The Fresh Loaf

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Tartine Bread- A Dissenting Viewpoint

ehanner's picture

Tartine Bread- A Dissenting Viewpoint

I have had my copy of Chad Robertson's "Tartine Bread" book for some time now and have read the posts here from those who have baked his breads. As has been pointed out by other posters, 100 pages are dedicated to recipes that use bread in them which is nice but isn't normally part of a "Bread Book". It is a beautiful book and the images take up many of the pages. The book was delayed in publishing for what seemed like forever. Several critics gave it rave reviews so I was hopeful.

The text is written like it is aimed primarily at new bakers or those who have heard about the bakery in California and want to learn to bake the Tartine breads. The author talks about how anyone can pick up this book and make good bread using just the chapter on the Basic Country Loaf. Robertson details his basic formula and attempts to de-mystify bakers math so you learn to "think like a baker". The working formula for building the leavan calls for double the amount needed in the dough build. Then his representation of the recipe or formula is in my opinion very non standard and confusing. Additionally the discussion of bakers percents and the listed percents do not add up correctly with the amounts in the formula. The total hydration of his basic country bread is off by the amount of the leavan. The total amount of flour is also off by the amount of the flour in the leavan. I wonder if he really understands bakers percent math. Small mistakes are one thing but any professional baker would be or should be embarrassed by this interpretation of bakers percent math. A new baker will gain nothing useful by the confusion created on pages 47) para 1. and page 48. In addition the percent for salt is shown to be 2%, which is a common ratio for that ingredient but then since the flour in the leavan isn't included in the total flour, the amount shown in under the salt column is off by 10%. That mistake won't ruin the bread but, the instructor/author should stay true to the universally accepted use of Bakers Math.

The concept of baking in a cast iron combo cooker is in my opinion, an accident waiting to happen. While covered baking has been demonstrated to be an effective way to avoid the venting issues in a gas oven, the weight of a dutch oven at scorching 450F heat being held upside down is very difficult to manage. Yes, it can be done but the results are attainable using any one of many far safer methods. Remember the book is aimed at folks who have never baked bread. Even the famed "No Knead" breads only have you removing a lid on a dutch oven.

The one redeeming component of the book is the discussion of managing fermentation to manipulate the outcome. The idea of using the leavan prior to it's maximum activity is interesting. I made the basic country bread yesterday and found it to be demanding. The fermentation time for my room temperature was 5 hours, during which I had to stretch and fold every 30 minutes to build the gluten strength. The proof time ended up being 4 hours before I finally called an end to the wait and baked it in 2 sessions under a clay le choche bell cooker. I left the second loaf in  the oven unmolested for the full 20 minutes after removing the cover and got a darker color. The first loaf, I checked a few times and rotated the loaf which looses a lot of energy.

I like the bread. A good crust and a moist crumb with mild sour flavor the first night. It's hard to say for sure but I'm not sure the starter feeding schedule lowered the sour notes. It's about the same as usual for my regular Pain au Leavan. I might do some further experiments with controlling fermentation and using the starter before it is at its maximum ripeness. This is the only area of the book where the method put forth is new and unique to me. This is an advanced technique in my opinion. It's difficult to determine how far along the activity has progressed by using your sense of smell. Waiting for it to begin to fall is at least a stage most people can understand, and knowing your starter will double or triple in a given length of time is quantifiable.

I don't want to be taken as a mean spirit here. But. I feel  a responsibility to speak the truth where it conflicts with normal conventions. I appreciate that it is hard to get a book published and off to market. In my opinion this book is not for a new baker and maybe not for anyone who is just learning to bake with sourdough. You have to be experienced enough to know on your own that the formulas are all wrong. At the least you have to know that every other bread author in the world uses bakers math in a different way to arrive at a final dough. The in depth description of all of the phases of baking are well written and helpful but the basic concept of using bakers math is flawed. There are many good books on the market to help aspiring bakers learn the basics. Reinhart's "Bread Bakers Apprentice" is one, and Hamelman's "Bread" is another to name the first that come to mind. Daniel DeMuzio's "Bread Baking" or Dan Lepard's offerings are some others who are well known and follow standard conventions. In conclusion, my advice would be to pass this book over. Its basis is factually sloppy and the method is unnecessarily difficult.I don't mean to be harsh but, it is what it is. Lots of good books out there to choose from.




audra36274's picture

   It has been highly praised, and a master baker as yourself has made me aware of that things here are not as they seem here. I, like many bakers here, like accurate, straighforward formulas. Had a "newbie" gotten this book, he would have assumed problems to be his fault and it might have shaken his confidence. I love to fill my bakers library with great reference books that I can go back to over and over. This will not be on my shelf.

   You did a great job on the bread though. It has a lovely color!Great job as always. And thanks for the tip. I'll be spending my cookbook money elsewhere.


SylviaH's picture

baked it! I never got that far or really interested enough to read it throughly, I do enjoy all the lovely sandwich photos and do like the combo cooker..I'm experienced with these type of heavy pots, but wouldn't advise them for beginner' can burn yourself easily!  I always appreciate other's opinions!


ehanner's picture

Thank you Audra and Sylvia. I think it is telling that the folks that have posted here with successful breads have all been very good bakers.


GSnyde's picture

In response to your comment...

 I think it is telling that the folks that have posted here with successful breads have all been very good bakers.

...maybe I should try it to see how much a newbie would mess it up.

Thanks for the comments. I like iconoclastic observations.


benjamin's picture

There has been a lot of hype about 'tartine', as a non-owner of the book its good to finally hear an objective critique.

