Rehab May be in the Future…

I have had, currently have, and always will have an obsession with bread. Not your run of the mill loaf of Wonder, but bread with character. It was a member of almost every dinner and most weekend breakfasts. Loaves of Apple Crunch, Cheddar Garlic, Asiago, French baguette, and even a great Country White were just a few of the many crusty friends of mine. And these loaves weren’t your typical dense log shaped “foodstuffs”. These loaves had a crumb so magical, so wonderful, a family of Smurfs could live in the caves that appeared after slicing. I remember being young and thinking, “All I need to survive is bread and cereal.” I still strongly believe that.

Since moving to Texas, it’s been hard to find a really great place for fresh artisan bread. I decided that the only way to really get the bread that I was searching for was to make it myself. For Christmas The Husband got me an artisan bread cookbook. No, let me rephrase that, The Husband got me an artisan bread textbook. It’s rigid. It’s full of tables, charts, lists, and rules. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a great book. It’s got tons and tons of recipes. The thing that it was lacking was soul. I’ve even made a few of the recipes, an Oatmeal Bread and Soft Rolls. Both turned out ok, but were much more dense than I was really wanting. And the crust wasn’t anything to brag about.

I was searching on Amazon one day when I came across a life changing book, Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson. I could tell by the cover that I needed this book. Not only that, there was a video! VIDEO! Like the kind that you watch! The video was like a trailer for the book. The video showed the a few of the loaves that were the center of the book. Needless to say, I instantly fell in love. The author, who owns and runs a bakery in Northern California with his wife, reminded me of something I once knew as normal. He was a surfer. He had a certain laid-back-ness. But more importantly, he too had an obsession; and that obsession was with bread. I quickly bought the book, and short of sitting on the stoop for the UPS man, I waited.

As soon as the book was in my hands I knew that I had made a good choice! The images were lovely and the recipes were less of recipes and more of a story. I read the author’s mini bio, the first recipe, and the expanded version of the recipe before even getting out my ingredients, to much disdain by The Husband. What he didn’t understand was that I couldn’t just flip open the book and start, I had to read, nay, I had to absorb as much information as I could before I started this voyage. What makes this bread so special you ask? Well first, it was the bread that I remembered from my childhood. It was light. The crumb was full of craters. It was true artisan bread.

One of my favorite things about the bread in this book is that it doesn’t call for yeast. Well it calls for yeast, it just doesn’t call for store-bought yeast. What? How does this cockamamie bread work you so-and-so? Calm down, don’t loose your britches and let me explain. You make your own yeast. It’s one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done, and now my culture is like a 4th pet, I named him George.

January 14th was the day that started it all. That was the day that I started my culture. It was pretty easy. I first had to mix 2.5 lbs of white flour and 2.5 lbs of wheat flour. This would become the food for George.

After weighing out the flour blend, the recipe says to “fill a small, clear bowl halfway with lukewarm water.” I love it! I think you’re now understanding the relaxed feeling this book has. There’s no real rules. It’s all intuition. Anyway, I did as was instructed and found a “small, clear bowl”, filled it halfway with warmish water, and then added “a handful” (yes, that is what it calls for) of 50/50 flour blend. George was forming!!!

That was it! That’s how you create a George. I put a kitchen towel over the top and put it in a cool shady spot. After 3 days I started to see some action going on. Bubbles started to form. It was time to feed the culture. I wont bore you with the details but basically for the next 4 days I nurtured George with 50/50 flour blend, water, and love.

Finally George was ready! I could use him to make some bread! Excited doesn’t begin to explain how The Husband and I were feeling. I had to take George and turn him into leaven the night before.

I knew that this bread was going to take some time, so as soon as I woke up, at 6:20 AM, I gathered my few ingredients and started. Another thing I loved about this recipe was that everything is hand mixed. Seeing as my KitchenAid Standmixer is on the verge of death, this was a great thing! I did as instructed; mixing the leaven, flour, and water, then allowing a 30 minute bench rest before adding the salt.

This bread isn’t ever kneaded. It’s “turned” in a bowl every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours of the 4 hour bulk fermentation. I transferred the dough to a heavier, glass bowl. The only problem I seemed to run into was the ambient temperature of the kitchen. As I’ve explained many times to whoever will listen to me, I’m from Oregon. I don’t like heat. And, I sweat easy. My luck, the one thing that was actually important was the temperature of the kitchen, which was supposed to be 75-80°F. Not too bad for most, but 70°F is pushing it most days for me. However, for bread that looked so good, I was willing to live in a sweat lodge. To make sure temperatures high enough I had my thermostat set at about 80°F and had my oven set at 455°F. Needless to say, I wasn’t wearing a sweater!

After the bulk fermentation, there was dividing the dough, initial shaping, and bench rest.

This dough is so fun on so many levels. It’s so hands on! The final shaping is a series of folds that then create a round loaf. After the final shaping was the final fermentation. This too lasted 4 hours; and yes it was in the sauna that was my house.

You cook this bread in a Dutch Oven for the first 20 minutes. Then you take the lid off and cook it for another 25 minutes. The last 25 minutes are the worst. They’re like the last 25 minutes of a tattoo, less painful, just plain annoying. You just want it to be over. I wanted nothing more than to take it out and crack that loaf open! But alas, I couldn’t; as care free the instructions seemed to be, there still is a science behind baking.

After those last, painfully annoying 25 minutes, it was time to take the bread out! An amazing aroma hit me in the face when I opened that oven. I slid the bread out of the Dutch Oven and stood silent. I listened to the wonderful sounds the bread was making. As it cooled, there was almost a song of the crust cracking. I waited till I took the 2nd loaf out of the oven before I cut into the 1st. All the hard work, the almost 12 hours spent concocting this bread was worth it. The crumb was spongy and soft, with giant craters. The crust was so crunchy; it was truly unbelievable. It was the bread I was searching for.

We ended up having the bread for dinner. Of course right?! A bowl of tomato, fennel soup, and a delicious grilled cheesy. Oh, and beer, can’t forget the beer!

Sorry if this made you hungry. GO BUY THIS BOOK. You wont be sorry!

3 Responses to “Rehab May be in the Future…”
  1. Leslie says:

    Rachel, this post seriously made me tear up. It was beautiful. i think you are called in life to be a food blogger! The way you wrote about the bread made me want to bake that very instant, and the pictures made it so intimate!

  2. Faith says:

    You have inspired me!!! I had a few goes at baking bread that didnt go so hot, maybe I need a george 🙂 Your crumb is breathtaking!

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