The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Seem to be going backwards......

Nonprophet's picture

Seem to be going backwards......

Hi, brand new to the forum, pretty new to baking! Started baking bread 2 years ago using NYT no knead bread recipe and dutch oven. 1st one was pretty average, but since then I've been getting nice boules with great crust (crunchy, thick) and crumb (lots of big holes!). Decided to step it up a notch and begin using sourdough.  

Ordered Italian sourdough starter from Sourdough Intl. It activated great, have been feeding it daily. Starter seems consistently foamy and reliable after 2 weeks of feeding daily--1/2 in fridge as backup, other half fed daily sits on counter.

Have now baked 4 loaves with so-so success. First loaf I prepared following the basic sourdough recipe in the book "Classic Sourdoughs." Mixed and kneaded by hand, let dough proof 10 hours at 70 degrees. Poured out of bowl, let rest 30 mins, shaped boule, let loaf proof for 4 hours at 70 degrees, scored loaf, and baked in cast iron dutch oven pre-heated to 475. Baked with lid on for 20 mins, and another 20 with lid off. Loaf turned out ok--not nearly as good a crumb or crust as the No Knead bread recipe, and at least 30% "flatter." Very good flavor though...!

Since then, similar issues--I'm just not getting a very good crumb--much too dense. I tried the cold oven start suggested in the  "Classic Sourdough" book, but got even worse results. I've recently tried substituting 1 cup of local organic hard white wheat flour out of the 3.5 cup recipe, and while the dough rises well the loaf rise/proof is poor t0 mediocre.

I really like the idea of using sourdough starter instead of commercial yeast, but so far I'm having very mixed results.......Any advice would be greatly appreciated!!!





Mirko's picture

Why so extremly long proofing time (10 hr bulk fermentation + 4 hr final ferment.)

Please provide more details.

Nonprophet's picture

That's what the recipe calls for-- 8-10 hour dough proof at +/- 70 degrees (room temperature) then shape the dough and proof the loaf for 4 hours.

cranbo's picture

How do you feed (what ratios of starter:flour:water)?

I know you feed daily, but how many times?

What is your recipe? without knowing what recipe you are using, it's hard to comment on outcomes about the proportions and/or technique. 

Some thoughts: 

  1. Length of fermentation varies wildly with sourdough baking, and depends on how active the culture is, and how much culture in incorporated into your final dough. So your dough could be over- or under-fermented, depending on many factors. 
  2. Sourdough does tend to get "wetter" the longer it ferments, so I'm not surprised that it's somewhat flatter. Good shaping technique is key to combating this, and so is flour selection. That said, if your dough is too wet, it will be flat(ter). 
  3. Try one of the more proven sourdough recipes on TFL, here's one that I developed. There are many more good ones here that you'll find, like David Snyder's San Joaquin sourdough, or variations on Chad Robertson's Tartine Country Bread.  
Nonprophet's picture

Thanks for your reply. I feed the starter once daily. I pour out half, then add 3/4 cup of flour and 3/4 cup of water. I feed every night around 9pm. By 11pm or so, it rises and foams very well, easily doubling, even tripling in size. I usee King Arthur All Purpose flour both to feed the starter and to make the dough.


The dough recipe is: 1 cup active starter, 3.5 cups flour, 1 cup water, 1 tsp salt. Mix by hand, knead for 10-20 minutes (I knead by hand), let sit covered in mixing bowl for 8-10 hours inside proofing box (set at 70 degrees). The dough rises well, more than doubling. Place dough on floured surface, let rest for 30 mins. Shape loaf. Let loaf proof for 2-4 hours. I usually get a rise after shaping, but not always--seems worse when I use some organic wheat flour. Once loaf has risen and passes finger poke test, score the loaf, then bake in pre-heated dutch over at 450 for 30 mins with lid on, remove lid and bake for another 15-30 mins until nicely browned.

Any advice is greatly appreciated......




Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

for the next feed?  Slave driver!  

When do you use it for a recipe?  or  How many hours after feeding do you remove the one cup of starter?  

Nonprophet's picture

Lol, perhaps I am being cruel to my starter?? I usually feed at 9pm, by 11pm or 12 it's tripled in size and nice and foamy. I use the starter then--1 cup as called for by the recipe. Is that ok?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The starter maintenance could use a few tips first.  I think if you stick to the given feeding schedule and low feeding amounts, you should give it a little more flour & water after removing a cup of starter so it makes it nicely to the next 9pm feeding... or pop it into the fridge until the next feeding.  Because you have a few complaints about performance, I would feed more so the yeast numbers come up overnight at least for the next few days before going into a routine of feeding-peaking-removing-chilling.  