Your criticisms sound well founded, having said that the loaves you produced look fantastic... congratulations.


ehanner's picture

Thanks Ben.

txfarmer's picture

While I have posted how much I like the book, I do agree with you on all of the points you raised: bad math (that  one bugs me the most as I've mentioned in my own post), difficult cast iron combo thingy (didn't bother me since I don't have it, and I was baking on a stone), not a good cover-all instruction book like "Bread" or "BBA", etc...


I think we differ in that I like the book despite these things, and you don't like it because of them, nothing wrong with that! :)


I agree with you that it is not a good instruction book for new bakers, however I think I enjoy the book mainly because it shows an alternative way of managing fermentation, how subtle difference in fermentation can greatly affect outcome, and how "flexible" fermenation process can be. I am at the point of my baking where I want to venture out from reliable formulas SOMETIMES, and experiment with fermentatio a bit, and this book displays similar spirit. Also like the "almost no knead but with S&F" concept, which is nothing new to regulars of this board, but may be revolutionary to some other bakers.Oh yeah, I am a fan of wet doughs, and this book certainly take on wet doughs.


Thanks for a great insightful post, I think you opinions, along with all the other posts on this topic, provide a valid and well rounded view of the book. You don't sound harsh at all, just honest and clear. BTW, those breads look great, nice open crumb!

Floydm's picture

I haven't baked from it yet, but my impression so far of Tartine Bread is that, like My Bread, the Grand Central Bakery Cookbook, or the Brother Juniper's Cookbook, is that is probably a great book for people who are fans of that bakery and want to try recreating some of the recipes at home.  But as a general introduction to bread baking to a wider audience?  I agree with you that I'd put the books you mention by Reinhart, Hamelman, DeMuzio, and Lepard higher.

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Eric.

Thanks for sharing your reactions to "Tartine Bread." I can't disagree with the matters of fact you mentioned, but I still like the book all in all.

"Tartine Bread" is about Chad Robertson and his bread. It is in no way a general introduction to bread making, nor a comprehensive text. It could be an expanded chapter in Maggie Glezer's "Artisan Bread." I think it's only fair to evaluate it on its own terms. Comparing it to more general books like BBA or "Bread" seems unreasonable to me.

I think one must also recognize that, as a book about one baker and his bread, this book is also about how he serves the bread, so it contains lots of ideas and recipes for dishes made with bread. I think that's nice.

I didn't find the making of the Basic Country Bread at all difficult or complicated. Perhaps that's because the method is so similar to what I do almost every week to make my San Joaquin Sourdough.

I pretty much agree regarding your points about his settling on the Lodge Combo Cooker. It has its advantages and disadvantages relative to alternative equipment. Robertson does not discuss alternatives, however. What he does do, which I find laudable, is to tell the reader the important functional attributes of the combo cooker. One might wish he had gone on to say something like, "Any other cooker which has these attributes can be used in place of the Combo Cooker."

I'm really glad I bought "Tartine Bread." I enjoyed reading about Robertson's biography. The formulas he does give have made wonderful bread. I'm looking forward to making some of the soups and salads and tartines at the back of the book. It is no replacement for Hamelman or Suas, but I don't need another book like those.

Hmmm ... I can imagine Gerard Rubaud writing a very similar book. Know what? I'd probably buy it.


ananda's picture

Hi Eric,

Very interesting to read your well-considered review.   Your breads look awesome, as always.

I speak as someone who knows more about Chad Robertson's "roots" as I am familiar with what he has included in this book.  His background is a feature of Wing and Scott's masterpiece.

It is great that there is such good discussion given over to fermentation; although I agree with you that this is hardly a beginner's topic.

I also wholly support your criticisms implied by failure to understand bakers' percentages.   I hasten to add that I have not seen the formulae in the book, but concur that these formulae HAVE to make sense to the reader.   The obvious way to achieve that is to fall into line with convention, I suggest.   Your illustration of actual salt content really does speak volumes.

It has been a pleasure to see all the lovely loaves on TFL produced using the Tartine formulae.   Thank you for providing such a balanced and honest review of this book.

And..really good to read your considered views on TFL once again

All good wishes


ehanner's picture

Thank you all:

txfarmer, your comments speak volumes to your experience and abilities.I hope it didn't come across like I was comparing it to BBA or another book. I'm not intending to.

Thanks Glenn. You are quickly burning a path to the experienced baker tent. Good instincts are close to the surface it seems.

Floyd, Your response is what I would have written if I knew how to write well:>)

David, I agree there is a lot about the book I do like and some of the recipes look delicious. Since the book is aimed at new bakers I thought someone should offer a review that would inform the newbie. The bourke street bakery is similar in some respects.

Andy, Thanks for your comment on the bread. They are very tasty and my daughter said "best in a while dad".  Lots of ways to arrive at the same destination my friend. Good to see you too.



Franko's picture

Hi Eric,

You do make some good points, particularly regarding the math and formula layout being wonky, but hopefully the math will eventually be corrected through an errata sheet similar to the one put out for Hamelman's Bread. It just may have been an editor that mucked it up and not the author,hard to know for sure.

I think one of the aspects of the book that impressed me most was the way it was laid out in terms of starting with a 'mother' formula with a step by step procedure in text and photos to help take a new or relatively new baker through his process of mixing, molding etc. Trying to look at it from the perspective of someone unfamiliar with the method, it seemed like a fairly good way to make it accessible to anyone wanting to learn the steps... IMO. The only other way that I've seen that I thought was better was the DVD that came with Bertinet's 'Crust' where he video demonstrates his hand mixing technique. How often do we see other members just starting out, asking what a dough should look like at some certain point? At least with this book they'll have a good idea.The photos should have been in colour, but still I think they give a pretty clear illustration of the process. There are better baking books out there, I agree, however I'd be more inclined to start a new baker with this one simply because of the step by step tutorial Robertson provides, which I believe takes a lot of the mystery (for lack of a better word) out of the process that might otherwise intimidate someone from trying in the first place. 

