The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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Joe McPlumber's picture
Joe McPlumber

Good Starter, Bad Bread


I have very vigorous wild culture i captured here in the California foothills. "SpongeBob" is an organic whole wheat starter who i try to keep at 100%. I'm new to this so i'm not sure what 100% is supposed to look like but SpongeBob is a spongy(!) mass when risen and about the consistency of a stiff cookie dough when newly fed.

My only unconventional caretaking practice is, i can't bring myself to throw any away and so feedings are generally added to whatever amount of starter is in the bowl. That amount fluctuates depending on how much i use and i know that throws off the hydration so i just try to adjust the flour until i have the same approximate consistency as i do when doing it the right way.


Despite many attempts with many recipes i have yet to produce a good loaf. They are usually dense and heavy, although my wife says that they are very tasty.

I began with a no-knead recipe from Instructables .(, however that recipe is short on details for handling the dough after the first rise. I think that my dough collapsed at the point where he says to "turn" it, and i didn't get a second rise.

Since then, because it seemed it should be fool-proof, i've been using the 1-2-3 mixture for my dough and various strategies for proofing and baking. It's almost always the same story. Dough collapses, doesn't double again, and doesn't spring in the oven.

Here's the thing... i'm told that the way to get tasty bread is with longer proofing times. So usually what i've done is mix up the dough at night (and stretch and fold it in some cases), then deal with it in the morning. At that point it is usually something more than doubled and full of tiny bubbles. Thus, it collapses when handled. I can't get it formed suitable to a loaf pan, much less the more advanced shaping. It's too spongy, sticky and wet, and anything i do from that point on is slapstick comedy as i try to unstick the dough from here only to stick it to there. Then i can't get a second rise and i don't know if it's because the dough is exhausted or because it got handled too roughly.

I also tried making my dough in the daytime and keeping something of an eye on it so it didn't get over-proofed. The result, it was under-proofed and tasted like dirt.

Sorry for being so wordy but i am confused and frustrated and even in all this verbosity i probably omitted critical details. I will try to remember them if someone will try to coax the right ones out of me. I'm wondering, e.g., if my starter is way too hungry and consumes the dough before it is sufficiently proofed? I mean, does that happen? What might i possibly be doing wrong and how does a newbie go about making subtle adjustments to established recipes and procedures? I should just like to get *one* decent loaf so i can duplicate the procedure.


- joe

AlamedaSteve's picture

Sour Baguette

Pretty convinced that a decent sour baguette was beyond reach, I decided to give it a try anyway;.........and, I think I got lucky right out of the chute.

I know a lot of bakers have been quite frustrated, so I will attempt to describe the process I used, in the hopes it may help others in their quest.

Okay, I wanted a shiny, crispy/crunchy crust with not a lot of bread volume, so I knew I was going to need a pretty wet, somewhat difficult-to-handle mix.  Here's what I used:

1100g Sir Lancelot

500g wet starter

100g cracked wheat

750g water

40g salt

Rough mix all but the salt, autolyze 30mins, rough mix in salt.  3 s&f's at 45min intervals, then proof for 90mins.  Carefully divide into nine 10oz pieces (fits my stone and oven), let rest 15mins, shape, couche on linen lined cookie sheet, slip into garbage bag, then into fridge for 10 to 15hrs.

Next day - bring oven to 500deg.  Remove cookie sheet from fridge and carefully flip one loaf onto semolina'ed piece of hvy foil, score, SEAL FOIL completely around loaf, leaving room for spring, then into oven, reduce to 450deg.

Bake for 7.5mins, remove packet from oven using peel, cut open the packet to allow all the steam to escape, and return to oven.  After another 7.5 mins, remove from oven, peel foil away from loaf, return to oven, turn up oven to 500deg, turn on convection fan if you have one - this last step is to brown crust to desired finish.  It takes about 10mins more, turning after 5mins for even doneness.

Loaves come out 14" x 2" x 1".

