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Made my first sourdough loaf! Good and bad news...

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pseudobaker's picture

Made my first sourdough loaf! Good and bad news...

Well, I tried the Thom Leonard Country French Bread from Maggie Glazer's "Artisan Baking" book yesterday and the good news is that the bread tastes yummy!  The yeast/bacteria in my starter are definitely a keeper.  The bad news?  The loaf didn't rise enough - parts of it didn't have any holes in it at all.  Could this be due to...

  • my starter not being active enough?  (I refreshed it midday the day before, then made the levain the night before)
  • not a long enough rise?  My first rise was 3 hours and my 2nd was 4.5 hours...
  • adding too much water?  I found that if I followed the recipe exactly, the dough was too stiff - probably due to the organic white flour I'm using...a persistent issue with this flour.  So I added a fair amount of water to the dough - maybe too much.  It was nice and soft just after the kneading, but didn't really tighten up over time.
  • not kneading enough?  I use a KitchenAid 5qt mixer, and usually this bowl is large enough, but I found yesterday that the dough was constantly being drawn up over the top of the dough hook and into the mechanism of the mixer.  As a result, I was constantly having to stop the mixer, pull out the spatula and coax it back down into the bowl.  Anyone else have this problem?


roxyroxy99's picture

I have some advice that will help you get the rise that you need for yourbread and that is:

1. With a fresh starter like a sour, you need to let it ferment at least 24hrs before any of the feddings.

2. Usually when I make sourdough I retard my dough overnight to ferment the dough enough time.

3. Also if the dough doesn't develop enough gluten from kneading it will not rise properly. You need to knead the bread until is smooth, strong and elastic, then you will know that you developed enough gluten.

4. I have a trick if your mixer isn't strong enough to develop the gluten formation that you are looking for. That is after a brief mixing let the dough relax for 15 minutes then fold the dough in quarters from top down, left to right, bottom to the top and right to left. Repeat this 3 or 4 times with interval of 15 minutes and for sure the gluten will form as you give the dough enough time to ferment.

Hope this helps!!

pseudobaker's picture

It wasn't a case of my mixer being strong enough, it was a case of having the dough stay in the bowl!  Seriously, it was rising up and I had to use the spatula every minute or so to keep it from creeping up into the "gubbins" of the mixer.  I guess this is telling me my dough wasn't firm enough...

 My understanding is that the longer you let your dough ferment, the sourer the taste will be.  I don't think I want this - this bread was about as sour as I'd like sourdough to be.  Perhaps a "more than 4.5, less than 24 hour" ferment is in order?

 Maybe there's too much dough in this recipe to use the KitchenAid.  Has anyone else used a KitchenAid 5qt bowl successfully with this recipe?

 Thanks for the feedback, roxy!

mountaindog's picture

Glad it tasted good - that's the most important! :-)


Maybe a couple of things I can think of:

  1) starter active - I make sure my starter is really at it's peak before using to make the levain, it should have at least doubled since last feeding, that way you know it is very active.

  2) your first rise sounds too short to me for the Leonard boule. If I'm not going to retard overnight in the frig, I still find that the first ferment takes at least 6-8 hours at room temp. (65-70F). My final rise usually takes at least 4 hours, but if the first rise was not long enough, that is probably more important because that is where you get most of your internal gas bubbles, and you do not degas at all when shaping, so the final rise may not show as much of a rise.

  3) too much water - sounds like if your dough was caught up high on the dough hook of your mixer, it was actually on the stiff side, rather then too wet. I keep my dough for the Leonard boule on the wet side, so that the dough actually sticks a little to the bottom of the bowl while mixing, it does not completely clear the bottom. I definitely add more water than the recipe calls for, since I usually also add more whole wheat flour. 

  4) insufficient kneading - well, if your dough was caught up on the hook, you're right, it didn't get properly kneaded. However, if you fermented it long enough, and did at least a few folds while fermenting, that should help the gluten develop as well as tighten the dough up for shaping. If you are worrying about fermenting too long and getting a sour taste, you should be able to avoid the sourness by fermenting long but at cooler temps.


Hope that helps... 

pseudobaker's picture

So fermenting at cooler temps slows down the sourness?  I guess that makes sense, since higher temperatures cause the yeast/bacteria to work more quickly.

