The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Questions About First Sourdough Loaf

jhespelt's picture

Questions About First Sourdough Loaf

Hi all,

I'm new here and I'm still at that stage where I'm excited by oven spring (despite my lack of pizza stone) so if this is something obvious, bear with me. In other words, I've only recently graduated from baking bricks ;).

Ok, I've tried this recipe several times but I can't seem to get rid of this swirled look. Those spots are a little tougher than the white areas and tend to feel doughy when you pull of the crumb and roll it between your finger. I"ve had this happen with my other breads lately too. Also, it was much chewier than expected, almost too chewy for my tastes. Is sourdough supposed to be like that?

This was a fairly sticky dough and I did very little kneading. I just mixed (by hand), let it rest for 30min, kneaded/folded for a couple minutes and let it ferment. I folded it twice during the ferment, pre-shaped (10 min) and then final shaped. I admit that I skipped the window pane test and a second fold might not have been necessary. I let it cool completely before taking this photo and at no point did it seem like my bread had a "skin" before baking. It was at 210F when I took it out of the oven (unless my instant read is off). The dough was super sticky going into the ferment, easy to handle during the folds and then sticky again by the time I was shaping it (under developed/over developed?). I used:

8oz fed starter, 12oz water, 2.5 tsps salt, 1 tbsp sugar, 2tsps yeast and 4 -5c flour (depending on the weather in NE Ohio)



(This loaf I handled too much during the shaping, but it's from the same batch)


Thanks in advance for any suggestions. I'm almost embarrassed to stick this up here since I've spent a good number of hours looking over the various posts and astonishingly holey bread on this website, but I guess I've got to start somewhere :).





dmsnyder's picture

Hi, j.

That's a very nice-looking boule, except for the "swirls." 

From your photos, it looks to me like you used too much flour sprinkled on the kneading board and on the dough when you shaped the loaves. This flour was then incorporated into the interior and, not having a chance to hydrate, remained dry and raw.

If you think this is correct, try using much less flour dusting and carefully brush off all you can before you fold it into the loaf while you are forming it.

Adding too much flour while kneading and shaping is a common mistake beginners make, especially when they think the dough is too slack (wet and sticky). 

Happy baking!


Yumarama's picture

Mark of the Back Home Bakery has a video showing how he shapes his loaves and you'll note that there is, in effect, no flour on his countertop while shaping.

He also has super awesome shaping technique!

dghdctr's picture

Mark is clearly an excellent shaper. 

One thing aiding him there is the fact that the dough is fairly firm by hearth-bread standards.  Firm doughs are usually easy to shape and require next to no flour on the bench for shaping purposes.  Most challah doughs I've ever encountered fall into this category, as well as many doughs used for pan breads.  When I used to work for Great Harvest 15 years ago, they had a lineup of doughs that mostly, at maturity, required no flour at all during division and shaping.  This reflected a standard that was more or less common in the Western U.S. and which, to this day, uses very strong spring wheat flours and firm doughs to make most of their breads.  Very strong spring wheat is what's grown (mostly) in places like Montana, the Dakotas, and Minnesota.

A moderately wet dough from hard winter wheat flour, which is closer to traditional French baguettes and most other European-style hearth loaves, will usually require that you keep some flour nearby -- not directly upon your work surface -- so that you can have it if needed for your hands, or if some loaves stubbornly stick to your counter or bench.  When you shape the loaf you want a soft, pliable skin -- not a dry one -- to be created.  Using a very light amount of flour just before you shape a piece is fine if needed, but you must get rid of any flour not needed by lightly brushing away any excess.

That's one big reason bakers keep a long-handled brush nearby -- to remove excess flour from a dough's surface.  If you fail to get rid of the excess flour, you'll get the white swirls that are in the photo above.  In any case, don't use flour directly on the larger portion of the counter that is used to shape your loaf, and be careful to get rid of any excess flour that might be sticking to your dough portions before you shape them.

