The Fresh Loaf

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Glezer's Book or is it me--oven spring?

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danmerk's picture

Glezer's Book or is it me--oven spring?

I am sitting here at 1:01am EST on a Saturday night tasting a piece of bread I just baked. The flavor is nice, but the bread is another dissapointment. The bread I made was the Kalmata Olive loaf in Glezer's book. However I replaced olives with sun dried tomatoes because I was out of olives. But that is not my problem-- I think my overall problem is oven spring. ALL my breads are flat.

So I popped open my laptop to read almost every thread here and figure out what the heck I am doing wrong. Wouldn't you know it, I see several pics of the Columbia bread made by many of you and your loaves are amazing. Crust has those little bubbles under that dense brown crust. The crumb has those large gassous holes and flakey and soft. And the height is almost exact to the book's pics. So what am I doing wrong?

When I bought the book; that night I made the 1st phase of the rye starter. I followed the recipe to a tee and ended up with a nice firm starter that was active and seemed to smell good. So i picked the Columbia recipe and followed it almost exact. (Except the malt, I used liquid malt extract, I brew so I had that instead.) My first loaf was ok. Not great, better sour taste than my other Joy of Cooking recipe I tried last summer. My problem there was the loaf was too dense. So I figured that I was doing something wrong, I worked on another levain almost immediately as I was pulling out my last loaf.

This time I made the recipe almost exact but this time I used 100% King Arthur's Bread flour, instead of the 50/50 she says so. It was a bit better but same crust, same crumb. Sigh. I went on for the next month making several loaves a week. Giving them to friends who said they were great bread, but then asked why they were so flat. 

So this time I used 100% all purpose flour. Well I can tell you I am back to using the 50/50 blend as this bread's flavor was not as good. Here is what I do to make my breads. I chose to add more starter to make the levain and it worked better on proofing, but had no effect on the oven spring. I get great rise, great autolysis, and shaping is a snap. But why does my bread look like a flat letter "D" and not a nice "O" when cut!? Please help!

 My process:

Day 1  Levain 100g starter from fridge, 150g KA bread flour, 95g water mix, make dough, ferment for 12hrs in 75-80deg space

Day 2 (morning before work) Mix 500g KA bread flour, 16g K salt, 30g rye flour, 30g w wheat flour, 320g water, and let rest for 30 min (take shower, etc.)

Add levain by scooping out of bowl and knead into the above dough. Knead for 5min, and make ball, place in oiled bowl toss in oven until lunch (I come home for lunch)

Lunchtime: Turn out bread on counter let rest for 15 min, make 2 balls, let rest 15 min, then shape into batards and place in couche.

After Dinner : heat oven to 425deg ( I have Kitchen Aid and has a convection but do not use) let heat for 45min, then pull bread out of couche and place on dusted peel. Toss on stone and bake for 30min or more until crust is perfect. I slash and I spray water.

About 10 min into baking, the loaf is still flat, rises a bit more. I can not figure out what is going on here as my process is by the book. I did add more starter because my sourness was not there initally, and they proofing was not as generous. Can someone help me? Thanks! 

susanfnp's picture

Hi Dan,

It’s you ;-) This is a good thing, because it means you can fix it, and there are some great bakers on this site who can help you. Hang in there!

Based on your nice detailed description of your process, there are few things I can think of that I would do differently.

You’re using the starter straight out of the fridge. You probably need to feed it for a day or two before it’s “awake” enough to use. (See ABAA p. 93)

When you make the levain, you increase the starter from 30g as given in ABAA, to 100g, but still feed it with the same amount of flour and water. The problem with this is that you have invited more guests to the dinner party but still have the same amount of food for them to share. It’s probably not going to last them all night – they’ll be pooped by morning and won’t be raring to go to work in your bread.

The hydration of your dough is pretty low. Considering all the flour and water in your levain plus your final dough, I calculate a hydration of around 59%. The ABAA Essential Columbia formula is around 66%. Lower hydrations produce denser breads.

Mixing for 5 minutes may not be sufficient to get your gluten developed enough. ABAA says to fold the dough (which increases dough strength) after one hour, but it doesn’t look like you’re doing this.

How much time exactly are you bulk fermenting and proofing? You may be doing too much (or too little) of both. If your mealtimes are anything like mine, “lunchtime” to “after dinner” could be 6 hours or more – probably too long to proof the loaves. Overproofing is the best way I know to wreck your oven spring.

You use liquid malt extract instead of non-diastatic barley malt syrup. Is this diastatically active? If so, that could contribute to overfermentation.

