The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Tartine country loaf fails

LP1975's picture

Tartine country loaf fails

I’ve been baking the Tartine country loaf for a few months now, and my bakes have taken a sudden turn for the worse. I was certain I had mastered the recipe after a few glorious bakes. But suddenly I keep churning out flat, dense loaves like the one in the photo. It’s incredibly frustrating. 

I follow the recipe as instructed on the following schedule: 

Friday night: build levain with 1 tablespoon mature starter, 200 grams 50/50 wheat white and 200 grams water. 

Saturday morning: levain passes float test. Mix 200 grams levain, 700 grams water, 100 grams wheat and 900 grams all purpose (local fresh milled flours). Autolyse for 30 mins. 

Add salt and 50 grams more water. Mix, then begin stretch and folds for the next 3 hours. 

The dough at this point seems good - building strength and increasing in volume with good aeration. It isn’t too sticky. I let it sit for a couple hours more until it feels ready to be shaped. 

When I shape the dough lately, however, it feels stickier than in the past and harder to handle. Nevertheless, by around 3 pm Saturday it’s in baskets and proofing in the fridge. 

Sunday morning: take out of the fridge while the oven and combo cooker heat. I usually heat for a good 45 mins because I have an old and uneven gas oven. The dough seems ready- it bounces back slowly when poked. But hard to say if this is because it’s cold rather than ready. 

When I turn the loaves out on the cooker they spread more than I like - perhaps because I haven’t shaped them properly? And the bakes come out flat - poor oven spring and a dark, dull crust. The crumb is tighter than before and bubbles appear on the outer edge. 

What am I doing wrong here? Over or under proofed? Bad shaping? Mistakes in the bulk rise? Help!! 

The cooler temperatures may be part of the problem - my best loaves were in the summer. 

Danni3ll3's picture

of my loaves until I did a few things that made a difference. 

1. I switched to 3 sets of slaps and folds for the first part of bulk fermentation and then to 2-3 sets of regular folds, all on 30-45 minute intervals. 

2. I don’t bulk ferment until the dough doubles anymore, I let it barely rise after the folds and then put it in the fridge for a couple of hours. In the fridge, it will rise 30-40%. Then I divide and let rest an hour on the counter before final shaping. 

3. My sweet spot for proofing in the fridge is 10 hours max. Any longer than that, and my loaves lose height. Yes, it does mean that occasionally, I need to get up and bake in the middle of the night. 

Hope this helps!

LP1975's picture

This is very helpful. Thank you! I’m thinking of trying a no-fridge batch, from mix to bake all in the same day, to see how that goes. The fridge also makes the loaf more sour than i would like. 

How long do you bulk ferment/fold, in total? And what’s the approximate temp of your kitchen? Mine has gotten colder in winter and I fear that is part of the problem. 

Danni3ll3's picture

but I do use the oven with the light on and the door cracked open as a warm spot if I feel that things are moving too slowly at room temp. It is about 82F in there. 

As to length of fermentation, it usually takes about 3 and a half hours to do all the folds and the rest. Then, there is the two or so hours in the fridge. I find that the dough is so much easier to handle after the fridge timeout! It comes cleanly out of the tub and keeps most of its airiness. So total bulk is about 5.5 to 6 hours depending on how fast I am moving (I usually have 4 batches of dough that make 3 loaves each on the go at once. 

Then I divide, pre-shape and let it sit for an hour. After the hour, it is a final shape and into the bannetons. 

You might be interested in my shaping method. I found it somehow YouTube I believe and I quite like it. 

“Do a final shape by flouring the rounds and flipping the rounds over on a lightly floured counter. Gently stretch the dough out into a circle. Pull and fold the third of the dough closest to you over the middle. Pull the right side and fold over the middle and do the same to the left. Fold the top end to the center patting out any cavities. Finally stretch the two top corners and fold over each other in the middle. Roll the bottom of the dough away from you until the seam is underneath the dough. Cup your hands around the dough and pull towards you, doing this on all sides of the dough to round it off. Finally spin the dough to make a nice tight boule.”

By the way, I don’t like sour bread and I don't make sour bread. Spending all that time in and out of the fridge doesn’t increase the sourness for my breads. 

semolina_man's picture

I'm thinking it's the weather, from your last comment.  Ambient temperature affects dough in its various stages. 


I'm also seeing what appears to me to be an undercooked loaf in the photo. 

LP1975's picture

It registered at 212 on my instant read. But it was definitely dense and gummy in the middle. 

TomK's picture

I’m by no means an expert but compared to my experience the bulk ferment seems a bit long but it depends on the dough temperature ; and check your fridge temp, last night I did a 16 hour proof but my fridge is at 38df. A huge difference if you’re at 40.  Also don’t let the dough warm up, after the oven is ready take it out of the fridge, slash, and get it into the oven as quickly and as cold as possible.


LP1975's picture

Thanks I will try that. And I will check my fridge temp too. I’ve done straight from the fridge as well and still the same result but I’m going to try a shorter overnight proof tonight. 

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

All good advice above. I just want to make another point.

"Friday night: build levain with 1 tablespoon mature starter, 200 grams 50/50 wheat white and 200 grams water. 

Saturday morning: levain passes float test. Mix 200 grams levain, 700 grams water, 100 grams wheat and 900 grams all purpose (local fresh milled flours). Autolyse for 30 mins". 

Next time...

1/2 tablespoon of starter + 100g flour (50:50) + 100g water.

= 200g levain for your recipe. No need to build extra when you can build up and keep discard to the minimum or no discard at all.

LP1975's picture


Success! Thanks for all the helpful feedback. I shortened the bulk ferment and the fridge time down to about 8 hours. I also used a bread flour, which gave me a bit more gluten strength to work with. 

Danni3ll3's picture

That loaf looks great! 

LP1975's picture

Just to clarify - the bulk happened from 6:30 pm to around 11, with the last 90 mins in the fridge. Then I shaped and proofed until 7 am in the fridge. Turned out beautifully. And now I know I can make bread on a weeknight!