The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Tartine bread

PeterMc's picture

Tartine bread

I am a novice and have started making tartine bread and use a wood fired oven for baking. Even though I have followed the recipe exactly, the dough seems to have no structure and will not hold its shape once removed from the proving basket. I end up with a flat disc in the oven. Could it be that the dough is too wet? It certainly seems to develope more structure with the folding recommended during the bulk rise, but just won't hold its shape.

The leaven passes the float test.

I have tried both the four hour and overnight autolyse. For the bulk rise, I sit the dough over the coffee machine to keep it warm

It is even worse with 10% rye flour. Today I had a sticky mess which was unworkable and structureless and didn't make it into the proving basket. 

On the other hand my River Cottage "My Sourdough" seems more successful but the technique is completely different to the tartine method

I am keen to perfect the Tartine loaf as the taste is so good.


Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Can I ask you what is the hydration of the River Cottage loaf? 

My problem with high hydration dough was handling and they always turned out gummy. However I think I've found the answer and just baked a close to 80% hydration loaf with 2% olive oil to-boot. 

My problem was following the recipe exactly. And everytime it went wrong I became more exact. The answer is to do whatever you need to do to get that gluten formation which is difficult with high hydration dough. 

My recipe I've just perfected is...


Four 100%

Water 80%

Olive Oil 2%

Salt 2%

Starter 30% at 66% hydration


This one turned out very well. Whereas my previous Forkish attempt at 78% hydration loaf sans oil had less structure, did not rise as much and was gummy. Reason being is I followed Forkish's advice and thought that was enough but with my own I followed my instinct. The problem with recipes is that we could both do the same thing and get different results due to starters differing, different flours, humidity etc. 

I think the answer is to go by feel. If you are using the recommended strong bread flour and you have no structure then perhaps you haven't developed the gluten properly. Incorporate more kneading and/stretch and folds. 

If your dough did not rise as much in the allotted time then you might have needed more time for a mature starter or more time for the dough itself. 

When you autolyse was it just flour and water? Remember that bulk fermentation starts when the starter goes into the dough. Do the flours you use need such a long autolyse? Could weak gluten flours degrade with this time whereas bread flour will benefit from it? 

Some things to think about.

PeterMc's picture

Thanks. River cottage S/D 1100gms flour and 650mls water and a ladleful of starter. Make the sponge the night before and and the remaining flour and salt next morning.

Thanks for the tips. I will keep working on it and slowly ascend the learning curve

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Here is a bit of reworking for you:



100g leaven

450g white bread flour

50g whole wheat

10g salt

318g water


Final hydration : 67%


Build your starter so it is 100g @ 100% hydration 50:50 bread flour and whole wheat.

E.G. 20g starter + 40g water + 40g flour (20g bread flour, 20 whole wheat). Allow this to fully mature overnight before moving onto the recipe.

For the autolyse follow the instructions exactly. Since the autolyse has the starter in it do not deviate from the time.

Now the dough should be easier to handle. From here on you should follow the recipe and it shouldn't be far off. Just take into account some variables but as long as your starter was mature and it's not too cold the recipe will put you in the ballpark. Just make sure the dough is ready when bulk fermentation is done. Airy, billowy, pulls away from sides easily when doing the folds and has elasticity.

joc1954's picture

When I started with Tatrtine bread I had exactly the same problems. The result improved immediately when I reduced the hydration. I don't know what kind of flour you are using, but for the flour I can get here in Slovenia or in this part of Europe, the hydration should be much lower than the suggested hydration that the recipe for Tartine bread calls for. When I take a new recipe which is using high gluten flour I always reduce the amount of water for at least 5 to 10%.

This kind of problems are typical problems that someone has to pass when he starts baking. Whatever flour you get it will always slightly differ in humidity and therefore you always have  to adjust the amount of water you use. After a while you will develop the feeling what the dough should be like and then you will smile when remembering the starting period.  

Forget for a while the high hydration and start with 70% or even less (not below 65%) I am quite sure that you will get decent dough which will not spread like a pancake. I had exactly the same problem. I always include the water used for the starter/levain in the percentage calculation. If you will see that your flour bears higher hydration, increase it by few percents at a time. Decreasing the hydration only for 2%  (cca 20g of water less when you use recipe that calls for 1000g of flour) can  change the dough quite a bit. 

I am quite sure that you have not problem with gluten development.  I would not suggest you to extend the autolyze or autolyze before adding starter as this will make the dough even more extensible what is currently your problem. I am quite sure that with lower hydration you will be nicely surprised with the results. 

Happy baking, Joze

RoundhayBaker's picture

Tartine's recipe are quite unforgiving and don't convert easily from the commercial bakery to the domestic setting. You're definitely starting at the extreme end of the difficulty scale. But you're not alone. Many, many people have dived into the deep end with the Tartine books (I wonder how many doggy-paddled to the edge and never went back in) and found identical problems.

