The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

1st Sourdough Problems

TronCarter's picture

1st Sourdough Problems



This is a neat place with a lot of good information and this is my first post.  Over the past week I have been working on the "Basic Sourdough" recipe in the Bread Baker's Apprentice.  I have tried to make starters before but never had any success.  Following the directions, I first made a seed which, much to my delight, actually grew to about 3x on day 4.  I then created the barm (also went well) and proceeded on to the basic loaf.  Everything seemed to be going fine until I sliced the loaf for the first time and found that it was very dense on the inside.  All of the co2 bubbles were maybe 1mm.  Obviously I didn't get the rise/proof that I needed, although I waited 6 hours for rise and then 4 hours for proof.  I am trying to figure out what I did wrong.  The only part of the recipe that I didn't fully understand is when you go to make the actual bread you mix barm, flour, and water.  The amount of water was not specific, but said to make the dough like... I don't recall exactly and I don't have the book in front of me, some kind of french bread I believe.  I didn't know what that was, so I just guessed.  I followed the stand mixer instructions (perhaps that was problem #2) and the dough was very tight.  I was not able to pull it into a window or even close, but at that point I thought it was too late to add any water. 


Could the poor rise / proof be because of low hydration?  Can someone tell me what I should look for when mixing this dough in my KitchenAid?  How "sticky" should it look?

davidm's picture

I've been using reinhart's basic sourdough now as a starting point for several variations.

From your description about not being able to pull a window and the dough being super tight, you may have been underhydrated. Also, if I recall, Reinhart says to knead in the mixer for several minutes, which is longer than I usually do, but clearly he's wanting a good gluten development.

Anyway, what I've been doing is bringing the dough together  (in the mixer bowl) with my hand until it's incorporated only, it's still a shaggy mess, then letting it sit, covered, for about 20 minutes before kneading with the hook.

I've been using a dough that's kinda on the border between tacky and sticky, if I touch it and then pull my hand away it will stick and perhaps a little of the dough will stick to my hand, but not a whole lot. So it's sticky, but not real hard to manage, but it's at a minimum very tacky, not dry at all.

I knead in my KA about four minutes (I'm adding some whole wheat flour though, and other stuff too) and the dough feels muscly but pliable, and not stiff. It will pull a window if I want to. After bulk fermentation it's quite soft feeling, and shaping is not a fight.

My kitchen is cool this time of year, about 65 -68 degrees, and bulk fermentation has been taking about five or six hours and proofing about four, give or take. I've been making double batches and retarding half (2 shaped loaves) in the really cool garage overnight, and baking the other 2 the first day. The sourdough taste is much more assertive in the retarded bread.

Hope this helps.

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Tron.

Welcome to TFL!

Amount of water to add: The reason this is hard to specify is that different flours absorb water differently. One way to judge whether you have added the right amount is how sticky the dough is, as davidm says. If you are using a KitchenAid mixer, I find that this dough is right when it cleans the side of the bowl when mixing at Speed 2, but sticks to the bottom of bowl. If the dough forms a ball with none sticking to the bottom of the bowl while mixing, it is too dry.

After you have made this (or any other) bread a few times, you will get a feel for how sticky it should be to get the result you want. In your case, the way you describe your crumb definitely sounds like you didn't add enough water.

Fermentation: Fermentation will take longer at lower temperatures. Use doubling in volume as your criterion for "full fermentation." Similarly, doubling in volume of the formed loaves would be regarded as "fully proofed." Now, you generally do want to fully ferment the dough, but you may want to slightly underproof it to get better oven spring. Underproofing, in the case, would mean loaf expansion of 75-80% rather than 100%.

The reason you want a full fermentation is that that is the stage in bread making where the bubbles form that give you the more open, less dense crumb. It is also the stage where flavor develops the most.