A UC Berkeley Food Pantry, a Coda to My Tartine Bread Baking Attempts

Categories: Talking Points
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Today's notes on national stories, local trends, random tastes, and other bycatch dredged up from the food media.

1. Students Helping Students. This Wall Street Journal story about the UC Berkeley food pantry a few students founded to help feed students with children is inspiring, even though it demonstrates, once again, just how inadequate financial aid for low-income college students can be.

2. Sell-by Dates. According to the Telegraph, the British government is considering changes to the "sell by" and "best before" dates printed on food packages. While they'll amp up the warnings on certain perishables in order to prevent food poisoning -- the article makes it sound as if eggs will now be labeled like cigarettes -- other dates might be elminated. "Wasting food is thought to cost the average family with children £680 a year - with households throwing as much as a quarter of all their food and drink purchases," the article says.

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3. Tartine Bread: Finally, Some Success. Back in November, I chronicled my months-long effort to cultivate a sourdough starter and make bread from the master recipe in Chad Robertson's just-released Tartine Bread. The result were middling, but hopeful, especially when I begged a new starter off a baker friend.

Well, the saga didn't end there. The third batch completely deflated the moment it went in the oven and never rose again. As the Wall Street Journal titled it: total bread fail. I talked to a nationally known baker about my problems, and he told me one of the things he'd noticed in the recipe that it glancingly mentioned using all-purpose flour. "French-style breads like that are made with lower-gluten flours." So I bought Giusto's organic all-purpose flour from the bulk bins at Rainbow instead of the organic bread flour I'd used. I tried making another batch to send to my boyfriend's parents, who'd requested San Francisco sourdough when he came home for Christmas. Pancake again. Four tries, three months, and nothing. I sulked for, oh, three months.

But a friend of mine who'd studied Peter Reinhart recipes for making naturally leavened breads similar to Tartine's borrowed a blob of my starter, acquired a copy of Tartine Bread, and had great success on the first go. I went over to his house for a master class, and learned that even though I'd followed the 40-some-page recipe scrupulously, two factors were ruining my attempts:

Number one, the kitchen was sweltering, and my friend was in shorts and a sweat-speckled T-shirt. He had central heating and a space heater on in order to keep the in the kitchen above 80 degrees during the rising. (The book mentioned several times that subtle temperature fluctuations could lengthen the rising time by hours, but didn't give specific guidelines for what temperature to keep house or a "proofing box" at.) And the moment I touched my friend's dough, it felt stiffer, the ball more rounded. "What flour are you using?" I asked. King Arthur bread flour, he told me. Out went the bulk organic flour, in came a bag of KA flour from Safeway. Yesterday, I girded my loins and began the 20-hour process one last time.

Sure enough, with different flour and a space heater, the dough immediately felt different, the heat made it rise more quickly, and I turned out two of the most beautiful loaves I've ever baked. The crumb is ever-so-slightly tighter and tougher than the bread you get at Robertson's bakery, but the crust and the flavor -- spectacular. Does Rainbow's bulk-bin flour suck? Can I repeat this success next week? I don't know. But I'm going to try.
 
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