Good discussion Eric, thanks for getting it started. Your loaves look great by the way!

All the best.



LindyD's picture

I value your opinion, Eric,  as well as your expertise, which is shown not only in the breads you baked from Tartine, but in your skilled analysis in discovering the problems and errors within the text.  

Naturally I was very curious about the book when publication was first announced.  I've read some of the reviews, including one that stated the instructions for the basic country bread are 37 pages long.  Am guessing that includes info on building the levain?

I'm not really interested in recipes for sandwiches or what to do with day-old bread (I eat it), but I am very interested in reading about his levain and fermentation concepts.

I prefer to browse through any book I'm considering purchasing, so after a fruitless search through MEL (Michigan Electronic Library), I contacted my local library to see if they could find a copy.  After they did some checking I was advised that the book doesn't exist in any Michigan library, but they will try to find it intrastate.  Till then, I'll just read about the experiences of others.

I do appreciate that you march to your own drummer.

ehanner's picture

Thanks Franko!

rossnroller's picture

It's clear from your comments that Robertson's is not a book of instruction traversing diverse and expansive territories of bread bakery, a la Hamelman, Reinhart etc. I'd sort of picked that up from others' comments, but not everyone is an everyday peruser of this excellent site! So well done on making it clear just what folk can expect ot this book.

Always good to encounter someone who is prepared to be publicly forthright in his findings when they go against the grain (heh heh - sorry). As one who tends iconoclastic, not for the sake of it but because I am ever-wary of hype and marketing and its insidious influence on perception, I identify with your position here - without having an informed opinion myself, I should add.

That said, I love the quest for perfection of guys like Robertson and Gerard Rubaud, who obsess over one loaf and strive for the ultimate. On balance, though, I don't think I'll bother with Tartine for now. You've given me the excuse I needed to put a brake on my compulsive bread book least for this one at this time. (An addict always needs a loophole!)


ww's picture

was going to post on another forum but this one seems apt.

For all the hype that the Tartine book has been generating, I think there's nothing really new about what the author is saying - EXCEPT for the use of a relatively young leaven for a milder sour taste that allows the taste of the flour to shine through. And even that is subjective and I don't know if that's what you guys who have tried his recipe have discovered? Otherwise, his method of high hydration, minimal hand kneading and use of a pot/receptacle have been around. In fact, it's what I see you guys doing on this site!!

What I appreciate about the book though are his passion, the photos, the hand-holding for beginners (compare, for example, with Hamelman. This may be the reason for the flubbing of the baker's percentage too - leaving out the leaven so as to keep the math simple and the formula more straightforward) and the recipes for day-old bread at the back! We all know these recipes, we all use them anyway, but sometimes it's nice to be reminded and to drool over photos.

Ironically, for a bread book, I won't be buying this book, if at all, for the purely bread recipes.

wally's picture

And you've started an interesting conversation as well.


Mebake's picture

Bread Looks Great, Eric. I hate long unexpected fermentation and proof times.. throws my schedule out of gear...

Thanks for the review, Eric!

ehanner's picture

I'm not surprised the library system doesn't have this book yet. It's a fairly new release.  Having been raised in the Michigan and Wisconsin area most of my life, (read, Midwest values)  I have a hard time taking seriously the story of Chad's travels through Europe as he learned the techniques in the book. On the inside cover he says "Only a handful of bakers have apprenticed to learn the techniques Chad has developed".  Really? So he apprenticed from masters or he developed the technique? It sounds like he had a great time working his way through Europe, learning as he traveled. I think it's great that some surfers on the West coast found a way to do what they really want to do every day AND make a living. What a beautiful story.:>)




ehanner's picture

I too appreciate the effort to perfect a bread and run a bakery in between surfing sessions. If I'm not careful, I might blurt out what I really think about this effort.


ehanner's picture

I'm not certain if the results are less sour. Using my starter, it was equally sour as my normal loaves. I didn't get any complaints on the bread.


ehanner's picture

Thanks Larry,

I think it should be fair to look at any new book with a critical and honest eye. The point of my post wasn't intended to discourage people from buying the book but rather understand what you are getting.In another venue, it wouldn't be hard to write a scathing review.


ehanner's picture

Thanks Mebake, the bread was pretty good.


louie brown's picture
louie brown

I see Eric's considered review of Tartine the book as an accurate appraisal. I guess it could be called a dissenting view in that the majority have posted positive views.


I think both are right. I bought the book because i am a fan of the bakery and i wanted to read Robertson's story and see his methods. In this respect, the book delivers, similarly to the Bourke Street book, as has been pointed out upthread.


I was also interested to learn that Robertson worked with Richard Bourdon, one of the best sourdough bakers, at his Berkshire Mountain bakery.


As a road map to baking, it has the weaknesses already pointed out. I also noticed the baker's math error, and I had the same experience as Eric with the bulk fermentation taking much longer in my kitchen. However, I ran out of time, so I formed the loaves and proofed them overnight in the fridge. The results were entirely satisfactory, although the dough should have been further developed in the bulk stage. Robertson's all in one day procedure is rather a luxury, but I hope to be able to give it a try soon. At Tartine, they offer a batard with pointed ends that would be easier for me to produce by proofing on the bench rather than in the fridge.


