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Soundman's picture

Never Give Up Sourdough

(Picture below) 

I post this for 2 reasons:
1) I thought this sourdough was going to bomb, but it didn't. Never give up on your sourdough.
2) I made several changes to the recipe I have been using for 4 months, and I learned a lot. Maybe you will too.

Most important thing I learned: Never give up on your sourdough. (I mean the loaves, not the starter.)

This is a somewhat long story, with a few unusual twists to tell, so I apologize for the wind and will understand if you skip ahead.

As I was planning for this bake I was thinking about my previous sourdough experience. (I make a version of Jeffrey Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough, recipe already on TFL.) For the previous bake I made the final build of the levain at night, and mixed the dough early the next morning. An overnight retarding of the loaves would have been overlong, so I opted for same-day baking. When I took my shaped loaves out of their bannetons, they reeelaaaaaxxxxed. Into the oven they went, but their oven spring was underwhelming. The taste was tangy, wonderful, but the crumb was not open and airy as usual.

This time I was planning a few changes. I was concerned that the main issue had been gluten development. For starters I figured I'd go back to early-morning final levain build and mixing the dough in the afternoon, which would allow for overnight retarding.

On top of this I was considering something Mike Avery recently posted in a response, where he explained that autolyse does NOT involve yeast, commercial or wild. I thought that mixing the dough in advance, without leaven, might help build gluten, which I speculated had been at fault for my flattish loaves. I knew also that there would be some enzymatic action as a result of this autolyse process, so I hedged my bets and decided to let the dough sit for just 3 hours.

When I added my levain to the autolyse in my mixer, it was very, very wet. OK, I should have broken up the dough first, that became clear. But I figured I could still mix and distribute all the ingredients sufficiently. After 3 minutes the dough was still sticking both to the bottom and the sides of my mixer's bowl. (Fortunately, this no longer daunts me, thanks to the video of M. Bertinet that holds99 recently provided this link for:
Also, I wasn't tempted to add flour, having seen M. Bertinet say about such glop: "This is what dough should look like.")

I took the sticky mass and started throwing it down and folding it over. I "cheated" only a little bit with one dusting of flour. Within a few minutes, remarkably, the dough was coming together. There were a few pea-sized lumps but I flattened them when I found them. Then I let the dough ferment for almost 3 hours, with 2 folds to build strength. It still seemed loose and weak and I admit I was concerned.

I shaped 2 boules and put them in bannetons, which I had dusted (mistakenly) with AP flour instead of semolina as usual. I let the loaves proof for exactly 1 hour and put them in my refrigerator, which can hold between 43 and 44 dF, to retard overnight.

In the morning my heart sank. The loaves had barely risen. Never give up on your sourdough. Next came another change I had decided to try: I wasn't going to let the loaves wake up for several hours before baking. I pre-heated my oven to 480 dF for an hour, putting a steam pan in at the 45-minute mark. Hamelman, in Bread, makes a point that sometimes waiting for his loaves to warm up has rendered flat loaves, and thus unlike others he is not against more or less immediate baking. So that was what I was going for.

And that turned out to be a good choice. First, I had trouble getting one loaf out of its banneton (curse that AP flour). Still, for all the manhandling, it came out and held its shape! The second loaf came out more easily, but it looked puny. Still it held its puny shape.

Using my (Pure Komachi) tomato knife I slashed the first loaf with ease and confidence. The dough held: it was still cool! Into the oven und spritzen. Slash the second loaf, into the oven und spritzen again. The first loaf kept its poise, so I thought it would be OK. The puny second one sagged a little on the baking stone, and my confidence sagged with it.

At this point, if you're still here, it occurred to me that because the loaves were cool, they could handle more spritzing than usual. This turned out to be true. I turned the oven down to 460 dF and sprayed the oven 4 times over the space of 8 minutes. The crust hadn't yet turned color so I figured keeping the oven moist until I saw color would help, and it did. Still, the second loaf looked saggy. I sprayed it one more time and closed the oven, expecting the worst for that one.

