The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Is my starter good enough... or am I making the bread wrong?

XtremDough's picture

Is my starter good enough... or am I making the bread wrong?

Hey All,

Well after many attempts, I finally seem to have something that looks and behaves a bit like a home-made sourdough starter. I made it with wholewheat bread flour (strong flour) and water, generally putting in half as much water again as flour when feeding (so if feeding 100g flour, I added 150g water). This one seems to grow well, it gets reasonably bubbly when fed (after a few hours), smells nice and yeasty and in general seems to look right going by pictures I've seen in guides and posts here.

I made my first loaf from this starter yesterday and it has certainly made something that looks and tastes like bread. But I wasn't really happy with how it looked during the process and the loaf ended up quite dense. It actually puddled in the oven, sinking down and flattening.

The loaf I made was done as follows:

250 g starter + 100g Wholewheat bread flour and 150g water. Left for about 6 hours to develop. It bubbled and developed as expected.... looked rather like poolishes that I've made before when making baguette with purchased yeast.

Then, added 100g water and enough wholewheat bread flour to bring the mix together as a firm dough, which I then kneaded and left to rise for a few hours.

Knocked the dough out, put it into a floured basket to shape for about 1 hour. Then baked at high temperature on a heavy baking tray.


What I noticed, was that once the firmer dough was made, it did rise... but took a long time to do so and felt sort of clammy, heavy and sticky to the touch. It really just didn't feel right. One thing to note, is that it is winter so it's not particularly warm around here at the moment... 

What I'm wondering, is whether my starter is 'strong' enough to actually rise a dough properly. Do I need to go through some more feeding iterations to get it stronger? Or is my approach to making the loaf so far off, that it would cause the rise to be so unresponsive? Or do I maybe just need to find somewhere warmer to rise the dough?

Any advice would be welcome. I'll be fiddling about with it myself of course (half the fun is in working these things out) but advice on which direction to look in - or perhaps some indication of what sort of rising performance I should expect from a successful starter, would point me along the right lines.


neustart7's picture

Hey X-dough

Been there myself, here is what I've found. I started measuring the amount of rise my dough got in a cylindrical plastic tub. Put a rubber band around the base amount and watch it go. With regular yeast I was able to get a 100% rise (it rose as much as the base amount) however, when I left it this long the dough was overproofed. It was real sticky in the handling and it collapsed while baking. My guess is that you might have overproofed or waited too long.

Compared to regular yeast when I used my homemade starter (from organic rye flour) I was never able to get more than 30% rise. It just didn't want to do much more and I would get the same sticky dough/collapsed on baking result. I started spiking my sourdough with regular yeast. I make a poolish of sourdough starter and don't really care if it overproofs. I use it to provide the flavor. 20% poolish is enough to give my bread sourdough flavor. when I mix in the poolish I add a 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast. I ferment warm (72°) and after my dough rises 30% I do a bench rest and then let it rise for another 2 hours in the wicker baskets. Score and bake in a dutch oven.

I'm happy with my bread and I've gotten used to spiking my dough which speeds up the process for me and makes it more predictable. the result is fantastic, we much prefer the homemade bread to anything we get at the store.

Good luck with your sourdough, the effort will be worth it.


MangoChutney's picture

Have you baked bread before with that flour, so that you know what to expect from it with instant yeast?  I ask because I have found that my loaves are better when I soak my wholemeal flour in water during the time my pre-ferment is fermenting.  In my case this is overnight.  In your case this would be six hours.  Once the wholemeal flour is well-soaked, it seems to form gluten more readily for me when I work it together with the pre-ferment and salt.

Davo's picture

When I make sourdough, I generally mix a small amount of active starter into a much larger amount of newer flour/water for about 10 or so hours fermentation. I will use around 100 g starter (less if it's warm) into around 500 g of flour and 360 g of water. This makes a fairly stiff "levain" (some will call it "sourdough" some I think "pre-ferment", whatever that mens - it's fermenting after all, but anyway...). Then i mix my (approx)   1kg of levain into about 1.5 kg of flour and 1 kg of water (plus salt). (The water I adjust by feel, as the right amount depends on the flour.) This is "bread dough", which I knead, and stretch/fold over about 2.5-3 hours, then is shaped into loaves which get either about 5 hours proving at room temp, or overnight  in the fridge, before baking.

Anyway the point about all this is I reckon you need a lot of fresh flour/water compared to your mature starter/levain because your fermented starter/levain has very little protein left and will be hard to get any gluten development, and will be overproved very quickly when fed only a little - certainly it will quickly go past the point where you will get any over spring.

That's my take anyway.

 PS my mix is for 4 large loaves.