In many cases, you actually WANT the dough to adhere ever so slightly to the counter or wooden bench as you shape it -- this acts almost like a third hand, working to hold the dough piece as your hand tries to pull the skin toward one seam. When Mark shapes the rolls you see early in the video, he's using that very light adhesion between dough and counter to pull the skin of those portions down to one point at the bottom of the roll.  Otherwise he couldn't work with both hands rolling dough simultaneously.

So use flour if needed, but not directly on the surface where your shaping, and only barely as much as you need.  If you can see flour dust on your portions, you are possibly using too much.

--Dan DiMuzio

jhespelt's picture

Thanks for the tips and the video. I'll try this loaf again today. What might account for the chewiness of the bread? I thought at first I was overkneading it, which is why I switched to folding, but it's still chewier than my yeasted breads.

Thanks again!

bakermomof4's picture

Are you using Bread flour or All purpose. My sourdough loaves seemed too chewy for my liking when I used bread flour, so I tried half bread and half all purpose, still too chewy for me. So now I just use All purpose and everyone likes it better. There are others here with much more experience then me that probably can advise you further.

Susan's picture

My fav is chewy sourdough, but if you want a less chewy loaf, try the addition of spelt flour.  In my experience, spelt makes a much softer, fluffier loaf.

Thanks, LindyD for the compliment.

Susan from San Diego

LindyD's picture

Thank you, Susan, for posting your recipes!  Today I mixed your formula using Sir Lancelot high-gluten flour and KA's medium rye, using my stiff culture.  It's in the refrigerator till tomorrow.  Perfect timing, as I have just a bit of David's San Joaquin Sourdough left.

Carly Simon's "Anticipation" is playing in the background of my mind. 

LindyD's picture

but it's still chewier than my yeasted breads.

Technically, it is a yeasted bread since two teaspoons of commercial yeast were added to the four cups of flour.  A traditional sourdough bread uses only a natural levain.

What type of flour did you use?  The chewy aspect could have been caused by the addition of the extra flour (try flouring or oiling your hands when things get sticky).

I don't know whose recipe you are using, but if you start scaling your ingredients rather than using volume measurements, you'll find a difference in the outcome.  Plus less stuff to clean up!

Finally, check out Susan from San Diego's blog.  She makes a fantastic sourdough boule and like you, doesn't use a baking stone.

Happy baking...

dghdctr's picture

Up to a point, dough made with a sour starter (not excessively acidic) has its gluten strength reinforced by the levain's moderate acidity --  in the pH range of 3.5 to 4.0.  That's why lean sourdough breads will usually be more chewy than lean breads made with only commercial yeast, assuming these breads are made with the same flour and the same hydration level.

Of course, if the acidity gets to be too intense (the pH number gets too low), the excessive acidity of the dough can start to destroy the dough structure instead of reinforcing it.

If you want bread that's less chewy, make your dough with a flour milled from hard winter wheat.  King Arthurs AP flour is one option.  Under the name "Sir Galahad", it is used by many artisans for baguettes and sourdough.

--Dan DiMuzio

foolishpoolish's picture

Hi Dan,

I'm curious about this effect that you mention. 'excessive acidity of the dough can start to destroy the dough structure instead of reinforcing it'.

Are you suggesting a direct effect of acid on dough structure? I've assumed that the excessive acidity is not directly responsible for this weakening  but rather that  proteolytic activity which is strongest under acidic conditions aka 'acid protease' is the main agent involved in this effect. Please could you clarify the process?

