The first sourdough: Tartine Country Loaf

After a year and a half of focusing almost exclusively on commercial yeast breads, I decided it was time to take a second stab at a sourdough starter. My first attempt was a classic case of reading things thoroughly but not paying much attention to the actual starter. As bakers are wont to say, “Watch the dough, not the clock.” In this case the clock was the formula for starter. This time around I read a few different approaches and decided to combine them all and mostly focus on following my own instincts.

The Starter

50/50 KA AP Flour and WW Flour, with equal parts water. After four days this is what Lil’ Slimy 2 (that’s the starter’s name) looked like. I was lax with him, but could tell he was vigorous. A few days before I wanted to bake a first loaf I got him on a regular schedule, feeding twice a day to downplay the sourness for these first loaves.

The First Bake

I started with the Country Loaf, the first recipe in the Tartine book. Chad Robertson is famous for a reason. There are very few things I think are worth waiting in line for, but Tartine bread is absolutely one of them. The first time I tasted it my life was changed. It was years ago, but I remember very clearly saying “I had no idea you could make bread like this.” A few years later and I’m attempting to do it myself!

I went with a slight variation on the recipe in the book, raising the amount of levain by 50g. If I’m being honest it was mostly because the last time I tried a sourdough both were miserable failures and I wanted to stack the deck in my favor. Otherwise, by the book.

Tartine Country Loaf (mostly)

  • 250g Levain (about 12 hours old)
  • 700g water (plus 50g separate) 77° (a tad lower than the 80° recommended because I was anticipating it’d be warm)
  • 900g KA AP Flour
  • 100g KA WW Flour
  • 20g Salt

I mixed all but the salt and the 50g of H2O together, autolyzed for 30 minutes. Then mixed in salt and water, with a first fold before I plopped it in a 6qt Cambro container. Temp of the dough was consistently 76° throughout.

The Robertson method of folding is involved. A fold every half hour for most if not all of the bulk rise. I’d been reading a bunch of blog posts about this loaf and how to tweak it/what options there are, and it seemed like people ranged from folding throughout the whole thing to stopping after the first 2 hours. I split the difference and did 5 folds, 3 vigorous ones, and two more gentle folds.

I found the pictures he shared incredibly helpful. While my folding technique has yielded good bread in the past, a smaller container and the image of tucking the fold down into the other side helped cement in my mind just what I should be doing. I’m anxious to try a commercial yeast bread with some of the changes to approach and technique I picked up on just this one bake.

At 3.5 hours the dough was telling me it was ready. A bit of a rise, maybe 20% or so, and clearly visible air bubbles throughout. I love how easy it was to get this bread out of the container! Divided nicely, a bit floppy but workable. And yet again, the pictures of the pre-shape and the shaping were invaluable. Preshaped two little boules and let them rest for 25 minutes.

I watched a couple videos in the 20 minutes. This one in particular was incredibly useful. Watching how sure he was with the dough and how forgiving it seemed to be helped give me confidence. I can say with complete confidence the two boules in their baskets below are the best shaped loaves I’ve ever made.

The Loaves

At this point our stories diverge. I wanted to see what a retarded proofing would do to flavor and crumb so I immediately put one of them into a plastic bag and into the fridge. The other I put in the kitchen and let proof for about 3.5 hours at around 78°.

The first loaf, baked the same day.

Some obvious issues with appearance. I didn’t score it deeply enough and had a slight mishap with the transfer to the combo cooker. I am also working on my confidence in letting the bread stay in as long as it should. I know for a fact that a darker loaf yields great results but I still hesitate and pull stuff out earlier than I should.

Those issues aside, very very happy with this bread. It had a very very slight tang, but mostly just tasted like great bread. Good rise, cracks along the outside where my scoring wasn’t deep enough, and the crumb was exactly what I wanted. Uneven holes throughout, mostly smaller, but I’m perfectly okay with that on a first attempt.

The second loaf, baked about 19 hours after final shaping.

This time no issues with transfer. The scoring is better, but this weekend made me admit my very very hacked together lame is not doing it, so I broke down and ordered a real one. It will help to have something better than a razor taped into some cardboard as a makeshift handle. It was early, I was tired, and I think both of those things helped me push the bread further than usual. I could have kept it in a bit longer for sure, but I’m very happy with the color on this one.

The crumb is even better, more uneven, very, very pleasing. And the taste is just that bit more intense. A bit more tang, more complexity in general.

Verdict?

Given that this was my first go both at a Tartine bread, and at natural levain I am ecstatic with these loaves. Already planning my next attempt this week, thinking one loaf will be roasted garlic and one will be sesame. I’d also like to try a version with just AP flour.