The Fresh Loaf

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Tartine Leaven & Rising Issues

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spexx23's picture
spexx23

Tartine Leaven & Rising Issues

Hi Everyone,

This is my first post on this great site, which I've been forced to turn to after repeated failures with my Tartine Basic Country Loaf.  Any advice is appreciated!  After four bakes, I think my biggest problems are with the leaven and the dough fermentation temperatures.  Here's the deal:

My leaven never seems to want to pass the float test.  It increases in volume nicely and gets very bubbly on the top and sides, but it will never float.  I've tried testing it after 8, 10, 12, 24 and 30 hours, but no luck, even in the suggested room-temperature water, cold water, and hot water (not sure if the water temp makes a difference).  It's always spent most of its time fermenting on the counter in a 65-degree kitchen as recommended, and I've tried the book's suggested extra half hour in an 80-degree oven to no avail.  Because it takes so incredibly long to go from leaven to finished loaf, I'm reluctant to keep trying test bakes until I can achieve a proper float.

Even without floating, my loaves have come out better and better with each consecutive bake as I intuit some tweaks to make here and there.  Since the recipe makes two loaves, I've tried each batch with two different methods; the first loaf being baked after a 3-4 hour final rise in an 80-degree oven, and the second after rising in the fridge over night.  In neither case does the dough seem to rise very much and actually appears to deflate a bit, even though it rises properly (I think) during baking.  Every time, the finished flavor is delicious, the crust is nicely caramelized and is very crispy, the crumb looks properly "airy," and I even get the nice hollow sound when I tap the bottom of the loaf.  The problem is that it still seems very dense, feeling like it weighs about 10 pounds (I've never actually weighed it), and the interior seems like it contains too much moisture.  Even after waiting 2-4 hours to slice it, the knife ends up with a bit of a residue on it.  The last time I baked (before giving up in order to wait for a floating leaven), I determined that my main problem with poor rising may have been with too high a temperature during bulk fermentation.  The "pot of boiling water in a closed oven" method just creates an overly warm and moist environment, so I finally figured out how to get my oven to a reliable, dry 80-degrees in hopes this will make a difference in the rising on the next attempt.

So, that's about it.  I think I've covered all the bases, but please let me know if additional information is helpful.  Oh, in case it matters, I've been making my leavens with the same starter I've been using all along (now 6-7 weeks old), which I feed daily when it's been left at room temperature, or every 2-3 days when it's been stored in the fridge.  It doesn't appear to become very aerated in the fridge, but it swells and gets very gassy on the counter.  If it's been stored in the fridge, I always remove it and let it get nice and bubbly at room temperature before making the leaven.  At no time has it ever achieved the "stinky cheese" smell, which kind of disappoints me since I'm hoping to someday make as sour a loaf as humanly possible, and that seems to go hand in hand with the starter aroma.  Tips on that are appreciated too!

Thanks for listening.  Looking forward to hearing from you.

Tim!

breadbythecreek's picture
breadbythecreek

Could it be that you are deflating the samples when you cut them out of the leaven to do the test?  I wet my spoon and gently cut around about a ½ tbs worth of leaven, then just drop it in a cup of room temp water. If it's fully aerated, it should float. If it's fully aerated, I'd use it anyway. It could just be the flour that you are using.

How are you baking your loaves?

 

spexx23's picture
spexx23

Hi breadbythecreek,

I don't think I'm deflating the samples.  I try to carefully remove some leaven to test and gently drop it (or, more accurately, release it) into the water.  I suspect it's maybe too wet to begin with.  I doubt the flour is an issue since it's all very fresh, and the white claims to be "best for bread" (Gold brand).  Thanks for your feedback!

breadbythecreek's picture
breadbythecreek

Ok, good luck! We're all in the same boat searching for the perfect methods that will work for our circumstances. Happy baking!

imaloafer's picture
imaloafer

I make Tartine method breads every day. Like dough in general, temps matter. I am in Sacramento, Ca. and winter is fairly mild. House temp is 65 most of time when not home, 68 if we're around. Currently we use 78 to 80 degree water to make leaven. I have large container I keep filled with water that is at least 2 days out of tap, allowing chemicals to dissipate Treated water can kill your leaven, as it is suppose to kill bacteria and doesn't know good from bad. 200 g water, 200 g 50/50 flour mix and 35 g starter. Ready in 8 hours. Temperature plays a role of course. You could as stated, be deflating, sometimes a good leaven will float, but remaining won't. Just take a nice spoonful for float.

