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Chad Robertson's Tartine Country Bread

Chad Robertson of San Francisco's Tartine Bakery & Cafe describes a starter -- a mixture of flour, water, wild yeasts, and bacteria -- as a baker's fingerprint. Making one is simple, but it does require a commitment: Count on feeding and caring for the mixture for three weeks before you start baking.

For something closer to immediate gratification, begin using the starter after five to seven days, or order a fresh starter at kingarthurflour.com. (Keep in mind, the flavor won't be as complex.) Another secret to baking like a pro: Weigh all the ingredients -- even the water -- using a kitchen scale that includes metric measurements.

Recipe and image reprinted with permission from "Tartine Bread," by Chad Robertson, with photographs by Eric Wolfinger.

Tools and Materials

  • For the Starter:
  • White bread flour, 1,135 grams
  • Whole-wheat flour, 1,135 grams
  • Water (lukewarm), 455 grams
  • Water (78 degrees), 150 grams per feeding
  • For the Leaven:
  • Water (78 degrees), 200 grams
  • For the Dough:
  • Water (80 degrees), 750 grams
  • Leaven, 200 grams
  • White bread flour, 900 grams
  • Whole-wheat flour, 100 grams
  • Salt, 20 grams

Chad Robertson's Tartine Country Bread How-To

1. Make the Starter: Mix white bread flour with whole-wheat flour. Place lukewarm water in a medium bowl. Add 315 grams flour blend (reserve remaining flour blend), and mix with your hands until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place until bubbles form around the sides and on the surface, about 2 days. A dark crust may form over the top. Once bubbles form, it is time for the first feeding.

2. With each feeding, remove 75 grams; discard remainder of starter. Feed with 150 grams reserved flour blend and 150 grams warm water. Mix, using your hands, until mixture is the consistency of a thick, lump-free batter. Repeat every 24 hours at the same time of day for 15 to 20 days. Once it ferments predictably (rises and falls throughout the day after feedings), it's time to make the leaven.

3. Make the Leaven: The night before you plan to make the dough, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the matured starter. Feed with 200 grams reserved flour blend and the warm water. Cover with a kitchen towel. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 10 to 16 hours. To test leaven's readiness, drop a spoonful into a bowl of room-temperature water. If it sinks, it is not ready and needs more time to ferment and ripen. As it develops, the smell will change from ripe and sour to sweet and pleasantly fermented; when it reaches this stage, it's ready to use.

4. Make the Dough: Pour 700 grams warm water into a large mixing bowl. Add 200 grams leaven. Stir to disperse. (Save your leftover leaven; it is now the beginning of a new starter. To keep it alive to make future loaves, continue to feed it as described in step 2.) Add flours (see ingredient list), and mix dough with your hands until no bits of dry flour remain. Let rest in a cool, dark place for 35 minutes. Add salt and remaining 50 grams warm water.

5. Fold dough on top of itself to incorporate. Transfer to a medium plastic container or a glass bowl. Cover with kitchen towel. Let rest for 30 minutes. The dough will now begin its first rise (bulk fermentation), to develop flavor and strength. (The rise is temperature sensitive; as a rule, warmer dough ferments faster. Robertson tries to maintain the dough at 78 degrees to 82 degrees to accomplish the bulk fermentation in 3 to 4 hours.)

6. Instead of kneading, Robertson develops the dough through a series of "folds" in the container during bulk fermentation. Fold dough, repeating every 30 minutes for 2 1/2 hours. To do a fold, dip 1 hand in water to prevent sticking. Grab the underside of the dough, stretch it out, and fold it back over itself. Rotate container one-quarter turn, and repeat. Do this 2 or 3 times for each fold. After the 3 hours, the dough should feel aerated and softer, and you will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. If not, continue bulk fermentation for 30 minutes to 1 hour more.

7. Pull dough out of container using a dough spatula. Transfer to a floured surface. Lightly dust dough with flour, and cut into 2 pieces using dough scraper. Work each piece into a round using scraper and 1 hand. Tension will build as the dough slightly anchors to the surface as you rotate it. By the end, the dough should have a taut, smooth surface.

8. Dust tops of rounds with flour, cover with a kitchen towel, and let rest on the work surface for 20 to 30 minutes. Slip the dough scraper under each to lift it, being careful to maintain the round shape. Flip rounds floured side down.

9. Line 2 medium baskets or bowls with clean kitchen towels; generously dust with flour. Using the dough scraper, transfer each round to a basket, smooth side down, with seam centered and facing up. Let rest at room temperature (75 degrees to 80 degrees), covered with towels for 3 to 4 hours before baking.

10. Bake the Bread: Twenty minutes before you are ready to bake the bread, preheat oven to 500 degrees, with rack in lowest position, and warm a 9 1/2-inch round or an 11-inch oval Dutch oven (or a heavy ovenproof pot with a tight-fitting lid).

11. Turn out 1 round into heated Dutch oven (it may stick to towel slightly). Score top twice using a razor blade or a sharp knife. Cover with lid. Return to oven, and reduce oven temperature to 450 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes.

12. Carefully remove lid (a cloud of steam will be released). Bake until crust is deep golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes more.

