Feeling like you’re in the groove with this stuff so far? Don’t get too comfortable.
Up to this point, I’ve been making levain breads using Ken Forkish’s method. His book, Flour Water Salt Yeast, makes levain breads approachable for the bread baking novice, and after several months, I not only felt that I’d learned how to make artisan bread, but that I could actually make good bread. I have by no means mastered Ken’s method, but the desire to expand one’s horizons is a natural one.
Chad Robertson, renowned baker and owner of Tartine Bakery & Café in San Francisco’s Mission district, describes his own process in his first book, Tartine Bread. It was time to tackle the Tartine method, one that could be considered ‘notorious’ in the home baker world given that many elements of the process are substantially different, and consequently, quite challenging. The Tartine loaf is considered the holy grail of bread by many, and if you’ve ever made the pilgrimage to corner of 18th and Guerrero, you’ll understand why. In fact, one of my favorite blogs, Tartine Bread Experiment (now Girl Meets Rye) was originally devoted to it.
Let’s compare the processes by which Ken’s Country Blonde and Chad’s Basic Country loaf are made. From my understanding, these are the main differences between the two methods:
Flour Water Salt Yeast: This method uses slightly more levain, approximately 22% of the total flour weight. Bulk fermentation usually runs between 11-13 hours, nearly three times longer than that of the Tartine method. The final proof usually lasts around 4 hours – not too long since the dough already fermented for good amount of time. These times assume an ambient temperature of roughly 70F.
Tartine: The Tartine method uses less levain, only 20%, and even less for whole grain breads given that these doughs ‘move’ (ferment) faster due to the higher mineral content. The levain is also used at a ‘younger’ stage. Ken and Chad use slightly different terminology for their wild yeast breads, so I will explain the distinction to avoid confusion. Ken calls the fermenting mixture of wild yeast and bacteria that you keep on hand the levain, but in Ken’s recipes, the stuff you take out (e.g. 220g) is also called the levain. Chad, on the other hand, calls the a mature culture of wild yeast and bacteria a “sourdough starter.” You then make up a levain by mixing 1 tablespoon of starter with 200g water and 200g flour. At the right ambient temperature, a younger, 100% hydration levain will exhibit less of the acetic flavors that gives bread a very sour taste. If this technique is used properly, it can yield the flavors that gives the Tartine loaf it’s characteristic flavors.
The Tartine method utilizes a much shorter bulk fermentation time – only 3-4 hours at an ambient temperature of 78-82F. After shaping, the dough is then proofed overnight for 8-12 hours. Unlike your typical bakery, Tartine Bakery bakes it’s loaves at 4:30 PM, after a full 24 hour proof in the retarder (usually 45F), and this method was specifically developed to work with this production schedule. Using a ‘ripe’ levain would produce bread much too sour if the dough were to undergo such a long proof in a cooler environment, which favors acidity.
This stuff gives me the butterflies.
I knew it would take time to figure out how both the dough and final product should look, smell, and feel, which is partly why the Tartine method is difficult. After using this method for a month, I decided it was time to share what I’ve learned so far, and to do this, I will make the Basic Country Loaf. At 75% hydration, this dough is not too wet and is easy to handle.
The night before you plan to mix the dough, mix around 20g of starter (~ 1 Tbsp) with 200g water (80F or a bit warmer if you live in colder climes) and 200g flour. I used my 50% AP/30% whole wheat/20% rye blend.
The next morning, the levain should be ready to use.
THE DOUGH FLOW
- 900g all-purpose flour
- 100g whole wheat flour
- 750g water, 80F (26C)
- 20g fine sea salt
- 200g ripe levain
*Yield: two loaves
Dissolve the levain everything but the salt and 50g water mix until incorporated.
Let the dough rest for 1 hour to autolyse. I use my oven as a proofing box to create an ambient temperature of roughly 80-84F.
Add the salt and the remaining 50 g water and mix using the pincer method.
Turn the dough every 30 minutes for the first 3 hours of bulk fermentation.