The business with the covered cooker is a serious limitation for many bakers, the very good result notwithstanding. 


I also agree that judging the condition of one's starter is best accomplished over a long period of observation and trial (and error) at home. If for no other reason, this will be a limitation for beginners.


Overall, I'm glad i have the book and will use it. But for a bakery-driven book, Silverton's is still my favorite, her starter directions notwithstanding.

MadAboutB8's picture

Thank you Eric for your input. It's good to hear comments from a different point of view, who also looks at another angle of this book.

Though I find Peter Reinhart's BBA and Hamelman's Bread are great references for bread making techniques and knowlege, I still love my Bourke Street Bakery book. If Tartine is similar to Bourke Street Bakery, I would love to buy it too. It is a kind of book for inspiration. I love reading the story about their journey of setting up the bakery and all. I'm one of those people who reads cookbook (I know, it's sad), not having time for fictions, so, I think I would enjoy reading the Tartine story.


ehanner's picture

It's similar to bourke street bakery in that both books use a master formula to which additions are used to change the bread into something else. This is a method used by a bakery that doesn't want to have to make 6 different doughs for 6 different kinds of bread. In my view, it is a cheapening of the art to take this shortcut. That doesn't mean the breads are not good or healthy. You can't expect a Volkswagen to drive like a Ferrari just because you swapped the wheels.

For Robertson to base his reputation on one basic bread to which he merely adds ingredients isn't going to get him recognized professionally at the level of Lepard, Hamelman, Reinhart or De Muzzio to name a few. It's at the level of Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a day by Jeff Hertzberg MD and Zoe Francoi.


Jeremy's picture

I wrote about it twice, and I had some issues, but I worked out the kinks...still your bread pics sure look pretty and I think you may have to tweak, it's part intuition part science, and a lot of moonlight!




ehanner's picture

Yes, a lot of moonshine, er, moonlight.

ehanner's picture

Here is the page that describes Bread Math and gives an example. He describes the process well but in the practical application below, he leaves out the leaven as if it isn't important to the formula. The point of my objection to the illustration is that the globally accepted phrase "Bakers Math" means something. The people who buy this book are told that they will learn to think like a baker.  I don't think it is doing anyone any favors by presenting an alternate form of bakers math, certainly if it isn't identified as such.  It isn't complicated to learn the application of the formula as thousands or millions have done before us. It's simple really, either you are using the formula as intended or you are not.  It has been said many times that baking is chemistry. If an author speaks of using Bakers Math, in my opinion he is bound to teaching it correctly, not almost correctly, regardless of how well the bread turns out.



ananda's picture


At the reasonably advanced bread baking level we are talking about here, I am looking for 2 fundamentals in the way the formula is presented.

Firstly, what is the OVERALL hydration?   That means for total flour weight at 100%, what is the water weight level?...and this includes all pre-ferements!

Secondly, what is the proportion of pre-fermented flour in the overall formula?

These are the 2 most valuable pieces of information I can use to give me an insight into how the dough will "work".   I don't think Chad Robertson's formulae offer this insight, unless I've not interpreted Eric's information correctly.

This is a shame.   Ok, there is room for intuitive baking, but a formula really can offer real appreciation of the key factors noted above.

Very good discussion is given above; thank you all for developing a really interesting thread

Best wishes


ananda's picture

Hi tpearce,

Much as you are entitled to this opinion, is it appropriate to force it onto others in such a directing way?

The blog entry is entitled "a dissenting view", and all the subsequent posts give interesting discussion of the points raised.

I am sorry you have chosen to dismiss the debate in such an authoritarian way.   This is very unusual on a "Discussion Forum" noted for being so open.

Best wishes


Shiao-Ping's picture

Hi Eric 

I enjoyed reading your post and all of the discussions here.  Your "dissenting viewpoints" are valid and I am glad that we now have a more balanced view about the book.  

However, the more I read the comments here, the more I feel that we might have misunderstood Chad Robertson.  Chad Robertson is a dreamer and an artist.  His quest, or rather, his journey searching for "a certain loaf with an old soul" (page 8 of Tartine Bread) tells me that his book will never be a textbook and that he will never be a "master baker" in the same sense as we understand Hamelman is.  His book is his song.  We live in a varied world.  What would the world be if all bread teachers are Hamelman-like? 

The problem of the book as I see it, and the Chad Robertson that comes across to us, is that it is "full of Chad Robertson!"  Many would like the book for that, while others would see the pretentiousness of it and would judge him by the terms he is (probably) not bound by.  What I see in the book is that he tries to show us his dream-loaf exactly the way he makes it - baker's maths or not is not his main concern.  To not confuse good students we are, he should have put in a statement in the very beginning that those baker's percentages are used in his own term and not conventional.  The fact of the matter is, conventional baker's maths or not, his method can work.  Look around on The Fresh Loaf, you see many beautiful breads using his method. 

On a different note, I came across this Chinese steamed sourdough bread shop in my last trip to Taipei a few days ago:



  The baker's son working on the very dry sourdough



                             The baker's wife and his daughter; to the right is the huge steamer


The baker's wife told me proudly they have been making this steamed sourdough bread for 30 years in Taiwan and another 40 years by her husband's father in Mainland China across the shore! 

I cannot describe to you fully the sweet sent that came out of this steamed sourdough bread.  Just flour and water?  Yes, you bet.  If I have not experienced it first hand, I would not have believed how sweet it smells.

Searching for "a certain loaf with an old soul?"  Are there not many loaves hidden in the world with old souls?  Egypt?  India?

