This started out as my notes from reading the Tartine Bread book. It mostly still is but I’ve read and experimented a lot since reading it and it’s a mixture of sources now. If any of this doesn’t make sense I highly recommend grabbing the book and reading the first couple chapters. It’s the most worthwhile book I’ve read in a long time—the Kindle book is fine if all you want is the info but the print book is really beautiful.
It seems like there’s so many steps and so many variables but after doing it 20 or so times and learning what each stage should look and feel like it became really easy.
Watching the video I made below, or searching for Tartine Bread on YouTube is also a good way to get a sense for what these steps should look like. But you get more nuance from the book.
This process can be sped up, but the way I fit this into my day is by starting to form the dough at night before making dinner; doing the bulk rise in the fridge overnight; shaping in the morning; proofing in the fridge all day; then baking on the second night.
the bulk fermentation time and the final rising time can be lengthened considerably to spread the process over two days. There are many ways to arrange this. One example is to accomplish the bulk rise during the day and the final rise overnight. Another is to achieve the bulk rise overnight and the final rise during the day so that you can bake in the afternoon before dinner. If the dough is mixed using cooler water, at 65°F, it will need 8 to 12 hours of bulk fermentation, rather than 3 to 4 hours, as long as it’s kept at 55° to 65°F. You can mix this cool dough in the evening before retiring. The key is to arrange your schedule to achieve convenience without compromise.
Step 0: Sourdough Starter
To get started, you need to make a starter. This takes about 3–5 days but once it’s active it, can be stored in the fridge for months.
Step 1: Leaven
As far as I can tell, a leaven is simply a starter that has had a big feed in the last 6–12 hours and is therefore ready to use. If you want to bake regularly, you might be better off maintaining a leaven (with 200 g daily feeds) rather than maintaining a starter (with 50 g feeds).
Mix water, leaven and flour and let sit for about 12 hours.
The night before you plan to mix the dough, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the mature starter. Feed the starter with 200 grams of warm (78°F) water and 200 grams of the 50/50 flour blend. Cover with a kitchen towel and let the starter rise overnight at a cool room temperature (65°F). This is your leaven.
This will make more leaven than you need for two loaves. The remainder is now your starter, refrigerate it and discard your old starter.
The freshness of the flour has a big impact on the flavor of the bread—buy the best you can find.
Mix water and leaven together in a large bowl.
Add flours and mix completely.
Let sit for 30min to let the flour absorb the water.
Add salt and additional water.
Squish dough with your fingers to thoroughly mix in the salt.
Step 3: Bulk Fermentation
Turn the dough every half hour for 3 or so hours. Leaving at least 30 minutes after the last turn.
To turn, wet your hand and slide it between the bowl and the dough, then lift and stretch a side of the dough and fold it over. Going around the bowl and repeating three or four times constitutes one “turn”. The little air pockets form the basis of the crumb which will fill with gas during the bulk fermentation.
At Tartine, we try to maintain the dough at a constant temperature between 78° and 82°F to accomplish the full bulk fermentation in 3 to 4 hours.
During the first 2 hours of the bulk fermentation, give the dough one turn every half hour. During the third hour, notice how the dough starts to get billowy, soft, and aerated with gas. At this later stage, you should turn the dough more gently to avoid pressing gas out of the dough.
So far I’ve mostly put the dough in the fridge over night after turning. But I’m experimenting with forming loaves sooner and retarding for longer in the proofing stage, rather than splitting it over bulk fermentation and proofing…
If you let the bulk fermentation go too long, the final rise will be sluggish as the food that fuels the fermentation has been exhausted.
Step 4: Shaping & Proofing
Dump out dough onto a clean bench.
Lightly dust with flour and use your bench scraper to flip the dough onto the floured side.
Divide in half if making two loaves.
Fold in half so the outside is now mostly floured.
Dust top of dough ball with flour then place in proofing basket seam up.
Cover with a tea towel and rise for 3–4 hours, or put it in the fridge for 10–24 hours.
Knowing When Dough Is Properly Proofed
The biggest mistake I’ve made is over-proofing. The dough becomes really difficult to get out of the proofing basket and you get very little oven spring. To test, poke the dough with your finger: if it’s under-proofed it should spring back reasonably quickly; if it’s perfectly proofed it should spring back slowly but not completely; when it’s over-proofed it won’t spring back much at all.
Step 5: Baking
Heat dutch oven or combo cooker in oven to 260°c (500°f). Set the oven to ‘bake’ so the top element is not on.
Turn dough into dutch oven, seam side down, and score with razor.
Replace lid, put back in oven and reduce temperature to 230°c (450°f).
Bake for 20min then remove lid.
Bake for additional 20min or until very dark (almost burnt).
The dough needs moisture to help it rise. Commercial baking ovens inject steam; regular ovens don’t. The dutch oven avoids this by being tightly contained, as the moisture from the dough evaporates it creates a humid environment. If you don’t have a dutch oven you could try baking in your heaviest oven-safe pan covered with a pot.