The Fresh Loaf

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Sourdough too Wet ?

rowejd's picture

Sourdough too Wet ?

Hello, I'm brand new to these forums, so sorry if I mess up on any form-etiquette.  I've just used Richard Bertinet's sourdough recipe from CRUST.  Unfortunately with his recipes, I've found that almost all of them require 15 to 20% more water than he calls for.  I emailed him directly to be sure I wasn't crazy and he confirmed that American flours are often "stronger" and absorb more water.

Anyway, his sourdough is the only exception to that rule and I'm not sure why.  I don't have to add any water because it's plenty sticky as-is.  I "work" it like he shows (and I've become pretty decent at this) for about 15 minutes, then add salt, and continue until it's nice and cohesive.

However, when all is said and done and the loaf is finished - it tends to have a few large holes rather than evenly-spaced, smaller holes throughout where the bread puffs up.  It also seems a bit wet-ish or soft sort of in the middle.  Either I'm just too new to know that sourdough is supposed to be that way, or I'm doing something wrong.  I did 2 loaves today and one came out with large bubbles as I described above.  But then the second loaf came out with a huge cavern.  I mean, it just is hollow and all the actual dough is at the top or bottom of the crust with a huge hole.

I read a previous post that suggested this is due to improper shaping.  But I wonder if it's related to my wet-ish problem -- and the fact that unfortunately CRUST isn't well suited for the types of flour I'm using.  I love Bertinet's method and find it theraputic to work the dough -- it's my favorite part.  But it's tiring to feel like I have to test every recipe 10 times before I am sure of how to get it right.  And even then, I'm inexperienced so I'm not sure what is really "right".

Thanks for any advice!!!

tangled's picture

I tried the Crust recipe for the first time recently, and posted of my efforts in my blog:

I was using strong english flour, and found the hydration fine. He does only use a 50% hydration on his starter, though, and I use 100%, so I'd taken that into account with the water added.

I get on very well with his folding technique, and use it now for all but my lower hydration doughs, where I revert to my more traditional kneading method.

It would be nice to see a pic of your bread to get a better idea of what you're seeing. It's not like a flying crust, is it?


rowejd's picture

Ah, I wish you were in the US to tell me what kind of flour works with his other recipes from Crust.  For example, if you use some of the very standard flours here in the us (King Arthur, Gold Medallion, White Lilly) and you buy their bread flour variety -- then you try a recipe from CRUST such as bagels -- it's 100% impossible to use his "working" technique.  You must kneed, althought the book tells you to "work" the dough and refers back to those technique pages.

Anyhow, I've never heard "flying crust" (I'm a beginner), but that sounds about right!  Here are some pics:


This one was the first loaf - and it seems to have come out alright.  Although the inside seemed just a bit "gummy" or sticky.  Not sure if this is normal, or if sourdough should have the same texture as other breads.  Here's the pic:

Then my second loaf was a disaster:

tangled's picture

I haven't tried the Crust bagel recipe. I'm currently working (and tweaking) on one that I found on Dan Lepard's forum (pics etc. on my blog) which is very easy, and gives great results. Tonight I'm trying it with more rye starter, as an experiment.

Just looking, though, and Crust's recipe is at 47% hydration, which is similar to mine. I can't do his "working" technique with that at all, it would be like throwing a lump of clay around! I knead it, more traditionally, so I'm with you there. Still the end result is pretty good, whatever :-)

Your second pic does look very much like the classic "flying crust" or "flying top".  There's a bit of discussion on it on the dan lepard forum:

I've read somewhere that one reason can be underproving. If you're going with the Crust instructions then I don't see how that can be an issue! I didn't leave mine as long as was suggested in that recipe as mine was well proved before the 16-18 hours. I have only done that recipe once, but wasn't inspired enough to deviate from my other recipes. I'll send them to you if you want so you can compare?

My sourdough isn't "doughy" at all once it's cooled down, if anything it tends to be more drier, somehow, than normal bread, so I wouldn't personally expect the gumminess you're describing.


edit: the flour I used in my blog had a protein level of 12.5%, I just checked.

