The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is random failure to rise explainable?

uncle goosehead's picture
uncle goosehead

Is random failure to rise explainable?

I've been using lately a starter that I started about 5-6 weeks ago. Local wild yeast.  It has performed fine.  I've learned to make it less sour, how to feed and make it happy etc.  So, I made a pretty typical multigrain large loaf (about 2.5 lbs) with a 1/2 cup of the starter like normal.  Do this 3 times per week, sometimes 4.  I set it as usual to rise overnight (there's some prior steps that I've long adopted, using a 100% hydration flour-water soak seperately from the 90% sponge, mix it all up, a fold or two, depending on what I've added, all I think is supefluous to the question I have).  It is typically around 65-70% hydration when I have calculated (it seems to peform better at ~70). It rose about half it's usual and just stopped.  I decided to leave it in the morning to after work, and it hadn't done anything.  I decided I better get it going, so added a tsp of yeast mixed in a couple of tsps water and a dot of unbleached flour and mixed it up in the mixer.  Of course this got it to rise nicely and baked it up.  Fine finished product, though I felt like I cheated.

So I thought, well, let's try again as usual, and the loaf comes out just fine, like all my usual results, save this mystery one.  I wonder what happened?  The starter looks the same, smells and tastes the same.  Was it just on strike? between generations of yeast babies?  didn't like the weird music I was playing in kitchen (traditional choral church music actually, mass settings)?  Maybe I just deceived myself about what it was doing that day.  ?? the mystery of yeast and baking??

My usual mix for a multigrain loaf contains, two or more flours of: barley, spelt, rye, whole wheat, oat, and always a little unbleached for working with it when sticky.  I'm not too obsessive about calculations, and go by stickiness versus weight from experience, which I don't think is the problem given many many repeats of the same process for daily family comsumption over the past 20+ years.

Any ideas?  Thanks!

jcking's picture

Happened a few weeks ago, thought it might have had something to do with atmospheric pressure; had a bad storm.


StuartG's picture

Ceres ( was annoyed.

But seriously, I have this kind of random failure happen from time to time - fortunately quite rarely.  I normally attribute it to accidentally getting my measurements wrong (when things go right for a long time then I eyeball more and can get sloppy) or misjudging environmental factors (it was colder than I realized or less humid).

It could be that or it could be an accidental contamination (left some cleaning liquid on the stiring spoon).

Sorry I don't have a concrete answer but I can offer condolences and the acknowledgement that you're not alone :)  I also really empathise you with your comment about feeling like youre cheating when we resort to using yeast to bolster our flagging loaves.

Good luck in the future!


uncle goosehead's picture
uncle goosehead

I think the environment angle is probably the one.  Your explanations have persuaded me.  Hadn't occurred to me to be so important.  We're still in early spring here, today's high was 10°C with overnight at -3° for example.  We had a day of 17° and my wife openned up the solarium which adjoins the kitchen.  The kitchen is generally warm and the solarium heats up things, but it cools as soon as evening approaches.  Didn't track the temp and didn't really match up the days, but that's about all I can think of, I remember being in the kitchen and running to close up the solarium door.  And it makes sense.  I'm matching up the days but can't completely remember (feature of middle age).  Maybe it was just a little cool for a critical time period.