The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The affair is over...

Rupert's picture

The affair is over...

Having attempted and failed 8 times to make a decent sourdough loaf I think that the affair is over.
I tried various recipes with 3 different starters and each time the result is disapointing - flat loaves, bricks, prove failures etc.
The time spent, the odd schedules, the conflicting instructions, windowpane, finger tests & dough float failures - all this & more.
I've had bubbling, frothing starters that still fail to make a loaf. I've baked at 2am, kneaded at 6am as dictated by dough & my enthusiasm has now sunk lower than my last rye loaf.
It's over. After all, it's only a loaf of bread.

SpoonandSparrow's picture

This bread baking thing can be frustrating at times. It can be rewarding too. Just take a break, bake some things that you like to bake and make friends, family well fed and happy. Then sometime in the future, try again. Good luck.

Rupert's picture

It's only sourdough I've given up on. Other than that I've baked some excellent (IMHO) white, wholemeal and soda bread - in fact, too much for the 2 of us to eat & I'm finding great satisfaction in having a good knead & seeing what comes out of the oven.

Just this sourdough that's beaten me so far. Trouble is I've been spoiled by loaves I've bought from a little micro-baker in Hitchin. But yes, I'll try again before too long.

FlourChild's picture

What part of the world are you in?  Perhaps what you need is a fellow sourdough enthusiast who can set you up with a mature starter and help out with feeding strategy and baking a successful loaf :)


dabrownman's picture

Fesh loafer can not only get you a decent SD starter but show you how it is done for start to finish.  After that you are set for life.  Don't give up so easily- it's only SD and nothing to worry over. it is just something simple holding you back I'm sure.   Can someone local help this poor soul out?

cranbo's picture

Sourdough definitely takes some patience & attention to master.

To me it's about learning to right sensory cues to indicate when both starter and dough are ready to move on to other phases (from mix to kneading to bulk fermentation to shaping to proofing to baking)!

Of the utmost importance is having a starter that is sufficiently active. This is probably the biggest cause of failure in baking sourdough. The 2nd biggest cause is paying more attention to the clock than the dough; the dough will always dictate when it's ready to move on to the next phase, and it's up to the baker to know what sensory cues (look, touch, smell, etc) to look for. 

If you like sourdough, I really suggest you stick with it, it's worth the effort, and you'll understand bread a lot better through the process. Don't give up yet! :)



Alpana's picture

Please don't give up! I don't even like sourdough very much, but I love my starter. Once it is established it won't take so much time & effort and you will feel all that you had put in earlier was worth it. If you haven't already, try to follow sourdolady's blog on TFL. She has given all possible solutions and is kind enought o answer any queires. Else, there are many TFLers here who will be happy to help you around. Do post photos and the process you followed step by step and the experts will have you making sourdough bread in no time. It would great if you can find someone near you like flourchild & dabrownman suggest.

Rupert's picture

OK, you've persuaded me, I'll try again. I live near Cambridge, UK and there's a micro baker (Hitchin Bakehouse) not far away who I've met. He was very encouraging and said he will give me some of his starter. I'll go see him this weekend. I guess I should stick to just one recipe & one starter & iron out the problems. Instead, after one failure I'd try either another recipe or starter, fail again, make a new starter, try another recipe etc.

I'll keep you posted & thanks for the encouragement.

Juergen Krauss's picture
Juergen Krauss

Sounds you are on the right way.

As another poster said: It is probably just a small thing that keeps you away from success.


ndechenne's picture

In my accurate scale. Been struggling with a recipe and was convinced my measurements were off. TA DA! I was right. Little things can make a huge difference... dont' be afraid of failure!

Donkey_hot's picture

One more thing - work baking process  to fit YOUR schedule, not the other way. Start with one solid recipe and follow it.  A good example would be the legendary Vermont Sourdough done over and over.  If you really follow the path, it will make you very pleasantly surprised.  Good luck.

Tedmonkey's picture

I'm in your area. I would really recommend using the recipe and method from the River Cottage bread book. Has never failed for me. Perhaps you are over proofing?

Rupert's picture

Thanks. I just ordered it

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Cut the recipe in half for one loaf.  

Try the TFL search (steam contain baking or baking pots)  there are all kinds of ideas using flower pots and woks and dutch ovens for baking bread.  I have a set of aluminum silver-stone pans at the moment.  I take off the handles and cover with a double layer of alu-foil or the frying pan.  It works like a charm!  Two fry pans that fit rim to rim also work.  Large casserole?  Also bread pan inverted over bread pan.

Only 8 times?  Are you trying to get confessions out of some of us or what?  (You gotta come up with a bigger number.)

I think one of the reasons bread has so many religious connections is due to the fact that it tends to humble us.  

Think of yourself as humbled.  Back to baking!  Hooray!  :)

Syzygies's picture

Only 8 times?  Are you trying to get confessions out of some of us or what?

So I was thinking 50 times, with the last few loaves finally pleasing me. I use a spreadsheet for each recipe, so I could count. Today was sourdough number 50, on the nose. Experiments are only useful if one doesn't thrash; make small changes, starting from recipes that are boring but work. Intermediate results may be embarrassing, but still make for great food.

Look up Finnish "Ruis" bread for a reality check, 100% sourdough rye. They accept the shape because it is what it is.

I want a mild sourdough (more like French levain) and moderate rye content for keeping properties and depth of flavor. For flavor and nutrition, I use a majority of freshly ground ("green") flour, which poses its own problems with regard to gluten development. And I want a free-form artisan loaf that looks like a white flour loaf from a distance. I was finding this combination spectacularly difficult. I was wondering if it was even possible.

Of the many books I read, Hamelman was the most useful. 40 ppm of ascorbic acid solved the "green" flour issues (one cuts a 1:20 mixture then 1:400 mixture with white flour). A teaspoon of diastatic malt powder helps in every way. Drop all preconceptions about proofing and follow Hamelman's startlingly (for me) short timings: A few hours bulk and proof, each. And the 350 grams of steam specified by Bouchon Bakery is absolutely essential for oven spring, enough to displace the air in an oven four times over, the 35 grams from a plant spritzer bears no relation to the steam available with a commercial deck oven. Steam transfers a dramatic amount of heat as it condenses on the bread, hot air isn't even remotely the same effect.

All worth it, for loaves I could not buy, and the thrill of making them.

Janetcook's picture

Hi Rupert,

When I started baking I wasn't going to attempt sd because just thinking about it overwhelmed my brain but somehow it ended up edging into my baking and now it is all I use in my loaves.

I had many failures in my eyes but people always liked the flavor.  I learned from a member here that 'flavor rules'.

I found that too much advice added confusion to my addled brain.  I finally figured out that sticking to one method was what made the difference.  I am a slow learner and it took me a long time to figure that one out * - }

Sounds like the person who owns the small shop near by is more than willing to help you out and that, to me, beats all the written stuff anyone else can offer.

But I couldn't help tossing my 2¢ into the pot.  I have been using sd for a bit over 2 years now and I am so glad I stuck it out!

Good Luck,