Let us know!

 

spexx23's picture
spexx23

Thanks for mentioning the issues with treated water.  I feel kinda stupid for not having thought of that, considering I only drink and cook with distilled water, but have been using tap water for the bread out of laziness.  I'll definitely be more conscientious about that in the future.  I also suspect I may need to test a much younger leaven than I've been trying, just to see if it's an over ripening issue.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

levain won't float because it is just too wet .  The hydration is so high that the bubbles just won't stay inside.Theyu break out causing the levain to sinkeven though it is making  plenty of CO2.  I bet if you thicken it up some it will float just fine.

Happy  baking

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

levain won't float because it is just too wet .  The hydration is so high that the bubbles just won't stay inside.They break out causing the levain to sinkeven though it is making  plenty of CO2.  I bet if you thicken it up some it will float just fine.

Happy  baking

spexx23's picture
spexx23

Thanks for your feedback.  I definitely think that may be part of the problem.  Off to thicken up. . . 

Laurentius's picture
Laurentius

Hi Breadbythe,

What does "Could it be that you are deflating the samples when you cut them out of the leaven to do the test?" means? My levain is always, something I pour, not cut. To make the dough I normally pour in the water, pour in the levain which float on the water, mix it add flour autolyse, add salt. Sometimes I autolyse flour and water, add levain and salt later.

breadbythecreek's picture
breadbythecreek

When I make my levain and it is time to test it to see if it's ready, I wet a teaspoon, dip it in the container holding the levain, then carefully extract a sample (about 1/2 tsp). I lower that sample into a coffee cup containing room temp water.  If the sample floats, it ready and I can proceed to put the dough together.  My levain is like a thick paste/batter with lots of aeration.  How are you measuring? By weight or volume?

breadbythecreek's picture
breadbythecreek

Always weigh all of your ingredients for consistent results.

T.O.B.y's picture
T.O.B.y

You are definitely not alone! This is a very difficult process to tackle!! From my experience 6-7 week old starter isn't necessarily fully kicking (mine wasn't). What do you feed your starter? I've found through pouring over many sites that dark rye flour will add a lot of activity to your starter so you may want to consider adding this to the mix. I also found that putting my starter in a slighter warmer part of the house increased activity. I was keeping it in a place that was closer to 65 and simply moving it to a spot closer to 71 increased activity quite a bit. A simple tip that I did not think about was stirring your starter before refreshing to make sure that everything is well distributed. Finally, when I am closing in on a batch of bread (two days before) I will feed it the starter twice a day to make it even more active.

In terms of bread making one thing to try is upping the levain percentage and reducing hydration. Last week I tried 40% levain with 68% hydration and got a lot more spring than I've ever gotten before. This is not mentioned in the book but is talked about on the Tartine Bread Experiment blog which I highly, highly recommend as a great source of info for tackling this effort!

spexx23's picture
spexx23

Hi T.O.B.y,

I'm in SF too, on top of a hill, so I think I have even worse environmental issues than the Tartine bakery does.

If 6-7-week-old starter is still not fully ready, how much time do you think it takes?  Admittedly, while it does appear to get nice and airy, it always seems to expand but not contract.  Is that a sign of being too immature?

As far as feeding goes, I give it equal parts water and 50/50 flour mix, though until going on this site, I've been giving it equal parts based on volume, not weight.  The instructions in the book mention "equal parts," but doesn't specify "by weight" in the somewhat nebulous starter section.  I do stir the starter before feeding, just to be safe.  The only option for a warmer part of the house is using the oven as a proofer since I like to keep the house on the cool side in general.  I'll try the more frequent feeding trick as baking day approaches.

Thanks for mentioning the hydration adjustment and pointing out the Experiment blog.  I wasn't aware of that before.

T.O.B.y's picture
T.O.B.y

I am at 3 months now and it is definitely more active than at the 6-7 week mark though this may simply be because of the addition of rye flour. If you are not seeing any kind of contraction than it sounds like your fermentation is on the slow side. I will definitely see contraction in the 10-12 hour range. I feel your pain about house temp though. Most of our house is pretty cold but I found a place to sneak it into a cabinet over our fridge. You may just need to increase all of the times to account for slow fermentation.

