A few weeks ago, Daniel and I walked down to Tartine to grab a late lunch. Unfortunately for us, this was a popular idea- the line out the door was outrageous. We ended up getting sandwiches at Bi-Rite and eating in the park instead and it was delightful. But it got me thinking.
Tartine Bakery sells bread for $8.25, a price I chuckled at when I saw it. $8 for a loaf of bread? Really? Could it really be that good? I started reading about Tartine's country loaf online and found that there was a copy of the recipe on Martha Stewart's website. I was intrigued- it took 15-20 days to develop the starter, followed by what amounted to roughly 6 hours of kneading and allowing the bread to rise before it was ready to bake.
A project! I couldn't resist. And so I began, mixing bread flour and wheat flour with warm water, all precisely measured on my kitchen scale and left to rest for 24 hours before the next feeding. I've always thought that the natural process of leavening was fascinating and loved the idea that depending on where you live, your bread will taste different because there are different types of yeast in the environment. Still, the daily feedings were kind of a pain in the ass- it was like having the world's most boring pet. But once I started, I was determined to go the distance.
The day of baking, the recipe requires you to knead the bread by folding it over on itself a number of times ever 30 minutes for 3-4 hours, depending on how warm your kitchen is. Though I was mildly annoyed to be stuck in the house for 4 hours on what had turned out to be a gorgeous early summer day, after having invested 22 days in this bread, I wasn't about to take any chances. And the folding was actually kind of fun. The dough was pleasingly plump and smooth and it was satisfying to fold and smoosh it into shape.
When it was finally ready, I flopped the dough into a pre-warmed cast iron pan my mother handed down to me a few years ago, covered it, and baked it in a very hot oven for 20 minutes. Then removed the lid and continued baking for an additional 25 minutes
It came out golden and crackling.
We let the bread cool before cutting into it. While the crust wasn't quite as thick and crunchy as I might have hoped for, it was still an impressive specimen. The interior had the perfect chewy (but not gummy) texture and slight tang of good pain au levain.
On day 12 of feeding the starter, I decided that I was crazy to be making this and swore that I'd never do it again. But now? I've developed a certain fondness for my little starter. And the bread is something special. I think I'm ready to go plunk down $8.25 to see how it compares to the original. Either way, I'll be making this again.
Recipe can be found here.