The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

flat baguettes with holes on bottom!

willsfca's picture

flat baguettes with holes on bottom!

Hello, I've recently been bitten by the baguette bug (perhaps after lurking and reading about the many amazing baguette posts on TFL) and have been trying to make something that's a cross between the Anis Bouabsa baguette and David's San Joaquin bread. But for some reason my loaves always come out flat, with only a tiny bit of oven spring (sometimes).

the strange thing is that I've used my starter in pain au levain breads and it works just fine. and i've made the Bouabsa baguettes without any starter which also worked fine. It seems to have something to do with combining the sourdough starter. anyways, this is the fifth time this week i've tried some variation on the recipe to try to figure out what the issue is. this is the latest formula i've been using, to get a 65% hydration dough:

500g AP flour

50g WW flour

300g water

150g starter (pretty wet, at probably 169% hydragion?)

1/4 tsp instant yeast

10g salt

autolysed for 20 minutes, then did 30 folds in the bowl three times in an hour or so. then refrigerated for about 18 hours. then prehaped and proofed as described in many baguette instructions.

one thing i can think of is that i'm using a pretty wet starter, and for some reason i had put in quite a bit of it. this is somewhat of an arbitrary amount and i'm going to reduce it next time to see if it helps.

another thing is that i decided to do another stretch and fold before the preshaping because the dough looked so slack after the cold rise. could this have "flattened" the loaf? my dough usually doesn't rise much in the fridge at all, and only a little after preshape and proofing.

on all the flat loaves i've made, i've noticed quite a number of holes on the bottom. what might cause these holes?

very holey bottom:

and here's to show how flat the loaf was:

there were a good number of holes of various sizes in the crumb, but it's on the dense side. but at least it's edible and the taste is quite good actually.

for the next batch i'm going to try reducing the amount of starter i'm adding to about 11% of the flour weight, and i'm going to resist the urge to stretch and fold the dough after the cold rise to see if it would make any difference. i would love to hear thoughts from other baguette makers on what i might be doing wrong. Thanks in advance!



douginjapan's picture

The only time i've had problems with with oven spring when using refrigeration, was when i had to slow down the proof of a loaf. I baked it when it wasn't room temperature (i was anxious to get it in the oven) , and  It came out kind of like your picture above.

When i do the cold rise technique, i usually let my dough warm to room temperature before i divide it up and shape. In that process it helps get a little more volume too.  If it is too wet to handle, a light dusting of flour always helps me out :).

willsfca's picture

i think i baked it about an hour and 45 minutes after i took the dough out of the fridge. it wasn't cold but it probably could use more proof/rise time. i'll try letting the dough warm up a bit more next time. Thanks!

ehanner's picture


Just a quick guess but presuming you are using AP flour, I suspect you are not getting a well developed gluten structure. The small holes may be the exit holes for the gasses as it tries to spring in the oven.

Another thought, try feeding your starter equal amounts of water and flour by weight. It could be your starter is underfed and broken down. Is your final dough sticky? Does it ever feel well developed and springy?

Your idea of less starter is good but feed it using a ratio of 1:3:4 (starter:water:flour fiirst a couple times.


willsfca's picture

I'm using giusto's bulk organic AP flour indeed, with a bit of WW thrown in (~10%). I did suspect gluten development. the final dough is sticky indeed, eventhough i should only be at 65% hydration. (this has always been kind of strange to me.) to get more gluten development I would do more folds before refrigeration? use bread flour?

as for the starter, i added it more for flavor and it is in addition to the dry yeast. the batch i made last night definitely sprung better, and the only difference is i used 1/2 as much starter as before. i can try building a 100% hydration starter before for the next batch to see how it turns out. thanks for the suggestions. i feel now i have some new leads to try. :-)

willsfca's picture

the last batch definitely got more oven spring! i changed two variables though - one is i added less starter, and the other is that i did not do another stretch and fold after the long cold rise. i guess next i will try to improve on the spring.

i'm still confused about using the starter though -- it seems to me that adding the starter to a dough is the same as feeding it, since i'm adding it to water and flour. but perhaps a drier starter would have less lacto bacteria which may be bad for gluten development? (acid dissolves protine?)

not stretching and folding the dough after the cold rise makes sense to me. at least now i have more clues to work on. thank you both for your suggestions!


ScottHall's picture

Here is the very successful baguette formula I use.

