The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

First "Success": How can I improve next time?

aquakej's picture

First "Success": How can I improve next time?

Today I had my first "success" with my sourdough.....instead of baking some kind of primitive building material, I actually made a loaf!!  I think it's pretty decent, but would like to improve upon a few things.  One, the crust is nearly burnt, despite my having to take this bread out of the oven "early" (before the recipe said it would be finished).  The crust on the bottom and lower sides of the loaf is quite nice and brown, but the top is more black.  Did I cause this by spraying water directly onto the top of my loaf during the first 5 min. of baking?  I have a convection oven, but turned the convection fan off, due to the recommendation in Reinhardt's book "Crust and Crumb".  Perhaps if I'd kept the fan on, the color would have been more even?

Also, the interior is lacking in "holes".  It is nice and chewy and has an acceptable flavor, but I'd like to see those nice big, irregular holes.  This dough did seem stiffer than the recipes I've made in the seemed more like a "normal" yeasted bread dough to me....perhaps that is to account for the lack of "open crumb" (is that what you call it??).  If I made the dough slightly stickier next time, do you think I would get more holes?

FYI, I have been using Nancy Silverton's "Breads of La Bread Bakery" book and using 100% moisture/flour starter.  I made her beginner's sourdough recipe.

Any tips for this beginner would be much appreciated!!



yozzause's picture

Thats a pretty good effort there Katie, usually the wetter doughs will allow for bigger gas holes to form along with not degassing to much in the final shaping. The shape is nice and even and the  the crumb looks nice and even too. the colour looks fine to me, and all ovens have there vagaries so you will have to experiment a little there, i tend to leave the fan off for the first 5 minutes and then on after that. the test will be to see if you can replicate the same loaf next time before changing to many things.

regards Yozza



Postal Grunt's picture
Postal Grunt

It appears that your loaf had some whole wheat flour in the recipe. Depending on how much bran was in the flour, you may not have been able to get too many of those nice big cells in your bread. The bran will puncture the gluten. It would help greatly if you couild tell us what brand and types of flour you used.

I've read much more authoritative explanations on TFL than I can offer you and I hope those who can will weigh in. However, the simplest explanation may be the correct one in your case.

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Katie.

Welcome to TFL!

In your photo, the crust does not look burned to me. It looks very nice. How did it taste?

Spraying water on the loaf can result in darker spots, though.

I can't comment on your time and temperature as factors without knowing what they were.

As already been said, it's also hard to just the crumb without knowing your hydration and the kinds of flour you used.


alsabakin's picture

I have had a wholemeal starter going for three weeks now, and thought it time to see what could be achieved.  Not liking 100% wholemeal, I mixed my recipe (the original purloined from D.Lepard in the bread section of "The Cook's Book".  The recipe was as follows...

120gr leaven

200gr water (22 oC)  (you may need to use your own judgement on this amount)

7gr fine sea salt

100gr Canadian strong wholemeal bread flour

200gr Canadian very strong white flour

The whole process took about 10 hours, and the rising period tried my patience.

My baking 'floor' was made of four 6" square quarry tiles, which were already in place when the oven began to heat up to 250 oC.  The final rise was carried out on  a non-stick oven tray previously covered in Semolina, thus allowing me to use the tray like a bakers peel.

A small pie dish filled with boiling water was placed on a lower shelf of the oven, and the loaf was sprayed with water prior to sliding it on to the hot tiles.

After ten minutes, the heat was lowered to 220 oC to bake out. My loaf took 50 minutes to bake!  The appearance is very similar to that described by Katie re- her loaf, except that I do have quite large holes, as seen in the book illustrations.  It tastes good too, although I found the extreme end of the crust  to be very crunchy and chewy. Not having tasted anyone else's self ferment bread before, I cannot say if the taste matches up with traditional versions. This does encourage me to progress with the method and to offer the results to my grown-up family when they visit.

As I am living alone now, I cannot cope with large loaves and must experiment with freezing smaller quantities of dough, to be revived as needed. Any advice would be ppreciated on that subject or any other.  

Breadandwine's picture

Hi alsabakin

I only eat wholemeal - and my wife only eats white. So I make a batch of each and freeze them - taking out one of each, each day. Much better to freeze the finished article than the dough IMHO!

Here's the method I use to bake them - under a roasting dish for the first 20 minutes of baking:

I mainly use fresh yeast at the moment, although I've got a sourdough starter on the way.



aquakej's picture

There is about 1/4 cup of wheat germ in that bread, but other than that, the flour I used was 100% white flour.  My starter has a tiny bit (30%) of rye flour in it as well, but I would still consider this a white bread, personally.

The baking temp. was 450....turned down from 500 after the loaf was put in and sprayed for the first 5 min.  I also had put some water in a heated cast iron pan in the bottom of my oven.  Perhaps this could have been too much steam??  

The recipe said to bake the loaf for about 45 minutes, and I ended up taking it out at around 40 minutes, after seeing that super dark crust and measuring the internal temp. at 205 degrees.


Alsabakin:  In regard to freezing your doughs....I read in the Richard Bertinet book "Dough" that you can freeze partially baked loaves.  He gives freezing instructions with nearly every recipe in the book.  However, none of his recipes are for sourdough.  It might still give you some ideas, though.  



alsabakin's picture

Thanks to Aquakej.   I have got a couple of Bertinets books but didn't recall his wrtiting about freezing sourdough breads.  I must look the books out again. Thank you for your comments.