The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough doesn't bake through properly

a_pummarola's picture

Sourdough doesn't bake through properly

Hello, first post here.

I've been baking for about a year now but only seriously since around January. I finally have had some success baking with sourdough after months of miserable failures. My kitchen is very hot (78-82F year round--the heat in winter is insanely strong) so I've been proofing in a cooler with ice. I got a wireless thermometer to keep in there that shows it stays around 65F for a day.

I've made a few loaves successfully using this method. But this past weekend I had two failures trying to make focaccia where they simply did not bake through. I could have kept them in the oven for an hour and they still look sickly, translucent and totally gummy. In other words, they're inedible.

The thing is, I made the exact same dough except using dry yeast and it baked through beautifully. I made two to make sure I wasn't crazy, and then repeated the sourdough experiment for yet another failure.

Is this a problem with acidity, or could it be just because I'm not getting enough rise out of the sourdough? I've been using very little but very active starter. I make a sponge from my storage starter (which is brown rice flour, but that shouldn't matter--I use just a tiny bit of it as an inoculum, if you will) that I let rise until it starts to fall back down. The yeast appears to be very active. This same process has worked for me with loaves, so I don't know why focaccia is giving me so much trouble. I had the same problem in the past trying to make pizza.

Certainly I had more rise from the dry yeast, as one would expect, but I had some rise out of the sourdough. It had a normal sourdough smell that I get when I proof at these lower temperatures. Room temperature gave me very strong, astringent odors that remained (lightly) after baking.

Any help is most appreciated!


100% "Better for Bread" flour

78% water

3% oil

3% starter, around 80-100% hydration

2.5% salt 

For the dry yeast version I substituted a very small amount of active dry yeast for the 3g sourdough. For a 800g dough I used a 1/4 teaspoon. Both versions proofed for about 24 hours at 65F in the cooler, plus a few more hours in the pan at room temperature (~80F).

Thank you kindly!


ananda's picture

Hi a_pummarola

Have a good read through this thread.   Debra Wink has many sound words of help for you here.

Best wishes


Yerffej's picture

The link that Andy referenced is a great one and your answer may be there.  It is possible (only possible) that the answer is as simple as cutting into the sourdough bread too soon.  If you cut into sourdough too soon after it leaves the oven you will have a gummy consistency that will not leave the cut loaf.  Let your bread cool for 6 hours prior to cutting...........and if you are already doing this,  then read Andy's suggestion.


a_pummarola's picture

Thanks Andy and Jeff. I had never heard of thiols before. This makes perfect sense: my starter looked "creamy" before I used it, and was super sticky despite being very dry. I attributed this to ethanol production by the yeast since that degrades gluten as well. That doesn't really explain the stickiness, though. Actually, now that I think about it, I have seen this even with the brown rice flour starter itself, despite that flour not having gluten.

I have not been great with feeding. I have just been culturing it out of the fridge starter, which is fed once a week. I took the vigorous activity as a sign the yeast are active, not just bacteria. I get a very sour smell when I culture it at a high hydration, but the lower I use the better it smells. More alcohol and the occasional fruity aroma, rather than astringent like nail polish remover.

Thanks again. Just when you think you kind of understand something, there comes a new substance to learn about and work around. I will see if I can develop a stable white flour starter for normal baking and keep the rice flour starter for gluten-free baking only.

a_pummarola's picture

It took almost a month and a half, but now I have some updates.

I read through all the threads on thiols, and everything matched up with what was being said. I fed the starter using white flour only for about 10 days at 1:3:3. Similar to others' experience it began to change around then, looking much more healthy. After a few more days I was able to bake a loaf properly. It rose much better than before. But my next attempt at focaccia failed again, though the result wasn't as bad as the one pictured here. The starter would show signs of breakdown at times, but not others. This starter always smells harsh with white flour.