Five minutes later, when I opened the oven door to turn the loaves and take out the steam pan, loaf 2 was puffed up almost like a volcano! I thought it had blown up inside, full of the air holes "where the baker sleeps at night." I turned the oven down to 440 dF and waited. Something else I learned: if you put your dough in without letting it warm up for hours, it needs to bake longer. OK, duh. So, as with being able to spritz for longer, I kept the loaves in the oven for longer, which gave me more control over temperature. At the 30-minute mark I took instant temperatures: the first loaf was only around 165 dF and the second was a little soft where the lava comes out, so I didn't bother poking it.

Ten minutes later I took temps. Loaf 1 was ready, at 208 dF. Loaf 2 was 198 so back in it went. I turned the oven down to 410 dF and gave it 3 minutes. Then I took it out and they both got 3 hours cooling time.

At this point I thought loaf 2 was a mess inside and I didn't figure it was worth showing it. Loaf 1 was beautiful inside and was half-gone in short order. When I started cutting into loaf 2 I realized I had totally missed the boat. Though it hadn't risen much at all in the fridge, and had sort of sagged in the oven, it made an amazing comeback. And I am thinking that comeback was because it was cool when it hit the oven, and I kept it moist long enough for the yeast to stage their heroic last stand.

Here's a picture of the crumb of Loaf 2:

 Never Give Up Sourdough

Sourdough crumb: Never Give Up Sourdough

Next time: I will repeat my sourdough with the autolyse, but I will use only half the flour for that, and I will break up the dough into pieces when I mix everything together. Otherwise, I'm sticking with my story.

Soundman (David)


dmsnyder's picture

Pane di Genzano

Pane di Genzano (the real thing)

Pane di Genzano (the real thing)

Pane di Genzano

Pane di Genzano 

Pane di Genzano Crumb

Pane di Genzano Crumb 

In "Local Breads," Daniel Leader has 3 breads from Genzano, a village just outside Rome. Well, 2 breads and a pizza. The 2 breads are an all-white bread (Pane casareccio di Genzano) and one that uses half bread flour and half whole wheat (Pane lariano). Zolablue had written about these breads some time ago. (  ) Hers were gorgeous and sounded delicious. But the recipe spooked me at the time. It is a huge loaf and a super-wet dough.  Since then, I had gained some experience with slack doughs and felt up to trying one of the pane di Genzanos.


I'm not quite sure what to call the bread I made because I "split the difference" between the breads in the book. I used 25% whole wheat. I also did not follow Leader's instructions for mixing. I wanted to try the Hamelman folding technique on this bread, since I was so happy with how it had worked with my baguettes. I also wanted to try the "double hydration" technique recommended by Suas in "Advanced Bread and Pastry" for improved gluten development in slack doughs. 


(I used my regular 75% hydration sourdough starter which is fed with 70% AP, 20% WW and 10% Rye for the biga).

Biga Naturale         368 gms

Water                       405 gms

Bread Flour             375 gms

WW Flour                 125 gms

Instant yeast                7 gms

Sea salt                      14 gms

 Unprocessed bran for sprinkling


In the bowl of my KitchenAid mixer, I mixed 300 gms of water with the biga, then added the flours, yeast and salt and mixed with a rubber spatula until the ingredients were all incorporated in a shaggy mass.

 I then mixed with the dough hook at Speed 4, with occasional bursts to Speed 6, for about 12-14 minutes. At this point, I had some gluten development, and the dough was clearing the sides of the bowl at Speed 4. I began slowly adding the remaining 100 gms of water, probably about 10-15 gms at a time, waiting for each addition to get incorporated before adding the next. I continued to mix at the same speed for another 10 minutes or so.

 (Note: Leader's mixing instructions are to put all the ingredients in the bowl and stir together. Then mix at Speed 8 for 10 minutes or so, then at Speed 10 for another 10 minutes.)


I then transferred the dough to a 4 quart glass measuring pitcher.  I had planned on fermenting the dough for 3 hours, doing stretch and folds after 60 and 120 minutes. The dough was overflowing the pitcher after 60 minutes. I transferred it to a 6 quart bowl, did my stretch and folds and covered the bowl. After 120 minutes, the dough had re-doubled and was extremely soft and puffy. The gluten was better developed. I did another series of stretches and folds and fermented another hour. 

