The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Tartine Leaven Question....

adm's picture

Tartine Leaven Question....

I have made a couple of versions of the Tartine Basic Country bread (with different web recipes) over the last few weeks with varying success - but I took the plunge a week ago and bought the book to try and get it right. I have ordered a Lodge Combo Cooker, and while I wait for that to arrive I am trying to familiarise myself with Chad's approach.

So...... (and I don't have the book in front of me now), IIRC in the book he says that once your starter is reliable (which mine is) to take a tablespoon of starter, and add flour and water to make the leaven then leave it overnight - and this then becomes a "young" fresh leaven which goes into the dough recipe.


I watched the Tartine Masterclass video (where he is presenting his method to a group of German bakers) yesterday, and in that he says to take a tablespoon of active starter and feed with the flour and water and then to use it in the dough after 2-3 hours.

Big difference.

Does anybody know which is correct? My leaven using the first approach would have completely risen and then fallen after the overnight wait, so to my mind this wouldn't be a young leaven. More of a starter replenishment cycle.

I would expect that after a 3 hour wait, my leaven would have risen 20-30%, and this fits much more with my idea of a "young" leaven.

My thinking right now is to feed my starter overnight so it is in tip-top condition, then to take a tablespoon of that in the morning to make the leaven and use that in the dough after 2-3 hours.

Anyway - any thoughts or words of wisdom from the collective mind?

dwcoleman's picture

I think I saw the same video, he mentions that he prefers to use a young leaven I believe.

amolitor's picture

I too have noted in a couple of places that Chad "prefers a young leaven" and run into recipes in which he is clearly using ripe ones. I use a recipe out of.. some magazine. The Wall Street Journal magazine insert, maybe? Anyways, it's some variant of his country bread, with a leaven and dough both made with a small amount of whole wheat and a large amount of white (1:8 maybe?). In this recipe, he has you riped the leaven overnight, quite warm, and tells you that it's ready when it floats -- the classic test of a ripe leaven.

My assumption has been that there are a couple different things running around out there in magazines, on youtube, and in his cookbook. One uses a young leaven, and one uses a ripe one.


CelesteU's picture

The book suggests that the leaven needs to ripen for as long as 10 hours, or until it passes the float test.  I've had the leaven reach "floatiness" at 4, 6, and 12 hours, depending on the ambient temp in my kitchen.  I generally mix the leaven in the morning, just before I leave for work, and it sits at around 65-75 degrees on the countertop all day.  About 11 hours later, I mix the dough & do the stretch & folds, then the dough goes into the fridge for a bulk rise just before I go to bed.  The next AM, I divide, rest, shape, and then let it rise for as little as 3 hours or as much as 6 or 7 hours, depending on ambient temp and dough behavior.

You'll find a rhythm that works for you...keep on bakin'.  While the incredibly detailed recipe in the book can seem daunting, it's a forgiving process.  I've had loaves stick to the rising basket and completely stretch apart, but baked 'em anyway:  great results.  Also have slashed a loaf and it seemed terribly underrisen, but I was time-crunched, so I baked it anyway:  great results.

I do like to add some flax meal to the standard Tartine recipe; it seems to tenderize the crumb and keep it fresh a bit longer than a plain loaf.

jcking's picture

Chad mentions in the video that he is enamored with the local flour he is using. Could this be the reason he's only letting it build/elaborate for 2 to 3 hours?

Jim's picture

Elsewhere in Tartine Bread (I think it's in the 'more detail' section around pp.70ff) Chad says they feed the leaven at his Mission shop "several times a day".  From this biologist's view, that means he's manually maintaining his leaven in a sort of chemostat culture -- perpetually in log phase, never letting it run out of its preferred carbon source, slow down and settle into stationary phase, where homegrown leavens end up 24 +/- hrs after 'feeding' (=subculturing) and being maintained at "room temperature" (=outside of the fridge).

Keeping a leaven in perpetual log phase makes sense for a commercial baker who needs to minimize the uncontrolled variables in his process (e.g., as Chad recounts, he labors at the whim of Bay Area weather).  A culture in stationary phase (at the end of the growth cycle) or lag phase (at the beginning, before taking off), has enough metabolic readjustments to make when refreshed (=subcultured) that it would be harder to predict and thus control its growth kinetics, and therefore know how it will perform as part of a dough.  If it's kept in a perpetually actively growing state, on the same feed, as it were, then there are no mysteries and it will always hit the ground (=dough) running.