These are a few thoughts off the top of my head. I’m sure others can add other insight.

Good luck and don’t give up!



danmerk's picture


Thanks so much for reading! A few things per your suggestions.

1. Waking up a starter. So my understanding is that on Sunday I pull out the starter and refresh per Glezer. This rests for 8-12 hours. Then I use that refreshed object to make the recipe for levain? So then technically I am beginning my recipe on Monday morning by making the levain, resting till the evening, then Tuesday morning begins the baking day?

2. Overproofing. Completely possible. I usually let the bread rest from 9am to 12pm, then from 1pm to 6ish it sits in the baskets. I can already see that they may be exhausted in the final proofing stage. Perhaps at lunch I should palce the round balls of dough in the fridge until I come home, then I can cut into loaves and rest in a couche until 8-9pm.

3. Flour? Her book mentioned that the KA AP flour was better to use than the bread flour as it has less protien. Last week I tried this but the grocery store seemed to discontinue the KA AP so I bought some other brand. It said organic but my recent loaves taste flat. Hmm?

4. Liquid malt is diastatic, so I wont use again. Using any other heavy syrup may also be so I am leaving it out for now. (Until I find some)

5. Wet dough. So far all of my doughs are very soft and hold no weight. I would say that only my first batch was firm and that was very dense. I added more water so I may have recorded my water incorrectly. However, since they are soft doughs and when I put them in baskets they rise perfectly, but I am nwo wondering if my over proofing causes the dough to collapse when I remove them onto the peel. So how should I know when its time?

Thanks so much! 

susanfnp's picture


Here are some thoughts on your thoughts:

1. I’m not an expert in firm starters, nor in refrigerating them (as I keep mine at RT all the time), but I would say you probably want to do even two, three, or more refreshments, keeping the starter at room temp all the while, before starting to make the levain.

2. For now, I would advise trying to stick to the times specified in ABAA, without refrigerating the dough. Would this be possible if you baked on your day off, for example? I’m not saying that refrigerating the dough at various stages is not an extremely useful tool for controlling your baking schedule. But it can be tricky to try to figure out how much to proof before and after refrigerating, especially if you’re not sure what is the correct amount of proofing in the first place. My sense is that if the dough were refrigerated at the beginning of the proof, it would take a lot longer than 2-3 hours for it to finish proofing once you took it out of the fridge, so you could be up all night. (Not that this is a bad thing, if it's for a good cause :-)

3. Flour: KAF AP flour is different from a lot of other AP flours in that it contains more protein, and maybe better quality protein for breadmaking. I know a lot of people here do use it as their regular bread flour. A different AP flour, though, could be not a very good choice for artisan bread. Try Gold Medal Harvest King, which is available in many supermarkets nationally. It’s not organic, though. (Something to watch out for with organic flours is that they often do not contain any malted barely flour, which most conventional white flours do; it enhances fermentation. I think recipes in most books assume you’ll use malted flour. It’s probably not making that much difference in you case, though, especially if the problem is overfermenting/overproofing. Just something to be aware of in general.)

4. You can probably get barley malt syrup (non-diastatic) if there is a Whole Foods or other natural foods store near you. It can also be ordered online from KAF.

5. If your loaves are collapsing when you put them on the peel, that’s a sign that they are indeed overproofed. (I take collapsing to mean they’re deflating, not just spreading out, which means something else.) How you know when it’s time comes mostly with experience (at least that’s how it works for me). Start by following recipes to the letter (ingredients, mixing method, fermentation times, etc), see what happens, observe the look and feel of the dough at various stages, and whether you got the results you were hoping for. Tweak from there, preferably one variable at a time.


bwraith's picture

Hi danmerk,

I was taking a look at your recipe and Susanfnp's comments, which seem exactly right.

I agree with Susanfnp about the water. You would want to be using something more like 380-400 grams of water to get a more open crumb. The hydration you are using is more like what a bagel dough would be like.

I agree the proofing times seem like an issue, as well. I'm not sure if your starter meets Glezer's "gold standard", but if it does, then it rises similar to mine which will rise by about 4x in around 7 hours at 78F. If so, I would expect the bulk fermentation to take about 4 hours at 75F. The final proof wouldn't be more than about 2.5-3 hours at 75F with my starter. Since starters vary, you have to test it. Glezer suggests 3.5 to 4.5 hours, but I know that would be a little too long for my starter at 75F. The percentage of fermented flour (flour from levain divided by total flour in the recipe) is about 28%, which is fairly high as sourdough recipes go. If you have a very ripe levain, which you would if you build it with the small feeding ratio in the recipe and then let it rest for 12 hours, you will have a lot of acid in the dough from the levain. Therefore, you will have to be careful about overproofing, as the extra acid will make it last less time before the acids break down the gluten and will wipe out your oven spring.

