The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A little help with my technique please....

adm's picture

A little help with my technique please....

So I have been making Sourdough for a couple of months now. My starters seem to be going well, I keep them both (ww and plain) in the fridge as I travel a lot and bake mainly at the weekend, so I take them out on Fridays, feed them up overnight and then bake over the weekend.

I am making pretty good bread. Certainly the best I have made so far. The family love it and so do I.

But. It's not good enough yet. There are two problems I'd like to address - firstly, the outside appearance of the loaf.

I am primarily using Susan's "More Sour" recipe - which to my calculations produces a 67% hydration dough. I've also done a few runs of the Tartine Basic Country bread with good results, but don't really want to confuse the issue with that until I get a cast iron dutch oven to make it for the purpose of this post, my recipe is:

390g strong white organic bread flour
90g stoneground organic rye flour
280g warm water
240g 100% hydration active starter
11g quality sea salt

Here's one I made yesterday. As you can see, the dough hasn't really split apart properly where I slashed it - and that's what I want to fix.

IMG_0516 by bad dog brewery, on Flickr

My slashes turn out this way consistently and I'm not sure what's causing it. I'm baking on a 1" thick granite baking stone in an electric fan oven turned up to full (dial says 230C+), preheated for an hour or so, and with a ceramic dish under the stone into which I pour boiling water just before I put the loaf into the oven. I also mist the inside of the oven with water for an extra burst of steam. I'm tipping the loaf gently from the banneton directly onto the stone, then slashing with a razor blade and closing the oven door immediately, but I never seem to get the crispy edges and bursting appearance to the slash....any ideas?

Next, is the crumb itself. I'm not unhappy with it.....but I feel it could be better. It typically looks like this (from the same loaf):

photo-1 by bad dog brewery, on Flickr

To me, the crumb seems denser at the bottom, which seems strange as I would think the heat from the stone would expand the gas near to the bottom the most - but it looks like the top is expanding more. I'd like to get more/bigger bubbles in the crumb. Any thoughts on that? Maybe increasing the hydration some more?

Anyway....I'd greatly appreciate any input anybody can give me here to take my bread to the next level. We ate the one in the pictures yesterday. Some of it toasted and dipped into an oven baked camambert, some of it dipped into extra virgin olive oil and fig balsamic vinegar, and the rest with assorted cheeses after a big piece of roast rib of beef. It was tasty....

Thanks in anticipation!

clazar123's picture

I believe you are correct that the crumb gives the best clues for the solution to your problem but the info missing is how long you fermented and how long you proofed the loaves. I do not have the recipes mentioned and even if I did, I do not know how closely you would have followed them. So talk a little about the timing of the bulk rise and also about the final proofing.I think this is where the solution is.

adm's picture

Ah.....good call....should have mentioned that.

I normally do the following:

Autloyse with water, flour and starter, roughly mixed. 30 minutes

Then add the salt and knead (typically using a stand mixer on low speed) for 5-6 minutes

Then bulk rise for 150 minutes, with stretch and fold at 50, 100 and 150 minutes

Then shape into a boule, and leave to rest for 20 minutes

Then proof in a banneton for 2.5 hours (or.....proof in banneton for 1.5 hours, then retard overnight in the fridge and bake the next day)

Baking is normally 15 minutes at the max heat of my oven, followed by another 15 mins turned down slightly (with the steam container removed) followed by 5 minutes in the turned off oven with the door open a bit to dry out the crust.

goodforbusiness's picture

I have problems with my scoring as well, but yours actually looks like it's been done properly... maybe it just isn't what you're after? In other words, how are you expecting the loaf to open up once you've scored it? To me, it lokks like you're slashing perpendicular to the surface of the dough, which is going to open up laterally. If you're looking for more of an ear on your crust, you need to score holding your blade at an angle in order to create a shallow flap that opens slowly once the dough begins rising in the oven. A curved blade is supposed to help this, but I use a curved blade and I still have lots of problems achieving this myself, so I'm not sure what to suggest to remedy the problem (if this is, in fact, the problem you're having). But there's lots of great advice about scoring on these forums, including some really helpful videos. I found this tutorial just yesterday and it's very clear and helpful... I'm about to try it out in a few hours myself!

I hope this helps!


clazar123's picture

Then bulk rise for 150 minutes

Does your dough rise to nearly double/double in 150 minutes?

Then shape into a boule, and leave to rest for 20 minutes

Then proof in a banneton for 2.5 hours (or.....proof in banneton for 1.5 hours, then retard overnight in the fridge and bake the next day)

 How do you test or evaluate the loaf to see if it is proofed and ready?

Your loaf is really lovely but I can see what you mean about the bottom being denser. I love the carmelization on the crust!

