The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

I need encouragement!!!

ronnie g's picture
ronnie g

I need encouragement!!!

My third attempt!

Okay, I'm new at this.  This is my third attempt at baking sourdough.  I'm a long time home bread baker, but like others am bamboozled by this 'sourdough thing'.  I've got a great 100% hydration white bread flour and filtered water starter going.  There are so many conflicting instructions about sponges, recipes, how-to's etc, I don't know quite what I'm doing wrong.  My sourdough doesn't rise as much as my commercial yeast bread and to be honest it's a little 'brick like'.  hem.... I increased a recipe that used two cups of sponge and three cups white bread flour, the usual sugar, salt, oil and no extra water.  Instead I used about 3 1/4 cups sponge, 2 cups wholemeal and 2 cups white.  The first proof is really nice, rises double, and has no cracks.  Then, when I shape it and set to rise the second time, it rises quickly and cracks develop all over it. With this one, I thought it looked too wet and was full of cracks about twenty minutes into the proofing, and I also thought it was rising too quickly, so I re-shaped it and let it rise over a longer period.  It went so much better, but I don't think it's rising double and the texture seems quite heavy.  Am I expecting too much?  I want my bread to be PERFECT NOW!!!  : )  This bread comes out nice and shiny and golden brown, but can you add anything by what I've said, and by the photo?  Please..... anybody.....????

Mebake's picture


 The first proof is really nice, rises double, and has no cracks.  Then, when I shape it and set to rise the second time, it rises quickly and cracks develop all over it.

Hi, Ronnie,

It is clear that your dough has too much protease enzymes (due to a hungry starter) than yeasts. Proteolytic (from protease: or protein breaking ezymes) action on gluten have degraded it and your dough is slack , wet and cracky.

You should keep an eye on your starter feeding schedule, do not refreigerate it before you feel it doubles in 3 to 3.5 hours at least. Feed it some whole wheat/ whoel rye with white flour too.


JeremyCherfas's picture

Hi Ronnie

That loaf actually looks pretty good to me, although I would agree with Khalid that it could be that your starter is hyperactive. I would say that if you really want perfection then you should switch from measuring by cups to measuring by wieght. If your starter is at all bubbly, how do you know how much is in a cup? And are you certain that your cups of flour are the same each time? Use a good set of scales and I believe everything becomes easier.


ronnie g's picture
ronnie g

Okay.  Thanks so much for your replies.  I will take all that into consideration.  I guess it's a matter of time and learning.  I just hope I don't quit before I get nice bread.  It's so easy to go back to commercial yeast.  Did I say that out loud?  Joking!  I'm hooked.  My starter I think is good, but I think the sponge is the problem.  Not quite sure what I'm doing there and also I can't seem to get enough flour into the dough at the start.  It seems like it's a nice consistency, but is it different than regular bread?  Can you recommend a good simple recipe for me to start on?  I used 

3 1/4 cups sponge (prolly too much?)

2 cups wholemeal flour

2 cups unbleached white flour

4 tspns sugar

2 tspns salt

2 tablespoons olive oil

What do you think?

 My hubby (who's into body-building) doesn't mind how much bread I bake as he needs his carbs.  : )  I will invest in some nice scales and I also am awaiting my copy of The Bread Baker's Apprentice.  Boy!  Do I need it!

RobynNZ's picture

Hi Ronnie

Using a large proportion of your starter in your dough, there is not enough food available for the 'bugs'. Your recipe is out of balance.

I'd like to suggest you try one of the simple formula available on this site. They are white flour formulae, but I think they will help you get a better feel for sourdough fermentation. It is worth trying the same formula a few times to get a better understanding. These are simple lean doughs, no sugar, oil, milk etc but all make delicious bread. You need both time and patience to work with sourdough but the resulting breads are well worth both.

Make sure that you starter is well fed and that it is at 'peak' when you use it for making the bread. At this point it contains the maximum number of viable microorganisms. If you see a slight tide mark as the starter begins to collapse you should use it.

Flo Makanai has a super simple method for 100% starter she calls, 1,2 3. You can make any loaf size you want but please do not forget to add salt at a level which is 2% of the flour (that's the flour contribution from the starter plus the flour you add).

Then you could try San Diego Susan's Simple formula which many here have gained confidence using, this thread contains lots of useful input:

The formula is shown in Susan's comment:

Please note that Susan uses a firm starter.  To use your 100% starter, use 60 grams of your 100% starter and decrease the water you add by 10 grams. The 'magic bowl' she recommends is a great help. My magic bowl

is a roasting tin.

Then you could try Wild Yeast Susan's Norwich Sourdough:

Please note: To prepare the 360g of ripe levain for Susan's formula, about 12 hours before you mix the dough you will need to take 30 grams of your starter (at its peak) and combine it with 180 grams of flour and 180 grams of water and keep it at around 70°F. Use 360 grams of this for the dough.

Please don't hesitate to ask more questions. Using sourdough is both fun and complex. 

Cheers, Robyn

AnnaInMD's picture

re the simple 1,2,3 formula. It has NEVER let me down. And truly, imo, any digital scale will do fine. Check Ebay. I found an old postal scale I had in my office, just for fun I tried it alongside my kitchen one. Same results - just in case you have one sitting around. 

And in case you are a Type A as I am, I set the whole KA bowl on the scale, and just measure my items as they go in, always resetting the scale to 0 before the next item.