13. Transfer loaf to a wire rack. It will feel light and sound hollow when tapped. Let cool.

14. To bake the second loaf, raise oven temperature to 500 degrees, wipe out Dutch oven with a dry kitchen towel, and reheat with lid for 10 minutes. Repeat steps 11 through 13.

Comments (12)

  • Bonnie Golliher 3 Nov, 2014

    Hey you guys. The volumes stated are in base 10, just like our US dollars system. Do the math and scale it down; it REALLY works. I used this formula in my bakery for over 3 years, very successfully AND I only made one loaf a day. As far as the starter goes, it does not ferment on the basis of volume just time. So, when 'feeding', I only added 70 grams or so of flour and then kicked up the starter flour when I knew for certain that I'd be making a loaf as soon as the starter maxed its cycle.

  • Tim Greig 13 Aug, 2014

    These are such ridiculous quantities that bear no relationship to the photos. Nearly 3 kilos of flour and water. Are you serious? Why would anyone start with that when you consider you will need at best 30% (of the total) or so of starter for each loaf .

  • tartinebreadlover 23 Apr, 2014

    The original tartine starter is so wasteful, so after doing some tedious calculations, here is the scaled down version.

    To Start making Starter from Day 1

    Flour blend (50% whole wheat, 50% white bread flour)

    Step 1: 2 tablespoons flour blend and mix 1.54 tablespoons water(1 and half tablespoons water + 1/8 teaspoons water), mix the flour and water together,leave it in a container and loosely cover the cap for a day or two(depends on the temperature of your country) 0.04 tablespoons X 3= 0.12 teaspoons. 1/8 teaspoons = 0.125, and I have a 1/8 plastic teaspoon in my home :-)

    Step 2: Once the yeast is alive and the starter is bubbly, Take 2 and 4/10 teaspoons out from the starter, put it in a container, add in 2 tablespoons flour blend and mix with 1 tablespoon + 1/5 teaspoons water. (I guess 2 and half teaspoon starter is close enough or perhaps 2 teaspoons + 1/4 + 1/8 teaspoons which comes to about 2.375 teaspoons is close enough to 2 and 4/10 teaspoons starter. I guess that is close enough because temperature will vary in different places so how fast the yeast grows will also affect results)

    Repeat the above step for 15-20 days where your starter rise and drops predictably.

    On the day you want to make the tartine bread, take one tablespoon from the starter to make the leaven, and then like the above step, there will be enough starter left for step 2 to continue this step. But of course when your starter rise, one tablespoon isn't quit one tablespoon, clean your hands and push the starter into the spoon to make it compact and dense if you know what I meant :-) as the original technique is based on weight, I translate all using weight calculation, but when the starter rise, it is flully and one tablespoon is not quite one tablespoons anymore.

  • toddy178 22 Feb, 2014

    I made the same bread with great results, except I created a starter using the standard method, 150g water to 100g flour, then as you feed this daily go to 100g flour and water. There's no need to make a started with the huge amounts of flour they do.

  • Harold Lyons 18 Feb, 2014

    I am on my 10th loaf. I have just made Bacon Bread. I used Bread flour this time and the loaf came out great, nice and big and round. I didn't cut up the cooked bacon small enough. I believe using Bread flour is the best over plain flour. I am 87 and am having a great time making Tartine bread. My friends where I work, can't believe the taste. Glad, I got started on this good bread.

  • AspenMIT 9 Sep, 2013

    Is this the same basic recipe from the book? It seems to make a heck of a lot of starter to begin with.

  • Brian Coope 21 Aug, 2013

    This is a brilliant recipe, I have been trying to make a good sourdough loaf for months but they always came out too dense. This recipe made 2 incredible loaves of bread. Well with the time and effort. Here in the UK there is too much processed bread, the taste and texture is just right. Thank you so much.

  • Sreichgott 10 Jul, 2013

    Spinner, it's correct. You add the salt and last 50g of water after the dough has had a chance to rest briefly. It's not really the first rise. And step 7 tells you to cut the dough into 2 pieces.

    I've made Michael Pollan's whole-grain version of this bread. It's great. Going to make this version next...

  • Spinner 27 Apr, 2013

    #4 states "add salt and remaining 50 grams warm water." It says this AFTER instructing baker to let dough rest for 30 minutes.
    I'm confused. Am I really supposed to incorporate the added water after the first rise? Doesn't sound right. I'm doing as instructed, but am skeptical, and am uncertain how to mix in that much water after a rise.
    Also, nowhere is it stated to divide into two loaves, yet further instruction refer to plural loaves. At what point is the dough divided?

  • Stephie Bee Lady 15 Mar, 2013

    Sour dough starter is a lot easier to make in warm weather. When making the starter, you can leave it outside in a shady spot during the day under a bush. It will absorb the wild yeast in the air. Make sure you have a piece of cloth with an elastic band over the top of the jar and take the starter in at night. I have been making sour dough bread for about 3 years but I have never made it this way before, I'm excited to try it!

  • arbrune 15 Jan, 2013

    Got the book for Christmas. On my third try with starter. This goes into more detail on amounts needed for water and flour than the book does. Hoping three's a charm!

  • mohambah 13 Nov, 2012

    I have the book.
    Still working on it.
    Thus far unmatched.