Perhaps if we treat all these tales as songs, we can enjoy them more!

If we are looking for a conventional textbook, go somewhere else.



ehanner's picture

Well said Shiao-Ping!

rossnroller's picture

Great post, Shiao-Ping!

davidg618's picture

It's Chad Robertson's song.

But it wouldn't sell as an autobiography. A baker? A San Francisco baker? Huh?

I love the music. The post-bread recipes are good, and within a wide audience's grasp.

The bread? That's another story.

I'd rather follow your precise pre-book take on Robertson's bread.

I've missed your previously frequent posts. Sorry, my reply to this one is a bit gnarly.


reddragon's picture

I pre-ordered this book from Amazon and was waiting excitedly. I was sorely disappointed. About a third of the book is on what to do with bread. Really? If I'm looking for sources on how to use bread in various dishes (which I'm not), Chad Robertson's name would not come up. Ever. For me, that whole section of recipes was a total loss. Then there are pages and pages of sophomoric drawings. Who chose that art work? Why?

I'm torn about the personal details of his journey. I wouldn't object to it in principle. I thoroughly enjoy books about chefs, but in such books, I'd be looking for flashes of genius which would inspire me as a cook. I'm not sure that's even possible in the personal story of a bread baker, but I can imagine others might disagree.

From a practical point of view, did anyone find anything new about baking bread in this book? I couldn't.

CoveredInFlour's picture

After very many comments posted here by bakers with much more experience than I have - I still cannot get a smooth top to any of my breads- and who bake more than the standard white loaf my family craves, I feel a bit like my observations are pointless. But what the heck..

I saw this beautiful  book at my local bookstore, and enjoyed myself immensely perusing it while my youngest played with the train set. The photos are outstanding. But...

I'm a novice bread baker. I will probably always be a novice bread baker. I own a baking stone, but I'm too timid to try and use it. I no longer own a cast iron dutch oven as it can't be put it in the dishwasher and I have no time to handwash it (I probably do, but don't want to do it). Before I buy a recipe book, I have to be interested in using 10% of the recipes based on cost. I couldn't find 5 recipes I'd use in this book. It's too complicated for someone still figuring out how not to overhandle dough and really doesn't have an "idiot proof" factor that I've found in Tassaraja or Bernard Clayton.

It's beautiful, makes me want to go buy some of his bread, but few novice bakers I know (there are a few of us around my area) would ever make any of them.

Just my 2 cents worth..


LindyD's picture

Your second opinion is fine, tpearce, and accepted.  The reason your first post was removed is because it appears you joined TFL simply to visit this thread and insult Eric, who was giving his well reasoned opinion.  Rudeness isn't tolerated well at TFL.

That said, I just picked up Tartine Bread from my local library.  I've only perused the book and won't get a chance to try the basic formula till next week.  I didn't think I'd have any interest in the cook-book portion of the book, but gosh, some of those recipes look pretty good.   I may even try the French onion soup tomorrow (using my own sourdough bread).

davidg618's picture

...I've recovered from my disappointment.

I did three things intentionally differently. I don't think they significantly changed the results, but that's only my opinion.

1. I didn't buy the combo cooker. I don't like unitaskers, and I couldn't think of another frequent use for such a puny cast iron skillet, nor a relatively shallow Dutch Oven, compared to my inappropriately heavy DO. I don't own an appropriate Dutch oven, I'm not going to risk the handles of my Le Cruset DO's, and like Eric (originally), and with my back troubles I'm not going wrestle with 12# of pre-heated-to-500°F cast iron, while I'm squatting, to the side of my open, home-oven door. Instead, I used what I've used before to simulate DO baking, ala Lahey, with good results: an aluminum foil turkey roaster--I've straightened the edges and domed the top--atop my pre-heated-to-500°F baking stone.

2. I used my own, much trusted starter, and built the levain my, much trusted, 3, 1:1:1 feedings every eight hours over 24 hours, way. I used a 50/50 mix of AP and Whole Wheat for feeding.

3. I made a 75% hydrated dough weighing 1770g (ncluding the weight of the salt) using, forgive me, conventional baker's math. Robertson insists (at least twice) the dough is 75%; I made it so, the only way I've learned how.

I made two loaves, closely following Robertson's guidance, and emulating his techniques as close as I was able. I followed the spirit of his time-line if not the letter: 3-1/2 hours fermenting. I proofed one loaf 2 hours only because I wanted a mild-flavored loaf (Robertson's guidance), and, by the way it passed a poke test at 2 hours. 

I fermented the dough beginning at 76.4°F because I missed the DDT by two degrees, and it cooled more while I mixed it in a room-temperature SS bowl. Clearly, my inexperience is at fault, I should have warmed the bowl, and DDT formulation is such a precise formula. I let the flour hydrate for 45 minutes. The extra five minutes from the forty specified was unintentional, but should be noted. I performed 5 in-bowl turns at 30 minute intervals. I wasn't satisfied with the gluten strength so, forgive me, I performed one bench S&F, felt the resistance I wanted, and let the dough ferment another 30 minutes. It was unplanned, and probably unforgiveable. The dough finished fermenting at 77.8°F, thanks to my newly built, "I'm still learning its idiosyncrasies" proofing box.  I shaped two loaves, and set them to proof in bannetons. I left the proofing box control set at 82°F

I baked the first loaf using the faux Dutch oven wannabe at 450*F (reduced at loading from the pre-heating 500°F). After twenty-minutes I unveiled the loaf. An oven-sprung loaf was comfortingly evident, draped in the expected pallor. I baked it another 15 minutes, then another 5 minutes. It still was pale, by my standards, not Robertson's. Five minutes later I checked the internal temperature:212°F: exactly as Robertson specifies! Ain't physics wonderful? 5 minutes later, when I removed the loaf, fearful I'd boil off all the remaining moisture in the now thouroughly baked bread, whereupon it's internal temperature would begin to rise into uncharted territory. The crust was still...aged pine colored.

