The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Proofing problems

LittleTee's picture

Proofing problems

I'm trying to proof my very first attempt at sourdough. I've shaped it into boules but it keeps deflating and spreading -- it seems like I have enough tension but then it spreads.Everything to this point seems to have been going fine (although my starter took a little longer to double in size).

I did the primary fermentation in the fridge overnight, since I mixed it last night, but was unable to do the folding (since I was asleep). Would that have affected it?

More importantly, is there anything I can do to save it? This is 9 days of effort (as I started the seed from scratch) and I hate to lose it! Although I do have enough barm for another batch, I guess...



LindyD's picture

If your sourdough culture is only nine days old, it probably isn't mature or strong enough to raise a loaf of bread.  That's really an infant culture.

Whose sourdough recipe are you using and how long have you proofed it total?

LittleTee's picture

Thanks Lindy -- I'm using the Reinhart starter recipe. I didn't realize it had to "age" that much...when would it be mature enough to use? And do I need to feed it on a regular basis while I wait? (thanks for being patient with the newbie here! :)


When I pulled it out of the fridge, it was pretty cold. I let it warm up for a few hours but it was still chilly when I shaped it. Maybe that added to the problem?

It's been proofing now for about 2 hours.

LindyD's picture

I'm at work right now and don't have access to PR's book, but here's a thread to read as it appears to be the recipe/formula you're working with.

Hope it helps!


GabrielLeung1's picture

When troubleshooting your dough, its best to focus on one problem at a time.

If an immature starter is the culprit, theres nothing you can do but grow it dutifully.

If proofing the loaves overnight is the problem, there are three possibilities:

1.) Over-proofing. If the dough over-proofs it deflates, additionally, excessive fermentation may cause proteolysis of your gluten strands resulting in spreading. The yeast are basically starved of sugar and starch and resort to eating proteins around them, thus release of proteolytic enzymes.

2.) Inadequate shaping/rounding technique. If you don't do it optimally, the structure doesn't hold up.

3.) Excess hydration. With high hydration you can do nothing but bow to the dough's desire to relax.

Here's what I'd do:

1.) Unless you're absolutely sure overproofing isn't the culprit, don't proof overnight.

2.) Put adequate tension on your dough by shaping it correctly. I don't know if this is your problem or not, but when I shape a boule I completely punch it down, fold the edges inward to form a rough ball, then I ball it up between by hands by pushing the edges away from me and against the table all while moving the dough in a circular motion (to put tension on all sides of the dough, let me know if this is confusing).

3.) If you must do an overnight proof, keep your dough stiff. Off the top of my head I'd aim for 60% hydration, maybe even 55% if you think your dough can handle it (experiment). Doughs may appear stiff, but theres plenty of water in them and what water is present will be fully extracted and the flour will be hydrated to its maximum level. This is something that won't happen if you're just kneading and fermenting within a few hours.