The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Flat bread...Please help!

CB85's picture
CB85

Flat bread...Please help!

I am having a really frustrating problem and I hope someone can help. I can only seem to bake flat loaves of bread. They never come close to round...just thick discs. They taste good but this is making me nuts. I am using the basic sourdough recipe from BBA which didn't seem like a terribly high hydration bread. I played around  with the hydration but I stopped that after I kept getting such flat loaves. My crumb is ok...kind of tight. It was better when I was playing with the hydration and increased it, but the lead was still flat. I have been extending the proofing times because the temperature had only been 70 at most. I think I am decent at telling when the dough has doubled now, although I have played around with this too.

My two guesses now.

Could my starter just be too sluggish? I only feed it once a day and it is active but maybe I am not letting it go long enough? Or too long? 

Maybe I am kneading incorrectly, or not enough? I have tried my fair share of machine and hand kneading. Today I thought was my best window pane so far, and still flat flat flat!

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Posting a photo will help troubleshooting a lot. 

With so little info, here's my best guess: 

  1. Your starter is too sluggish. Store it at room temp, feed more regularly (2x per day). Share more details on your feeding schedule & technique. If a 100% hydration starter (equal parts flour + water by weight) can't at least double in 4-6 hours at room temp, your starter is not active enough. 
  2. Did you proof the shaped dough in a container (banneton, loaf pan, etc), or freeform? If free form & high hydration, it's likely it will flatten, this is the nature of the beast. Reduce hydration or bake in a container (see #4 below). 
  3. Did your loaf double in volume during bulk fermentation and almost double during proofing? If not, 99% chance your dough was underproofed. Watch your dough, not the clock. Your dough will indicate when it's ready for the next step in its lifecycle.
  4. Try baking in a cast iron dutch oven or loaf pan, this will help with oven spring and better loaf volume, especially using really wet doughs. 
  5. You don't need to knead a lot to get good dough volume; you DO need to develop the right amount of dough strength. Search these forums for "stretch and fold" technique. 
CB85's picture
CB85

I thik you may be right about the starter. I will have to start paying closer attention to it and seeing how fast it doubles. It is 100% hydration starter. I usually just discard or use about half every night and feed it the same amount of flour and water I took out. So if I took out 2/3 cup for my recipe, i add back 2/3 cup water and 2/3 cup flour. The starter is about 2 months old, but I used to feed it twice a day. Could that be making a difference?

Also, when I increased the hydration before, I did try the stretch and fold technique I saw on this site, and it did help with the crumb a lot.

Thanks for replying, I really appreciate your input!

cranbo's picture
cranbo

2/3c flour and 2/3c water is not 100% hydration; it's 180-190% hydration, depending on how much your flour weighs.  This is a very runny, watery batter-like starter that makes it difficult to tell whether it's active enough, because it's tough (or impossible) to see it double. 

As I said before, 100% hydration is equal parts flour and water by weight (not volume). This yields a slower rising,  thick, non-pourable batter. Weigh your ingredients to achieve 100% hydration starter. Otherwise, use 1/2c flour, 1/4c water, and 1 heaping tablespoon of leftover starter to approximate 100% hydration starter. 

It will be much easier to tell when a 100% hydration starter is ready; it should double or triple in volume within 4-6 hours of being fed.
 

CB85's picture
CB85

When I have increased the hydration a little, I did get a more open crumb. That makes a lot of sense about what you said about the dough still feeling firm firming maybe over proofed. Whenever I read that the dough should be puffy in any recipe, I always think mine would never be that way!

CB85's picture
CB85

Well, I just wanted to give an update. I have followed all your advice, but still haven't quite figured this out. I am almost positive it is a weak starter or I am overproofing. I tried my recipe again and shortened my proof times and still did not get great results. I tried again today and the bread was slightly higher but not a ton. 

I also tried once more, this time with the same recipe except 1 1/2 tsp ady added. And ....puffy loaves! So I conclude either my starter is too weak to fully rise the bread, or I am doing a poor job at deciding when to bake and the added yeast just sped up the process, making it easier for me to decide when to bake. I have started feeding my starter 2x a day and will keep trying. 

CB85's picture
CB85

I did it! Thanks everyone for your advice. I tried out my newly active starter in a new to me recipe last night/today and I have a really risen loaf! I haven't sliced it yet, because it's still hot, but it looks so much better. Thanks to you all, and my new bff Jeffrey Hamelman! ;)