"A diamond is merely a lump of coal that did well under pressure." Henry Kissinger
A friend of mine gave me a beautifully hand designed card I have on my refrigerator. It says "A successful marriage requires falling in love many times. Always with the same person." I love that. It's a reminder to me that throughout the course of life, in different seasons, a marriage relationship needs, readjusting, reevaluating, and realigning. This was especially true for Mark and I, when the kids went off to college, and then off to build careers and families. We needed to find new things to talk about, new interests, and new fun things to do.
And because of that I am now a baseball watcher. I've learned some of the terminology, I know some of the players, a little about their contracts, who will be a free agents at the end of the season and so on. I don't claim to be proficient in all things baseball, but I can carry a reasonable conversation and I now enjoy watching the games with him.
Recently Mark was sharing with me about an interview he heard with the GM of the Angels on sports talk radio. The GM was talking about a pitcher that just came back from Tommy John surgery. He said that when a pitcher comes back from that particular surgery there are three components to recovery and eventually getting back into the game: velocity, control, and command. At the beginning of the recovery process the pitcher works on strength training, building the muscle strength back in the arm. This improves velocity, the speed of the ball. Next comes control, this is where the pitcher begins to work on getting the ball over the plate for strikes. The final one is command. This is when the pitcher not only desires a strike, but to specifically hit a particular spot over the plate. Control and command only come when the pitcher is on the mound, in the baseball world it's called innings on the bump. This is where all the time put in to build strength and velocity is put to the test.
I kept thinking about this idea of control and command and how in life this is what we are hoping to achieve. There are seasons in our lives of calm, when things are going along just fine, no 'tests' per se, no innings on the bump. But when those times of testing come, that’s when we want to take command. We want to aim at a specific spot and hit it, not loose our nerve when the pressure is on. We take all that we know to be true, all of the strength training we've done in preparation for this test and our goal is to take command over this thing, not let fear creep in and sap our strength and forget all we've learned.
About 6 years ago a bread book came on the market, called Tartine Bread by renowned baker Chad Robertson. It details how to make naturally fermented, ruggedly magnificent loaves of sourdough bread with an open and tender interior and a burnished, substantial crust. It described each loaf as unique and would tell of the hands who made it, each with its own expression-like a clay vessel pulled from the kiln after firing. The loaves would be baked dark, and the crusty, blistered exterior would give way to a tender interior, wildly open crumb with the sweet character of natural fermentation and a subtle balanced acidity. The bread would be a joy to eat fresh and would keep well for a week. I was convinced that I needed to learn how to make this type of bread, and I was determined to master it.
The process of learning how to make this bread took patience and fortitude, and I had my fair share of unsuccessful attempts to be sure. But anything worthwhile takes effort and commitment, training if you will. This is not for everyone I admit. But once you've tasted bread like this, it's hard going back to common loaves. Now that it's fall and the weather is turning cooler I'm back to baking bread again. And the first step is making the starter (detailed below). It takes time for the starter to mature and gain strength in order to make one of these rewarding loaves. But the substantial gains in flavor, keeping qualities, and versatile uses justify the time it takes to build and care for one, and I guarantee it's worth the effort. I finally think I can confidently say that I have taken command of this type of bread making, but I'm still a work in progress on all the other parts of life. Baby steps. -s
Tartine's Country Bread
Chad Robertson describes a starter as a mixture of flour, water, wild yeasts, and bacteria-as a baker's fingerprint. Making one is simple, but it does require a commitment. Count on feeding and caring for the mixture for three weeks before you start baking. Weighing all ingredients, is one of the secrets to baking like a pro. Use a kitchen scale that includes metric measurements.
