The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Lingering Questions: Can you help me with answers?

Chode's picture

Lingering Questions: Can you help me with answers?

Over the past few weeks I've been experimenting with my sourdough to get some different results. In general I've been happy with where I am at, but want the crumb to be a bit less chewy and the crumb to be more custardy. (Is that a word?)

I've also been pushing my hydration rates higher and higher.  Last try was at about 78% hydration. 

So here are my questions:

1) With the high hydration loaves, I find the only way to handle them after the stretch and fold is to flour them very well. I've tried the final proofing on granite counter tops, wooden cutting boards/peels, and cotton dish towels all with lots of flour under them to keep them from sticking.  If I flour the proofing vessel liberally and try to transfer the loaf to the peel after the final proof is done -- I get a dome of raw flour absorbed back into the bottom of the loaf. Yuk~  If I don't flour the vessel, the dough sticks and I totally degas the loaf and it doesn't have any oven spring.  Does anyone have any guidance to offer here?

2) I've been adding roughly 10% butter and 2% sugar to the loaves to improve the crumb -- to soften it up a bit and make it less chewy.  Seems to be working -- but the addition of the fat and sugar rob the loaf of the BIG oven spring that I was getting before.  Is there an alternate way to make the crumb more custard like and still maintain the BIG spring?

3) If I add 10% butter by weight, does that change my hydration calculation?

Any opinion is appreciated. 


Here's a pic of my lean (non-butter enriched) loaves...

Janknitz's picture

If so, how about proofing on parchment with no additional flour on the bottom?  When you are ready to bake, just slide the parchment onto your peel and then into the oven.  Some people recommend removing the parchment partway through the baking, but I don't think it's really necessary. 

A highly hydrated dough WILL stick to the parchment when it is raw, but as the bread bakes it will come away from the parchment just fine.  You minimize the handling and chance of deflation by using parchment.

I don't know why you would need the sugar and butter to acheive a custard-like crumb.  When I make a lean ABin5 dough (just water, yeast, flour, and salt) it makes a lovely custard crumb because of the hydration level.  It's just speculation, but maybe you are handling your dough too much and causing the gluten structure to be too rigid.  Try cutting back one stretch and fold and see if it makes a difference. 

They look great, BTW ;o)

Chode's picture

I started with parchment paper, but somewhere it got dropped from my routine. When I read your reply, I thought -- how dumb of me. I'll definitely try that next time. 

re: too much handling... I'm only doing 2 strech/folds at 50 minutes, final proof for 2-4 hours depending on the temp in the house.  Maybe my initial mixing is too vigorous?  I'm mixing my flour/water together and autolyse for 30 minutes then adding my poolish.  To incorporate the starter with the flour and water takes about 5 minutes in the KA stand mixer.  

ehanner's picture

From what you have told us so far it doesn't sound like you are over handling the dough.

If you proof on a linen couch you should be able to roll the dough over on a floured peel and load it without much trouble. I also use a little course cornmeal to make it slippery.

If you proof on parchment, bake on it without trying to move the dough on the paper. Place the dough on the paper and cover it with a towel or plastic and don't proof so long. Try a 30 minute proof regardless of what it looks like. I think you might be surprised.

Oh and the chewy crumb will get better by swapping out half the Bread Flour for AP. No need for sugar at all. The butter is for softness and will slow staling. Let us know if you try this.


Chode's picture


Thanks for your comments. The last 2 times I baked bread I used AP flour instead of bread flour. I'll definitely try the parchment. 

I've tried proofing shorter times and it seems that the crumb on my loaf is very gummy when I do. ;-(

It seems I may not be degassing enough with the higher hydration loaves, as when I go to score there is usually a large gas bubble I need to burp first. Is this typical of a high hydration loaf or some bad habit I've come upon?

ehanner's picture


What brand of flour are you using? Some AP flours are pretty high in protein.

Can you tell us what recipe you are using? Depending on your proofing and dough temp, you should be able to bake and get a nice spring after 30 minutes. If you get tears, maybe push it to 1 hour. For sourdough, the yeast seems to hold out longer and provide a better spring with shorter proof times. Not so with yeast for some reason.

I wouldn't go out of my way to de-gas when shaping. Be gentle with the crumb and firm with the seams. Ignore the bubbles.


