The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


Hania's picture

I've been baking sourdough since Fall 2010. For the last week, I've made 5 loaves of sourdough bread, just trying to get an acceptable-looking loaf for my mushroom club's upcoming mushroom dinner. Until now, I've been satisfied with my pathetic loaves, because I think they're as healthy or more as any loaf of bread, and they taste sour, which is what I want, and they're a perfect vehicle for butter and liver pate (which I include liberally in my diet).

But now I'm making this loaf for my club members, and I'm afraid that my loaves may embarass me.

I'm really "free-style" with my sourdough baking, and although I find the techniques and science fascinating, so far I don't feel it necessary to follow instructions too closely. So.... I want to improve the quality of my loaves (drastically), but I'm not yet striving for what most would consider "perfection," and I'm not about to make my bread-baking complicated.

I'm loosely following the recipe entitled "Sourdough" on pg. 115 of "The River Cottage Bread Handbook" by Daniel Stevens. I change it just about every time, and so this is one reason for my creating this account - I'm going to start (seriously) recording each experience I have with my sourdough career.

Here's my basic recipe:

Sponge: Made in the evening, let ferment overnight, covered with a plastic garbage bag, left at about 65-70 degrees F.

  • 1/2 c. whole rye starter
  • 2 c. whole spelt
  • 1 1/4 c. water

Dough: Next morning.

  • 1 c. whole spelt
  • 1 c. unbleached, all-purpose wheat with germ
  • 1/2 c. whole buckwheat

Procedure: Varies ;).

Almost every time I bake my bread, in the oven it cracks at the sides of the base. (In this photo, it's not too bad actually).

Google searches tell me that this is a sign of underproofing. I let it rise for a good 5 hours, sometimes more though when it doesn't seem to rise. When I put it by the woodstove, then it does rise, gets very airy and a little melty. (I oil the bowl and dough). But then it really spreads out on the pan. And once I tried re-kneading it and shaping it, several times, and that didn't seem to help. Here are some more pictures:

(I intentionally tore that piece off - not an issue with baking!)

Now, this time, with my mushroom loaf, I didn't get the side-splits. I think that's because I put a lot of flour on the dough before I let it rise (which, I'm not sure if it really did - it went about 3 hours) and it developed a bit of a skin. Then, that skin cracked on the top a little as it rose (horizontally, mostly) and so although the cracking didn't look so great when it baked because I also slashed it, it didn't crack on the sides, I'm guessing because of the skin. But this loaf also had little to no oven spring, perhaps also because of the skin.

So although I'm so sick of making bread right now, I'm trying again... but this is the last time before the mushroom dinner tomorrow, I promise myself. I'm changing the recipe again though. Instead of 1 c. whole spelt and 1 c. all-purpose, I'm adding 2 c. all purpose to the dough.

Now I'm letting the dough autolyze for 45 minutes to an hour, depending on when I finish this entry ;).

My prediction of the procedure for this batch:

  • Knead for 2 minutes or so, adding in chopped shiitake and porcini mushrooms
  • Stretch & fold every 30 minutes, for ? hours (this will be the bulk fermentation)
  • Form dough into a boule. Flour just the bottom and sides, to create a skin to prevent the side cracking. I won't flour the top to allow it to rise without the top cracking. Let rise in bowl for 3 (?) hours at 65-70 degrees F. (Should I put it downstairs, where the woodstove is? I did that I couple of times previously, but it kind of melts my dough... I think I won't put it downstairs, and continue with a slower, longer fermentation instead)
  • Put dough on baking sheet, re-shape into boule, slash + on top, with |  between each right angle of +, kind of nearing the base to allow some expansion at the bottom and hopefully prevent side-slitting where I definitely don't want it. Mist the slashes. Bake at 500 for 10 minutes, then 30 minutes at 400.






Juergen Krauss's picture
Juergen Krauss

Some time ago I had the idea to bake several loaves under exactly the same condition, with one parameter changed, be it flour type, hydration, timing ...

Due to my recent sourdough experiences I found it interesting to bake a series of loaves with different final proof times, to see, taste and document the effects of underproofing and overproofing.

The recipe used is Richard Bertinet's white dough, slightly modified: 100% bread flour, 70% water, 2% salt, 2% fresh yeast (I used 0.7% instant yeast)

I used the slap&fold technique to mix and develop gluten. Bulk proof 1 hour with folding after 15 and 30 min, then shaping into 200g batards and proofing seam-side up in a couche. Baking at 240C for 12 minutes, without steam.

Ambient temperature and dough temperature were 24C to 26C throughout.

I made 2 batches of dough of 1kg each.

The proofing times were in minutes: 20, 40, 60, 80, 100, 120, 140, 160

From the second batch I repeated the 60min and 100min proofs to assert the same behavior.

Here a picture of the baked loaves, I marked the 2nd batch with [2]

loaves 1

loaves 2


The results:

Oven spring:

The loaf proofed for 20 minutes has a major blowout. The 40min and 60min loaves opened nicely, with a good oven spring. Above 60min proof there is not much oven spring.


It is obvious that the longer the proof the more sugars are present

Poke test:

This is difficult to document in a photo, but to my feeling the dough was perfect at about 60 to 70 minutes proof.


Crumbshots are added below. The 20 min loaf has big irregular holes and very dense areas in the crumb. The holes look like torn. Very rubbery and unpleasant to eat. Above 120 min proofing the crumb feels a bit fragile. Otherwise the crumb  looks and feels surprisingly similar.

Smell and taste:

Above 100 min proof slightly yeasty. The 20 min proof didn't taste of much. My personal choice for taste would be 80min proof.


Above 100min the dough feels very fragile, at 140 min it collapsed when slashing.




The loaf at 20min and the loaves above 80min proof showed clear signs of over-and underproofing.

This particular formula seems to be quite forgiving when looking at crumb and taste development.

In my kitchen with those conditions I would probably aim at 70min proof, a matter of personal preference (My wife chose the 60min loaf as her favourite without knowing any of the background)


And here the crumb shots - please excuse the differences in lighting.











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