The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

First Ever Sourdough and It Failed

Jenady's picture

First Ever Sourdough and It Failed

I created my starter from water and flour as instructed by S. John Ross in an article titled "Sourdough Baking." That went pretty much as advertised.

After six days I decided to try baking a loaf from the recipe in the same article.

* 2 Cups of sponge (proofed starter)
* 3 Cups of unbleached flour
* 2 tablespoons of olive oil or softened margarine
* 4 teaspoons of sugar
* 2 teaspoons of salt

The yeast action was slow but the dough did rise. The first thing I noticed when I tried to shape the loaf was very weak gluten formation. After the rescond raise there was a very broken gluten layer on the loaf. There was no oven raise at all.

The final loaf was a pitiful looking thing about two inches high. I tasted a very small sample. It was awful. It was extremely sour with hint of bitterness. I wish I had taken a picture before it went out in the garage.

What do you think went wrong?

edit: this is the original article


gothicgirl's picture

It seems like a lot of starter.  Most of the recipes I use call for a small amount of starter that is mixed into a pre-ferment. 

I think that may be part of the problem, but there are other bakers where who will have greater insight.


Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

After the rescond raise there was a very broken gluten layer on the loaf. There was no oven raise at all.

Did it resemble this?

sphealey's picture

I do get that tearing on the surface of the dough; it is interesting that sometimes I can see it carry on all the way from the kneading through fermentation and predict where the tear will occur during proofing.  Is there a general cause of this in sourdough?


Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hmm. If you see tearing that early in the process---during kneading?---then more likely, I think the problem is overkneading and developing the gluten too much, or the dough too dry. Maybe the flour has a lower mixing tolerance than you're used to. It takes a little more time than that to see the effects of proteolysis to this degree.

In this particular bread of mine, I was giving it a longer fermentation time than usual. the cracking of the surface didn't start until the end of the second (bulk) rise. Forming the loaf was a challenge, but it was smooth (believe it or not) when it was panned. During the proof, it just started coming all apart in random places. I don't know if you can really tell from the picture, but the surface also became much shinier and wetter. When gluten disintegrates (as opposed to tearing), it starts releasing the water that it absorbed during develpment.

Jenady's picture

It looked more like small islands of "crust" surrounded by tears. The ratio of smooth surface to broken rough surface was probably 30% - 70%. Your pictures look much better.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Assuming your dough wasn't too dry, I'm going to guess that your starter needs more work. 6 days may not have been enough time to get it into shape, especially on the regime outlined in the above link. When starters are underfed or out of kilter, they can be overly proteolytic and/or sluggish. I think you'll see improvement if you reduce the hydration to 100% or less, and feed it 2-3 times a day for a week or so. It just needs a little intensive care :-)

merkri's picture

It's hard to say what might have gone wrong. I agree with gothicgirl that 2 c of starter seems like a lot, but you described it as a "sponge" or "proofed starter", which might be ok.


What I've done that's most comparable is used a smaller amount (e.g., 1 cup) of 1:1 starter and used that to greate a preferment like a poolish. Another thing I've done is add increasingly larger ratios of flour:water over the course of a couple of days.


It's hard to know what might have gone wrong without knowing more details. For example, when I've made 100% sourdough, the fermenting and proofing process is much, much, much longer, so much so that you might not think it's rising if you are thinking about timeframes anywhere near what's comparable to commercial yeast (e.g., four times longer). You should still get oven spring, though.


Wild yeast is finicky, though, so it could just be your sourdough. Maybe your starter isn't what it's supposed to be? What does it look like?


Without knowing more, though, I'd guess you have too much starter, without enough of a preferment phase.

Davo's picture

Erm, I clicked the link and while it may work for that guy, it allows only a 1 hour "rise". I guess the high proportion of "proofed starter" in the mix would make it go faster than a typical sourdough final bread dough, but I would be looking at a good couple of hours for bulk fermenting and then a couple more after loaf shaping , even with that high ratio of "starter".

Surprising that it would taste at all sour/ bitter with so little time rising as a fonal bread dough - makes me wonder if the starter is actually made of all good bugs yet. I baked with my starter at only 7 days old and got a reasonable loaf, but it got much much better over then next month or so...

SulaBlue's picture

S. John is in Denver, CO.

"Yeasted products can also suffer the ill effects of altitude. Because of the significantly reduced pressure above 3,000 feet, yeasted breads expand and rise much more quickly than at sea level. At very high altitudes, above 6,000 feet, breads may actually rise in half the prescribed time."

Denver, CO is at an elevation of  5,280 feet. It's thus likely that you'll need at least twice the amount of time he talks about.

somegeek's picture

My First Loaves - I got a lot of great advice from the folks on this board which greatly helped me towards getting a nice final product.  I've got my recipe in there as well.  Take notes on what you change.  Certainly helped me.  Good luck.  :)

Soundman's picture

Hi Jenady, and welcome to TFL!

My two cents: there are a lot of variables here to make diagnosis complicated, but I would suspect a 6-day-old starter. One of the hardest things about becoming a sourdough baker is having the patience to wait until you actually have a robust starter that will raise bread. My first attempt was somewhat disappointing, mostly because I hadn't made sure my starter was as full of yeast as it needed to be. But how does a newbie know when the starter is good to go?

The most helpful thing I can say to any sourdough newbie is this: keep feeding your starter, every day twice a day for 2 weeks, before trying to bake bread with it. If, after that time, it rises well (at least doubling) and makes lots of bubbles, and smells nice but perhaps a little sour, you're in business.

How long did your "sponge" ferment before you used it?

The recipe in question uses what I would call a high-hydration final levain ("sponge"), which will develop very quickly, owing to an almost 2 to 1 ratio of water to flour, by weight. The author calls the fermentation process "proofing", which I reserve for the final rise of bread dough, but OK. This high hydration levain is like a very wet poolish, that you want to use when it's peaked, and if you wait too long, it could get pretty sour, and the yeast could lose their ability to raise the bread. As he says, it could be ready in a matter of a couple of hours.

Have patience, you'll get it!




merkri's picture

I didn't see the link before I posted earlier, but I don't know that it makes a difference.


Reading the recipe, I think there's either something wrong with your starter, and/or too much of it. 2 C of the proofed starter he describes seems like a bit much to me. I'm used to a preferment that's not quite that hydrated. On the other hand, the recipe looks like something that would work, so it could be something with your starter. The starter should have a strong beery/alcohol/yeast smell and be bubbly when it's warm enough.


Definitely keep trying though!

LydiaC's picture

I use this very same recipe quite often, substituting one cup of whole wheat flour for a cup of the white bread flour and it works beautifully - nice high loaves, good crispy crust and a medium density crumb.  The taste is not very sour. 

I think your problem was with the age of your sourdough starter - most likely it hadn't developed fully.  Just keep feeding it and give it a few more days, then try again.  I think you may be pleasantly surprised.  Good luck!

Leiif's picture



I think you need to get your starter more active and all should be fine. I made a starter with rye and water. On day 4 I added a bit of juice to get it going. Look at sourdolady posts for a recipe. It was day 11 before I had good activity. I made a loaf the next morning and it was ok. The 3rd loaf is where it started acting as you would expect and the loaves are getting better all the time. Don't give up.