 I think you're right, mountaindog, my 1st rise wasn't long enough - I saw a couple of bubbles, but the dough didn't really feel "light".

 Thanks for your insights!

bwraith's picture

I think not enough water is the main issue, i.e. the dough was too stiff. That probably would make your dough more sour, hard to knead properly, especially in a mixer, and too stiff to rise properly.

I'm not sure that the previous poster meant to say that lower temperatures lead to a less sour dough. I think retardation, i.e. putting the dough in the refrig for a long, cold fermentation is done to allow the sour aspects of a dough to develop, i.e. allow the bacteria in the dough to develop before the yeast overtakes everything. Long slow rises have worked well for me to get a more flavorful result.

Flours can vary a lot in protein content, and I've had a hard time getting enough gluten content in my whole wheat breads. You could try adding gluten or mixing with a high gluten flour to get a lighter bread.

mountaindog's picture

Bill - forgive me if I'm in error - I had read on other sites like that in order to make your bread more sour you would want to extend the time at warm rise rather than at a cool rise, while extending the fermenting time at cool rise will gain flavor rather than sour. Apparently yeasts survive at the cooler temps but die at the higher temps, while the lactobacillus flourish at the higher temps and produce more lactic and acetic acid. Perhaps I misunderstand the information? I'm sure there are many other variables, including the stiffness of the starter, as Breadnerd stated in his sourdough tips.

pseudobaker's picture

Hmmm...the flour I'm using is approx. 12% protein (the white flour).  I'm not sure what the protein content of the ww flour is (I'll have to check).

I don't think the dough was too stiff, though - I was aiming for a look/feel of the dough in Jim's French fold video (which I must have watched 20 times now, lol).  But his dough had this consistency after the first rise (I think) and mine was like that before the first rise - hence I think mine wasn't stiff enough, and I added too much water.  Does that make sense?

 I'm not sure I want more sourness than I had - it was very flavourful!  But I will try the overnight cold fermentation, as well as a longer first rise, the next time I try this loaf (probably Sunday).  The bread can only get better with experimentation, right?  (:

bwraith's picture

Sorry, I was focused on what you said about the original recipe, not on the adjustment you made afterward. Yes, if it was already that soft to begin with, then it wasn't too stiff. Sorry...

Maybe the flour protein content is an issue in that case. Some whole wheat flours are high protein, some are not. It depends on the type of wheat used. Generally, hard white or red spring wheat have high protein content - around 13.5 or 14.0. Hard winter wheat would be lower, around 11.5%, I think. Anything from a soft wheat would be much lower and not work well. I've found the ones around 11.5% seem to need added gluten or mix with high gluten flour to make a light enough loaf for my tastes, but I'm not a fan of very dense, too grassy/nutty whole wheat breads.

As far as rising, I've just waited for the "doubling of volume" whether it happens quickly or not. It depends a lot on temperature and the amount/condition of the starter. Oh, another thing could be that the organic flour needs malted barley flour added? That's another possible issue with an organic flour.

pseudobaker's picture

Oh, another thing could be that the organic flour needs malted barley flour added? That's another possible issue with an organic flour.

Could be, except that I've had other loaves turn out beautifully with this particular organic flour. How do I find out what kind of wheat my flour is made from?

I'm from Canada, and I've heard that our bread flour and all-purpose flour are actually not very different, whereas in the US the two types are VERY different. My organic flour just says "organic unbleached white flour", so doesn't specify one way or the other.

One question just leads to more, doesn't it? (:

bwraith's picture

I guess how the barley flour question may relate to other successful recipes would depend on whether other recipes had other food (added sugar or other flours) for the yeast fermentation? I think the reason for the barley flour is to "make starches available to yeast for fermentation" as in Glezer pg. 5. It could be that the fermentation needs the help from the malted barley flour in this case but did not in other recipes. Just thinking out loud in case this helps.

As far as the flour, where do you get it? Can you ask the mill? I've had to do that at times, and it can be very helpful, as often the people who mill it also have experience baking with it and know the ins and outs of that particular flour. It might help to figure out the type of wheat it is, at least, and what they think the protein content is. Sometimes, they will suggest uses, and that can be a clue. If they list muffins as opposed to "hearth bread" for example, that can mean the protein content is lower. Another thing is that many mills or flour distributors have web sites, even some of the small ones. They often have some clues as to the suggested applications of the flour, the type of wheat used, milling and sifting techniques they use, protein content and so on.