I think what most people have the most difficulty with is the crust.  Using any of the spritzing, boiling water pans, etc I don't think my oven is capable of achieving what I want, but by packaging the loaf, there is more than enough moisture in the mix to do the job - in fact, if you leave the package sealed for longer than 7.5mins, you will have a hard time cracking through the crust.

I hope this is of some help to those who are embarking on the search themselves.

Here are photos that I hope will show the process I used to help makes things a little clearer.


The baguette second from the left, I forgot to score before packaging, so I slit after steaming. 

Good luck.




lmirage's picture

Large bread pans

Where can I find large commercial bread pans?  I want to make the big loaf like commercial breads.  The biggest loaf pan I can find is 9X5X5.  It doesn't really make a satisfying sandwich with a tiny slice.

golgi70's picture

Farmers Market Week 9 (Cracked Wheat Sour)

So local grain has slowly started to make its way back into the market and I chose to use a local Red Winter Wheat grown in Honeydew, Ca about an hour and a half from here.  I splurged and bought 7 lbs to make a 60% Whole Wheat Sour w/ Cracked Wheat.  

I've opted to push the envelope with whole grain with this project and my setup requires retarding of formed loaves so I can get through the multiple bakes.  I have just devised an alternate route in which if final retarding won't work I can shape and preheat my oven (takes 2 hours plus) so that its ready as the bread is.  But I will retard loaves when they are about 75% proofed just to slow them enough to get through the bake.  I will experiment with this maybe next week.  Then instead I can bulk retard the whole dough if desired. 

Back to this loaf.  So I made two builds of wheat on a touch of my white starter.  The first was more to change it to wheat and the second the levain.  The first build was 12 hours and looked really happy and healthy when I fed it again.  I expected a 5-6 rise but it was doubled in 2 hours.  Since I couldn't mix for a few hours I retarded it at this stage.  I autolysed the final dough flour for 6 hours.  I soaked the cracked wheat with hot water 6 hours as well.  The first loaves I baked I pulled from retarder an hour before baking.  Not liking the spring or results so much i followed baking straight from the retarder with much better results   I'm not sure where to place the blame on the spotting of color.  I think I coulda have shortened the bulk ferment and I probably should have added some malt.

Finally on my steaming progress.  I went to the beach and collected a bunch of rocks instead of paying for lava rocks.  This works nicely and you can hear the steam continue for longer.  I need another beach run for more and I think I'll have a good thing going.  


Build 1 (12 hours) Makes 1 - 1 kg loaf

30 g freshly milled red winter wheat (actually a few weeks old)

27 g H20

3 g  white starter (100%)


Build 2 (2 hours for me and then retarded until needed but watch yours)

49  Wheat Starter (90% hydration)

98  Fresh milled red winter wheat

85.75  H20


Soaker: Soaked for 6 hours

50  cracked Wheat

37.5  Hot H20



167 Fresh Milled Hard Red Winter Wheat

200 Bread Flour (11.5 % protein)

323.3 H20 (hold out 10 percent)

11  Salt


Autolyse Dough at least 30 minutes before finish mix.  

(I went for 5 1/2 hrs)

Add levain and mix on speed 1 to incorporate.  (5 mijnutes)

Add salt and continue mixing on speed 1 for until mixed in.

Mix on speed 2 (low medium on my 4 speed machine)

Mix until medium development.  Add grain soaker and additional h20 and mix in on speed 1( This took about 5 minutes).  Finish on speed 2 for a minute.

Bulk Ferment 4 hours with 5 S+F at 30 minutes. 

*this is what I did and I think I would shorten the bulk ferment by at least 30 minutes if not an hour.  Also I'd do the s + f's at 15-20 minute intervals.  

Shape, proof at room temp for 1 hour and retard for 8 hours.  Bake cold with steam.  

Pictures to come after market



First loaves here.  The ones I pulled from retarder for an hour pre bake. Not great spring very little blooming and no grigne.

