The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Third time's a charm!

twelvebears's picture

Third time's a charm!

Hi Folks.  New to this baking lark, so this is my first post other than an introduction.

Have dived straight into sourdough because it's my favorite bread and is either difficult to get and/or expensive here in the UK!  Not so bothered about 'normal' bread, though would still like to crack that at some point.

So I started my starter off on 6th Feb, fed it daily through the week on Spelt flour and water and attempted my first loaf over the Friday and Saturday.  All looked good at the time but now know that the dough was WAAAY too dry, and so the loaf was small, dense and got fed to the chickens.

Undeterred, I tried another that Saturday and Sunday. Made the dough less-dry and was feeling good, until I tried to plop it into the big stainless steel stock-pot with glass lid that I use.  I had stuck to the bowl I was proving it in and sort of rolled/collapsed into the pot in a bit of a heap.  Couldn't do anything as it was at 500C so just put the lid on, closed the oven and walked off in a bad mood.

Amazingly, this second loaf was much better and actually looked better because of it's 'artisan' shape!  Good crust and taste, but the crumb was still a bit dense and didn't have the big open texture I was looking for.  Still, all good practice!

Couldn't bake during the week, so gave my 'pet' a bit of food, closed it up and stuck it in the door of the fridge until yesterday.  Pulled it out, let it warm up and gave it a feed to wake it up.

This is where I did things differently.  I took 150ml of my reanimated starter (it was bubbling nicely), and gave it 1 cup of strong bread four and about 1/2 of water and left it overnight. This morning it was bubbling like mad and I added about 3 cups of flour and a bit more water and intended to leave it until late tonight or tomorrow to bake it.  Unfortunately I had no chance because the dough was rising like crazy!  Within about 4 hrs it had more than doubled and was brimming a 5 liter mixing bowl.  I beat it back down with my scraper and added a bit more flower but knew it was too wet and sticky and that I was running out of proving room.  Within another 4 hrs it was back, blob-like and threatening to overflow the bowl, so I decided to wrestle it into the oven.

It was sticky as hell and I got into a right mess despite my attempts to 'flower up' everything.  Eventually I got it into the pot and left it to bake.  My hopes for loaf number 3 were not good.  It had been too wet, seemed to have risen like crazy even though there was NO commercial yeast being used, and hadn't had the proper, long rise period that it should have.  What would the results be??

The answer was, despite having ticked every box on the 'what NOT to do with sourdough' check-list, the bread was AMAZING!  Fantastic crust with great caramelization, and lovely open structure to the crumb and the perfect chewy texture.  In short, it turned out exactly like I would have wished, even though it seemed at the time that things were going horribly wrong!

What I now need to do, is remember where I went 'wrong' this time, so that I can do exactly the was things again next time but on purpose.

Things I have learned are:

1. Need a bigger mixing/proving bowl.

2. Wetter is better.  It may be a PITA to handle and get IN  the oven, but it's much better that being too dry

3. Bread making, or at least sourdough, seems more forgiving of variation, mistakes a general clumsiness that I had expected 

p.s. Regarding the ridiculously fast rising of the dough, can I just mention that February in the UK is not warm and out house is not hot either, so this wasn't just because of a very warm environment

hanseata's picture

that's how you learn - my third loaf was still a brick, and several more followed.

Welcome to TFL,


Ruralidle's picture

Hi Steve

Firstly - it is far, far better to weigh your ingredients (in grams) than to use volume measurements, which are rather imprecise.  A hydration level of 70% is a reasonable starting point for your dough and that means that you use water that is 70% of the weight of the flour.  So 350g of water to 500g of flour, but as you are using a starter you also need to take account of the weight of flour and water that you have added by using your starter.  Again, it is far better to maintain your starter in a standard manner, adding refreshment by weight so that you know what you have.  For example I maintain a 100% hydration starter and that has equal weights of flour and water.  If I use 200 g of that in a "standard" recipe that calls for 500g of flour and 350g of water you would use 200g starter, 400g flour and 250g water because the 200g starter has 100g flour and 100g water in it.

I hope that is clear and gives you a starting point, but don't be afraid to ask any questions that you may have.

dabrownman's picture

my bricks cute names and paint the name on the top.  I then shellac them to make them weatherproof , not that weather of any kind could harm them in the least) and put them in someone else's garden when they are not looking.  Then they too can be surprised at their ability to grow bread bricks without really trying :-)