 The dough was still extremely sticky. I scraped it onto a large wooden cutting board and attempted to form it. I could fold the edges, but the dough was sticking a lot to the board, my bench knife. I kept my hands wet, which prevented it sticking to me very much.


I then transferred the dough to a large banneton, dusted with AP and rice flour, then with bran. This was not a pretty sight. The dough was dough but it was so slack, it could not be called a "ball." It was my own proprietary loaf shape. I called in a "glob." The surface was coated with more bran. The banneton was covered with plastic wrap.

 I pre-heated the oven to 450F with a cast iron skillit and a metal loaf pan on the bottom shelf and a large pizza stone on the middle shelf.

 I proofed the glob for 55 minutes. (Leader says to proof for 1-1/2 to 2 hours. I was afraid I would get no oven spring if I proofed it that long.)



Just before loading the loaf, I put a handful of ice cubes in the heated loaf pan to humidify the oven.

 I transferred the glob from the banneton to a peel, covered with parchment paper dusted with more bran. The glob hit the parchment, spread, but did not overflow the (large pizza) peel.

 I transferred the glob, which had assumed a somewhat pleasing ovoid shape on hitting the peel, to the stone. I poured about a cup of boiling water into the skillet and closed the oven door.

 After 18 minutes, I removed the loaf pan and the skillet from the oven.

 After 30 minutes, I turned the oven down to 400 degrees and baked for 30 minutes more.


I transferred the bread to a cooling rack. Leader says to cool it for 2 hours before slicing.


Well, you win some and you loose some. This bread is delicious. The crust is crunchy. The crumb is tender. You might have noticed that the biga naturale is 74% of the flour weight. The taste is quite sour, especially for a bread with a short fermentation for a sourdough. The whole wheat flavor is there and pleasing. I expect the flavors to change by tomorrow, probably for the better. 

 On the other hand, I'm not sure my deviations from Leader's instructions worked well. The dough was probably gloppier than it is supposed to be. I don't think I got the gluten development it needs. I didn't get much oven spring, and the bread is rather flat. Zolablue got a wonderful boule. Note that she used high gluten flour, and that probably helped. I've got to keep trying, because this bread is really worth the effort.

 Note: It has been noted that this bread is messy to cut. That is an understatement. The bran flies everywhere! I think I ended up with more bran on the counter and cutting board than I had sprinkled on the loaf and in the banneton, and the bread seemed to still have as much as before. The normal laws of physics apparently do not apply to this bread. My advice: Slice it where clean up will be easiest.

 This bread is known in Italy for its keeping quality. It is good when first cooled and stays moist for many days. There are many references to this bread on Italian travel web sites. It is said to make wonderful brushcetta. I have a good supply of delicious tomatoes at the moment. I plan on testing that claim.



hullaf's picture

recipe to try in Ed Wood's "Classic Sourdoughs"

I just bought Ed Wood's book, Classic Sourdoughs and find the reading interesting. I want to try his method and one of his recipes. Can anyone recommend one that they've especially liked? I've got a whole wheat stiff starter in the works, it's active and growing well and would like to use that instead of my usual white one. Thanks, Anet

hansjoakim's picture

Focaccia suggestions

Hi everyone!

This is Hans Joakim from rainy Norway calling...

I'm getting some friends over this weekend, and thought I'd surprise them with a focaccia as a light afternoon snack. I've skimmed over the focaccia recipes in Reinhart's American Pie and the one in Hamelman's Bread, but I was hoping that you might suggest a killer focaccia recipe for me. It's a long time since I made focaccia, so I think I'll stick with a pretty basic one (i.e. not a lot of toppings).

I'd be grateful for any suggestions :)

Pablo's picture

ideal retardation temperature?

A little bar 'fridge was getting thrown out and I grabbed it for a dedicated chilled compartment for retarding dough.  Any thoughts about the ideal temperature to try to achieve?  I'm thinking about 55 degrees F. 

JIP's picture

Did my starter turn??

