The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough proofing troubles

flank steak's picture
flank steak

Sourdough proofing troubles

To put it bluntly: I am fairly certain I am underproofing, but I have no idea what time I need to allow for my bread to fully develop at around 68-70 degrees F. Last night I stuck it in the fridge from 10:30PM to 4 AM and let it continue to proof on the counter at around 68F until 10AM---And the result was yet Another loaf with GIANT tunnels running through it surrounded by dense gummy lifeless bread (Plus a really odd shiny rubbery/soft crust despite my ususal time allotment for steam). I keep messing around with the time element , allowing for more time, an extra hour here and there, I thought the retarding in the fridge would give it some time, but nay. My starter is quite active, I don't think it is his fault. The basic formula is constant as is the flour. I am thinking about leaving it out on the counter top tonight, all night, about 10 hours hopefully ought to do it. At 68 degrees that should work, yes?

I used to make awesome bread but now that the weather is cooler, it feels like I am flopping around with out a clue. If anyone has dealt with the season's changing and its effect on your baking and could offer me some advice, I would be much obliged.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

would be needed.  Tucking away in the refrigerator without any warm counter time is delaying the rise.  You're rushing it.  It sounds like the loaf is being baked when it should be folded instead.  Don't be afraid to slice into the dough and check on progress during the rise, you can easily stick it back together.  Big bubbles and lots of tight dough is just the beginning of fermentation.  I remember my first loaf, six hours of nothing!  So I ignored it the first 6 hours, and then gave it my first fold.  Waited another hour and half for the next fold. (set of 4, one from each corner)   It certainly helps to find a warmer place to raise the loaf.  If it rises a little before retarding, then you might get more rise during chilling otherwise it just stops until it warms up again.  

How active is the starter?  If you feed it 1:4:4 for example and it peaks in 10 hrs, and the recipe asks for a similar ratio of starter to flour 1:4, then it will take at least about that much time to rise.  Cold temps will slow things down.  Try finding a place around 75°F to 80°F like above the fridge or dishwasher.  Or better yet, run a load of dishes, put them away and park your dough in there.  It's moist and warm!  That might speed fermentation up considerably.

Cooler weather means maintenance feeds will contain more starter to flour ratios to keep the starter active.  Give the starter less flour at a feeding and/or use slightly more starter when elaborating/building  starter for a recipe.   :) 

flank steak's picture
flank steak

I follow along the lines of Tartine style bread, where you fold it every half hour for the first two hours of bulk fermentation. I am using a high protein wheat grown locally here and it is quite strong, it will hold its shape really well after just a few folds, I doubt I even have to use proofing baskets, but still I do.. Anyways, so what you are saying is after bulk fermentation time, let it have its final proof (undisturbed?) for about 12 hours at my house's ambient temperature? The temp. above the fridge is only about 71-72 degrees, so it isnt too terribly warm, and I have put loaves up there for 4-5 hours with bad results. But maybe that is where I will stick it tonight for it loooong final rise. My starter is quite active actually, 6-8 hours is all it takes for it to be ripe and ready to go. I take out most of the starter when I refresh it and feed it with equal parts H2o and flour, so I would say that is about what you recommend. Don't have a dishwasher, but I bet that would work quite well! You know, humidity is very important for proofing, correct? I think there is also a lack of humidity in my house too, would that make things more difficult for the loaf?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

When you are doing those first folds (before retarding) can you feel the dough putting out gas?  Does if feel spongier and inflating each time you touch the dough at the end of rest periods?  If not and it seems dense, cut it open and look at the bubble formation going on.  

Take the dough's temperature to see where it really stands.  You can also pinch off a little ball of the dough and flatten it into the bottom a marked glass (tall and narrow) to really see what the dough is doing without the retard.  

Wrap a thick towel around the covered dough bowl while it sits on top of the fridge to help keep in the heat.  Or flip a cardboard box over it.  If you have one of those cheap Styrofoam coolers, make use of it.  I made one once with a box and some 3/4" sheets of Styrofoam.  (I use it also when I thaw out my freezer or to transport frozen groceries.)  Stick some jars of warm water in the corners and you're set up with a proofing box.

I find that when the house is cool, the humidity is higher, with heating humdity drops.  Your location and weather has a lot to do with humidity.  If you do dishes by hand, think of clearing a safe spot under the sink where it's nice and warm.  

flank steak's picture
flank steak

I am thinking I will need to pry more into my dough's life and see where it is at. I don't have a nice thermometer, but I will try checking a piece for bubbles (what should I be looking for, lots of small ones?). I just got so used to consistant results that I must have grown complacent in my baking. When I first started out I really made sure I felt the dough and marked it progress etc. Need to do that again. I am not even going to bother with retarding it in the fridge, instead I have a feeling that if I let it sit at room temp (here it is 68-69 in the day, maybe a little cooler at night) on the counter it will probably be about doubled in size and ready to go. I felt the dough the last time I baked and was surprised by how cool it was just sitting on the counter--but didn't get the hint, alas. Another thing I thought about was how I switched the dough's usual proofing basket, actually a bowl before, to some little basket that is a little wider, and I think the size and shape difference makes it harder to gauge the dough's progress compared to the more familiar bowl. But I have tried poke tests, and it seems like the dough passes, but clearly it does not! I don't know how reliable that is anymore. So I will just leave it to texture and dough temp and size to tell me when it is time to bake, see how it goes.