Chode's picture

Gold Medal AP (non bleached) and Gold Medal Better for bread flour when using Bread Flour. 

The loaf I make most often is:

350g 100% hydrated poolish

350g white flour (I've tried both AP and BF)

25g organic rye

232g cold water 

16g salt

If I'm doing my math right, that's a 74% hydration loaf.  The last loaf I tried boosting my water until I got to the 78% mark. I also have added ~100g butter and ~26g of sugar/honey the last few times to see how that would affect my results.

I really liked the qualities of the loaf, but had problems with flour getting incorporated back into the bottom.  It was the first time I had tried using a cotton towel as a couche (I don't have one yet).  I also assumed the fat was responsible for the reduced oven spring, but it sounds as if it has nothing to do with it.

I do a 3 step process. I take my starter from the fridge and let it mature then refresh, and wait the 12 hours it takes for the refreshed feeding to mature.

I then do a build up to my 350g of starter for the bread. I refresh my original starter using 10g starter, 50g water 60g BF and put it back into the fridge after it about doubles.  I feed my starter religiously every 4 days regardless of whether I am baking bread or not.

ehanner's picture

Your salt should be 2% as a rule. That would be 11g. You are over by 5 grams. With sourdough, that might be enough to cause problems. Maybe Dan DiMuzio will address the salt issue from a technical stand point. I know you shouldn't use 40% more than normal. Dan can tell us more. Meanwhile, try a batch using 11 grams of salt.


Chode's picture

I hadn't given it any thought. Thanks very much for the replies, I sincerely appreciate it.

LindyD's picture

Appropriate dough temperature is important, and the temperature of the water is a major factor in determining the dough temperature after mxing.

Citing from The Artisan:

In his book, "The Taste of Bread", Prof. Raymond Calvel points out that average mixing temperatures vary between 24 and 25 (75.2 F and 77 F). He goes on to say that mixing temperatures between 26 and 27 C (78.8 F and 80.6 F) lead to oxidation, dough bleaching, and deterioration of bread taste, whereas lower mixing temperatures of 22 and 23 C (71.6 F to 73.4 F) moderate oxidation and dough bleaching, and improve bread flavor. Consistent with this recommendation, is the following authored by Didier Rosada in Volume 6, Issue 2 of "Breadlines": '…To make the most of the fermentation process, the baker needs to make dough with a small amount of yeast, at a temperature around 76 F [24.4 C] after mixing, and use a mixing technique that will allow the dough to adequately ferment before dividing.'

I always run the calculations to figure out what the temperature of my water should be so I can achieve a dough temperature of 76F.  On one day  water of 56F may be required; on another day, 84F - for the same sourdough formula (Hamelman's).

Might be something for you to play with.

mcs's picture

Just to parrot what LindyD is saying, I'll give you some examples so you can see the water temperature range I have based on my bakery room temperature.

summer:  bakery temp= 70F, water temp= 80F, dough temp after mixing= 75F

winter: bakery temp= 54F, water temp= 110F, dough temp after mixing= 75F

Those are actual measured temperatures, not based on formulas.


hutchndi's picture

This may not be the way you want to go but I will add it anyway. Sometimes to get a pretty wet dough started towards getting some strength to it, when I really wanted to avoid adding any flour when doing stretch and folds on the counter or whatever, I would pour my "dough" into a plastic bowl that had been rubbed with olive oil beforehand. Then for the stretch and folds, I would use two hand scoops that I had cut from plastic milk bottle bottoms, shoveling down two opposing sides of the bowl and lifting up and then letting it fall back down on itself.

I tried doing this because I always wondered how much effect all that flouring your hands and work surface had on the hydration of the dough. Turns out that quite a bit. But the dough can still firmed up if handled properly. 

I have no idea if this would help your situation or not, as I never add butter, oil or fat to my breads (except for whatever olive oil might come off the side of the bowl when I use this method) personal preferance is all.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I can't help but think the starter (what is referred to as a poolish, which it is not) is past it's prime when mixed into the dough... and the starter could be breaking down and continuing rapid breakdown in the AP flour.

I do a 3 step process. I take my starter from the fridge and let it mature then refresh, and wait the 12 hours it takes for the refreshed feeding to mature.

