Chad Robertson’s Sourdough Bread

In little over a month, my sourdough starter turns one year old. For much of the past year, it has slept in the back of my refrigerator. I don’t eat bread often. When I make it, I usually expects dinner guests.  Having mastered the famous No-Knead Bread, which I first started making about five or more years ago, I grew bored with making it and found it sometimes boring to eat.

In the past few months, every two weeks or so, I wake up my starter and feed it for a few days until it’s fully woke, as those who support taking a knee try to be. Anticipating a 3-day process, I begin by making the leaven and then putting 200 grams of it through the grueling process of becoming the bread that the Tartine owner-baker, Chad Robertson, makes. The Basic Country Bread recipe in Tartine Bread take practice, but it is well worth it. In all the times I’ve made the bread, I’ve learned that the quality of the flour, good spring water, and a healthy leaven count just as much as the technique.

Fortunately, Robertson gives a very detailed explanation of the process. He offers options for immediate or deferred baking. Now that I’ve tried both ways a few times, I am now resigned to the Deferred Method. It’s nearly a three-day process. A tricky part was calculating when I’ll actually get to bake. But once it’s out of the pan, the crust is hard, the crumb is moist and full of air holes, and the taste is decidedly but pleasantly sour. This bread is definitely superior to the No-Knead version.

In making the bread, I introduced one key innovation. I bake the bread on my Weber gas grill. I live in northern California, where heating an oven to the max is not comfortable. What’s more, I have a small (24″ wide) wall oven. Manipulating scorching hot cast iron within such small space is hard and dangerous. So, to make bread, I had to take it out to my little patio, where the propane and the charcoal grills live. I have one more challenge to perfect the process. Baking the bread in the cast-iron pot had resulted in the bottom of the bread charring, as you can see below.

I have tried many different ways — adjusting the heat, turning down or off the middle of the three burners, moving the loaf to a cooler tile once it’s jumped, not preheating the base of the cast-iron pot — no matter what I do there is always some char. It’s never enough that it ruins the loaf (I cut off the char, slice up the loaf, and either save it for toast or shred it for croutons). But it’s annoying.

IMG_1004   IMG_0999

I’m still not sure what other options I have. However, the crumb is consistently excellent. I use Anson Mills Mediterranean White Bread Flour and mix in a modest amount of King Arthur’s Whole Wheat Flour. I know, the carbon foot print. But it makes a difference.


This is just a sampler of an experiment I will explore in the next post, which will be a breakdown of Robertson’s rustic bread recipe. I also plan to experiment with my new Instant Pot. Two experiments have already pleased me. Stay tuned. Feedback appreciated.

Jim Lahey: Pancetta Rolls

from My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method, pp. 77-75.

Forgive this cookbook’s subtitle that promises no work. I’m sure Lahey had nothing to do with it. Revolutionary, yes. No-knead, yes. No work? Not quite. Nevertheless, Lahey’s new book has taken up permanent occupancy on the shelf where I keep the cookbooks I use constantly. Now that I have made three breads from the book, I have come to appreciate the recipes and the specific advice the author gives. For instance, he cooks his breads in a very hot oven (475 F). But he also says that home ovens can vary so much that those who use his book have to decide for themselves where their oven works best for the bread. The acceptable range runs from 425 F all the way to 500 F. My oven, I’ve decided, works best for bread at either 425 F or 450 F, but not higher.

Even if you’re devoted to the version of Lahey’s No-Knead Bread offered by Mark Bittman in his column a couple of years ago, your technique will improve and your options will double if you use this book.  The recipes, however, differ subtly from Bittman’s and Cook’s Illustrated adaptations of the Slow-Rise Bread. I find the doughs in Lahey’s book wetter than the imitators, which is no bad thing. That’s partly what makes the crust hard. It means you have been handle the dough more carefully. The crust on all three of the breads turned out hard. When I pushed my thumbs into the bottom of a roll to break it open, the crumb displayed a beautiful constellation of air holes. My only quibble about this particular recipe concerns amounts. Lahey recommends doubling the Pancetta Bread recipe and cutting the twice-risen dough into twenty balls. I made half the Pancetta Bread amounts and cut the dough into 5 balls. They seemed a little small to me. Plus, I found the pancetta amounts a little on the skimpy side. But don’t err in overcompensating!

So, in what follows I combine Lahey’s instructions an for  Pancetta Bread with the Pancetta Rolls variation that comes at the end:

For 10 pancetta rolls:

300 grams, or about 2 1/3 cups, pancetta, sliced 1/4-inch thick (by the deli) and cut into 1/4-inch dice, or slab bacon, diced

3 cups, or 400 grams, bread flour (strong flour, in the UK)

1/2 teaspoon, or 3 grams, table salt

Shadowcook: I used a scant teaspoon of kosher salt.

