This happened such a long time ago I almost forgot about it until I came across this photo. My wonderful, awesome, Tennis blogger sister gave me the Tartine Bread Cookbook for Christmas and I finally decided to give the basic country bread a try. Do not be fooled by the name of the bread. Even though Chad Robertson tried to simplify his process for the home baker, it's still pretty complex. I studied the recipe religiously for weeks before diving in. It is intimidating, but not impossible. In the meantime, I embarked on my first attempt at growing a healthy starter.
Real bread bakers use home grown starters to bake bread. Making a starter, or "mother", is actually not too difficult. After all, it's just water and flour mixed together and left out on the counter. But it takes a lot of love and a watchful eye (and nose) to make a starter that will be flavorful and strong enough to bake into a rustic loaf. Everyday at the same time, you have to discard about 80% of the mixture and replenish with fresh flour and water. The bacteria will feed on this fresh flour and water mixture, create gas bubbles, rise and then fall. The goal is to train the starter to rise and fall in a consistent manner. It's like having a puppy and you definitely get attached to it. It's a alive. You start talking to it. You yell at it for smelling bad. It makes messes you have to cleanup. But you continue to give it love.
Anyways, after about 2 weeks, I got my starter, which I named "Gross", to where the book said it should be. I set my alarm for 6am on a Saturday so we could have some fresh bread for dinner. I'm not a morning person, so I of course measured out my ingredients wrong. I literally messed up on the very first step. Heartbreaking! And of course, I didn't have enough starter to start over...so that's where this story ends. No pretty pictures of fresh crusty bread. No stories about how easy and fun this recipe was. It wasn't easy. And it wasn't that much fun either. Sorry.
It turns out, my fake oven doesn't even get hot enough to bake this bread, so even if I hadn't been a bozo and messed up on step 1, I would have found out by step 8 that this was a lost cause. It just wasn't meant to be. Maybe one day, when I have a real oven, I'll give it another go, but until then, the Tartine Cookbook is getting packed away.
If you do ever try making a starter, I highly recommend keeping a daily log of the look and smell of your starter. Keeping track of the times you feed it and how it behaves throughout the day will help you with making adjustments so that you get a sweet, flavorful loaf.