Starting a journey with ‘Tartine Bread’

Tartine Bread starter batter

I picked up Tartine Bread over the weekend after seeing my buddy John Wozniak rave about it on Twitter. I’ve been meaning to find a great book on naturally leavened bread, and this seemed a good candidate. After reading the first chapter and coming to an understanding of the recipe, I felt I could justifiably start the “Basic Country Bread.” To make it, you’ve first got to grow a starter.

blending flours

King Arthur whole wheat– and white bread flours.

The recipe advises you to mix up 5 pounds of 50-50 white and whole wheat flour. Then fill a small clear bowl halfway with lukewarm water. To that, add flour and mix by hand until you get a thick batter:

mixing starter batter

Photo: Claire Lui

I’ve read from a bunch of Slice commenters that it’s a bit of a myth that wild yeast just sort of floats from the air into your starter. Yes, some of it does, but most of the yeast that’s going to inoculate your starter is already on the wheat and in the flour. That’s what Tartine Bakery owner (and the book’s author) Chad Robertson echoes in these pages. But he also notes that some of the yeast comes from the baker’s hands. Which is why, I’m guessing, he has you mix this batter by hand. Even though it’s a bit messy and prevented me from personally shooting pics of myself going at it.

I actually used a whisk for most of the mixing — until the batter thickened enough that I wasn’t constantly having to add more flour to the bowl.

starter resting

The waiting is the hardest part.

Once it was thick enough (top), I covered it with a clean kitchen towel and placed it in a cool, dark place, as advised. As a nod to Tartine Bakery’s location, I used our San Francisco–theme towel. Now it’s a matter of waiting two to three days while the starter comes to life.