The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Troubles with baking sourdough bread

marcelita's picture

Troubles with baking sourdough bread

I am a very frustruated young lady who has wonderful starter but fails to bake bread... I have tried 3 times already, different recipes and mostly have the same problem - my dough doesnt rise much...

My starter seems healthy and alive and the dough was sour enough so there was enough of starter in it..

Tried to ferment it in a room temperature for 18 hours, later in the warm oven and didnt have much success...

I am trying to use as much wholewheat flour as possible and avoid products from just white flour but this shoudnt be the reason..

With my first recipe, the dough rose OK in the first stage but then I was supposed to put in in the fridge and proof it again. The fridge killed it, it never rose again. The two following recipes - no rising at all..


Would anyone have a piece of advise or similar experience or a good recipe for whole wheat sordough bread that works? I am baking bread with yeast regularly but would love to go on the more natural side...

I would sooo appreciate it...

Thank you..

janij's picture

I have many prblems with straight sourdough.  I am commenting so i can get suscribed to this post and hope someone has some good ideas.  What does the recipe that you used look like?  That should help others be able to help.  Know that you are not alone!

marcelita's picture

Sorry, not sure what you mean by what does the recipe look like... I inserted couple of recipes of the breads I used and also my starter recipe.. so look in my email, it's all in there!

Good Im not alone :-)

davidg618's picture

I'm going to be critical.

First, a cardinal rule: Master (or at least be VERY comfortable with) one recipe, before you start tweaking, or going to a different recipe. That could mean baking the same bread twenty or more times, and not changing anything from bake to bake.

Secondly, take small steps, working with nearly 100% whole wheat flour requires more than just basic skills. There is nothing seriously unnatural about unbleached white flour, it's just less of the wheat kernel than whole wheat flour, a bit of malted barley to boost a natural enzyme that already exists in wheat flour (all kinds), and sometimes enriched with vitamins, proven useful to us humans, over, and over, again.

I recommend you work with a formula (recipe) like dmsnyder's "San Joaquin" sourdough, or Susan's "Original" or "Ultimate" sourdough. You can find their formulas, and lots of guidance by searching The Fresh Loaf. If you haven't noticed it, the search box is in the left hand side of the TFL home page.

Lastly, when asking TFLers for advice, be specific. Except for the 18 hours proofing at room temperature--a big clue--you didn't give us enough details to work with. Believe me, baking sourdough bread successfully is all in the details.

With the information you provided--sour dough, no rise, 18 hours of proofing at room temp, with no success, it seems your starter has active bacteria present (not necessarily the preferred ones), but little or no yeast.

OK, that's enough beating up on you. My criticisms are offered from the point of view that baking bread is fundemental, with the emphasis on fun. There is a host of knowledge to tap on TFL; hang in there.

I wish you happy baking!

David G

marcelita's picture

Dear David,

criticism is fine, as long as it can help me!

I take in the comment about mastering one recipe. The thing is there are so many recipes out there that it may not be the best one so I try a different one.. If someone reccommends me one that is proved, it helps and I can work on it.

Secondly, of course I dont only use whole wheat. But I hate the idea of stripping flour off its goodness so not using white, especially bleached flour unless its necessary. It is necessary to mix with whole wheat so I do. The more whole wheat I can use, the more happy I am. Pancakes? The best with 100% whole wheat :)

Ill check your reccommended formulas, I am only new to the website. If it is white flour though, I am not going to use it, that's why I asked for a help with some whole wheat sourdough.

Thank you for your comment!

marcelita's picture

One more thing - a good point that my starter has no yeast... how can I find out or change it?

Joey Moose's picture
Joey Moose


I recommend you work with a formula (recipe)...


I am, at the moment, trying Flo Makanai's 1-2-3 formula.  Should I keep using that one until I feel confident enough to move on or should I follow one of your suggestions?


althetrainer's picture

If you're new to bread making, trying to do sourdough could be a challenge.  I have to agree that more information given will allow us to be more helpful in your situation. 

I never proof my SD in room temperature for 18 hours.  To me, that's way too long.  I can do 6, max 8 hours but more than that guarantee a flat loaf.  Proofing the dough in the fridge on the other hand is a different story. 

Why don't you give us the recipe of your last attempt so we can take a closer look at what can be done to improve it? 

