The Fresh Loaf

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My imitation of Chad Robertson's Country Sourdough

Shiao-Ping's picture

My imitation of Chad Robertson's Country Sourdough

Have you ever seen a photo of very stiff starter wrapped up tightly in cloth then tied up in string (as if making absolutely sure that the little beasties have no way of escaping)?  I never understood the purpose of the tight string until the other day when I was writing about Chad Robertson.   A Day in the Life at the Bay Village Bakery in The Bread Builders says Chad "uses a brief two-hour final stage of leaven expansion before he mixes up his dough" (page 221).  In both of these two cases maximum natural yeast population is achieved without them further fermenting (because there will be plenty of fermentation once final dough is mixed).

Chad Robertson's rustic sourdoughs from Tartine Bakery were my most favourite during my recent stay in San Francisco.  I wanted to see if it was possible to reproduce his style of sourdough at home.  I was told that a bread cookbook is coming out soon (in addition to their existing pastry cookbook), but no date is given.  Alain Ducasse's Harvesting Excellence quotes Elizabeth Prueitt as saying that Chad's breads were hand-made from the very beginning to the very end, and that "it is one person's expression" (page 19).

By the time The Bread Builders wrote about him, Chad Robertson had acquired a mixer from Europe which helped him in meeting the growing demands for his breads.  A brief description of timeline for a typical load of breads that he baked at his (then) one-man bakery at Point Reyes, Califorina (before he and Elizabeth moved to San Francisco and opened Tartine) is as follows (according to The Bread Builders): 

  1. At 8 am, he mixes his final intermediate levain and let it sit in room temperature for two hours (note: I assume the levain is fully mature before the two-hour final expansion);
  2. At 10 am, he mixes the final dough by first putting all the ingredients or all except the levain into the mixer and running it for 2 - 3 minutes at 45 - 50 revolutions a minute;
  3. Autolyse 15 - 30 minutes
  4. Adds the levain if necessary, then mixes it for 4 - 5 minutes
  5. Bulk fermentation 4 hours (counting from 10 am to 2 pm), during which time several stretch and folds in the tub are done;
  6. At 2 pm, divide the dough and pre-shape them, then rest for 15 minutes
  7. Shape the dough and place them on the bannetons or couche dusted with a mixture of bread and rice flours;
  8. Proof in room temperature for 2 hours before going into proofing boxes (at 55F) to retard for 8 - 10 hours (Harvesting Excellence says up to 12 hours); and
  9. The next day, start baking between 4:30 - 5 am.

Based on this timeline, my formula for Chad's sourdough follows:

My formula for Chad's Sourdough

Two nights before bake day - first stage of levain build-up

  • 82 g starter @ 75% hydration
  • 164 g bread flour (i.e. two times starter amount for me)
  • 124 g water

Mix and ferment for 6 - 8 hours at 18C / 65 F (depending on your room temperature, you may need more than 2 times bread flour, or shorter or longer fermentation time for your starter to mature)

The morning before bake day - second (and final) stage of levain expansion

  • 370 g starter @ 75% hydration (all from above)
  • 370 g bread flour (I figure one time starter amount in flour is enough)
  • 277 g water

Mix and ferment for two hours only

Formula for final dough

  • 1,017 g starter (all from above)
  • 1,017 g bread flour (Australian Laucke's Wallaby bakers flour, protein 11.9%)
  • 651 g water
  • 30 g salt

Total dough weight 2.7 kg (divided into three pieces) and total dough hydration 68%

  1. I followed the timeline above but I did everything by hand.  I fully intended to fold as many times as necessary to build up dough strength but as my dough was not very wet the gluten developed very fast and by the end of first set of stretch & folds, the dough already felt silky and smooth.  I did only two sets of stretch & folds in the bowl.
  2. After the dough was divided into three pieces, I pre-shaped them to tight balls, rested them 20 minutes, then shaped them into batards and placed them on bread & rice flours dusted couche.
  3. The shaped loaves proofed for 2 hours in room temperature then went into my refrigerator to retard overnight (for 12 hours).

