Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Jim Lahey No Knead Bread Again

I made Lahey's no knead bread again just to reassure myself of using this as default recipe (and that the last successful bake was not just a fluke). The bread is really easy to make and does not take much time. Most of the time spent on waiting as the book indicates, but it is well worth the wait. Couple people who tried this bread agreed the flavor is not as complex as Tartine, and also there is not the same aroma Tartine bread has. So, one thing I did as an experiment was to add Tartine's starter to the bulk fermentation, and the result was an improved aroma and crumb color. 

This is dough after the first fermentation, very relax with gluten.

This is my 2nd attempt. Good crumb structure with lot of air pockets.

This is probably the best one. I also added in Tartine Starter which seems to change the aroma and color of the crumb. 

Monday, September 5, 2011

Jim Lahey No Knead Bread

I picked up Jim Lahey's No Knead bread book. As much as I love making Tartine bread, it is very time consuming. I still keep my Tartine starter which by now is about 8 months old, but I have been too busy to spend a whole day making bread. At first glance, Jim's recipe seems to be much easier to make, and most of the time spent is proofing which can be done overnight, so I thought I give it a shot.

When I first read the recipe, I was quite skeptical. How could the bread develop enough tension to rise without any stretch and fold. Since the bread requires at least 12 hours fermentation time at room temperature of ~70F which is perfect for where I live. I mixed the dough the night before, left it to proof at room temperature and baked the next morning.

One minor change from Jim's recipe was instead of doing the second rise in the folded towel, I did my second rise in the basket (Tartine's method). Jim's suggestion for testing that dough is ready to bake is to do 1/4 inch indentation and see if it holds. Mine took about 1 hour to complete second rise at 80F degree. I took the pre-heated cast iron combo out of the oven, flip the dough into the cast iron combo, put back and wait.

The result? OMG it was awesome!!!! Although the bread does not taste as complex as Tartine's recipe and does not have the same aroma, it is pretty darn good. I would have this bread any time. The bread has good, uneven air pocket. This time I also made sure I did not overproof. It did get pretty good rise. Given the time I spent making it and the quality the bread came out, I have to say this will be preferable over Tartine's recipe for me.

The bread tastes good by itself. It tasted similar to Ciabatta. It is even better brushing with olive oil and toast in the cast iron pan to crisp it up. Half the loaf was gone by lunch time. I keep the other half for next day or may be dinner :-) I encourage anyone who like Tartine's recipe to check this one out.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011


Last weekend, I decided to make focaccia. I normally used Peter Reinhart's recipe from his American Pie book which made delicious focaccia, but a little too oily.

This time, I used the recipe from his latest book, Artisan bread everyday. This is also a no-knead recipe which is very nice. I also used some of the starter from tartine bread to ferment the bread.

The focaccia is proofed in the refrigerator overnight before baking in the 450F degree oven. This one I had to say is much better than the recipe from American Pie book, it is less oily, and I got nice even air pocket. Yum :-)

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Country Bread Panini

This post is a follow up from the previous one. Tartine has changed their ordering policy. It used to be we can order bread in the morning for pick up in the same day. Now, due to its popularity, the bread has to be pre-ordered 3 days in advance - crazy huh. After my disastrous baking attempt, we bought Tartine bread and make some really great panini.

- Cured meat like salami or prosciutto 
- Pesto
- Fontina cheese
- Arugula
- Butter

Smear the butter on the outside of the bread. Layer meat, cheese, and smear pesto sauce. Then add the arugula. Bake in the panini maker for about 6-7 minutes at high. The panini came out perfectly - yummy :-)

Hopefully next time I can do this with my own bread.

Original Tartine Bread (now $7 per loaf with 3-day advanced order)

Cured meat with fontina cheese

Add pesto and arugula

Bake on 'high' for 6-7 minutes


Friday, April 15, 2011

Third attempt is a failure

My starter has been living happily in the fridge for the past couple months. My sister is visiting so I want to show off the great country bread, but it was a disaster. I screwed up the first loaf with the oven being off after I removed the combo cooker to put in the bread, and the second loaf came out with minimal oven spring, resulting in a dense loaf with large bubble in the middle :-(

I suspect it was the starter losing strength but still couldn't convince myself that was the case here. After a few researches on thefreshloaf.com, I came to two conclusion.
1) Overproofing - I think this is unlikely because I reduced time for both the bulk rise and the basket rise
2) Not enough tension - I think this is the culprit as I also reduced the number of stretch and fold.

Now, I am looking for a redemption. Hope to try again soon and will post the results.

