The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Issues with larger batches of Tartine sourdoughs

Lramik's picture

Issues with larger batches of Tartine sourdoughs


I've been reading the forums here and there for several years now, but this is my first post.

A little background: I'm the sous-chef at a small but popular restaurant where I've recently been able to take control of baking all the breads (sandwich loaves, focaccias, brioches, etc etc). Lately, since the winter is the slow season for us, I've had time to experiment with baking sourdoughs and hearth-type breads at work just as I do at home. I've had excellent results at home for quite some time, despite using totally average AP flour and an electric oven on its last legs; I've been maintaining my starter for almost three years now, and it's very happy, active and honestly loved like a pet in our house.

So, I was excited to take all that and transfer it to the restaurant, thinking that our big stand mixer, expansive work surfaces, warmer kitchen, large fridge for retarding, etc, would result in the same success and more, but that hasn't been the case.

Basically, my main issue is that I haven't been able to get the same kind of gluten development in my doughs while baking large batches at work as I do at home with a single batch, and my loaves, while delicious, don't have the same open crumb.

I've been baking almost exclusively from Tartine Bread since I picked it up in the fall (I know I'm years late to the Tartine party...) and I've been mostly baking the baguette recipe at work, though I truly love the whole wheat as well.

Here's the rundown:

The first couple times I tried at work, I baked a 3x batch of the baguette recipe. I used all Five Roses AP flour, which I believe is between 11.5-12% protein. Mixed poolish night before, in fridge overnight. I did the initial mix (pre-autolyse) in the stand mixer, thinking that this would enable me to get a head start on gluten development with the big batch. During bulk ferment, S&Fs were difficult as the dough was not very extensible (less so than at home using Robin Hood AP, a comparable flour.) By the time the dough had almost doubled, it was better, but still not quite as smooth as what I achieve at home. I was very excited; the loaves held up well during the final proof, great oven spring and then... I cut one open and... evenly-textured smallish holes. Sudden disappointment, and no one else in the restaurant could understand why, as they crammed hot buttered chunks of bread into their mouths.

I figured it was the initial mechanical mixing that must be responsible for the dense crumb, so I switched back to an all-hand method and unfortunately achieved similar results. Now, there were sometimes a few large and irregular holes, but I felt as though the dough was underdeveloped even after 3-5 hours of bulk ferment, turning every half hour. The dough is webby, tears relatively easily during preshaping, and just generally does not have the smooth, supple softness that I enjoy working with. The loaves bake up alright... oven spring is great, although I never come close to developing "ears" (and I have at home), and that dense crumb just makes me mad every time!

Recently I bought a couple bags of bread flour (12.5 and 14 percent) and have been experimenting with them at home. Brought some to work for latest batch of baguettes. No real difference, and if anything, the dough was even webbier than usual. However it was a warm day in the prep room and by the time I'd done four turns the thing had almost doubled; threw it in the walk-in cooler for another couple hours and continued but it was just never quite "right."

Hopefully someone has gotten this far through my wall of text! Here's what I'm thinking:

  • maybe I'm not able to develop the dough as well with s&f in the larger batch? should I divide into two small batches after the first turn/salt addition? Or should I stay with one large batch, and retard in the fridge between turns so that I have more time to accomplish gluten development?
  • maybe I'm underproofing after the final shape at work; I usually leave them an hour and a half or so, and by that time they have usually risen to about one and a half times the initial volume, but some of the "rise" is "spreading" and I get all scared of overproofing and I get them in the oven. I feel like if I waited some more, maybe those big holes would develop?
  • I know my shaping technique can use some work, but I feel like the dough itself is almost preventing me from proper shaping.

Any ideas? Again, I apologize for the long post. I'll try to get some pictures up soon.

dabrownman's picture

Google says My MS browser is unsupported and suggests I use google chrome instead. Now you know why folks hate google :-)

golgi70's picture

Your flour may be playing a large part of the problem.  Baguettes actually demand a lower protein flour so going for a higher protein content is probably going to make your dough even more elastic and continue to result in a tighter crumb..  It's said the more dough in a mixer the longer it takes to develop gluten because less of the dough is mixed with each revolution.  A soft mix with moderate gluten development followed by spaced folds should get you there.  I'd go back to the lower gluten flour and try that.  A 5 hour bulk ferment on a yeasted dough is quite long and may be making  your dough too strong by the time you get to dividing/shaping.  You may need to decrease this.  If you posted your formula maybe we could be of even more assistance.  Whats the hydration?  What is "pre-autolyse"?  How much of your flour is going into the poolish?  What is the percentage of yeast?  

