The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Where did I go wrong

Carl Bergensis's picture
Carl Bergensis

Where did I go wrong


A couple of weeks ago I made Peter Reinhart's mother starter  (what he calls barm in Apprentice). The plastic never ballooned as he describes, but it was very bubbly and I shaped the final dough into three baguettes. The first and second fermentations took quite a bit longer than described. I suspect the dough (d'oh!) was too hydrated,  and I had some trouble shaping  them and totally lost the shape of one getting it onto the peel and into the oven. Neverthless, the end result was delicious although I would have preferred the baguettes a little rounder. The texture was fine with nice uneven bubbles in the crumb.

This week I tried again. The fermentation was v e r y  s l o w - hours - but the dough was easier to work with in the final shaping. Getting them onto the peel was again a chore - they had the consistency of modeling clay. One ended up looking like a heffalump. Again, they tasted fine if a little dense.

Obviously my starter is lacking in something. Should I leave it room temperature to develop more or start again from scratch?

Yumarama's picture

Were you doing Pain a l'Ancienne or Pain Français? 

I did the Pain Français first and the dough was great, the baguettes turned out lovely, albeit a little shorter & plumper because the baking pan could only hold so much. Then a bit later, I did the Pain a l'Ancienne and the very small baguettes were a horror to handle, turned out all bent and very tough. 

I don't use Reinhart's "barm" recipe, I have my own starter but if the "barm" was bubbling and at least doubling in good time, that should still have worked. Room temp will decidedly affect rising times, of course, and this is a problem for a lot of folks at this time of year. You are looking for an overall temp of 70-75ºF for "room temp" - or proof box temp wether that's a real one or makeshift. So the next question is what's your general room temp these last few days? Or did you proof in the oven with just the light on for warmth?

As for bendy bread, you can perhaps try to come up with a narrow, long board to transfer one long loaf like picking up a worm by hand. In my case, I fake it using a flat FedEx box but I've been eyeing a leftover piece of laminate flooring that i may jigsaw into a single loaf board. If I think about it when it's not needed "right now". 

You can see a genuine French pro using what I'm suggesting on the video for "Du pain et Des Idees" at the 9:35 mark.

If you feel the issue is hydration, then your best course is to use a little less water or add a bit more flour. This has to be something you adjust based on the dough in your hands. Your flour may not basorb water the same as the four Reinhart used and so adding X ounces of water in his dough is fine but turns yours into ciabatta dough. You must "adjust accordingly" based on what's in front of you; the recipe is really just a guide. 

Is your starter really "lacking in something"? Hard to say. I don't recall what hydration Reinhart says to keep the "barm" (I cringe every time I type that) but one would assume his recipe is built around it. But again, if his flour was dryer or less absorbent than yours, the starter will be a little different as well.

So there seems to be, by my reading, a few potential places that would each individually and collectively affect the outcome of your bread.

Which of these postulations is the one that fixes your issue - if any do, perhaps none are the one - at least you'll have a few ideas to mull around and hopefully spark the "aha" moment and we'll soon see beautiful baguettes from you.

Frequent Flyer's picture
Frequent Flyer

I also suspect the issue is the wetness of your final dough and not the starter.  Just add flour or reduce water in the final dough.  I've also experienced a relaxing of the dough when I knead for a long time which makes for a wetter dough.  I'm fairly new at this, so I bow to the experience of others.  I over kneaded tonight and have a wetter than desired dough that is currently proofing.


GaryJ's picture

Hi Carl,

I tend to agree with the comments regarding room/proofing temperature.

I am a sourdough newbie myself and was experiencing the same problems. Your description of the dough being like modeling clay was spot on.

I have since discovered that proofing temperature seems to be fairly critical with wild yeast. With commercial yeast it really doesn't matter what temperature my kitchen is - the dough will still rise fairly rapidly. Not so with the sourdough. My kitchen is not very warm at the best of times so rarely, if ever, reaches temperatures of 80-85F.

I have, however, now set up a simple, but effective, proofing box. I place my covered bowl of dough in a large crockpot along with a small lidded jar of boiling water. I just just refresh the boiling water as necessary to maintain a good temperature within the crockpot. This seems to work very well - It has completely changed the consistency of the dough and the speed of the rise.

I still have some way to go to in achieving a really good sourdough loaf but this was a huge leap forward.



Carl Bergensis's picture
Carl Bergensis

Temperature was not the issue. I had it at 75 degrees Farenheit.