This is a five-part article. Here are links to the parts.
Part 1: The basics
Part 2: Creating a starter
Part 3: Mixing dough
Part 4: Baking
Part 5: Upping your game
BAKING THE BREAD
Baking is really simple. Here are the steps.
Assemble your equipment
Here's what you'll need:
A cast iron 'combo cooker' or dutch oven
A cooling rack (or something to prop up your cooling bread)
I've explained earlier why we use a dutch oven or combo cooker in this process -- it's to mimic the behavior of a commercial baking oven. A commercial baking oven injects steam during the first part of the baking. Home ovens don't do that, but the combo cooker captures the steam that escapes from the dough itself and achieves the same effect.
The lame is simply a razor-sharp blade used to score the top of the dough before you put it into the oven. When you put the boule in the oven, it's going to try to expand (this is called 'oven spring'), but, at the same time, the crust is forming, holding the boule's shape. Without the scoring, that crust will prevent the boule from expanding much. The gashes let the boule open up.
You can make a lame yourself, or you can buy an inexpensive one from the internet. I use this one.
Preheat the oven
First put your combo cooker -- both the top and the bottom -- into the oven. Then preheat the oven to 500 degrees. You are preheating both the oven and the cooker. For me, that takes about half an hour.
Here's the raw boule after it's been tipped into the combo cooker and I've slashed the top with my lame.
Uncover the cooker and bake for another twenty minutes or so.
Midway through the baking time, you should remove the cover (use oven mitts) and allow the bread to bake another 20 or 22 minutes, uncovered.
As before, because my oven is a bit hotter in the back than the front, I turn the cooker midway through this baking time.
With the cover off, you can keep an eye on the bread a bit and determine it's doneness from its appearance. You'd like it to be golden brown. The edges of the scores (they're called 'ears') may burn a bit; don't let that bother you.
To tell for sure if your bread is baked, when you take it out, just turn it over and tap the bottom. If it sounds hollow, the bread is done. If not, stick it back in for a while.
When the bread is baked, tip it out of the cooker (oven mitts!!) onto a cooling rack. If you don't have a cooking rack, try propping the boule up a bit to let air circulate around it.
Here's the bread at the halfway point. The cover has been removed from the cooker, and you can see that the bread has expanded to its full size, splitting open the slashes cut by the lame.
Put the boule in the oven
You're going to do multiple things here.
First, take the boule out of the refrigerator and set it on the counter next to the oven. Make sure you've got your lame ready and your oven mitts on.
Now take the bottom half of your combo cooker out of the oven and set it somewhere heat resistent, like a burner on top of your stove. (I shouldn't have to say this, but, speaking as someone who has, in fact, thoughtlessly gripped something fresh from the oven with my bare hand, BE SURE TO USE YOUR OVEN MITTS).
Tip your boule out of the bowl, so it lands seam-side down in the cooker.
Use your lame to score the top of boule. You can score in whatever pattern you like. I make four slices in a square shape.
Now put the cooker back in the oven and put the top on it.
Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 450 degrees.
Let the bread bake, covered, for twenty minutes or so
The boule is now scored. The oven temperature has been reset to 450 degrees. And the cooker is covered.
Let the bread bake, covered, for 20 or 22 minutes. Because my oven tends to be a bit hotter in the back than in the front, I turn the cooker halfway through the time, to get a more even result.
Here's the bread, on the cooling rack, after it's been fully baked.
Cooling, cutting, and saving
Let the boule cool for thirty minutes or more before slicing into it. When you do slice it, I've found that the best way to prevent the remaining boule from drying out is to stand the boule up with the cut end down, against the cutting board.
UPPING YOUR GAME
For me, as a beginning bread baker, the Tartine method was a revelation. The bread was fantastic, and it worked every time. Even when I forgot to reset the oven temperature until halfway through. Even when I forgot to score. Even when I forgot to turn the dough once or twice.
But that didn't mean I was done. I kept exploring.
Next month, I'm planning another article with some suggestions for building on what we've done so far.
Jim Feuerstein is co-editor of LNF Weekly; he also designs and manages the website.