No doubt another non-trivial issue is that stationary phase cultures scramble to find alternative energy sources (e.g. fats and proteins) besides their favored ones (S. cerevisiae prefers glucose and maltose) and the byproducts of mining those less-preferred sources can be compounds that detract from the flavor objective.  Some probably add too, of course.

Caveat: These thoughts come much more from my day job than from my so-far limited experience with baking bread from homegrown leaven, all of which so far have been remarkably satisfying and all with log-phase ("young") leaven.


PiPs's picture


In his masterclass video Chad doesn't mention how much "seed" he uses. I would think he is using a larger amount of seed starter in his ratio. There are clues to this in the Bread Builders book. There is a chapter devoted to Chad in his days at Point Reyes. He was using a 2 hour final expansion of his leaven before mixing in his dough. There is also a similar concept mentioned in the Tartine book when the leaven has possibly gone to far and a small amount of flour and water is stirred into the leaven at a 1:.5:.5 ratio. This expansion is ready within 1-2 hours and dilutes the acidity.

Chad also doesn't mention what temperature he is feeding the leaven at in the masterclass ... this will have a massive effect on its development.

The float test works well. So does watching and learning how your leaven develops during a day. Smell it as it rises and notice how the aroma changes from sweet to vinegary.

With time you will find a rhythm that suits your life.


adm's picture

is the spice of life....

I think this weekend I will build up a few leavens and play around....

I'll take my starter out of the fridge this afternoon and feed it up. By tomorrow morning it'll be nice and ripe, so then I will make up a 1:5:5 leaven and maybe a 2:5:5 version then watch them for expansion and do a float test every hour. That should help me understand it a bit better.




StuartG's picture

Just to be a pain.

And to be clear, I'm neither, but I don't like seeing anyone get misrepresented. :)

Happy baking!


adm's picture

Yesterday, I made a "by the numbers" copy of the recipe from Tartine Bread - with a leaven that was made the night before. It came out poorly - but only because the dough stuck to the banneton when I turned it out into the DO to bake. It ripped the whole top of the loaf off! Anyway. The bread was tasty, but the loaf was flat. Crumb was surprisingly open considering the cock up putting it into the oven.

This morning I built up a 1:2:2 leaven from a cold starter that had been in the fridge overnight ( I forgot to take it out and feed it last night so I added a good amount of starter to get it going), and after 2 hours it was passing the float test. In fact, it had gone off like a rocket and doubled in size already.

So, another attempt today from a young leaven.....fingers crossed.'s picture

Your accounts of Tartine fails are painfully familiar.  Oh man do I feel your frustration.  I'm going to court heresy here and assert that, on a bulletproofness scale of 1 to 10,  Chad Robertson's procedure rates about a 3.  I have come to the conclusion, following a long winter of "I've got to re-read it, I must have missed something" that his protocol might have hatched into a more reproducible form had it been tested in locales of the diversity approaching that of TFL readership and not merely those of the handful of Bay Area personalities colorfully highlighted in the book.  By comparison, for example, in his Whole Grains book, Peter Reinhart enlisted the cooperation of an interactive network of hundreds of testers, unceremoniously but graciously listed in the book's acknowledgments and not all living within a few miles of the kitchen (and thus climate and water supply) in which he was developing his (from my experience) relatively bulletproof formulae and procedures.  

As I commented above, Robertson labors at the whim of Bay Area weather.  That right there proclaims that his protocol is hypersensitive to ambient conditions: temperature and humidty primarily.  Granted, all bread baking is exasperatingly so, but some  objectives more than others.  In my assaults on the summit of Mount Tartine, baking in a cold house (55-60˚ this time of year) I took Peter Reinhart's exhortations regarding the creative possibilities of manipulating time and temperature to heart and tried, with some measure of success, to beat Robertson's protocol into submission.  But the basic notion that "if it's colder, let it go longer" has some serious empirical limitations:  There are both biological (growing, metabolizing yeast and bacteria) and physical (gluten development) processes interacting here and their temperature response curves are unlikely to resemble one another in important nuances.  For example, 4˚C (fridge) does not slow down fermentation the same way it slows down they physics of gluten development (for more than that, consult Em Buehler).  What I can say is that when I've most slavishly tried to reproduce the time and temperature conditions of Robertson's narrative (impossible this time of year in this house), my attempts have most closely approached what I think he's written the recipes to achieve.  I won't know until I make a pilgrimmage to the Mission District and lay down some sheckles for a loaf.

