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Dense crumb problems when making sourdough baguette from natural yeast starter

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banguette's picture
banguette

Dense crumb problems when making sourdough baguette from natural yeast starter

I've been baking using a natural sounrdough starter I made from wild yeasts based on the Joy of Cooking recipe where you add 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water every twelve hours over the course of a few days until it's bubbly and active from wild yeasts. I've tried a few different types of breads, but I'm mostly trying to make a white baguette with the sourdough starter as the only yeast.


With every loaf I have the same problem: the crumb is moist, chewy, and dense. The crust is amazing, the flavor is great, but always the crumb is very dense, even if it shows good fermentation and has some air holes inside, it always has a density that is unappealing. I am using only Heartland Mills organic unbleached unenriched white flour, water, natural sourdough starter, and Real Salt brand salt. I have experimented with room temp and refrigerated rises, higher and lower dough hydration, more kneading and less kneading, the last time I used the dough hook only to combine the flour and water for the autolyse and then used the fold and stretch method to activate the gluten (three times at 20 minute intervals), &c.


The question I have is: does using an unenriched white flour rather than an all purpose flour limit the yeast's ability to work or is there something else going on?


The recipe I used last is below, I don't own a scale, so everything is in cups rather than by weight:


 


2 1/4 cups flour


1 cup filtered water (@tap temperature, about 68F)


1/2 cup natural sourdough starter


1/2 tbsp salt


 


Combine flour and water, autolyse for 20 min after combining in bowl using dough hook just long enough (approx 2 min) to combine ingredients. Add sourdough starter and salt, mix until combined (approx 2 min) then clean bowl using dough scraper and rest for 20 min. Fold dough in bowl using this method, rest 20 min, repeat this for a total of 3 folds resting 20 minutes between each fold. Move dough to oiled bowl for 4 hours at room temp (70F). Fold and stretch the dough in the bowl, and put in fridge for 14 hrs to rise. Remove from fridge, fold and stretch dough and let rest at 70F for 3 hrs. Cut and divide dough, shape and let rest for 20 min covered with plastic. Shape into baguettes and place in couche to rise. Rise for 3 hours at 70F.  Move from couche to baking sheet covered in parchment paper. I have a hard time moving the dough from the couche as I have no peel to move them, but they still get a nice risen shape when baking.


Baking: 450 F for 30ish minutes, with two pans of water in the bottom of the oven for steam.


Anyone have any ideas why the crumb is so moist? I fear that I am not letting the dough rise enough in the couche, it seems to double in volume and when I press on the dough it makes a dent that stays, but still the lack of more spacious crumb has me wondering about this.


 


Unfortunately I don't have a photo of the crumb, but here's a photo of a loaf:Sourdough baguette

banguette's picture
banguette

A photo of the crumb:


Vogel's picture
Vogel

I think it may be underproofed. A dense crumb and a rather light crust colour are good indicators for this. I had this problem in the past very often, too. The recipe asked for a final fermentation of 2 or 3 hours. After this time, the shaped loaves didn't immediately spring back when poked. Still they came out very dense.


Especially with sourdoughs the poke test might be a little misleading in the first part of the final fermentation. Emily Buehler explains it in her book "Bread Science" like this: The yeast produces CO2 (gas). The gas is able to wander through the whole dough, even the solid parts. If it finds a bubble, then it enters this one and expands it. If it doesn't find one, the CO2 just stays in the solid dough or leaves through the outer dough surface. The important part is: Only when all of the solid parts of the dough are saturated with CO2 the gas really starts to go into the bubbles in larger amounts, because from this point of time the gas only has two options: being trapped in a bubble or leave the dough, there is no space left in the solid parts. So it may take a whole lot of time until the rising really visibly starts (it takes about 1 or 2 hours for me, sometimes even more). Before the solid parts of the dough are fully saturated with CO2 the poke test leaves a dent because the dough doesnt really contain any big gas bubbles which could press the dough up again after poking. It is just a solid mass like bubble gum.


So just try leaving the dough out for the final fermentation a little longer. For me it usually takes 4-6 hours until fully risen, even if the recipe says 2.5 hours. A trick that is very helpful is the following: Before shaping the loaves, take away a piece of dough, degas it (like you degas your dough before shaping it), put it in an oiled glass and mark the height it with a rubber band. Put the glass to the place where you let your shaped loaves rise. This serves as an indicator how much the loaves have risen so far. The dough in the glass should about doubled in height before you are going to bake.


Glass


There could be other reasons why your bread is dense. It seems like you are doing a very long bulk rise. This is totally fine, of cours, however when doing this you have to be careful not to overproof the dough so that it visibly collapses. This means that the yeast is starting to die because it is starving or trapped in bubbles. If the sourdough starter is relatively new and weak it could mean that in this case there isn't enough vital yeast left to rise the dough a second time during the final fermentation.
Furthermore, dense crumbs can result from underdeveloped gluten or insufficient kneading in other words. But since you already tried different kneading times and your loaves have a nice shape, I guess this is not the problem.


