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Perfecting a Loaf of Bread

Fine Cooking Issue 41
Photos: Daniel Proctor
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Chad Robertson started out making many different kinds of breads at Bay Village, the tiny bakery he owns with his wife, Elizabeth Prueitt, in Point Reyes Station, California. But obsession prevailed, and Robertson decided to focus solely on pain au levain, a traditional sourdough leavened with a natural starter that he refreshes, or “feeds,” up to four times a day.

Robertson’s approach is traditionally called à deux mains (“with two hands”), where a batch of dough is mixed, kneaded, shaped, proofed, and baked by the same baker, instead of being passed off to several different pairs of hands, as is often the case. This allows “a profound connection to the dough,” affirms Robertson. “I can make adjustments all through the day, because I know exactly what I started with.” The result is bread with a chewy, well-caramelized crust, a moist, tender crumb, and a perfect balance of naturally sour and sweet flavors—“bread,” Robertson says, “that I love to eat.”

The dough is mixed by machine, with a European diving-arm mixer that simulates the gentle kneading motion of human hands.
Proofing baskets in which the dough will rise get a dusting of flour. A long rest and rise contribute to bread that’s tender, not tough.
This dough is ready for baking. It’s quite wet, which gives a moist, flavorful loaf that stays fresh for several days.
The finished bread is beautifully browned and thoroughly baked but not dried out, thanks to the penetrating heat of a wood-fired oven.


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