Cookbook Review: Tartine Bread

DSC07557Tartine Bakery in San Francisco is well-known for their rustic country bread as well as cakes, morning buns, and other baked goods.  Chef Emily Pruett released the Tartine Bakery cookbook, which has great recipes for brown butter shortbread lemon bars,  croissants, and tea cakes.  Chef Chad Robertson released the Tartine Bread cookbook two years ago, and it had been sitting on my shelf because the recipe for bread, at 37 pages, was quite intimidating.  But actually most of these pages are filled with step-by-step photos and explanations and adjustments of a bread recipe that, as I finally found out recently, is not that much more difficult than Jim Lahey’s super-easy No-Knead Bread recipe.

Unlike No-Knead Bread, Robertson’s recipe requires a yeast starter.  This can be started at home from wild yeast present in your kitchen, in a method explained in the book.  Or one can obtain starter from a local bakery.  I went to the Oakland Eat Real Festival earlier this year and obtained a starter from Sour Flour and have been feeding it in anticipation of finally using it to bake bread.  The starter should be fed every day, but it is pretty forgiving.  For example, it can be fed less often if stored in the refrigerator.  On the night before bread baking, a leaven made with starter, flour, and water is set up to aerate overnight.  The leaven is then mixed with additional flour and water, followed by a rest period of 25 to 40 minutes, and then a bulk fermentation of 3 to 4 hours.  During the bulk fermentation, the dough is turned every half hour.  The dough is then shaped into a round and then undergoes a bench rest for 20 to 30 minutes.  The dough then undergoes a final shaping and rise for 3 to 4 hours.  I had difficulty scoring the bread, so I used Ken Forkish’s method where he puts the bread in the baking vessel seam side up (this will make sense once you bake the bread).  Like with No-Knead Bread, the bread is baked in a Dutch oven to trap steam from the dough itself during the initial twenty minutes of baking.  The last twenty minutes of baking is performed with the lid removed, allowing for the development of a crackling crust.  This is a full-day project, but most of the time is non-active time.  The Tartine Bread recipe produces outstanding bread.  The bread emerges from the oven and fills the kitchen with a delicious aroma and the crackling sounds of the “music of bread.”  There is a crunchy crust and spongy, flavorful interior that makes the day well worthwhile.

The book has variations on the bread recipes, such as olive bread, and also recipes for baguettes, pizza dough, and brioche.  And there is a great section of recipes for using the bread in salads, soups, and sandwiches.  I tried the meatball sandwich recipe, with a very garlicky pesto, pillowy soft meatballs, a simple tomato sauce (add some salt to taste) and provolone that combined for a great Italian sandwich.

My favorite recipe from the book is the French Toast, the most amazing recipe for French Toast I have ever tried.  A thick slice of country bread is soaked in a custard of eggs, milk, vanilla, sugar, salt, and lemon peel.  The lemon peel I think is really the key flavor note that elevates this recipe.  The bread is cooked on a skillet until the bottom forms a seal.  Then more custard is added and the entire skillet is transferred to the oven for the additional custard to set.  The result is a beautifully caramelized crust and soft, delicious custard.  There is also an recipe for Maple-Glazed Bacon – I didn’t realize how easy it was – just cook some bacon, then coat with maple syrup and bake along with the French Toast.  Highly recommended.

Link to Tartine French Toast recipe here.

Link to Tartine Bread cookbook here.

Cookbook Review: Charles Phan’s Vietnamese Home Cooking

Charles Phan Home Vietnamese Cooking Shaking Beef

Charles Phan is a James Beard Award-winning chef in San Francisco and owner of the popular Vietnamese restaurant Slanted Door, as well as other Asian restaurants such as Heaven’s Dog and Wo Hing General Store.  Vietnamese Home Cooking is Chef Phan’s first cookbook.  He is of Chinese parents and raised in Vietnam.  Most of the recipes in the book are Vietnamese, but there are quite a few that are Chinese in origin.  I have enjoyed eating at Slanted Door and love the flavors of Vietnamese cooking, so I was eager to try out some of the recipes in the book.

The book is divided into multiple sections based on cooking technique.  The stocks that are important for Pho and other soups are presented first.  There are also chapters on street food, braising, stir-frying, and grilling.  Each recipe has a helpful introduction, listing of ingredients, and well-written directions.  The book is beautifully laid out with color photographs of finished dishes as well as a helpful pictorial glossary of ingredients for those not familiar with the Vietnamese pantry.  Many of the ingredients are readily available in Asian supermarkets.  Chef Phan also explains how to make everything from scratch, including the various stocks and even fresh rice noodles if one is so inclined.

The Shrimp and Sing Kua Stir-fry was really delicious, fast, and easy.  Sing Kua is also known as a Chinese okra.  It has the same shape but can grow to about a foot long.  It has a mild flavor, a little bit like zucchini which might be a good substitution, and the texture when cooked is soft but not quite as sticky as American okra.  It goes very well with the shrimp, and both the shrimp and sing kua absorb a ton of flavor from only a few additional ingredients: rice wine, fish sauce, garlic, and ginger.  This dish is definitely on the repeat list.

The Shrimp and Pork Spring Roll is a classic version of the popular appetizer.  Nothing fancy, just clean fresh flavors.  The peanut dipping sauce recipe was quite unusual.  It is thickened with sticky cooked sweet rice.  I wonder if there is a mistake in the recipe, which calls for two cups of sweet rice to be cooked and then blended with the other ingredients.  However, cooking that much sweet rice led to about four cups of cooked rice to be added to the sauce, but the recipe states that the final volume of the peanut sauce is only two cups, and I ended up with much more.

Shaking Beef is another popular dish on the Slanted Door menu.  Here, marinated beef tenderloin is cooked quickly with red onions and served on a bed of watercress.  The lime-salt-pepper dipping sauce makes the dish really delicious.

Beef Bavette with Tomatoes and Potatoes is Chef Phan’s version of the Peruvian dish Lomo Saltado.  Marinated skirt steak is stir-fried with tomatoes, fish sauce, and oyster sauce that combine to make a flavorful sauce that is absorbed by french-fried potatoes.  The recipe calls for deep-frying potatoes, but I cheated and used store-bought frozen french fries.

Bun is a dish made with rice vermicelli and different toppings, like grilled shrimp, egg rolls, pickled daikon, bean sprouts, cilantro, and a fish-sauce-based dipping sauce.  This is a multi-component dish which is good, but might be a little bit too involved for home and probably better at a restaurant.

These relatively simple dishes have a ton of flavor, and I am looking forward to trying some of the more complex dishes.  Based on the results of the dishes I have tried so far, I am confident the rest of the recipes in the book will deliver.  Definitely recommended.

Link to Vietnamese Home Cooking here.

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