The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Frightening texture

Ziege's picture

Frightening texture

Frightening texture. I am not talking about cottage cheese, nor tapioca pudding, but rather the 100% whole wheat sourdough bread that has been having a good old time disgusting me with its texture of late. I have used the tactics that I have found here on the Fresh Loaf site- stretch and folds at 30 min /1 hour intervals, autolyse, and the great slap and fold technique. Yet my sourdough bread remains stubbornly dense except for a sprinkly of yeast tunnels scattered throughout the bread, and each slice of the bread results in wheaty streaks on the knife. Argh. I know that I am capable of making bread that doesn't knock a hole through the wall when you hurl it in frustration:

the above bread is 100% whole wheat (with some seeds added), but contains yeast. Here would be my attempts at 100% whole wheat sourdough:


and worse yet:

and here's the knife after cutting into these fiber nuggets:

frustrating. typically my procedure mimicks that of a post I found on this site: an overnight levain consisting of 90 g flour, 7.5 g levain (100% hydration), and 73 g water and an overnight soaker of 375 g flour, 302 g water, and 9 g salt. "Flour" refers to whole wheat flour, or more specifically type 150 flour as I am in France and flour is sold by its "type" ranging from 45 to 150; 45 resembles baby powder and 150 contains the most bran. In the morning (~7h30) , I mix the soaker and the levain and perform stretch and folds every hour until 11h00, when i shape the bread and then let it rest about 3 hours. Into a 425 F/220 C oven for a few minutes it goes after the rest- and after a few minutes i lower the temperature to 375 F/190 C and let it bake for 45 min.

 I would be overjoyed if someone had some advice on what I can do to improve the texture of my sourdough. My hypotheses are that my dough is too hydrated (it can get pretty gloppy at times- in my head is the chant "wetter is better!" that I have picked up from multiple posts on this site. wetter may be better, but a swamp is well, a swamp), or that the flour's high bran content is slicing up the gluten, although I doubt that as my yeast bread comes out fine.

I look forward to your responses,

Claire- a longtime Fresh Loaf lurker who has finally decided to step into the light and create a post

danpincus's picture

It's possible that you are working the dough too hard.  Overdensity can be a matter of the gluten strands breaking down under too much action and 1) interfering the the action of the yeast or 2) being unable to respond to the CO2 due to their loss of structure.  Peter Reinhart has a fab recipe for sourdough in Crust and Crumb.

Good luck.



breadbakingbassplayer's picture

I don't think you are letting your 1st fermentation go long enought.  This could also mean that your sourdough starter/levain is not strong enough...  Does your dough double in size during your 1st bulk fermentation?  When you poke it with a wet finger, does the 1/4" indentation remain, or spring back?

Also, since you are dealing with 100% whole wheat, you may want to make sure that your hydration is not more than 85%.  Past that level, the doughs can get pretty unruly like ciabatta dough...

Hope this helps.


Ambimom's picture

Is this a new phenomenon?  Frankly 100 percent whole wheat is for the white streak-y things on your knife, I think that's because you've sliced it before the bread cooled thoroughly....either that or you didn't bake it long enough and sliced it while it was still warm.  45 minutes doesn't seem long enough to bake at 425F.  Do you measure the internal temperature?  It should be at 200F or above.  



leucadian's picture

I think you answered your own question: it's the yeast in your overnight levain. If you use the same recipe with commercial yeast, then you just need to build a better colony of yeast in your sourdough starter. What you are after is a very active, frothy starter (since you're using a 100% hydration starter). A long (i.e. slow) cool fermentation will allow more flavor to develop, but your crumb shots show that there's very little yeast activity, so you need to ferment with a healthy population of yeat at a relatively warm temperature, at least 75 deg F (23C?). The holes in the crumb shots look like entrapped air from shaping, not from any yeast activity. You might delay adding the salt till later in the process, during one of the later folds. You might also try adding a little more water to the overnight levain, to make it 100% hydration like your mother starter: that should make for a more active levain. I'm also a little suspicious of the overnight soaker: you might want to try your recipe with dry flour instead.

You have shown that you are successful with WW and commercial yeast, so build on that and just try to get a SD yeast population that's as powerful. If you didn't have that background I'd suggest you try a 50% WW instead of 100%.

1. Is this the same recipe (80% hydration, 2% salt) as your direct method bread?
2. What does the starter look like just before you add it to the soaker? 
3. What temperture are you fermenting at?

Good luck.

leucadian's picture

Looking at your recipe again, I think maybe you'd do better with more from your original (mother) starter, say 30g instead of 7.5g. Here's a suggested recipe for the builds:

build          flour         water    hydration   old:new flour
mother      15            15        100          all mature
1st build    75            75        100          1:5
Final build   375         289       81           1:5

By the way, check out Janedo's blog on TFL, and in particular her recommendation of a 1:2:3 ratio of starter:water:flour that she got from Flo at Makanai. Both of these posters are in France like you. This ratio results in a much firmer dough than your 80%, more like 67% if you start with a firm starter.

Ziege's picture

Thank you all for such prompt responses! I apologize for taking so long to respond, I guess I'm slow to respond like the yeasts in my doorstop-textured sourdough bread. Or I'm just busy...I am in France as an exchange student and always busy...excuses excuses.

Well to take a break from baking bricks, and as I was in need of of a confidence booster, I baked a few sandwhich loaves:




The loaf above contains about a tablespoon of the sourdough starter, which lent a tangy flavor to the loaf, and the commercial yeast allowed for a light texture. But I'm trying to achieve a decent loaf of straight up sourdough here...


In an effort to respond to all your questions:

No, the knife streaks are not the result of slicing into freshly baked bread- I always let my loaves cool off before I slice into them.

