The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help!...Lackluster Sourdough Loaf

hislastsong's picture

Help!...Lackluster Sourdough Loaf

I've baked a handful of sourdough loaves from my wild starter, but haven't been able to get them very light and golden. They come out pale or gray and a little dense. Someone please help! What am I doing wrong?

Sourdough recipe adapted from The Bread Bible:

240 grams liquid starter

1 1/4 cup all-purpose flour

88 grams room temp water

5.2 grams salt

*I also used .2 grams of commercial yeast as a booster after autolyse.

First proof: about 1 1/2 hours

2 business letter turns

Let rise for another hour

2 business letter turns

Let rise until doubled: just over an hour

Shaped and let rise for about 1 1/2 hours

Baked at 475-450 degrees with steam from ice cubes


I know my starter is strong enough, but it doesn't translate into a light and fluffy loaf. One other thing to note: I live near the ocean, so there's more moisture in the air. I'm not sure how this is affecting my baking, however.

Any and all feedback is much appreciated.


BreadBro's picture

A few things. First off, I never use the icecube trick, as it doesn't really give you enough of a "burst" of steam to help raise the loaf higher. In fact, I've found that the slow-steam methods tend to deposit water droplets on the loaf well into the baking process which stains the crust with a weird-looking, greyish tint.

For steaming, I pour about 3/4 cup of boiling water into a pre-heated pan filled with lava rocks after loading the loaf onto a baking stone. This produces a huge blast of steam which coats the loaf and then quickly dissapates.

Second, the recipe you have there is a quicker, direct dough method which doesn't use any preferments. I would suggest either making a biga out of your sourdough starter and a percentage of the final flour (you can find plenty of guides on making a biga), or even better, retard the entire loaf in the fridge for about 18 hours. This allows enzymes in the dough to break out sugars which promote more browning in the crust.

Sorry if that seems like a lot, feel free to ask more questions.

hislastsong's picture

Thanks for the tips, BreadBro. I'll definitely give the boiling water a shot and look into the biga method.

phaz's picture

usually grey and dense is a sign of an over proofed dough. and with the large among of starter, added commercial yeast, and little salt, I'll bet that's the problem, especially when it's warm. baking at those temps should get you a nicely colored crust in about 30 -40 minutes, as long as there is some sugars left in the dough. over proofing will use all our most of the available sugars leaving a light or greyish colored loaf. I would suggest using less starter, you only really need a couple 3 tablespoons, and definitely remove the added yeast. this will allow for longer fermentation, which will also increase flavors and sour. try the poke test to feel when the dough is ready. poke a floured or wet finger about an inch into the dough and see how long it takes to fill and how much it fills back in. when ready, the dent should fill in slowly, and fill back in about 1/4 of the way. do let us know how it goes, and as always, happy baking!

hislastsong's picture

Great info, here. I had no idea I might be using too much starter. Thanks!

dabrownman's picture

for a bread book - part grams and part  volume measure?  If your starter is 100% hydration and assuming the flour weighs 140 g  per cup you are at 70% hydration no to high at all.  Still the recipe is suspect for most SD.

I think you would do better following a modified  1-2-3 SD recipe based on weight to start with.  150g of full strength starter at 100% hydration, 315 g of water and 450 g of bread flour not AP - or AP with 20 g of Vital Wheat Gluten added to it to make it bread flour.

This will give you a 70% hydration dough with more structure to it  Autolyse the flours for an hour without the 9 g of salt and them\ do some slap and folds, 8 minutes, to develop the gluten before doing the S&F's,  3 sets every 30 minutes.  Then bulk ferment for an hour.  Pre-shape and then 10 minutes later shape and put in a rice floured basket for support - or a cloth lined and rice floured bowl or colander.  Refrigerate overnight in a trash can liner to proof in the cold 12 hours 

Bring out of the fridge and let finish proofing until 85% gain in volume is achieved before slashing and baking.  The dough will still be cool..  The basket and coolness will keep the dough spreading and make slashing easier,  If you don't want to retard, that is fine, just let it fully proof to 85% before baking - only the taste suffers without a retard.

Happy baking

hislastsong's picture

The recipe actually calls for 186 grams of flour. And I was trying out the all-purpose flour after a couple unsuccessful attempts with bread flour. But your explanation makes sense. We'll see how it goes the next round. Thanks!

dabrownman's picture

you away from this recipe because, as Josh said,  it had too much levain to begin with, more than twice what i would use for a SD bread whithout any yeast, plus you had added yeast in there too.   The times didn't match the formula well.  Plus the 123 method makes great bread.   

We did a test on the site for a cups worth of flout weight, through a Thomas Chacon post, with a spoon to stir well, then scoop and scrape off the top of the cup measure with a knife method.  There were quite a few people who did it and we came to a rough guess that 140 g was the rough average of the group for the weight of a cup of AP flour.

golgi70's picture

Everyone has certainly found your problems and DAB has offered up an easy solution. Switch to the 1:2:3.  I think you might learn a bit more by seeing this same formula work.  And it can.  I broke down your recipe to be in the same format and I assume a cup of AP is = 131.6g or 4.7 oz.  I assume this because when i converted many recipes from volume at my bakery I had to keep figuring out what a cup of something was in weight.  None the less.  The biggest problem here is you have a sourdough with 41% pre-fermented flour which was probably made to be a quick "sourdough" bread, really just a naturally leavened white loaf.  Adding the yeast (.7%) and following sourdough timelines is why you over fermented and eventually over proofed your dough.  1% is your average yeast amount in a yeasted bread and you went just shy of that to a bread with more than enough natural levain to raise a loaf rather quickly.  So a couple ways to tackle this.  

You can leave the formula as is omitting the commercial yeast and adjusting your timelines.  I would think 2 1/2 hours of bulk ferment would be a good guess.  Then I'd think the final proof would take about an hour and a half as you have it already.  

If you'd like your dough to have more character I'd suggest cutting your levain in half and adding the cut half to the finished dough.  Like so: With my math this dough is 72% hydration.  

120 g ripe starter (100% hydration)

228 All Purpose Flour (King Arthur AP is a good choice)

148 H20

5.2 salt (this is actually a little low for my taste at 1.8% but should work fine) I'd increase to 2 %


Autolyse Flour and H20 for 2 hours. 

Add levain and mix until combined.  Add salt and combine.  Turn up speed and develop dough 

to pass window test.  

Bulk ferment 3:30-4 hours with 2 s+f's at 45 minutes. 

preshape rest 20 minutes

shape and place in floured proofing basket.  

option 1:  Proof 2 1/2 - 3 1/2 hours and bake with steam (i like ice cubes in cast iron with rocks along with steam                                                                                             towel pan)

Option 2:  Proof 1 hour at room temp and then retard covered with plastic.  Bake 12 hours later following the                       same baking method. 


I wish you luck in your next attempt. You should probably just listen to DAB. The 1:2:3 method has had great success on here but I thought it may be more interesting to adjust the recipe that failed you.

Happy Baking