The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baking for 2 years and not improving

bread10's picture

Baking for 2 years and not improving



I have been baking sourdough spelt loaves for 2 years now and still not improving and finding my results are always hit or miss. I have read up on sourdough baking on the internet and purchased books and recipe books, watched others do it and still can not improve despite following everything step by step.

I feed my sourdough starter sprouted grains crushed up so they are getting plenty of goodness and the starter is bubly and smells pleasently fruity and fermented!

Usually my bread comes out of the oven looking like a rough cake. It tastes ok when toasted but is definetley not edible as a sandwich. I can not achieve a crusty outside or a airy inside. And sometimes the loaf just dosen't rise much or collapses despite using a healthy starter and not over proofing the dough. 

I usually bake the bread in a cast iron pot, but have also tried using, clay pots and bread tins and water dish/spray oven. The cast iron is most successfull but still a lot left to be desired. I don't bother slashing the loaves anymore.


I would love to be able to bake a loaf which is edible as bread, has a light airy crumb and crisp crust and isn't a hit and miss everytime. I have tried lovely 100% spelt sourdough loaves and seen pictures in books and on the internet, but I just can not achieve or improve my results despite perservering.


My current recipe is:


600g spelt flour (sifted)

300-450g dough starter

350-450ml warm water

(1/4 - 1/2 cup sprouted grains crushed)

12g celtic sea salt

Knead dough > Rest > Remove dough for starter > add salt > knead > Rest/prove in cast iron pot (at room temp or sometimes refrigerator) > Let it rise until ready (using finger to test dough)

Cook in cast iron pot at 200 degrees for 10 - 15 minutes then reduce temperate to 180 degrees and cook for further 15-30 minutes.




Doc.Dough's picture

1. There is not enough gluten in spelt to make a light loaf so it will be dense unless you change something (I would be happy to see a photo and a formula for a bread that proves me wrong), thus you will need to add enough wheat gluten as either vital wheat gluten or bread flour to get to the extensibility you are looking for.

2. You are using a quite large dose of starter and the hydration is quite low (from what you say I assume you are using prior batch dough as your starter which would put the starter hydration between 58 and 75% which is a large range).  Try to control it a little better - perhaps at 65%.  For more flavor you might want to go to just 5-10% of the total flour in the starter and increase the bulk fermentation time correspondingly.


bread10's picture

Thanks for the reply. 

I have been purchasing a spelt loaf from an artisan sourdough baker and the loaf has a lovely crust and soft inside and is palatable as hearty sandwich bread when fresh. I was told that the loaf was 100% spelt flour.

I was always under the impression that spelt had a lot of gluten, however the gluten in spelt was generally easier to digest then modern wheat. However I know spelt is harder to work with then modern wheat.

The reason I bake at 200 C degrees is because the cast iron pot is not meant to be heated above 200. Also most of the recipes I read are 200 C degrees or less.

bread10's picture

(Double Post)

Rocketcaver's picture

... 200 degrees sounds kind of low.

bread10's picture

Woops, I meant 200 degrees Celcius.

Most of the recipes I read are 200 or less and the cast iron pot is not meant to be heated above 200 degrees celcius.


suave's picture

Of course it is.  It's only the handle that's not supposed to be overheated.  Take it off, replace with a metal one (I fashioned it from shirt hanger - free!!) and you can go wherever the limit of you oven is.

1.  Crank up the oven

2.  Skip the sprouted grain.  I'm not sure they hurt your bread, but skip them until you figure everything else out

3.  Make your dough stiffer, it is obvious that it is to wet, to make anything resembling a sandwich loaf

4.  Limit the amount of starter, I'd say that at 100% hydration 300 g is tops that you shoud use.

5.  Look up a working spelt recipe, the guy with videos (breadcetera? breadtopia? I always forget) has one.


Janetcook's picture

This is a recipe for a 100% spelt loaf that I have baked and it has worked for me.

It is written using a biga but I use my sourdough with it and I drop the IY in the final dough too.  You can leave out the walnuts and the spices without changing the other ingredients.

Good Luck,


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I've never had trouble with spelt stretching, in fact for me I have to watch that it doesn't rise too much or risk over-proofing.   It just stretches so far as to have a crumb that can't support the cooled loaf.  Sort of like angel food cake with a crust, the crust being the only support.  Cutting the loaf becomes a chore in delicacy.  

Feeding the starter sprouted grain flour makes me also wonder...  I might be more inclined to use food with less amylase enzymes when building for a recipe.  Maybe feeding the starter with previously baked spelt bread (if you have to stick to spelt) or just spelt flour.  I'm not sure if too many enzymes too soon in the process might be breaking down the dough integrity at unpredictable rates before finally baking the loaf.  That might explain the irregular baking results.  Spelt is not only easier for us to digest but for the beasties as well.   I find that if I use "ready" indicators for wheat breads, I'm over-proofed every time.  So I drastically shorten my rises from the norm (norm being wheat flour normality) carefully watching temperatures and never let the dough rise as high as regular wheat.  It makes up for itself in oven spring.

G-man's picture

Maybe you're having an issue with underdeveloped gluten?

Since Mini seems to be having the opposite issue you're having, I wonder how much work you're putting into the dough before it is shaped and baked.

nicodvb's picture

did you try to add pure vitamin C to the flour? It should help a lot.

suave's picture

He looks for improvement, not shortcut.

Mebake's picture

I totally agree with Mini, feeding a starter sprouted grains that contains too many gluten/starch attacking enzymes, is asking for trouble. Other factors have been explained by fellow tfl members.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Pale crust color (spelt flour did not change much from the original color while baking, it starts out red/brown.)  (Could also be the lighting in the photo.)

Surface looks broken down and irregular not a smooth rounded loaf like it should be.  I think the gluten has been deteriorated beyond its limit or under developed or both.  

comment: "doesn't rise much or collapses"  also indicates over-proofing  

If the flour is full of dark flakes, these could be cutting the gluten with their sharp edges.  Try soaking the flour to soften these flakes (after all it is whole wheat) before adding the sourdough starter or sift some of them out and line the pan the flakes or roll the dough into the flakes to coat before panning.  The flakes can also be used to feed the starter.  Measure for the recipe after sifting.

A wet loaf also proofs faster.   Reduce the moisture to help slow down fermentation.  Try starting out with a dryer dough because it will get more relaxed and seem wetter while it's resting and fermenting.

Juergen's picture

If I were you, I'd go back to the basics. Instead of using spelt (or any other type of flour for that matter), make a simple sourdough bread with white wheat flour only which has some good protein content (in the 11.5% to 12% range). When it comes to your starter, make it a 100% hydration starter to take out the guesswork when you add it to your final dough. Then proceed to make the final dough (which includes the starter) at an overall hydration level of about 65%. This way you'll get a manageable dough which is neiter too sticky nor too dry. Looking at the photo it is my guess that the dough from which you made that bread, was far too wet. The only thing keeping such a wet dough from spreading outwards, is your pan. A less wet dough with some good gluten development will hold itself together far better and is far more capable of rising upwards. Hope this helps, good luck.