The second shaped loaf I put into the wine cooler (55°F) hoping to slow down the proofing a little bit while I baked the first loaf. My oven only holds two loaves of the size prepared when I bake them, forgive me again, the conventional way. Perhaps, I could squeeze two combo cookers into it, they look small enough.

The first loaf, while mishapen because of my still lackluster scoring skills, nevertheless had good oven spring. but it never reached that rich, mahogany color Tartine Bread's bookfront boasts.

I took the second loaf out of the wine cooler, and put it in the proofing box, while the oven reheated the baking stone to 500°F. I got steam going--heated wet towels in a sheetpan approach--and loaded the loaf, without the turkey roasting pan, and  oven temperature lowered to 450°F.

After 20 minutes, I removed the steaming pan, and the towel covering the oven vent. The loaf's crust seemed a bit pale, but I'm not used to making sourdoughs without at least 10% (that's conventional bakers math) rye or whole wheat flour. Nonetheless, I gambled, and raised the temperature to 460°F: Oops! a fifth deviation. After another 25 minutes I achieved a paltry approximation of the color Roberson achieves--recall he doesn't bake his store bread in combo cookers.The internal temperature was 212°F. I love physics. Isn't it wonderful that water remains at 212°F until the last molecule vaporizes!

The crumb in the first loaf is open, not as open as Robertson's, nor his test baker, Maria's example, but on a par, maybe a stroke (or turn) better than Mark's. The crust is thicker than I like, but that's not all bad. Most of the flavor--and a good flavor it is--is carried by the crust. To test this I cut away all the crust on a slice, tasting only the crumb. It has a pleasent wheaty flavor, and an excellent chewy mouthfeel, but the flavor is...well, for a sourdough bread, pedestrian. Now I hasten to add that fault, if any exists, could be laid on my levain, the flour I chose, KA AP, I don't bake enough bread to merit "my own blend of flours milled by a miller I've worked with for fifteen years."; my missing the DDT; my fermenting, on average, three degrees below the specified 80°F; my poor attempt to emulate a combo cooker; or my poor shaping and scoring skills. My bet, naturally, is on my shaping and scoring ills.

The second, pale mahogany loaf's crumb is tighter than the first loaf, but still on a par with Mark's, maybe a stroke tighter. I haven't tasted it yet. Its two halves are tightly wrapped, in the freezer--we weren't moved to wolf down the first loaf.

I'm glad I bought the book. It won't become my favorite bread book. The rest has all been said in earlier posts.

And, Eric, despite your successes, and belated praise, I am not going to rush out and buy a combo cooker.

David G




pattycakes's picture

Eric, I appreciate your comments. I can tell from the detailed analysis that you are a fairly exacting baker. I think I fall more in the category of Robertson (not to flatter myself, but in the idea of being somewhat inexact). When I first started, I baked following instructions from Hammelman and BBA, and I found that BBA was way off on water amounts. I also found that anything that I did couldn't jibe with the instructions about rising time and that I had to learn to read the dough and the texture. Having seen your posts, I know you must do this, too, in spite of your exactness.

I love Tartine bread, and I love the bakery. I keep Robertson's model in mind when I bake, but my bread is my own, as is yours. I don't think you're being mean spirited, your point is well taken. This book is an inspiration and a guide, it doesn't have exact recipes. Shiao Ping is right. Not for new bakers!



ehanner's picture

I agree completely with what you have said. There are some very good concepts and new techniques in Tartine that I haven't seen any where else. I especially like his method of adding the salt with the with held water. The cooking method using the covered cast iron combo cooker had a big impact here. Many people found that bit of advice useful. While my initial post may have been read as harshly critical, over all I enjoyed the book as I later expressed. Robertson's description of bakers percentage excepted.


mredwood's picture

Thanks all for the detailed description of what's right and what's wrong with this book. I have been a BBA lover. I learned so much from that and the other good baking books mentioned here on this site. I have learned tons from all you wonderful folks. I borrowed the book from the Clackamas library.  Could hardly wait to get home to read it. And I did. Mostly all. Perused the recipes, saying looks good but lets get back to the bread. I enjoyed the travel log, the beautiful pictures, and mostly what I learned was that the reason I didn't care for my sourdough bread was it was too sour. Not sour hardly, but what is was was too much for me. I immediately got my starter out of the fridge, threw most of it away. Then I added flour and water to the very small amt. about 3 tablespoons. Put some in a bowl, added flour and some salt, water to make a wet dough. Stirred it around. Stretch an fold every so often. Then I did the preform. A while later I formed a small round and placed it in a bowl with plenty of room, covered it with the plastic shower cap covers. Put it in a cool room overnight. 60 degrees maybe. In the morning about 5:30 I went to turn on oven and get my Hot Pot bowl and cover warmed up. The dough had risen up, up and away. Oh hell no way to get that out without deflating it and the oven and bowl was almost hot. So at oven 450 I turned it out in my hand, watched it deflate, tucked it under , scored it, and popped it in the hot pot and covered it.  20 minuted later at 450 I uncovered it and finished cooking it, maybe another 25 minutes. It rose but not to it's inital height. The scoring was good, I had this beautiful large crunchy ear and the loaf was dark but not burnt. 207 degrees with a mildy inaccurate therometer. It smelled wonderful, I could hardly wait for it to cool. It tasted great to me, hardly sour at all. And it rose beautifully with so little natural yeast. I learned something about my baking, and I learned that if I didn't know what I was doing, what was happening, going to happen I would not have understood this book for beginers. Not for beginners. I still don't know if I am supposed to oil the combo cooker I don't have or not. So it just goes to show you, amts and precentages can be off and you still can turn out a good loaf or great loaf of bread. If you consistently use the same ingredients, amts, timing and temp, etc you get a consistent product. Whether you like it or not, you know what to expect. I could never do that. I can measure , but temps, & brand and water are not always what they should be. BBA is good because of it's decriptions. Taky but not sticky, sticks to the side of bowl, cleans the side sitcks to the bottom. When you get to those description and feel the dough you know what right is. I never weighed before,  always put the water in first and had some very dry breads. I used hands and food processor. Interesting seeing a pepperidge farm commercial about their bread and show a guys hand kneeding this very dry loaf. Not an inducement for me to buy it. I love a wet dough. I am a confirmed weigher regardless of my description above. It was an experiment, it couldn't wait. 