Bake day

  1. I baked the loaves cold (straight from the refrigerator).  I pre-heated the oven to 250C / 480F.  Once the loaves were loaded, I poured 2/3 cups of boiling hot water onto lava rocks (enormous steam was generated), and turned the oven temperature down to 230C / 450F.  They were baked for 20 minutes, then another 15 minutes at 210C / 410F, and rested for 5 minutes in turnoff-off oven.  (You can bake them for 10 minutes more if you like darker crust.)
  2. There was an impressive oven spring with this bake.




I am quite pleased with the result, although without rye and whole meal flours, I probably cannot call this country sourdough.  Also, Chad's country sourdough has a very rustic look (quite dark) as if from a wood fired oven. 

As I was drafting this post and looking at the black and white picture of Chad's bread in Harvesting Excellence, my daughter came by, I said to her he is the reason why I bought this book; she asked, is he "hot"?  I never understand teenagers' lingo - why "hot" and "cool" mean the same thing.




The crumb is really tender and moist.  It has a very supple texture and open crumb that I did not believe I would have been able to achieve with low hydration dough.  I really don't know what hydration level is Chad Robertson's sourdoughs; I did 68% here because I wanted to have good volume and, possibly, good grigne.  Well, it worked. 

I like the flavor very much, more so than my Sourdough 50/50.



Shiao-Ping's picture

That is sure a GREAT looking bread!

la vecchia saggia's picture
la vecchia saggia

Thank you for your reply.

In your opinion, is it better to use twice the starter in some bread recipes?

For example in a first and also in a final step of the dough?

This, in order to have more lightness in the whole crumb.



Shiao-Ping's picture

- for lighter crumb?  Linda, are you thinking of more starter, more yeast, and more troops to do the job?   The result may be just the opposite - slightly dense and heavy, BUT very flavourful, crumb.   It is very easy to over-ferment when there is more starter vis-a-vis the flour because there is less food for the yeasts.   When the fermentation happens too much, you may compromise on your crumb flavour. 

la vecchia saggia's picture
la vecchia saggia

I've got it.

Thanks a lot for the reply and.... yes, now - with your explanation - I agree...

less food, earlier fermentation..

so... I can use twice a starter if I wont a stronger taste?

Like a wild yeast bread, right?

In Italy, a lot of us have a hydration of the wild yeast with 1 part of water and 2 parts of flour.

The taste of this bread is very strong (a little acid)..... delicious in my opinion.

bye and kisses

Shiao-Ping's picture

Twice the mount of starter to get a "stronger" taste?  It depends on what you define as a "stronger" taste.   It is not as simple as it may sound.  Why don't you give it a try, and see what happens.  Be careful of your fermentation time. 

A "wild yeast bread"?  All sourdough breads are wild yeast breads.    Your starter - flour and water; your bread - flour and water (plus salt); so they are essentially the same thing

I think the real stiff starter with one part water and two parts flour makes a great starter. 

Would love to see more of your bread.



la vecchia saggia's picture
la vecchia saggia

Yes I know that my and your starter is a wild yeast.

I meant a strong taste like a little bit acid taste, that comes from a less hydrated starter (the italian way.. 1/3 - 2/3).. like an ancient country bread from our grandfathers.

Ok, maybe it's better only to have a look here, when you have time:

there is also a section only for tradizional oven baked bread (pane in forno tradizionale)

thank you for all..ciao


Aussie Pete's picture
Aussie Pete

Hi there Shiao-Ping(such a lovely name)

Great baking again. You always have great results.

I noticed you use Laucke Wallaby flour. I too use Laucke bread flour using Laucke white, German Mixed Grain and their wholemeal. I notice you wrote the protien level on their Wallaby flour is 11.9%. This is about 2% to 3% higher than the styles I've mentioned.

My 2 questions please

1) Have you used their other bread mixes I mentioned?

