The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Tartine bread issue

Marley1's picture

Tartine bread issue

I have been baking the recipe from the book for five months or so.
The first few months the bread was perfect, both in taste, texture but also in volume and "ears".

With that success I bought another cast iron set and decided to make two batches each baking day. I treat the dough as two completely different batches and mix and process each batch as if one different  batch.

I do not think I changed anything except for the ambient temperature in the small room where the bulk and full rise take place. I do bake two pans at once, but tried just doing one with the same result.

The bread tastes great but it does not rise as much in baking, the score barley opens and the crumb is much more uniform, less open and is very moist.
When I handle the dough it feels much less structural, when I shape the loaves they do not get that smooth and taught outer surface and seem to be more blobish.
There is much less form and shape retention. When it is finished with the final basket rise it feels soft and giggly. When I put it into the cast iron, even if I cup it in my hands before it place it, it oozes to the circumference of the pan and seems sort of shapeless.

I have tried to keep everything the same. The bread for the last four or so batches is identical so it seems that whatever is not the same is consistent throughout the batches.

I do mix the two batches in two different large bowls, one glass and one metal. It is odd but the dough in the glass bowl seems even more moist and more difficult to handle.

I tried to have all the steps take longer, mixing the leaven a bit earlier the day before, batch rise longer and final rise longer, same result. I went back to the original times, same result. Again as far as I can tell the only change is a two to four degree rise in the room temperature.

Help please, any suggestions? The first loaves where so magically perfect.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

There must be something.  Or just tell us about the starter...  Maybe the starter needs some perking up.


Marley1's picture

The starter seems fine. Rising and falling every day. When I take out what I need to make the levan it seems quite full and alive. The levan the next morning passes the float test.

It is more humid an the flour is stored where the humidity could affect it. The next batch I make I will use new flour and see if that makes a difference.

Threads on the Tartine forum seem to suggest quicker bulk rising and final rising times might also help.

Your thoughts?

And thanks!

pjkobulnicky's picture

Has your flour been sitting around picking up moisture?  Is the ambient humidity greater these days? Try a tad more flour or a tad less water and see if that helps.  My guess is that the winter was very dry and good for that recipe (I use it sometimes too) and now the approaching Spring is more humid. And, here in the Midwest, we've had a lot of rain so there is a lot of evaporation going on from the ground to the air.



Marley1's picture

If I do make some changes in the flour or water what would a percentage of a "tad" be. Would a five percent change make a difference.


Chuck's picture

The chances of getting it exactly right the first time without getting "too much" are aproximately zero. The best known way is to sneak up on it just a very little bit at a time.

Try 1% or even less and work it for a while to see how it feels, then if it still isn't right add another bit and work it again, and so on several times until it feels right. Often suggestions for such tweaking using the old "volume" measurements are one teaspoon at a time (one tablespoon for very large batches).

Write down what you did, add it all up at the end, and pencil it onto the recipe so you can do it all at once instead of bit by bit next time. For example your final note on the recipe might say something like "in humid weather, add 2.6% flour".

ktg's picture

I have the exact same problem as Marley1. The first 4 weeks of making the bread it came out perfectly, then it did the same things she mentioned. I even started new starter thinking my starter was bad. Leven passed the float test, the bulk fermentation looked good, but it was too gooey and messy just as Marley1 described.

I will try new flour, and it is also spring now, so the humidity and fact that the heat in the house isn't on, may be making a big difference. I will try those adding more flour, and maybe lessen rising time?. If Marley1 could please reply if you figure it out, and I will do the same



Marley1's picture

Things are getting a BIT better. I have been talking to a flour manufacturer and he concurs that the dough is very over proofed. His suggestion was to slow everything down. So... now I use 68-70 degree water and bulk rise for two hours and did the second rise today for 1.5 hours. The dough was still too soft to score well and I use a sharp scissor to clip open the dough with so-so reults.


Now I am going to only base the second rise on the poke test. The bulk rise dough was great and looked good on the bench rest so I think I am allowing it to long in the final rise. I am very close but very surprised as to how far off my current criteria is to the recipe in the book.

ktg's picture


I will be baking this weekend and will let you know of my results as well.

Chuck's picture

I can't resist throwing in my two cents worth here:

One question I hear is how actual experience can be so different from the recipe. My own experience is rising times are so extremely variable depending on so many unobvious factors that the "times" even in good recipes can be either too long or too short by a factor of two (or even three). A good suggestion for bakers is "lose the clock".

