The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Not upset....just bewildered

eusebius's picture

Not upset....just bewildered

I've been making sourdough for about 5 months now. I have a great wild yeast starter. The end product of my labors has been nothing short of great---great tasting bread, beautiful crumb, and a yummy thick chewy crust.

The only part from beginning to end that seems to frustrate me is the proofing/scoring stage. I don't get much rise during the proofing stage, so when I place the dough in the heated cloche, it falls out of the basket as a shapeless blob. I do my best to score (tried many different types of knives), but the dough just takes on this hapless shape with unattractive pull and stretch marks from the knife. Fast-forward 30-ish minutes and the bread comes out of the oven fantastic---huge spring and a nice crackling sound coming from the crust as it expands/contracts from the heat.

I've seen the pictures and watched the videos and have noticed that for many the dough at the scoring stage is quite firm. In an effort to comfort me, my partner tells me it's the end result that matters most; however, I am a conformist.

What do you all think? Is my slack dough during the proofing stage a result of too wet of dough? Maybe I didn't knead it enough and let the gluten development more? Any suggestions or feedback would be welcomed.


LindyD's picture

I think it would be most helpful to post the recipe you are using, especially the hydration of the dough.

eusebius's picture

I don't have it here, but its Peter R "Basic Sourdough" recipe from the Bakers Apprentice.  From time to time, I've played with the amount of water as well as the hydration level of my starter (which is 75% right now).

dghdctr's picture

I'd be willing to take a stab at this, but I need a bit more information:

1) As Lindy suggested, please provide the formula, with basic instructions like bulk ferment time and recommended proof time, dough temperature, & so on. For anyone to give you meaningful advice, we need that information, and after all, you are the one asking for assistance, right?

2) If you have any sort of digital camera -- even a camera phone -- take a picture the next time of four things:  Loaf after you've shaped it, loaf when you're getting ready to load it, loaf after you slashed it, and loaf after it has been baked.  That may sound like a lot, but if you have someone else take photos as you load and score the loaf, it's pretty easy to do.  Then post them here.  I'll keep a watch out for this thread and look at them if you do.

3) What exactly are you using to score the loaf?  Something holding a razor blade is really a must, especially with wet dough.  And the razor needs to be very sharp, with no dough residue or matter collected on the edge.  King Arthur and TMB baking sell a specialized scoring tool called a "lame" (pronounced LAMB) which safely holds sharps razor blades.

4) Are you tightening the loaf (a round?) when you shape it?  There needs to be considerable surface tension on the outer skin of the loaf after it has been shaped, although you don't want to expel all the air out of the dough as it is shaped.  As you're turning a round loaf in your upturned hands, gently pull the outer skin down toward the bottom, and create sort of a small, round seam that looks like the navel of an orange.  Seal that seam by pinching it before you set the loaf aside to proof.

5) The loaf should normally at least double during it's final proof.  If it doesn't, you may well need to keep the loaf in a slightly warmer spot (77-80 degrees), try to get a warmer final dough temperature before bulk fermentation, or just let the final proof go on longer than the recipe recommends.  When you barely make an indentation in the center of a properly proofed loaf, it will usually spring back at you about halfway.  If the indentation disappears, the loaf is usually underproofed and needs more time.  If the indentation remains and doesn't snap back at all, it might be over-proofed, and you should be very careful when loading or it may collapse.  These are generalized signposts by the way -- you'll probably have to tailor them to your particular dough.

BTW, I've sometimes waited 3-4 hours at room temperature for a 20-24 oz sourdough loaf to proof enough to be ready for baking.

6) What is the condition of your starter before you use it to bake?  If you can take a photo of that as well -- just before you measure it for the dough -- I might be able to offer suggestions.

--Dan DiMuzio

eusebius's picture

I will copy out the recipe this weekend and post it.  Thank you for such a thorough reply!

donenright's picture

will make a big difference, as mentioned above. I also bake with a 75% sourdough formula. Pulling some tension into the dough makes a huge difference- you get  a better shape, and a way easier score. Also, I made an unholy mess with my scoring until I got a wicked sharp blade. 

eusebius's picture


I took some photos last night of a loaf I had in progress.  I used my iPhone so the photos are not high quality.  This is one I took out of the fridge after overnight proofing.

After the cloche was thoroughly heated, I inverted the dough and dropped it in.  TThe dough was rather flat when I dropped it in.

And here is my "attempt" to score the dough.

While it doesn't look nice, it actually had a nice shape when baked. 

I generally create a lot of tension after I divide the dough and shape it for proofing. 

In terms of knives, I will just have to invest in a lamle (sp?) or locate a super sharp fine blade knife.

What do you think?


dghdctr's picture

I don't see anything wrong with your shaping from the photos.  I do think that the La Cloche-type baker is a bit small for that large a loaf, or that the loaf is too large for the covered baker.  I think that when the big loaf plops into the narrow Cloche that it gets deformed a bit and loses some gas & tension.  That makes getting a good cut more difficult.  The final loaf didn't look deflated at all, so I don't think it was over-proofed.

I might recommend (just a recommendation -- not a conclusion) that you develop the gluten a bit more by mixing or kneading the dough a minute or two longer.  I can tell from the strands in the loaf's skin (so visible in the top photo) that the dough MIGHT be underdeveloped.  If I'm right (and I'm not certain that I am), you will get better volume than you did before while still getting a nice crumb.

BTW, your finished loaf doesn't look bad at all, and I'm pretty sure it beat most other loaves being consumed in your hometwon that night.  It wasn't ugly by any means.

Broc's picture

I use PR's recipes also, and am having tremendous "luck."  I use that word advisedly, as I'm really an amateur... don't really know much about baking.

Also, I use the cloche.

I have experienced the problems you discuss -- but recently have been experiencing some success.  First, I do four "stretch-and-folds" in the first hour.  Really makes a difference re: tightening up what otherwise is a very slack dough.

Then, after three days in the fridge, I shape the loaves and put them in a parchment paper lined cloche...No!  Not the one I'm going to bake in, as that one will be brought to at least 450F.

Third, the loaves proof [for nearly 3 hours] after being wet-oil misted and the exposed tops covered with plastic wrap.

One half hour before baking -- remove the plastic wrap, and let the dough stiffen up at bit... makes it easier to score.

Ten minutes before baking, score the bread.  I use single edge razor blades taped on to a pencil... High Tech!

Then, all I do is pick up the parchment paper and the dough and transfer it to the sizzly-hot baking cloche.  The size is the same, the shape the same... no plopping, no losing air... etc.

I quickly cut the excess parchment away -- leave the rest -- put the top on and bake as usual.  [BTW -- I immediately drop the temp to 420F, remove the lid @ 20 minutes, drop the temp to 395F for another 15 minutes... until internal temp is 195F - 205F]

Good luck!

~ Broc