The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Holes in sourdough

CJF's picture

Holes in sourdough

I am having terrible trouble with my sourdough and I'm about to give up.  The recipe is the Richard Bertinet white flour and spelt sourdough from his Crust book.  The flour is Waitrose Leckford estate and an organic wholemeal spelt, so I don't think there are any problems there.

First time I proofed for 18 hours at room temperature after moulding, as per the recipe.  I ended up with a huge flying crust.  The bread also ended up shaped like a flying saucer instead of having a flat base and a rounded top.  The cuts didn't work either.  The dough was very wet and it just spread out in the oven instead of bursting.

I read another post on thefreshloaf from someone having similar issues, and one suggestion was that the dough was overproofed. So, I tried the bread again and left it to proof again for 18 hours, but this time in the fridge at 2 degrees, plus one hour to come back to room temperature.   Things looked like they were going better - the dough wasn't as wet and didn't spread out as much so I was able to do better cuts.  But by the time it had been in the oven half an hour it was back to the same problems.  The bread lifted at the edges and cracked on the bottom.  I had the same problem with the cuts spreading out and rising to be smooth on top.  The biggest problem is the gaping holes in the middle (see pictures).  It's slightly better than last time - they seem to be holes this time instead of the crust completely pulling away from the crumb, but the improvement is marginal.

Complicating factors:

My oven is not great - it only gets to about 220C

I'm not convinced my starter is right.  I got it from Bertinet, so it was definitely ok to begin with, but a few days after I refresh it, it rises a lot and starts drying out on top.  Underneath it still has a nice web and is stretchy, so I've kept using it. 

Does anyone have any idea what I'm doing wrong?!


leucadian's picture

That's what I've heard these called. I think you may have entrapped some air in the dough as you formed the loaves. Additionally, the remaining crumb appears very dense, as if it didn't get any benefit from the yeast. Finally, on a positive note, the crust browned OK.

Here's what I recommend, without having the recipe:

Make a fresh batch of starter in a closed container, and let it grow till doubled in volume, usually overnight for me at 65F. The drying of the top is due to lack of humidity, and a cover should take care of that. I usually make my starter at 100% hydration simply because it makes calculations easier. 

When you mix the dough, reserve some of the water (5-10% of the water) so the dough isn't too loose. I am guessing that the spreading is just due to too much water. You can add the reserved water later if the dough is hard to work, although it's not easy to do so. Did you subtract out the water content of the starter when calculating the added water?

If you are kneading by hand, Mr. Bertinet's fold/slap method of kneading could possibly incorporate air pockets into the dough, but I don't think that's likely. However, if you add salt after an autolyse, it's possible to create 'salt pockets' where the dough does not stick to itself when it is folded. Keep kneading till you are convinced there are no pockets.

If you mix by machine, there's no possibility of incorporating air. 

Eighteen hours in a 2 degree C (35 F) is not very conducive to growing a good yeast population. Did you see it rise 2x at that temperature? I would give it a couple of hours at room temperature to get it going, or better yet, forgo the retard altogether until you get a decent loaf. Leave the dough at room temperature till it doubles. The retard is to develop gluten and to  improve flavor. You can develop gluten mechanically (knead/stretch/slap/petrissage), and for right now success will be a well formed loaf. It may be that your flyaway crust was due to wet  and very cold dough. The top surface hardened and boiled off the water directly under it, separating the top crust from the rest of the loaf. Just speculation of course.

Once you have well fermented dough, shape it carefully to avoid capturing air pockets, and let it rise again till it's 'puffy', then score and bake it. Or forget about shaping and scoring, and make a fougasse with the newly fermented dough. Fougasse is my favorite flat bread, with lots of crust, and it doesn't need a second rise (in my experience anyway). If there's a problem with the dough it will show up in the fougasse.

Your 220C oven (428F) is plenty hot to bake great bread.

Good luck, and welcome to TFL.




lumos's picture

Can't say definite, bu that sort of holes can be caused by some problem in shaping technique and too much flour when doing so.  Also, if there're lots of large air pockets after bulk fermentation, it's better to distribute it through the dough by patting the surface quite firmly (but not too firm as completely de-gassed) all over when pre-shaping and final-shaping.  I use the same flours as you and, though I usually do S & F in place of kneading these days, I used to slap & fold the dough Bertinet style before (so do many traditional artisan bakers in France), so I don't think there's a problem there, either.

And it's very difficult to watch the dough, not the clock, to judge the fermentaion stage. And finger test is probably the most reliable ane easy way to do so. If you search on the forum using the search function on the left of this page with 'finger test' 'finger poking test' you'll find lots of post about how to do it.

Slickmick's picture

I would assume this has to due with so much shaping, as much with the density/volume of dough used - letting it sit properly should improve the may also want to consider stirring it up slowly, so that it mixes while having time to release all the extra air.

Ruralidle's picture

Hello CJF.  Is it the Leckford Estate Strong Bread flour that you are using?

CJF's picture

Yes it is the Leckford estate. 

Thanks for the comments And the welcome!

I'm not sure I understand the question about hydration of the ferment but when I refresh it I use 1x water and 2x flour so I guess that's 100% hydration? I think it might be worth making my own starter but I'll need  A week off work for that!

In the meantime I decided I needed an easy win and so I gave up with the sour dough and made some baguettes out of the basic white dough. They worked just fine!

lumos's picture

Using a half the weight of water to flour is 50% hydration. ;) and you definitely do not need to take days off work to start your own starter.