I think the important observations are that the crust is nicely carmelized, indicating a fermentation that was not too long. But 150 minutes sound like a bit short, and that is why I asked how the dough looked (doubled/nearly doubled). It may need to ferment a bit longer. The other observation is that you did have a little oven spring with some spread of the slash. For a dough that doubles in 150 minutes, proofing for nearly 3 hours (20 minutes plus 2.5 hours) seems too long. I wonder if your shaped loaf is a bit overproofed.

I have some thoughts on what happens with an overproofed loaf that I have no references for but make sense to me.When a dough is overproofed, the gluten "netting" can actually be weakened. As the dough hits the heat and the gases/bubbles expand, the "netting" can break. The gases can also escape out of the loaf if the structure is too weak to trap it so a greatly overproofed loaf will collapse into a brick.I have made a few of these in my time.

A slightly overproofed loaf will behave similarly but will be strong enough to  hold some of the bubbles,rise slightly in the oven but have a denser bottom, since some of the gases started moving upward and out.So a denser bottom,larger bubbles just above that and some bubbles near the crust. If you look at the crumb shot of your loaf, there is a hint of gas escaping just under the slash. Is it my imagination or are there actually slight tunnel-like bubbles apparent right under the slashed area? Great picture!

So those are my thoughts. Bulk ferment to double/near double, proof a little less, and see where it gets you. Use the famous finger poke test for a 3/4 proof, then bake. I've posted about that before-should be easy to find. You are doing so many things right-these are minor tweaks.

I like the simplicity of your recipe and may try it out. Thank you!


Davo's picture

Density and the times given make me think it's a little underproved. But I'd be interested in whether you do the poke test? I use similar quantities of starter/levain into final bread dough, and I would be bulk fermenting about 2.5 hrs and proving more like 4-5 hours if at room temp (no retard). But that's my starter, my dough, my kitchen, my temps, which all may differ from yours.

I wonder if your ceramic dish is "shielding" your stone a little so that it's not quite as hot as it could otherwise be? Another factor suggesting that this might be the case is that the crust on the upper part of the loaf seems a little more brown than the bottom (but I may be wrong). Maybe try add a metal dish underneath with just a bit of boiling water after most of your 1 hr pre-heat time. Also a full 1 " thick of stone would take quite some heating up. I use about 2 cm thick stone and it takes a full hour to heat up.

Gas or electric oven? If it's gas I'd be less bothered about how much moisture you add as the oven will be moist from CH4 combustion  anyway (I'm not a chemist but I imagine it's 2O2  + CH4 -> C02 + 2H2O).

I think the torn-edge slash look is overrated. It's often a sign of a chronically underproved loaf. For me, your loaf crust looks great.

Oh, are you covering your proving loaf with a plastic bag or similar so it doesn't dry out? If not, it might be "tight" and have little "give" on that exposed surface (which becomes the bottom of your loaf) and that might contribute to the relative density on the bottom. Or maybe not.

hanseata's picture

The bread looks pretty good to me, neither over nor significantly underproofed. 

But when I see that you have one large outburst instead of a nice scoring pattern, I wonder whether you slash the breads deep enough. Some loaves you have to score twice, once after shaping them, and then refreshing the slash before they go into the oven.


adm's picture

Lots of good input there folks - many thanks!

I think i shall try the following over the next few bakes (not all at once though - otherwise I'll never figure out the imapct of the variables!)

Bulk ferment a little longer and try proving less - and more! I don't do the finger poke test, so will read up on that and use it to check for the correct moment to bake (given my kitchen temp/flour/leaven etc...). Right now, I am only really going on time, so learning more about when the dough is actually ready will be helpful.

I think I will also do my bulk ferment in a graduated container so I can  check on how much the dough increases in volume rather than just eyeballing it. I think it pretty much does double - but it's also dependent on my kitchen temperature, so maybe I should start recording temperatures as well and adjust the time accordingly. That'll be something that I can only learn by repeated baking and record keeping.

For the proofing, I have until now just been doing it in a floured banneton with a towel on the top - so the crust will probably be drying out more than neccesary. I will try it either in a plastic bag, or with my dough basin upturned over the banneton to keep moisture in. 

On the slashing, I shall try to get deeper cuts - with more horizontal bias to them, as right now they are directly vertical - so maybe that has a lot to do with it.

Finally, I shall try a longer pre-heat on the oven, and a small metal dish under the stone for the steam. It's an electric oven (with a fan that cannot be turned off).

Lots of fun to be had in the name of science....


hanseata's picture

That shouldn't really be a problem for your bread baking. Since I'm baking several loaves at once on two tiers, I almost always bake with fan assisted convection.


adm's picture

Good to hear. I wasn't sure if the fan would kind of pull the steam out before it did it's thing properly - although thinking about it, it should just keep the moist air circulating nicely.