I Spent My Vacation Baking from Tartine No. 3 & Here's How It Went

I Spent My Vacation Baking from Tartine No. 3 & Here's How It Went

Emma Christensen
Feb 3, 2014
(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

Item: Tartine Book No. 3
Price: $25
Overall Impression: Not a good one for beginners, but a fantastic resource for anyone who likes to get nerdy with bread.

Living in the Bay Area and being an avid bread baker, to say that my anticipation and my expectations for Tartine No. 3 were high is a laughable understatement. I was at my local bookstore the day that the book came out. I spent that entire afternoon dog-earing recipes and then went out that night to stock up on flours and grains. The next week — from Christmas Eve to New Year's Day — will henceforth be known as That Time Emma Went a Little Bread Crazy.

The Recipes I Made

Click through the gallery below to see photos of all the recipes I tried from this book so far.

The Review

Who wrote it? Chad Robertson

What's the angle? Chad Robertson of San Francisco's Tartine Bakery has been at the forefront of our exploding national bread scene for the past several years, and with Tartine No. 3, he pushes the envelope a little further.

This book is all about moving beyond breads made simply with wheat flour and exploring new ways to use whole grains, ancient grains, and the flours made from them. We're talking grains like kamut and quinoa, teff and emmer, as well as some more familiar ones like rye and barley. He plays with sprouted grain breads, porridge breads, crisp flatbreads, and some pastries.

Recipes tested: Spelt-Wheat Loaf, Toasted Barley Pan Loaf, Oat Porridge Bread, and Toasted Millet Porridge Bread

How It Went: My loaves definitely improved from the first to the last. Partly this was because my sourdough starter had fallen to some neglect in the preceding weeks, and even though I diligently fed and watered it to build it back up to strength, I don't think it had fully recovered until partway through my baking spree. My bad on that one.

I also gradually picked up on Chad Robertson's style the more I made these recipes. There are some steps that are just hard to describe in words or even show in pictures — you can really only learn them by doing them yourself. A good example of this is shaping the loaf: it seems like relatively straight-forward process from the pictures, but it took me several tries (and several recipes) until I felt confident that my loaves were properly formed. This isn't Chad's fault; I just needed to practice until I understood how the dough should look and feel.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

I did run into some frustrating problems with the recipes. Some seemed to be simple copyediting errors — like the Master Method says to add the porridge grains for making the porridge breads when you mix the initial dough, but the recipes themselves say to add it an hour into the rise. I tried it both ways with two different recipes and didn't find it to make much of a difference either way. (For the record, I like mixing the porridge grains in at the beginning since I felt they get more thoroughly mixed into the dough that way.)

Update! I heard from Chad Robertson himself and he says that the correct method for mixing the porridge breads is to add the porridge an hour into the bulk fermentation. The confusion I mention above is, indeed, a proofing error and will be corrected in subsequent reprints of Tartine No. 3.

There were other instances where the recipes just got plain ol' confusing. One single recipe might refer you back to one or more master methods for various steps throughout the recipe. Sometimes it's unclear what exact ingredient or method is being called for — like flaked grains or whole, or whether the grains needed to be processed further before going into the dough. Recipes often only made sense to me after careful reading, repeated cross-checks, and extensive note-taking in the margins.

Something else to watch out for: the recipes sometimes — but not always — have you prepare more grains than you actually need in the recipe, meaning you need to re-weigh the cooked grains or porridge before adding them to the dough. This nearly tripped me up when making the Toasted Barley Pan Loaf.

(Image credit: Emma Christensen)

But all this said, I still really love this book! Working with these new grains and flours was both enlightening and thrilling for a baking nerd like me, and I had a blast making all these breads. I was incredibly proud of my last loaf, the Oat Porridge Bread. That Toasted Barley Pan Loaf is a also revelation (and very good with smashed avocado and sea salt on top). I will 100% be making more breads from this book.

One of my biggest fears in all the hype leading up to this book was that it would be impossible to find the kind of grains and flours called for in the recipes. For the most part, I didn't find this to be true — I was able to find nearly all the grains and flours I wanted to use at my local Whole Foods. I feel like some of the flaked grains and more obscure flours will be trickier to find, but the internet is a place of many wonders and I'm sure most of them can be found there with some digging.

My gut instinct is also that flours and grains like these are only going to become more popular and available over the coming years. If you have trouble finding kamut or purple barley now, I don't think this will stay the case for much longer. In the meantime, there are plenty — more than plenty — of recipes in Tartine No. 3 to keep you busy and happily baking.

My loaves weren't perfect, but they got me close enough to feel like perfection is there, just beyond my fingertips, waiting in the next loaf. Trying to bake a perfect loaf of Tartine Bread is like questing for the Holy Grail. You know it's there, you believe in it. And it's that wellspring of hope and unwavering belief that drives you — and me — back into the kitchen again and again.

Final Takeaway: While I do recommend this book, I do so with a bit of reservation. Seasoned home bakers will be able to fall back on their experience when the instructions get confusing and will almost certainly find a lot to love in this book. But I fear that new bakers will just feel lost. If you're a new baker eager to try out Tartine Bread, I recommend starting with the master recipe in their first book. Once you have that solidly under your belt, come over and give these recipes a try.

→ Find It! Tartine Book No. 3 by Chad Robertson, $25 on Amazon

More on Tartine No. 3 from The Kitchn:

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