The Fresh Loaf

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Tartine country loaf hydration percentage

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ironmanchef's picture

Tartine country loaf hydration percentage

If this has been answered elsewhere please forgive me. 

In tartine bread chad states hydration of country loaf at 75  %. When you are talking hydration percent dont you have to include flour and water in the leaven which would raise hydration % closer to 77? This is new to me so just want to understand.


JacquelineColussi's picture

Hi ironmanchef,

When you are talking hydration percent dont you have to include flour and water in the leaven which would raise hydration % closer to 77?

Exactly right, accounting for the flour and water in the leaven, as you suggest, will give a more accurate overview of the bread's composition. Let's give it a go...

Chad Robertson's Basic Country Bread calls for a leaven of 50% white bread flour, 50% whole wheat bread flour, 100% water, and a tablespoon of starter. Looking at the leaven as its own mini-formula:

We can rewrite Chad's Country Loaf formula (on p.48 of his book) to include the breakout of the leaven, above:

With the leaven broken out, we can more easily see that the Total Formula hydration is 77%, just as you mentioned. Also interesting is that the Total Formula salt is 1.83%. (The 2% salt Chad lists describes the salt in the Final Mix.)

Here's the same formula scaled to the gram weights Chad gives:

Happy baking!


Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

A recent post on this forum mention that, in Chad's new book, he explains his rationale for excluding levain from the hydration calculation. I haven't seen the explanation, so I can't share it here, but I'm eager to understand his reasoning.

JacquelineColussi's picture

Hi Les,

Yes, here's what Chad writes (in Tartine Book No. 3: Modern Ancient Classic Whole, p.24): 

As in my previous book, I don't include the flour that is in the natural leaven in the 100-percent flour weight. The same is true for poolish, the prefermented batter used in combination with leaven for some breads, such as baguettes. At Tartine, we always have leaven on hand at different stages and use it in many different types of recipes, so I treat leaven as an ingredient component in the percentages. It is much simpler this way, especially when baking at home or in small batches at restaurants. 

As Chad mentions, he's chosen his method for simplicity—both in his bakery production and for his book's narrative. Many bakeries operate in this way, maintaining a large tub of levain or other pre-ferment. In both bakery and home, this choice may get one far.

A stumbling block crops up when a baker would like to think through tweaking one of Chad's formulas into a new creation, or when a baker attempts to compare one of Chad's formulas with another baker's formula. (As an aside: Why would one want to compare bread formulas? It can often be helpful to start with a familiar, tried-and-true formula, and see how it resembles and differs from a new formula. These comparisons are a good way to build up one's knowledge about the craft of breadmaking.)

Some examples...

A tweaking example: Let's say I would like to add an oatmeal soaker to Chad's Basic Country Bread. The oatmeal soaker will consist of whole oats and water. How much water? Well enough to soften the oats for a smooth mouthfeel, but not so much that the dough will be more hydrated then the original Basic Country Bread. In this case, knowing the total hydration of the original Basic Country Bread (77%, not 75%) is of interest to me as a formula developer.

A comparison example: Let's say I've heard about the highly hydrated Tartine method from fellow bakers, and I'm curious to try my hand at baking one of Chad's loaves. Being of an analytical bent, my inclination is to compare this new formula (say, Chad's classic Country Bread) to another formula I've baked with success, and see what I can learn. Here's Chad's formula (repeated from earlier in this thread):

I'd like to compare Chad's formula with Jeffrey Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough with Whole Wheat (from p.154 of Bread, 2nd edition):

How do these formulas compare? While they're similar in flour composition and salt %, what jumps out first is the difference in hydration in the Total Formula: Chad's loaf is more hydrated, which will make it more challenging to handle and shape, is likely to produce a more open and irregular crumb, and in general will be the more rustic loaf.

Moving to the Leaven/Levain columns, Jeffrey's Levain is more highly hydrated than Chad's, so I expect the former loaf to be milder in flavor. Jeffrey pre-ferments nearly double (15%) the percentage of Total Flour than Chad does (8.26%); among other things, I might expect Chad's loaf to call for a longer fermentation. Then again, the whole wheat in Chad's starter will tend to accelerate fermentation, by how much, I can't say. Something to keep an eye on when making this bread. 

I've only scratched the surface here in how we can think about comparing two formulas such as these. I would love for some of my fellow analytical FreshLoafers to jump in here and continue the discussion...

Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

Thanks for the quote, your insight and examples Jacqueline.

At the end of the day, I imagine that a 2% "error" in the hydration calculation is of little consequence and is of similar order to measurement and scale calibration errors.

Nate Delage's picture
Nate Delage

Thanks for the incredibly detailed breakdown of those formulas Jacqueline!

I'm a mere mortal compared to Chad, but I wouldn't dismiss tracking the flour/water present in a preferment so easily. With a small percentage of preferment (<10%), you might get away without including it in the total formula.

But I often use 30%+ preferment in my loaves to develop flavor. (I'm lazy and it's easiest for me to mix preferment the day before, then do my final mix and fermentation the day I bake). At this percentage of preferment my total formula would be way off if I didn't include it in my calculations. Plus, if you're going to document your "recipe" as a formula, you might as well make it add up! :D

ironmanchef: nice catch ;)

ironmanchef's picture

Thanks to everyone for your comments. Jacqueline that detailed explanation was great and very helpful as were the other answers. 

I made my fist loaves yesterday and while not perfect they were edible. Did an overnight final fermentation, which brings me to my next question:

On page 74 Chad says you can do bulk fermentation overnight. My understanding is during bulk fermentation you are supposed to stretch and fold every half hour.  If you do bulk overnight, do you just stay up all night and do folds or is there (I hope) another solution?

Thanks again everybody