Tartine’s Basic Country Bread

I think I finally got this sourdough thing down.

Check out this boule made using Tartine’s Country Bread recipe, the holy grail of sourdough. It’s the first sourdough recipe I ever tried, and now the best I’ve ever made.

For those of you as new to this whole sourdough thing as I was just 6 months ago, Tartine is the bakery run by Chad Robertson in San Francisco, turning out small batches (only 240 loaves a day) of what many say is the best bread you’ll ever taste. Following in the footsteps of bakers like Nancy Silverton at La Brea Bakery in Los Angeles, Chad helped to put artisan sourdough on the map beyond San Francisco. By graciously sharing their expertise, he and others have inspired a whole crop of bakers across the nation and around the world who are making artisan sourdough bread. (Check out this UK local bakery just opened by a 15 year old baker and her dad who make sourdough using a starter “blossomed from a single apple in our garden”.) Add in folks passionate about using locally grown heritage grains to make healthier, more digestible bread (yes, gluten ain’t so bad if you make it right) and you’ve got a movement to bring healthy bread back to the masses.

I’m still in love with Jim Lahey’s No knead yeast bread, and if my time is limited, it’s my go to, never fail me bread. But given a free weekend and time to fold and shape, I’ll be tweaking my sourdough. I can’t wait to see what kind of rise I can get in the warmer weather, and I want to start using heritage grains, adding things like olives and sun dried tomatoes and cheese to my breads, and playing with the starter and leaven to get a sweeter flavor.

From what I’ve seen and am learning, sourdough bread baking is a never-ending journey. So stay tuned.

Requisite Crumb Shot

Tartine’s Basic Country Bread

Don’t even think of making the bread for the first time using just this blog post. But Robertson’s recipe make two loaves, and I wanted to have my own one-loaf version and also record my experience making this loaf. I’ve also added little tweaks that work in my kitchen, so I’ll remember them next time. (Welcome to sourdough, the perfect bread making technique for those with OCD.)

If you really want to learn how to make this sourdough, you are best off working directly from Chad Robertsons’ book Tartine Bread. If you don’t want that kind of initial investment, the NY Times Tartine Bread recipe is a nice way to start. (That’s how I got hooked.).

To make this loaf, I started the leaven at about 8 am, then packed it loosely in the car to allow it to ripen on the ride and at the cottage (temps were in high 60’s – very low 70’s). After dinner, I mixed the bread and did the first rise and folding for 3 hours. I rested and shaped the dough around 10:30, then placed it in a covered basket in the fridge and went to bed. I heated the oven, scored and baked the bread starting about 7:30 am the next morning.

My traveling leaven and bread making supplies

Make the leaven (Saturday 8am)

  • 1 tbsp starter (My starter is fed with sprouted rye)
  • 100 grams warm (78 degree) water
  • 100 grams of a 50/50 blend whole wheat and bread flour

Disperse the starter in the water with your fingers, then stir in the flour till there are no dry parts. Cover and let rise at a coolish temp overnight or for 8-10 hours. I had temps in the high 60’s to very low 70’s, Robertson recommends 65 degrees.

Mix and first rise (Saturday evening starting about 7 pm)

  • 100 grams leaven
  • 450 grams white bread flour (I used King Arthur)
  • 50 grams whole wheat flour
  • 350 grams warm water (80 degrees) + 25 grams more (added with the salt) I used Brita-filtered water from the fridge pitcher + a little warmer water straight from the tap to get it to the right temp.
  • 10 grams sea salt

This is a 75% hydration dough. In a large bowl (mine was ceramic), disperse 100 grams leaven in 350 grams of warm water with your fingers. Whisk the flours together and add to the water/leaven till there are no dry bits of flour. It will be quite thick – but not to worry you are adding more water in a bit.

Let dough rest 30 mins. (Robertson says 25 -40 mins). After the rest, lightly stir the salt into the remaining 25 grams of water (it does not need to dissolve) and add to the dough using your fingers. The dough will come apart, then come together again.

First (Bulk) rise

Let rise for 3 hours, covered with a tea towel moistened with warm water after each turn. Every 30 mins give the dough a turn, becoming gentler as the dough becomes more billowy and aerated to avoid pressing out the gases.

Here’s video I made of the amazing Sarah C Owens turning her dough at a sourdough class I took with her on Far Rockaway last month.

When the dough is risen and ready, it’s time to pre-shape, bench rest and final shape it.

Pre-shape, Rest and Final Shaping (10:00 pm)

Pull dough out of bowl onto a very lightly floured surface. Fold the four sides of the dough onto itself, incorporating as little dough as possible into the dough. Roll the dough over, folded side down, and pull it around, tucking it under as you go to make a neat round package with a nice tight skin. Let it rest for 30 minutes to allow the gluten to loosen up for the final shaping,

Now slip the bench knife under the dough, flip it over and shape into a boule shape using a series of folds as you’ve learnt them. An explanation of this is beyond the scope of this post, but here’s a great video that shows pretty much exactly how I pre-shaped and final shaped my dough. (Shaping starts around 2:45 min.)

Using the bench knife, flip the shaped dough seam side up into a pre-floured unlined banneton, cover loosely with plastic wrap and then a tea towel and place in the fridge over night. You can use a cloth lined banneton if you prefer, but you won’t get those nice flour lines.

Score and bake (Sunday 7:30 am)

Preheat a covered dutch oven in an oven set to 500 degrees. Take out and uncover banneton, letting it sit on the counter while the oven preheats. When the oven temp reaches 500 degrees, lightly dust the surface of the dough with rice flour and turn out gently onto a sheet of parchment paper. Score as desired. I used kitchen shears to score this loaf, having left my bread lame (a hand held razor blade thingy) at home in NYC, and was pleased with the results.

Carefully pull the hot dutch oven out and uncover. Holding the parchment paper, gently lower the dough boule scored side up into the dutch oven. Cover, turn the heat down to 450 degrees and bake for 20 mins. Remove the cover and bake another 30 mins.

Lift the bread out of the pot onto a rack to cool. Let the bread sit and sing for at least an hour, and ideally for 2-4 hours before cutting into it.

What I learned from making this loaf

  • I can make one loaf of Tartine bread at a time.
  • It’s much easier to work with lower than higher hydration dough
  • I think I need to check my oven thermostat, and if it’s correct, keep it at 500 degrees the whole bake – while the top caramelized nicely, I expected a darker lower crust and bottom.
  • I may try Jim Lahey’s trick of dusting the bread with wheat bran – it darkens very nicely.

2 Responses to Tartine’s Basic Country Bread

  1. I’ve been making a nice sourdough bread for years. I have a slightly unusual method for getting my dough from the rising bowl to the preheated dutch oven. I bought a silicon baking sheet and cut it in two pieces lengthwise. After the final kneading I place the two pieces in the rising bowl in an X formation and set the dough in the middle to rise. When it’s time to transfer to the Dutch oven I simply lift the ends of the silicon baking sheet pieces together into the Dutch oven. I don’t try to remove the silicon sheets I just put the lid on and put the whole thing into the oven to bake. It doesn’t have those nice concentric lines on the finished loaf but it makes moving the dough around very easy and it all comes out a nice round loaf and two reusable silicon pieces.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.