Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Another Post About Bread

You know, I try to keep the cookbook acquisition to a minimum. Partly because most cookbooks these days are lovely to look at but not much more, but also because it's a slippery slope, the cookbook collecting, and I made up my mind a long time ago that I was going to limit myself to one cabinets' worth.
But when it comes to bread baking books, all bets are off. I think most bread baking books fall into the not very good trap just like any other cookbook genre--most are mediocre at best--but there are a few greats out there and every so often another potential great comes under my radar.
And I am helpless.
Especially so if they are sourdough-centric, because as you may know, I am a sourdough baking fanatic, and I'm always interested in a new technique or method.

Enter "Tartine Bread" by Chad Robertson. Tartine is a bakery of esteem in San Francisco, and although I have never been, I understand it to be among the best as far as artisan baking goes.
So I bought the book very shortly after it first came out which, unfortunately, was right before the pre-holiday crazy got going, and thus I haven't really had a chance to dig in.

But then the other day I finally found a minute, so I fed my starter and planned a bake.
Best yet from the indoor oven!
Technically, it wasn't really "a bake" because it was only two loaves vs. my usual six or eight, but I'm thrilled with how they came out. These are the basic white country boule which is the recipe upon which a lot of the other Tartine bread recipes are based.
Gorgeous and perfect. Perhaps the most gorgeous ever to have come from my indoor oven and with a taste and texture that is everything I love about a well-crafted sourdough.

So the biggest revelation of "Tartine Bread" isn't the recipes and there's not any 100% new ideas or methods, but you will find a rather HUGE improvement on a couple of existing techniques. Rather than use the traditional method of baking on a stone or in a terra cotta bakers cloche, or the new-ish technique of cocooning the loaf in a LeCreuset-type stock pot ala Lahey's No-Knead recipe, Chad advises the use of a cast iron combo cooker, a skillet plus pot, two-pans-in-one kind of thing, as a baking vessel.
Similar to the no-knead wonder, only better. Much, much better.

The proofed loaf gets turned out into the shallow, skillet side of the cooker (so much easier and tidier and burn-free than that deep pot!!) and then covered with the pot side. Both have been preheated, and since the two are made to fit together, it's a fairly tight seal that keeps all of the steam in--the better to spring and rip and make crust with.

And suddenly, I find myself with a cast iron cookware storage problem in my never-gonna-outgrow kitchen. The link above is for the smaller 3 qt. version of the combo cooker, but there's also a 5 qt. which is the one I chose. And because I happened to be at Cabelas the other day (on a date! don't ask) and noticed they sell an OVAL combo cooker, I must have that as well. The better to bake my batards in, you know.
On the bright side, cast iron anything is such a workhorse in my kitchen--especially since the wood-fired oven came into being--that they'll definitely earn their keep, even if I have to build a storage shelf for them in the garage.

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