Sorry for ramble, your curtique and the library has saved me many a dollar. Thanks again


Tommy gram's picture
Tommy gram

That formula for the basic loaf had me crosseyed for a while till I just figured he made a mistake on clarity with that one. They should have had a proofreader that understood baking percentages have a look at that. Pretty glaring error if you ask me. The font could have been way bigger and still been printed in the same number of pages. A lot of blank space on the pages, make the font bigger man! The book took me to the mountain and finally I can see everything. I see how I have been going too sour, I see how I have been an inattentive baker, inflicting cruelty to the starter through neglect. Above all it took me to the dutch oven and there is where the crust I have been pursuing resides. Thank you, Chad.

Not have sure if I would have understood what the heck without having been doing bread for two and a half years prior to opening the book. Bread bakers apprentice the number one clearest, best book to start with. I started with Rose levy's Bread BiBle but that book is not a good starter. Rose, baby, you can make a cake but for bread you are not cut out. No ma'am. 

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

I baked maybe 4 loaves of bread in a loaf pan before I bought Tartine, read it quite thoroughly and baked the Basic Country Loaf.  I did not know a thing about baker's math, and as it turns out, a newbie baker doesn't actually need to know a thing about baker's math.  The formula he provides makes two loaves of bread. Want one? Cut the ingredients in half and have at it.

My breads came out quite good, some of them quite excellent. I have blogged the failures and the successes. The failures always came when I strayed from the text and tried forcing the bread to my schedule.

When you talk about a beginning baker, I think it is important to realize that a full blown discussion of bakers% will lose every one of those readers.  As a "first timer", I found it extremely simple to ignore the levain and "see" the bakers percentages in the rest of the dough.  It certainly made for rounder numbers, no? And round numbers let me bake that loaf many many times without looking at the book because the formula was incredibly easy to memorize.

I found the lengthy discussion to be too much, as a beginning baker, and it made it too difficult to follow. But, realizing that I was having difficulty (largely due to the various "alternatives" he peppers into the lengthy description, I just wrote myself a summary of what it was that *I* intended to do for the bake, filtering out all of the other alternatives and I went to town.

I have only made the Basic Country Loaf, the Whole Wheat Loaf and the Country loaf with Walnuts.  The instructions for the whole wheat were unclear because they don't include directions for holding back water for when the salt is added, so it was really unclear whether the 800 grams of water included a reserve, or whether a reserve was called for.

After making the country loaf so many times, I went to Flour Water Salt Yeast, and I thought the instructions were laid out much better.  But, while the tables and bakers percentages may be more traditional, and perhaps more useful to a professional baker, I can't say that they added anything for me, other than the fun of figuring out what it was he was laying out.  Both books require levain builds that are far in excess of what the recipes need for baking, and I think that this is the most confusing aspect of the books to a beginner.  Why the heck do I have to create so much levain and use so little of it for the bread?  I know now that they claim the flavor profile changes. And maybe it does.  The only way to know would be to bake with and without making the extra levain and see how the loaves turn out side by side.  But who has the time to do that? Especially when making with just the right amount of levain gives you delicious bread?


homebakerGreg's picture

I only have a couple of points to make. Baker's percent, Tartine process.

I am a home baker, not a particularly good one, but have a fascination with all things bread bordering on obsession. I am reasonably adept at math and therefore don't have a problem understanding bakers percent. My point about Bakers percent, and you would know this more than I, is that a certain hydration percent bread has a look and feel. If we calculate into the country loaf recipe the flour and water used in the leaven, the actual hydration is around 72%. I am sure a baker has a picture in their mind about the feel of the dough at different percentages. A 65% hydration dough as you would use for say a standard yeasted bread loaf after being kneaded is not as sticky as the country loaf. So I would imagine, this is an important fact for a baker for calculating the ingredient quantities and also them knowing how the dough should be handled, how the bread will bake and possibly the qualities of the crumb. Its a small point to me but more important to a professional baker I guess.

The Tartine Bread book completely changed how I made bread. I see this as the type of bread I would continue to bake. Its a simple to understand process and each phase is given a name which followers all understand. However it just takes forever. Its the end of winter here in Australia and if it wasn't for the poofing box I made, it would take even longer. I start the night before activating the starter. The following morning I combine the activated starter with the flour and then only get to bake that evening. I just wonder if some of the steps can be combined, like the bulk ferment and final proofing for example ?


oputman1's picture

I just baked my first two loaves last night and this morning, and I found the book very easy to follow, and it created a great loaf of bread.