You mentioned humidity, and I am wondering about this because our house is very dry right now unfortunately...how does that impact the dough?

 

I am also very grateful for the help from you and everyone else--someone said to ask other sourdough bakers in my area about what they do in cooler WI temps., but I don't know any others unfortunately!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I stomp around there once in a while.  Take a blue ox with me on occasion.   We got a long list of loafers there.    

flank steak's picture
flank steak

Home of the Ringling Bros. and I will leave it at that :)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Leaves must be beginning to turn colors.  So cold nights and maybe warm days when the sun shines.  I loves those valleys.  

Fermentation festival coming up.  Might be a good chance to rub elbows with sourdough bakers...  :)

http://www.innatwawanisseepoint.com/blog/

flank steak's picture
flank steak

Yes I so wanted to go to fermentation fest this year, Sandor Kraut himself is going to be there, but alas, I am a poor lass and 30 dollars is simply too rich for my blood. But, the good news is...after an 8 hour proof overnight, I woke up to see a beautiful billowly boule ready to go. It baked up Perfectly! all the cuts opened and I got wonderful ears and a crisp carmelized crust and an open "swirly" crumb. I was so happy and I am so thankful for the advice from you and everyone. I was fearing there was something wrong with my starter or I was just really slipping in my baking skills. Nope, just needed to be more patient is all. Wish I could put up a picture, but I don't know how to upload stuff, pretty sad for a young 20-something girl... ah well, another time.

Boron Elgar's picture
Boron Elgar

You may be having a problem caused as much by lack of gluten development  or shaping the loaves as by under-proofing.  I allow about an hour on the counter after machine mixing (not kneading, just mixing), with several stretch & folds in that time period. Then into the fridge and the rest of my technique resembles yours.

It does not sound as if you have a starter problem, nor even a rise problem as those large holes *are* forming...there is some action going on, but the gluten strands are not containing the created gases.

Try a variation in your kneading or incorporate stretching and folding. And be careful in forming your loaves.  This may not be it, but it's certainly something that can't hurt.

 

flank steak's picture
flank steak

I use a flour with high gluten and in the past would just do 4 stretch and folds on the half hour during bulk ferm. and never ever ever had a problem until now. When I go to shape, it readily stands nice and taut, no problems. I am wonering though--Is it possible that I am shaping it too tightly? I have also seen some people gently de-gas the loaf before its shaping--I never would do that, I heard some say to and some say nay, so I just never did it, but maybe I am stuck with some trapped air bubbles? Not sure, but I have a feeling this is due to lack of proofing time during its final rise.

 

 

**Do I need to allow for more time during the bulk fermentation along with the final rise? Or would the little microbes eat too much then by the final rise and have nothing left?

PiPs's picture
PiPs

Another good trick to start employing when the seasons begin to change is to start taking temperatures of your dough. The dough might be cooler than you actually think it is and the development may be suffering. This is especially important with breads like the tartine formula where time and temperature play a large part in the dough development. Also a small batch of dough will cool to room temperature quite quickly and you may need to find somewhere for the dough to complete the bulk ferment without dropping in temp.

cheers,
Phil

sandydog's picture
sandydog

Are you  using/followinging, exactly, a recipe that has worked for you in the past? Are you using the same/recommended flour that the author of the recipe advocates? If so then I suggest you attempt to contact the author for advice. If not, why not?

You will receive (In fact already have) lots of advice from posters re things that work for them in their own environment, with their particular ingredients/formula and ambient conditions - Often that doesn't work in your locality, for example:

I am writing this (At 0200hrs my time) cos I am waiting for some sourdough loaves to finish baking - According to the recipe they should not be ready to bake for another 6 hours but it was obvious that if I left them till 0800hrs (Which would have fitted my sleep pattern better) they would overproof. These are sourdough loaves, with no added yeast, which bulk fermented for 2.5 hours and were then shaped and (Allegedly) retarded at 10 Degrees C (50F) TO ALLOW ME SOME SLEEP, but it didn't work like that as they were ready to bake after only 3 hours proofing. The author of the recipe (Jeffrey Hamelman) is a well respected (By me and many others) baker, trouble is he bakes in Vermont with King Arthur Flour and I bake in England with Allinsons Flour.

The point I am laboriously making is that you need something that works for you, where you are, with what you are baking with.    I suggest that you find someone near you who regularly, and successfully, bakes the kind of loaves you wish to bake and get them to show you how they do it - Even if you have to pay for the tuition it will be worth it.

Right, my loaves are done thank goodness - I'm off to bed now, only 3 hours later than I should have been.