If your storage starter has been in the refrigerator for more than a few days without refreshing, then you should definitely refresh it at least once before taking 100g for the levain. You want to get your storage starter fully active before you start making the levain.

I also agree with Susan that the levain may not want to sit for way too long, since the feeding ratio specified is not very high. Even though it is a firm starter and will be fine fermenting for 12 hours, I would expect it to be at its peak in more like 8 hours than 12. However, as a firm levain, it should be OK to ferment for 12 hours without a problem.

Your salt amount might be a smidge high. I would use more like 14-15g in that amount of flour. Too much salt can make the gluten too stiff, and unless you increase the water to 400g, that might be contributing to gluten problems.

Although it's mentioned in just one line in the recipe - "Turn the dough once (page 16), then continue..." - that is a critical step. The gluten will develop a lot with just one folding in this lower hydration dough. This is assuming you use more like 380-400g of water. At your lower level of hydration in this recipe, it's lower than I've ever done other than for bagels, so I'm not sure what would happen if you try to fold it with so little water in it.

The meaning of "AP" and "Bread" on flour labels varies. You have to be a little careful, because I've seen the AP label on flour that has very low protein and would not work well in a sourdough recipe. The recipe you're using has a high percentage of fermented flour in it, so very low protein flour could break down too easily in the high acid levels. Most of the time if it is unbleached AP flour, that should be fine, but you may want to check the labels or see if you can just verify that the protein levels are around 11.5% or higher. If the protein levels are around 10%, you might find the flour itself is a problem in your recipes.


danmerk's picture

Thanks for the great support. I may re create the starter again. If I do this, does that mean I can keep my starter active during the week once created or will it die on me because my kitchen is about 75 deg now? The reason I keep my starter in the fridge is that I usually bake once a week.

I am beginning to get discouraged a bit. Glezer's book was an inspiration but after about 20 loaves, I am not having much luck. 

One last question. How do most of you get those sharp cracked edges in your slashes? Mine seem to expand and then go away.  

bwraith's picture


I'm not sure if I know exactly what you mean about recreating your starter, but I don't think you need to recreate your starter. All that is needed is to take the stored starter out of the refrigerator and feed it once or twice at room temperature to bring it back to full potency. You will be able to tell it is at full potency when it will rise by 4 times in volume in less than 8 hours at a reasonable temperature like 75F after being fed according to the refreshment recipe - the Glezer "gold standard" for firm starters.

When the starter sits in the refrigerator for a week or so, it loses some of its potency. When you bring it back to room temperature and feed it a couple of times, letting it rest for at least 12 hours between feedings, it should spring back to full strength. Actually, with only one week in the refrigerator a firm starter may well spring back within just one feeding. However, if it will not rise by 4x in less than 8 hours, you can feed it repeatedly until it does.

Sorry if I have misunderstood what you mean, but you definitely don't want to go back to "starting a starter" as on page 92 of Artisan Baking by Glezer. All that you need to do is carefully follow the "refresh a completed sourdough starter" instructions on page 93. Take a look at the paragraph just previous to the section titled "To Convert a Batter-type Sourdough Starter into a Firm Starter." It describes what you do to bring a starter back to full potency after the starter has been in the refrigerator for a while.

Don't give up yet. All you really need are a few things to make your bread come out right.

1) Take your starter out of the refrigerator one or two days before you want to create the levain, and refresh it by feeding it in a ratio of 1:3:5 by weight of (starter:water:flour). Let it rise and fall - at least 12 hours and as long as 24 hours is OK at 75F. It should rise by about 4 times in volume in less than 8 hours before beginning to fall. If it is not doing that, feed it again and let it rest another 12 hours. Once it is rising well and therefore active, take 100g of the starter and use to make the levain. Remember to save some of the starter so you can refresh it and put it back in the refrigerator for storage.

2) Use 380 grams of water in the recipe, so you have a more reasonable hydration of the dough.

3) Fold it as explained on page 16 of ABAA one hour after the dough is kneaded initially.

4) Let the dough rise by double in about 4 hours. Lean on the early side - don't let it way more than double.

