The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Most of my bread is tasteless. Is tasty bread possible without a sourdough starter?

Graid's picture

Most of my bread is tasteless. Is tasty bread possible without a sourdough starter?

Generally speaking, the bread I make, if it's just plain bread, with nothing added, and especially if it is white bread, tastes of nothing very much. It has a decent texture, usually, and is passable when used in sandwiches and so on, but it's really not as good as the majority of shop bought bread I've had and even often I would say, inferior flavour wise to the pre-sliced white bread variety available in the UK from the likes of Hovis or Warburtons. It just lacks something!

This applies to a variety of recipes I have used for plain bread, including the plain ones on the Fresh Loaf site ‘lessons'. Preparing the sponge the day before and then adding it the next day really didn't improve things at all.

I read all these books and articles that mention how lovely homemade bread tastes, how very much more flavoursome and wholesome and generally better and so on it is. And I wonder if it's just that they have lower standards or excessively terrible supermarket bread, or if there's actually something I could be doing to make my bread better and live up to the hype.

The only 'plain' type bread I have made that has been tasty has been granary bread, and the only way I could get a strong taste with that was to add more sugar than was strictly speaking recommended in the recipe, which gave it a rich, slightly sweet flavour.

I do use a breadmaker to do the kneading of the dough if not the baking itself usually, but I don't see why that would actually make any significant difference to flavour.

I have used many different sorts of flour over the years- organic and non organic, including Canadian flours that are generally well recommended. I have also experimented with using fresh yeast instead of instant yeast which didn't seem to make any difference at all.

I've read the instructions on this site, and I know that rising times, and prepared sponges, are supposed to improve flavour, I just have not actually ever experienced this for myself when I have tried.

Am I expecting too much? Is bread just generally not that tasty when made at home without a sourdough starter?

Your advice on stopping bread being tasteless without the use of a starter would be appreciated!

I HAVE tried doing sourdough bread before. I used a starter obtained from an American site that sends out sourdough started samples for free, and my starter behaved well for a while. Unfortunately the bread made with that, even when risen for around 24 hours in a cold room, was tastier but just not tasty enough to warrant the extra mess, effort, and waste of maintaining the starter (plus the starter started smelling like paint). It certainly had nothing like the sour flavour I want from sourdough bread!





Daisy_A's picture

Hi Graid,

Welcome to TFL. See that you are in the UK. Which flours are you using at the moment?

It is certainly possible to make very tasty loaves using just white flour and instant yeast. Jason's ciabatta, baked by many on TFL, is a case in point

I use sourdough starter normally but once, when in a hurry to make a focaccia to take to a shared meal, I tried an instant yeast, white flour version with the whole dough retarded for 24 hours. The taste was strong and complex.

I'm quite a new baker but I would probably first say look at longer fermentation times, preferments, investing in a good bread flour, but you seem to have tried all of these...Only one thing I could add here is that in a recent 'taste' experiment a group from Dan Lepard's board reported that they got a good taste using a stiff levain or biga as the preferment.

For other bakers to really be able to help you develop your bread, though, it would be good to have the precise details of the recipe and method you are using currently, plus any information about flour.

Hope you find a way of making the bread you seek.

Kind regards, Daisy_A

pdiff's picture


Taste is very subjective as a recent post here from BellesAZ demonstrated:


Exactly what is taste for you?  What is missing?  The acidic tangy taste of sourdough or graininess of whole wheat or the aromatic roasted flavors?  I tend towards the last, which is enhanced by appropriate proofing times (slightly under proofed to leave some residual sugars in the dough) and by longer cook times giving deeper color and carmelization of the loaves.  Tangy sourdough flavors require not only cold, but the right temperature of cold to encourage the lactobacillus.  Your bread machine should have different settings or programability to vary kneading, rising and cook times.  Components too are important, like salt.  The few times I've accidentally baked without salt, the results were awful.

What do others say about the taste of your breads?  Do they have the same opinion, or is this your personal taste expectation?