Leavening passed the float test

After the bulk rise

First shaping

After the bench rest

1st loaf - disaster due to oven malfunction

Second loaf - rise but no ear

Finish loaf looks good

Poor oven spring - what a failure

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Pizza with cured ham and arugula

This weekend, I made our favorite piizza with cured ham and arugula, so I thought I share some photos here. This time I used a leftover dough from couple weeks ago. I will do another post with the steps to make the dough.

Pizza with cured ham and arugula
For the dough recipe, I used Pizza Neo-Neapolitan recipe from Peter Reinhart's American Pie book. This is a well known recipe which you can search on Internet. I made some minor adjustment for the toppings so it works better in the home oven.

Now, for topping:

- Fresh Mozzarella (drain the juice and pat dry)
- Cured ham, i.e. Prosciutto
- Arugula
- Marinara sauce (reduced)

Some trick for using fresh Mozzarella - it's very wet. Normally I will just use the dry/shred Mozzarella that comes in a bag found in grocery stores. If you just cut the fresh Mozzarella and put on your pizza, believe me it will come out very soggy because the temperature in home oven is not enough to evaporate all those moisture fast enough. In summary, I feel anything wet is the enemy of good pizza baked in home oven.

If you use store bought Marinara, reduce it about 30-40% until you get consistency of a thick sauce.

So, what I did was I just cut the Mozzarella into pieces, and put it on a plate over my oven while I preheat the oven at 550F. The residual heat from the oven will bring out all the juices. Now, you can pat it dry before you top it on your pizza.

Stretch the dough and then to top your pizza, start with the driest ingredients - cheese in this case, then meats, and then the wettest ingredients, marinara sauce. Why? because you want the bottom of the dough to be crispy, and having the dry ingredients as a base of your topping will act as barrier to give the dough time to crisp up before the sauce touches it. If you are like me who doesn't like a soggy pizza, this method will work well.

Many recipes tell you to start with the sauce first. Although it may work, and that's also how many pizzerias do it, remember your home oven can only go 550F vs 800F or more at pizzeria, so some adjustment is necessary because the moisture will not evaporate as fast in your home oven. This minor change will give you a very crispy pizza vs soggy one - your choice.

This time I only have cured beef so I used this instead of Prosciutto


I baked my pizza between two baking stone but I think it does not make much different really if you use one stone. Just put the stone close to the lowest rack and give it enough time to heat up (I pre-heat mine about 1 hour). The pizza should be ready in 6-7 minutes. About a minute before the pizza is done, take it out and top with arugula, and then put the pizza back in the oven and bake for a minute or until fully cook. The arugula will wilt a little bit.

Drizzle Olive Oil

I baked my pizza between two stones, although I found one stone at the bottom works just fine

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Second attempt - Tartine Country Bread

This will be a short post as I just want to update what happenned after my partially successful first attempt to bake Tartine Country Bread

Lesson learned from last time - I think the dough was too overproof and I did not dust enough flour in the proofing basket, so the dough stuck when I flipped it to take it out for baking and I couldn't score the dough as the dough almost couldn't hold its shape.

I also found some great YouTube videos. I couldn't really tell from the book how to properly shape the boule and these videos are great. It gave me much more confident and the dough came out nicely this time.


I planned to bake on Saturday, so I took out my starter (which is the leftover leavaining from last bake) from the fridge and fed it on Thursday morning, the left at room temperature. By Friday morning it became lively and doubled in size, so I fed it again to get it ready to prepare the leavain that night.

For mixing the dough and bulk rise, I followed the same steps as before, except this time I used Kitchen Aid to do initial mixing. Then hand knead after the first rest. Here're the photos of the dough after the first shaping.

First shaping after bulk rise
Then this time I put "a lot" of flour in the proofing basket. Below is the dough after 3 hours of rise of the basket.

Ready for
And this is the final product. This is where I found another issue with this book. Each loaf takes about 40-50 minutes to bake, and the recipe makes two loafs. So, let's say you can get the first loaf proofed just right, the second loaf could be a little overproof. In my case, I had no problem scoring the first loaf but second loaf didn't hold itself as well. I did the classic square scoring. The dough had pretty good oven spring, almost doubled in size. I think next time I will retard the second dough a little bit and see if that will help.

I should mention this time I used a lame bought from Sur La Table, which costs $5, instead of razor blade. I found that with the handle, it is safer as at least I didn't have to put my hand anywhere close to the cast iron skillet.

Another option is to line up parchment paper on a pizza peel, then flip your dough onto the pizza peel, do your scoring, and then slide the dough (with parchment paper) onto the cast iron skillet. I tried that on one of the loafs and there was no change in quality actually.