Now for the remainder I baked straight from retarder and got great spring.  Good Bloom and some serious grigne

This is the crumb from the first set that didn't pop as much.  I sliced a nicer loaf later and forgot to take a picture but it was even better.

So we got some plums (2 types), local honey, salad mix, breakfast sausage, walla walla onions, brocolli, fennel, kale, zukes, fresh cantelope, and a loaf of 25% wholegrain flax seed cranberry ciabatta.  

Happy Baking 


MHynes's picture

Hello! (just waiting for my starter to come back from the near-dead)

Hello! I'm an advanced beginner baker that has been privileged to have a potato flake starter that is about 35 yrs old with me. I was gifted part of it some years ago by a person who has kept it alive for most of those 35 years. Have been baking a number of white bread recipes just to test and learn but always come back to the original. However, recently we've been travelling and I brought it with me (since we wouldn't be home for a few weeks). It had to sit in my car (and then hotel room) for a couple of days. Then most of it fell out because the canister fell over and the lid fell off.  I saved what I could and when we got to our destination (2-3 days later), I fed it. I thought it looked ok, but now I wonder if I was just careless and didn't notice... the other day (not quite a week later) I got it out of the fridge to make bread and noticed it was Quite liquidy. Just out of curiosity I tried making some dough with it. Not even a hint of rise. Uh oh. i tried to feed it last night. Woke up this morning, maybe two bubbles. Also uh oh. I was about to give up and throw it out when I started reading here and thought, maybe, just maybe ... so I've fed it Again today and did get a few more bubbles. Not a lot. I'm wondering if that is just the material I put in from Today doing its own thing, but I guess we'll find out. So now I'm perusing recipes for yeast breads while I hope my starter springs to life. (Don't you know that I had promised some gift loaves to people for next week. THey were so excited to know I brought my starter with me. Oh dear... ) 



SallyBR's picture

I lost my mojo....

No other way to put it.  I've been baking sourdough bread for four years, I've made some amazing loaves on a regular basis, I feel that I know (knew) my way around most tricks of the trade.  Folding, shaping, baking, even scoring was going quite well.


For the past 8 months or so, I've only had failures or close to failures.  I discussed at Dan Lepard's page on Facebook, got some advice to tune up my starter. Bought a commercial starter and tried that too. 


I just opened the oven to find yet another failure, this one so pathetic that I swear I almost cried.  A pancake-shaped with barely any oven spring OVernight Country Blonde.


I am soooo frustrated that right now all I want to do is never bake another loaf of bread again.


Has anyone been through this?  What the heck is going on????  Have I been this naughty to the Gods of Bread?

yamum360's picture

gluten flour

I've recently come across 'gluten flour' which I'm guessing is just the same stuff I've read about in a couple of places around the web under a different name, the ingredient list reads... "Wheat gluten." I bought it to add to my rye breads (I don't have a gluten allergy, just enjoy the taste) to increase their rise and the elasticity of the dough, and basically to make it more 'bready'. the "suggested use" on the back states -Add gluten flour when home baking bread. To increase protein add 1 metric teaspoon to one cup of wheat flour.

would this give the desired results? or do I need to use more? less? does anyone have any experience using this?

cinnamonshops's picture

Old lurker, new user, and a question: Polish "wholemeal" flour

Hello all,

I've been trying to soak up information from this site intermittently for months now, and more intensively in the past few weeks. I'm not a brand-new bread baker by any means, but my attempts have come in waves, and I'm looking once again to improve my game. I began baking as a kid from Beard on Bread (and even did a science fair project using one of its recipes), but in more recent years have relied pretty heavily on Nancy Silverton's LaBrea book. I'm just getting around to the Bread Baker's Apprentice, and have been having some trouble getting my loaves to brown, which is very strange -- I'm chalking it up to a new flour I was using; will try again this weekend with some other brands. Anyway!