An alternative would be to feed less starter or more flour food earlier in the day letting it take longer to peak.  I'm guessing that you're feeding about a cup of starter, right?  SO that would mean that your feed ratios are about one to one and you have a high hydration liquid starter.  (With warm temps, a starvation diet.) Liquid starters do ferment faster and the time your starter is taking now to peak (2 -3 hours) also means there is a high portion of starter to food.  You can easily reduce the starter amount to just 1/4 cup or less to feed in the morning (or around noon) a cup each flour and water letting the starter build more yeast generations before using.   I don't know your intended schedule for baking but more suggestions may pop up if you're trying to bake around a specific work schedule.  (so say something, hint, hint)

The dough thing is pretty basic.  Sourdoughs and yeasted doughs tend to have general patterns.  When switching from yeasted breads to sourdoughs we tend to naturally treat a sourdough the same.  It is not.  Slightly different animal.  It gets more liquid and looses it's shape after an hour of fermenting.  It's because there are more chemical reactions going on inside the dough.  Think of a sourdough not as two distinct rises (bulk and proof) but more like one continuous rise with a lot of little interruptions with each rise getting shorter.  Think that way and you'll do better.  The rise is more delicate and waiting for a big first rise to punch down is a no no.  Good way to make a brick.

The way to correct the listlessness is to stretch the rising gluten mass and fold it back on itself, this not only distributes food around to the yeasties but improves the shape considerably.  It is actually quite fun to watch.  Often this folding technique is referred to as Stretch & Folds or Envelope folds and depending on the dough can be done in the bowl or on a work surface.  There are videos and plenty of posts here.  

Basically you flip the dough upside down (always keep track of the top of your dough) and pull out one side and flop it over the bulk of the dough, go to the opposite side (or adjacent) and do it again.  Then the other sides or corners or work around like a wheel. Doesn't matter, just pull out the stretchy dough and fold it over the dough mass until you see the skin of the dough tightening but not tearing.  Do a few tears in the beginning so you know your dough limits and think to yourself, you want to stretch and not tear the dough.  When you see that the shape is better and you feel the dough might tear with the next set of folds (I like to think of a set as 4 folds, one from each direction; north south east & west) stop and flip the top side of the dough back "up."   Then tuck any corners under, shape and set the dough gently back into the bowl to rise covered another hour or so.  Let rise without letting the dough "double."  When the dough seems to be spreading more out than up, flip out and repeat another set of folds.  There are lots of posts on the subject and lots of variations but now that you are aware there is a difference in rising and handling of sourdough, reading should make more sense now.  Hope this helped.

cranbo's picture

Thanks for sharing the info & your recipe.

I think you have 2 main issues: 

1. You're not feeding your starter often enough, that is, as MiniOven suggested, you are starving your starter. Try feeding twice per day (once in the morning & once at night). You can also maintain your starter using 1c flour and 1/2c water, which is approximately 100% hydration starter, which should ferment slightly more slowly than your liquid starter, buying you a bit more time between feedings. 

2. The bulk fermentation time is probably too long. You are using a large proportion of starter  (by my calculations ~40% of flour weight), which means that it will ferment pretty quickly, especially if your starter can double or triple in ~2 hours. Either cut the amount of starter in your recipe in 1/2, or consider doing the bulk fermentation in a cooler location, such as your fridge. 



flournwater's picture

The recipe you're using has two flaws, as I see it.  First, it relies on proofing over a period of time rather than monitoring the deveopments and "reading" the dough.

Second it uses bulk measure  -  rather than weight and percentages of ingredients.  You'll never get consistent results using those methods.

10 hours fermentation seems extremely (like infinately) long unless it's under refrigeration.

I'd chuck the recipe and find another source of instruction.

Yerffej's picture

Reading your recipe it seems that the proofing times are too long at the given temperature.  This makes me suspicious with regard to the quality of your recipe.

Learning to tell when a dough (any dough) is sufficiently and properly proofed would be a good endeavor at this point.  Proofing times are but rough guidelines and the real answer comes from the dough.  Reading dough for proper proofing is an essential skill that you will forever need for all breads of any type.  You can search this site for information on proper proofing.


Ruralidle's picture

I'm with flournwater on this.

Weigh your ingredients, don't use volume measures and watch the dough not the clock (search this site for "poke test" to help with your final proof).