Baking the same loaf again and again is the best way to understand bread. Differences in ambient temperature, humidity, and the temperature of ingredients will have a dramatic impact on results, and repeating a recipe teaches you to recognize the feel and appearance of the dough as it changes from flour and water to edible loaf.
So, I’m still baking Chad Robertson’s Tartine bread in a effort to get a real feel for this wet, long-fermented, wild-yeast-leavened dough. His original recipe (17 pages long!) calls for a three-hour bulk rise and a three to four hour rise after the loaves are shaped; such timing isn’t exactly convenient on a workday. I first tried an overnight refrigerated rest of the shaped loaves, and that worked okay (see results here), though the taste was a bit more sour than my ideal.
For my latest attempt, I created the leaven with an unfed sourdough starter: a tablespoon of old starter, last fed more than a week before. I mixed it according to the original recipe in the early afternoon. By the time I returned from dinner that evening, it was ready (just 7.5 hours, but it’s quite warm in my kitchen these days). Between 9:30 pm and 11:30 pm, I mixed the final dough and performed four stretch-and-folds, then I put the dough into the refrigerator.
The next day, the dough appeared mostly flat, with little or no rise. I divided the dough into three (rather than the usual two) and shaped the loaves, placing them in floured baskets to rise at the ambient kitchen temperature, which was around 75-78 degrees. The dough wasn’t very active, though it did begin to show signs of life after two hours. At the four-hour mark, the loaves had risen a mere 25 or 30 percent, but I decided to bake anyway, remembering the awesome oven spring of my earlier Tartine attempts.
Once again, the oven spring was awesome, with the loaves expanding to completely fill their cooking vessels (a variety of Le Creuset dutch ovens). The flavor was good, with a more open crumb than my previous attempts. I attribute the open crumb to the loaf sizes: three loaves had more room to expand inside their respective cooking pots than the two larger loaves.
I know I’ll bake the Tartine loaf again; wonder what I’ll learn next time….