1st Attempt at Tartine Bread: Looks good, doesn’t it?

summary: 1st attempt at Chad Robertson’s Basic Country Loaf in “Tartine Bread”, using freshly captured Wild Yeast; looks can deceive; the nose can tell; why recipes should be confined to one or two pages; (click on images to see larger views and more photos)

natural starter wild yeast bread (Tartine)

The reason that I was crazy enough to go on this venture again was right near the beginning of Chad Robertson’s book:

Tartine Bread is devoted to the use of natural leaven, often called sourdough. I promote the use of “younger” leaven with very little acidity. It’s a sweet smelling, yeastier relative of the more sour and vinegary-smelling sourdough.

The process is simple. […] The thought, borne out by our test bakers, is that anyone can pick up this book and make a good loaf of bread using this chapter alone. […]

-Chad Robertson, Tartine Bread, p. 15, 42

We love simple processes! We wanted to use a natural leaven too. But over the course of our last experiment with wild yeast, we learned to LOATHE sour bread.

We never wanted to have sour bread again!

natural starter And when I smelled how sweet and lovely the first starter made with Robertson’s method of capturing wild yeast, I got really excited. It was wonderful! It smelled like wheat. No vinegar. No scrunching up of the nose and mouth as if I’d just taken a big bite of a lemon.

And so, I began to mix the dough.

Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding!

(Do you hear the warning bells? Can you see where this is going?)

Why on earth would editors allow the first basic recipe (a recipe that is used throughout the book for the other bread recipes) to be a meandering 26 pages of prose?

Just give me the ingredients and instructions for mixing all on one page!! Or two, if necessary. Make sure they’re facing pages! Put the instructional steps into a succinct numbered list. Add the longer numbered list that includes notes about how to think like a baker later.

Granted, there on page 48 is a handy list of the ingredients. I don’t mind that it’s in percentages. That’s a-okay with me.

It drove me crazy to have to scrabble through the book to find out “Why is the water divided??”, “When do I add the salt???” and “What do I do with the extra starter and WHY is there so much left over?!”

And really?! On page 52, to find out about maintaining my starter, I’m told to refer to step 3 on page 46 if I’m baking bread every few days OR to go to page 71 for instructions on maintaining the starter intermittantly? Ummm… Page 71?? Try 10 paragraphs later on page 72 to finally find the instructions. :stomp: Note that the instructions do NOT give any sort of schedule for how often and how much to feed a refrigerated starter to ensure that it stays alive. :stomp: :stomp: :stomp:

natural starter In the early evening on the day before baking the bread, I performed Robertson’s Float Test: if the starter floats, it’s ready to be mixed with flour. Whoohooo!! It passed the test – no water wings for it!

The resulting dough was beautiful and silky. It smelled wonderful! And I admit it. I was starting to get tired of having to read paragraph after paragraph of detail after detail. I decided that I knew (I’m SUCH an expert) how to mix and knead bread!

I was a little casual about the temperature of the water (and air). I didn’t measure either to make sure that the water was 80F and the air 70F. (I do wish that Robertson put the temperatures into Celcius… I know roughly what those Fahrenheit temperatures are but, but, but….) The water felt like getting into a swimming pool and that was good enough for me. The air temperature was blissfully cooling down after a 3-day disgrace of being over 30C and humid.

I was also a little casual about mixing the dough in the bowl. ie: I didn’t.

It was too difficult. When it came time to mix the salt and water in, I turned the dough out onto the board and kneaded it there. I know. Robertson says not to. He says to turn it every half hour or so inside the bowl

I HATED having to knead the salt and water into the basically finished dough. I’m NOT doing it that way again! I don’t understand why it’s necessary. Unless it’s to teach me patience. :lalala:

I left the dough to rise while we had dinner, I imagined that I would be shaping it late that night and baking it early the next morning. The dough had hardly budged by 23:00. It was quite cool in the kitchen by then so we put a plate on the bowl and left it to its own devices overnight.

Early the next morning, the dough had barely doubled. But it HAD doubled.

And it stank. Really stank. Putrid stink. Horrible cheese stink.

As I pulled the dough out of the bowl, the stink dissipated and switched to smelling not unpleasantly sour. I shaped it anyway, thinking “all that flour!! …all that expensive flour!!” I covered the shaped loaves with a tea towel and left them to rise, imagining that it would take 3 or 4 hours, as per Robertson’s instructions. Ha. Finally at 13:15, it was ready to go in the oven. (Did I mention that it smelled even sourer?)

Just before baking, I slashed each loaf and sprayed them liberally with water. I slipped them onto the hot stone in the oven and baked them until the internal temperature was 100C. I was quite pleased with the slashes. And I was surprised they got so much oven spring. (Even though I remembered reading about it, I chose to ignore the fact that I was supposed to bake the loaves under a dome.)

In fact, the bread looks good, doesn’t it? A little flat maybe, but pretty good.

But it smells sour!! It tastes sour!!!

Strongly acidic bread occurs when a high percentage of acidic leaven is used in the dough and/or the rising times are overly long, either during the bulk fermentation or during the final rise.

-Chad Robertson, Basic Country Bread, Tartine Bread, p. 72

Oh sure. NOW I notice that part.

