The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dough gets thin and runny, bread won't rise

MichelleKslak's picture
MichelleKslak

Dough gets thin and runny, bread won't rise

I've been reading this site for over a year, since I started baking bread, but I am a novice and most of the time feel like I’m reading Greek.  I don’t understand most of what people are talking about here, but I hope someone understands what I’m saying and can help me.  Please bear with me!  After a lot of trial and error, I hit on a great recipe using Carl's 1847 starter and a bulk mix I concocted from various sources.  Anyway, none of that is the problem.  For almost a year, I’ve enjoyed great bread with a nice chewy crust and it rose so high I was afraid it would fall under its own weight.  Not as sour as I would like, but still very good.  The problem started about a month or so ago when the bread dough got runny-looking during the first rise, like it melted.  It still rose beautifully, so I put it in the loaf pan, covered it with a towel (just like I always do) and put it in a warm oven for its second rise (1 hour), and nothing.  It rose maybe an inch or so, then fell.  The second loaf just plopped into the loaf pan like a stone and never rose at all.  The next week, I took the starter out of the refrigerator and fed it as usual, but it seemed really thin. I fattened it up with flour then did my usual and the same thing happened as the prior week—2 dense loaves that weighed a ton and had almost the texture of pound cake.  They had recently flushed our hydrants and our water smelled funny, so I threw out my starter (thinking I got some bad bacteria).  Made new starter with bottled water and Carl’s starter and started over.  First 2 loaves were OK, didn’t rise very much, but I thought as my starter aged, it would improve.  It didn’t.  It’s doing the same thing as the old starter bread did.  I also got new, fresh yeast.

Here is my bread-baking routine:

1. After my refrigerated starter reaches room temperature, I feed it about every 12 hours (flour, water, potato flakes), it bubbles beautifully and smells good. 

2. I pour it into my bread maker (my hands don’t work right and I can’t knead much) to right over the paddle in the middle, add 1 1/2 T virgin olive oil, 1/2 T honey, 2 1/4—2 1/2 cups mixture (flour, powdered buttermilk, salt, sugar), 2 t yeast.

3. Set it on dough setting, it runs 1 1/2 hours.

4. Pour that into my loaf pan, cover with a tea towel and put into a warm oven for 1 hour to rise again.

5. After the hour, remove the towel, bake at 400 for 15 minutes, spritz water into the oven 3 times, turn oven down to 350 for 20 minutes. 

Perfect bread!  Until now.  I must have baked 100 loaves this identical way with no problems. Right now, I have a loaf trying to rise that I kneaded yeast water into, so far nothing.  What happened and how can I fix it?  Sorry for length of this, but I am completely baffled and am about to give up.

 

flournwater's picture
flournwater

I can't find enough data to know the exact ratio of water:flour in your formula (level of hydration) but I suspect you may be over-proofing in your initial phase (and perhaps even your second phase) because you're relying on the clock instead of the condition of the dough.  Try proofing only until the dough approaches a mass of doubling in size (perhaps about 80% increased mass) then go to the next step. 

MichelleKslak's picture
MichelleKslak

(Starter) Ratio of water:flour is approx. 1:1, maybe a tablespoon or so more flour, plus 1 T potato flakes. In one of my tries I did maybe half water to flour. That was too thick, so I wound up adding water. If it gets too lively, should I refrigerate it?  I only remember that happening once.  I let the bread machine do the first rise, that's one hour.  Should I stop it as soon as it rises?  Sometimes it takes the full hour. And I can tell right away by the sound if it "plops" into the loaf pan that it's dead and won't rise a second time.  I warm my oven at 200 for about 10 minutes, then place my covered loaf in the warmed oven for about 1 hour. I do check it often and if it rises too fast, I start baking at that point.

I got all my ideas from this site and other bread sites, including my "big batch" (20 cups flour, powdered buttermilk ...) that I spoon into individual loaf portions and freeze until needed, the potato flakes.  This is the recipe i've been using about a year with great results (i could post pictures!).  i even thought it might be the warm spell we've been having, but it didn't happen last summer. I'm still unsure of all the bread terms.  But i really do appreciate any and all help!

G-man's picture
G-man

To give an informed diagnostic we need a bit more information.

Did you modify your feeding ritual in any way at all before the problems began? Any change, no matter how seemingly inconsequential, might disrupt the balance in your starter.

To echo flournwater in the absence of further information, conditions do change and monitoring your bread's rises by time is probably the least reliable way to do it. As the temperature gets warmer, your dough can and will rise much faster, becoming overproofed very easily. What this sounds like is that the yeast ran out of energy, leaving the various other microorganisms to run amok and chew through the gluten. Since the problem persisted through two different starters, this is very likely the case.