That's reasonably high.


tangled's picture

I just read through the recipe for Pain de Brie in Crust. It specifically says on p98 that with such a stiff dough, you can't use the normal method of working the dough, but have to use the more traditional kneading technique.

This dough is around 53% hydration, which is more than his bagels at less than 50%, so I'd think that comment must surely apply to bagel dough too?

rowejd's picture

By the way I love your tagline in your blog "A way of putting off other stuff".  Probably the most clever I've seen - I got a kick out of it.

tangled's picture

Thank you, that's very kind, and I'm glad you like it.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Bread looks a little flattened from a big knife. :)

Photo #2 reminds me of pita bread, so my next question would be: did you score the dough early, letting it sit and thereby drying the top of the dough before it went into the oven?  Normally scoring would help avoid the big bubble if done just before baking. or poking it a couple of times with a toothpick.

That being said, it is a very good pita (or a good candidate for a great ciabatta.)    Looks like it could have used a little more flour in the dough if you wanted to score it.   That would make shaping it tight easier and the loaf might come out higher.  The crumb looks good from here. 


rowejd's picture

I did cut it, which is why it was pressed down a bit.  I scored it just before it hit the oven.  Haha, yes it does look like pita!  In one of the loaves the crumb was great, but it was the second one that I had a "flying crust".  I think I may have either done something wrong in the shaping process, or let it proof too long.

summerbaker's picture

Rowejd - I've made the sourdough breads (all kinds) from Crust a few times each and the only time I had one turn out looking the way yours did is when I used a bad sourdough starter.  I was suspicious of it to begin with - not the greatest odor and then it seriously didn't rise, just spread like a puddle.  I baked it anyway and it looked a lot like your loaves, plus it tasted terrible.  Therefore, my questions for you are: are you happy with your starter?  Have you gotten good results from it before? 

Anyway, the loaves that I made from Crust with decent starter have all been good and that was with KA bread flour for the white one, Barry Hill Farms whole wheat bread flour for the wheat one, and Hodgson Mill Rye flour for the rye loaf.  All were from a starter that was made from KA bread flour.  I didn't have to add any extra water.

I was interested to hear your take on the hydration issue.  I made the cabernet grape flour rolls and the first time I made them they were horrible - dough was like clay and they turned out dry.  The second time I added just over 100g extra water and they came out great!  However, I found that the ciabatta recipe called for entirely too MUCH water and didn't come together as a dough at all.  I had to add 60g extra flour (I used the half bread flour, half 00 flour method) and I would add even more next time.

BTW, I really appreciate the warning on the bagels since I haven't made them yet!  Also, thank you so much for contacting Bertinet on the hydration issue - His answer could explain a lot.

tangled's picture

I don't know if you've tried the Autolysed Baguettes yet, but there's a typing error in the recipe and the weight of the dough should be 150g each. not the 200g as stated in the book.

I've used that recipe several times now, and the results are excellent. I have also  adapted it to not use any commercial yeast, to suit myself, and it's easy and reliable.

rowejd's picture

The Autolyse was great.  I think I used too much water because they were super sticky and soft and ended up being long & skinny, but they were delicious!

I'd love to see your adaptation with no commercial yeast!  I wondered if that was possible.

My ferment, though, if I go through Bertinet's whole process it works great.  But then when I refresh...every doesn't have the honeycomb texture 3 days later.  It's hard and stiff, so I take it out of the fridge and it will loosen up, it will smell slightly acidic and like it should, but the honeycomb texture just isn't there.  I wonder if it's because my flour is absorbing so much water that it should be a different ratio when I refresh?  Have you seen anything similar in your ferment?

tangled's picture

The Crust book uses 50% hydration for the ferment, but I prefer to use 100%, so just adapted the recipe for that.

I'll write up the no yeast variant: it's very similar but give good results.

rowejd's picture

What's strange is both tasted great.  I think I may have let the second one proof too long.

So I'm really very glad to have someone in the US who has tried these recipes!  Where do you get Barry Hill Farms flour?  I only have access to brands like King Arthur (which evidently has a very high gluten content and can absorb more water), Hodgkin Mills, White Lilly.  I haven't even began to start the search for the Italian 00 flour!  Or the cabernet grape flour.  Sounds like you have access to a good source of flours.