So much for my beautiful sweet smelling starter!

Maybe one has to live in California to make sweet tasting Tartine Bread.

Clearly, unless it’s disgracefully hot outside, our kitchen is too cold. Any ideas on how to keep our kitchen around 25C without causing major discomfort and/or a complete depletion of our bank account to pay for furnace fuel?

natural starter We’re going to eat this bread anyway.

All of it.

Perhaps we’ll smother it in some sort of sauce that will distract us from the fact that it’s SO sour.

Now, excuse me while I go to rummage through the fridge to find that bowl of sludge so I can commit Saccharomycicide for the second time in my life.


I see I’m not the only one to be dissatisfied with Tartine Bread book… take a look at E Hanner’s post, Tartine Bread- A Dissenting Viewpoint

Tartine Yeast Capture Experiment:

  1. Day 1: Creating a Culture …Again
  2. Day 3: It’s Alive!!
  3. Day 5: Oh oh… it appears to be working
  4. Day 6: Attention! Attention! There is NO cause for alarm!
  5. Day 8: 1st Attempt at Tartine Bread: Looks good, doesn’t it?
  6. Day 14: a second attempt at Tartine Bread…

Tartine Bread Success edit August 2017: Whoohoooo!! It turns out that it IS possible to make completely non-sour Tartine Bread in OUR kitchen: Tartine Bread: 3rd time’s the charm



This entry was posted in baking, bread - yeasted & unyeasted, cookbooks, etc., food & drink, Tartine Bread, whine, wild yeast (sourdough) on by .

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4 responses to “1st Attempt at Tartine Bread: Looks good, doesn’t it?

  1. MyKitchenInHalfCups

    Gadfry :-( and it looks absolutely beautiful … beautiful!
    So your issue here you’re thinking is the rise was too slow …?
    To preserve temperature of my dough – raise it or just maintain it – I’ve sometimes 1. wrapped the bowl in heavy towels (that sort of traps it’s heat and any heat the yeast generate) 2. put it in a pre-warmed but turned off oven, maybe even with a pan of hot water finally and most desperately 3. put my bowl of dough inside another bowl with warm water, put both into the microwave and microwaved it on the lowest setting for 4 minutes. The first time I used that microwave thing was a jaw dropper, it worked. Forget where I found that. But of course the microwave thing was to shorten rising time which reduces flavor but perhaps some alteration of it – like several shorter bursts might get you just a slightly faster rising time when things are cool.
    Really difficult to think about that when it’s 104°

    I had two issues, Tanna. The first was just trying not to scream (I’m afraid I did a fair amount of screaming) at having to follow the several pages of instructions. But, yes, the main one was getting too long a rise. A microwave might do the trick. But we don’t have a microwave. But I could use warmer water to make the dough, I guess. And then proof it in the oven with the light turned on. Maybe I’ll try wrapping the bowl in towels too. (I haven’t murdered the sludge yet.) -Elizabeth

  2. MyKitchenInHalfCups

    Geeze I should go to bed I’m doing really idiot language junk.
    Is there any possibility the starter wasn’t mature/strong enough yet?

  3. Chip

    It doesn’t seem like you had a good healthy starter going before using it as levain. If it smells bad it is bad and either needs more time to achieve the right balance of bacteria and yeast or a reboot. It took me several reboots over two months to get a really solid Tartine style wild yeast culture working. At the time there was very strange weather occurring here in SoCal either very hot or very cool at night and very hot all day. I finally cooked up the idea of using a small 25watt submersible aquarium heater in a large container full of water to stabilize the starter’s average temperature to about 80F / 26C. I also found that covering the starter with plastic wrap instead of a clean kitchen towel and keeping my hands out of the starter during mixing solved the last bit of unreliable yeast behavior. This is in direct conflict to Chad’s directions to get your hands dirty but until I did it this way I could not get a truly stable and reliable behaving starter.

    Recently the weather here in SoCal for the last month had been crazy hot for a very long time and now it is back to the usual fall temperatures upper 50’s at night and mid 80’s during the day. This starter has been off the controlled temperature water bath life support for the last few weeks and remains very vigorous even with the cool temperatures at night. But with the lower 50’s temperature coming I will soon need to leave the culture in the oven with the lights on at night. They say yeast never sleeps, I wonder if Neil Young was singing about yeast not rust?

    FYI I used KAF unbleached bread flour and unbleached white whole wheat flour for the 50.50 starter mixture with very heavily filtered tap water which as it turns out is not really needed. Chad does tend to be wordy but most of the words are there to help you get into his NorCal surfer head. The Tartin Bread methods work very well but there is a learning curve involved for the care and feeding a wild yeast levain, using the folding technique during the bulk rise for gluten development and fairly high hydration recipes. Using a French oven pre-heated to 500F / 260C and dropping your hands into it is kind of scary but geezus the crust is amazing!

    I appreciate you coming in, Chip; I really do. And if flour weren’t so expensive, I would consider trying again. But having failed so spectacularly twice, I am reluctant to be throwing away all that flour. I do love the Tartine folding in the bowl method though, and Robertson’s shaping technique is fantastic. I’m not at all sorry to have his book and one day when I’m wealthy, I’ll try capturing yeast again. -Elizabeth


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