Sunday, April 24, 2011

Tartine Bread Tips and Tricks, Part 2

It was over a month ago that I posted for the first time on Tartine Bread Tips and Tricks.  I linked it from the Recipes from Tartine Bread Facebook group and got a pretty positive response.  Well, I've been playing with my technique a little more since then and thought that you might find it interesting.  If not, I'll give you your money back.

Last time I said:
One thing I'm finding is that my fridge is too cool to get much action going during the final rise.  In other words, it really doesn't rise in there at all.  Setting the fridge warmer to get more rise is a sure recipe for spoiling the rest of the food in there and killing me.  Getting a second fridge just for this seems a little silly.
Yes, but there is a third option that I've thought of.  I have a Sous Vide controller that I built myself that can hold a temperature very accurately.  And it just so happens that winter is hanging on enough where I live that it still gets below freezing in the evenings.  It occurred to me that I don't need a second fridge.  What I need is something I can leave out in my unheated garage that will keep my dough warm enough, not cold enough.  See where I'm going with this?  Behold!
Baby, It's Cold Outside
On the bottom left corner, we have my Sous Vide controller.  The power cord for the heater and the output of the wall wart power supply (more on this in a sec) are squeezed in past the lid of my Coleman beer cooler.  The temperature probe is a little more fragile, so I threaded it through the cooler's drain spout on the lower right, and then closed off the remaining opening with Kleenex.  It is all set up on a Black and Decker Workmate bench in my garage.
Rube Goldberg Would Be Proud
Here's what we've got inside.  From left to right:
  • bread dough in a mixing bowl covered by a tea towel and plastic cap to keep drafts at bay
  • temperature sensor taped to a coffee mug to keep the sensor in place
  • light bulb for heat, clamped in a plastic vise, and controlled by my Sous Vide setup to keep an internal +46.5F (or +8C if you are metric inclined)
  • an old PC fan to circulate the air and keep things at an even temperature.  This is powered by the wall wart power supply I mentioned above
Did this work well?  No, it worked awesome.  The controller kept this thing at a rock solid +8C as the temperatures dipped to around the freezing in the evening.  And why this temperature?  Well, I read someplace on the fantastic Sourdough Home website that suggested a temperature between 45F and 48F for a long cool rise like this.  And being mathematically minded, I just took the average.  Anyhoo, I left my dough in this rig from 10pm Saturday night until my bake the next morning at 9am.  The only problem I've got now is that this setup isn't going to work in the summertime.  Oh well.  That is a problem for a later day.

Another thing that has been bugging me is that my bread is always darker on top than it is to the sides.  I figured that this is because I don't have the Lodge combo cooker that is recommended in the book.  All I've got is a KitchenAid dutch oven that I got for a steal at Canadian Tire this past fall.  I figured that the tall sides of the DO were shielding the bread from the heat on the sides somewhat.  I'd have to break down and get a combo cooker, or do the pizza stone / metal lid thing.

Or not.  Here is a picture of my KitchenAid dutch oven.  A combo cooker is really just an upside-down dutch oven.  I noticed that the concave indentation below the handle would provide a stable surface for the dutch oven if the handle wasn't there.  And it is just one screw on either side of the handle holding it on.  I had that bad boy off in a minute.
Am I the First Person to Hack A Dutch Oven?
I first took my boule out of the cooler and turned it upside on top of a piece of parchment paper I had pre-cut to the shape of the lid.  Then I made a deep X-shaped cut and used the parchment as a sling to set it on to my smoking hot dutch oven lid, blurrily seen below sitting on top of my stove. The stuff on top of the boule is wheat bran, which I use to prevent sticking instead of the wheat flour / rice flour combo recommended in the book (I think the wheat bran looks better and tastes better to boot).
I had a bit of a screwup here.  The bread was heavy enough that it wanted to spill over the sides of my parchment sling as I carried it from the countertop to the lid.  That partly explains why the cut from top left to bottom right is so ridiculously open.  But only partly.  I was able to build up the tension very nicely after the final shaping, and the overnight rise in the cooler vs. what I normally get in the fridge surely helped as well.

Things were looking good.  I put the big part of the dutch oven over top of the lid and put the whole thing in the 500F oven.  I dropped the temperature to 450F, waited 20 minutes and went in to take the lid off.  Here is what I got.
You heard me.  WOW!  We are talking some good looking oven spring here.  And I was pumped to see that a puff of steam escaped when I took the lid off.  And in that moment, it all made sense.  Inverted, the dutch oven is able to prevent the steam from escaping out the top.  When sitting as it normally does, the steam rises and sneaks out the gap in the oven's lid.

Back into the oven it went.  This is what I got 25 minutes later.
WOW WOW is right!  A beautiful deep brown all the way around, and just burned a bit at the thin edges of the ears.  Without a doubt, the best looking loaf I'd every pulled out of my oven.  And this was Try #18 at making this bread.  I set it on the cooling rack and was delighted to hear the song of the crackling crust as it cooled.

And no bread porn would be complete without a crumb shot.
Oh Baby
Nice and open.  Notice the funny curve underneath the bread though.  This is from sitting on the inverted concave surface of the oven's lid.  It actually makes the bread easier to cut through because the knife cuts through the top arch of the bottom crust first and then goes down progressively, rather than hitting all of the tough crust at one time.

And the pluses just keep on coming. The KitchenAid lid actually has a bunch of dimples on the concave part of the lid, probably so that steam condensing on the lid collects on the dimples and drops back in to the stew, or whatever. For upside-down bread making, it creates a bit of a gap between the bottom crust and the heat coming up from below. This does a great job in preventing scorching of the loaf's bottom.

All this wouldn't mean much if the taste wasn't there. But the taste was great. The crust was crispier and more flavorful than I'd ever tasted. The crumb wasn't too far different from previous efforts, but perhaps it was a bit lighter than previous attempts because of the great rise I got.

All in all, I was ecstatic. I got more rise and oven spring than ever. I got a beautiful deep brown crust and a flavorful crumb.  If you are making this bread and just putting your boule in the fridge overnight, you have got to try to find a way to do it in the range of 45F - 48F.  And if you are using a regular dutch oven, take a close look and see if there isn't some way to use it upside down.  Do both of these things, and then thank me later.  If you are going to all the trouble of making Tartine bread, it is worth it to go the extra mile to make it the best you can with tricks like these.

Both of these tweaks to my technique easily added up to the best bread I'd ever made. I don't know if this is the best bread I can make, but I have the feeling I'm getting pretty close. And that feels good.

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