NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - For chef Chad Robertson bread is more than just flour, salt and water. It is a staple of life that has played a role in civilizations.
After learning traditional bread-making in France, the 39-year-old Texan moved to northern California where he started a baking business with his wife and pastry chef Elisabeth.
In his latest book “Tartine Bread,” Robertson describes how to make loaves like the ones he sells in his bakery and restaurant Tartine Bakery in San Francisco.
He spoke to Reuters about his passion for baking, the importance of natural leavening and why it is a democratic food.
Q: In your book your discussion on how to make basic country bread lasts about 45 pages? Why so long?
A: “On one hand, I understand why it’s so intimidating because it’s so long. On the other hand, I want to give you a true presentation, as if I am taking a reader on the side as my apprentice working at the bakery with me at the shaping table.”
Q: What is the key to making a perfect loaf of bread?
A: “For me, there are always three or four things inherent in any perfect loaf, which would be natural leavening; a very long rise which develops flavors through this fermentation process and using a lot of liquid so it stays moist while you are baking. The more water you have, I think, the more thoroughly cooked the grains get.”
Q: What does a long rise do for the dough?
A: “One is that flavor develops through fermentation. The longer you go, within reason, develops more complex layers of flavors. It’s something that transforms flour, water and salt into this thing of depth and flavor. It’s something elemental that humans have been doing for thousands of years. The other thing is that it also really breaks down the grain so it becomes more easily digestible.”
Q: Why have bread and bread-making played such central roles in civilization?
A; “Part of it is the origin of bread, which is built around the oven. People brought their dough from home to the village oven for the village’s baker to bake.
“There is also the versatility of bread. About the last third of the book is about the use of stale bread. With a loaf of bread, you can feed a lot people. It’s very democratic. If you have some vegetables and some bread and some water, you can make a little stock and dip your bread in it. You can have a filling meal for a few pennies.”
Kale Caesar (Serves 4 to 6)
3 cloves garlic
6 olive oil-packed anchovy fillets
1 large egg yolk
2 cups olive oil
2 pounds black kale, center stems removed
croutons (see below, made from day-old bread)
2/3 cup grated or shaved aged Parmesan cheese
To make the dressing, grate the zest from 1 lemon. Cut both lemons in half. Place the garlic, anchovies, and lemon zest in a mortar and pound with a pestle to make a thick paste. Add the egg yolk, a pinch of salt and a squeeze of lemon juice and stir thoroughly to combine.
Continuing to stir, pour in 1/2 cup of the oil drop by drop. The mixture should look smooth and creamy, a sign that you are building a stable emulsion.
Continuing to stir, begin adding the oil in a slow stream. The dressing should thicken. Periodically stop pouring in the oil and add a squeeze of lemon. Taste the dressing and add more salt and lemon juice to taste.
Add water, a small spoonful at a time, stirring to thin dressing to the consistency of heavy cream.
In a large bowl, combine the kale and croutons. Pour the dressing over the top and toss to coat. Add the Parmesan, toss again and serve.
3 slices day-old bread, each 1 inch thick, torn into 1 1/2-inch chunks 2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon herbs de Provence (optional)
To make the croutons, preheat the oven to 400 degree Fahrenheit. In a bowl, toss the torn bread with the olive oil and a pinch of salt. If you are using the herbs, add them too. Spread the bread evenly on a baking sheet and bake until golden brown and crisp, about 15 minutes. Midway through the baking time, redistribute the croutons if they are coloring unevenly.