Another question is, do you do it just like Glezer, i.e. "bread flour" and "organic sifted flour" mixed together, or do you use 100% "organic flour"?

 I'm very curious about all this, as I've recently been experimenting myself with very similar recipes and so far have had some wide variation in results also, if I used 100% "organic sifted flour". As long as I have a good percentage of something like KA bread flour for about 50% of the flour, everything seems to always work fairly well, almost no matter what the whole wheat flours, sifted or not, with or without barley flour and gluten, are in there. However, I am in the beginning stages of trying out several flours from small mills that specialize in organic flours from various types of wheat, as well as variations in adding gluten or barley flour.

bwraith's picture

If the dough is large, the mixer may have a hard time with it just because it's too big. Yes, the mixer may be strong enough, but if it doesn't fit right in the bowl, then maybe it's better done by hand. I tend to knead my larger whole wheat breads, like the Miche recipe in Bread Bakers Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart, by hand. I think you get a better feel for the dough's hydration and gluten development when you do it by hand, especially with mixes of flours you may not be as familiar with. I find it helps to let the dough rest a few minutes in the middle. Others on the site have commented about "enough" kneading being 600 strokes by hand or 20 minutes ( a big of a workout ), i.e. go a little further than you might think with whole wheat breads, so maybe your mixer didn't succeed in kneading the dough enough if it was riding up as you were describing.

As far as activity of starter, I've had good results liquid starters when they double in volume in 4 hours after a 1:4:4 feeding (my kitchen is around 69 deg F this time of year), and I have had good results from firm starters, as in the recipes in BBA (Reinhart), when they double in volume within about 4 hours, after which they go in the refrig overnight. If the starter isn't that vigorous at least, then yes, you may need to get your starter more vigorous. My liquid starter will live in the refrig for two or three days and do a good job of raising a firm starter as in the recipes mentioned within a few hours. After that, I need to go back and refresh the liquid starter and let it sit in the refrig overnight before starting with creating a firm starter.

It's also common to add small amounts of instant yeast to these recipes. The sourdough flavors will be there if you have let the starters and the dough rise long enough, particularly with overnight refrigerations, and the instant yeast can just serve the function of getting a sufficient final rise, without affecting flavor much.

sewwhatsports's picture

Something said in a earlier post jsut caught my eye.  Do I need to add malt to organic flour to get better results?  I have been fighting with some organic flour I bought and am not happy with the results.  I am not sure of the protein content of the flour, I got it at the local Mennonite bulk food store and I am pretty certain that they will not know the protein content.  But the dough has had no oven spring and that is very concerning to me.  Will the addition of malt help in this.  I get an okay fermentation but nothing when I slash and put it into a steamed oven.  Your thoughts out there? 

Rena in Delaware

PMcCool's picture



Several sources that I have read recently mention how the age of the flour has significant effects on gluten development.  Generally speaking, the less time a flour has to age, the weaker its gluten will be.  If the flour you are purchasing is very freshly milled, it may not be able to develop as much gluten strength as you are accustomed to seeing in flours that have been naturally or chemically aged.  Doughs made with new flour tend to spread more and rise less than doughs made with aged flour, even when the flour comes from the same source.


If you go to this link, and start reading at about page 8, you'll get a brief description of how aging affects gluten development.  Or Google on +flour +aging to see more sources.  This same principle was noted in a 75 year old book on commercial baking that I read recently, so it has been a known phenomenon for a long time, even though it was news to me.


So, I suspect that your experiences have less to do with the flour being organic or with not having barley malt included (although the latter will affect dough condition somewhat) and more to do with using very fresh flour.