Good luck with finding a solution to your baking dilemma.

Brian 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

a motion detector is too easily fooled by rising dough.  

Someone could make...

...what about a gum wrapper that sits on top of the rising dough and when it reaches another piece of gum wrapper stuck on the dough cover completes a circuit setting off one of those battery charged greeting cards?  ...a couple of thin wires...  

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

Yes, that is what you call it when your husband is in the kitchen and says "Have you forgotten about your bread?", and you rush into the kitchen to find out how badly you have over-proofed it this time.

carblicious's picture
carblicious

I use a baby monitor, though thinking of using a Foscam to view it via mobile/Internet when I'm running errands.  Since I don't have a proofing box large enough for the dough, it's all room temperature bulk fermenting.  

Bohemian Mama's picture
Bohemian Mama

Hi, I am not quite qualified to comment as I have been overproofing mine till  now.

The recipes I have all call for 12 to 18 hours. But even in this cool spring, 6-8 is all I need,   I did  some batards the other day with only 3 and a half and they were so lovely. I put them in a cold oven and  while it preheated  it  riz a lot!!

The room where my water heater lives is handy for drying nappies and quick proofs. I no longer do overnight proofs, unless I am definately going to be out of bed at 6am to check the progress and I   prepare the dough  after 11pm at night!

I have so many recipes and techniques I googled and  studied and researched and got so confused I pulled back , got the basic weigh ratio and took it from there. If I have a dinner party and want  bread by then fresh, I  do a continental style and add 3-4 g regular yeast to it.

 

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Our home is now 18C (64F to you chaps), and it does slightly increase the time things take, compared to the usual 20/21C.

As everyone here will say - watch the dough, not the clock; forget about hours, and concentrate on volume.  Autolyze, knead/fold, ferment until double, shape, and proof till double.  Make a note of how long each proof took, then work that around your schedule.

I don't know how cold your fridge is, but mine is low enough to drop growth to an extreme crawl - and it takes a while to warm up.  For that reason, I tend to use the fridge to suspend the first ferment, finish it the next day with a shape and proof to almost double, before retarding for 16 hours; I bake straight out of the fridge.

Sadassa_Ulna's picture
Sadassa_Ulna

Hi I am new here and might be commenting in the wrong section. I will find out! Anyway I just wanted to share the following, which is probably already mentioned: for a warm place to park my sourdough I warm up my [electric] oven to its lowest temp which is 170 F. Then I turn it off and open the door. As soon as the inside wall of the oven is cool enough to hold my finger to it I put the covered bowl of dough inside and close the door. Then I put a sign on the handle warning family not to open or turn on oven. This works well for overnight when temps drop. If you have a gas oven I believe the pilot light keeps the oven slightly warm on its own and does not need to be pre-warmed at all. 

 

wannabbaker's picture
wannabbaker

Hi Sadassa Ulna
Yes I do the same but never really know what temp it is that my dough is being proven at. I therefore rely on what happened with the last loaf and if it needed any adjusting.

markwhiteff's picture
markwhiteff

Hello,

Since you claim that you have made good bread with this recipe consistently before the cooler temperatures, it seems likely that your problem is with the cooler temperature. And 68 degrees is quite cool. The difference between 68 and 75 on a sourdough is substantial.

The general guide that I like to use to determine when sourdough is ready is one that can account for different temperatures and different quantities of culture. Basically,  the dough should double in size on the first rise, then get folded, and then almost double in size on the second rise (use the finger poke method to watch for a slight bounce-back). That guide I hope will bring you close enough when you are in unchartered territory. Of course, if you are using a different folding scheme, this guide will not work for you directly, but you may be able to extrapolate a bit from it.

Mark

www.foodforge.com

Foodforge Italian Bread Recipe

www.foodforge.com/vrwk.php?k=171cf4e1110cf989e092334891e772ed&id0=1100&id1=679

 

flank steak's picture
flank steak

Hey thank you that is great advice, I was wondering about how to tell if the first bulk ferm. was ready to go. Now I know. Folding for me is pretty much just like an envelope a bit, sort of. I just stretch and then fold over 4 opposing sides of my dough ball. I think I will do that when my old recipe calls for, in the very beginning stages, and then won't touch it until like you said, it has doubled. Then shape it and leave it to do its final proof over night until it should more than likely be doubled in the morning.

Thanks for the advice :)

markwhiteff's picture
markwhiteff

Glad to help. Please keep us posted on how that works for you.

Mark

www.foodforge.com

flank steak's picture
flank steak

Success! A nice 10 hour final proof did the trick quite nicely. Thanks so much for the help-- everyone!

I can't get a picture up unfortunately! but I took one to show how patience will reward those who wait. I will remember from now on that bread is a fermented product, and that fermentation takes time, and it needs that time for it to be really successful. So I should be happy just to let the amazing invisible process take place, on its terms. Lesson learned.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I knew it was just a matter of time...  so did you!    :)