The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough failure?

jeanx's picture

Sourdough failure?

I have a sourdough starter that's a week old.

I have been feeding it every 12 hours, without discarding any.

I fed it this morning and 2 hours later, tried to make a loaf using the San Francisco Sourdough recipe from this website.

It hasn't risen after 4 hours.

I noticed 2 things about the recipe. #1, it never said "knead the dough", so I didn't. I just did exactly what the recipe says. 

and #2, it calls for Buttermilk, but never said when to add it- so again- I didn't.

I decided to stretch the dough and knead it a little to see what would happen (maybe it could help activate it?) Nothing has happened so far.

I've obviously made some fatal errors that I don't want to repeat. Please help!


pmccool's picture

Where to begin?  How about we start with the starter?  First, discard all but a couple of tablespoons (you can save the discards for use in waffles, pancakes, etc.) and give it a good feeding.  So far, so good, yes?

Now, let's talk about that starter.  Is it more or less liquid in consistency (sort of like pancake batter)?  Or does it have a stiff consistency, more like a dough?  If the former, you should see lots of bubbles in a few hours and it will probably increase in volume somewhat.  If the latter, it should grow to at least double its initial volume in, oh, 4-6 hours, assuming that your kitchen temperature is above 70 F; longer if your kitchen is cooler.  If it can do that successfully, your starter is probably ready for use in making bread.  If it is very slow to develop bubbles or double in size, you'll need to do more of the discard and feed routine over the next few days until it is able to grow vigorously in a few hours time.  Your twice a day feeding pattern should be just fine.  

The thing is, you really must discard half of the starter before each feeding.  Assuming that you have been feeding a fixed quantity of water and flour each time, rather than doubling, you have been growing the population of yeast and bacteria in your starter without any increase in the quantity of food for them.  They are probably feeling rather anemic just now.  

As for your recipe, you'll have to post that so we can see what might have been wrong there.  It may have been a genuine no-knead bread; then again, the writer may have been a bit terse with their directions, assuming a working knowledge of skill in the reader.  You can generally assume that if an ingredient is listed in the recipe, it is intended for use.  Liquids (generally) need to be added all together, unless the directions specify otherwise.

Here's a suggestion: see if your library has a copy of Rose Levy Berenbaum's The Bread Bible.  Or buy a copy, if you prefer.  Ms Berenbaum is a stickler for the details, which is helpful for both new and experienced bakers.  

Good luck with your continued experiments.


rainwater's picture

I'm not sure how important this is, but you mentioned feeding your starter every 12 hours without discarding any.  Peter Reinhart explains "explicitely" that never feed your starter unless you double it at least.  Triple or quadruple is okay, but never feed unless you double it.  I think this is the reason for discarding starter, so the home fermenter doesn't become the owner of a commercial bucket of starter.  To feed 8 oz. of starter, one would add at least a pound of feed of flour and water.  8 oz. flour plus 8 oz. water equals 100% hydration and so on depending on how hydrated you prefer to keep your starter.  I keep mine at %75 hydration....this works for me. 

jeanx's picture

Before reading your post, I tried baking a couple more loaves, but not adding the salt directly to the starter, like the recipe suggested to do, and things went okay-but not great.

 Yes, the amount of starter I had was huge. And it wasn't thick and bubbly, it was like runny pancake batter. So I took your advice and discarded most. I kept 1/4 cup of starter in 3 quart-sized Kerr jars and fed them. They doubled and are doing fine.

 After reading your post, then reviving my starter, I was able to make a dough that rose and doubled beautifully overnight and that I will bake tonight.

 I still don't understand the hydration thing and haven't found anything to explain it to me. As I said, I kept 1/4 cup of starter and fed it 1/4 cup water mixed with 1/2 cup flour. What would be my hydration %? 

I am eternally grateful for everyone's help!

jeanx's picture

San Francisco Style Sourdough

San Francisco Style Sourdough

I don't make white breads very often, but I make this one every so often to satisfy the occasional, overpowering hankering. If you like, you can substitute whole wheat flour for up to half of the white flour, or you can simply use a whole wheat starter. You'll probably want to increase the water, though by 1 to 3 Tbs.

White flour: 100%
Salt: 2%
Water: 72%
30% of the flour is in the starter. (I'll give two recipes, one for starter at 100% hydration and another at 60% hydration)

White flour: 500 grams or about 4 cups
Salt: 10 grams or 1.25 tsp

  • Using a wet starter: 210 grams or 1 cup MINUS 1 Tbs
  • Using a stiff starter: 270 grams or 1 cup +3 Tbs

Buttermilk: 185 grams or ¾ cup + 1 Tbs
Starter: Two options

  • Wet starter (100% hydration) 300 grams or 1 ¼ cup
  • Stiff starter (60% hydration) 240 grams or 1 cup

Dissolve the starter into the water, and then add the salt. Finally add the flour and mix until all is hydrated.

Dough development and the first rise
However you develop the dough, from the time you mix until the time you shape the dough, it'll take about 3 to 4 hours for the first rise at room temperature.

Be gentle. You want to retain as many of those air bubbles as possible. Rounds and batards are the traditional shapes for San Francisco-style sourdoughs.

Second rise and retarding
Sourdoughs benefit quite a bit from retarding - many people think loaves that have been retarded taste better. You can simply cover the shaped dough and place it in the fridge or, if you're lucky and the overnight temperature will be between 45 and 55, you can simply place it outside, in which case the bread will probably be ready to bake when you wake up.

If you put it in the fridge, it'll need to warm up for 3-4 hours to complete its rise.

If you don't want to bother with retarding, you can let it rise for another 2 to 3 hours at room temperature. You can also speed things up (and increase sourness) by placing the dough on an upturned bowl in the bottom of a picnic cooler, throwing a cup of boiling water in the bottom and covering it quickly. After an hour, throw another cup of hot water in. The rise should only take a couple of hours this way.

Score the bread as you like. Hash marks are traditional for rounds, and batards usually take a single, bold stroke down the center or a couple of baguette-style slashes.

While you can certainly bake this bread on a cookie sheet, it benefits from a stone and some steam, or a covered baker. However you do it, bake at 450 degrees for about 35-40 minutes.