This week’s recipe: Tartine’s Sourdough Bread
They say that you should do one thing every day that scares you. To which I say, who’s got the time? Some of us have full-time jobs. Still, that’s what went through my mind lo those many months ago, in the halcyon days of August, as I arrived at my first Zumba class at Alvin Ailey. (Not the real Alvin Ailey – the Alvin Ailey Extension, in which flabby non-dancers like myself can pay $20 per class to pretend that we are the gorgeous graceful creatures whom we glimpsed rehearsing in the studio before our class began.) I had taken a Zumba class once before, in a manner of speaking. It was at my friend’s insane house in the Hamptons—a story for another blog post—with her family’s private Zumba instructor. No joke. Anyway, it was a lot of skinny Hamptons ladies but all in all, it felt like a pretty low-pressure situation.
Not so my first class at Ailey. The instructor, Richard, was a short, muscular man with tattoos running up and down his limbs. There were women of all ages, sizes, and races—a very different crowd from the white, ectomorphic, sleek-haired, Lululemon-clad pod people who populate most New York fitness studios. Richard began class by saying, “There’s only one rule in my class: there are no rules. Do whatever feels comfortable for you, you know your body better than I do.” (By contrast, I once took a high-intensity interval training class that began with the instructor commanding us to “prepare your body for what it’s about to do.”) But once the music started, I knew that this was no joke. The beats were fast, the footwork was fancy, and I was almost immediately lost. Moreover, there were all of these girls in the front row who knew every single step and could move like nobody’s business. I left the class convinced that they were ringers, professional Ailey dancers who went to Zumba class in order to unwind/make people like me feel bad about themselves.
I’ve always been an awful dancer. Anyone who has ever seen my mom dance knows that I come by it honestly. But what makes it worse is that Mark is actually a great dancer—so good that it’s hard to believe that he’s a white Jewish boy from Long Island. So every time we go to a wedding, as he is tearin’ up the dance floor, I am committin’ crimes against humanity on the dance floor. Part of the reason I decided I wanted to take Zumba was to better understand my body and improve my dancing so I wouldn’t be such a huge fucking embarrassment to Mark. After a few classes, I came to “understand” that, for instance, my body was incapable of moving its left foot and right arm at the same time. Still, Zumba is mostly made up of a few types of moves, and although I’ve never been able to master the fancy-footwork ones, I was eventually able to figure out the rest.
I’ll never be like those girls in the front row (who, by the way, I have discovered are not ringers but simply very talented and devoted Zumba-goers). But that’s okay. Zumba, at least the way Richard teaches it, is a great workout. My friend Brianna, who is a longtime Zumba aficionado, started coming to classes with me, and she said that she’s never been to a class with such fast music. The music, by the way, is stuff that I really like but never would have been exposed to in my regular life, so that’s another great aspect. But most of all, Zumba is fun. I do lots of types of workouts these days—running, barre, HIIT, general gym stuff—but Zumba is the only one that I really look forward to. And these days, I actually move my hips somewhat while dancing, so that’s a big improvement. Zumba, I am officially no longer scared of you!
So anyway, here’s some sourdough. Talking about things that make you scared…I started making sourdough a few months ago using the Tartine recipe from the New York Times, and I was scared indeed! It’s incredibly involved and it feels like so many things can go wrong. (For example, this time around, I accidentally washed most of my levain—the stuff you are supposed to keep for your next round of starter—down the sink, and threw the rest out and then had to fish some out of the trash. But don’t tell anyone.) The truth is that sourdough, like most bread, is a lot more forgiving than most people realize. For a long time I was afraid to make bread, period. It seemed like it never turned out right. But as with most baking projects, all it took was following the instructions, some patience, and some experience (and in the case of sourdough, literally an entire day). This sourdough is definitely a project, especially if you have to make your starter from scratch, but the sense of accomplishment you feel as you pull your perfect loaf from the oven is, I imagine, much like the pride one feels at pushing out a baby. Right? Right.
Tartine’s Sourdough Bread
From the New York Times Cooking Section
Yields 2 loaves
For the Starter and Leaven
- 1000 grams white-bread flour
- 1000 grams whole-wheat flour
For the Bread
- 200 grams leaven
- 900 grams white-bread flour
- 100 grams whole-wheat flour, plus more for dusting
- 20 grams fine sea salt
- 100 grams rice flour
- Make the starter: Combine 1,000 grams white-bread flour with 1,000 grams whole-wheat flour. Put 100 grams of warm water (about 80 degrees) in a small jar or container and add 100 grams of the flour mix. Use your fingers to mix until thoroughly combined and the mixture is the consistency of thick batter. Cover with a towel and let sit at room temperature until mixture begins to bubble and puff, 2 to 3 days.