It makes me think that if a person wants to grind their own whole grain flour, their choices are aged/strong/rancid or new/weak/fresh.  I'd go with the latter and adjust the recipe, maybe including some bread flour or some vital wheat gluten, to maximize the dough's ability to rise. 



bwraith's picture

Thanks for that source. It looks like a good summary. I decided to order the book it came from to see what else it might offer. I've also recently bought "organic flour" of various descriptions - "sifted organic whole wheat", "sifted organic whole white wheat", "freshly milled from hard red spring wheat", "organic hard winter wheat", etc. I have not done enough experimenting, but I have had the experience of not much rise in the oven and a somewhat different, denser texture. I've so far not found a very satisfying result without adding bread flour or high gluten flour as about 35 to 50 percent of the dough. My sources have mostly been those mills that sell in retail quantities on the internet and advertise "organic" or "sifted". Some of them I've found are "Heartland Mills", "Homestead Mills", "Littleton Grist Mill", "Wheat Montana". I'm intrigued by these flours, as it seems like it ought to add something to have very fresh stone ground flour from organic farmers. I think I need to spend more effort on the best techniques for bringing out the gluten in these flours. I've spoke to a nice fellow at Littleton Grist Mill who told me that he knows of many bakers and bakeries that take his flour straight from the mill and use it immediately. I asked him the aging question, and he seemed a bit perplexed by the whole topic. So, at least it wasn't that obvious that aging was required or desirable from his point of view. Yet, it does come up in different places. I think the Glezer book mentions aging flour also.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Throw in a few egg whites into the recipe (after the poolish has had it's time) and see what that does.  It can work wonders with low gluten flour.   :)  Mini Oven

bwraith's picture

In the egullet article ( that JMonkey was quoting in another post (, has a graph I found interesting and some discussion of this. Also JMonkey's discussion seemed relevant to the question. It looks from the graph like the lactobacillus activity is about the same as the yeast activity at room temperature. At both temperatures above and below, the lactobacillus activity is higher than the yeast activity. So, maybe both are true. I was saying that overnight refrigeration of the dough seems to contribute to sourness and flavor relative to using starters and dough immediately after they have "doubled". I think that's true, but maybe it's just all a wrong impression I've gotten over time. Also, I'm not an expert on the terminology and how to distinguish "flavor" from "sour". However, I have not tried going in the other direction and raising the temperature in my various baking adventures. I would have thought that the rising process would accelerate and leave less time for the flavors that come from the lactobacillus activity to develop. I've always leaned in the direction of retarding and longer, slower, somewhat cooler rises only because it seems like so many recipes in the books I have learned from suggest or specify retardation in the recipe or emphasize slowing everything down in the sourdough process. There is also an interesting discussion about Pain a l'Ancienne in BBA that also talks about flavor development and letting the lactobacillus work while the yeast is dormant at low temperatures, as another example. Have you done long, slow rises at higher temperatures? Maybe you could point me to an example recipe that works with higher temperatures and a long rise. I guess I'm curious about what the tricks/processes are to do both a high temperature and a long rise, if you have a typical recipe that does this. Also, I'd be curious if you could give me links to some of the comments on the site that you were reading on this subject. Sorry if it turns out I'm all wrong about lower temperatures, or wrong about what is sour vs. what is flavor.

SourdoLady's picture

You mentioned Wheat Montana flours in an above post. I live in Montana and the flour is milled not far from where I live. I buy their flours all the time for my breads and I can say that they have excellent flours. I use a lot of their white whole wheat and their unbleached AP white, which is actually equal to "bread flour". I can also buy their whole wheat berries (both white and red) at a local health food store where I can grind it myself on premise. I haven't done the 'grind my own' thing but maybe I need to do that to experiment and see how the dough reacts in comparison. At least I do know that their flours are really fresh.

mountaindog's picture

Hi Bill,


Thanks for the informative egullet link, I forgot to check that out when it was posted earlier by JMonkey. You're right, maybe both are true, there seem to be many schools of thought on this depending on what you read, and depending on exact conditions, so many variables and I am by no means any expert. I've never done long slow rises at high temps, just at very cool ones (40F) and my bread is not very sour, but that may also just be the way my starter is. When I've fermented at much higher temps like 75-80F, it didn't take as long, more like 4-5 hrs., any longer and my dough would have started to break down. I also did not notice increased sourness at the high temps but I attributed that to the shortness of the fermentation. A lot of all of this also depends on the ratio of starter used in the final dough as well, as I think you mentioned elsewhere. All very interesting science!