@thepiercy's picture

HI Graid,

for extra flavour do stuff slower. try fermenting the dough overnight, when you bake it leave it in too long! Bread which is black on top has a wonderful aroma, as staling sets in over the next 24 hours or so the flavour will migrate into the loaf as the water comes out. So resist the temptation to eat it too soon. Cut it the next day when the top is black and crazed.

There's a bit of info on my blog showing one of my recent attempts.


midwest baker's picture
midwest baker

Make sure you are using enough salt.

Chuck's picture

My experience has been that small differences in the amount of salt in the recipe make large differences in the final taste of the bread. I'd suggest trying a loaf with half-again as much much salt.

Particularly if your recipes assume "table salt", you're measuring by volume, and you actually have some fancy "sea salt", you may be getting quite a bit less than the recipe assumes. (Because sea salts typically have larger crystals, there's more air space in between the crystals, and volume measuments can easily be off enough to taste [or not taste:-] the difference.)

(Another way to get "more flavor" is to use beer instead of water.)

wren's picture


i agree with the abovementioned suggestion for salt, though do remember that salt affects the rise of the loaf, so overdoing it in the salt department can alter the shape and consistency of the dough. that said, i learned only recently how important it is to taste the raw dough as you're making it and to do this multiple times throughout the process, this allows subtle changes to be made before you load your bread into the oven. additionally, the suggestion about working slowly is a good one. the sugars that determine the complexity of the bread's taste will develop more strongly when given more time to ferment (like overnight, or slowly in the refrigerator). and lastly, working with your oven on high heat will provide the necessary chemical change in the sugars (caramelization) that will contribute to your loafs' taste as well. don't give up! sourdough is not the only tasty loaf out there.

PaddyL's picture

Or all those unpronouncable things listed on bread labels?  Maybe that's it.  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

are dull and worn out.  

A heavy smoker, will probably notice no changes in bread tastes until smoking has stopped for some time.  If on medication, the medicine could also be affecting taste sensibilities.  Illness can also affect taste.  Also being in love.  Everything tastes better when in love... 

It could also be that your body doesn't crave bread and it doesn't appeal to you at this time.  No big deal.  Life goes on without bread too.  It is not an essential food.


pdiff's picture

"Life goes on without bread too.  It is not an essential food."


:-O <blink> <blink> Thats blasphemy! :-)



Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Life without Bread.

I am just so suttle!  :)   Blasphemy?

copyu's picture

I have no really useful info, only more questions—so, I beg your pardon!

Salt? [How much, what kind...when added...]

Have you tried no-knead bread and, if so, with what results?

Do you have an oven thermometer? (Better is a couple of oven thermometers that agree reasonably with each other...)

Do you ever replace 30-60g (1-2oz) of the bread flour with rye, or whole-wheat or durum semolina, Indian chapatti flour, etc?

Are you familiar with German 'bread spice' or with 'Seitenbacher' natural sourdough? (You can find these for sale online...)

Have you ever tried seeds [sesame, quinoa, amaranth, poppy, millet, etc...] in your dough, or on your loaves?

*****Does your Bread Machine automatically heat the dough at various phases during the "dough only cycle"?*****

I'm really looking forward to seeing your formula(e) and usual methods. The folks here at TFL will definitely set you on the right path to flavour!




nicodvb's picture

I haven't tried it myself because I can't stand white bread, but a friend of mine with your same problem and very high expectations told me that the only way to get a tasty bread was to let the shaped dough 2 whole days in the fridge after having made an overnight preferment.

Good luck!

Andrew Dayman's picture
Andrew Dayman

Based on your post I think the answer is clear but I can appreciate why it has been difficult for you to see it or accept it.

The key to home baked everyday white bread is simple ingredients, combined, risen, shaped and proved by hand, the rise must be for atleast one hour, the prove must also be for atleast one hour and baked in a very hot oven with added steam for at least 30 minutes.

NOT using a bread maker plays a HUGE part in imrpoving your flavour and allowing yourself plenty of time to rise 1, 2 or even 3 times, ferments the dough and infuses the flavour. A sourdough starter is a nice touch, but it is not required and as you have found, it can be very time consuming (stress wise) and if not kept it a great condition, it goes rancid. White bread is arguably the hardest to make as it relies on the baker to get the flavour into it, where as other breads, the ingredients play the biggest part.