5) Shape and then proof for about 2.5 hours more plus or minus. Yes, it could be longer than 2.5 hours especially if you stop the bulk fermentation and shape earlier than when it the dough has fully doubled during the bulk fermentation, but it probably will not take anywhere near 5 or 6 hours - more like 2-4 hours.

I agree with Susan, that you may want to try to do this at a point when you have time to do the whole baking process at one time, so you can see it work before you start trying to use the refrigerator to delay the process. However, once you understand the effect of the refrigeration on timing, you can adjust your timing to be very flexible around your schedule.


susanfnp's picture


Ditto what Bill said about not recreating the starter.

Don't get discouraged! If you could have seen some of my first efforts when I started baking about 15 months ago, you would know what I mean when I say that my loaves back then fell 90% into the category "You Call this Bread?" Now I think I'm in the "Mostly Pretty Good With a Few Glaring Exceptions" range. It just takes patience and practice. If I could give you one piece of advice based on what I've read from you so far, it would be to follow the recipes exactly at first.

The sharp slashes you're describing come from 1) not overproofing and 2) holding the blade at a very shallow angle (i.e., almost parallel to the surface of the loaf).


danmerk's picture

Bill ans SUsanfnp thanks again!

 Ok, last question for this thread. 

Glezer says to refresh by taking 10g of starter, 45g water and 90g flour. So last night I pulled out 10g of starter and tossed the rest. Made the starter like she says, and this morning the dough was pretty puffy, but not quite 4x. So This afternoon I will check again and if it is 4x I will then pull 10g out again and repeat? Seems like I am building up yeast and taking only 10g of it and tossing the rest. Is this correct? If so, then how do I get up to the size of starter that I can save for later use? Seems I am tossing away what I am growing up. 

bwraith's picture


I realize you must have a different Glezer book. I have "Artisan Baking" a paperback. Sorry if the pages I was mentioning aren't the same. Actually, she has changed her refreshment instructions in later books. For example, I have "A Blessing of Bread" and it has changed a little even from Artisan Baking. For what it's worth, although it may not matter that much, the refreshment cycle she suggests is now 10g:30g:50g, and she says it should rise by 4x in less than 8 hours. I have found this refreshment cycle works well with my starter if I feed it every 12-24 hours.

Think of it as two things you need to do: 1) Serial refreshments. 2) Build up the right quantity of starter for your recipe.

The serial refreshments will bring the starter to full potency. The key things to do are to: 1) feed it 10:30:50 (10:45:90 OK, too), and 2) let it rise at room temperature and begin to fall before feeding it again.

The high ratio is needed to give the starter enough food and to dilute the acids enough to encourage the starter to grow vigorously in the favorable environment. The reason you have to let it rise and begin to fall is to allow the cell count of yeast and lactobacillus to rise to the highest levels possible, which happens about the time a firm starter has risen and is beginning to fall.

The other thing is to build up the right amount of starter. The easiest way to do that is to keep the refreshment ratio the same but start with a larger amount of starter. So, let's say you want to use 100g and also keep 10g for a final feeding before storing in the refrigerator again.

You could feed 15g:45g:90g, and that would create 150g of culture. You could then use 100g for your recipe, keep 10g to feed 10g:30g:50g once more before storing it in the refrigerator, and toss out any that's left. Since you're working with small amounts, you want to make 30% or so more than you need, because you always lose culture on scrapers, the sides of the jar and so on.

It is possible to feed at a different ratio, but that changes the nature of the starter culture somewhat, since the different ratio will mean different acid levels will prevail during that feeding. So, for example, if you fed the culture 100g:120g:200g to get 420g of culture, you aren't diluting the culture by as much. It will work, but it will rise and ripen quite a bit more quickly, maybe in just a few hours, since you are putting in a large amount of starter per amount of food. That's OK to do, but I would actually recommend doing that as a separate step in building up to the amount you need, rather than using that as a refreshment for you starter that will go back in the refrigerator.


BROTKUNST's picture

Dan, I would have liked to reply earlier to your inquiry but  our neighboor's yard project cut us off from the outside world for the weekend...

You received great replies already, no need to elaborate on that.

I just wanted to let you know that for a good week or so I have been keeping a small portion of my 'fridge culture' at room temperature and feed it every 12 hours. Susanfp inspired me to do so after she talked about her starter ... I must say that the difference was tremendous - the 'Vermont Sourdoughs' I baked busted out of their shell, although I proofed them well and slashed them as I did other sourdoughs. The ovenspring was more like an 'ovenexplosion' ... the next day I slashed the doughs more in anticipation of the increased activity and I got the appearance more under control . The loaves are large with a 'fluffy' and chewy crumb.

