Bro. Do you even bake?

The recipe for the famous Tartine country loaf is less helpful than advertising for the bakery and new age woo woo. Pretentious garbage, really. Here is my consolidating upon a practical, clear recipe for sourdough bread. The only ingredients should be flour, water, and salt. The bread should be a crusty, rustic, (mostly) whole grain.

Grow a Starter

In the morning, add 100g of unsifted, all-purpose (AP) flour and 100g of water to a tall, lidded, glass jar. Stir with a spatula, and leave it sit, covered in a warm place all day. The environment should be distinctly warm, and so this often means turning on the oven at its lowest setting for a few hours (e.g. bake at 170°F).

Every morning, pour off all but about 125g of the starter. Use this poured-off batter to make a fry bread with sesame oil & scallions & five spice, or do something fancier. Add 50g of unsifted AP flour & 50g of water to the starter, stir with a spatula, and scrape down the insides of the jar. As usual, the environment should be warm.

Your starter is ready for bread when it is frothy & bubbly, and doubles in size by the afternoon. This will probably take a week-or-so of daily feedings.

Make a Leaven

The night before you want to bake bread, spoon a heaping tablespoon of starter into a large glass bowl. Add 75g of warm (80°F) water, and 75g of unsifted AP flour, and stir with a spatula. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, poke a few holes, and leave it to sit overnight at room temperature.

After making the leaven, tuck your starter into the refrigerator and stop feeding. When you want to bake bread again, remove the starter from the refrigerator in the evening, and feed it in the morning as usual for a few days.

The next morning, confirm that a teaspoon of your leaven spooned off the top can float in a bowl of water. Your leaven may need more time or warmth. If so try again at lunchtime.

Mixing

Dissolve 20g of salt in 50g of water, and set aside. Use a salt with lots of minerals, like sea salt or even plain ‘ole iodized.

Add 650g of warm (80°F) water to your leaven, and stir it until only a few clumps remain. Add 325g of unsifted AP flour and 700g of unsifted whole wheat flour to the bowl. Work the dough until all the flour is just wet. Let this rest covered for 45 minutes, for the autolyse.

Pour the salt water over the dough, and repeatedly pinch to incorporate.

This dough is about 71% hydrated, ignoring that first tablespoon of starter. This dough is relatively stiff, especially compared with the trendy overly-hydrated recipes.

Fermentation

Leave the dough covered at room temperature. Every 30 minutes, with your hands wet from washing, pull up & fold the dough from the side of the bowl. Do this 4 times with a quarter turn of the bowl between each folding. So that’s 4 folds every 30 minutes for 3 hours. Put 6 counters next to the bowl as a physical mnemonic, removing one each folding.

Shaping

Cut the dough in half with a metal dough scraper. Half of the dough will be about 955 grams. Scoop the two boules into rough spheres. Cover the boules with bowls, and let them bench rest for 30 minutes.

Using a metal dough scraper, pull the boule of dough along the sticky countertop, to develop surface tension. Turn the football shape and pull again. Do this just until a bit of tearing occurs on the surface.

Generously flour a clean towel with rice flour, firmly pressing the rice flour into the towel. Flip a boule onto the center the floured towel, leaving the seamed side facing upward. Lift the boule and its towel like a hammock, and drop it into a large bowl or bread basket. Cover, and repeat with the other boule.

Proofing

Leave the bowls to proof for 5 hours, at room temperature. You may also want to proof overnight in the refrigerator.

Baking

Preheat the oven to 500°F. Place a sheet of parchment on top of an oven-proof plate, and turn the parchment & plate upside-down onto one of the proofing bowls. Flip the whole bundle upside down, to drop the boule onto the parchment. Set aside the towel and proofing bowl. Brush off the rice flour.

Score the top of the boule deeply with a wet knife.

Cover the plate, parchment, and boule with the base of a dutch oven. (Do not use the lid.) Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the temperature to 450°F, open the oven door briefly to cool the oven, and bake covered for another 10 minutes. Remove the dutch oven from the plate & parchment, and continue to bake uncovered for 25 minutes. Cool the boule.

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