Friday, June 19, 2020

Bread Baking in Strange Times (Pain de mic)

Tartine/King Arthur Olive Loaf June 19, 2020

The Covid-19 pandemic, and the attendant lockdown, has been a crazy experience. I have been cooking almost every night, and we've been home for lunch, too, so in three months I have done nearly a year's cooking. Which I like and which keeps me sane.

Like many other people, I have been baking. Notwithstanding a few cakes and cookies, this means BREAD!

Luckily, since yeast was not available in the markets, I use levain (Tartine Bakery's version of sourdough) and a very slow-rising technique. King Arthur, my former go-to place for starter, was out, so I got starter from Breadtopia on line, and it is a very vibrant starter from the moment you get it. I feed it regularly, using the Tartine formula of 50/50 bread and whole wheat flours. And that's how I started my pandemic baking.

After She-Wolf Bakery came to the Upper West Side Sunday farmers' market, I virtually stopped baking bread, since there's was better and all I had to do was to pay for it. However, this changed when the pandemic arrived, and I decided to go back to baking my own.

To get my bread-baking chops going, I started with Tartine's

Basic country bread.

Country loaf April 3, 2020
More than once.

Country loaf April 7, 2020

Not surprisingly, the second effort was more successful.

Then I moved on to some of Tartine's more advanced breads:

Oat porridge bread:

Oat porridge bread April 13, 2020

A good-tasting, gorgeous bread, but heavy and a bit flat.

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds:

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds April 20, 2020

One of my all-time favorites, but a little flat. My technique was not quite there yet.

Country rye bread:

Country rye loaf April 26, 2020
Farro porridge bread:

Farro porridge bread May 1, 2020

Then back to my favorite

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds May 8, 2020


While wandering around on King Arthur's website, I came across a recipe for sourdough bread made in a way similar to Tartine's but with easier timing. You make the dough the night before (it has to rest and be folded once an hour for three hours before spending 8-48 hours in the fridge). On baking day, you just shape it, plop it into your covered iron bread baking pan (I use a Lodge Combo, as recommended by Tartine), wait three hours for it to come to room temperature and bake.

King Arthur's sourdough bread:

King Arthur's sourdough bread May 14, 2020

And it was good. Lighter than Tartine's and almost as tasty.

Now a detour. A high school friend's daughter, Beryl Forman, sent me the recipe for her well-publicized olive loaf.

Beryl Forman's olive loat (modified) May 26, 2020

Beryl uses the regular oven with a few sprays of water, rather than the Dutch oven method, to keep the moisture level right, but I opted for a hybrid of the Tartine and King Arther methods. A very nice loaf but not as olive-y or salty as I would have liked.

Then back to Tartine. Yet another go at

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds:

Semolina bread with fennel, sesame and poppy seeds June 6, 2020
Now I determined to use Tartine's formula for olive bread, which uses more olives and in bigger pieces than Beryl's (two cups mixed green and black olives, quite coarsely chopped), but with the King Arthur sourdough method.

Tartine/King Arthur sourdough olive bread:

Tartine/King Arthur sourdough olive loaf June 13, 2020
It was great, lots of salty olive and olive oil taste with a lovely crumb. Just a tiny bit flat, though. So I tried again today, and nailed it! See the first picture at the top. And the recipe below.

Next I'm going to try the same thing but with toasted walnuts instead of olives. Will report back.

Bobby Jay
No-knead Sourdough [Olive] Bread
(King Arthur and Tartine for olives and/or walnuts

Make one big loaf



·       1 cup (227g) ripe (fed) sourdough starter
·       1 3/4 cups (397g) lukewarm water
·       5 cups (602g) King Bread Flour
·       1 tablespoon (18g) salt
·       Optional: 1 cup cured black and 1 cup green olives, coarsely chopped and/or chopped toasted walnuts
·       2 teaspoons diastatic malt powder, optional for a more golden color and stronger rise (I don’t use)

Day 1 time 0:00

1       Weigh your flour; or measure it by gently spooning it into a cup, then sweeping off any excess.

2       Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl, or a large (6-quart) food-safe plastic bucket.

3       Mix and stir everything together to make a sticky, rough dough. If you have a stand mixer, beat at medium speed with the paddle attachment for 30 to 60 seconds. Or just stir with a big spoon or dough whisk until everything is combined.

Day 1 time 0:00– 3:00

4       Leave the dough in the bucket or 6-quart bowl, cover it with the bucket’s lid or a piece of plastic wrap, and let rise for 1 hour.

5       Gently pick up the dough and fold it over on itself several times, cover it again, and let it rise for another hour.

6       Repeat step 5 and place bread in bucket/bowl  in the fridge for 8-48 hours

Day 2 time 0:00

7       When you're ready to make bread, turn the dough out onto a well-floured work surface, and shape it into a rough ball. Leave the dough seam-side up, cover it, and let it rest on a floured surface for 15 minutes.

Day 2 time 0:15

8       Next, shape the dough to fit the vessel in which you’ll bake it: a 13” log for a long covered baker, such as KAs glazed long covered baker; or a large boule (round) for a round baker or Dutch oven. Place the shaped dough into the lightly greased base of the baker and cover it with the lid. Let the loaf warm to room temperature and rise; this should take about 2 1/2 to 3 hours. It won't appear to rise upwards that much, but will relax and expand.

Day 2 time 2:15

9       With a rack positioned in the middle, start preheating the oven to 500°F one hour before you’re ready to bake.

Day 2 time 3:15

10     Just before baking, dust the loaf with a fine coat of flour and use a lame or a sharp knife to make one or several 1/2” deep slashes through its top surface. If you're baking a long loaf, one arched slash down the loaf lengthwise is nice, or if baking a round, a crosshatch or crisscross pattern works well.

11     Cover the baker with its lid and place it in the oven. Reduce the oven temperature to 450°F and bake the bread for 45 minutes.

Day 2 time 4:00

12     Remove the cover of the baker and bake the bread for 10 to 15 minutes longer, until the bread is deep golden brown and crusty, and a digital thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads at least 210°F.

Day 2 time 4:10-4:15

13     Remove the bread from the oven and transfer it to a rack to cool completely.