The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Tartine Basic Country Bread driving me insane

markmcc's picture

Tartine Basic Country Bread driving me insane

Hey all:

Been lurking here for months, but finally moved to see if anyone has any ideas. 

I've spent the past few weekends trying to bake the Basic Country Bread from the Tartine book, and have run into nothing but failure. 

My starter is going great guns, rising and falling regularly, no problems. Make the levain, and does great. Expands about 30% overnight, and passes the float test.

Mix the dough, let it rest for autolyse, add remainder of water and salt. And then...nothing.

I just don't get any rise during bulk fermentation. Been following the directions to a T, except for my room temp at home, which is in the 70 degree range (or, it was this weekend). Do the turn in the container, but just don't get any action. 

Let it go for 12 hours (!) on Saturday, and had about 5% rise after that time. 

I'm a little bit at the end of my rope on this -- I see people saying that the proof times in the book are long for them, and I'm just not seeing any action at all, really. Which is a total contrast to what seems like a thriving starter and levain. (Like, that same room temp with the levain gives a great expansion).

Any ideas? I'm about to give up on this recipe.


Ford's picture

I take it that this is sourdough starter.  How old is the starter?  What does it smell like?  Seventy degrees is a little low for the rise, 80 to 85°F would be better.  Try putting the dough in the oven with the light on and the door cracked so the temperature doesn't get above 87°F.


markmcc's picture

Starter has been going for about 1 month -- it's behaving just as the book claims it should. Sour smelling after the expand and collapse, nice and sweet after feeding and during its ferment.

Temp certainly seems like part of the issue, but I'm baffled that i don't really see any signs of fermentation after 12 hours at 70 F.

Franko's picture

The best advice I can offer is to use the standard water temperature calculation for the desired dough temperature of the final dough indicated in the formula, and then do your best to keep it in that range during the bulk ferment. This is critical to having a healthy dough that's well populated with natural yeast cells. I agree with David that you won't see the same kind of activity in the dough that you'd normally associate with commercial yeast, but if the temp is in the mid 70F-80F range there's lots going on, just at a slower pace than what you might expect.

Barbara Krauss's picture
Barbara Krauss

Hi Mark,

I'm a little curious about your use of the word "collapse."  Maybe you're trying to use a starter that has risen past its prime.  I'll leave it to other more experienced bakers to chime in here.  



dmsnyder's picture

I strongly suspect you do not have a problem other than incorrect expectations for dough behavior.

If you are following Robertson's directions and turning the dough every 30 minutes during bulk fermentation, the dough will not expand much in volume. (20% at most.)  However, If you ferment it in a glass or transparent plastic container, you will see lots of little bubbles throughout the dough. That's CO2.

If you stick a wetted finger 1/2 inch into the dough and it springs back slowly, it is fully fermented and ready to divide and shape.

Hope this helps.


markmcc's picture

I know that the Tartine recipe doesn't expand much, but I'm getting almost nothing, 10% or less. I'm in a transparent container, and don't really see any signs of fermentation in the dough.

It's just not fermenting in any time frame that makes sense to me -- perhaps its temperature, although the levain does fine at the same temps.

donut803's picture

I worked on the starter for this bread for a month it was finally ready and I made the bread.  I wasn't so happy with it.  I think I would rather use a little yeast.  I have been using the recipes from Jim Leahy's book from the Sullivan Street Bakery.  Basically the same concept as Tartine but you do use a little bit of yeast. You should look into that book I think the bread that I have made so far is delicious

ehanner's picture

It sounds like your starter isn't up to speed to me. The lack of bubbles is a sign of low activity. So, regardless of what you have done so far, I suggest trying the following to get your starter tripling over night for a few days.

First using AP flour and a couple pinches of WW, mix a feeding of 25-40 g of old starter and 80g room temp water. Be sure to dissolve the old starter in the water well. To the slurry, add 100 g of the flour and mix until combined. Leave the fed starter on the counter at room temp for 12 hours and repeat the above procedure. If you miss the time by an hour or two it's not critical but try to get two feedings in spaced roughly 12 hours apart.