As for my sandwich bread, I follow Laurel's recipe (or what i recall of it...): 3 cups (360g ) ww flour, 1/3 c (82 g) yogurt, 2 T oil, 2 T honey, a heaping teaspoon of NaCl, and a teaspoon of yeast. From their the scientific procedure withers away- I add a handful of flour, then i knead the dough with water...meaning that i'm not exactly sure of my dough hyrdation

I think that something is up with my starter- i see pictures and hear talk of starters that double and triple in size. Lets just say that the most action i get out of my starter is a frothy surface and scattered bubbles the size of pinpoints dotted along the walls of the jar:

that would be my starter about 6 hours after feeding (I think...I took this photo about a week ago). I keep my starter in the fridge, and take it out usually two days before feeding. I feed it around six in the morning and again at 10 pm...or sometimes I feed it only once a problem is that I'm pretty irregular in my procedure...which may have something to do with my unsatisfactory results

Leucadian: You suggested postponing adding the salt- I have seen formulas calling for salt in the sponge, and others calling for adding the salt later, in the final dough. What are the benefits of waiting until the final dough to add the salt? Is it that the salt interferes with yeast activity? Thank you for your long comment- I will be sure to check out the other Frenchies' blogs.


Looking at my light 100% ww sandwich loaves, and taking note of all of your comments, I am inspired to give sourdough another try. I will keep you all updated- and hopefully this time I'll take less than a month to respond :)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Also the innoculation of 7.5g seems way too small.  I use about 10g firm starter to make 100g overnight starter.  You've got 170g with only 7.5.  Try doubling or using a tablespoon.  Your starter looks weak from the photo and thin.  How much are you feeding your starter?  Try feeding it more flour.  Thicken it up a little, more like tooth paste for the long day. Then as it matures it naturally thins out.  For the shorter overnight feeds (8 hours) feed less flour (half as much) than the feeds that go from 6 am to 10pm (16 hours) so your beasties will be happy.  Don't overfeed if the starter is not maturing (rising, leveling out and falling) while it sits overnight (8 hours).  If you find it not reaching maturity, maybe put the starter in a slightly warmer place, about 75°F is a good temperature.  Too warm is also not good.

After a few days of pepping up and it's healthy, then think about chilling.  When you do, slip it into the fridge several hours after feeding it so it gets at least one good reproduction cycle done before cooling.  It will be ready to use in a few days depending on the fridge temp. 


Ziege's picture

well, when I said that I innoculate my starter with 7.5g...I actually usually toss in a little extra because 7.5g looks insufficient to me problem is that when i make bread I often veer away from the formula: tailoring the rising period/dough development techniques/amount of flour to meet my fancy...which works fine for making sandwich bread/naans (which i make quite often with a bit of starter and herbes de provence...mmm!) but not so well for sourdough. One day I will master those sourdough beasties...

I feed my starter 10g of flour and 10g of water each feeding time- sometimes i dump out my starter and othertimes i don't. Like many others- the idea of throwing away starter sets off fire alarms in my "don't waste!" conscience...but maybe throwing away some of the starter (whether that be in the trashcan or into pancake batter) is vital to the health of the yeasties...some information on this as well as whether adding an acidic juice to the starter is important would be very welcome. My starter is about a year old- I toted it from the US to France with me (oh the relief when I arrived in Montpellier and discovered that the airport authorities hadn't confiscated my suspicious liquid)- so when you say that it "naturally thins out as it matures" are you talking about the course of a day or a longer period of time?

It is about 66-68 degrees F in the house...maybe my starter is not thriving because the temperature is too low? In an effort to get it going- I often place it next to the toaster oven or heater...but maybe these brief periods of warmth aren't enough.

You mentioned putting the starter in the fridge once it's healthy; and after a few days it will "be ready to use". Do you mean to say that when I'm ready to bake bread- I use cold starter to make my sponge, or I bring it up to room temperature and refresh it before baking?

I have followed your suggestion of thickening the starter- I'll keep you updated on its (hopefully improved) activity.


thank you!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

can be rough on starters and not discarding is like, well, think of the discard and feeding like cleaning their cage.  By skipping feeds and not discarding, you force the poor things to resort to eating their own crap and dead relatives.  They won't do it, they will revert to a more passive form of starter, not good for you or them when you want them to raise a loaf of bread.  I would suggest raising the feeds to 16g or even 24g of water & flour for a 12 hour feeding time.  Make the critters happy then they will make you happy!

About the fridge.  Yes, you could use the cold starter if you had enough or you could take it out, feed it or increase the total amount, wait the 6 -12 hours for it to mature and then use it.  Up to you.  The thing is, it must be active and healthy for it to raise bread dough.  That means keeping it fed and cleaning the cage.

"Naturally thins as it matures"  means it does just that.  When you first mix starter with water and flour it will be thicker, as it ferments it becomes bubbly looser and thinner, it shouldn't be watery but it will not be as thick as when you first mixed it up. 

This is a basic observation with sourdoughs and your dough will act in a similar way.  That is why stretch & fold technique is often mentioned or suggested instead of kneading when working with a sourdough that seems to go "flat."  As the dough goes thru the longer ferment and gluten structure loosens, the folding of the dough tightens it up again giving the dough more body and form.  I suggest you look into it.  We have several videos around.  Check above or in the Videos or type in the Search box to get some ideas as to how it works.  It won't be long before you figure it out and make just as lovely sd loafs as naans.



Ziege's picture

I have thickened up my starter and it already seems more active...thank you so more for the [amusing] pointers- no longer shall the sourdough beasties live amongst their "crap and dead relatives"!


i'll keep you posted :)