the makings of a tartine

Well I figured that given the name of this blog, I really should post something about making homemade bread early on. Good quality bread is the foundation of any mouthwatering tartine. I’m no Poilâne in the bread-making kitchen, but I’ve been experimenting for a while now, and have had enough successes and failures to feel fairly confident that I have something to contribute to a bread-making newbie.

Many people would probably wonder, why make your own bread when it’s so readily available, and relatively cheap, at the grocery store? Why go through all that hassle? The short answer is that it tastes better. If you’ve ever had homemade bread before, you know that none of the cellophane-wrapped breads that you find in a grocery store aisle can compete with it. Now, if I lived in France and could walk down to the local bakery for fresh bread every morning, this would be a different story. I would have absolutely no reason to make my own (other than for the fun of it). I don’t remember ever tasting a bad loaf of bread in France, but that’s because the French take their bread very seriously (almost as seriously as their cheese). The man I mentioned earlier, Mr. Lionel Poilâne took over his father’s baking business in the 70s, and was so successful that he became a sort of bread celebrity in France. His bread, known as “Pain Poilâne,” is equally well-known and coveted throughout France. Mr. Poilâne was so famous that when he died in a helicopter crash in 2002, it was all over the French news, and the country mourned his death. That’s how seriously we take our bread in France. Luckily, Pain Poilâne continues to live on, thanks to Poilâne’s daughter, a Harvard grad, who has taken over the family business. No, my bread will probably never reach the level of Poilâne’s but, it’s worth a try.

Other than taste, my reasons for making my own bread are:
  1. I’m all about making things from scratch, so why not bread too?
  2. I like knowing what goes into my bread. When I started looking at labels and saw how many unpronounceable ingredients go into bread, I became a bit wary of it and started thinking about making my own. Bread really only needs a handful of ingredients, so I don’t know what all those other ones are doing there.
  3. I specifically want to avoid eating foods containing high fructose corn syrup, which is in almost any of the processed foods on our grocery store shelves these days. I wasn’t too surprised to see it in things like soda, fruit juice, and cereal bars, but was shocked to see it in my bread!!
  4. I can be creative with it, and add sunflower seeds, flax seeds, or different combinations of flours to see what works best. That’s fun for me.
  5. It’s true that bread is fairly cheap at the grocery store, but it really does save me money to make my own. Especially since I would be buying organic, whole wheat bread, which would probably require that I go to a health food store and spend more money. By making my own, I can use organic ingredients that will make many loaves of bread for a fraction of the cost of a comparable loaf at the store.
  6. I can control where my ingredients come from, and try to keep them as local as possible. The closest source of whole wheat flour I’ve found is Bob’s Red Mill brand, which is based in Oregon. I’m also working on joining a grain CSA based out of Davis, CA, but haven’t been able to coordinate that yet.

So now, onto the actual bread-making process. I recommend that you start by trying to make white bread until you get the hang of it, since this is much easier to pull off than wheat bread. The best explanation and recipe I have found for a basic loaf of white bread is from a post on The Simple Dollar. He has some great pictures on there of each step involved in the bread-making process. I used this recipe the first several times I made bread, and they all came out beautifully.

The tough part came when I decided to try making whole wheat bread. I tried just substituting some of the white flour for whole wheat flour, and each time, I ended up with a brick-like loaf of dense “bread.” It’s just hearty, right? No, it really wasn’t very tasty. I was ready to give up, when a friend of mine suggested that I try adding gluten flour to the bread. She said that our flour contains less gluten than it used to, because many people have gluten allergies these days, but that it’s a necessary component to a good loaf of bread. So I visited my neighborhood health food store, found the gluten, and voila! A miracle. The bread has turned out perfectly every time. Over several trials, I developed a recipe that I like, that makes great sandwich bread, and wonderful tartines.

Here is the recipe I’ve been using:
1 c. warm water (100-110 degrees F)
2 tbsp. honey
1 tsp. live active yeast
1/3 c. milk
1 tbsp. melted butter
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 tsp. salt
1 c. all-purpose white flour
2 c. whole-wheat flour
5 tbsp. + 1 tsp. gluten flour
1/2 c. sunflower seeds
I use my Kitchen Aid to mix and knead the bread, so I will write up the recipe with that in mind. However, you can make it just by mixing the dough with a wooden spoon, and then kneading it with your hands.
  • Warm the bowl you will be using by rinsing it with hot water. Add the first 7 ingredients to the bowl, and mix them a little so that they’re combined, and the salt, honey, and yeast are dissolved.
  • Add 1 c. of white flour, 1 c. of wheat flour and 3 tbsp. of gluten flour to the bowl. Using the paddle attachment, mix this on low speed for about 2 minutes.
  • Next add 1/4 c. of whole wheat flour, and mix for 1 minute.
  • Add another 1/4 c. of whole wheat flour, with 1 tbsp. of gluten flour, and mix for 1 minute. Do this two more times, adding whole wheat flour in 1/4 c. increments, with the last 1 tbsp + 1 tsp of gluten flour. Let the dough mix for 1 minute each time you add flour.
  • Switch to the dough hook attachment. Add 1/2 c. of sunflower seeds, and turn the mixer on low speed for 10 minutes.
  • Spray another large-ish bowl with canola spray, or olive oil spray. Remove the dough, form a nice ball with it, and put it in the newly sprayed bowl. Cover it with a clean kitchen towel, and set it aside to rise on the countertop. Here is where I made my mistakes when I first started making bread. The dough needs to rise in a warm place, but it does not need to be too warm. I used to put it in the oven on the “keep warm” setting. This turned out to be way too warm, and killed the yeast, giving me a brick. Just set it aside, and let it rise for 1 hour to 1-1/2 hours. Basically, until it doubles in size.
  • Spray a loaf pan with cooking spray. After the dough has risen, punch it down, and shape it into a long, flat rectangle. You don’t need to knead it much, just push it down a few times with your fists. This will do just find. Once it’s in a flat rectangle shape, roll it into a log, and place it, seam side down, in the loaf pan. Once again, cover it with the clean kitchen towel and let it rise for about an hour.
  • Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Once your dough has risen, carefully put it in the hot oven. Bake for 28-30 minutes. I usually check it after about 25 minutes, and let it bake for another few minutes. 28 minutes seems to be the magic number in my oven, but will vary from oven to oven.
  • Take the bread out of the oven and immediately take it out of the pan. It should sound hollow when you tap the bread if it’s ready. Let it cool on a cooling rack.
  • Cut off a slice, and enjoy with your favorite tartine topping. My personal fav is a little butter with some honey drizzled on top. Delicious!

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