Tartine Bread
by Chad Robertson
Publisher: Chronicle Books, Country: US
ISBN: 9780811870412, Year: 2010
Link to publisher’s page or site
This review is the personal opinion of the reviewer.


Tartine Bread is both a tribute and a guidebook to the process of creating naturally leavened bread (no added yeast). Those with patience, dedication, and a knack for reorganizing a tremendous amount of information will be able to benefit the most from this book. The number of actual bread recipes is small but the book focuses more on the method and does not aim to give variety in terms of bread formulas. Fans of Tartine will also appreciate the various recipes in the final chapter that make use of day-old bread.

Full review

Structure of the book

Tartine Bread has 4 sections in about 250 pages:

Chapter 1, Basic Country Bread, is the longest and most important chapter, wherein the author describes the process of making naturally leavened bread and explains each step in detail, followed by some flavor variations and a method for pizza and focaccia using the same dough;

Chapter 2, Semolina and Whole-Wheat Breads, gives two variations for the country bread with the corresponding change in the basic formula given the different characteristics of either semolina or whole-wheat flour;

Chapter 3, Baguettes and Enriched Breads, which gives instructions for baguettes with shape variations (including English muffins, tordu, fendu, and fougasse), brioche and its variations (olive oil brioche, beignets, brioche lardons, and Kugelhopf), and croissants;

and Chapter 4, Days-old Bread, is a collection of about 40 recipes that use or highlight day-old bread (or in some cases, like the leavened waffles, are entirely new recipes altogether).

The introduction is a story of Chad Robertson’s journey of finding the perfect loaf of bread in Provence and the French Alps, and his attempts to replicate the ancient art of bread-making in Northern California. The book is printed on matte paper and is in full color throughout, though many of the pictures, particularly of the bread-making process, are in black and white.

About the author

Chad Robertson, together with his wife Elisabeth Prueitt, is the owner of Tartine Bakery and Bar Tartine in San Francisco. He trained at the Culinary Institute of America in New York and continued his training in artisan bread making in France. Chad’s bread garnered the attention of Alain Ducasse, who wrote about the couple in his book, Harvesting Excellence. Elisabeth and Chad were nominated for the James Beard Award for Outstanding Pastry Chefs in 2006 and 2007, and won the award in 2008. (Source: Tartine’s official website)

Main review

It goes without saying that those who are fortunate enough to have eaten the artisan loaves coming out of Tartine Bakery and want to replicate the results at home won’t even need more justification to get this book. However, Tartine Bread is more than just an instruction manual for the faithful reproduction of a specific loaf of bread; it is a tribute to the naturally leavened (free from added yeast) bread produced in pre-Industrial France and which has recently undergone a renaissance in the baking community.

Robertson was inspired by Jacques Pepin’s La Methode and wanted the reader to follow the process using several step-by-step photographs, in essence also following his own footsteps as an apprentice baker in the French countryside, watching the masters make bread and cleaning up after them. Naturally leavened bread is, however, more malleable a product than a roast chicken or even a cake batter: the results vary widely with the slightest changes in the process or the environment. Also, bread can and should be troubleshot during the process to achieve the best product possible. Robertson addresses these potential missteps in-text and can trip up those with short attention spans. The best way to approach the book is to reorganize the information in such a way that helps you to learn while you haven’t yet established a rhythm, or “the song of the bread.” There is a surprisingly helpful section at the end of the first chapter that talks about the experience of three test bakers during the writing of the book, and one of them cleverly made a set of index cards with the projected schedule for bread-making. Eventually she became more flexible with the schedule once she developed a feel for the method. For other people, perhaps making a flowchart is necessary, especially since some steps will have to be lengthened or repeated to avert failure.

The pictures are indeed very helpful but cannot perfectly capture more nuanced procedures, such as shaping a round loaf. Furthermore, they are in separate pages from the actual text, unlabeled and uncaptioned, so if you cannot place a certain photograph to a part of the process, you’re going to have to figure it out on your own.

The process is by no means easy, but Robertson gives you enough instruction and guidance so that it has the potential to become easy with practice. Dedication is a prerequisite for making this uniquely flavorful bread. The author uses the autolyse (a brief rest after mixing) and bulk fermentation methods for making the dough, which uses a series of turns in the bowl instead of vigorous kneading to develop the gluten. This is good news to those without an electric mixer or extensive counter space (the brioche is the only recipe that requires a stand mixer). The only other special tools required are an electronic kitchen scale and a cast iron combo cooker, which is not a necessity, but the author’s most-recommended tool for creating a steaming compartment in the oven. The result is not the famed sourdough of San Francisco (though the author indicates how you can achieve this with a few simple adjustments), but a naturally, subtly sweet bread with a very open, aerated crumb and shatteringly crisp crust with a complexity of flavor that cannot be achieved with yeasted bread. The baguette dough uses the levain de pâte method, which combines yeast and a natural leaven to achieve a light, relatively quick to prepare bread while maintaining that complex flavor.

Unlike most bread books (such as excellent ones by Dan Lepard, Jim Lahey, and Peter Reinhart), Tartine Bread does not have a wide variety of bread recipes: the ones listed above in the first section are the only basic formulas. Instead of breadth, it chooses to discuss each of the formulas with a bit more depth, and give only minor variations, such as adding olives, walnuts, herbes de Provence, and lemon zest to the country bread dough to create olive bread.

The idea behind Tartine Bread is to produce loaves that can be consumed for dinner (as they do in Tartine) and toast the next day. The last chapter goes well beyond this and offers several recipes for using up day-old (not necessarily “stale”) bread, with salads such as panzanella, escalivada, and Caesar’s salad; sandwiches such as tartine, banh mi, and crab, shrimp, and meatball sandwiches; soups such as gazpacho, sopa de ajo and French onion soup; dishes such as savory bread pudding, panade, and fritatine; bruschetta, and sweets such as Bostock, summer pudding, and baked French toast. Fans of the bakery will be disappointed to find that the book has none of the recipes for the café’s pressed sandwiches. The recipes in the final chapter are given in US volume measurements while the bread formulas are given in gram measurements.

Who might enjoy/use this book most?

Bread enthusiasts from beginners to professionals will enjoy the wealth of information in Tartine Bread, though the technique works best for those with patience and the ability to work their bread-making schedule around their work day. Even for those who don’t bake bread, fans of Tartine will appreciate the author’s stories, as well as the final chapter of bread-based recipes.

This is an original review for The Gastronomer’s Bookshelf.
Main rating: 4. Recommended – good
Visual appeal: Beautiful
Suitability as a gift: If the person is really interested
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Rating: 3.3/5 (3 votes cast)
Tartine Bread, Chad Robertson | 2010 | US, 3.3 out of 5 based on 3 ratings

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One Comment

  1. Posted 21 Dec 2010 at 00:00 | Permalink

    I’m making the panade recipe right now and have really enjoyed the unusual French onion soup recipe. The bread info itself is useful, but not ground braking, but Chapter 4 has been a delight and worth the purchase.

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