Hang in there.  A few attempts that didn't turn out doesn't mean you can't do it.  I hope to see a picture of your first SD loaf very soon. 


marcelita's picture

Hello Al,

thank you for your lovely answer.


I think, my problem is that I want to make whole wheat sourdough ( I know I cant use 100% whole wheat!) as white flour is not nutricious at all..

I posted the recipes I used, if you have time, you can have a look at it, I will appreciate any answer!



dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Marcelita.

Welcome to TFL!

As David G. said, we need a bit more information before we are able to help you solve your problem.

How old is your starter?

How often are you feeding it and with what?

What is the bread formula/recipe you are using?


marcelita's picture

Hi David,
thanks for reply!

My starter is more than a month old, I keep it in the fridge and feed it occasionally.

The thing is, when I take it out, it looks very healthy and if I feed it, it raises (otherwise I wouldnt bake with it)!

I posted the recipes on my profile so you can have a look, please??



MichaelH's picture

David gave you good advice above. I would suggest 2 things for you to consider.

Start with your starter. If your starter is going to be your only source of leavening it must be healthy and vigorous. Feed it morning and evening for a few days with a ratio of 1 part starter, 1 part water and 1 part flour (unbleached all purpose is fine). Measure by weight, not volume. Many bakers new to wild yeast (sour) starters don't give them enough attention and feeding, so they get lazy doughs. After it is well established you can keep it in the fridge and feed it once or twice a week, but always the day or evening before you use it.

Get a good book. If you are looking to buy your first artisan baking book, Peter Reinhart's The Bread Baker's Apprentice is it. It will teach you how to use and care for your starter, along with baking methods and techniques. The recipes are excellent, start with basic loaves and master the techniques first.

This website has numerous forums that have a wealth of info. Be sure to look at the lessons section.

Good Luck.




marcelita's picture

Hi Michael,

thank you for your advise!


I think I need to give more attention to my starter, will do and follow your advise on feeding it. So shall I weigh the starter and then mix the same amount of weight of water and flour? Will do.

I cannot buy book as living abroad temporarily. I would love one easy beginner proved recipe for whole wheat (I know it cant be 100%) sourdough...


I posted some more information about my starter and recipes I used ..


Have a good day!





Yerffej's picture

"Baking with sourdough" is the title of the next class that I am teaching.  In advertising the class I strongly recommend that the students already be proficient at making yeasted bread before entering a class on sourdough.  Sourdough is tricky stuff and you should have a fairly extensive knowledge of what it is and how it works.  Actually you do not need to know what it is but you must learn how it works. 

In order to help you specifically you will need to tell us all you can about your starter, how it was made, how it is maintained, and how you prepare it for baking.  Then a complete recipe is also very helpful.

I have no idea how much bread making experience you have but making a whole grain sourdough bread would be a very big challenge for someone with limited experience.

If you are new to baking bread I would advise that you hold off on the sourdough for now and follow David's advice of making a recipe over and over and over again.  If you are already comfortable with baking bread then search this site for the overwhelming mountain of information available here on sourdough.  Read until you have a good grasp of how sourdough works and what to expect when baking sourdough bread.

Good luck to you and do not be discouraged, you will get there.


marcelita's picture

Dear Jeff, I posted info about my starter and the recipes you tried but so far, I take in all advice and will do read more about it and look for an easy, partly whole wheat sourdough recipe I could master. I take closer look at my starter, that could be the problem!


Thank you so much, I wish I could attend your class!



crunchybaguette's picture

Wow this is interesting... I like David G's comments... As an ignorant guess I would say you have a happy healthy mother starter. It is noteworthy to say whole meal doughs do not achieve a full bloom as to its white flour counterparts, but that is not to say you cant achieve that. Would you try a stoneground flour blended with wholemeal, very healthy combination! The key here is the ratio of sour the to fresh flour in the final dough. It should be around a 24 hour operation. 

1. Building a sour sponge to ferment over night, say 16 hours. Cold.

2. Now, mix the sponge, flour and water until "together," sprinkle over the salt and "autolyse" for 20 minutes. Then finish mix.

3. This is the next part I cant grasp of your problem, BULK FERMENTATION! 3 hours is a good start at room temp, maybe more.