MichelleKslak's picture
MichelleKslak

G-man , (you're not from Garrettsville are you?) i won't bore you with repeating what i wrote above, but what you said makes perfect sense.  That's exactly what it feels like - like the yeast just died! In the last month I've tried anything I could think of - i've used both fast acting and regular yeast, new yeast, more starter, less starter, adding flour, waiting until the starter completely deflated, feeding sooner than 12 hours. (Should i try adding the yeast later in the cycle?) I do seem to have less liquid (hooch?) on top, but i can't remember when that started. I am really about ready to give up - i've wasted pounds and pounds of ingredients with the same miserable results. Thanks for any help!

MichelleKslak's picture
MichelleKslak

1. Could my Carl's dried starter be bad?  As soon as I received it from them, I made a whole batch and dried it, like they suggest, so I have a lot. I put it in the plastic baggie the original came in, sealed it and left it on the shelf. Should I have refrigerated (or froze) it?

2. Could my bread maker somehow be responsible - getting too hot?  Next time I'm going to try taking the pan out as soon as it's done kneading and letting it rise at room temperature.

3. (new) Could all the rain we've had recently (over a month) have affected it?

4. Should I throw this starter out and start all over - again?

Again, thanks for any help.

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Allow me to make an attempt to dissect your formula and procedure and see if that helps any ....

Here is my bread-baking routine:

1. After my refrigerated starter reaches room temperature, I feed it about every 12 hours (flour, water, potato flakes), it bubbles beautifully and smells good. 

A.  So far, so good .....

2. I pour it into my bread maker (my hands don’t work right and I can’t knead much) to right over the paddle in the middle, add 1 1/2 T virgin olive oil, 1/2 T honey, 2 1/4—2 1/2 cups mixture (flour, powdered buttermilk, salt, sugar), 2 t yeast.

A.  "I pour it"  how much of it do you pour?

B.  By "bread maker", I assume you're using a Bread Machine.  You have enough yeast in the formula to make twice the amount of bread (given its ratio to other ingredients) so I'm wondering at this step if you have enough food for the amount of yeast in the formula.  If the yeast runs out of food (flour) it's going to starve.

3. Set it on dough setting, it runs 1 1/2 hours.

A.  If "runs for 1 1/2 hours" means the machine is actually mechanically stirring/mixing/kneading the dough then, IMO, far to long.  If "runs for 1 1/2 hours" means the timer announces the end of a phase that may have included an increase in temperature then, IMO, that's too long for an initial proofing.

4. Pour that into my loaf pan, cover with a tea towel and put into a warm oven for 1 hour to rise again.

A.  "warm oven" doesn't tell us what the temperature actually is.  A temperature of 110 degrees can kill your yeasties (if there are any left after the long fermentation periods) and to say the oven is preheated with the thermostat set at 200 for ten minutes (posted later in your descriptive data) doesn't reveal how hot the oven actually is when the dough is deposited into it. 

5. After the hour, remove the towel, bake at 400 for 15 minutes, spritz water into the oven 3 times, turn oven down to 350 for 20 minutes. 

A.  "After an hour" indicates you are watching the clock instead of the dough.  Because temperature and humidity are never equal from day to day (or hour to hour for that matter) that will never give you consistent results.  You've got to monitor the condition of the dough.  Try using the finger poke test to determine when your dough is ready for the next step.

Because you indicated your final dough mixture is sometimes too thick, I assume the 1:1 ratio you refer to is your starter formula.  A 1:1 ratio (by weight) in a dough formula would never be too thick .....

 

MichelleKslak's picture
MichelleKslak

2A.  I pour about 2 1/2 cups of starter, normally.  I've used less - about 2 cups - this last month, trying to get past the "melting" stage.  It didn't seem to melt that time, but it was a ball of really dry dough. Rose a little in the bread machine, not at all in the bread pan.

2B.  My original recipe called for 2 1/2 teaspoons, but it smelled more yeasty than I liked so I cut it back to 2 teaspoons. Like I said, it worked beautifully for about a year, but I'm willing to try anything!

3A. The bread machine, on "dough" setting, kneads for 5 minutes, rests 5 minutes, kneads 20 minutes, then rises for 60 minutes. I think the pan warms up a bit during the rising (the book doesn't say anything about it, but I'm always checking it).

4A. I don't really need to warm up the oven in the summer months, so I can drop that part.  You're right, I don't know the real oven temperature. Do I need to buy a thermometer? 

5A. I really do watch the dough rise - can't seem to be able help myself!  So if it's rising too fast, I start baking right away.

Yes, the 1:1 I was talking about is the starter.

New question: can I just bake after the first rise and skip the rest?

Again, thank you.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Based on your description of the dough, "the bread dough got runny-looking during the first rise, like it melted", my guess is that your starter may be producing excess enzymes or acids that are attacking the gluten structure.  If that is the case, you may be able to get your starter back on track by "washing" your starter.  The technique has been described here several times.  You can locate references by using the Search tool at the upper left corner of the page.  Use search terms like washing, washing a starter, starter washing, etc., and read through the process.  It is somewhat tedious but can rescue a starter whose population has changed and is producing different results than it used to.