On a related subject, I have noticed that chewiness of sourdough bread increases dramatically after the bread cools down. Often what I think to be reasonably tender crumb turns out to be tough as hell merely hours after the bread has cooled. Reheating the bread does not seem to bring back the tender texture of the bread. Is this a result of residual enzymatic and/or bacterial activity in the bread or simply a physical effect, such as (speculating now) gluten contracting in a irreversible manner once it cools?





dghdctr's picture

I'm no chemist, so I can't explain the process behind the strengthening of gluten bonds that occurs in the presence of moderate acidity, or the destructive process that causes the protein chains to break apart at the lower pH.  Still, I can supply a couple of quotes/references:

  • See the sidebar on Hamelman's page 157: "Another effect of the increased acidity is a reduced extensibility, due to the acidity's tightening effect upon the gluten structure."
  • and Suas page 109: "When a sourdough process is used, the dough automatically develops more strength due to the higher level of acidity.

With regard to the destructive effects of acids on gluten structure, Harold McGee's bread dough chapter in On Food and Cooking does a good job of explaining those details, I think, and he describes the process from a molecular perspective, if my memory is correct.  He didn't seem to get the memo about how low-to-moderate levels of acid can reinforce gluten bonds, though.

Lee Glass over at the Guild, who likes to keep track of scientific stuff like this, explained the effects of acids on dough as follows: "

 In low concentrations acids create strength
>>  in doughs by
>>  facilitating sulfur-sulfur bond development.
>>  These bonds are
>>  important elements of the cross-linking that
>>  helps for the gluten
>>  meshwork.
>>  * At low to moderate concentrations, acids
>>  inhibit amylase activity.
>>  This is a critical role of acids in rye
>>  sourdough.
>>  * At moderate concentrations, acids result in
>>  increased protease
>>  activity. The activity of proteases is enhanced
>>  in moderately acidic
>>  environments. Proteases can be quite
>>  destructive to the gluten
>>  meshwork, causing it to become fragmented.
>>  * At high concentrations, acids hydrolyze the
>>  bonds that form the
>>  protein chains (not the sulfur-to-sulfur bonds)
>>  that are integral to
>>  the gluten meshwork. At such concentrations,
>>  acids have a profoundly
>>  negative impact on dough strength.
>>  I'm sure that optimum pH ranges have been
>>  calculated for amylases and
>>  proteases, and likely for dough strength, as
>>  well, but I have never
>>  learned what those ranges are. I think that
>>  observing the
>>  characteristics of the dough -- how does it
>>  look, how does it feel,
>>  what are its qualities of extensibility and
>>  elasticity (and how are
>>  they changing) -- has been more useful for me.

I hope that helps,


foolishpoolish's picture

Thanks Dan - the last quoted section was v. helpful indeed! I had no idea there was a range of effects over a range of pH. Exactly the information I needed.

Thanks again!


GinkgoGal's picture

I should preface this by saying that I'm a beginner too (hence the following scenario has happened to me.)  Did you dissolve the starter in the water before adding the remaining ingredients?  A couple of times I've mixed up the flour and water to autolyse and then added the starter.  I didn't knead enough so the starter was swirled with the dough and not completely mixed in.

jhespelt's picture

Disulfide bonds are responsible for helping proteins remain stable. If the environment of sourdough dough promotes stability more than normal, might sourdough need less handling than other breads? Just a thought.


After reading everyone's advice I tried the dough again on Sunday. I used a little bit of water to handle the dough and didn't add any flour or oil for handling or shaping. It drove me nuts since the dough stuck to everything in the house except itself until I got the hang of it. I skipped the couple minutes of kneading and just let it rest for 1hour after mixing and folded once (it passed the windowpane test at this point). I used only KAAP flour per advice. The texture was good and the level of chewiness perfect for my tastes (ie not bread boot leather). I guess my one major question after that ordeal is "how wet is too wet?"


The color is still uneven (original pics at top).  I am mixing my starter with the water first before combining everything, but maybe I'm getting "pockets" of starter since everything is doubling pretty fast in summer weather? Or maybe it's from the slight amount of extra water during handling? I did a "control" bread with flour added at shaping and the marbling seems much more pronounced in it, but that might be because it has a denser crumb.

Thanks again for your advice :).


Top: No flour added

Bottom: man-handled with lots of extra flour at shaping