After 4 feedings, skip the ww addition. After a few days, you'll be seeing much better activity and the culture population should be approaching stability. From that point, if you want to use the starter as prescribed by the author it should work. Or you could simply use the starter with the recipe. I'm sure this will work. It might take a week to get the activity where it will triple over a 10-12 hour period but I doubt it.

Keep us posted.


jcking's picture

Do you beleive if stirred 2-3 times a day it may help him?


ehanner's picture

Stirring does help some but as Franko says below, controlling the temperature is important. He should get reasonable activity at 70F and better activity at 76F. My starter fed the way I suggested will triple at 68F in 10 hours.


CopperAnnette's picture

I find that sourdough (no-knead) takes from 18 to 20+ hours these days in my locale (PA).  Until I just let it go until doubled, I was concerned about my starter as well.  Now I'm getting the results I expected all along.  Maybe just give it more time to rise. 

Onceuponamac's picture

Are you using tap water that is treated? I found that when I used that it essentially killed my starter - I use bottled now and get good results.

joyfulbaker's picture

I baked that bread last week and also went nuts trying to tame the gloppy dough.  I also started to follow Robertson's directions for the final rise (after "shaping" the loaves and putting them in the baskets) but realized, after consulting Hamelman's high-hydration ciabatta recipe, that 2-3 hours was far too long.  I had already gone past the 2-hour mark.  At any rate, I baked the first loaf in my newly purchased Lodge combo-cooker (suggested by Robertson, of course), put the second rising basked in the fridge to keep it in check.  Then I baked the second ("batard"--more like an ocean liner) directly on the stone (which I had kept on the oven rack just below the combo-cooker to preheat) with steam.  Of course, even though the baskets were dusted profusely with a rice/bread flour mix, part of the dough stuck and had to be peeled off, degassing the whole thing slightly--ouch! Well, lo and behold!  Both loaves (the first looked quite respectable, slashes and all) tasted fabulous--and the fragrance of the crust was to die for!  The second was a huge "slipper"--classic, I thought!

So--even though I vowed never to bake with such high hydration again, that bread tasted as good or better than anything I've baked before (including many sourdough formulas).  Persist and prevail!


wetdough's picture

Amen brother!

jerrycentral's picture

I have been making the Tartine WW alot lately and I like it.  My levain grows much more than 30% more like 2x.  I mix a big spoon of starter with 400 grams of 1/2 white and 1/2 WW as the book says to make 2 batches.  I use a slap techneque for the start and finish with stretch and fold.  I liked the idea of working in the container but it not make the best bread.

jeffbellamy's picture

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Yours look very good. 

John H's picture
John H

I'm a noob at this as well.  The Tartine bread seems to be the one of a couple of breads that gives me no trouble.  I start  in the morning the day before I bake with 20 grams of starter (KA starter about 15 months old now), 100 grams water, and 50 grams WW, and 50 grams AP.  By about dinner time there is no problem with the starter floating.   Then I mix up the final dough with 900 gram AP, 100 Grams of WW and let it autolyze for 1/2 hour.  Then I add 50 grams water and 20 grams of salt and let it rest 1/2 hour.  I do a few stretch and folds about 30 minutes apart.  Somewhere around 10:30 or 11:00 pm it goes into a large bread bowl lined with parchment paper, a light oil on top and cover with plastic wrap, and into the fridge overnight.   

In the morning I take the bowl out of the refrigerator and preheat the oven and the  7-1/2 QT french oven to 450. When the oven is preheated I lift the whole batch parchment paper and all into the dutch oven and put the lid on it.  After 20 minutes I remove the lid - The dough has a lot of oven spring and nearly fills the dutch oven at that point.  Then I check the internal temp after another 20 minutes.  Usually 50-55 minutes and I get an internal temp of 202 - 205.   

NewUser's picture

Hi all.

