The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

First Sourdough Success and the danger of overproofing

Knead2Know's picture

First Sourdough Success and the danger of overproofing

Well, after five total failures of the last couple of months I finally produced an edible sourdough loaf! Huzzah!

This was ready just-in-time for dinner so I cut into it after only 15min out of the oven, hence the rough looking crumb but it was very tasty and I am pretty happy with it.

However, the last five loaves were nothing like this at all. They were dense, inedible, flat, lumps every one, and I thought I would share the trap I fell into in case it helps any other beginners. In short, I had been badly over-proofing the dough.

It seems there are lots of sourdough recipes out there that expect very slow acting starters. The book I was learning from suggested an initial rise for 5 hours, then shape and then a further 10-13 hours before you bake. First of all I tried these timings and ended up with pancakes. But because I was used to the rapid, strong rise of commercial yeast I actually incorrectly thought that I had not allowed enough time for a proper rise and ended up heading in the entirely wrong direction.

It was only after doing some reading here and applying a bit of common sense (man, these flat loaves are REALLY sour!) that I realised I needed less time, not more.

The above loaf had just under 6 hour on the initial rise and then 3 hours after shaping.

So, the moral of the story is: don't expect massive commercial yeast style rises out of your sourdough and if the end result is a super-sour-pancake then you have probably over-proofed the dough and you should cut down the times next time round.

Anyway, now that I know my starter a bit better I look forward to many a sourdough loaf in the future! 

gmagmabaking2's picture

Don't ya just love it when it all goes well. Good Job... failure is such a good learning tool. 



Yerffej's picture

Nice looking bread and a couple of thoughts...Over proofing bread as a training exercise is not all that bad of an event as it teaches you just what over proofed really is.  It sounds as if you have gotten that lesson quite well.  Those were not failures, they were learning experiences. 

Sourdough bread should be allowed to cool for at least 6 hours.  That cooling period has a significant positive effect on the quality and character of the finished loaf.  Having said that, I fully understand the temptation to cut into warm bread.


Knead2Know's picture

Six hours is going to be a tough ask. :) I will have to work on my will power.

Mirko's picture

Congratulation to your success, but sounds you have some strange book.

Sourdough + a lot yeast + superlong fermentation = weird.

What's the book name?

Knead2Know's picture

The book is called How to Bake by Paul Hollywood. A UK baker of pretty serious pedigree, enjoying some celebrity through his role as a judge on the Great British Bake Off, which is some very entertaining television if you ever get the chance to catch it.

I must say that I have had great success with lots and lots of of recipes but the sourdough did send me in the wrong direction. His book is clearly aimed at beginners (like me!) so I guess he has to cater for the worst case starter you can imagine.. unloved, unfed and straight from the fridge. He does still say you should use your other senses as guides, double in size, spring back etc.. but I did focus on the times of course...

mwilson's picture

Paul Hollywood is indeed the number one "celebrity" baker, but is he actually any good? - I don't think so! Don't get me wrong he's got a great personality and he is quite clearly skilled in certain respects but given the things he says and from the things I've seen and the concurring thoughts amongst other forum members it's clear to me his bread knowledge / skills are seriously lacking or perhaps misguided...

Knead2Know's picture

I'm far from an expert on the baking pantheon so I will take your word for it but I get the impression he managed to do OK as a baker before life on TV.

One way or another I suspect there is plenty he can teach a newbie like me.

dabrownman's picture

of building the starter over 6 hours, autolyse the flour with the liquid for 2 of those hours.  Mixing everything up except the salt and letting it sit for 30 minutes before adding the salt and doing 8 minutes of French slap and folds and resting for 30 minutes again.    Then doing 3 sets of  S&F's 30 minute apart.  Then shaping and letting the dough sit in baskets for 90 minutes before refrigerating overnight.  In the morning you can let it warm up and finish proofing  before baking or, if it has proofed then fire up the oven immediately  and once preheated say 40 minutes,  bake off the cold dough right out of the frige.  This seems to give me the best looking and tasting bread with the most flexibility.

Glad your bake finally turned out well.  If you get a temperature prob, you can bake to 205 F internal temp and be pretty assured the  inside and outside will looks pretty good with no guessing.  

Nice baking. 

Knead2Know's picture

Thanks for the input it sounds like a really useful schedule.. I am not sure I correctly understood the start though. Is this right?:

- Mix flour and liquid. Leave to autolyse for 2h (total 2h)

- Add starter. Rest 30min (total 2.5h)

- Add salt. French knead for 8min then 30min rest (tot 3h)

- 3 x stretch and fold with 30min rest (tot 4.5h)

- shape and basket. 90min rise then fridge (tot 6h)

I usually only get home around 19:00 so would be pushing my luck most evenings. If I had to trim it down I would be tempted to target that inital autolyse, or do you think another area would tolerate reduction better?

LisaE's picture

I am striving for a sourdough loaf that looks like that. Nice baking!

dazzer24's picture

Hi all

New to the forum so looking forward to finding out more.

I too have been following Paul Hollywoods sourdough method and after one or two mishaps had some cracking results. I am confused though by much of the advice I've read. Most methods do seem much shorter proof times than Pauls only calling for 10 or 15 hour proving if refrigerated. I've been baking his take on Pain de Campagne most which calls for 5-6 hours first rise,shape, then 13 hours prove. i've actually done 4 hours first rise then about 10 hours after shaping all done at room temperature. It's also very convenient as i prep in an evening when I know i've time to bake the following morning.

I also made a starter using his method with an apple in it. It's been going a few weeks now kept at room temperature and only fed after taking some for baking-which has been once every 2 or 3 days. I've seen much advice suggesting starters at room temp need feeding twice a day! Thats fine if you are baking twice a day but much as I love my sourdough I cant afford to feed it and not use the 'discard'. 

My loaves are coming out with a good soft but chewy crumb with lovely structure and admittedly only a mild sourness-but still a distinct flavour when compared to a normally yeasted loaf. So, I suppose if it aint broke dont fix it but at the same time I am keen to learn more. I'm thinking of trying to stick to one method and considering buying a book by someone called Ed Wood?

I'll post some pics of my efforts too.

Thanks for your time...