But cut the man infinite slack.  His book is beguilingly beautiful and art pedagogy is tough.  "Talking about music is like dancing about architecture".  Bread baking cannot be taught or mastered by book.  Robertson admits that it's hard to explain what he's learned and alas, ain't that the truth.  He may be a rock star of artisanal breadcraft, but he's no Peter Reinhart, who is primarily a masterful teacher and (no offense intended) secondarily an artisanal baker.  Mr. Robertson's pedagogy could have stood a heavier editorial hand chez Chronicle Books, or better, an editorial critique by someone like PR.  Pick up The Bread Bakers Apprentice and let PR walk you through the roles and tests for intended outcomes of all the "stages" as he calls them.  Then return to Robertson with the tools to tweak what works in The Mission for your conditions.  FWIW, I don't think it's the leaven.  I think it's your temperature and humidity conditions during BF, bench rest and proofing.  Only a guess though.

One practical suggestion (happy to hear from others on this): I find that my Tartine doughs seem to be wear too much water on their surfaces.  This isn't just high hydration, but something else.  And this is certainly responsible for the banneton cloth sticking issue.  Maybe it's that (unusual?) step of his of squeezing in salt water after the autolyse.  It's as if the door is closed to the dough's water absorption and much lingers out in the cold for the remainder of the process.

As always, the good news is that bread baking is nothing if it isn't the most gloriously forgiving craft imaginable.  You can kill trees, murder hopeful pottery and defile precious woods in other hobbies.  But the bread almost always comes out WOW THIS IS NICE, even if all you can think about afterward is how you're going to do it better next time.  Keep us posted!

Must be a sunday...too many words.


adm's picture
adm's loaf turned out great. I would post pics, but we've eaten almost all of it.

It was more of a rushed bake than yesterday - but in a kind of relaxed, "oh, better do that then" way as I tended to kids, dogs and other food prep (mainly Beef braised in Leffe Brun)

From my young leaven, I did a 3.5 hour ferment, with turns every 30 minutes for the first 2 hours, then after another hour. Because I was in a bit of a hurry I stuck the box with the dough on top of the furnace (which was on for 5 minute bursts every hour or so), isolated by a ramekin so it didn't get too warm. Ambient temp there was about  28C (82F).

The dough didn't raise too much - maybe 20-25% or so, but definitely felt ready, so after the 3.5 hours I shaped it and did a 30 min bench rest. Then I did the final shape and stuck it into the banneton. Proofed for 2.5 hours back in the warmth. At that point, the finger poke test said "good", and I was running out of time for fresh bread to go with the beef.

Yesterday, I used an  unlined cane banneton well dusted with rye flour. Nothing has EVER stuck to this before - but it did yesterday. Today I lined it with linen and dusted it with the same flour. It worked fine. The dough just plopped straight out into my (cold) Le Creuset casserole. The other thing I did differently was not to add any extra water when I added the salt after the autolyse. It did make the salt addition harder though as the dough was sticking to my hands much more and I had to keep removing it with the bench knife. 

My Lodge Combo Cooker should be here next week. They're tough to get hold of in the UK. The Le Creuset is too deep to preheat to semi molten and then dump dough into without getting serious burns, but I seem to be getting the hang of using it cold. I dusted the bottom with semolina.

30 minutes with the lid on. 20 minutes with it off and the loaf came out great. Not quite perfect yet, but the crust sang, and the crumb was shot full of nice big holes. I'd like a bit more spring (this wasn't bad at all though) and I think having the cast iron pre heated might do this. Another hour proving probably wouldn't have hurt either, but today I was out of time.

Anyway. The rushed approach with the young leaven worked well. I think the higher temperature helped it out though. Still, the proof is in the eating, and this one got eaten quickly.