However, it seems even with your flour some recipes are coming out with similar hydration issues for you? I tried the raisin rye bread and had an almost exact experience as you did with the cabernet grape - they were rocks I could barely even cut - so unbelievably dry.  Could our flour in the US really be SO different that it requires hundreds of grams sometimes to adjust?  And once you get out of the specs of the recipe and rely completely upon your own intuition -- well yours may be better than mine -- but I"m not confident enough yet in my own ability to "feel" it out and get it right.

I don't mind to experiment, but it's frustrating to have to do it multiple times to get it right.

If you're interested, here's my conversation with Richard...I basically just told him what I explained here that many recipes it's impossible to "work" the dough since they don't seem to have enough water and here's the response:

Hi joshua
Thanks for the mail
You are not doing any thing wrong rest assure its that some flour from the
state are really strong and will absorb a lot more water so if your
sourdough comes good trust your instincts and had water up to800gr per kilo
of flour some guy from canada had the same issue hope this help let me know
how you getting on
Happy baking
richard Bertinet



and a footnote to this - I took this into account - a 4/5 ratio, but some recipes I've had to add more than that...sometimes a good deal more.


summerbaker's picture


Whew!  So glad to hear that your starter is fine.  I actually looked back at my notes on the recipes and the best tasting whole wheat sourdough loaf was made with whole wheat bread flour from Wade's Mill, which I had to get by mail order from:

I do order Barry Farms (Not Barry "HIll" Farms - it was late when I wrote that last night and I messed up their name.  Sorry!) stuff directly from their website (you can get it from Amazon but the shipping is more) sometimes because they have a very large selection - even chestnut flour, though no whole chestnuts.  Their address is:

As for the cabernet grape flour, I ordered it from:

There aren't many sources for this but you don't use much in a recipe.  I got two recipes worth out of a bag (400g in a bag) plus a little left over. 

Believe me, I only order online and pay all of that shipping because I live in north Florida and have literally no local flour sources since we don't really grow wheat down here (though I can get plenty of local corn meal!).  Wade's Mill in VA is the closest source that I could find for decent pricing and they are very happy to answer any questions on the phone.

Note: I recently ordered 50 lbs. of flour from TFL member flourgirl51's farm in MN for a very reasonable price but haven't gotten to try it yet.  The added bonus' are that it is organic and very freshly ground.  Her address is:

One more thing: My raisin rye loaves turned out exactly the same as yours and I haven't gotten around to adjusting the hydration yet.  When I do, I'll let you know how they come out.  I've been meaning to do it fairly soon because my husband and I both really liked the overall flavor!


rowejd's picture

I'll bookmark these sites!  And absolutely please stay in touch. If you ever want to email me I'm j-o-s-h-at-r-o-w-e-j-d-dotcom (remove all dashes and insert the at symbol, etc - don't want to be picked up by spambots) or reply to this thread since I'm subscribed to it.  I just want to keep hearing how recipes come out, etc. from someone else in the US using the Crust recipes.

I have to say I really and truly love "working" the dough.  It's theraputic for me for some reason - so I really have this love-hate relationship with those Crust recipes.  I want to use them because I get to get my hands in the dough and such.  But I can't stand wasting ingredients/time when they bust.

Thanks again for your links & the help!

crust's picture

Richard Bertinet's book Crust is what started me on Sourdough and I thought I had got it quite well after a while. However I am now wondering. The dough never really gets to the stage where it always comes entirely clean off the work surface although it does 'mostly'. I work it for about 10 minutes before adding salt and then for another 4 say.

With this and other doughs in the book they can become very sticky at the point of dividing the dough ( in the case of the baguettes with fermented dough  - it descends into a complete farce  and  shaping the dough is difficult - although the finished results aren't bad ) - this may nullify the effects of any previous resting and folding.  

The crumb could be described as a bit rubbery.

I live in Devon UK and use Shipton Mill Strong White or recently a local Dorset organic offering. I do use Sel de Gris but grind it very finely before adding to the dough. 

Reading posts about % hydration just leave me thinking I should stick to being a lawyer : its easier !

Any ideas ?

This is my latest :