Who cares if he doesn't follow the convention with regards to bakers percentage.  He tells me what he means (it's the amount of an ingredient in a recipe with 1,000 grams of flour, excluding the flour in the leaven.)  I think that's a very reasonable way to think about the ratios, and the math would not be as "near" if you had to divide the amount by 1,100 grams instead of 1,000 grams.

It's not the beginner who's going to have an issue with this method, it is apparently the experienced baker who had an issue with it.  

As far as the combo cooker goes- I think that's a good idea, but I wasn't going to run out and buy one before I bake a few loaves.  So I used my Dutch Oven, which I am very comfortable handling in and out of the oven. It worked just fine so I won't buy a combo cooker.  I would think most "new" people using this book will end up in a similar situation.  

dabrownman's picture

Tartine.  I canlt say that I disagree with much of hos insights.  But if you are interested in being the best bread baker you can be like I am, it really is a must to read this book and bake the bread as described.  I prefer Tartine 3 but I love whole grain breads for all kinds of different reasons and that book is mire interesting for me.  

Eric is the one who got me to start using slap and folds which changed my bread baking for the better more than anything else - including any book with the 2nd being TFL itself.  May Eric rest in peace.  He was a fine TFL contributor.                                                                       

ejm's picture

Please excuse me for commenting on this so late. In 2012, I tried Tartine Bread and failed miserably. The resulting loaves looked beautiful but they were horribly sour. They were so horribly sour that I accidentally on purpose murdered my starter by throwing all of it, rather than a portion, down the drain. I hated having to throw away so much flour - especially because good flour, at that time, was getting rather pricey. At the time, I swore never to try again and to always use trusty commercial yeast.

I almost changed my mind when I read Michael Pollan's book "Cooked". But I still couldn't wrap my head around the insane feeding schedule and what I remembered about our pet's incessant acidity and puking, no matter how much I fed it or coddled it.

Until I read Jane Mason's book "All You Knead is Bread":

Sourdough baking seems to have acquired a mystique [...] [D]on't worry—there is no one right way.

The starter gets weaker as it gets older. This is because you have an increasingly large amount of starter to which you are adding a relatively small amount of new food. The yeast eats the new food in record time (you will see it froth almost instantly then an hour later it's calm again) and goes to sleep. Sleepy yeast does not make great bread, which is why some methods tell you to throw half your starter away on a regular basis. I'm against this method because I don't believe in wasting food. [...]

To refresh the starter when you need it, simply follow the instructions in the recipe. The recipes in this book assume you will store your starter in the refrigerator and that it will need refreshing. To that end they build in refreshment time and you get used to planning this in advance.

- Jane Mason, Storing and Using a Sourdough Starter, "Homemade Sourdough", p9,26

So, using Jane Mason's method of creating, maintaining, and refreshing a starter (she advocates NEVER throwing any of it away), I made Robertson's basic loaf again. And armed with Mason's ideas, several YouTube videos showing Robertson's folding in the bowl technique, I have changed my tune. 

The bread. Was. Brilliant.

The first Robertson loaf had the barest hint of sourness. The second loaf had no sourness at all. Both had wonderful loft. While I didn't use the cast iron casserole dish, I did use a makeshift version of it: I preheated a cast-iron frying pan and a stainless steel mixing bowl, plopped the shaped bread into the hot frying pan, covered it with the overturned mixing bowl and baked it for 30 minutes like that. Then 30 minutes without the hat. The oven spring was unbelievable. The cricking cracking of the loaf when it came out of the oven to cool was thrilling.

So, yes, I concur that Robertson's book isn't really for beginners (or not for beginners like me who get tired of reading if the instructions go on longer than 2 pages). But I maintain that it's one of the best books to have for learning about wild yeast baking. It is a terrific resource to have to use in concert with other bread books. I'm really glad that I kept it in our library.

As for dealing with the wet dough, the stretching and folding in the bowl method is the best. The dough seems quite unwieldy and messy on the first turning, but if you remember to wet your hand before touching the dough (one hand to stretch and fold, the other hand to turn the bowl) then it's not that messy at all. And even by the second stretch and fold, the dough is still quite slack but actually looks like dough. It's almost as if the dough is oiled. 

Here are photos of our 1st successful Robertson loaf:



Lynn Nicole's picture
Lynn Nicole

This was an interesting read. I bought the book when I was new to sourdough, I had been baking bread for close to a year and wanted a book that would teach me some background in sourdough recipes and techniques. I am glad to have this perspective on this book, especially the fact that the baker percentages do not actually add up. When I was a newbie to baking it did not occur to me to count the flour and water in the starter. I am glad to learn now that it is! 

While I found the actual recipe for the basic country loaf to be easy to follow, I am curious if anyone else tried his recipe for baguettes? I found it a lot less detailed and much more difficult to follow. Specifically I found the addition of salt on the first fold difficult to accomplish and mix in thoroughly, I would have liked some further clarification with that. Also I may just have a smaller oven than most but I made the larger number of loafs he instructed us to make, I guess in order for them to fit into my oven I could not make them as long as they should have been so I had very fat unappealing baguettes. They tasted alright but definitely did not have the appearance I was going for. 

Overall I agree, this is a beautiful book, in fact I used it as my coffee table book and some of the information about the process was helpful and clear, I also enjoy the recipes that use bread in the back of the book, but I am very glad to know that it is not completely accurate in terms of the bakers percentages. Thank you for this post!