The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

overproofing? under/over kneading?

jkoladycz's picture

overproofing? under/over kneading?

I've been making sourdough successfully for many months now. But, my last few baking sessions have been a wreck!  both times, when i make up the final dough (mixing in my mixer for about 7-10 minutes) it seems like nice dough, but, by the time it's gone through another rise or two it won't stretch at all. after it's been shaped and is in the loaf pan and rising, the top crust is tearing and getting crater like instead of puffing up nicely.

what's going on?

at first i was thinking maybe the gluten hadn't developed enough. now i'm wondering if i've over kneaded or over proofed.

any help or insight is appreciated!


clazar123's picture

I had this problem for a while and I traced it back to my starter. I became rather lax about feeding (or not feeding) and leaving it out. It still functioned but the bread started tearing-like the gluten was de-constructing. I believe it was an enzyme reaction. My starter, also, developed more liquid characteristics-even if I thickened it up. A few hours later, it would be a thinner,runnier liquid.The only cure for me was to discard all of my starter except 1 tbsp and put it (myself really) on a strict care schedule as if the starter was new. It's back and I learned my lesson.

jkoladycz's picture
jkoladycz that you mention it (and i go back and look at my starter directions), i haven't been bringing it up to room temperature before using it. i've just been grabbing some out of the fridge. um, ya. i guess when i'm feeding it i just throw the stuff in there and stick it back in the fridge.


i guess i will do as you advised above and get rid of all of it but a tiny bit and be more strict!

thanks for the advice.

jkoladycz's picture

the dough and loaves seem to rise just fine. could it still be a starter problem?

Chuck's picture


Starters are typically a mix of several things: some yeast strains and some bacteria strains. Some things provide rising power  ...some help fend off invaders  ...some enhance flavor  ...and some do "bad" things. Hopefully your starter culture contains something that supplies rising power, but not anything (or at least not much) that does "bad" things,

One of the "bad" things some growie-things can do is break down the gluten. This is usually called an "enzyme reaction". If it breaks down only the part of the gluten that provides extensibility, your dough will seem fine at first but will lose its stretchability and so tear. It sounds like that's what's happening.

So if you're unlucky, "rising" and "tearing" can be produced by different growie-things in the same starter culture.

Vogel's picture

Maybe the starter (or another pre-ferment like a Poolish, if used) were overproofed when mixed into the final dough? That could result in an increased enzyme reaction, deconstructing the gluten and creating the moon crater surface. It is important to use a pre-ferment/sourdough before it has collapsed completely. The best time to use it is when it has already peaked and is just starting to slightly collapse in the center. If it is not possible to catch this point, it is okay to use it slightly underproofed, rather than overproofed. I often had this problem in the past, too, mostly when there was a major weather/temperature change, which changed the rising times considerably. In this case the times you are used to or which are listed in the recipe may not work anymore.

I never had a problem with not letting the sourdough gain room temperature before feeding it. I never do it. But of course this doesn't mean that it can't be potential problem. Of course, ripe and fed sourdough that is ready to use for your final dough shouldn't wait more than half a day or so in the fridge before it is used or it will deteriorate.

Then of course it could also be that the dough has been overkneaded. When the gluten is developed to the maximum it means that the protein has a maximum of the strongest bonds (the disulfid bonds). At a certain stage all the molecules which can lead to a disulfid bond have been consumed and the gluten simply starts to deconstruct when further stressed by a stretch & fold, shaping or rising. In this case you can also notice that the dough is releasing fluid and becomes really sticky, even if you use tons of flour on your work surface. Especially with spelt this can be a problem since the gluten isn't as strong as wheat gluten.
Especially if you let the dough rise several times and/or do stretch & folds it is important not to fully develop the gluten, but only at a medium rate. Throughout the bulk rise it will further develop. See this: . If you only let the dough rise once during bulk fermentation, it should look like the picture on the right. If you do stretch & folds or punch downs, it should rather look like the picture in the middle, so it is already translucant/paperthin, but still have some thick "veins" left.