I think both loafs came out great - better than first time for sure. I still feel this can be improved even more, so hopefully will try that again after we run out of bread. This time I am able to do this along with working in the yards so I didn't feel like I used up the whole day just to make bread.

The next day, as usual, we had panini using the loaf I just made. Smeared the outside with butter, added cured ham, salami, pesto, fontina cheese, and spinach, and baked in panini grill at "high" for about 6-7 minutes.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

First attempt at baking Tartine Country Bread

This is my first post. I have been wanting to do this for a while but never really had time. Now, with a successful first attempt baking Tartine bread, I thought I would have a good story to write, so here we go.

See the second attempt here

Tartine Bread

I still remember the first time having Tartine bread. The parking at Mission district is ridiculous I had to circle around while my wife went to the bakery to buy the bread. We were lucky we got the bread that day, because since then, the breads were always sold out. We were on our way to dinner with friends, but the aroma of the bread was so good that we could not resist tearing a piece to try, and we could not stop. Having lived in Ottawa and frequent visit to Montreal, I think I know what great bread tastes like, and this is one of the best breads I ever had.

I was so excited to see Tartine Bread book by Chad Robertson. This book describes the process of baking Tartine country bread. First hour into reading this book, I was set on a mission to try it out. Following the advice in the book, I ordered the Lodge pre-season combo cooker from Amazon and highly recommend this for baking Tartine country bread recipe.

I was having some trouble with Chad's book. Although I like the book very much, I found some of the detailed information was lacking. As a home baker trying to use wild yeast for the first time, I had to look up so much information from the Internet, and this website, The Fresh Loaf, came to my rescue. So, I am hoping this blog below will be useful for whoever the first timer that is trying to follow the recipe in Tartine Bread.

Some background - I am a casual baker. I bake mostly pizza and foccacia, some brioche, in the past with very good success. I have had the book, Bread Baker Apprentice, for a few years but never really tried any of the hearth bread recipe because I was afraid to deal with steaming my oven. I also heard many horrible story about things that could go wrong and costly repair. Chad's method calls for cast iron combo booker which, in my opinion, makes perfect sense. I am not hesitated to try it out.

Lodge combo cast iron cooker at Amazon

Making the starter

This book calls for making your own starter by mixing water and 50/50 white and whole wheat flour. I went for the King Arthur flour which I had very good success with. I started my starter on Dec 30th. By the 3rd day, there should be some activities. But in my case, by the end of the 2nd day, it looked spoiled, kinda black and something like mold on the surface. However, the underneath seems to be just like what Chad describes in his book. I decided to give it a go. Any mole will not survive 500F in the oven once it is baked anyway. I scraped off the surface and threw away and kept just enough of what was underneath to start my feeding.

Week 1

Initially, I did my feeding in the evening, even though the book recommends morning feeding, because of my work schedule. After a few days of very little or no activity, I switched to morning feeding. I kept checking on the starter like once every hour when I was home, and my wife started to think I might be crazy. We finally named our starter after Mr. Chad for good luck (hopefully he will not be offended). My starter weighted about 150 grams, and every morning I would discard 120 grams into the trash. Then added back 60 grams of 80F water and 60 grams of 50/50 flour mixture.

Week 2

Just to start the week, we went to pick up a loaf from Tartine just in case my attempt to bake this blew up. At least I can still have good bread next week. I continued to maintain my feeding schedule even though there was little activity. I started to get used to the routine. My excitement also started to diminish as I was not sure if this thing was still alive. Looking around on Internet I came across another blogger named Sarah and did ask her a question. Nice enough she gave me an answer I was looking for. Her starter came to life in about 10 days. This is one thing about this book. It does not really tell you how long it will take so you will have to be patience. So, I decided to continue for another week.

Day 10

Thing totally changed on this day. I woke up to do my daily feeding to discover my starter already doubled. Yes!!! This is what I have been looking for. You just gave me hope. The black line below was the level when I started the feeding and look at where it was 24 hours later.

Starter in the morning of the 10th day

After calming down my excitement, I proceeded with the daily feeding and hope for the best.

Starter right after feeding. The black line is the starting level.
By the evening it has come up a little bit more.
20% increase by the end of the day.

After the 10th day the starter seemed to be very alive and had quite predicable routine. It doubled by the end of the day and fell by the next morning for the daily feeding. Two weeks into making the starter, I think it was ready.

Making the leavening

Friday night, I started my leavening and hoped for the best next morning. The book indicates it should increase about 20% in volume the next day. I woke up and found this thing doubled in size. Wow, it was going very strong.

