French Country Bread.

These Spring has Sprung pictures are nothing amazing, they are more for my future record, so I can look back and say “holy cow, March 17, 2012, St. Patrick’s Day, we opened the patio for the season, had two fires in the pit over the weekend, and everything started to green up.”  Plus, surprise of surprises, my camera returned home safely from emergency care/repair while I was away for the week, so I needed to snap a few pictures to make sure it was fixed.  Very happy to have it back.

This morning I baked off two loaves of French Country Bread – a from scratch, sourdough method from chef Chad Robertson of San Francisco’s Tartine Bakery.  Robertson’s bread is considered by many to be the best in the city, and he sells out almost immediately each evening as the loaves emerge from the oven.

I started this process 20 days ago, breaking off a small piece of starter each night and feeding it with fresh flour and water.  You are supposed to discard the remainder of the starter each night, but instead, I added a little salt and olive oil, let it sit overnight and baked off a fresh mini-loaf each morning.  After you have fed your starter for around 20 days, you make a leaven and discard all but 1 Tbs. of the matured starter (I’m telling you, crazy waste with this method, UNLESS, you do as I did and bake off the “waste”).  Again, you feed the starter, but this is a much wetter mixture, and you allow it to sit for 10-16 hours.  Then it is time to make the dough with a piece of the leaven, more flour, water and a touch of salt.  You will then fold the dough every 30 minutes for 3 to 4 hours – this is the bulk fermentation process which develops flavor, strength and volume.  From here you form your round boules which will rest for another 3 1/2 to 4 1/2 hours – I let mine sit overnight.  The final step was baking off the boules in a dutch oven, covered for 20 minutes, uncovered for another 20.

The first loaf had time to cool while I was typing this and so I just cut into it — Oh My God!!  The crust is a golden brown, thin and covered with hundreds of crispy, crackly bubbles.  The inside is soft and chewy, sweet and pleasantly fermented, and littered with large, gorgeous air pockets.  These final loaves look and taste nothing like the daily mini loaves I was making.  I am so impressed with myself and this method – it was worth the time and effort.

There is nothing like fresh bread, especially when you make it yourself.  I fed the leftover leaven and will continue to feed it every day, but now, I don’t have to go through the whole 20 day process again.  I will be able to start my dough on any given day… that I have 8+ available hours to tend to it!

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