With more than 20 years experience, Chad Robertson of San Francisco's Tartine Bakery is a true breadmaking virtuoso. Here, he names the five qualities that separate an amazing loaf from a mediocre one. Click to read more of Robertson's amazing bread knowledge in F&W's Masters series.
Crust: I don’t like pale breads, because you miss out on all the flavors of a caramelized crust. I also like a strong contrast between a crisp crust and a tender crumb. When I see a bread that doesn’t have an interesting crust, I’m not all that compelled to taste it. Ideally, I like see a range of colors—some dark parts, some golden, some light. If the crust was all dark, it would all taste toasty and burnt and be too overpowering. But if there’s a little of this and that, it’s in balance. It’s like a steak on the grill: You want some black bits, but you don’t want it to be charred all over. And if it’s pale, it’s going to be totally bland.
Big bubbles: Big bubbles in the crumb are a sign of all the other qualities: You can’t get an open texture if you overwork the dough, if the starter’s too sour, if you haven’t cut the loaves properly, if you don’t steam the oven. When I see a loaf with big holes, I can already tell it was made well without tasting it.