1/4 teaspoon, or 1 gram, instant or other active dry yeast

1/4 teaspoon or to taste, or 1/2 gram, hot red pepper flakes (optional)

1 1/2 cups, or 350 grams, cool (55 to 65 degrees F) water

wheat bran, cornmeal, or additional flour for dusting

1. Cook the pancetta or bacon in a heavy skillet over medium heat, stirring occasionally until crisp and golden, about 10 minutes. Reserve 1 tablespoon of the fat. Drain the pancetta on paper towels and let cool.

2. In a medium bowl, stir together the flour, pancetta, salt, yeast, and red pepper flakes, if you’re using them. Add the water and reserved rendered fat, and using a wooden spoon or your hand, mix until you have a wet, sticky dough, about 30 seconds. Cover the bowl and let sit at room temperature until the surface is dotted with bubbles and the dough is more than doubled in size, 12 to 18 hours.

Shadowcook: Remember, it’s likely to be a wet dough, so don’t worry. If it isn’t wet, you’re still okay.

3. When the first rise is complete, generously dust a work surface with flour. Use a bowl scraper or rubber spatula to scrape the dough out of the bowl in one piece. Using lightly floured hands or a bowl scraper or spatula, life the edges of the dough in toward the center. Nudge and tuck in the edges of the dough to make it round.

4. Place a tea towel on your work surface and generously dust it with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Gently place the dough on the towel, seam side down. If the dough is tacky, dust the top lightly with wheat bran, cornmeal, or flour. Fold the ends of the tea towel loosely over the dough to cover it and place it in a warm, draft-free spot to rise for 1 to 2 hours. The dough is ready when it is almost doubled. If you gentle poke it with your finger, it should hold the impression. If it springs back, let it rise for another 15 minutes.

Shadowcook: Because this dough has the potential of being wetter than the Slow-Rise Bread dough, make sure you do generously flour both the work surface and the tea towel. The first time I made bread from this book, the dough stuck to the tea towel when I tried to flip it into the heated Dutch oven. In this recipe, it is a problem, since you’ll be making balls and placing them on a baking sheet.

5. Half an hour before the end of the second rise, preheat the oven to 475 degrees F, with a rack in the lower third. Oil a baking pan. Transfer the dough onto a generously floured work surface. Cut the dough mound into two strips and break each strip into five equal pieces. Each piece should weigh 80 grams. Round each piece into a roll-shaped ball. Place the balls on the pan in even rows. Bake for about 40 minutes, until the rolls are dark brown. Place them on a rack and allow them to cool thoroughly.

Shadowcook: If your oven runs hot, place the rack in the middle. Weigh the dough. It helps to make the balls of equal weight. 40 minutes was too long for my oven. And 475 degrees is too hot. Next time, I’ll try 450 for 40 minutes. If that doesn’t work, then 425. Last word of caution: keep your hands off of them for a full hour after they come out of the oven! It makes a difference to the texture of the crumb.

Jamie Oliver’s Pizza Dough


found here.

Everyone I know who makes or eats pizza swears by the Chris Bianco pizza dough recipe in the Gourmet Cookbook. Some people prefer Alice Water’s recipe in the Chez Panisse Pasta and Pizza cookbook. My friend Gary has developed his own dough recipe that involves a starter and days of preparation.

I’m a latecomer to this game. Over the past year or so, I’ve made pizza a few times, but never gave it the attention that it deserves. Now that the weather has cooled off, I’ve made pizza one of my fall cooking projects. I’ve made and liked the Bianco dough as well as several others. Just a few days ago, however, I happened upon Jamie Oliver’s recipe for pizza dough. Now that I’ve had three pizzas made with his dough, I think I’m about to call myself a convert.

The sticking point for many home pizzaioli will be the flours he uses. He calls for a kind of flour imported from Italy called tipo 00, which refers to the high gluten content and to how finely it is ground. Tipo 0 presumably has less gluten and is not as finely ground. So, to put it in American terms, I suppose the equivalent would be high-gluten cake flour, or in British terms, finely ground strong flour. To my shock, I can now find the Antimo Caputo brand of tipo 00 in two of the stores I most often shop in.

The dough is not as wet as Chris Bianco’s dough. Actually, I don’t think that matters. Or, at least I’m still trying to make up my mind about whether a wetter dough really makes a crisper pizza. The one I made last night (in the badly lit photo above) was firm, crisp, and had plenty of chew to it. The texture, as Jamie promises, is smoother (not cakier, though), lighter. For the first time, a pizza I made really did remind me of good ones I’ve eaten in Italy.