4. Scale, pre round and rest.

5. Final shape and prove in bannetons for anywhere from 3 to 6 hours. Retard in fridge if needed. 

So 18 hours at room temp, with another ignorant guess say a undermixed dough, and with all that yummy food to be consumed by the wholemeal flour creates an acidity problem and causes unstabability hence maybe a really sour tasting, flat looking sourdough. The key is balance. Acetic and acidic flavours need to be present in the right amounts and in the flavour profile you are looking for. 

Look forward to some feedback.

marcelita's picture


This is such an interesting answer..

Well, Ill try with my starter, Ill make sure I feed it and it raises before I use it so I know its healthy!

I would appreciate it if you could give me some easy recipe for a dough that works for you (as long as there is whole wheat flour includee :-))

I think if someone gives you proved recipe, it is a big advantage..

I posted the recipe I used before, its in the messages...


Have a good day and thanks for your time!


marcelita's picture

Thank you so much everyone for your comments, I feel I'm not alone :-)

I hope you will see my reply if I just post it on my profile...

Just to tell you more about my starter. Started it off with this recipe:


Recipe for creating a sourdough starter
Day 1

1 cup rye flour
1/2 cup water

Day 2

Do nothing

Day 3

half of the starter
1/4 cup rye flour
1/4 cup white flour
1/4 cup water
Day 4

half of the starter
1/8 cup rye flour
3/8 cup white flour
1/4 cup water

Day 5

half of the starter
1/8 cup rye flour
3/8 cup white flour
1/4 cup water
Repeat this feeding until the starter is rising regularly. It should be nearly doubling its height. When this happens go to the "White flour feeding."

White flour feeding

half of the starter
1/2 cup white flour
1/4 cup water

Repeat this feeding until the starter is rising regularly, then move on to the "Dough-like starter feeding."

Dough-like starter feeding

half of the starter
7/8 cup white flour
1/4 cup water

At this point your starter should be rising and falling regularly. The cycle should take about 8-10 hours: you feed the starter, and after 8-10 hours, the starter is risen, ready to make bread or to be fed again.


When I started to use white flour, my starter got too doughy and very tough, accordint to the ratio of water and flour, so I changed to equal amount of water and wholewheat flour.

My starter is in the fridge, I feed it once a week by taking it out, leaving it in the room temperature for a few hours, feeding it and after rising I put it back.

Is this the correct way?

So I think my starter is healthy...

My first dough recipe:


Sourdough bread:

4-1/4 cups white flour
1/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 of the fully risen starter
1-1/2 cups water
1-1/2 tsp. salt

Make sure the flour is not packed into the measuring cup-this will make your dough hard to knead and your bread dry. Mix the flour, starter, and water with your hands until there are no dry spots. Cover the mixture and wait for 30 minutes. Add the salt and knead your dough until it is flexible-you can stretch it without ripping it. When it is fully kneaded, put it in an oiled, covered container to rise. When it is full of gas, if you have time, punch it down, fold the sides over, and let it rise again. Next, cut it into two pieces and shape them into rounds, tucking the edges under to create a smooth outer surface. Place them on a floured surface, cover them, and put them in the refrigerator. The next day, preheat your oven to 460°F. Pull the rounds out and let them keep rising. They should be full of gas when they go in the oven. Slash the tops with a serrated knife to help them open up in the oven. Use your hands to wet the surface of the loaves just before they go in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes.


I followed it exactly, it rose at first but after the fridge session, didnt move a thing.

My last recipe I tried was this one:


* 1 cup (5 oz.) whole wheat flour
* 2 1/2 cups (11 oz.) white bread flour
* 1 1/2 tsp. salt
* 1 1/2 cups spring water
* 1/4 cup starter

Mix the dry ingredients in a large bowl. Dissolve the starter in the water. It is important to use non-chlorinated water because chlorine will kill the gas-generating yeast and bacteria in the starter. Pour the water on the flour mixture while stirring. Shape the dough into a ball and cover the bowl with plastic. If your starter is very fluid, you may need to add 1/4 cup additional flour to obtain a dough that has a moist and firm consistency. The porosity of the bread depends on the amount of water in the dough. Wet doughs produce breads with big holes.
Sourdough Fermentation
Dough Before Fermentation

Leave the covered bowl at room temperature (75°F, 24°C) for approximately 18 hours. During this time the dough will approximately double in size.
Dough After 18-Hour Fermentation
Dough After 18-Hour Fermentation