Yes, it is not clear that the equal parts should be by weight but that is in fact the way to go. And yes he doesn't really mention things you can do if you are running into trouble like increasing levain and decreasing hydration but I would heartily recommend these. When you bulk ferment and proof are you seeing increases in volume? When I bulk ferment I am getting a decent increase in volume and the dough is definitely gassy when I turn it out. When I proof the loaves they also increase in volume and are definitely "puffy" when I put them in the oven. One of the things I found frustrating when I started was I followed times closely because I didn't know any better (i.e. what things should really look like at the different stages) and the results were less than stellar. You may want to consider increasing your times dramatically. Yeast are definitely more active in the 75-85 degree range and you are a good bit below this so you need to give them more time.

spexx23's picture
spexx23

I decided to try a leaven experiment tonight by doing the float test every hour beginning at two hours, since I considered that I might be leaving it too long with the "overnight" method and ruining its chances of floating.  At 7 hours it floated perfectly, so I decided to go ahead and mix a dough, even though it was already 11PM.  I'm continuing to float test until I go to bed, and so far it will still float at 8 and 9 hours.  Note: this is my "new," corrected starter, which was fed two or three times with "equal parts by weight" flour and water.  Weighing these ingredients has given me a better looking and feeling starter, whereas before I think it was often a bit too wet.

I also decided to reduce the hydration level in this dough, using 650g water for the dough (instead of the recipe's 700), and still using an extra 50g when mixing in the salt.  My first impression is that this post-resting addition of water may be a detriment to the moisture level, since the dough felt pretty nice before I added the extra water and salt.  We'll see what happens.

Also, since it's so late already, I'm going to try another experiment where I'll turn the dough twice at half-hour intervals before bed, then I'll divide it into bowls and store one half in the fridge and one half on the counter until morning before doing the final rise in an 80-degree oven.  Hopefully that's not too much experimentation all at once on a not-yet-perfected procedure, but I suspect I'll learn something either way.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I believe you would have been fine with the 700 gm water. It looks very much like you only had a leaven problem which you have addressed. 

As as for two turns and overnighting on fridge and counter i believe you will find the fridge dough feeling like it needs more turns/development but look forward to seeing the update. 

Note: I don't have the experience or knowledge to offer solid opinions but I have made the basic country loaf a bunch of times and the only time it really didn't do well was when I baked it on the bottom rack. It was pretty darned good when I used the 400 grams leaven by mistake my first time 

spexx23's picture
spexx23

Well, I ended up with some surprisingly good results from my experiment.  Regarding the leaven, while it did float at 7, 8, and 9 hours, by hour 10 it was sinking as it always had in the past, so apparently letting it sit out to ferment over night was letting it go too long and is probably what had led to my previous less-than-perfect finished results.  For the doughs, initially I thought I'd treat the "countered" and refrigerated ones differently by warming up the refrigerated one to let it ferment more, but ultimately I decided to see what would happen if I just processed them the same way.

The unrefrigerated, twice-turned dough (which sat over night in a 65-degree kitchen) had risen noticeably and had some visible air bubbles under the skin, and it felt more pillowy and "correct" than any of my previous attempts had, which I suspect is a result of using the properly floating leaven (and perhaps from having cut down the hydration by 50g of water).  The chilled one was very dense and a bit slimy from condensation inside the covered bowl, though it did appear to have expanded slightly.  I turned out both doughs on the counter, formed and bench rested them, then put them in an 80-degree oven for the second rise for 3.5 hours.  While the oven preheated and the first loaf was baking, the refrigerated loaf continued to sit at room temperature for another 1.25 hours.  Both loaves were baked in a preheated, covered Dutch oven for 25 minutes, then uncovered for 25 minutes, and had reached an internal temperature of at least 210-degrees.

The Results: remarkably good!  Both loaves were cooled for 2 hours before being sliced.  The one that had been in the fridge was not quite as tall as the one that sat on the counter over night, but they both had a really nice crumb and crust and they tasted great.  I might try this whole experiment again using the proper number of turns during the bulk fermentation, but it should only cause it to come out even better than it did this time around.

