The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough not sour enough

Xenophon's picture

Sourdough not sour enough

I've started out with sourdoughs and longer fermentation times a couple of months ago and bake without using any extra bakers' yeast.  The resulting loaves have excellent texture, crumb, taste (more on that just below).  But...they're not sour enough (unless when making a >=50% rye, then it's ok) and I'm looking for some advice to get more 'tang' in them.

Here's what I do:

The starter was built 3 months ago, just a mixture of rye flour and water with a bit of yoghurt added.  I let it ferment at room temperature (at that time 30 centigrade, I'm in India) for a total of 3 weeks, discarding/refreshing daily.  I taste it regularly and trust me, it's sour.  Nowadays I store it in the fridge at 4 centigrade, take it out the morning before baking day and then add about 100 grams of rye flour and 100 grams water.  In the course of the day (quite quickly, nowadays with temp about 25 centigrade around 4-6 hours) it gets bubbly, increases its volume etc.  In the evening I take out what I put in (200 grams total) and add 150 grams white bread flour and 150 grams water, the remainder goes back in the fridge.  

This starter/white bread flour+water mix then sits in a pot outside overnight (night temp about 13 centigrade) and duly increases in volume.

Next morning I add about 500 grams white bread flour, sometimes some seeds/raisins, salt and water to get to about 65% total hydration (to be honest I just make a rough calculation and go by feel, the dough is typically still somewhat sticky but I figure it's best to err on the 'too moist' side).  

After kneading this sits in a covered bowl for around 3 hours at 20 centigrade, after which time the volume has doubled.   It's then folded, divided and shaped, then gets another 2-3 hours proof.  After that I score and bake.

As I said, the resulting loaves have good oven spring and are just about perfect in every way except for the fact that I'd like them to be more tangy (my wife, otoh is quite happy with the way things are going).

From what I've read I might need more lactobacilli and perhaps an even longer fermentation time but that's hard to do as I don't have perfect temperature control and it seems to me that the rise/proof times are already significant.  What to do?  I could add some yoghurt but I'm guessing that the yeast/lactobacilli ratio automatically reaches some equilibrium.  It are probably wild yeasts floating around locally in Delhi, so no idea about what's in there.

Any tips are gratefully accepted!



Ford's picture

To get more sour retard your shaped loaves in the refrigerator until fully proofed (overnight about 8 to 12 hours) then bake,

If that is not sour enough for you, then bulk proof in the refrigerator in addition to the final proof.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Here might be the point for change...    first a few Questions for clarity.

After removing the 200g needed for baking, is the hungry left over starter simply put in the fridge, or is it fed and chilled right away and/or do you give it a few hours to start rising and then put it into the fridge? 

From what I can gather,  200g mature starter is fed 300g more (equal flour & water) for a cool ferment total starter weight of 500g in the morning and to this 500g flour (plus ingredients) is added.  Correct?  


golgi70's picture

I suppose the storage of the ripe starter in the fridge is okay but it could also use a feeding if at this point as its depleted.  That's a starter maintenance issue.  You could pull the amount you'll hold in the retarder right after mixing this build and put in the fridge much sooner (say after 1 hour at room temp) so it has food to feed on.  Then let the remaining 200 g ripen completely for the next build.  

As for your next build to the loaf.  Your final build is 1:.75:.75 (starter:flour:water) which won't get sour and will probably be over fermented by morning due to lack of food.

 I'd suggest lowering the inoculation.  1:2:2 (starter:flour:water) is pretty average but this depends on your timing/temps.  How long is this final build?  You say overnight but how many hours?  Plus you do this in a cool place?  I'd be aiming to lower this inoculation and let it rise in a warm environment (25 C would be great).  These two things would help add some twang.  Decreasing the amount of pre-fermented flour may be in order if you do make these changes.  

I'm sure Mini will also have some great advice 


Wild-Yeast's picture

Use the three part French sponge method [travail sur trois levains - three leven work]. Allow the final sponge to over ferment developing an increased acid content. Developing LAB tang by the refrigeration method takes too long and will not yield an authentic tang taste.

The sponge should make up 30% to 50% of the finished dough content and depends on the ferment's surroundings ambient temperature [Warm temperatures require less sponge - Cold requires more]. Making non-tanged sourdough is actually more difficult than this age old traditional method because the dough must be serviced at peak rise from starter to loaf - needs a lot more attention than tang-loaf.

One other note of attention - Begin main dough mix with flour and water only; Allow an autolyse [hydrolysis] rest of 30 minutes; Knead to develop the gluten till the dough passes the window test without tearing; Then, and only then, add the sponge piece by piece till thoroughly incorporated. Finally add the sea salt. 

The reason for not adding either the sponge or salt till the end of the main dough mix is based on gluten development - both ingredients inhibit gluten development [acid in the starter denatures the protein in the gluten acting to limit its formation - NaCl in the salt tightens the gluten and interferes with its development].


Edited: 1:25 PM - 19 Nov 2013 to correct lactic acid effect on gluten development.

mwilson's picture

I agree that both salt and acid interfere with gluten development but I'd like to clarify about the effect of acid on gluten.