I hope you will solve your problem!

banguette's picture
banguette

I'll give it a longer final fermentation and see if that helps things. I have yet to have dough collapse on me while making these baguettes either during bulk ferment or during the proofing stage. I'm more prone to putting it in the oven for fear of it collapsing, so I'll try out the dough in the glass trick and see how that goes. And I tend to not leave myself enough time for letting it rise all the way before I have to leave home, so I'll do it on a day when I can really let it take its time to fully rise.


 


Thanks!

flournwater's picture
flournwater

I have never had much success with natural sourdough starter and no yeast with a 24 hour fermentation period.   I typically run this type of bread through a 24 hour fermentation period in the refrigerator and a final rise on the peel before introuding it to the oven.  No timing, just watching the dough for a good final rise then slipping it off of the peel onto the stone.  I try to avoid disturbing it any more than necessary between the peel and the stone.  I also wonder if your all purpose flour has the capability of holding the structure necessary for a good crumb.  Don't misunderstand me, I use AP flour more than half the time, but a wild yeast sourdough starter might be better served using a good quality bread flour.  I might also make that water 75 degrees rather than 68 degrees.


I might also suggest starting your baking cycle at 500 degrees (or 515) for the first five minutes, spraying the oven walls with water at 30 - 45 second intervals about three times in that period, then reducing the heat to 450 after that.  The amount of time it bakes is not as important as what the internal temperature is when you decide to remove it from the oven.  I'd look for something around 205 degrees for this bread.

Vogel's picture
Vogel

Your ideas are very helpful and all make sense.
I only disagree with all-purpose flour being a major factor in preventing the loaf from having an open crumb. I have to use it all the time, since something like "bread flour" cannot be bought here in stores, but only all-purpose flour with 9.8% protein content (sometimes 10.2% or so, if you're lucky). It works fine and is able to produce an open crumb even with sourdough. So I think it is not the problem here. Of course bread flour is still better and produces a considerably stronger dough.

banguette's picture
banguette

The flour I'm using is unbleached unenriched, not AP flour. It has a protein content of 11% according to the mill, I was wondering if, since it's not AP flour the lack of available sugars is a problem for the yeast. Based on other things I've read, it would seem that it could still be OK, but I would need to allow for a way longer ferment and proofing to really let it rise, as suggested above.


 


I'm gonna try the way longer proof and if I still have problems, try out some AP flour.


 


Thanks for the advice.

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Sorry  -  when you said "unbleached, unenriched" I thought you were using the "UBE" formula which is listed under the AP flour heading.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

So until it's a week older, add some instant yeast after the bulk rise or about 4 hours into the process.  Just mist the dough a little, sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of yeast, let it sit a few minutes to fall apart (or mix up the yeast in a spoon of water and let it form a paste to spread across the stretched out dough)  Fold several times to work it into the dough.  Rest and repeat, then go on with the recipe.


Knowing it can raise the loaf is good (did it really?) but sourdough breads can easily be heavier than breads raised with commercial yeast.  So if you want the lightness, the starter has to be in tip top shape for maximum yeast growth. 


Try a sheet of sterdy cardboard for a peel.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

In the first place, your baguettes don't look so bad.


I'd say they look well-shaped. You got fair bloom. The suggestion to pre-heat the oven to a higher temperature is a good one. It will help oven spring.


The crust is pale to my taste, but you did bake at a low temperature. The crust also looks dull in the photo which suggests under-steaming.


The crumb is well-aerated, but all the holes appear small. The good aeration suggests your gluten development and your fermentation were both adequate. I suspect your problem with the crumb is due to too vigorous de-gassing in the pre-shaping and/or shaping process. 


I do no think your flour is a problem. However, your water may be one. If your filter system is too effective in removing minerals, you may be depriving your yeast and bacteria of nutrients they need to effectively metabolize sugar. 


You don't really say how old your starter is, but if it's less than 3-4 weeks old, you can look forward to better performance and flavor as you keep feeding it.


Hope these thoughts are helpful.


David

banguette's picture
banguette

Turns out I just wasn't proofing long enough. Here's a photo of the baguette I made this evening, just 5 minutes with a dough hook after a 30 min autolyse and a few fold and stretches. Let it rise at room temp until it was a bit more than doubled, then into the fridge for 17 hours, then let fully rise at room temp until fully proofed, about 5 hours.


The baking stone I just got today probaby helped a bit as well. Hot dog. Thanks for the tips, everyone!


How to build a better baguette


 


 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Big improvement!