-Purpose and Whole Wheat flours.
Leaven and the 20% rye bread mix
The fermentation of these loaves is long but pretty simple. The leaven, various flours/seeds/other and water are stirred together in a bowl. Over the next couple of hours the dough is turned and quickly folded every 30 minutes to develop the gluten. The dough then ferments and rises for another couple of hours. The bread can be formed into boules at this point, allowed to rise for two hour and baked. Usually it works much better for my schedule and -more importantly- for superior flavor to form the dough, place it in a cloth lined bowl and let it sit in the fridge overnight (a process called retardation). I bake it straight from the fridge with great results.
Baking in a dutch oven – a Le Creuset pot in my case- is not new to the Tartine process. I first heard about it and have been using it since Jim Lahey via Mark Bittman re-popularized the No Knead Bread. Here is the streamlined process I follow now:
- Put the pot in the oven and heat it up as high as it goes (550 F)
- Use a parchment paper covered peel to gently drop the loaf from it’s fermentation bowl onto the parchment and brush off any residual flour on the surface
- Remove the hot pot from the oven and uncover it
- Lift the loaf with the parchment and gently put it in the -now very hot- pot. slash the loaf or not, depending on nothing but my mood really. Not slashing makes it look craggy and very rustic.
- Cover the pot and put it back in the oven for 20 mins
- We do not want the bottom of the loaf to burn so after the first 20 minutes I put the pot on a baking sheet and slide it back in the oven. Reduce the temp to 425 F and bake for another 10 mins.
- Uncover the pot, put it on another cool baking sheet and put the whole thing on the first sheet (so now the pot sits on two baking sheets) and put it back in the oven. Again the goal is to insulate the bottom of the loaf so that it would not burn.
- Bake it for another 18-20 mins until it is deeply dark brown on the outside. Remove it from the pot and let is cool on a rack.
- Through out the whole process enjoy the amazing smells that will be coming out of the oven. Really heavenly stuff.
This is a loaf that has a good percentage of cooked barley mixed in. Rolled in oat flakes while proofing.
All I’ve talked about so far is lean bread with no oil, butter, dairy or eggs. That’s the bread I make on a regular basis and use for everything. I was curious how my rye starter would work with very rich breads. In their book, Ideas in Food: Great Recipes and Why They Work Aki and Alex have a fantastic no-knead brioche recipe. I love it because it is easy to make, not very fussy and produces superb rich brioche. The recipe like the ones from Tartine relies on long fermentation times and refrigerator rest as well as a boatload of eggs and butter. I followed their recipe as usual but used leaven instead of using any commercial yeast.
My concern with the brioche is the large amount of fat in the dough would somehow interfere with the natural leaven’s work. I should not have worried. The brioche loaves exceeded my expectations. They rose beautifully and had an spectacular flavor. In addition to the usual sweet buttery taste these guys had a deep nutty taste with a slightly sour background that can only be achieved from natural leavening.
The brioche is a favorite in our house for French toast topped with maple apples or toasted and topped with jam. It also goes perfectly with savory toppings like a rich chicken liver parfait or a slice of sharp cheddar. This rye starter really is one of the best bread improvements I’ve made since I started baking.