Salt has a tightening effect by drawing water away from gluten, making it less extensible. Acid makes gluten swell and allows more water to be absorbed which improves elasticity. However, acid indirectly degrades the dough in the long run by speeding up proteolysis as the enzymes responsible are pH dependent.

dosco's picture

Where could one find more information on the 3-part French sponge method?

Wild-Yeast's picture

Try "The Bread Builders" by Wing & Scott.


Antilope's picture

even though it wasn't real sour, and told myself and family I was making "Rustic Bread". In expecting a Rustic Bread, you are not disappointed, everything else is usually really good, just not that sour. But in using and refreshing my starter it did develop a lot more sour over time.

chris319's picture

As if you haven't received enough advice already ...

Your proof at 20 degrees C. Sounds kind of cool. I like to proof at 31C. If you can hook up a light bulb near your dough, this should get the temperature up.

Antilope's picture

Once all of the incandescent light bulbs are outlawed, I wonder how warm the fluorescent or LED bulbs will keep our proofers?

Xenophon's picture

to all who responded, lots of advice here.  


As to my starter:  After taking it out of the fridge and feeding it I remove the fraction to which I add water and flour for my pre-ferment (usually it takes about 7 hours to reach peak after feeding) and then indeed immediately put the remainder back in the fridge at 4 centigrade.  My reasoning is that it's approximately at peak then and at 4 centigrade the metabolism of the yeast/bacteria slows to next to zero anyway.

The pre-ferment ripens overnight, being between about 6 pm and 9 AM the following day.  Temperature is simply the outside temperature, nowadays this goes from around 23 centigrade at 6 pm to a low of 8 centigrade early in the morning.  Temperature control is a big problem here, with summer highs going to 45 centigrade in the shade (nighttime not lower than 32) and in the winter it barely reaches 15 centigrade during daytime and hovers around 4 on a cold morning).  Housing (even with ac, there's no heating) is not really built for these extremes and this makes fermentation times a guessing game.

I'll follow some of your suggestions and report back, meanwhile the 'bread builders' book is on my reading list.


Ivan.Z's picture

I thought I was in control of this well enough and could make sour bread or less-sour bread. But then I went to San Francisco and tried Acme bread and wow. I can't really get even close to that tangy taste in 100% wheat bread.

The key seems to be prolonged bulk fermentation but I'm really afraid of over-fermentation. To the point when I can't really sleep well when my final dough is out there in the kitchen. I'll try to try it this weekend, maybe combined with beer or sedatives to sleep better :)


I keep my starter in the fridge and only take it out on weekends when I bake - just like OP does(I suppose). It tastes sour enough but I think it could be sourer. However I remember the burden of daily feedings - it was horrible. 2 times a day seems impossible. And the starter didn't actually give my bread as reliable a rise as it gives now. So I'll only try messing with feeding schedule if everything else fails.

dosco's picture

My attempts at SD have also resulted in very mildly sour bread ... I have to say that I really want that San Fran style sourness. My understanding is that prolonged, low temperature fermentations are needed in order to achieve that sourness.

The issue I've noted with using the refrigerator is that it is so cold that it makes the proofing at "room termperature" take much much MUCH longer. I cannot remove a doughball from the fridge and have it ready to bake in any reasonable amount of time. One issue for me, however, is that this time of year my kitchen is fairly cool ... probably 67F. (this is TMI but the problem is that I need to install more insulation in my attic on the part of the house where my kitchen is located ... I added insulation to a different section of my house and it made a substantial improvement in temperature and overall comfort).

The other issue for me has been that of poor oven spring likely caused by poor gluten development (although the strength of my starter is also potentially questionable). And based on my recent results I'm going to guess that my successful loaves have been underproofed. So for now I'm trying to get those issues under control and once I'm there take my knowledge and apply it to low-temp proofing for sourness.




Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

" My reasoning is that it's approximately at peak then and at 4 centigrade the metabolism of the yeast/bacteria slows to next to zero anyway."

if you maintain your starter instead of trying to get it sour, it may preform for you.  What happens is that power declines when it is put away hungry and flour is spent.  Then it takes more builds to get it up where it belongs and .... more builds just before baking can be where you're loosing your sour.  Try reducing the number of builds.

Try this... with the left over starter that you normally chill:   try feeding less starter proportionately less (don't waste flour)  letting it rise a few hours and then when you see it rising (about 1/3 to 1/2 up) chill it.  Then when you want to bake, remove a portion enough to inoculate 500g of the flour and let it ripen during the warm part of the day, when it is about peaked, chill it (instead of feeding again) and use it the next day.  Turn two steps into one.  Also try using as little as possible in the inoculation.  What now rises in 7 hours should be the starting point.  There is more flour & water now... So it may take 10hrs to almost peak. You can even let it get overripe. Let it rise longer or warmer to get it more sour before adding the other half of the flour.   Then try retarding right after mixing. (or not)  Play around with the built starter not the maintained starter.  

(You will also find the fed fridge starter lasting longer for several bakes.)