Bread Flour 100%

Salt 2%

Yeast 1% (dry instant)

Water 75-80%

Stiff Sourdough Starter 12.5% 

Poolish (use all the water in the formula, equal amount of flour (subtracted from total amount flour you wish to use for the formula) and barely any yeast, let it sit 12-15 hours)

When you are ready to mix the baguette dough take Poolish and incorporate the remaining percentage of flour, yeast, starter and salt. Mix six minutes on slow with the paddle. Switch to the spiral until the dough clears the bowl.

Scale the dough right away, make torpedoes, let them sit for two to three hours, degas slightly and makeup the baguette quickly in one smooth motion from beginning to end, follow Hamelman's baguette makeup and do not try to fix mistakes, this will only ruin the final body of the baguette, making limp, flacid, impotent loaves.

Final proof usually takes between 30-40 min.

Bake @ 450 for 20 min.

That is just what I do.

I will try maybe to post some pictures if you like.


willsfca's picture

thanks Scott. sure i'd love to see some pictures if it's not too much trouble.

so the main differences i see between our recipes are that you're using a stiff starter (67%? 100%?) and you have a higher hydration. i think i started off with 75% hydration and tried lower hydration to see if it works better. the fact that it did though may just mean it compensated for my wet starter?

i'll definitely use a stiffer starter next time. my starter has been working so well that i didn't want to change how i've been maintaining it, but i can always build a second starter/poolish from that batch and see how it works.

ScottHall's picture

I will post some pictures tomorrow. Pressure is on now:)


willsfca's picture

Scott, please only at your convenience! Today I decided to take a break from baguettes, but make the same recipe to use for pizza dough. This time I built up a stiffer starter (one part starter to 1/2 part flour, which's what i do for the pain au levain recipe). let it sit for a while before adding the rest of the ingredients. this is the only variable i'm changing this time so we'll see how it goes. (I guess I'll make one baguette with 1/2 of the dough and a pizza with the other half. Guess it's hard to get rid of the baguette monkey on my back!)

DonD's picture

Will, from your description, my guess is that your dough is underproofed. I usually do 10 stretch and fold in the bowl every 30 minutes for 2 hours, then let it ferment at room temperature for 1 hour or so until the dough has increased in volume by 50% before retarding in the refrigerator. After 18-24 hours, the dough will have doubled in volume and I proceed with shaping and baking. It could be also that your refrigerator is too cold. I keep mine at 40 degrees F. My dough is between 70-75%% hydration, I use 100 g of 100% hydration starter and only 1/8 tsp instant yeast and I get great oven spring.


willsfca's picture

Don, i agree with you. I went back to read the San Joaquin bread recipe and David did say that he let the dough proof at room temp an hour before putting it in the fridge. i never did this because I was following the anis bouabsa recipe which says he puts the dough in the fridge right away. but I definitely did not get the same amount of fermentation as described by everyone. I haven't measured the temperature in my fridge but i don't ever put it on the max setting. it seems... regular to me.

I'll increase the stretch and folds for this batch i'm making tonight, and i'll let it ferment longer. hmmm, I guess this means I'm changing more than one variable (I'm also using a stiffer starter this time). Well, if this batch worked I can always keep doing both! Thanks for the info. At this point the two issues seem to be not enough gluten development (either from too hungry of a starter or not enough folding/kneading, or both) and not enough proofing. Hopefully I'll be able to narrow it down in few more loaves.

willsfca's picture

Just wanted to report that i went back to the basics and made a bunch of straight dough baguettes to try to figure out what was it that made them flat. I think it comes down to a combination of not enough gluten development and under-proofing as you've all pointed out.

For the last batch I went back to 68% hydration, 70% AP and 30% bread, and 1/4 tsp yeast (for 500g of flour total). Also I added two tablespoons of rye flour (more ash content?). I used the fold in the bowl kneading but also added some french folds, and then did a stretch-n-fold the night before i baked. (Hmmm, this is a lot of folds!) But i think i'm getting a better idea of how the dough should feel and stretch when it's ready.

Also before i put the dough in the fridge i wanted until it's grown to about twice the size. Then the old 1 hour pre-shape/warm up and 45 minutes post-shaping proof and then bake. This time the loaves finally sprung!

I think I'm ready to use my starter again now that i know how the dough should feel, and also now I know that under-kneading (i usually mix by hand) and under-proofing are two problems to look out for. Thank you all for your help!

Happy Thanksgiving!


the bouabsa-esque baguettes on top (of a couple of loaves of rosemary pain au levain and a loaf of country wheaty bread). i don't have the crumb shot yet since I'm supposed to take these to a thanksgiving potluck.