The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My starter's first produce... Meh

liseling's picture

My starter's first produce... Meh

So I decided (with help from people here) that my starter was ready to bake with (link to that discussion: And I decided to try Peter Reinhart's 'basic sourdough' in BBA. I think the starter itself was fine, but for one reason or another (or more than one reason) I got so so results. The bread was tasty and not a complete disaster, but the crumb was definitely denser than I think it should be and the loaves were a little flat. The crust was very nice and crispy though. For a first attempt I think this is pretty good but something definitely needs to improve and I was wondering if anyone could give me any suggestions.

Here are the loaves I produced:


And here is a crumb shot. As I said it's not a disaster, but how do I get those nice big holes? If anything the dough was wetter than the recipe called for. I thought wetter dough made for bigger holes? Do you think I didnt ferment the shaped dough long enough? Too long?


And here's one other problem I had. I used this thingy pictured below. I dont know the real name for it but I used it to ferment the shaped dough and then put this whole thing with the dough on it into the oven right onto the baking stone. I use this because when I try to imagine myself sliding those very messy wet loaves into the oven and onto the baking stone I just can't convince myself that they'll slide nicely off of the sheet pan and onto the stone without sticking or getting misshapen, or falling off the stone onto the oven floor, or any number of other possibilities, no matter how much cornmeal I lubricate it with. The problem I have though is that although the loaves I made were not very big, as they fermented, the side of each loaf started spilling over the side of the pan, and the problem became much worse after they were put into the oven. I managed to tuck the side of each back up into the pan, but I cant imagine that that helped the bread rise properly in the oven. Am I missing something here that I need to know about these things in order to prevent this from happening, or is the only solution to make smaller loaves? I'd be willing to try to learn how to put the loaves directly onto the baking stone if anyone has any good advice on how to do that without a tragedy occurring. Anyone?

It is so frustrating to spend more than a whole day of preparation to bake and then turning out something mediocre. 

fancypantalons's picture

What follows is basically beginner advice, so apologies if you know all this stuff already. :)

Wetter is definitely better.  At least, if your goal is bigger holes.  And it's absolutely *vital*, during the shaping stage, to avoid deflating the dough, as you'll lose precious bubbles in the process.

Additionally, honestly, I'd just skip the whole baguette pan thing.  Baking on those mean the bread isn't in direct contact with the stone, and that's gotta have a negative impact on oven spring (which is caused by steam in the loaf opening up bubbles created by the yeast... more heat at the beginning of the process, before the crust has set, means more steam and more spring).  Just get yourself a piece of coarse linen or similar fabric, flour it up, and proof your loaves on a couche.  To make this even simpler I actually cut strips of parchment large enough for the risen baguettes.  Then, after shaping, I gently place them on to the parchment, position them on the couche for proofing, and then come baking time, I just score 'em, transfer those suckers onto the back of a sheet pan, and then straight onto the hot stone.  Easy peasy!

Lastly, steaming is always a good idea, as that allows the top of the loaf to stay moist a little longer (and also helps with caramelization).  Alternatively, you could cover the loaves with something (say, a decent-sized foil roasting pan), thus creating a make-shift cloche.  And, of course, your baking process should involve starting at some high temp (say 475F) for the first few minutes, then dropping down to the final baking temp (usually something like 425F) for the remaining time (again, extra heat == more steam).

liseling's picture

Thanks for your post - I did do several of the things that you suggested such as steaming etc, but I've never thought to cut strips of parchment paper to put in the couche! I can imagine that this would make it WAY easier to get the loaves onto the baking stone - I'm going to try this next time!

flournwater's picture

"the crumb was definitely denser than I think it should be and the loaves were a little flat."  In my experience, wet dough = flatter loaves.  I've never seen a ciabatta loaf that was tall; unless it was somehow supported during its time in the oven.  Big holes usually develop from slack (wet) dough.  So to accomplish your apparent goal of a tall loaf with large holes is going to be a real challenge.

My suggestion would be to focus of flavor and texture, let the height and the holes take care of themselves.

liseling's picture

I realize that wet dough is usually pretty flat. But this was not what most people would consider a wet dough. As I said, it was just wetter than the recipe called for. And although Peter Reinhart doesnt show a picture of the crumb for this recipe, I just assume that his are 'holier' than mine turned out to be, even though my dough was wetter. So I guess my point was that my loaves are a little flat (to be expected since they are wetter than the recipe called for) but then they should also be 'holier' than the ones produced by the recipe, which I assume that they are not.

My goal isnt really to have "a tall loaf with large holes", but to find a balance between height and large holes. And I've seen an abundance of pictures on this site that indicate that loaves even taller than mine can have much bigger holes in the crumb, and I want to move in that direction. 

Yumarama's picture

-and reiterate apologies if you already know this - to make sure you're proofing at the right temperature. Although it's spring(ish) here in the Northern Hemisphere, if your kitchen is still cool (less than 70ºF/20ºC), that will affect the proofing. If your proofing spot isn't as warm as it should be then you need to adjust the proofing time to compensate. With less proofing comes less pockets in the crumb.