Joc and Lechem's advice and suggestions are excellent and worth following. Hydration isn't everything. It might be worth considering stepping back to a lower hydration, less technical recipe (from another baker), keep baking it until you've mastered it and then moving on to another. It's a slow process but that's the beauty of baking.


richkaimd's picture

Follow the Tartine recipe amounts precisely, using a scale. Learn to do this before making modifications.

Autolyze for no less than 40 minutes before adding the salt and 50 gm water.  Stretch and fold a bit to mix those two ingredients in, then start the bulk rise with a s/f every hour at least three times.  Then allow to rise until the dough is mounding, quite bubbly and quivers easily when lightly shaken.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in the fridge at least overnight.  Scrape out of the bowl the next day (taking care not to degas) onto a well-floured counter.  Sprinkle moderately on top with flour to prevent sticking onto your hands while forming loaves.  Divide the dough into roughly two equal portions.  Hands covered with flour, gather each portion into a ball, dropping each into a bowl lined with a large enough piece of parchment paper so that the dough ball can be lifted with the parchment as a sling.  

Bake each loaf in a 500 degree preheated dutch oven covered for 30 minutes before removing the cover.  Continue baking for 25 minutes or until the internal temperature measures at least 195 degrees.  Allow to cool to room temperature before slicing.

Much in the Tartine loaf recipe and directions can be modified, including amounts of which flours, amount of water and salt, how you form the loaves, etc., but learn this technique before you play with ANY modifications.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Haven't made this bread in a while so just looked up the recipe. The recipe asks you to autolyse the dough with the Levain for 25-40 minutes. You say that you have tried a 4 hours and overnight autolyse. This is not in the recipe! If you have done this with the Levain then you would have turned the dough into starter. No wonder it didn't hold its shape as the gluten would have  broken down. 

Arjon's picture

Some people probably have enough natural aptitude / luck to make Tartine-style loaves soon after starting to bake, but I wouldn't recommend trying to jump that far up the learning curve. Instead, I'd suggest to any new baker to begin with beginner-level recipes in order to learn how dough develops, how it looks and feels, how small increases in hydration affect it, etc. while working with methods / recipes that are more appropriate to your knowledge / skill level as it rises.  

RobynNZ's picture

Hello Peter

With a WFO I can understand why you are keen to master the Tartine bread method. A friend calls me when he is planning to use his WFO and I often choose to do Tartine loaves for that firing.

In the first bread book, as others have said, in the basic country bread recipe the autolyse is given as 25~40 minutes. Your indication of 4 hours or overnight autolyse makes  me wonder which version of the Tartine recipe you are using, so many people have put their own spin on it. Or perhaps you mistyped and actually meant you have experimented with the final proof.

I suspect you are leaving the bulk fermentation go for too long in the cosy spot over your coffee machine, with your kindness the yeast maybe multiplying too much at that point. Chad Robertson's instructions are 78~82°F (i.e. approx 25~28°C) for 3~4 hours for bulk fermentation and final proof at 75~80°F (i.e. approx 24~27°C) for 3 to 4 hours, yielding mild loaves at 2 hours. (I bulk ferment & proof at approx 77°F/25°C and find 40 minutes autolyse, 4 hours-ish bulk ferment, 20 minutes bench rest and 2 hours-ish final proof suit my conditions & starter).  

These variables are why the adage is "watch the dough not the clock". Robertson's instructions specify temperature and therefore he can also specify time - he is trying to make it easier for newcomers unfamiliar with how the dough behaves. However if you have access to the book (from the library perhaps?) you will find reading carefully through the pages of instructions, which are well illustrated with numerous photos, that he provides much more information than the shorthand of temp vs time. I would note that many on TFL have found his 4 hour final proof too long, that for them it results in overproofed loaves.

I would suggest you move on from bulk fermentation once the dough holds it shape for a few minutes when folded and is also somewhat pillowey (good non-technical term!!) such that you know the yeast population has multiplied enough to move on to the next stage. Robertson indicates 20~30% increase in volume, I don't really measure the volume anymore, as I am able to go by feel, but that gives you another indicator to work with. 

Besides the excellent series of  photos in the book which illustrate his folding method and the way he forms the dough into shape with good tension for final proof,  there are also a number of videos featuring Robertson working with dough in the TFL video library that you may find helpful. Type Tartine video into the search box.

We may be able to assist you better if you write out the formula and method you are using in full, noting dough temperatures, if you know what they are.

Cheers, Robyn

PS Decided to write out Chad's words on when to move on from bulk fermentation for you:

Quote "By the end of the third hour the dough will feel aerated and softer. A well developed dough is cohesive and releases from the sides of the bowl when you do the turns. The ridges left by the turn will hold their shape for a few minutes. You will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. More air bubbles will form along the sides of the container. These are all signs that the dough is ready to be divided and shaped into loaves.