2) Does the higher protein level give you a different or better result of texture and taste in your baking?

I am interested to know as I have been tempted to buy the "Wallaby" flour but storing a 10 kilo bag could be difficult but I will make an effort if it is worth the result of using a higher protein flour.

I mainly buy their 2.4kilo box of white but always will have one of their others on hand for variety. At a guess I will buy 3 white to 1 of the others. I sometimes do a 50/50 mix of their flours as well. Especially with the German Grain mix as it can be a very heavy bread.

At present I have 2 sourdough starters on the go. One made on the Laucke German Grain flour(with a bit of white) and the other on plain wholemeal  but now fed on plain white flour. Both were hydrated on pineapple juice but water is now used. The wholemeal starter is only new and started to "sprout and bubble" bigtime yesterday after 5 days. I've yet to bake with this. The German Grain starter took longer to come alive and last weekend gave me my best result yet.

Thankyou in advance and Happy baking Shiao-Ping..............Cheers Aussie Pete.

PS One day when my crust and crumb look as good as yours I will learn to post some pictures of my results.


Shiao-Ping's picture

Hello Aussie Pete

Lovely to hear from you and sorry for the late reply.  I had been away. 

Recently I have had a craving for grains and seeds and had been baking with Laucke's German Grain Bread Mix before I went away.  Laucke's bread mixes work quite well with sourdough baking.  The only thing that I would be careful about is not to double up the salt quantity as salt is already built into the bread mixes.  These were my German Grain sultana sourdough breads with treacle (made a couple of weeks ago):



             Both with 25% sultanas (one with 8% treacle and the other with 12% treacle)



                                                                                                     (with 12% treacle)



                                                                (with 8% treacle)


To me, using bread mixes to make sourdough bread is like cheating.  You are almost guaranteed success because the flour has been conditioned for performance.  When I used Laucke's Multigrain Bread Mix and made a miche back in September last year, I didn't do exactly well as I was still getting used to my starter (the crumb was not open throughout and the bottom was dense). 

If you are serious about sourdough baking, Laucke's Wallaby bread flour is the proper flour to use, not its bread mixes.  The reason is in the philosophy behind artisan baking.  The artisan baker hand-makes his/her bread and tries to bring out the true flavour of flour, unadulterated, using his/her skill in fermenting the flour.  The higher protein does make a better texture. 

If you are interested in posting photos to TFL, this link might help. 

Thanks for your comment. 


Aussie Pete's picture
Aussie Pete

Hello Shiao Ping,

I didn't realise I might be cheating. I guess I will have to buy Laucke Wallaby flour and "raise" my standards. Thankyou for the advice. You have set me a new challenge to "rise" up to with not using a pre mix bread flour.

Although my first starter is made on Lauckes German Mixed Grain flour the second starter is made on a everyday plain wholemeal flour and is fed on plain white or plain wholemeal flour. Both started on unsweetened Pineapple juice but now I use water.

I don't get what I call a sour flavour but certainly the taste I could describe as more mature as compared to a instant loaf made on active dry yeast. The starters are only young (4-5 weeks) so maybe the sour flavour will develop more as they become older.

I've had some lovely bread from the starters latily but I will now change my direction and "hop" over to the Wallaby flour.

Thanks again for your help.   I will let you know how I go........Cheers............Pete

bnom's picture

I tried out this formula for country sourdough yesterday and was really pleased with the results (I upped the hydration a little and added about 50 grams of rye).   Moist, tender crumb,  good color and expansion,  and very mild SD flavor.  

I baked three loaves concurrently - the two on the outside of my stone developed ears - the one in the middle didn't develop ears though it was proofed and slashed the same as the other two loaves.  I've never had such a clear indicator that position of loaves in the oven (or in relation to each other) can determine bloom.

Shiao-Ping's picture

What gorgeous looking breads you've got!  Thanks for uploading the photos.  It is exciting for me to see beautiful breads such as these you've baked. 

bnom's picture

High praise coming from you!

ovguide's picture

Love your bread!