Hope I can help you some more,


Lramik's picture

Hi Josh,

My formula is straight out of Tartine Bread; 64% total hydration including poolish and levain; 200g (~14%) of 1400g total flour is in poolish, and the same in levain, so 400g (28%) flour is wrapped up in preferments and 1kg added at the final build.

By "pre-autolyse" I was simply indicating "before autolyse." :)

As far as the flour goes, even with 100% AP I have similar results with the large batches... however our AP flour, being Canadian, is fairly high in protein as it stands.

I'm doing a couple more trials today so hopefully I will be able to post a couple shots of the crumb when they are finished. Thanks for the help!

Gingi's picture

From my experience with inconsistent holes, I can attest the answer might be your starter. Especially when multiplying rations, the strength of the starter is critical. I went up to x2 with most recipes and got that conclusion. The concentration of bacteria used at the peak should be helping achieving what you want.

I understand your frustrations, but really - it could be SO many things. that is my opinion at least. Also, from the two pics you uploaded it does not seems that the differences is so major. But I might be wrong.

Lramik's picture

Thanks for the answer -- that could be part of it... The "work" starter was seeded from my "home" one, so they are similar, and both are active, but it's possible that I'm not using it when it's at its peak -- I do my best, but unfortunately bread isn't me only responsibility around the restaurant so I sometimes have to bake at less than optimal conditions -- the starter is never deflated, watery, etc. but sometimes I find myself wishing that I'd been able to catch it a couple hours earlier in its "cycle."

I will try to get some better pictures up!

El Fante's picture
El Fante

I agree with Gingi and Golgi.  I have a small bakery where I make about 55 pounds of baguette dough at a time using stretch and fold, there should be no problem with larger batches.  If I use my high gluten flour, the results are a flat and tightly crumbed baguette.

I would strongly advise perfecting your craft with the mixer rather than by hand.  Trust me, after a few months and increased batches you will dread bread mixing and have a hard time keeping employees, assistants, or passing that job along.  You can either mix gently and remove the dough and salt by hand, or let the dough autolyse in the mixer.  Whichever works best logistically, but DO NOT over mix.  The purpose of your mixing is to simply get the flour wet and let the bacterial festivities begin.

mcs's picture

Your goal should be to perfect the bread in your bakery with the materials available at your bakery.  If Five Roses is what is used, then make your bread with that.  It's a high quality Canadian flour and there's no point in bringing in new variables into the equation.

That said, I'm going to go a bit against the grain and say that you can get great baguettes from any quality flour (within reason of course).  If it's a high protein flour you have, then adjust your mix accordingly.  If it's lower protein, then take that into account. 

Although your process that you listed above is quite descriptive, I don't know the timing of the folds, the temperatures you are looking for, and the amount of time between each of your steps.  Those are VERY critical.  In fact, something as simple as mixing the dough in a 65F room and mixing in an 80F room can make an enormous difference, all else being equal. 

Lastly, as El Fante said above me, since you're in a professional environment, learn to use your mixer.  If your product improves (which it will), and all you've done is mix by hand, you'll be back to square 1 when the time comes to increase production.


PS, My initial thought about your dough is that it is overmixed.  It sounds tough to work with.  Develop the strength by mixing less (fewer RPMs), but over a longer time period (pauses between folds).  Your mixer should do the S&F for you.

Lramik's picture

Thanks, everyone, for the input! I've been able to bake a few more times in the past week and saw quite a bit of improvement with the last couple batches.

I went back to the mixer and used all AP flour. Increased the hydration to 71%. I decreased the frequency of S&F during the bulk ferment by about half, only doing it once an hour. Saw marked improvement in extensibility, and got really excited while I was shaping because it was obvious that the dough was much more cooperative.

Still not quite there, but I will keep playing around!