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CHAD ROBERTSON’S TARTINE BREAD FOR HOME BAKERS

San Francisco is one of those lucky cities that has lots of really great bakeries turning out really great bread. If you are a bread lover, as I am, that’s important. Of course, it is arguable as to which is the best bakery or best loaf, but Tartine Bakery and their basic country bread have to be on just about everyone’s lists.

Chad Robertson, the co-owner of Tartine Bakery, has  roots in West Texas, but he has travelled to France and probably other places to perfect his craft. He still bakes 250 loaves of bread a day when he is in town. He is driven in his quest to make the best loaf of bread he can, along with pastries and other baked goods. But he is generous in sharing his knowledge. Other chefs in San Francisco have been mentored by him, and now their bread is well-known. An example of that is Outerlands in the Outer Sunset district of San Francisco. Their grilled cheese sandwich on thick slices of house-baked bread is justifiably famous.

Robertson is now getting ready to install a custom-made behemoth of an oven in a new space in San Francisco so that he can increase his baking production. He is planning to open bakeries in Tokyo and maybe London and New York.

He has also written or taken photographs for several cookbooks, including a beautiful book, Tartine Bread (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2010). That classic (already) gives detailed instructions and beautiful photos for the home baker. The book also describes Robertson’s method to replicate the characteristics of a baker’s oven in the home. The problem is that the chapter on the basic loaf is 38 pages long, and the recipe itself is 26 pages long. That might be enough to put you off from trying your hand. That would be too bad, because by using those instructions, even a novice (me) can produce the best loaf of homemade bread that he or she has ever made.

You will need to be ready with your own sourdough starter that you have developed, stored, and if necessary rejuvenated by daily feedings of flour and water.  I have previously posted several methods to begin your own sourdough starter. You should also have the equipment for the process. These items can be purchased from King Arthur Flour, Breadtopia, and of course, Amazon if you can’t find them locally.

The recipe is based upon weight rather than volume (the standard for professional bakers), so you will need a reliable kitchen scale capable of registering metric weights.

One essential piece of equipment is the Lodge cast-iron combo-cooker. It has shallow and deep halves. The shallow half serves as the baking surface while the deep half covers the loaf and provides the necessary heat above the loaf for the steam needed for good lift and crisp crust. You can use a regular Dutch oven with the deep half on the bottom, but that makes it awkward to handle the loaf at 500°F and with oven mitts. Undoubtedly I would burn myself seriously with such an arrangement.

For the fermentation process, you can use any large, clear plastic or glass container, but the container from King Arthur Flour or Breadtopia is especially convenient.

Two bowls lined with clean dish towels will work to hold the loaves during their final rise before baking, but woven bannetons with their special liners are very handy. They are available from Breadtopia.

To make it easier for me to follow Robertson’s instructions without ruining my pristine copy of his book with flour-covered hands, I have condensed the instructions to numbered steps on a sheet of paper that can be stuck on the refrigerator door. Here are those instructions.

RECIPE

Tartine Bakery Basic Bread

Equipment

  • kitchen balance reading in grams
  • large metal mixing bowl
  • rubber spatula
  • 8 quart plastic or glass fermenting container
  • bench knife
  • 2 bannetons with cloth liners
  • kitchen towels
  • Lodge cast iron combo cooker
  • oven mitts
  • lame (you can use a new single-edged razor blade or sharp knife)

Ingredients

Leaven

  • sourdough starter
  • 200 grams warm (78°F) water
  • 200 grams 50/50 flour blend (white bread flour/whole wheat flour)

Bread

  • 700+50 grams water (80°F)
  • 200 grams leaven
  • 900 grams white bread flour
  • 100 grams whole wheat flour
  • 20 grams salt
  • 50/50 rice/wheat flour mixture
  • rice flour

Method

The night before: Developing the leaven

  1. Discard all but I tablespoon of starter.
  2. Add 200 grams of warm water.
  3. Add 200 grams of 50/50 flour blend.
  4. Stir until well mixed.
  5. Cover loosely with a towel and let stand in a warm place over night.