For the starter:
White bread flour 1,135 grams
Whole-wheat flour 1,135 grams
Lukewarm spring water (78 degrees) 455 grams
For the Leaven:
Water (78 degrees), 200 grams
For the Dough:
Water (80 degrees), 750 grams
Leaven, 200 grams
White bread flour, 900 grams
Whole-wheat flour, 100 grams
Salt, 20 grams
Step 1: Mix white bread flour with whole-wheat flour. Place lukewarm water in a medium bowl. Add 315 grams flour blend (reserve remaining flour blend), and mix with your hands until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place until bubbles form around the sides and on the surface, about 2 days. A dark crust may form over the top. Once bubble form, it is time for the first feeding.
Step 2: With each feeding remove 75 grams; discard remainder of starter. Feed with 150 grams reserved flour blend and 150 grams warm spring water. Mix using your hands, until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Repeat every 24 hours at the same time of day for 15 to 20 days. Once it ferments predictable (rises and falls throughout the day after feedings), it's time to make the leaven.
Step 3: The night before you plan to make the dough, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the matured starter. Fee with 200 grams reserved flour blend and the warm water. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool dark place for 10 to 16 hours. To test leaven's readiness, drop a spoonful into a bowl of room-temperature water. If it sinks, it is not ready and needs more time to ferment and ripen. As it develops, the smell will change from ripe to sour to sweet and pleasantly fermented; when it reaches this stage, it's ready to use.
Step 4: Make the Dough: Pour 700 grams warm water into a large mixing bowl. Add 200 grams leaven. Stir to disperse. (Save your leftover leaven; it is now the beginning of a new starter. To keep it alive to make future loaves, continue to feed it as described in step 2.) Add flours (see ingredient list), and mix dough with your hands until no bits of dry flour remain. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 35 minutes. Add salt and remaining 50 grams of warm water.
Step 5: Fold dough on top of itself to incorporate. Transfer to a medium plastic container or a glass bowl. Cover with kitchen towel. Let rest for 30 minutes. The dough will now begin its first rise (bulk fermentation), to develop flavor and strength. (The rise is temperature sensitive; as a rule, warmer dough ferments faster. Robertson tries to maintain the dough at 78-82 degrees to accomplish the bulk fermentation in 3 to 4 hours.)
Step 6: Instead of kneading, Robertson develops the dough through a series of "folds" in the container during bulk fermentation. Fold the dough, repeating every 30 minutes for 2 1/2 hours. To do a fold, dip 1 hand in water to prevent sticking. Grad the underside of the dough, stretch it out, and fold it back over itself. Rotate container one-quarter turn and repeat. Do this 2 or 3 times for each fold. After 3 hours, the dough should feel aerated and softer and you will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. If not, continue bulk fermentation for 30 minutes to 1 hour more.
Step 7: Pull dough out of container using a dough spatula. Transfer to a floured surface. Lightly dust dough with flour, and cut into 2 pieces using a dough scraper. Work each piece into a round using the scraper and 1 hand. Tension will build as the dough slightly anchors to the surface as you rotate it. By the end, the dough should have a taut, smooth surface.
Step 8: Dust the tops of the rounds with flour, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest on the work surface for 20 to 30 minutes. Slip the dough scraper under each to lift it, being careful to maintain the round shape. Flip rounds of floured side down.
Step 9: Line 2 medium baskets or bowls with clean kitchen towels; generously dust with flour. Using eh dough scraper, transfer each round to a basket, smooth side down, with seam centered and facing up. Let rest at room temperature (75 degrees to 80 degrees), covered with towels for 3 to 4 hours before baking.
Step 10: Bake the Bread: Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake the bread, preheat oven to 500 degrees, with rack in lowest position, and warm a cast iron combo cooker.
Step 11: Turn out 1 round into heated combo cooker. Score top twice using a razor blade or sharp knife. Cover with lid. Return to oven, and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes.
Step 12: Carefully remove lid (a cloud of steam will be released). Bake until crust is deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes more.
Step 13: Transfer loaf to a wire rack. It will feel light and sound hollow when tapped. Let cool.
Step 14: To bake the second loaf, raise oven temperature to 500, wipe out combo cooker with a dry kitchen towel, and reheat with lid for 10 minutes. Repeat steps 11 through 13.