I recently purchased a starter drom KAF and things have been going well.  I have gotten 2 good bakes out of it and stored it for about a week.  In the last couple of days I have been getting it ready for another bake and things seem a little odd.  I was kind of wondering what the smell of the starter should be.  When I first got it going so I do not really know what is proper. The smell I am getting is a VERY sour smell so much so tht it is to the oint that it seems like if you were to take a bid whiff of it when you take off the plastic wrap it would knock you out.  There is no mold and I really havent stored it long enough to develop hooch be it on top or bottom.  So tell me to thing is the sour smell ok and what are th signs of a starter goig bad. 

dmsnyder's picture

Norm's formula for Jewish Corn Bread

There was a request for Norm's formula for Jewish Corn Rye recently. It is in an old blog entry that is hard to find, but I flushed it out.

Norm's formula for Jewish Corn Bread, along with his descriptions of how this bread was made in the bakery, can be found in the following thread

Note that this thread also has Norm's formula for Jewish Sour Rye and some other rye formulas. Lots of interesting information.
The question of when Corn Bread is ready to slice is not addressed. Maybe Norm will add his wisdom on that particular question.


thx1138's picture

A very soft "Wonder" type bread, looking for opinions...

I don't know if this is where to post this, since it certainly doesn't have a chewy crust, and is pretty easy.  I would like anyone to try this, if you like a wonder type bread, and let me know what you think.  I've been trying to reproduce a very soft, moist white bread and I think this is the end of my quest.  The potato flakes reduce the gluten and add some flavor.   - thanks. 




4 C.  AP flour

2 T sugar

1 T yeast


Add ¼ C oil

2 C. luke warm milk

1 x large egg

1 C. potato flakes


Mix with the dough hook until well blended


Rest for 25 minutes


Knead with a dough hook while slowly adding 2 ½ teaspoons kosher salt

Knead for a few minutes until pulling away from the bowl and less sticky

Rise in a covered oiled bowl until doubled

Make 2 loaves or 1 full size and 8 mini loaves in buttered pans

Rise 1 ½ hours and preheat the oven to 375 during the last ½ hour

Bake about 20 minutes for mini loaves and 25 for full size

Madame K's picture
Madame K

Getting Started w/ Reinhart & your advice

Hello - my first post and first foray into Reinhart's whole grains baking world....I have several questions that I'm hoping you could help me with:

I used the Whole Wheat Hearth Bread recipe on p 153 in his Whole Grain Breads book and used Bob's Red Mill white whole wheat flour, agave syrup, and SAF instant yeast:

1)  I weighed the ingredients for the soaker and upon mixing, it still had a lot of dry flour that wouldn't hydrate. I had to add a fair amount of extra water to get it to the texture he suggests. So, I measured the ingredients for the biga rather than weighing them and it worked just fine. Do most of you weigh your ingredients without a problem? What are the pitfalls of measuring rather than weighing?

2)  I let both soaker and biga sit in the fridge for 3 days and then followed his instructions, using a stand mixer, switching from paddle to hook, let it rest for 5 minutes, etc. It seemed to need a fair amount of flour....As I have looked at videos today for 'wettish' dough (tacky, not sticky), I wonder if I added too much flour as I was at the hand kneading stage. Should the dough look a bit ragged like you see on some of the fold and stretch videos, or should it look more like regular bread dough but just a bit tackier? Did Iadd too much flour? It looked nice was smooth and a bit tacky. I needed to flour my hands pretty frequently during the hand kneading to keep it from sticking to my hands.

3)   I let the dough do its first rise in an oiled bowl with a towel (is this ok instead of plastic wrap? does it make a difference?). The second rise, I put in a banneton. It looked gorgeous when I peeked, but it collapsed a little when I flipped it over onto the peel. Should I always use parchment and gingerly turn the dough out of the banneton onto parchment and then slide the parchment with dough onto the peel? Is it pretty fragile at this point? It looked like it lost a little of its puff when I flipped it...

 4) I baked it on a pizza stone that had been preheated for an hour at 500, along with the hot water/cookie sheet on the top shelf of the oven per the instructions. I baked it for 20 minutes, turned it 180 degrees, and then let it bake for another 20. The bottom wasn't burnt but is a little thick and dark crustwise. I think the stone was too hot or it baked too long. Is that a correct assumption? I have read today that the crust of the bread is cracklier if I leave it in the oven with the door open when it's done baking to cool off as the oven cools off. Is this right?

