Thursday, July 14, 2011

Everything But The Tartine Bread Experiment

What do you do when in your life you feel that you're not exactly where you want to be? I'm a firm believer that the panorama of our external lives is a physical manifestation of that inner.

Lately i've been feeling a bit thwarted, admittedly by my own hand. And when I feel this way I dive on in to meditation and slap my cards on the table. It's the only way to get things resolved.

At moments like this I imagine the Universe pushing through twin, timeworn, saloon doors, pausing for a moment betwixt them for effect. The sun sears the thirsty landscape behind, seeping, blinding, like a white-hot argent abyss. And wearing a ten gallon hat with dusty chaps, the Universe sidles up, bandy-legged, along my side, plunks down two shot glasses and a bottle of bitter, brown booze. 'There's only one way this thing can go down,' I declare, all business and brass tacks. I think the Universe appreciates my candor, if not my edge. 'That's right, and it's up to you to decide which way that will be,' the Universe replies, graveled, funereal, because my Universe also smokes filterless cigarettes. 'I'm just here for the ride.'

Tartine's Seeded Semolina, Toasted

My latest revelation: I've not been clear about where i want to be, when all along I thought I was. I've been errant, I realize, dawdled, some, but when it comes to growth of the spirit, there are no linear paths nor predictable arrival times. I'm like a gypsy, see, and I've permitted the gale to sweep me to and fro with its most decided effort. And through my self-discovery, I have always erred on the side of prudence, I'm guilty for being severely thorough and taking my sweet (bleep) time. My motto: Your strides will prove fruitless if a trail of half-baked endurances lies behind you, and nothing ever prospers from a marriage to denial or sloppiness. Believing so will result in a life of... you do the math.

I've been hovering in limbo for a while now with my material life, and I will admit, I feel as though I may vaporize. My revelation was twofold today, one a catalyst for the other, each an inextricable part of this whole, neither born first nor subordinate, but indeed concomitant. You've just read the one, and this the other underscores its meaning: There is a difference between being scrupulous and flogging a dead horse, you may well know. It's high time I set down the baton and made up my bloody mind.

Bread. And all roads leading to it.

It makes sense, given my itinerant ways, that I would start a blog called the Tartine Bread Experiment, and find that I've only baked three of the books loaves up to this day, some three months in. Dawdling notwithstanding, I got to see just how much latitude I have with my wild yeasts, and what's more, I developed my very own bread. You've got to applaud the good and the ugly all the same.

I'm happy to announce that along with a commitment to materialize once again, and pursue that what has struck my fancy these livelong years in a serious way, I have also decided to come back to the Tartine experiment as it was intended. I mean to investigate this business of methodical progress, one with a beginning, a middle, one with a definitive end. For even the most resolute gypsy must land on solid ground from time to time. One can only hope that the landing will involve both feet, or in the very least that the horse aground is flocculent enough to break her fall, wholly perished many times over that it may be.

Tartine's Seeded Semolina
(slightly revised)
750g h2o
700g BRM semolina flour
300g KA bread flour
200g levain
*75g each flax and sesame seeds
20g salt

* I am using flax seeds instead of fennel, which is what the original recipe calls for.

Mixed the levain (levain = 1 TB 100% hydration rye starter, 200g h2o, 200g flour, mixed, left to stand overnight) with the water and flours. Autolysed for 40 minutes. Meanwhile, toasted the sesame seeds in a cast iron skillet over a high flame, tossing constantly. Cooled, then pulsed in a spice mill (a coffee grinder devoted to grinding spices), in batches. Pulsed the flax (do not toast) just the same. Squished the salt and the seeds into the dough. 4.5 hour bulk ferment begins with turns at 30, 60, 90, 120 minutes, the remaining time left to stand to do it's thing without intervention. Note: The last hour and a half fermentation was done in the fridge because I had to pop out for a moment to take care of some biz. Home again. Divided dough, shaped into loose rounds. Bench rest 30 minutes. Then shaped into boules, rolled them in flax and untoasted sesame seeds. Top side down into linen covered bowl they go. 3 hour proof where they practically doubled in size. Preheated oven to 500 with the combo cookers. Inverted boules, parchment down first, onto a paddle, slid them into the combo cookers, and baked at 475 for 30 minutes, lidded. Popped off the lids. Baked for another 35.

Crust: Uber shattery. Crumb: rather tight, and the texture was very moist and tender. Flavor: Nutty, buttery, divine. Aroma: Smelled like buttery heaven. Dough temperament: Tres simple! Worry factor when fermenting: Zero. It increased in size predictably. I so love my rye starter (thanks Susan!). At first the dough was like batter and I was afraid, but after the series of turns, it developed fantastic gluten strength.

* Update: My baker friend Joe, who is off on a new venture to become a bona fide bread maker, told me that had I soaked the flax seeds, I would have gotten a more open crumb. He intimated that flax seeds in particular draw a great deal of moisture from the dough, which will result in a tighter crumb. I will try this experiment again, taking his advice. He said that there is no need to soak the sesame.

