Bread lover that I am, I’ve been itching to bring you today’s post: A Q&A with James Beard award-winning pastry chef Chad Robertson. Together with his wife, Elizabeth Prueitt, Chad owns and operates San Francisco’s acclaimed Tartine Bakery and Cafe. He’s also the author of Tartine Bread, a new cookbook that’s been getting a whole lot of attention, thanks to Chad’s enthusiastic and knowledgeable approach to making delicious, high-quality bread. Here, he talks about everything from the best sugars to use, to how to make bread that’s easier to digest.
Tell us a little about the focus–and the inspiration–behind the new book.
The focus of Tartine Bread is to teach the reader how to make a great loaf of bread at home. The method is simple, but I don’t really offer any short-cuts. The focus of my approach is the long fermentation which gives the bread a profound and complex flavor, better keeping qualities, and easier digestibility. The novice home bakers included in the book (friends of mine) who tested the basic recipe at home with extraordinary, and distinct results were all very inspiring for me.
Let’s start with freshness and quality ingredients. I know how that works with produce, but what about baking. What should we be looking for in terms of choosing things like flour, butter, sugar?
The flour, eggs, and butter we use are locally produced/milled in small batches. Choosing products produced in this way whenever possible brings you closer to the source so it’s easier to know exactly what you’re getting. Sugar is a widely varied ingredient. We use some evaporated cane juice (minimaly processed and fair trade certified), locally produced honey, maple syrup, etc. In the Bay Area we have a lot of people making these products that we know. If we can support our neighbor who’s making something with integrity, we do.
A lot of people find bread-making intimidating, do you have a favorite pointer or two that can help a novice?
If you’re interested in making bread, just do it. Once you get into the process, you’ll see how simple it truly is.
How do you incorporate bread into a healthy diet?
Eat bread that has a substantial whole grain component, and make sure that it’s been fermented for many hours using a natural leaven. The long natural fermentation makes the bread more easy to digest (by breaking down the gluten, among other things) and the nutrients more readily available.
Any quick healthy baking tips?
There are so many interesting grain flours to work with now. I have been using spelt and kamut (a type of ancient durum) a lot lately. I’ve also been using grains that are not suitable for making bread but great for adding flavor and texture, like buckwheat and barley.