- When starter begins to show signs of activity, begin regular feedings. Keep the starter at room temperature, and at the same time each day discard 80 percent of the starter and feed remaining starter with equal parts warm water and white-wheat flour mix (50 grams of each is fine). When starter begins to rise and fall predictably and takes on a slightly sour smell, it’s ready; this should take about 1 week.(Reserve remaining flour mix for leaven.)
- Make the leaven: The night before baking, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the mature starter. Mix the remaining starter with 200 grams of warm water and stir with your hand to disperse. Add 200 grams of the white-wheat flour mix and combine well. Cover with a towel and let rest at room temperature for 12 hours or until aerated and puffed in appearance. To test for readiness, drop a tablespoon of leaven into a bowl of room-temperature water; if it floats it’s ready to use. If it doesn’t, allow more time to ferment.
- Make the dough: In a large bowl, combine 200 grams of leaven with 700 grams of warm water and stir to disperse. (Reserve remaining leaven for future loaves; see note below.)
- Add 900 grams of white-bread flour and 100 grams of whole-wheat flour to bowl and use your hands to mix until no traces of dry flour remain. The dough will be sticky and ragged. Cover bowl with a towel and let dough rest for 25 to 40 minutes at room temperature.
- Add 20 grams fine sea salt and 50 grams warm water. Use hands to integrate salt and water into dough thoroughly. The dough will begin to pull apart, but continue mixing; it will come back together.
- Cover dough with a towel and transfer to a warm environment, 75 to 80 degrees ideally (like near a window in a sunny room, or inside a turned-off oven). Let dough rise for 30 minutes. Fold dough by dipping hand in water, taking hold of the underside of the dough at one quadrant and stretching it up over the rest of the dough. Repeat this action 3 more times, rotating bowl a quarter turn for each fold. Do this every half-hour for 2 1/2 hours more (3 hours total). The dough should be billowy and increase in volume 20 to 30 percent. If not, continue to let rise and fold for up to an hour more.
- Transfer dough to a work surface and dust top with flour. Use a dough scraper to cut dough into 2 equal pieces and flip them over so floured sides are face down. Fold the cut side of each piece up onto itself so the flour on the surface remains entirely on the outside of the loaf; this will become the crust. Work dough into taut rounds. Place the dough rounds on a work surface, cover with a towel, and let rest 30 minutes.
- Mix 100 grams whole-wheat flour and 100 grams rice flours. Line two 10- to 12-inch bread-proofing baskets or mixing bowls with towels. Use some of the flour mixture to generously flour towels (reserve remaining mixture).
- Dust rounds with whole-wheat flour. Use a dough scraper to flip them over onto a work surface so floured sides are facing down. Take one round, and starting at the side closest to you, pull the bottom 2 corners of the dough down toward you, then fold them up into the middle third of the dough. Repeat this action on the right and left sides, pulling the edges out and folding them in over the center. Finally, lift the top corners up and fold down over previous folds. (Imagine folding a piece of paper in on itself from all 4 sides.) Roll dough over so the folded side becomes the bottom of the loaf. Shape into a smooth, taut ball. Repeat with other round.
- Transfer rounds, seam-side up, to prepared baskets. Cover with a towel and return dough to the 75- to 80-degree environment for 3 to 4 hours. (Or let dough rise for 10 to 12 hours in the refrigerator. Bring back to room temperature before baking.)
- About 30 minutes before baking, place a Dutch oven or lidded cast-iron pot in the oven and heat it to 500 degrees. Dust tops of dough, still in their baskets, with whole-wheat/rice-flour mixture. Very carefully remove heated pot from oven and gently turn 1 loaf into pan seam-side down. Use a lame (a baker’s blade) or razor blade to score the top of the bread a few times to allow for expansion, cover and transfer to oven. Reduce temperature to 450 degrees and cook for 20 minutes. Carefully remove lid (steam may release) and cook for 20 more minutes or until crust is a rich, golden brown color.
- Transfer bread to a wire rack to cool for at least 15 minutes before slicing. The bottom of the loaf should sound hollow when tapped. Increase oven temperature to 500 degrees, clean out pot and repeat this process with the second loaf.
- The remaining leaven is your new starter. Continue to feed it if you plan to bake again soon or hold in an airtight container in the refrigerator for future use. When you want to bake again, begin feeding the starter a few days or a week beforehand until it once again behaves predictably.