To the staff of life, and an ode to writing, my first love.

Tartine's Seeded Semolina, The Photos


The dough was like batter and smelled buttery.

Closeup of the dough.

Toast the sesame seeds.

Flax and salt.

Flax and toasted sesame seeds, ground. Salt.

Bulk fermentation.




Ready for oven.


30 minute steam.

Nutty, moist, tender crumb.

A jumble of slices.

This post has been shuttled off to Wild Yeast Blog's YeastSpotting.


  1. another masterpiece! you bake this out of your own home? they look picture-book perfect!! as are the photos you take! please. move. to. berlin! - ben

  2. This looks amazing!
    - Kat

  3. Lovely. So I have a question--it looks like you are not baking in the cast iron pan (or maybe you are and the photos don't show it). I'm really thinking of your pic where the dough is ready for the oven. I have been wanting to try to bake this bread without the pan (just on my bread stone) but being so wet, it doesn't hold a shape like yours does. Do you add less water than called for? Perhaps I am not folding enough? (My bread turns out fine when baked in the mold, I'm just wanting to try it free-form).

  4. is it hot where you are? that has made my dough a little more slack in the past, in which case i have refrigerated my proofing loaves.

    i actually had no problems with this particular loaf. the only hydration issue ive had so far with chads bread is the rye, and rather than adjust the hydration (by adding more flour), i just dealt with it by adding a few more turns which tightened the dough. also, gave the shaped loaves a few more spins than called for to tighten them up. the most satisfying trick to date, though, is to refrigerate the boules during proofing and then just baking straight from cold. no need to bring to room temp.

    yes, i always use a combo cooker, but not for shape, i use it because its the best way to hold in steam and mimic the industrial bread baking ovens with steam injectors.

    today im experimenting without the combo cooker, sara, to see how that works out. im not so concerned with shape, because the dough is pretty easy to work with (im actually in the middle of my turns as we speak, with my olive loaves).

    i would experiment with proofing in the fridge to see if that helps firm up the dough. i try as best i can to keep as hydrated a loaf as possible, as this is what creates that open structure that we are all seeking. if its hot where you are, it cant hurt to even try fermenting in the fridge for part of the time either. i.e., do your turns at room temp, then try popping the dough in the fridge to complete the ferment. ive done this with great result. you just might have to increase fermentation time a bit since the cold will retard fermentation. keep your eye on it. and no, ive not had any issues that people talk about with 'too sour' loaves when fermenting in the fridge, and ive done some seriously long ferments (some almost 40 hours from start to finish!)

    keep working with your dough. and by the way, are you weighing or measuring your ingredients? if you are measuring, that alone is probably the culprit. a scale is your best friend with baking!

    in short: weigh instead of measuring, try cold ferment/proofing before decreasing hydration. if that doesnt work, then experiment with a decrease in hydration, but in small increments. in taking away/adding water and flour, ive found that a little goes a long way on both ends.

    good luck sister!

  5. Maybe I'm not adding enough turns. I definitely weigh, and totally get that it should be hydrated for that open texture. I guess that I figured that perhaps you also use the combo baker, not just for steam, but also for shape. I flour my bannetons heavily and it still ends up sticking to the mold/liner (which doens't really happen with my other breads, so I figured it was part of the recipe/just how the bread was meant to be). Interesting, I have put them in straight out of the fridge but I just don't remember if it stuck more. I've been making this bread since the winter but maybe it's only been more recently that there's been this issue. Maybe spring rains vs. dry winter weather too?

    Anyway, I made my olive bread too, and it was baked outside of the combo baker and was delicious but, yeah, pretty misshappen. (And probably wetter than normal because of the olives!) Lovely purple color throughout. Really great bread, really generously packed with olives and walnuts isn't it, not like so many disappointing olive breads.

  6. ahhh, yes, spring rains can do it. the air is hydrated, and is thus hydrating your dough. you got it. ive not had to deal with this issue (not much rain here in l.a.!), but i guess i would hold back some of the water if it was rainy and the dough was spreading. wow. isnt it funny, dough really needs to be pampered. let me know what happens when you withhold your hydration in wet weather. i'm so curious now. where are you?

    i wasnt going to add walnuts to my olive loaf. since that's next on my list (walnut bread). but was it sublime? so much so that i should not omit them? if so, i may have to reconsider...

  7. p.s., i find that a few more turns always helps to tighten slack dough...

  8. I love walnuts, so I would say yes. I think it was a nice textural change. Maybe it helps balance out the wetness of the olives (nuts being dry?). I have *known* the thing about wet + rainy and adding less water but it's another thing to really be conscious of it (at least for me) even after baking bread for years (and my Tartine bread has always been yummy, just needs to be baked in a mold). It's a constant learning process though isn't it? I'm in the Boston area, probably about as far away geographically as you can get in the lower 48!



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