Anyway, here’s Jamie’s instruction with interpolations by me.

• 1kg strong white bread flour or Tipo ‘00’ flour
or 800g strong white bread flour or Tipo ‘00’ flour, plus 200g finely ground semolina flour

Shadowcook: I made a batch with 400g tipo 00 and 100g finely ground semolina. I’ll never make it without the semolina. Use a scale. It’s important. As Jamie notes, if you can use “strong” flour, which in American parlance means bread flour. It has a lot of gluten in it.

• 1 level tablespoon fine sea salt

Shadowcook: for my half batch, I used two teaspoons of kosher salt.

2 x 7g sachets of dried yeast

Shadowcook: Sachet is the paper packet kind. I used one 7g packet of dried yeast.

1 tablespoon golden caster sugar

Shadowcook: Caster sugar is what we call baker’s or superfine sugar. I used 1 1/2 teaspoons.

4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

650ml lukewarm water

Shadowcook: For half batch, I used 11 ounces of lukewarm water.

Sieve the flour/s and salt on to a clean work surface and make a well in the middle. In a jug, mix the yeast, sugar and olive oil into the water and leave for a few minutes, then pour into the well. Using a fork, bring the flour in gradually from the sides and swirl it into the liquid. Keep mixing, drawing larger amounts of flour in, and when it all starts to come together, work the rest of the flour in with your clean, flour-dusted hands. Knead until you have a smooth, springy dough.

Shadowcook: I didn’t sieve the dry ingredients. Instead, I use a metal whisk to stir all the ingredients together. And furthermore I don’t make wells of anything on work surfaces because I invariably make a mess of things. I use a bowl. I set the timer for 8 minutes and kneaded the dough until it ran.

Place the ball of dough in a large flour-dusted bowl and flour the top of it. Cover the bowl with a damp cloth and place in a warm room for about an hour until the dough has doubled in size.

Shadowcook: I let the dough rise for about an hour and a half.

Now remove the dough to a flour-dusted surface and knead it around a bit to push the air out with your hands – this is called knocking back the dough. You can either use it immediately, or keep it, wrapped in clingfilm, in the fridge (or freezer) until required. If using straight away, divide the dough up into as many little balls as you want to make pizzas – this amount of dough is enough to make about six to eight medium pizzas.

Shadowcook: No other pizza dough recipe I know of calls for knocking back the dough. I skipped that step and the pizza did not suffer from the lack of it. After twisting off a hunk of dough a bit larger than a tennis ball, I covered it loosely with plastic wrap and let it rest on the board that I eventually rolled it out on. The rest I put in a plastic bag and stuck in the fridge. Over the next couple of days, the dough acquired air holes as it soured. Every day I cut off a chunk for a pizza.

Timing-wise, it’s a good idea to roll the pizzas out about 15 to 20 minutes before you want to cook them. Don’t roll them out and leave them hanging around for a few hours, though – if you are working in advance like this it’s better to leave your dough, covered with clingfilm, in the fridge. However, if you want to get them rolled out so there’s one less thing to do when your guests are round, simply roll the dough out into rough circles, about 0.5cm thick, and place them on slightly larger pieces of olive-oil-rubbed and flour-dusted tinfoil. You can then stack the pizzas, cover them with clingfilm, and pop them into the fridge.

Shadowcook: Place a pizza stone on the bottom rack of the oven and preheat to 500. The Gourmet cookbook recommends placing the stone on the bottom of a gas oven and heating to 500 in order to get the temp even hotter. Although I did that once, I think it’s chancy. Better to preheat the stone on the bottom shelf to 500 and wait about half an hour after that before baking the pizza.

Using plenty of flour to keep the dough from sticking to the work surface, I rolled out the dough into an imperfect circle. Now that I’ve done it a few times, I see that it’s important to roll out the dough to a thickness (1/4 inch or so) that is even across the face of the circle. The thinner parts will get much darker than the thicker parts.

You’ll see in the photo that I use a pizza screen, sometimes called a pizza mesh. I think of it as training wheels in anticipation of the day when I learn how to slide a pizza off a wooden peel on to the baking stone in the oven. I’m not in a hurry. As this conversation on chowhounds suggests, the wire allows the underside to crisp up.

I rolled out the dough, picked it up and fit it onto the screen. Then, I put the screen on the peel and slipped it on to the baking stone. I baked it for 5 minutes, removed it, punctured the bubbles on top, and arranged the toppings on the pizza’s surface. I put it back into the oven for 7 minutes, looked at it and decided to leave it in for another 1-2 minutes. Watch it carefully. I waited until the edges were browned and the underside started to brown. Then I whipped it out of the oven. Cut it up and take it to the table.

Practice makes pizza perfect.