The dough after 2 turns:
Chad tells us that the dough should a 20-30% increase in volume after 3-4 hours. I find that the dough really needs 5 hours to achieve the proper level of fermentation and build up of gas. At that point it is then ready to be divided.
Pre-shaping helps the dough build strength, which helps keep the dough from pancaking later on. Gently fold the dough in half (0ver itself) and then use your hand and dough scraper pull the dough towards you, rotating after each pull, until a loose ball is formed.
Let the dough rest on the counter for 20-30 minutes. If the edges look like they’re ‘dripping’ or running, repeat the pre-shape. This could happen if the dough is underdeveloped (not enough gluten development), or overdeveloped (the acid has broken down the gluten too much), although the latter is less likely with a short bulk fermentation.
For the final shape, begin by gently patting the dough down into an even disk. Fold the bottom 1/3 of the dough over toward the top and then repeat with the top, left, and right sides.
Then roll/fold the bottom half over itself. It is easier to use both hands, but I had to use one in order to take the photo.
Gently pull the dough toward you with your hand and scraper to form a neat ball with enough tension so that it holds its shape. If you see the gluten strands tearing then you’ve gone too far.
Place the round into a basket seam-side up with linen (dusted with flour). Put the dough in the refrigerator for 8-10 hours to proof.
Two hours before you plan to bake, take the dough out of the refrigerator. One hour before bake time, put your dutch oven (with the lid on) into the oven and set the temperature to 500F. Once the dutch oven is nice and hot, take the dutch oven out and put the dough inside. Score the dough and put the lid on. Return the dutch oven to the oven carefully. Bake for 15 minutes at 500F, then turn the heat down to 450F and bake for 5 minutes more. Remove the lid and bake for another 25-30 minutes.
After 10 or so trials using the Tartine method, here are some of the issues that I encountered:
Underfermented dough. Ken Forkish calls for bulk fermentation at room temperature and 2.5 to 3-fold increase in the volume of the dough before shaping. If you do this, there will be plenty of gas in the dough and the gluten will be well-developed. The Tartine method uses less levain AND less time for bulk fermentation, which results in a much smaller increase volume of the dough, only 20-30%, and then the dough proofs for a longer period of time before baking. This is a very significant difference. For several trials, my dough just simply wasn’t gassy enough, even after 4 hours. Without knowing any better, I baked them anyway. The result was a gummy, highly irregular crumb – a sign of an underdeveloped gluten network.
Under-ripe levain. When a problem crops up mid-way through a process, you naturally go back to the beginning to find out what might be contributing to the problem. As you recall, Chad uses a very young levain to achieve the flavors he seeks in his bread. This poses issues for people such as myself who are new to levain breads. Again, for nearly month I was using the levain before it had a yeast count sufficient to leaven the dough. This being said, if you were to feed the starter twice per day instead of once, the levain would likely move more quickly.
Underproofed? Even after 10 hours, the finger poke test often indicated that the dough was underproofed. Given the fact that I wasn’t giving the dough enough time during bulk fermentation to begin with, this shouldn’t be surprising. However, even once I corrected this, I still found that the dough wasn’t quite proofed enough. Sure enough, on baking forums I’ve seen Chad give some valuable advice for us home bakers: it is helpful to pull the dough from the fridge and let it warm up for 2-4 hours before baking to assist with the final proof.
While there are certainly many parts of the process that I can improve upon, these loaves turned out pretty well, and the taste was great. Personally, I prefer a the more open crumb characteristic of higher hydration doughs, though it is a good idea to start out at 75% since the dough will become more tricky to work with as more water is added. Chad uses very, very wet dough for his breads at his bakery. Once I have a deeper understanding of the method I will play with the hydration. Finally, it also helps to go to Tartine Bakery and taste an authentic loaf for yourself, but I will write about that later.
In summary, don’t give up if you have trouble with the Tartine method. Notorious it may be, but with persistence and careful observations, you will be greatly rewarded. If you can’t enjoy the process, what’s the point? ·