Alternatively, you can resuscitate some of your dried starter.  Or do both at the same time.

Paul

MichelleKslak's picture
MichelleKslak

Thanks for your advice. I'm going to try washing and the one below (the pesky thiol one).  It will be difficult, since I don't throw out any starter - i was baking every week and used it all.  Wish me luck!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

...bread dough got runny-looking during the first rise, like it melted.

I thought as my starter aged, it would improve.  It didn’t. 

I think you need to speed up your feedings.  3 x a day for about 10 days.  On the site search box (upper left corner, top of the page) look up:  thiol compounds, Debra Wink  or click here:  (LINK)        

See if that sounds familiar to you and applies to your situation. 

MichelleKslak's picture
MichelleKslak

That was it exactly!  (i did read that a couple of weeks ago, but didn't finish it due to that "Greek language" thing. i got stopped at s&f, and pain au levain and autolyse just plain scared me!)  But since you linked it, i went back and re-read it.  This time i read it through completely.  i'm going to start right now, but i'm not very patient. i'll have to curb my enthusiasm and will write again.  Thanks so much!

hanseata's picture
hanseata

with the others. I do not think it's the bread machine, but the amount of additional yeast appears very high to me. Washing the starter might be a good idea, but what about a total different approach?

If you do not like kneading, try the stretch and fold technique (as described here in TFL) and retard your dough in the refrigerator overnight. Let the dough come to room temperature (ca. 2 hours) before using, and then, also, proof the shaped bread at room temperature, watching it (usually 45 - 60 minutes, but go by look and feel, not by the clock!).

Karin

MichelleKslak's picture
MichelleKslak

This is the 4th day.  On day 1, i added 1/2 cup of whole wheat flour (trying to get it a little more sour), 1/2 cup regular bread flour, about 7/8 cup distilled water, 1 Tablespoon potato flakes. After that first feeding, i used all bread flour.  Am feeding 3 times a day. Immediately after the 3rd feeding, i cover with a tea towel and refrigerate. First thing in the morning, i take it out, dump half and let it get to room temp before feeding. My question:  what am i looking for?  My starter always looked and smelled fine.  However, the starter that i am throwing out (into an old coffee can so it's not going down the drain or leaking through my trash bags!) is very thin and has lots of hooch on top. Does that mean anything? i don't stir it or anything, so that might be normal. i can understand that if thiol did get in, this will eventually get it out, but i still don't know how i'll know when it's gone. And how did it get in there? Is it in the air?  I already threw out my original (almost a year old!) starter and made new. How did both get ruined?  Will this happen again? As always, I appreciate all help!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Ok.  At this rate of feeding you will be flour broke before the beginning of next week.  

First of all reduce the size of your starter so you won't have to feed it much flour.   Start with a level tablespoon of ripe starter.

Mix up your food flours (with the amounts you just listed) into a container, this will save you time and measuring with each feed.   Blend the tablespoon of starter with half a tablespoon of water and dump a heaping tablespoon (or two level tablespoons) of the flour mixture bringing it together into a paste that can hold its shape.   Then cover and let it rise and peak.  At the peak, reduce to just a tablespoon to feed again, dilute with half a spoonful of water and add a heaping spoon of the flour mixture.  Repeat until the starter shapes up.   When the slumping thiol problem is over, then you can increase the size of the starter.  

MichelleKslak's picture
MichelleKslak

(Since I already filled an old coffee can with discarded starter, my husband found a huge popcorn can to fill up next - it's a good thing I buy flour in 25# bags!)

I actually thought i was doing what you suggested above.  As stated, i'm a complete novice. i came up with a recipe that worked for me; great bread that by now i could bake in my sleep.  Any deviation is Greek to me.

So ... i should throw all this away except 1 tablespoon?  And the "new" starter will be very thick? i've read of starter so thick that people cut it in pieces to use, is that what i will wind up with? And how will I know when it has "shaped up" and the slumping thiol is gone? Sorry i'm so dense about this, i need step-by-step instructions, and i really want to fix this. i miss my bread and store-bought just doesn't cut it anymore.

I was planning to try to bake a loaf tomorrow, baking it after the first rise just to see what it tastes like.

MichelleKslak's picture
MichelleKslak

I can't thank everyone enough! I made the first loaf with only one rise.  Don't think I'll be doing that again, but the second loaf is gorgeous!! (I took pictures, but they're too dark) It didn't melt and rose twice, just like it's supposed to.  I'm so excited!!  It was worth the gazillion cups of flour, and if there's a next time, I'll know what to do. So thank you, thank you.

My next project is pitas. My son is coming home for a few days next month and wants a smorgasborg of bread.  Any ideas?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

you can run them down the drain, where they will end up adding sweetness to the sewage.  Or you can dump them into a compost pile where they will happily return to dirt.  :)