Making the leavening

Leavening the next morning. Just double in size.

Making the dough

I proceeded with mixing the dough by hand. I started with a stainless bowl which turned out to be too small and then a glass bowl that felt very fragile when I rotated. In the end I found that 5qt Kitchen Aid bowl worked really well. After fighting with the dough for 10 minutes, I let it rest in the glass bowl.

The next step is to start the bulk rise. The bakery uses the proofing box. I did find one at local Sur La Table for about $20. Holy crap! Just for a piece of plastic can cost that much. Improvise I thought so I found a plastic snapware from Costco that my wife has and decided to use that. It was the perfect size and worked well for this purpose. I covered the box with kitchen towel to block draft and put that in the oven with the light on as that gave the temperature close to 80F. I proceeded to do the turns and rest for the next 3 hours while using my oven (with light on) to control the temperature.

My improvised dough proofing box

First hour, not much bubble yet. Lot of bubbles by the end of 3rd hour.

Shaping the dough

After 3 hours and 15 minutes, it looked ready. A lot of bubbles were seen and the dought was very aerated. I took it out to start dividing and shaping. I also used Roul-Pat which is the kneading silicone mat to prevent sticking and found that it worked really well.

Now I proceeded with shaping the dough into round shape. This was the first time using bench knife and handling a dough this wet (I have only messed with pizza dough and that was nothing compare to this dough). After some wrestling, I finally was able to round it up into two balls.

After another rest, I did final shaping. This is where my pizza skill came to help. I found that the technique was quite similar, although without a doubt there is much more challenge handling this dough than pizza dough. I tried hard not to degas the dough.

Whoala, now dusting my again improvised brotform proofing basket and just put the dough in for final rise. And this is where I messed up real bad. I did not dust enough flour. At the time I did not realize but we will see what happenned in the baking section.

Now to the baking.


I put the combo cooker in the oven and then turned it on to preheat to 500F. I think this is better so the cast iron gradually heat up. It took about 20-25 minutes to come up to the temperature, and do not totally trust your oven thermometer. Mine had about 5 minutes lag for the real temperature to come up to what the oven indicated. Moment of truth, I took the skillet from the oven and tried to flip my basket to get the dough out. Oh crap, it stuck. Damn me for not dusting enough flour. I had to ask my wife to help holding the basket upside down while I carefully scraped the sticking dough into the skillet. I was also having a hard time scoring the bread which I was not sure if it was because of not enough tension. The dough seemed so relax that the razor just could not cut into.

I think the dough is a little overproof.

After some struggling, I finally got the bread in the combo cooker, close the lid and was patiently waiting, finger crossed of course. It was a very long 20 minutes as I could not see what was going on inside that combo cooker. 20 minutes later, I opened up the lid, the bread did rise a little bit more, but not popped as I would expect. It could be my poor (first time) scoring skill too.

End Result

However, this story has a happy ending. The bread came out quite good. Given my issue with getting the bread out of the basket, this is considered success. The instruction calls for wait for the bread to cool down, but NO WAY, I could wait no more. I am sliding it up baby.

The bread was awesome - chewy with nice and crispy crust. I made that? I still could not believe it. The second loaf also came out really nice too, although not as popped as the first one. I can say this tastes much better than many breads I have bought, but as good as Tartine's? Hell no but IMHO, it is very close. This is still way above and beyond my expectation. After 2 weeks of waiting, I finally got to taste my own bread, and it is my proudest moment. My wife had to remind me not to be dramatize about it. This one has less sour flavor than the Tartine bread we got a week ago.

My wife helped taking these pictures and rescued the sticky dough out of the basket.

I made that?

Cannot wait for it to cool down.

Look at the air pockets.

That night, we had bread for dinner. My sister gave us very tasty Patum Peperium Spiced Anchovy Relish which we had with the bread. We smeared it over a toasted bread with butter, and it was really really great. We had it again for breakfast and we also made Panini for lunch. I sprayed the bread with Olive Oil, add salami, cured ham, pesto, gruyere, and arugula, then pressed using my panini press. This bread is so versatile you can pretty much eat it with anything.

I put my leftover levain in the fridge. We had about 3 weeks worth of bread to go through and then I may attempt to try it again. I now have some ideas on how I can improve. Next time I will definitely remember to dust more flour!!!! I think the dough needs more tension during shaping and will see if the scoring problem is gone. I think Kitchen Aid can be used for initial mixing of the flour and save myself from the messy hand mixing. My oven with the light on is pefect for maintaining 80F proofing temperature.

Thanks for reading.