If you like to try it : Take a small portion of your culture (10 g) and feed it with 25g Water and 20g Flour. Note: I use filtered Brita Water and 10g KAF Artisan + 10g KAF Organic All Purpose Flour. Feed it every 12 hours, starting with 10g of your foamy mature culture. Do this for a couple of days, maybe until the weekend before you create a levain with it.

If you are using this in a firm starter formula you'd have to make sure to use the right amount of fermented flour (here 100/225 of the weight is fermented flour) and you'd have to reduce the water of the final dough accordingly ... or try the Hamelman 'Vermont Sourdough'. A straight forward 'training loaf' with excellent taste.

If I'll have my cable back on when I am home I will post some pictures as a reference.


danmerk's picture

Here is an example of the slashes I never seem to get. Almost looks as if a skin formed and then slashed.


rideold's picture

I was reading "The Bread Builders" over the weekend (stuck on the couch with a cold) and there was a brief mention about artisan hearth breads reacting better to slashing if a skin had formed from slight drying during proofing.  I haven't baked since I read it so I can't comment from experience but I'm curious to try it out.

BROTKUNST's picture

I think this statement may come from the fact that a more dry skin is simply more easy to cut with a sharp razor blade. This plays a little against the general intend that you want your loaf to be able to 'balloon' or expand with it's entire surface- not just to expand through the slashes. The slashes pick up the expansion once the skin firms up (more and more) . Put it that way ... I would not consider intentionally drying the skin of my loaves for the pupose of easier slashing.

A fresh, sharp razor blade cut's through about any skin. (The Matfer 'professional' blades I bought at KAF is too dull and I used it only a few times without promising results)


AnnieT's picture

Rideold, I proofed my boule of basic sourdough from the BBA in the banneton which is well coated with rice flour and it had quite a skin - made for MUCH easier slashing. I find that even using a razor blade I drag rather than cut and have to go over the slashes more than once when the dough is soft. Maybe I will try with a double edged razor instead of the safety ones I have been using. I know I need to really work on the slashing, A

mkelly27's picture

I use a fish filet knife, it's ultra thin and sharp as a razor.  For straight slashing , one pass gets 1/4" to 1/2" deep.  If you happen to have one laying around, polish it and sharpen it and give it a try.



Two wrongs don't make a right. Three lefts make a right

danmerk's picture

So am I on the right track?

Sunday evening: 10g cold starter from fridge; 25g water; 45g bread flour. Let rest overnight.

Monday morning: Dough was puffy, but not big enough for 4x.

Monday evening: Dough was about to collapse, took 10g and tossed the rest. ~snif~ mixed in 25g of water, added 45g of bread flour.

Tuesday morning: Dough was  almost 4x this morning, but I can not do anything untill I get home tonight at 6pm. It may fall at that point, but I am going to feed again per that schedule again for at least 2 more days. 

My question: The dough from the final day, can I take what I need for the levain, and then use 10g of the left over to make another feeding and then refrigerate that? Or do I keep refreshing my starter for the rest of my life and toss away 45g of flour a day? 

bwraith's picture


Ideally, I would make 150g of starter for the levain and for storage in one feeding by doing a feeding of 15g:45g:75g (like 10:30:50 time 1.5) and taking 100g for the levain when it has just peaked. It lasts a while after it has peaked, so just take the 100g you need for the levain at some point after the starter has peaked.

As far as refrigeration, I would take another 10g of starter from the 150g of starter above that has peaked, feed it 10g:30g:50g and let it rise at room temperature for a few hours, then put it in the refrigerator for next time. It will continue to rise and ripen a little bit in the refrigerator. When you take it out of the refrigerator a day or two before the next baking, let it warm up and rise, then feed it the refreshment recipe. Depending on how long it's been in the refrigerator, it may rise by 4x after only one refreshment or may need one or two more refreshments.

As you do this, you will be able to optimize it. Once you know how many refreshments you need after refrigerating it for a week or two, you can plan to take the starter out enough in advance to do a couple of refreshments. At  the same time, if you know what bread recipes you plan to do, you can build up the size of the starter during the refreshments to get the the right amount you need for the levain or dough, as well as enough left over to feed and refrigerate some of it for next time.

You can also refrigerate the levain for a period of time after it has risen to help with timing your baking. So, for example, if the starter has peaked in the morning, you can make the levain and let it rise for a few hours, and then refrigerate it to use in a dough the next day.