 5) The flavor turned out okay, but the crumb is fairly small and tight but not hockey puckish or dense - sorta cakey in that white whole wheat flour kind of way.  There was only one 'hole' - I was expecting the texture to be different - more open  holes, chewier and crustier.

 6) The loaf itself was not particularly tall - I don't think the oven spring thing happened.

So - in addition to the questions embedded above, here are some:

What in your opinion is the ideal time span for letting the soaker and biga do their thing?

The dough never had the windowpane thing going felt nice, like a good dough, but didn't have the stretch....what's NOT happening when you don't get a windowpane?

What is the best method for getting a boule from banneton to peel without collapsing?

If the crumb is small, tight and somewhat tender in this recipe, is that approximately what it should be like? If not, what should I do to further improve the gluten or whatever else?

Does the fold and stretch technique help with the above issue about texture and crumb?

What is the chemistry of oven spring and what can I do with my dough to support a hearty oven spring?

Will leaving it  in the oven to cool after the oven is turned off and it's done baking promote a cracklier crust?

Any advice on the recipe generally and what I could try to improve my next attempt?


Thanks for any and all help! Madame K


JAtlanta's picture

How do I roll the Philadelphia pretzel shape?

This is my first post to The Fresh Loaf, but I've been getting some great advice from the group.  I went to Germany early this year, and after coming back from Munich I've been thinking about those Bavarian pretzels a lot, so I'm trying to make my own.  I'm getting close to my ideal pretzel recipe and I'll write more about my experiences below, but first I have a question for everyone:

How do I make the Philadelphia soft pretzel shape?  It's very different from the iconic German pretzel shape.  Please check out this page on google images to see what I mean.  Philadelphia pretzels are oval shaped with a loop in the middle and come stuck together as a chain of 12 or so.  When you buy them from street carts, you break off how many you want from the chain.  I tried a few different shapes today, but none came out anything like the Philly pretzel.  I would love to make these at home - I lived in Philadelphia for a while, but I'm in Atlanta now, so I can't even see a real one up close.

Here's some of what I learned from making pretzels, which I hope will help everyone else out: 

So far I've tried three different recipes, all very different.

#1 Baking Illustrated Soft Pretzels - All the recipes in this book have turned out to be delicious. This recipe tasted the best of those I've tried so far.  The inside of the pretzel is pleasantly chewy thanks to the use of bread flour. However, this recipe uses 1/4 cup of honey, and the pretzels taste strongly of honey.  Next time I'll use sugar and cut back the amount.  These pretzels were the least attractive when baked, they could use an egg wash like in...

#2 Alton Brown's recipe - This recipe was very good, but not as chewy or tasty as #1.  The great take-away from this recipe is that brushing the pretzels with 1 large egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon water before baking makes the finished product shiny and very attractive.  This recipe also calls for boiling in 10 cups water with 2/3 cup baking soda, which is a lot, but it worked well.

#3 Laugabrezla II recipe - The recipe was recommended in another post on this site. I liked this one because it's super fast to make - no waiting for the dough to rise!  The flavor was not as complex as the other two recipes, though.  To be fair I boiled the pretzels in baking soda and water instead of dipping them into a lye solution, as the recipe calls for.  I haven't worked up the courage to use the lye dip yet, but maybe soon.  The pretzels in Munich had a special crunchiness on the outside that I'm now convinced can only be attained by using the lye dip.  Reheating pretezels in the oven after they've cooled gets them close, though.  I've included a picture of the pretzels I made from this recipe.
 Pretzels made using the Laugabrezla II recipe (boiled in water and baking soda, though).

Pretzel salt - At first I tried using regular Diamond Crystal kosher salt, but that was too fine and just dissolved into the pretzel top.  After looking in the spice aisle of every grocery store in Antlanta and not finding anything, I finally ordered a 2lb bag of pretzel salt from Barry Farm.  I was hoping that this salt would be the opaque chalky white stuff that comes on Superpretzels, but it's actually coarse clear salt, sort of like sea salt, but in smaller chunks.  It works well enough though, which is good since I have 2lbs of it.  You can see it in the picture above.

Thanks for reading - I hope someone can tell me the secret of rolling the Philly Pretzel shape.