Good Baking !



ronnie g's picture
ronnie g

Thank you, thank you, Robyn and Anna also!  I'm loving this site and the friendliness AND helpfulness of everyone here.  I am getting very encouraged and appreciate all comments and advice.  My mistake I think has been to combine a few different ideas and in the process, I've totally put it all out of balance as you say.  My starter is great, but I knew I wasn't using it properly.  It just didn't feel right to be putting all that in!  I will definitely be trying out the 1,2,3 recipe next and will let you all know the result.  I have a nice little gift certificate for Myer (that's a shop here) and I'm going to get myself some scales tomorrow!

Thanks guys,

Ronnie g

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

With that amount of starter,  Fold it gently to shape halfway thru the first rise and bake it before it reaches double.  It will never make a second rise as it stands.  Bake it before it starts to tear and fall apart.  You might want to try it before switching recipes.  Add the sponge to the dough when it is coming up to the peak time.

kolobezka's picture

Mini, please, could you explain more about the relationship between the amount of the starter and first / second rise times?

There might be around 40% prefermented flour in Ronnie´s recipe. Yes that toward the upper limit.

Does it mean that using a bigger proportion of starter one should eliminate or shorten the first rise? Why?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Does it mean that using a bigger proportion of starter one should eliminate or shorten the first rise? Why?

Yes, With more starter, the rising times will be shorter because already a large portion of the dough is already fermented, the added flour will be exhausted sooner because of the sheer numbers of wee beasties feeding on it.  If the rise goes too long the dough will be exhausted (of starches & sugars) and then the building waste products (acid/alcohol/dead beasties) from all those helpful little creatures will break down the gluten structure as the pH drops.  Bigger starter amounts equals shorter rise times.

And naturally the reverse is true, with a small amount of starter, the rise times will be longer as there is lots of fresh food for the starter and several generations of beasties are needed to raise the dough.

There are many ways to deal with a large amount of starter or pre-fermented dough/sponge  to which more flour and/or water is added:

  • mix with ice water (will slow down the fermenting if needed in hot climate or to fit an extended schedule)
  • eliminate one or shorten the rises (keep your eye on it)
  • cool the whole dough down or retard immediatly
  • bake sooner
  • use in another build for more dough as a pate fermente

As seen, a large amount of starter/sponge can be a tool to speed up the rising dough to bake sooner.  Be familiar with your starter, if you feed it 1:2:2 and it peak rises in 4 hours, then that is roughly your outside total rising limit if the dough is mixed with 20% starter (20% of the total weight of a 100% hydrated loaf.)  Don't push your limit and watch the dough.  Then there are the influences on the rising time due to the recipe and kitchen conditions.

Basically if one

  • adds more flour than (1:2:2) (Starter:Water:Flour) a little bit more time is allowed for the total time (from mix to oven regardless of the number of rises)
  • reduce the water -- a few more minutes allowed
  • increase water -- less time, it speeds fermentation
  • add malt -- less time 
  • add rye flour -- less time
  • warm room -- less time
  • salt right away -- more time
  • salt delayed -- less time
  • ice water -- more time
  • warm water -- less time
  • retards the dough, or cools the dough down, refrigeration included -- this adds more time -- consideration must be taken in account at what stage the CO2 development has progressed when retarded

This information might be overwhelming for a beginner but it also might explain a lot of variations coming from one recipe.  Important is to know that these factors (there are more) influence your living starter.  The most important influences being temperature (of everything) and health of the starter. 

kolobezka's picture

The first part is clear, yes quite logic.

But I don´t really understand what you mean by "20% of the total weight of a 100% hydrated loaf." The bread dough has rarely 100% hydration. Do you mean just 20% of the total dough weight? Isn´t the % prefermented flour more exact? (I keep my rye starter at 80% hydration.)

Also, the starter does not contain any salt, so it should peak faster than bread dough. So does it still give the outer limit of the rising time?

Thanks so much



Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

If you keep your starter at 80%, it will be even closer to a 80% dough in rise times.  And you are right with the salt.  But you need a place to start from.  If you are familiar with your starter, it should be your standard and then make your rise time adjustments.  It was an example.

Reading thru a recipe and having an idea, even a guess, helps you to predict how your dough will react.  Yes, more comes with experience but if you like to "wing it" like with the title loaf, knowing when to expect your rise, makes it easier to avoid over-proofing or under-proofing.  The dough will tell you if you guess right.  Then when the timing seems off, you will know weather to do something that will speed up the fermenting or slow it down.  Like move it to a warm spot or stick it into the fridge before preheating the oven.

Most of us know from playing with our starters that if we don't discard and feed the same amount of water and flour that we always do, the starter will eat thru the food much faster and be ready for more food sooner.  The same applies to a loaf, it is just like feeding a starter except more ingredients are added.  These all have impact on the rise time.  We just don't want to peak a loaf or risk overproofing and deflating.  A sourdough loaf should be baked before it peaks, closer to 3/4 risen.


ronnie g's picture
ronnie g

Wow!  That is all amazing!  Thanks for taking the time to feed ME all that wonderful knowledge.  It makes sense to me though as you've explained it very well and I understand.  However,,,, understanding the science is one thing, I need to put it into practical use next time I do this.  ( A couple of days - maybe over the weekend)  It's so addictive.  haha.  I will definitely keep up my blog with pictures and results.  Once again, thank you, thank you, thank you.  BTW, the bread I've made so far is not inedible, my hubby loves it!  It's just that I'm such a perfectionist and I want to make AWESOME bread, not 'just edible'.  Haha.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I'm on a journey, like yourself.  

Don't be fooled, bread is addictive, especially if it tastes good.   Inedible?  I didn't think it was.

No hurry, no worry.  :)