Put simply, take one very large bowl (at least 2-3 times the volume of the total ingredients), weigh 500g of white bread flour (any type, i like Tescos own brand if you are in the UK, but any basic white bread flour will do) into the bowl, weigh in 10g of salt (table or fine ground rock or seas salt) to one side, weigh in 10g of castor sugar to the other side and weigh in 10g of Instant Dried Yeast to the middle. Mix the dry ingredients together with a spoon then make a large well in the middle.

Add to the well 3 tablespoons of your favourite oil. I use Extra Virgin Olive Oil, but if you are looking for the shop bought taste, try Rapeseed Oil and a jug of water (tap or use mineral to remove the chemicals and improve taste) consisting of 150ml very cold water and 150ml of boiling hot mixed together to get a more realistic luke warm. Some sites recommend 200ml cold 100ml boiling, but I find the yeast prefers the warmth of mine.

Working around the edges of the well first, slowly combine the liquid mix with the dry mix with the spoons edge until it starts to come together. Put the spoon down. Flour your hands and get in there. Bring the mix together, lightly kneeding and turning to pick up all the crumbs then tip out onto a lightly floured surface.

knead the dough (compress and strech) for a minimum of 5 minutes while turning the dough 180 degrees and folding in half between each knead. Keep it up and over time you will find your rythum. I like to think of it as my daily excercise. Every now and then, pick up the dough and slam it down, toos in the air, hey, go all out Tom Cruise in Cocktail if you like, but an occassional throw down is essential, and if the neighbours dont jump you are not doing it hard enough!.

Once kneaded, spin into a simple ball, lightly oil the bowl, place inside and lightly oil the top of the dough too, cover well with cling film and make a small cut in the cling film to allow air to escape. Place bowl in a draft free cupboard. Rememebr, Yeast likes it slightly warm (no more than room temp) to imrpove rise speed, and the dough like NO draft to stop it drying out preventing or slowing the rise.

Now to get a level one flavour, leave to rise for one hour, then tip out onto a floured surface and knock out the air. To level up the flavour to level 2, put back in a lightly oiled bowl and lightly oil the top, cover, pierce and rise again for one hour. How do you get to level 3 I ask? Repeat the rise and knock. I would experiement on the level of your choice, but I used level 1 for some many months, then tried level 2 and I hevent looked back. I think I might even be ready for level 3 soon. Tastebuds activated! lol

Once knocked out, shape how you like (If I am making rolls or batons, I weigh the dough evenly. When shaping, go ahead and use a rolling pin to flatten then to a standard turn twice to help with the final rise), place in the required tray (loaf tin, roll pan, baguette rack etc), pop into a plastic bag and put back in the cupboard for one hour to prove.

30 minutes before prove ends, preheat your oven to 210 Fan or 230 Convection and add a large pan to the bottom of the oven. 5 minutes before prove ends, fill up your kettle and switch it on. Once proved, slash your dough how you like it, a few cuts diagonaly across the top usually works just fine, lightly sprinkle top with flour, pop in the oven and set your timer to 30 minutes.

Providing you have followed this exactly, not tapping required, just take it out, remove bread from tray to a wire rack and leave for atleast 1-2 hours to cool and firm up. Although it is best eaten the next day, once it is completly cooled, go ahead and tuck in. Use salted butter to make it really sing.


Final tips:

If you prefer dry active yeast instead of dry instant yeast, just prepare your water and add the same quantity of yeast and sugar to the jug of water, mix, cover and set aside while you get everything in the bowl, mix and make your well.

The amounts will make one high rise 2lb loaf, up to 4 foot long batons or 8 full sized rolls. Want to make a loaf and 4 batons, just double the ingredients, want all the above, tripple it and so on. Just make sure your bowl is always 2-3 times the size of the total volume of ingredients.