I then do a build up to my 350g of starter for the bread. I refresh my original starter using 10g starter, 50g water 60g BF and...

From what I understand, you take a ready to use starter (as it went into the fridge) and let it mature further upon removal.    I suggest you don't do that and just take 10g and feed.  I also suggest you put it into the fridge before it gets that far (halfway) as it continues to mature in the cold.   Using the discription of poolish leads me to believe you may be overfermenting it and getting a build up of enzymes that you don't need.   Use the starter before 12 hours when it is rising but hasn't quite reached full volume. This alone will make a big difference in the rise and structure quality of the dough. 

As you build for 350g starter, watch it carefully for you have 120g of starter to almost the same amount of added flour which will be ready to mix between 3 and 8 hours depending on the power of the yeasts.  Again I suspect this time has been over extended.  If you need to delay it, put it into the fridge after only 2 hours counter time, room temp. 72°F or 22°c for up to 24 hours.

If you raise the hydration and the AP flour in the dough, it will mature faster, speeding up proofing times, all conditions being the same.  As you work with the dough and you see little shiny sticky surfaces as you work in flour, this is a sure sign that the dough is rapidly falling apart.

About sticking to oiled bowls, I've learned it's also a sign that the dough is breaking down rapidly.  High time to get it into a hot oven and use a form unless you want a frisbee.

Combating stickiness can easily be done with just a little cold water instead of flour.  Trickle about a tablespoon around the edges of the dough (in the bowl) and run your spatula under water.  Then scrape the sides downward and around (may have to wet the spatula between strokes.)  When the sides seem loose, wet the spatula again and attack the bottom of the dough in a swift motion.  Wet the spatula again and get under the dough to flip it over (top down) or you may be able to flip the dough using quick tossing motion hanging on to the sides of the bowl.   Work the sides into the middle the best you can as dry as you can so it sticks to itself.   As it firms up, sprinkle a little water around from your finger tips and flip the dough again so the underside is back on top and let rest before the next fold.


Chode's picture

I tried some of these suggestions this past weekend, and thought I would post my results.  

I went with a 78% hydration loaf using 11g of salt instead of the 26g I usually do. I also eliminated the butter and sugar. 

The crumb was very nice.  Good results but still not springing up as high as my lower hydration loaves.  I final proofed for an hour and a half -- I was going to only do 1/2 hour as Eric suggested but my day got derailed.

Proofing on parchment and using the parchment to transfer my loaf to my baking stone was the way to go.  Thanks Jan!
The reduced salt didn't seem to make a difference in the oven spring of my loaf. It seems the high hydration loaf doesn't give me as "tall" of a loaf, since it spreads out quite a bit because of the slack dough. Does this mean my bread doesn't have enough strength?
Also, slashing the wet loaves is proving to be a BIG problem for me. I have a lame (only used a few times, so I'm sure it's still sharp) and a single edge razor. Both seem to drag through the dough instead of making a clean cut. This results in degassing the loaf, and it looks terrible because some of the bread still has air in it and some of it has been deflated. ;-(  I've tried both flouring the loaf before slashing it and spraying my blade with non-stick spray -- neither seem to make a big difference for me. 
This is probably the biggest disappointment for me at this time. It takes so long to get to the point where you are ready to put a loaf of bread in the oven and in one fell swoop you terrorize it and it comes out looking like it was mauled by a tiger.
Any tips for slashing a wet loaf?
Chode's picture

who replied to my thread. What did I learn from this?


  • The wet loaves proof faster than the lower hydration loaves. Eric's suggestion of 1/2 hour final proof was the key. 
  • I don't try to slash a wet loaf. It's a sure way to make it flat.
  • I don't need the butter and sugar to make a soft crumb
  • Proofing the wet loaf on parchment, and placing the parchment on the stone without moving the loaf is the way to go.


Here is the result:

Janknitz's picture

Those are GORGEOUS!  I hope they taste as great as they look.

BTW, you CAN slash even wet dough without deflating, but it takes some practice.  On wet, wet doughs my favorite tool is a cheap dollar store serrated paring knife.  The serrations have enough "tooth" to get through the wet dough. 



ehanner's picture

That's Great Chode! Now you have it.