Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson with Eric Wolfinger Book Review 2010

published Sep 29, 2010
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

I live in San Francisco. There are many, many reasons why being able to write that last sentence makes me happy but one of the primary ones is that San Francisco is home to a place called Tartine Bakery. Tartine has an international reputation for their croissants and scones and fruit-filled bread pudding, but there’s one thing they sell that pretty much only the locals know about. Hint: It’s on the cover of the book pictured above.

Tartine Bakery has a lot going for it, which probably explains why there’s a line out the door all day, everyday. But what many people don’t know is that Tartine makes and sells the most exquisite, idiosyncratic, enchanting loaf of bread in town. Why don’t they know this? Because the daily batch usually sells out before it’s even out of the oven and getting the busy bakery to answer the phone to reserve a loaf is a feat onto itself. But every now and then I manage to score a loaf (or 1/2 loaf) and when I do, my world is a brighter, more munificent place.

And now, thanks to this book, everyone can enjoy tugging a warm hunk of bread from the crackly edge of this miracle loaf. You just have to be pretty passionate about bread. And patient enough to mind a starter for several days. And maybe a little obsessed. But the good kind of obsessed, the kind that leads to a rugged, burnished loaf of bread and a brighter, more bountiful world.

A little more about that bread. It’s baked at a super high heat for a short period of time, resulting in a deeply colored loaf. Its interior, a wild swirl of pearlescent holes and chewy, tangy (but not too tangy) crumb, is held by a dark, formable crust that shatters when you pull off a piece. This is the kind of bread that requires two hands to tear it apart. It requires all your attention and participation and then it rewards you with a chewy, crackly bite and an incredibly complex, yeasty flavor.

Lucky for us, Emma gave the recipe a spin and will be reviewing it later today. But meanwhile, let’s take a look at the book itself.

Title & Publisher: Tartine Bread, by Chad Robertson with photographs by Eric Wolfinger. Published by Chronicle Books, 2010.

First impressions: This is a large, hard bound book, with a padded cover and no dust jacket. The beautiful picture of the titular bread fills the cover. It’s substantial, weighing in at 300 pages, including an index and table of contents. The paper is satiny smooth and printed with a deep chocolate gray ink.

It is fitting that Eric Wolfinger’s name is on the cover because his beautiful photographs are as an important contribution as the recipes themselves. A former baker at Tartine and surfer pal of author Chad Robertson, Mr. Wolfinger’s images convey an ease and intimacy that is only possible with someone at home with the people and the processes in this book.

Number of recipes: The book opens with one very long bread recipe, followed by many variations. In a section called Days-old Bread there are 30 recipes which explore the many ways to use the bread, from sandwiches and salads to bruschettas and many bread-based desserts. Also included are recipes for pizza dough, semolina and whole-wheat breads, english muffins, brioche and croissants.

The angle: The recipe for this bread is lengthy but this is typical for any description of an artisanal undertaking. Mr. Robertson spares no detail in describing each step of the process which, when you factor in his stories about developing the bread, the various experiences of the home kitchen testers and a few variations on the classic recipe, comes in at over 100 pages, many of them full of photographs. Remember, it took him almost two decades and several stints of apprenticeship to perfect this bread so a few pages of reading shouldn’t be a problem. Besides, it’s a really interesting story, appealing to the almost unavoidable sense of romance and dedication many people have towards such endeavors.

Strengths: The bread recipe was developed with a team of home bakers so you know that it can translate to home ovens. In fact, the finished bread in the accompanying photos belongs to accordionist and home baker Marie Abe, who is also featured in the video above.

Recipes for right now: The Basic Country Bread recipe! Kale Cesar, Tomatoes Provencal, Clarise’s Meatball Sandwiches, Banh-Mi and Baker’s Foie which uses chicken livers instead of the more controversial foie gras.

Recommended? When you’re passionate about something like bread baking, it’s hard to find a book that not only meets that passion but inspires it to go even further. If you’re such a person, then this book is for you. If you’re a beginner it may seem a little like learning to drive a car by taking your lessons in a Ferrari but hey, what a way to learn!

Seriously though, as mentioned above, the fact that the bread recipe is so detailed means that a beginner can take it on with no fear of missing anything. Its important to remember that bread, like anything done well, will always take time to master. Anyone who tries to tell you differently is selling you short. So get into it for the long haul and be ready for an incredible, rewarding journey. And bring this book along with you. I guarantee you won’t regret it.

• Buy the book: Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson and Eric Wolfinger, $26.40 (Amazon)

More 2010 Book Reviews
The Lost art of Real Cooking by Ken Albala and Rosanna Nafzinger
• Summer Reading: 52 Loaves by William Alexander
Good to the Grain by Kim Boyce