To put that extra enhancment on your flavour, add up to a total of 6 teaspoons per 500g of flour of dried herbs to the dried mix before adding the liquid. You can also add nuts, seeds and even spices but use your common sense on the amounts.

mutantspace's picture

with salt take use an average of 2% weight of total flour i.e. flour: 1000g salt: 20g

I do everything by hand and like all cooking its all about taste, taste, taste...with bread feeling the change in the dough as you knead it, as you add to it, as it rises, all these things are important. Bread is a transformative process so start simple, flour, salt, yeast and water. Use your hands. You'll end up with a delicious simple loaf of bread.   

Andrew Dayman's picture
Andrew Dayman

Yes, bread is a transformative process; a science NOT an art. Keep to exact weights, exact measures and exact temps. Do NOT feel tempted to add extra, use less or do something different at each stage like most recipes suggest with the core ingredients or core methods. Let the science shine through and trust in your abilities to execute the formula. I do however, disagree with just using flour, salt, yeast and water. Although these will make bread, it is important to take some of the strain off the baker by giving a heling hand to boost the yeast with a little sugar, and to help your bread stay fresher for longer, use a quality oil.

mutantspace's picture

i agree totally but I find when i started making bread that key to a good loaf, like anything, is understanding the ingredients and what they do. Starting with the basics and keeping a note (i have diaries going way back of every bake; times, temperature, notes on crumb, taste, smell, etc) helps a great deal.  A pain rustique is a good example of a simple, delicious bread. I just think that when people try to do to much to quickly their fervour for baking is quickly diminished

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

White bread will let added flavours shine through.  If stuck with a flat tasting basic flour, try adding a little butter to the dough or a few  spoons of brown sugar. Other options include flavoured oils or just 10% of a flavourful flour. including nut or bean flours.  As of late 10% Einkorn (50g Einkorn to 450g white wheat)  works wonders to make a nice bread with about a tablespoon of olive oil.   

I've saved the brine from a can of sweet corn and that will be part of the liquid in the next loaf.  


Andrew Dayman's picture
Andrew Dayman

Some great points 'Mini Oven' (lol on the name). Although I would avoid adding more than 10g of sugar per 500g of flour as any more is just a 'quick fix' for flavour vs true infusion and fermentation not to mention the added calories, its a great idea to use falvoured oils, full butters, bold herbs, rich spices and even trying, as you say, a like for like percentage swap in flours or starches, thats what makes a good Gluten Free loaf BTW. Not sure I am keen on the Brine though, but I am bias as I hate Brine lol. Don't know why, probably just the sound of the word, or the fact everything used to come in Brine when I was a kid, but i'd be interested to hear how it tastes, but I love your thnking.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Actually it wasn't very salty.  I opened a can of corn, took a look at all that water, drained off the water into a bowl and ate the corn.  Corn was good.  So good that I wondered about the water. not bad!  I put the water in the fridge for later but have been too busy to get back to it.  Wonder if it is still good...        Would eventually lower salt in the dough and then taste the dough to correct.  Could have tossed in the corn too (one giant bread fritter) and heavily buttered a loaf pan...  or used bacon drippings...  

Has it only been two days?  OK  One corny white bread coming up!   Raisins?  Bacon drippings?  OR just plain w/ drain?  ...Just to see what it tastes like? 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

turned out to be 185g of liquid.  So I weighed out 300g of AP wheat flour (for 62% hydration dough)  4g salt (scant tsp. and one teaspoon of instant yeast. Added a few finger scoops of needed water to get all the flour wet, used wet hands to knead and added a few teaspoons of olive oil while playing around.  Rest covered to bulk.  Deflated twice.  Baked in a hot oven.  

Nothing very dramatic although I could smell the corn in the dough, the bread is nicely rounded in flavour and if you didn't know I used the brine, you would not guess it was in there.  It did make a nice tasty white loaf and the crumb is beautiful and still fresh tasting the second day with a softer crust.  It is a tiny bit sweeter than made with just water.  A good Hamburger bun texture.  I would do it again.  Don't know if it was the starch in the brine that made for a good dough and crumb texture or the oil but all is well.  :)   

Let's see... what other canned goodies do I have around?