How did you make your first 82 g starter in your recipe for  "82 g starter @ 75% hydration"?

I have kingartherflour sourdough starter. It is 4.5 oz four + 4oz water. Can I use for "82 g starter @ 75% hydration"?


Thank you for your help.


RobynNZ's picture


Shiao-Ping hasn't posted here for quite sometime. I don't think she'll mind if I respond to your question.

When speaking of starters in % terms we are referring to how much water is used in relation to the flour, by weight. A 100% hydration starter is made up with equal weights of flour and water (could be 1 pound of each, 1 oz of each, 100g of each etc). For the 75% hydration starter which Shiao-Ping used to seed the first levain build, the starter was made up in a ratio of 100 flour:75 water, by weight. So 82 grams of this starter consisted of 47g flour and 35g water.

Your starter is at a ratio of 4.5 flour: 4 water, by weight. If we adjust the flour portion to 100, keeping the same ratio, we can determine the hydration of your starter. Doing this we find that your starter is at 89% hydration. Your starter has a bit more water in it than the one Shiao-Ping used.

Assuming you are going to use gram measurement as you follow the formula Shiao-Ping has shared here, I will work in grams.

Her first levain build was made up at 75% hydration and consisted of 211g flour (47g from 75% starter seed and 164g added flour) and 159g water (35g from starter seed and 124g added water).

For you to mimic this, you would take 91g of your 89% hydration starter (this will be made up of 47g of flour and 42g water), then add 164 g of flour and 117g water.

As you will see, it is a very small adjustment.

You might be interested in reading this letter from Jeffrey Hamelman of KAF on Paul's (rainbowz) blog, relating to the use of starter at different hydration levels.

Shiao-Ping's blog is a great resource.  Her chocolate loaf is suited to the season too!

Cheers, Robyn

Shiao-Ping's picture

Hi Robyn

I had been in Taiwan and just came back to Australia yesterday.  Thank you for responding for me.  It was cold and wet in Taipei so I was very happy to come back to the sunny Queensland.  Chocolate sourdough is indeed a good choice.   The weather is unseasonably cool.  I am thinking to make something and I asked my son what he would like.  He said, anything cholcolate! 

Thanks again.


RobynNZ's picture

Goodmorning Shiao-Ping

Good to hear from you. How's progress with your place in Taiwan?

Have you been following your fellow Queenslander Phil's, 'PiP's blog'? 

Season's Greetings, Robyn

Shiao-Ping's picture

Good morning and Season's Greetings to you too, Robyn!

Well, I am so out of touch with what's happening.  Thank you sooooo.... much for telling me about PiP's blog, such refreshing colours and bakes!  I devoured every page in one go from his first post in September, so refreshing to look at!

My apartment in Taipei is coming along quite nicely, after a few difficult twists and turns, thank you for asking, completion sometime in February.   I seem to have lost a lot of inspirations for baking since I started this apartment project early this year.   I did bake here and there but almost entirely the everyday stuff, nothing inspirational.




Cheers, Shiao-Ping




Bohemian Mama's picture
Bohemian Mama

Am halfway through and refreshing my skills to learn , I watched the  video on the tartine website and  re reading this thread to  inspire, I can't put my loaves to bed till 2am due to the time I  started.. 

I am  so confused about the hyrdation thing,  really doing my head in. I  make sure I weigh to a recipe, but I  am feeling dumb I could not  prepare my own recipe.  I think I get the percentages, although I am  still roughly working it out. ..glad you have put them up and  woefully  inadequatre scales  are going to be turfed soon.

Meanwhile I appreciate those who have taken the time to post. I am learning S&F at the moment and this is my miaden try. I accidently make a couple of loaves once with crumb depicted in the  lovely pictures  above, wish I could remember.

I am new to shaping the wetter  doughs and keen to try the  basket shaping too.

Thanks for the journey shared  its a  gift to share..  what could be a closely guarded secret.