Baking Day

  1. Test the leaven by dropping a spoonful in a cup of water. If it floats, it is ready to be used. Otherwise let it work until it floats.
  2. Pour 700 grams of water into a large metal mixing bowl.
  3. Add 200 grams of the leaven and stir to mix.
  4. Add the bread flour and whole wheat flour. Mix thoroughly by hand until there is no loose flour.
  5. Allow the dough to rest for 30 to 40 minutes.
  6. Add salt and the remaining 50 grams of water to the rested dough. Squeeze the dough between your fingers to incorporate the salt and water.
  7. Fold the dough onto itself and transfer to the fermenting container. The dough will not rise much at this stage.
  8. Allow the dough to rise for 3 to 4 hours at 78 – 82°F, giving the dough one turn every half hour for the first 2 hours. Turn by dipping one hand in water, grab the underside of the dough with the wet hand, stretch it up, and fold it back over the remaining dough, repeating three times. After the second hour, turn the dough more gently so as not to deflate.
  9. Continue to let rise, with the turning process, until the dough releases from the sides of the container, ridges left by the turn hold their shape for a few minutes, and the dough increases by one-quarter to one-third in volume.
  10. Pull the dough out of the container onto an un-floured work surface with the spatula. Lightly flour the surface of the dough, and then cut it into two equal pieces with the bench knife. Flip the two pieces of dough so that the floured surfaces are on the work surface, and seal the raw dough with the floured surface.
  11. Work the dough into loaf shapes using your hands and the bench knife. Then let them rest for 20 to 30 minutes. Lightly flour and cover with a towel to prevent drafts.
  12. Form the final loaves by lightly flouring the top surface and then flipping the dough rounds so that the floured surface rests on the work surface.
  13. Working with one round at a time, fold a third of the dough closest to you over the middle third. Stretch the dough to the right and fold this over the center. Then stretch to the left and fold over the previous fold, anchoring with your fingers. Then grab the dough closest to you, and wrap it over the loaf while rolling so that the smooth underside is now the top, and the seams are on the bottom.
  14. Put the ball of dough between your hands and pull it toward you, rounding it at the same time to stretch the surface and close the seam. Let the shaped loaf rest for a few minutes while you repeat with the second loaf.
  15. Dust the lined bannetons with the rice/wheat flour mixture. Transfer the shaped loaves to the baskets with the bench knife so that the smooth sides are down.
  16. Let rise, covered with a towel, at 75-80°F for 3 to 4 hours.
  17. About 20 minutes before you are ready to bake, place the combo cooker with its lid in the middle of an oven preheated to 500°F.
  18. Dust one of the loaves with rice flour. Then remove the shallow lid of the combo cooker from the oven, and place it on the stove, using oven mitts, and leaving the deep half in the oven. Turn the dough into the hot pan. Score the top of the loaf with the sharp lame or razor blade. Then return the filled shallow pan to the oven, and cover with the deep half. Immediately reduce the temperature to 450°F.
  19. Bake for 20 minutes. Then using the oven mitts, remove the top and continue to bake for 20 to 25 minutes
  20. Again wearing oven mitts, remove the pan from the oven and transfer the loaf to a cooling rack to cool completely
  21. For the second loaf, wipe out the cooker, reheat for 10 minutes in a 500°F and repeat the process used for the first loaf.
  22. Cool completely before slicing.

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OUTERLANDS: EXCELLENT SAN FRANCISCO RESTAURANTS

Many visitors to San Francisco only know about the famous restaurants in the heart if the city or in Berkeley or Napa/Sonoma. They think of the outer districts as somewhat alien neighborhoods with undistinguished cafes. Nothing could be further from the truth, and many a resident delights in discovering a new gem to try to keep to themselves.

Outerlands is well past the “secret gem” stage, and it is a favorite among chefs and other culinary professionals. The restaurant is in the Outer Sunset District, and sits on a corner of Jonah Street just a few blocks from the Great Highway and the beach on one side and Golden Gate Park on another.  It has an unassuming facade that, along with the interior, was built by the owner, Dave, much of it from driftwood and surplus lumber.

The restaurant fits into the neighborhood that serves as a turn-around point for the Muni and is filled with the kinds of rag-tag shops that give much of the city its charm. Outerlands is almost always busy, but the staff tries hard to minimize your wait. You can sit inside, outside, or at the bar, but usually you’re happy with whatever is available.

Inside, the place is a beehive: friendly staff to take your order and keep your water glass full, cooks in front of the stove in the open kitchen, and pastry cooks making bread and delicious desserts in a back little cubby hole.

The menu is filled with interesting choices,but the restaurant is perhaps most famous for its bread. Much of that is because Dave learned to bake bread from Chad Robertson, the famous baker and owner of Tartine Bakery in the Mission District. In fact, you can read about Dave’s learning experience with bread on pages 84-87 of Chad Robertson’s classic cookbook, Tartine Bread, (Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2010).

Bread forms a base for many of the restaurant’s best known dishes. You really should not miss their grilled cheese sandwich. This is no ordinary grilled cheese. It is made from thick slices of freshly-baked bread filled with delicious cheeses and toasted to perfection so that the cheese just oozes out, begging to be eaten. If you want, the sandwich comes with a well-made, well-seasoned soup of the day.

The pastrami sandwich is another good choice. The thinly-sliced pastrami comes dressed with a lightly brinded cabbage that has the sourness of sauerkraut but remains crisp and fresh.

If you feel like a salad, they have those, too. The charred chicory salad comes topped with a perfectly poached egg that has been lightly dusted with freshly grated Parmesan. The bitter greens balance off the vinaigrette and the creamy egg yolk.

On weekends, check out brunch. The grilled cheese has disappeared from the menu, but other bread-based treats replace it. On a recent day, I had “eggs in jail”, which is a riff on the old standby of my childhood, toad-in-the-hole. But this version comes with a thick slice of bread toasted on the grill, egg nestled in the middle and topped with tasty wilted greens and a thick slice of perfectly fried bacon.

Excellent mixed drinks any time of the day, and a small but good selection of wines.

The wait staff reflect the neighborhood and many of the clientele – young, well-inked, wearing knitted caps, outgoing, and enthusiastic.

Outerlands is well worth the trip to the outerlands of San Francisco.

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