Book Review: Tartine Bread

| September 27, 2010 | 3 Comments
  • 3 Comments

Tartine Bread
Tartine Bread Cookbook

Living in San Francisco, you’re bound to have a love/hate relationship with Tartine Bakery. Love for all of the obvious reasons: most amazing morning bun, fabulous fruit tarts, and decadent chocolate desserts. Anything lemon. Almond croissants to rival Parisian patisseries. Strong coffee. So what’s to hate? Weekend crowds and tourists–the fact that it’s tough to squeeze in for that morning bun on a Sunday in any kind of sane manner.

Thankfully then, for weekend mornings when you can’t muster the energy to elbow your way through the lines, we have the Tartine cookbooks (the first of which is aptly named Tartine). Now I very rarely write to publishers directly asking for a review copy of a book, but I did for Tartine’s newest cookbook, Tartine Bread. I’d been awaiting its arrival ever since I heard that co-owner and bread master, Chad Robertson, was working on it. Chronicle Books was kind enough to send over a copy, and I stayed up and read it from cover to cover that evening. It’s absolutely lovely. It’s informative, it’s inspiring, it’s visually stunning. Chad gives you step-by-step instructions, guiding you (in pedestrian terminology) through the process of making his Basic Country Bread and Eric Wolfinger (who used to bake bread at the bakery) walks you through each step with his almost tactile, moving photos. It is as I knew it would be: a very special book.

From the get-go, Chad knew that the photos would be a critical part of the book because “traditional, intuitive bread making does not lend itself naturally to a written recipe.” In addition to written instructions, someone needed to show readers how to make the bread–Eric Wolfinger has succeeded ten times over. Of the visual nature of the book, Chad notes, “Learning a craft is as much about copying as it is about understanding, as much visual as it is intellectual.” From a quick glance at the cover of the book, you’re already in Eric’s world and as you flip to the first page, Chad takes your hand. You’re now ready to bake bread.

The first 87 pages are devoted to a brief history of the bakery, the evolution of making and selling bread, and the detailed recipe for Chad’s Basic Country Bread. In broad terms, he notes that “the goal of making bread with a satisfying depth of flavor, a good crust, and a moist, supple crumb is a constant.” In more specific terms, the recipe for the Country Bread begins with a natural yeast starter, often called sourdough, although Chad promotes using a “younger” leaven which gives the bread much more of a subtle flavor. He explains that the concept dates back to before the 1930’s when French bakers would use natural leaven in their baked goods–before the days of commercial yeast. Now if you tend to be one of those bakers who feel yeasted breads are a big enough leap and can’t imagine making your own leaven, heed Chad’s words: “The substantial gains in savor, keeping qualities, and versatile uses with the natural leaven justify the time it takes to build and care for one.”

And he should know. Chad spent over two decades apprenticing with artisan bakers in France and in the United States, and experimented with his own ovens out in West Marin and in Mill Valley. In 2002, he moved to San Francisco with his wife (and other half at Tartine Bakery), Elizabeth Pruitt, to create the legend that is now Tartine Bakery. The rest is history. And readers get a glimpse into that history with each page of Tartine Bread. After Chad’s basic bread recipe, the book branches off into interesting variations (olive bread, walnut bread, pizzas). And the last half delves into other recipes mainly using day-old breads such as French Onion Soup, Meatball Sandwiches, and Tartine’s Baked French Toast. While I haven’t yet had time to make Chad’s Basic Country Bread, I wanted to dive right in, so I made the Panade using rustic bread I had lying around the house.

If you’re not familiar with Panade, the headnotes for the recipe explain that it’s a basic french preparation similar to the Spanish sopa seca, or “dry soup.” Or if you’re familiar with the Italian ribollita–same thing. The foundation is always dry bread moistened with water or stock and any combination of vegetables, greens, and cheese you have on hand. While it sounds a lot like bread pudding, the recipe doesn’t call for any eggs so it’s actually best after setting and retaining its shape two or even three days after it’s made. You slice it in wedges to serve and reheat it.

Making Panade
Making Panade from Tartine Bread

The Panade recipe is straightforward and relatively quick to put together. I’ve reprinted it here with permission from Chad Robertson and the folks at Chronicle Books. At the end of the recipe, you’ll find a few personal notes and words of advice for a successful panade. Next time I want to make it with Chad’s bread–that is, if there are any day-old slices remaining. Which, somehow, I doubt.

Slice of Panade
Slice of Panade

Panade
Ingredients:
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 leeks, white parts only, finely chopped
6 cups whole milk
salt
4 slices day-old Basic Country Bread, cut about 1-inch thick
1 small butternut squash (about 1 pound), peeled, seeded, and cut into slices 1/4 inch thick
1 bunch black kale, stems removed
1 head cauliflower (about 1 1/2 pounds), trimmed and cut into 1/2 inch slices
1/2 pound fontina cheese, thinly slices
Heavy Cream (for reheating), optional

Method
Preheat the oven to 375 F. Melt 1 tablespoon of the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add the leeks and saute until softened, about 5 minutes. Add 2 cups of the milk, the remaining 5 tablespoons butter, and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil and them remove from the heat.