The old bread maker's adage "watch the dough, not the clock" is important as well. If you're told to proof for 2 hours but at the 2 hour mark the dough isn't fully proofed, then it needs more time, regardless what the recipe suggests.

All that aside, I made the Basic Sourdough a while back and got smallish crumb as well (see blog for pics). There are also links to other people's try at this bread in that post so you can see how other people's versions came out.

Although I found it an ok bread, I much prefer the Hamelman Vermont Sourdough (recipe here if you don't have the book... yet). You can see my own very first try at it here and a shot of my most recent batch which was very "holey":

My personal opinion: Hamelman's is better.

With practice, we all improve and even the 'duds' are a learning experience. Everyone makes duds and the occasional brick, even when one is experienced (and I'm certainly not even close to that).

Keep at it, you'll discover the ways of sourdough as you keep trying.

liseling's picture

Well it makes me feel a bit better that someone else has similar results with this recipe. Your vermont sourdough looks great. I think I'll try this out this weekend. And thanks for the encouragement too - when it takes so long to prepare one recipe and it turns out less than expected it's easy to forget that baking good bread takes practice and experience as well as a good formula!

clazar123's picture

The crumb looks moist-as if it could use about 10 more minutes baking but with the fineness of the crumb it may also be a little underproofed.Another suggestion is to not deflate the dough as aggressively when it has done its first rise. You may have larger holes.

yozzause's picture


Hi Liseling

Just a comment about the pans that you are using , they work really well but you do need to match the dough quantity to the pan size, you should be able to visualise if the dough piece doubles in size in all directions is it still going to be comfortably accomodated.

Once your dough is ready for the oven it is to late to be rearranging and you are risking further deflation and less holes and flatter bread.

From the looks of the pictures you can see that the loaf on the left has shown  that it has tried to spring along some of the scoring but does show signs of collapse along some of the other score marks and where it was tucked back in.

regards Yozza  

liseling's picture

Tell me about it! Baking time is definitely the wrong time to have to be rearranging my dough :)

This is the first time that I've used a pan like that so I guess I wasnt sure what I was doing. At least it's a second hand pan that was given to me so if I choose not to use it again it'll be no great loss.

jennyloh's picture

Liseling - I know exactly how you feel when time has been spent,  and expectations goes up that the loaf/bread is going to make your day,  but it turn out not as great as you'd like.  I do have that experience, and many a times.  Well,  good that we all want to learn and do better.

For the big holes - I'm not sure how you knead after the 1st rise.  From my experience, and looking at several videos (check out Mark's video - great learning from there), I realise after several tries,  that you really don't have to knead much.  Gently pulling it out of the bowl after 1st rise,  and stretching it out gently to a rectangle shape,  press gently on the dough where uneven,  without bursting any of the bubbles. Do the baguette dough folding, 2/3 and 1/3 fold, and again,  very gently, roll it, which seems to work and retain the big bubbles in the dough for the proofing stage.  Hope this helps.

liseling's picture

I think you're right that I need to shape more gently. Shaping is definitely something for me to work on. Thanks for your description too - I'll try to keep that in mind as I do the next loaves.

I'm anxious to try this recipe again to see whether I can improve them any!

Doc Tracy's picture
Doc Tracy

Look at the good side- You got good crust, a little bit of translucency and it rose! That's better than lots of us have done on the first try with our first starter. You're well on your way to successful sourdough breads.

I generally bake 100% whole grain so I've yet to experience much in the way of holey crumbs, plus I'm limited in my crunchy crust with the RV oven until I get back into my house so I have dropped some of my expectations and moved into trying all sorts of other types of bread. I agree if you're going to make a good sourdough try the Vermont sourdough. That seems to be the absolute best. Actually, maybe even better would be David's version San Joaquin Sourdough that you can find here at The Fresh Loaf, just search on it.

Work on perfecting that french sourdough loaf but at the same time, stretch your skills and learn what other doughs feel and perform like. Try braided breadeds, low percent ryes, 100% whole wheat, add a little spelt. Maybe even try the Blueberry Braid with the sourdough version. How about sourdough english muffins?

All of these will increase your comfort with working doughs and raising bread. Than, making your weekly loaf of sourdough will become something that you're able to work to fine tune all your bread making skills.

Lastly, when you get frustrated. Remember, it's only flour, yeast and water. And it's what, $2.00 worth of ingredients and a few hours of learning time?

liseling's picture

Well I have to say that I'm very pleased. I tried Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough and it came out beautifully. I think now that the problems I was having with Peter Reinhart's recipe was probably 10% due to the recipe and 90% due to my inexperience with shaping, using baguette pans, proofing with a couche, transferring dough into the oven, etc etc. It's amazing how much one can learn from just a little bit of practice and research. I think watching this shaping video: REALLY helped me a lot. Here are pictures of the loaves I made last night. I'm very pleased. The crust is a little black but I can easily fix that next time with tin foil. Thanks everyone for their comments - they were a big help!


yozzause's picture

Congadulations Liseling Very well done,

There is nothing like a little success for further motivation , its always good to have a little notebook  to jot down the thoughts you might have along the way and that way you can  either replicate or change things next time, but by the look of your result i dont think there will be to many things that need to be changed

regards Yozza