A second question I hear is how to use the poke test to judge when proofing is done. I've found a couple possible problems: First, if you try a "poke" test immediatly after shaping, it will give misleading results -- you have to wait a little while to start testing. And second, unless you're truly expert, only a "big" poke (past the bottom of your fingernal) will behave as expected (pops most or all of the way back: needs more proofing; pops half way back: bake it; doesn't pop back much at all: overproofed) -- smaller pokes can be rather hard to interpret.

The third question I hear is how the bread could have worked fine for a long time, then suddenly stopped working. Obviously something changed  ...but what? The most likely candidates are the flour, the starter, and the water. A different brand of flour is pretty obvious; even a new batch of the same brand and type of flour may introduce fairly significant year-to-year varations. Having a starter suddenly flip over to behaving very differently isn't impossible, especially if it suddently has more rising power rather than less. And if you use tap water that's either filtered or set out over night, changes in that water are a particularly insidious problem that probably won't even appear to be a change at all. Water suppliers are fairly likely to make drastic changes in the amounts of what they consider "trace components" without telling their customers! If there's either more or less of some trace mineral your starter relies on heavily, such a change could significantly affect the rising power of your starter while appearing to you that nothing changed. (I suspect you've changed so very many things so significantly since it last worked that you're now fighting mainly with secondary problems that were introduced by attempts to fix the original problem:-)

ktg's picture

Thanks, good comments, that make a lot of sense.

Marley1's picture

Thanks for the reply. With that being said with all the possible variables, most (flour, water) being caused from others how is a baseline of success established. My plan is to keep everything I can control the same. How the starter is feed, weights, water temperature, bulk rise time, bench rise time are things I can control. Can I assume, with experience, that the poke test for the loaves after waiting a bit after final shaping will provide me with the ability to have scorable and correctly proofed bread?

Is there some benchmark for time for the bulk rise also. The last few sessions the dough seems great at this point. When I do the final few stretch and folds the dough stays together, releases from the side of the container and seems cohesive and elastic.


Thanks again for your time!!

Chuck's picture
Chuck is a baseline of success established...

First, make the same old recipe over and over as your baseline. It should be fairly similar to other breads you make, and should be so familar you can almost do it with your eyes closed. Do not make a different or new-to you recipe and call that a baseline -- it's not.

Sometimes you can actually control all the variables. Keep the bottom of the old sack of flour around after you open the new, so you can try one more loaf with the old flour if necessary. Either use bottled (not distilled) water, or make sure you have a very good informational channel from your water processor. (A big advantage of bottled water is if it's not exactly the same, that will be obvious to you. Unknown changes like tap water is subject to are much less likely.)

Other times you'll get stuck by a sudden change. The thing to do then is to not change anything else until you figure out what happened and how to compensate for it. (Try something, and if that wasn't it put it back.)


Can I assume, with experience, that the poke test for the loaves after waiting a bit after final shaping will provide me with the ability to have scorable and correctly proofed bread?

You can (and should) use the poke test right now experience necessary. IMHO though you will have to make a "deep" poke to avoid misinterpretation problems. 

Only experience (lots of it, too much to even think about right now) will be necessary to consistently correctly interpret a shallow poke test.


Is there some benchmark for time for the bulk rise also

A common way is to put the dough in a straight-sided see-through container (probably plastic), mark the level with a rubber band (or maybe a piece of colored tape), and wait for it to rise twice as high as it was initially (2 times is right for most recipes, but a few will explicitly say 2+1/2 times or 3 times as high).

Another way is to use the "poke" test again. Look for a deep hole not springing back much at all (at the proofing stage you'd call this over-proofed, but it's right for a bulk rise).

Whatever you do, do not give the clock much importance.

grind's picture

Hi Marley1, are you using the same flour now as you did before, when it worked perfectly.  I sak because sometimes it's the flour that creates the problem.  Could be a really low falling number or an excessive percentage of damaged starch.  This would explain the blobish (perfect description, I know exactly what you mean) character that you've described.  It would also explain the structural weakness that you have mentioned.  It also expalins how quickly your dough has been over proofing, compared to your previous, positive experience.

Phone the flour company and ask for a Certificate of Analysis (COA) and hear the shriek!


Good luck.