At this point I had already sent out my SASE for the Carl's Friends starter, which I finally received this past weekend. Although my starter was sickly, I was still a bit skeptical about the difference it could actually make. I got it going by rehydrating a quarter teaspoon of dried starter, eyeballing the water quantity, then mixing in a bit of flour. The next morning it smelled sweet and yeasty, a smell I never got from my last starter when using white flour. I fed 1:1:1 every 12 hours at 78-80F for two or three days. My first loaf was a success, with a great mild flavor. It was much better than my other starter. Those loaves, though tasty, were super sour and the harsh smell was detectable after baking before it evaporated. It never had a 'yeasty' smell, ever. Even after the 'repair' when it rose nicely it still developed that harsh smell in addition to the strong acid smell.

Finally, last night I baked a foccacia dough I had made the night before. I left it overnight around 72-75F and then in the fridge for about 10 hours. After the fridge stay it had an acetic acid smell, again something I had not encountered with the last starter. The acetic acid was not detectable after baking (just as well, since I don't like vinegar) and the flavor was again mild and balanced (I used 20% starter). The crumb was light and delightful, though due to some poor handling after bulk fermentation the alveoli were much smaller than I had wanted.

The Carl's starter occasionally develops that harsh smell at room temp (78-80F), though it's much milder than in the other starter. I wonder if it's something the yeast produce or something the bacteria produce. It's not acetoney, as I used to think. I don't think it's ethyl acetate either. Perhaps some sort of fusel alcohol? I have no idea. The old starter developed less of that in the fridge but still got an unappetizing smell after a few days. This one so far is not anywhere as bad. Hopefully it will do as well now that it's refrigerated. So far the smell in the fridge is much more pleasant.

Thanks everyone who has contributed to this forum's body of knowledge on the more esoteric aspects of starters. Fortunately I really enjoyed studying chemistry in high school and college so this is a fun learning, if not occasionally frustrating, experience for me.

cranbo's picture

The Carl's starter occasionally develops that harsh smell at room temp (78-80F), though it's much milder than in the other starter.

78-80F seems pretty warm to keep a starter, I would think it would run through its food much more quickly, especially at higher hydrations. I think those off-smells may just be alcohol related to how fast your starter is fermenting at that warm room temp. 

I'm assuming you feed your starters 1:1:1 by weight? You might want to try lowering the hydration of your starters, maybe 60% instead of 100%. This may help you manage your starter speed and those off-flavors more effectively, especially if you're storing it at room temp. 

Sounds like you also updated your focaccia formula, and are using more starter now (20%). I was going to suggest that you increase your sourdough amount when I read the initial recipe, but you're already doing that. 


a_pummarola's picture

I only kept it at room temperature to get it going from the dry starter. I fed it at 1:1:1 during this time, often two or three times a day as it looked ready. It was usually around 12hrs. I can only do that on a weekend so I was eager to get it ready for refrigeration. I didn't want to dilute it too much until it seemed strong. I fed the fridge starter 1:2:2 and left it out for a bit to get it going before putting it in the fridge. It is awake in the fridge now. I will try baking something from that this weekend. I prefer the mother/storage starter workflow where I culture a batch to use in my dough from a small amount of mother starter, and feeding the mother at another time.

As for the bad smells, the old starter developed those bad smells in the fridge, too. And in both cases the smell came well before the starter domed. The Carl's developed it after I left it out longer than normal before feeding.

I haven't tried keeping it drier yet. With my old starter, once I lowered the hydration it began producing those thiols that were totally ruining my dough. The starter itself began to collapse completely in a very different way than it would before. I tried a variety of ratios before giving up on that starter altogether.

I got a programmable temperature controller to use with a mini-fridge for a fermentation chamber. I intend to use it mostly for homebrew, but it once I get that going I will be able to keep my starter in a more appropriate temperature range. It is otherwise impossible in my apartment, being on a high floor in an old building with ineffective window AC in summer and exaggerated building-wide heat in the winter. It's 78-82 year round.

I'm going to try making the exact same formula I made last time with this new starter. I am really hoping this wasn't a fluke.

Thanks for your response!