The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Problem with low sourdough percentage breads

NanusT's picture

Problem with low sourdough percentage breads

I have tried now the third recipe from Hamelman's book (the first sourdough recipes), where the sourdough in the final dough is about 10%. Every time the dough doesn’t  rise at all. My starter is very active (can double itself in less than 8 hours) and every time I make breads with high sourdough percentage (about 40-50%) I get really good results. Also I don’t think the problem is with kneading either because I get good results for the same kneading (I use KA) with regular yeast or high sourdough percentage breads.

I have tried to read around and I didn’t find anyone with the same problem as me. On the contrary, I saw most of the people do get doubled in size dough after the bulk fermentation (about 2.5 hours). This frustrates me so much and I can't seem to understand what the problem is. I see many recipes with low sourdough percentage that calls for 8-12 hours of bulk fermentation (like Ken Forkish).

In my last try I saw nothing happened after 2.5 hours so I left it 2.5 hours more and it started to show good signs but I had plans so I shaped it, fermented it 3 hours outside and now they are waiting in the refrigerator which ill bake tomorrow morning. Next time I'll try to ferment it 8-12 hours and see what happens.

Does anyone have an idea what can it be? (The only thing I think of is that I'm not from the US and the wild yeast here is different?)

Janetcook's picture

WIth only 10% leaven in your formula it will indeed take a long time to ferment.  8-12 hours sounds about right to me.  Check the recipe you are following and see if he has an overnight retarding time indicated for the loaf you are attempting.

Just to give you an idea……I bake with 100% whole grains which ferment a lot faster than BF or AP.  My standard amount of leaven for most loaves is 26%. (Includes 15% flour and 11% water) Bulk ferment time is overnight in the refrig. followed by 2-3 more hours at room temp. in the morning to warm up and then anywhere from 2-4 hours proofing time.  

Your dough sounds like one that can be mixed in the evening and then left out to ferment overnight if your temps. aren't too high followed by shaping and proofing the next day.  Just a guess since I have never baked with anything other than 100% whole grains…

Time would increase too if you have any enrichments added that might slow fermentation down.

Good Luck,


Nickisafoodie's picture

In addition to Janet's comments, feed your starter twice before making the bread.  I use 100% rye starter and my times match Janet's - much more vigorous starter than white flour.  Use 100% hydration (equal parts by weight flour and water). Should peak in 4-6 hours depending on room temp and flour type.  After two feeds, add to your recipe at the next peak. 

You can also do a three stage build using 10-15% starter in the first phase, peaking at bedtime, then add an additional amount of flour and water to get you to 50% of the recipe.  let go another 4-5 hours (or overnight), then add rest of ingredients and continue.  Enter 123 in the search box and you will see many postings on this approach. 

Hope this helps

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Tal. 

So, the breads with which you are having problems are Hamelman's Vermont Sourdoughs. If you will excuse the expression, "Where is it written that the dough should double?" 

This is not a criterion that Hamelman seems to use. He gives times and desired temperature. In fact, for me, when I make these breads, they usually don't double in volume. I ferment the dough in a glass 2 L measuring pitcher, and I can see the CO2 bubbles forming through most of the dough and I can actually measure the dough volume. Hamelman's times - 2 to 2 1/2 hours - usually work for me. If it's cool, and I don't see a lot of bubbles in the dough, I may give it an extra 30 minutes.

I'm the guy who preaches "Watch the dough, not the clock." But I don't find watching for dough doubling helps as much as watching for gas formation and feeling the surface of the dough for a kind of puffy, pillowy feeling that tells you it is adequately fermented. When I took two week-long workshops at the San Francisco Baking Institute, the instructors always patted the dough to judge fermentation. They sometimes did this while talking to the class and never actually looking at the dough's appearance, not to mention measuring its volume. I can still hear Frank Sally doing this dough patting while talking about something else entirely and then telling us, "It needs 10 more minutes." 

One more thing: The amount of pre-fermented doughs in Hamelman's three Vermont SD formulas is 15%, 15% and 20% respectively (in the 2nd Edition. I gave my copy of the 1st edition to one of my sons.).

Happy baking!


NanusT's picture

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The loaves turned out pretty good, even very good. But as I mentioned I have fermented it much longer. I still think that if I didn’t give it an extra time it would have turned out bad.