T.O.B.y's picture
T.O.B.y

Glad to hear things worked so well! Getting some good results is always a huge confidence booster and more importantly it sounds like you are well on your way to understanding what the different stages should look and feel like. Congratulations!

imaloafer's picture
imaloafer

Pretty sure the book does give weights, page 47. For the typical leaven, should be mixing 200 g water, stir in 35 g starter and mix with 200 g of the 50/50 flour mix. If your house is cool, ours currently is often 65 degrees while we are out, adjust water temp up a bit. 78 to 82 degrees and it should be about 8-12 hours for a solid leaven to build. I have used leaven as soon as 3-4 hours.

Be careful with multi feedings, it will change your flavor when doing so with such small batches.

Baking is chemistry, and if details are not followed accurately, there will be changes to the product. If you don't already own one, a scale is a must. Everything in a bakeshop is weighed, including water. Metrics is the most accurate when doing small batch work as this is.

I find that the Tartine book is very well done, and those having troubles, are often times not following the directions exactly as written. I would encourage you to stick to the exact formulas given, until you have them down. Once you have done so, and mastered the technique, then you can start into variations, providing you fully understand ingredients and their impact on baked goods.

We have been baking this style bread for over 3 years now, with no problems that we didn't cause ourselves. The techniques are solid, just can be tricky if you are not used to working with well hydrated dough. We are now into 85-90% hydration with many of our breads, as we now play with different flour types, with different moisture requirements. 

spexx23's picture
spexx23

Thank you for the feedback, but you're a page ahead of me.  The weight issues I was describing were for the starter (page 46), not the leaven (page 47).  The starter instructions mention discarding "about 80 percent of it" (not very specific) and then replacing the discard with equal parts water and flour, which implies any equal measurement is fine since he doesn't specify "by weight" here, and goes on to say, "don't worry too much about the quantities of water and flour in these feedings. . . ," implying that you're OK as long as you feed with enough water to hydrate the new flour.  Of course, as I now know, there's nothing at all equal about volumetric measurements of flour vs. water, and since I changed my feedings to "by weight," I've had a much more predictable and visually attractive (aerated) starter.

Also "weightless" is the leaven instruction for using "1 tablespoon" of starter.  You mention using 35g.  Is that simply the weight of a tablespoon's worth, or is this a specific quantity you've determined is the perfect amount to accompany the 200g of flour and water?  Do you know if the leaven would mature faster if more starter is used (say 2-3 tablespoons instead of 1), or is that irrelevant?

What is your favorite flour that you're using for the 85-90% hydration doughs?

T.O.B.y's picture
T.O.B.y

There are a few things that are vague in the book and these are two of them. I measure everything so I do things consistently. Yes more starter will cause the levain to mature faster. I have tried as high as 50 grams for 200 grams of flour and 200 grams of water to good success. It really is about experimenting and understanding what it takes for your starter in your environment. Sounds like imaloafer has had success following the steps exactly but I have not and I did my best to follow them exactly when I tried my initial loaves. I think a lot comes down to how active your starter is. If you are passing the float test you are well on your way though!

imaloafer's picture
imaloafer

Sorry, I assumed when you said you were having problems with your leaven passing float test, it was not your starter that was at issue. The weights for the starter are not so important, as you are just looking for a "batter" like consistency to get the culture started. Once your starter is going and it's time to feed it, weigh it and toss the 80% to feed it. Our starter was at about 200 g when ready, thus we tossed 160 g and replenished with 80 g water, 80 g flour.

Yes the 35-40 g about the weight of a tablespoon, but I have it in weight because I do everything by weight. So our starter is really just a smaller amount of our leavens, as our starter is fed every morning with 80 g water, 80 g flour and 35 g of old starter. 

We make our leaven with 35 g starter, 200 g water, 200 g flour mix, and of course boost the amount based on our days production needs.

I also use these same ratios for my students, with no failures to date.

We use Central Milling organic flours for our breads. I currently use Artisan Baker's Craft-Malted 11.5% Protein for standard bread flour, Old Country Type 85 (85% extraction)-malted 12.5% protein and then Whole Wheat Fine 12.5% protein. I think you said you're in S.F.? So Giusto's, South S.F. would be a good source for your flour. I get mine in Petaluma from Central Milling- Nicky Giusto. They are also a good source for all the varieties you may want in future. I get Kamut, Rye, Spelt, etc from him as well.