The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dough to wet/dry - proofing/slashing

andyajo's picture

Dough to wet/dry - proofing/slashing

I have now had 3 attempts at making a sourdough.

The starter is fine, and doubles nicely.

The actual bread making is causing some problems though, although I am learning something new each time.

My first loaf I baked in a tin (one of those rubbery ones) I didnt really have a choice for this but it turned out ok, tasty, a little dence but still nice and some nice colour on it too.

My second loaf I got myself a proofing basket, same recipe as before but I think I let it overproof as it seemed to get very wet and sticky and then slashing it didnt really work.  I produced a flat loaf but with nice big holes - it tasted good!

My third loaf a changed the flour to organic flour.  This seemed to make things dryer when mixing all the ingrediants.  I let it rise for a couple of hours, then shape then put it into the basket for about 5 hours.  I was trying to learn from before where I think I overproofed it so I just based it on how it looked/felt.  It was begining to break apart a little so I was scared it was overproofing... I pressed the dough and it sprung back slowly.  I got the oven nice and hot, tipped it out the basket, looked good... slashed it and I think it when a little flat when I did that.

When baked and cut the loaf is dence again, and the taste not so great.

This is a lot of information im sorry but somewhere within this I might be going wrong.

I think I need help with knowing how wet or dry the dough should be at each stage.  Being sure about the full proof, and then being able to slash the loaf well, without it seeming to loose air or seem to wet.

This is the recipe that I am using if it helps -

If you have read all of this then thanks :)

Ford's picture

Yes, I did read your entire message and I reviewed the recipe on line.

First, I found that the recipe you used was not very instructive for a beginner.

Second, I think you would benefit by reading the lessons published here.  See the top of this window "Lessons".

Third, make a loaf of bread using the commercial yeast, justy to get a feel for the dough.  Sourdough takes a little more time for the rising and more patience.  By this time your starter will have matured more and perhaps give a better flavor.

Fourth, go to Mike Avery's site and read the lessons he gives on sourdough starters.  You apparently already have an active starter so you will not have to go through the steps for starting a new one, but the lessons may give you a better understanding of the process.

Fifth, Good luck and, please, continue to ask questions.

Welcome to the fresh loaf, good luck, and Happy Easter!


Paul Heinrich's picture
Paul Heinrich

I am new to this site and would agree with Ford to read lots more. I think the ratio of water and starter seem to be a little awry. I use 500gms flour, 200 starter (which is on the drier side of starters (fed with 2 cups of flour to one of water) and 300 grams of water in my bread. If the dough is too wet, slashing does not work for me either. also read for advice

placebo's picture

Or get several. The books will give you a lot more instruction on what exactly you need to do to bake a good loaf, and the recipes will be better.

In the beginning, you may find it best to simply go with the specified amounts of water and flour. That should get you pretty close to how the dough should feel. Later on, you can make small adjustments to the amount of flour and water and see if the dough improves. I suggest using a mixer initially as well so you can see how the dough develops and what it should ideally look and feel like. You won't have to wonder if you just didn't knead long enough or if your technique was poor. That said, you should still knead the dough by hand a little after you take it out of the mixer so you learn how the dough should feel.

I'll second Ford's recommendation that you learn how to bake breads using commercial yeast first. Despite reading warnings, I too tried to start with sourdough and ran into difficulties. It was pretty frustrating after spending so much time to end up with a mediocre loaf. With commercial yeast, you'll get results faster, and I found the doughs were a bit easier to work with.


Paul Heinrich's picture
Paul Heinrich

sourdough is easy I recently handed over some of my 7 year old leaven to a friend and 30 minutes of tuition and he has taken it like a duck to water. Find someone in your area who has baked a lot with sourdough and a short lesson and you will be away and baking

grandmamac's picture

I'd echo the advice about reading more about sourdough and watching videos. I've only been doing it for two years and I'm still learning lots from this forum and others. At the beginning I read - and still read - for some advice and guidance on sourdough; she's writing a book.  Andrew Whiteley's book "Bread Matters" was my first 'bible'. I tended to concentrate on UK sources at the beginning just because I could get the right flour and don't use cups as measures in my baking. 

It does take time to get a feel for the dough but don't get discouraged. I can tell when the dough is ready for shaping now although I still tend to underprove a little. I thought my starter was mature after a few months but it has thickened and my bread developed more of a tang as time went on. I didn't use yeast because I used to bake bread with yeast when my family was at home but there are many people who do add some as part of the process. Although it is takes a long time to get from mixing to oven, you can adjust the timing and the loaf to fit in with your life. 



dabrownman's picture

go farther, faster by keeping the hydration around 66% or so.  Higher hydration dough can be difficult for a beginner.  As you get your sea legs under you, or bread legs, then you can go up in hydration with better success.  The 1-2-3 by weight recipe works great too.  1 part starter, 2 parts water and 3 parts flour.  This gives you a  66% hydration dough that is lovey to work with, develop, ferment, slash and bake - and the results are great.  Don't forget 2% salt.

Bake on!

AZBlueVeg's picture


I started baking bread barely a couple of months ago. I started with the no-knead "artisan bread in 5 minutes a day" recipe, then progressed to the Jim Leahy / Sullivan Street Bakery no-knead recipe which ferments longer at room temp and has a much fuller flavor. Then I grew my own starter and replaced the yeast in the above recipes with 25g-50g of sourdough starter (I experimented with different quantities). After switching to sourdough, my success rate has fallen. I could not figure out why, or what was wrong, until I took a closer look at what was happening. Early on, ambient temperatures were lower in my house (about 68 degrees) and my starter not as sour. I fermented my dough for 12 hours with 25g-50g of starter and then proofed for 2 hours, great rise, crumb and flavor 100% of the time. Just a month later, ambient air temps are closer to 80 degrees and my starter is much more sour than before. Using the same techniques that worked before, I now have a 100% failure rate.

I have narrowed my problem to two variables: 1) amount of sourdough starter used, and 2) fermentation and proofing time. As ambient air temps rise, we need to use much less starter in order for the dough to ferment. If I use 20%-30% total flour weight of starter, I cannot ferment for more than 4-6 hours + 1 hour proof without over-proofing and collapsing the dough. I would have to ferment in the fridge if I wanted a longer ferment time, but my fridge cools to 37 degrees and previous attempts at reviving refrigerated dough have been hit and miss. Due to this fact, I want to avoid refrigerating my dough at all costs. I live in Arizona and can only surmise that the local yeast takes quite a hit (or even dies) at refrigerator temperatures, perhaps it's a local adaptation.

Now that ambient temps are around 80 degrees, I have reduced the amount of sourdough starter to only 1% of total flour weight. A boule using 450-500 grams of flour will get only 5 grams of sourdough starter (about a teaspoon). This enables me to ferment my dough for 12 hours on the counter, plus a 1-hour proof after shaping and before baking. This gives me a good oven spring and flavor that is out of this world. The loaf I baked this morning tastes almost fruity, with a hint of sourness that lingers on your palate. At least in my case, I can keep the proofing time the same (12 hours at ambient) so long as I reduce the amount of starter used as ambient temperatures rise.