If the dough seems to be developing slowly, extend the bulk fermentation time. Watch your dough and be flexible." Unquote   
lyn lowenstein's picture
lyn lowenstein

hi robyn

I read your reply with interest as I have a wood fired oven and am planning to do some tartine breads. His recipes are designed for Dutch oven home baking - whereas I hope to bake them directly on the oven floor. Is this what you do? 


PeterMc's picture

Thankyou so much to you all for your considered and detailed responses.

I think the main message is to have much more respect for the learning curve and I think that is great advice.

I have also been changing flours a bit so I think it will be better to change as few variables as possible until the method is watertight.  I will keep at it and keep you posted.


Arjon's picture

When I started, I was keen to try non-beginner recipes and methods, so I did. Luckily, it wasn't too long before I realised (with help here and from others) that I was making it harder to learn some relatively basic things. As a simple example, if I bake an all-BF loaf and then the same loaf substituting say 15% rye, I get to see, feel and taste the difference said 15% rye makes. Then, I can try 10% and/or 20% rye to see how those %s differ. After that, I can sub WW instead of rye to see how that differs from the same %s of rye. 

This step by step, KISS approach also allows me to have an idea of what to expect when I go to the next step of subbing a mix of rye and WW, including an idea of how say 5% rye plus 10% WW will differ from 10% rye plus 5% WW. Otoh, if I jump straight from all-BF to a blend, I have much less idea what to expect, either immediately or when I subsequently try changing the %s of and within the flour blend. 

wrenhunter's picture

Hi Peter, I wanted to add that part of your learning curve may be the "envelope folding" of the final dough ball. I had some problems with this using the first Tartine book, i.e. getting the right shape, surface tension, etc. You will get better at it, though, and this will help with the flattening of the loaf in the pan. I would also advise using a smaller bowl during the final rise (mine is about 10" dia), I find this helps with the shape, too.

I will also add that I use the Tartine weights exactly, and have good results. Good luck with your baking!

Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

What's different about Tartine In my opinion is the fact that the autolyse contains the leaven. That being the case the autolyse being longer than the 40 mins or so recommended could have disastrous results.  Your dough is practically ready for the oven at four hours. 

PeterMc's picture

Thanks Jane

In Tartine book number 3, page 37


"For the autolyse: Cover and let the premix rest for at least 30 minutes and up to 4 hours(or overnight for doughs made with hard wheat flours) to hydrate during this rest period, taking care to keep the mixture where it is at warm room temperature"

Being a bit of a novice and using at least half of the flour as whole wheat flour I thought the longer autolyse was required. This weekend I will try the shorter autolyse.

Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

Took me a while to notice that the leaven was part of the premix.  I will autolyze for hours if it's just flour and water but adding the leaven creates a whole different set of parameters. 

What I have ended up with in trying to follow the instruction exactly in Tartine 3 is to use an organic flour with 10% of the bran removed for my high extraction flour.  The whole grain flour is easy to figure out - WW.  For a medium strong bread flour I'm using about 13% protein content.  That blend seems to be close to what Robertson is recommending for a fairly basic loaf.

My flour blend would be quite different from yours.  50% whole wheat makes for a much denser dough.  Also if I understand correctly the fact that it is whole wheat or grain doesn't mean that it is a hard wheat.  A hard wheat would be like what I am using for my high extraction - flour from hard red grain.  hmm... maybe I need a longer autolyze? 

Details details... but when I don't get what I think I should have I always have to go back and see what I did different from the recipe.  Usually I find I did a few things differently :(

Good luck.  It's practice practice practice! 



Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I completely forgot but my weekend bakery has their version of the tartine which would suit you. They've made all the changes discussed here and it's a pleasure to make. Here it is...

PeterMc's picture

Thanks Lechem

That looks like an excellent project for this weekend. I will give it a go.

PeterMc's picture

To all those good people out there who gave me lots of advice, I wanted to let you know that I have had success.

I reduced the autolyse to 50 minutes. I followed the recipes directly out of Tartine 3 and River Cottage Handbook 3 and it worked out better by way of timing and firing the oven to do an overnight prove in the refrigerator. The 10% rye loaf was still pretty sticky and hard to work but I got there.

I baked in an artisan wood fired oven directly on the hearth-300degrees Celsius in the dome

The loaves were better than passable. I would have preferred a more airy crumb. I don't think this forum allows photos otherwise I would put them up.

Now I need to repeat that a few times to ensure it was more than luck.



hreik's picture

post them.  lol


PeterMc's picture

Fresh loaves

Here you go!


pmccool's picture

Nice work, Peter.