Cover the bottom of a deep, heavy, 5-quart pot with 2 or more slices of the bread. Arrange the squash slices in an even layer on top of the bread and pour in 2 cups of the hot milk mixture. Top with remaining 2 bread slices and then with the kale. Arrange the cauliflower slices over the kale. Press the ingredients down to compact them if they don’t quite fit in the pot.

Pour the remaining 4 cups milk mixture over the vegetables and bread. Stop adding the milk when the level is almost to the rim. Season with salt. Cover the pot with the lid or aluminum foil. Bake for 30 minutes. Uncover and arrange the cheese over the top. Cover, return to the oven, and bake until the liquid is absorbed and reduced, and the cheese has melted and browned, about 20 minutes. When the panade has cooled, it should appear dry.

Serve immediately or let cool and refrigerate for up to 3 days. To reheat, cut the panade into wedges and put on individual ovenproof plates. Pour 1/4 cup cream over the top of each wedge and bake for 15 to 20 minutes in an oven preheated to 375 F.

Serves 4-6


My notes: I used a bit more bread than the recipe called for just to cover the width of my pan. I also found that the panade needed an extra 15 minutes in the oven and I ended up taking off the lid for the last 30 minutes. I found this helped the top crisp up nicely.

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About the Author ()

Megan Gordon is originally from Eureka, CA although she's lived in numerous college towns around the country (another story altogether). A freelance food and travel writer, Megan has written for publications like Ready Made Magazine, The San Francisco Examiner, Edible SF and Edible Marin & Wine Country, Olive Oil Times and The San Francisco Bay Guardian. She writes regularly for Apartment Therapy's The Kitchn and maintains her own local food blog, A Sweet Spoonful. Yes, Megan even tweets @meganjanesf. In addition to writing and photographing food, Megan is the founder (and head baker) of Marge, a Bay Area baking company specializing in classic American pies and nostalgic desserts.
  • http://www.gardenerd.com Christy

    I made this recipe last night from a copy that I found in “The Week”. They left out the part about saying that “the remaining milk mixture” include the 4 cups of milk that hadn’t yet been accounted for (since we only use 2 to mix with the leeks). Mine came out very tasty but very wet. I used a baguette instead of sliced bread, so that might also be the reason behind it. Next time I’ll try sliced bread and cook it longer like you suggested.

    Thanks,
    Christy

  • Chris J

    The new book, Tartine Bread, is really beautifully put together. Nice pictures, nice layout, and the picture progression of how-to
    -make-croissants was really cool, but…well, here’s the thing: I wanted to see some nice bread recipes and some simple…I dunno: recipes?

    Instead, it’s pages and pages of making starters, leavens, and maybe a poolish or so. Before one even gets to actually start to bake bread which generally involves mixing yeast with a bit of warm water and sugar, perhaps, one here has to create a ‘starter’ which literally seems to take 3-4 days of daily feeding. When you’re finished with that, you take your starter the night before and discard most of it and after a few basic ‘bakey’ things, the next day you have a ‘leaven’.

    Then you can bake bread.

    OK, y’know…I just want to bake bread, not create the end-all, be-all read-26-frickin’-pages to get to the end of the recipe. The book, as I said, is very pretty, the story leading up to the bakery is interesting and at times delightful, but it doesn’t make the tartine bakery breadmaking approach very accessible.

    So…pretty book, but not very practical…at least for me.

  • http://www.gastromonica.com Monica

    It’s true, the book isn’t full of dozens of “bread recipes” that fit nicely onto a page each. Working with a leaven requires a different approach to baking bread (e.g. you can’t decide that you want bread in three hours; you need to plan ahead). However, once you get your starter going (which is easy – it happens over 3-4 days but takes a cumulative 5 minutes of your time) you are ready to bake, and Tartine Bread offers many “variations” with which to elaborate on the basic breads. Don’t be put off by the assumed hassle of making a starter – as a science teacher, I’ve done projects with 11 year olds on catching sourdough starters, and they’ve all been successful with ease and little effort. It only sounds hard before you try!

    Typical baking books treat these variations as stand alone recipes, but what I like most about Tartine Bread is that once you have mastered the basic bread dough (the one at the beginning with the pages of helpful technique photos), all the other recipes (in this book and others) seem like variations on the theme. I imagine that this sense of all bread being related is more how bakers see the world than casual home bakers. The length of time spent on technique and pictures at the start may seem daunting, but it is also where this book goes beyond most bread recipe books, helping the home baker cultivate a “baker’s sense.” This book has transformed the way I bake, and I now feel much less dependent on step-by-step recipes. Moreover, the flavor difference between slow-fermented leaven bread and conventionally yeasted bread is remarkable: I hardly use conventional yeast in baking anymore.

    And oh my god, the bread is SO amazing. The instructions and techniques are so detailed that the end product will be indistinguishable from what you can buy at their famous bakery. Seriously. I don’t even have fancy kitchen toys, just a crappy electric oven and a $30 cast iron dutch oven. Part of the book includes short stories and images of the home bakers that tested the book’s recipes to make sure they make sense in normal kitchens with normal people. To me that’s its genius, that you can make excellent, bakery-quality bread in your own home without having to apprentice for two decades in Europe.

    This is the second most beat up and spilled-on cookbook on my shelf (the first being their pastry book). I highly recommend it!