Been having a problem with this one as well…

1) If I follow Robertson's instructions to the letter (more or less), I get a very very sticky dough with almost no elasticity and almost no rise. The dough is so wet it sticks to the banneton and rips apart when I take it out. There's zero or even negative oven spring.

2) If I switch from folding in container to folding on a board, I get a very decent rise during bulk rise, but the dough is still too wet to (pre)shape properly, cause it sticks to everything. + It just sort of rips as early as bench rest. Again - final result is as flat as a pancake. 

3) I tried French kneading method just after autolyse and adding of salt + 4 folds (on a board), but without the 2-hour peaceful bulk rise in the end. The results are … quite different: dough is much more elastic, it doesn't stick as much, and it hasn't fallen apart. 

So then, I don't really fancy banging the dough every time I bake high hydration breads. Can anyone suggest what could the problem be?

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I drop the dough on a flowered towel -- sprinkled 50/50 with rice and all purpose flour.

Before doing so, however, I now sprinkle some of that 50/50 flour on top (i.e., the bottom) of the dough before inverting and placing it on the towel.  In other words, I try to make the dough not sticky before putting it on something I don't want it to stick to.

Do not worry overly much about flouring the outside of your loaf, even if there is a seam for some of that flour to creep into.

With the banneton (I've just ordered mine so have not had the pleasure of using one), I know you have to rub the flour into the grooves...I assume you are doing that, but if not, give that a shot as well.

With respect to shaping, I find that if the dough is very sticky and almost no rise, it is invariably because it was not warm enough during the bulk rise.  Have you been taking the dough's temperature?  If not, has the dough felt "warm" to your hands when you do the stretch and folds?  If not, it is too cold. Try warming up the oven and letting the dough sit in the container, in the warmed oven, between stretch and folds.

The dough still comes out sticky after 4 hours but much less so, and sprinkling the flour on top of it then scraping, lifting and flipping, is much easier.  And the shaping is much easier as well.


NewUser's picture

Well, I didn't measure the temperature, but I did let it sit in the oven with a mug full of boiling water close to it a couple of times. It just sort of gloops flat on the counter during bench rest.

Yeah, the bannetons are floured to the max. :)


David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Are you using a clear container? If so, do you get bubbles along the side?

 I am assuming your starter is raising other bread and that your levain floats, but if not, that could be the issue. 

When I make this, the dough is pulled and scraped out of the plastic container. It sits like a big blob on the counter.  It is very elastic. But it is thick   .  I need to photograph it next time I bake. I turn it 4 times in 2 hours, then once more at the end of the third hour.  My dough is warm to the touch and I only use warm water on my hands before turning. 

It rises very little before baking. But it does rise a little bit.

For the bench rest I flour the top before flipping or it would be super sticky. 

For the shaping, I now do it without flouring the rested dough and flipping. Just flip. It sticks but makes it easier to stretch and fold into the ball because it sticks to my counter. I flour the top just before I form into the boule. And I use enough  so it doesn't stick to my hands. 


NewUser's picture

Hi David, 

yeah, my starter seems to work fine with other breads. Levain also. I even tried variations of levain as soon as it passes the floating test (4-6 hrs) vs. the overnight version.

When in plastic container, some bubbles can be seen after a period of time, but they're not nice & small and evenly distributed, just a few mid- to fair sized ones here and there.

I also tried different hydration levels (as low as 60 %), different white flour, different folding technique, bulk rise time & temperature …

I clean my kitchen counter (+ rinse it well and wipe dry) and use that as opposed to using a board. Is it possible it could be too cold? But I'd expect a longer bulk rise would solve that, wouldn't it?

I don't know, the blasted thing just gloops apart when I let it rest or at the latest when I score it.

What I tried yesterday, was the French kneading technique. It produced a loaf I could work with when pre(shaping) & had a fairly nice oven spring. But when I cut it open today, most of the crumb was VERY compact with a layer of huge holes somewhere in the middle. I'd prefer a more evenly distributed openness. :)

Cheers for all the suggestions though! I'll be trying some more, although it's getting rather tiresome. :D

ericreed's picture

Not all flours absorb water the same. You could try a different flour or reduce the hydration a little and see if it comes together better.