Folding and resting
Sprinkle some flour on a large cutting board. Empty the dough from the bowl unto the board and spread the dough gently so that it can be folded in thirds and then folded once more to form a ball. Cover with plastic and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
Spreading the dough
Spreading the dough Folding Sourdough into a ball
Folding Sourdough into a ball

Use a towel to line the large bowl. Sprinkle wheat bran or oat bran on the towel to keep the dough from adhering to the towel, and transfer the dough to the lined bowl. You may also use a wicker proofing basket or banneton, if available. Cover the bowl or proofing basket with another towel. Proofing is the final rise before baking. During this stage, the dough is allowed to rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours. The towel allows some moisture to evaporate from the surface of the dough and will create a thin skin that eventually produces a crunchy crust. The best results are obtained when the dough is proofed in a warm place.
Proofing the Sourdough
Proofing the Sourdough

The crispy crust of sourdough bread is obtained by baking the loaf in a hot oven with plenty of moisture during the initial baking period. This can be accomplished by baking the moist dough in an enclosed space, such as a clay baking cloche, a cast iron Dutch oven, or by spraying some water on the dough when it is placed in the the hot oven and by keeping a shallow pan with water in the lower shelf of the oven to generate steam while the bread is baking. Controling the moisture of the whole oven is more difficult than using a covered brick oven or cast iron Dutch oven. Since the dough is very moist, the shape of the Dutch oven determines the shape of the loaf. If the Dutch oven is too large and the dough does not fill it halfway, the loaf will bake flat.

Thirty minutes before you plan to bake the bread, place the covered empty cast iron Dutch oven in the oven and preheat to 475°F (246°C). When ready to bake the bread, work quickly. Open the Dutch oven, sprinkle some bran in the bottom of the heated Dutch oven to keep the bread from burning and sticking. Transfer the dough to the Dutch oven. Make some decorative 1/2 inch (1 cm) deep slashes with a razor blade, if desired. Put the lid on the Dutch oven. Bake the covered dough for 30 minutes at 450°F. Remove the lid from the Dutch oven, and bake for another 15 minutes at to 400°F (204°C) until the crust is golden brown. Be careful not to get burned by the steam as you open the Dutch oven. Transfer the loaf to a wire rack to cool for at least one hour.


The dough was in the room temperature for about 15 hours, rose just a little bit, then I put it in the warm oven, for anothe 10 hours, so it rose a bit more, but not enough. It developed a thick crust and as if it baked a little bit on the surface.

Would anyone know where I went wrong?

The water is very clear here, it's glacier water, should not have chlorine in it.

The thing is, I have wasted so much flour and keep throwing everything away that I don't know anymore if I can do it!

So looking forward to more advise!


marcelita's picture

One last thing... I know it's too hard to only use wholewheat flour.. I just dont want to use white flour only, at least a combinatioh of it..

davidg618's picture

...with my original hypothesis. I think your starter is weak. I don't know what yeasts and bacteria you've captured (it will take a microbiologist's lab to do that) but, I don't think they are the desired ones.

I've never tried to make a starter from scratch, However, I successfully bake sourdough breads with three different starters: two purchased from reliable vendors online, and one given to me by a commercial bakery when I attended a baking class. I have a favorite among them but they all work wonderfully. My proofing times vary from 1.5 to 2.5 hours at room temperature regardless of which starter I use.

This may be an alternative choice for you, but I know it might feel like a cop out to you.

Another alternative is to restart your baking with straight doughs or doughs made with a poolish or biga. We, my wife or I, frequently bake an approximately 40% whole wheat sandwich loaf, with all natural ingredients,  in a straight dough, adapted for a poolish, and once I did it with sourdough. The details are here:

Bread Machine Sourdough Light Whole Wheat Sandwich Loaf.

Marcela, I hope you don't give up. I started baking sixty years ago (I was twelve). For decades I baked straight doughs. Over the years I tried sourdoughs, with erratic success, until only a year ago I tried again. This time the difference was The Fresh Loaf website, and author Dan DiMuzio who posts here frequently.

Good Luck,

David G

P.S. If you're interested I'll send you the straight dough recipe for the WW bread mentioned above, and talk/walk you through how to convert it for poolish, or sourdough starter.