When we decided to move forward with Lana’s creation of Avocado Toast Surpreme ice cream for our Student Inventor series, we knew it was the most LA creation to ever come out of LA. We also knew that we were gonna need some incredible bread to play the “toast” role. We looked to legendary Tartine, a bakery whose sourdough country loaf is a cult obsession among chefs, bakers, and anyone who appreciates the simple pleasure of a perfect slice.
We spoke with Tartine’s Head Baker Lisa Chun about how she entered the loaf life.
1. How did you get into baking?
Cooking and baking has always been part of my life. Growing up, my mom used to bake my sister and me birthday cakes with the most simple ingredients—flour, eggs, sugar!—and the smell was to die for. Watching my mom in the kitchen got me intrigued.
When I was in college studying to become a teacher, a family friend was opening a bakery and asked if I could help. I had never thought about becoming a baker, but immediately fell in love with the entire process: mixing the ingredients, fermenting the yeast, rolling out the dough, and seeing the finished products come out of the oven.
2. How old were you when you baked your first recipe? What was it?
Banana nut bread when I was 13. My aunt got me a bread machine for Christmas and I decided to make my favorite bread for the first time.
3. What is it about baking bread that’s so special?
The endless possibilities of what can be made from just flour, salt, and water. Bread is the starter of a great meal and seems so simple but it’s also complex. So much goes into baking a perfect loaf.
4. What’s your bread-baking philosophy?
Baking bread is like handling a baby. It has its good days and bad days. Even with all the right ingredients and procedures, it might not be enough when the target temperatures aren’t met. You have to understand the condition of the dough and the oven. I tend to compare it to one of my favorite kid’s books, Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It can’t be like Papa Bear or Mama Bear—it has to be just right like Baby Bear.
5. What are you looking for in an ideal loaf?
A perfect combination of crispy crust with a soft moist crumb on the inside—and, of course, flavor!
6. What’s the best bread you’ve ever tasted? Can you describe it?
Tartine’s Porridge Bread is what made me actually fall in love with our bread. I stopped by the bakery when I was driving through San Francisco from a trip up north. The roasty aroma of the freshly baked bread was overpowering the car and I couldn’t resist. It was just the right flavor, moistness, and texture.
7. Describe your perfect slice of toast.
Whole-wheat sesame toast slathered with extra crunchy peanut butter and topped with sliced banana and a nice drizzle of maple syrup or honey. It’s my comfort food; the perfect combination of nutty crunchy sweetness.
8. What has been your favorite Tartine creation?
Aside from a great loaf of bread, the morning bun. The balance of crispiness and gooey center, all covered with the right amount of sugar to start your morning is the best thing anyone can imagine.
9. What has been your biggest bread fail?
During the holidays, we had to make a large batch of pumpkin bread to fulfill special orders. We were very busy and I tried to rush through making the batter. Instead of scaling out all the ingredients, I was measuring while mixing and forgot to add baking soda. I learned the hard way: No matter what the situation is, never try to rush. Always scale and double-check ingredients before mixing.
10. What’s your top tip for beginner bread bakers?
Be passionate, creative, and patient. It takes time and perseverance to learn how to bake good bread. You’ll learn and grow with each loaf.