I mostly wanted to ask about some other flour that I recently bought at a Polish grocery store, thinking it was regular bread flour. When I opened it, it turned out to be what I see now is labeled as "wholemeal" flour, which I take it is whole wheat, but is much, much rougher than any WW I've seen before (I live in Toronto). It looks intriguing, but I'm not sure what exactly to do with it.

Any suggestions, recipes, etc?

Thanks and hello!


Elagins's picture

It can happen to anyone

Paul McCool on what to do when you forget to turn the oven down from its preheat temp to baking temp.

virgule's picture

General bread machine rising problem - puzzled


I'm new to bread making, new to bread machines, and generally very analytical, measuring accurately and recording everything I do, to improve the next time.

Despite this, after making 20+ different breads, I am facing a general problem where I can't seem to begin to find the root cause :-(

My issue became more clear recently when trying a “brioche obsession” recipe using a tangzhong method (

Perhaps someone can help figure out what I’m doing wrong?
I use a bread machine to make different kinds of bread. All the breads & brioche come out reasonably OK – but not more. In particular, while they do rise as expected (close to 2x), they NEVER“burst” out of the pan during baking, no matter what the recipe. Absolutely no “oven kick/oven spring” during the initial baking period. It NEVER looks like the photos on the blogs where I find the recipes ;-). I just make rectangular, average bricks!

When trying the above "super-fluffy" brioche recipe, I noticed something really odd (once cooked and sliced): the dough inside expands well, the loaf did rises 2x, but not more – instead it “expanded”.

What I mean by this is the bottom and sides of the loaf become highly compressed, thick (1.5 inch of dense product - generally unpleasant as a bread), surrounded by a normal thin crust, while the core and top of the loaf are perfectly fine and fluffy. It’s as if the dough could not lift itself out of the pan, only exercising radial pressure. It’s less visible on regular white bread because the dough is generally more dense, but on the tangzhong brioche with a very fluffy core, it was very visible to the eye, like a fluffy brioche baked inside a brioche brick ;-)

I’m struggling to identify the root cause. I measure the ingredients by weight using a proper scale, I estimate the humidity to make sure there is enough water in all my recipes, all my ingredients are at room temperature (Bangkok – warm), I use bread flour and recently purchased yeast, etc. Water and/or milk are brought at room temperature, or even warmed up a bit if making enriched dough containing butter/eggs. I've tried regular and inverted sugar (from my sorbet recipes; I read somewhere that professionals prefer that to regular castor sugar for bread making?)

I even go to the point of removing the dough after the first rise/punch down, to remove the bread machine hooks, shape the dough softly/quickly into a nice ball, and put it back for final rise (this has a surprisingly major impact on the outcome – it seems dough in a bread machine has difficulty “moving around” to settle into the pan evenly, because the hooks and knobs interfere with the dough expansion. After shaping the dough evenly, it rises much better – but still absolutely no oven kick)

This leaves me with A) the question of bread machine temperature – but the bread comes out with a normal crust thickness, normal crust color, baked inside not more/less, etc. I can’t fault the temperature in any obvious way.

Or B) the question of proofing duration. Perhaps the machine starts baking too early? I don’t believe so – the 2nd rise is holding steady and not rising much anymore by the time the baking starts. It’s the oven kick that is not happening in my opinion (dough doesn’t visibly collapse during 2nd rise or baking phase). I've tried spraying a mist of water on the top of the dough halfway through 2nd rise. It helped a bit to make the upper half rise...inside a bottom brick! I can't imagine adding more water to my recipes - dough tends to collapse during 2nd rise if I do that.

I’m really puzzled and frustrated after seeing many beautiful photos of appetizing bread and trying the associate recipes. No matter what type of recipe I try, all I get is basic home-made bread(s), eatable, but nothing to be proud of. I don't mind doing a series of tests varying one particular ingredient, but I really need some help to figure out which one.

PS: I forgot to mention, this happens both with regular and with bread-machine recipes, not much apparent difference so far.

Any suggestions most welcome!