FYI - Here are some of the links I was looking at on (I'm not sure if this link will work, but below is one of the postings that mentions temp. and sourness):

Charles Perry wrote: "Dick Adams made the point that extending the fermentation or rise will give the sour taste and other flavors time to develop. He was speaking about room
temperature or higher and I agree with that. I have made the point that long
fermentation will improve the flavor of the bread. One way to get the flavor
improvement *without* an unnecessary increase in the sour taste is to extend the
fermentation at cooler temperatures. "


One more note re: Montana - my sister lives not far from Bozeman where Wheat Montana is located and she uses their wheatberries to grind her own whole wheat flour all the time for her bread - she really loves their grains. I'd love to try their Prairie Gold white whole wheat some time but am hesitant to pay the shipping, maybe next time I visit her I'll get some.

bwraith's picture


Thanks for the tip. Since the information on the various web mill web sites is often minimal at best, it really helps to hear a baker's experience with a particular flour. I didn't order from them yet, but I was definitely thinking about trying their products in my quest to explore flours straight from the mills. There were a couple of mentions somewhere else that seemed to be favorable to the Wheat Montana flours. I'm interested in going up the curve on using the products straight from the mills where they can be ordered over the web in retail quantities. If you have any comments on aging, whether there is a need for malted barley flour, gluten, ascorbic acid or other additives/enhancers, how to deal with protein levels, etc., I'm curious to hear any wisdom you may be willing to pass along. I think it could be very useful to have a forum topic devoted to organic mail order flours - where to get, how or when to treat them or add to them, what applications for which flours and so on.

Regarding Montana, my family is from Montana on my dad's side. On my grandmother's side (on my dad's side) they were ranchers and originally homesteaders in Montana. I've heard my dad tell stories of his grandmother making sourdough pancakes every morning for the ranch hands for breakfast. I never heard this until I somehow happened into sourdough baking as a hobby a couple of years ago. My dad suddenly was full of stories about his grandmother's ranch cooking and baking and also from his days as a teenager working on a ranch in texas where he  had sourdough pancakes from a chuckwagon and raved about the coffee they made from Mexican coffee beans freshly roasted and so on. I still visit my parents' cabin out there in Montana every year. What a beautiful place it is and what a beautiful state Montana is. My dad's dad's side were all copper miners w/the Anaconda company. I lived in Butte as a child for a while.

Thanks for the tips, and also for the many informative posts all over this site. I've baked sourdough bread regularly for the past couple of years, and at least my family and I seem to enjoy the results.However, there are constantly questions that come up in areas where I wish I knew more. This site seems to have some of the better explanations and discussions I've found on the web, in spite of the humble tone - or maybe because of it. You are clearly a big help to the sourdough enthusiasts.

Regards, Bill Wraith

bwraith's picture

I guess I tend to use the longer lower temperatures also. It happens because I have a tendency to put things in the refrigerator and go drop a kid at school or some other errand. Also, the kitchen is just a little on the cool side in the winter.

My breads aren't that sour. I don't like the flavor to be way, way sour, like some do. However, if I make a bread using a just freshly fed new barm, and let the bread only rise for a short time, I get very mild bread. I sometimes make french bread baguettes that way, when I've been in a hurry. They are good, but they don't have all the flavors I get from a Miche, where I've done a stiff preferment, have whole grain flours, and let it rise for a long time. I also get a lot of flavor from raising focaccia (ala bba) that I converted to sourdough when I retard in the refrig overnight. However, I think there is some distinction between "flavor" and "sour", that your last post seems to make. I think actually, there is some different flavor that I like which seems to come out due to the refrigeration.

I haven't even thought about milling my own flour, but it sounds like a great project to get into. I also would love to build an oven, as another poster is discussing. At this point, the oven sounds more interesting, although it would be quite a big deal getting it done.

My parents' cabin is near Philipsburg, MT. I'm hoping to get out there in March with my oldest son for some skiing and hang out w/my brother who's out there frequently also. As I said, what a beautiful place.  But, are you in MT, too? Sorry, I may have missed whether it was you or your sister, or both, who are out there.

bwraith's picture

Well, as I checked back in those posts, I realize SourdoLady said she's in MT and uses Wheat Montana flour, and that mountaindog has a sister who uses Wheat Montana berries and grinds her own flour. I somehow had combined you both into one person in my response about my own connections to the state of MT. Anyway, sorry about that, and thanks to both of you for all the interesting information. I feel like I'm going back up the curve after beginning to participate on thefreshloaf recently.