Alternately, you could try a double hydration, where you add only a portion of the water at first, develop the gluten, and then work in the rest of the water afterwards.

NewUser's picture

The thing is, I always use the same white flour. Used it for 3 years now and never had a problem. Also - I use it for other breads and it works fine. 

BUT - I only tried one version of WW. Could that make such a mess of everything? There's only 10 % of it in the loaf.

I dropped the hydration level to 66 %, which is the percentage I usually get nice results with. Didn't work at all. Didn't even show any improvement, either.

The recipe itself calls for double hydration. But what exactly did you have in mind? Right now I'm at 330 grams + 15 grams. Should I do it more evenly, like 300 + 45 (etc.)?

Thank you!

ericreed's picture

Double hydration you would hydrate to like 65%. Whatever level you can easily get good gluten development really. If you tried the dough at 66% and got adequate gluten but still no luck then the double hydration technique probably isn't going to be better. It sounded like if you were sure of your starter and the one method gave you decent rise and spring it must be something to do with how the dough is developing. 

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I believe the most on point responses deal with temperature and levain. 

My levain usually more than doubles before I bake with it.  

I use 18-24 grams of my ripe starter, I mix it with room temp (69d F) water. I really mix it so that it is broken up and well dispersed. Squish it around with your fingers. 

For me, after the flour is mixed, it taxes a minimum of 8 and closer to 10-12 hours before I use it. In fact, for you, I suggest letting the levain sit out until it has become domed, however long that takes. 

It sounds like it is not a water problem but one of time/temperature. i am surprised it floats at 30% increase in the levain. But obviously (?hopefully?) floating is not enough here. Get thst pillow of levain going and give it another go. 

ericreed's picture

Just to note Robertson says the levain should rise around 20% in the book. I agree it seems low and my two attempts at tartine bread didn't work. People do apparently have success with his method though and I blamed my starter. 

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I know the book stated that dough should rise 20% but did not recall that he had the same expectations of the levain. That actually doesn't make sense to me. Why should 100% hydration levain only rise 20% in 10-12 hours, the same as ~75% hydrated dough in 4 hours?

In any case, I have had a lot of success with this bread and my levain goes from a shag-like mass that does not fill the bottom of my glass bowl to a very thick and pillow-like mass that fills up the bottom and crawls up 1.5 inches or so along the bowl.

I have never, however, had dough that looks as soft and pillowy as do his photos.  I believe he uses a more flour on the surface than I have been using, which will make the dough softer and less sticky. And since it is on the outside of the loaf, it shouldn't have any impact on the precious crumb.

I confess that I have not re-read the formula in some time and if I hadn't been having such success I would re-read it over an over again, as I did initially before embarking on my baking adventure.

I really do love this bread, but it is basically my first an only loaf that I have baked so I cannot say it is worth the effort and trouble OP is experiencing just for the bread.  I do, however, appreciate never EVER giving up on something that someone else is able to achieve. 

Veshta Yoshida's picture
Veshta Yoshida

Focus on the last step as that seems to be where something goes awry, with levain maxing and floating as it should and so on.

Off-hand I'd check the water temperature (seem to remember recipe calls for rather warm water), consider the water quality and/or either reduce salt or swap it for another "cleaner" brand .. the only time I had a similar problem I had inadvertently moved a decimal place in salt quantity which utterly destroyed all living cells (:facedesk!:).

Only other reason I can imagine from your description is that the levain is not incorporated properly in the autolysed portion giving you the uneven, or rather nearly non-existent bulk rise .. maybe 'isolated' levain is in contact with the salt addition making the relative salt content lethal to it.

Never give up.

When a bread fails; use it for breadcumbs, to soak up soups, as filling in hamburgers, meatballs or veggie/meat pies .. :)

martusia's picture


I was thinking, has anybody tried to make bunns/rolls out of tartine country bread dough? ;)