Flour, salt, water. These three simple ingredients are a culinary wonder in their ability to be transformed into bread with a perfectly crisp exterior and a soft, chewy interior. Today’s post features authentic French bread, courtesy of James Beard award winner, and proprietor of Tartine Bakery & Café in San Francisco, chef Chad Robertson.
You may be familiar with Robertson’s, now multiple, cookbooks. In recent years his first book, Tartine Bread, developed somewhat of a cult following. In it Robertson eloquently and simply explains authentic French breads steeped in decades of tradition, making them accessible to home baking aficionados everywhere. Today’s post features the Basic Country Bread, naturally leavened (i.e. no yeast) bread similar to sourdough, but not quite as pungent. It is this basic recipe upon which the many of the other recipes in the book are built.
Tartine Bread is similar to A16, featured on the First Day of Christmas, in that it explores the culture and tradition behind its recipes. More than a recipe book, it provides the story of chef Robertson’s personal quest for “bread with an old soul”. He reveals his experiences as a young apprentice, both in the United States and in the small towns of France, learning the nuances of fermentation and how many seemingly different breads are actually variations on one fundamental recipe.
While the previous posts of the 12 Days of Christmas have included recipes, today’s is a bit of a departure without one. You really do need to read and grasp the entire first chapter of this book to make the recipe (which is really just flour, salt, and water). But don’t let that be a deterrent. It is very satisfying to produce these beautiful loaves at home. Some might think making this bread is an insurmountable challenge, but many of the photos of loaves in the book itself are those made not by Robertson, but by his customers. In this way Robertson creates a testament to his ability to walk his readers though the stages of traditional French bread baking.
I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys the science behind baking and doesn’t mind a lazy day at home, tending to the bread every couple of hours (it’s actually a good excuse for a lazy Sunday). Once you master the Basic Country Loaf you can build upon it to make leavened croissants and waffles, proper English muffins; as well as a myriad of dishes featuring the bread.
Here’s to good times breaking bread with loved ones over the holidays.
Note: In lieu of a recipe today I have included a few extra photos documenting the bread making process, from making the leaven and precisely measuring the ingredients; to folding and shaping the dough.