The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Really in a muddle with my soughdough

Littlebrooklyn's picture

Really in a muddle with my soughdough

I bought a sourdough starter from Hobbs Bakery which came a few days ago so I diligently followed the directions but seem to have a few problems that I am not sure how to solve and hope that someone here may be able to offer me some advice.

The direction on the sourdough starter were to add 75ml of warm water and 75grams of wholemeal flour 12 hours before I wanted to make some bread so I took the starter out of the fridge at 7am, added the flour and water and 12hrs later had what I think looked like a nice frothy and thick starter.  

The recipe I was using asked for 460grams of white bread flour, 230ml warm water, 10grams salt, 300ml starter.  Mix up, knead for 10mins, leave to rest for half an hour, shape, leave in tin or banneton for 12hrs then bake.

By my calculation that meant the dough was ready for the oven by about 8am but I did check it at 7am and it had definitely doubled in size, if not more, but obviously I couldn't check it earlier as I was in bed!

I managed to tip the banneton out onto a makeshift peel and this is when it all started to go wrong.  I tried for the second time to slash the top of the loaf but once again the blade wouldn't go through without really pushing down onto the dough, which then distorted the whole shape of the loaf.  It was like the surface was "set" and I did wonder afterwards if maybe I should just have left it unslashed.  I then tried, with no success, to get the dough off my makeshift peel onto my hot baking tray in the oven, but it wouldn't budge, even though I had oiled the surface.  I am guessing I should perhaps have used some semolina rather than oil, but I ended up with such a mess that I had to bin it, which was a bit of a disappointment.

I don't want to give up with the sourdough bread as I'd like to know what it tastes like!  It seems that it's needing pretty much 24hrs to go from taking the starter out to having a loaf of bread and it would be good to know if I can maybe slow things down so that I'm not having to do things at such odd hours.  I had thought about leaving the dough in the fridge overnight but wasn't sure if you could with sourdough. 

Would it be a good investment to get a proper peel and a proper stone for the oven as I have neither of those at present but don't want to buy things that maybe I don't really need.

Also, before I forget, now I have my starter if I want to make 2 loaves of bread obviously right now I can't as I don't have enough starter dough.  Can I just take some of the starter from the starter jar and put it in another jar to start up a second lot or does it not work like that.

Sorry for all the question 



Bakingmadtoo's picture

You can certainly slow things down by refrigerating your dough.

All you need to do to get enough starter for more loaves is take the starter from the fridge a day before baking and feed it a couple of times without discarding any. Wait for it to peak, feed again to double its volume again. I always feed twice before baking anyway as this gets the cold starter nice and active.  There is no need at al. To make two starters.

mrfrost's picture

Wondering about the sharpness of whatever you are using?

Whatever kind of blade/knife you are using needs to be really sharp. Razor sharp! Too sharp to barely touch. Even if the skin is relatively tough, a sharp blade should slice through it, in some manner, without much effort.

What are you using to slash?

Also, have you watched several videos on scoring bread?

dabrownman's picture

proofing to 85% rise in a plastic bag?  Soiundsl liekmthe skin is drying out becuse it isn't in a bag adn that it is overproofing a lot.  It is hard to determine when the  bread is at 85% when in round bottom basket.  I would think that after fementing. shaping and putting the dough in a basket it would be around 2 hours or less to be ready to bake.

Use a piece of  parchment paper on a dry peel  Turn the dough put on parchment and it will just slide off into the oven parchment and all - never any sticking in or out of the oven.  I always use parchment on peels

When I have over proofed or damaged sough I just add 25% more flour and water to it with the right amount of salt  slap and fold it a couple of minutes shape it and proof it again  to bake in about a hour and half or so.  Saving these kinds of disasters is fun and can produce the very best bread too!

Happy SD baking

Littlebrooklyn's picture

Thanks for your replies.

When I first started baking bread, which was only some months ago, I was using just a serrated kitchen knife for slashing my dough when I was baking it in metal loaf tins and I was doing a kind of diamond pattern and it was turning out very well.  However I recently bought a Mure & Peyrot retractable grignette and I've only used it twice, both times for slashing dough proved in a banneton, first time I held the blade the wrong way round and tried to slash it with the blunt side duh!  Today I made sure I was slashing with the sharp end and it just didn't seem to do anything other than to drag through the dough which as I said seemed to have a crusty top, which I am assuming is because the banneton dried the dough out, but I still assumed that the blade would cut through it.  

It was mentioned to me in a previous posting, about my bread not getting any oven spring, that maybe I was proving the bread for too long but I wasn't sure if the sourdough came under the same rule of thumb of doubling in size?  I know it's hard to tell from a banneton if it has doubled in size or more, but I did think it had perhaps over proved which is why I wanted to try and slow the proving down so that I could leave it longer than 12hrs.

I am not sure that the kilner jar that my starter is in would take more than one feed as it's not a huge jar, I would say it's probably about a 750ml size, which is why I was thinking of having another jar so that I could have a larger amount on the go.  


mrfrost's picture

Go back to the serrated knife then. Maybe find something to practice on with your new lame.

Have you tried the serrated knife on your sourdough?

tchism's picture

Hello Lyn,

First off don't get discouraged, you can do this!!

Second, a little on your starter. It sounds like you feed it equal portions by weight which will give you what is called 100% hydration starter. That's my typical starter ratio as well.

I have found the best way to manage my starter is to do the following:

Take a container with a loose fitting lid. I use this kind with the rubber seal removed.


Weigh the container empty and write the weight on the lid with a marker or on a piece of masking tape placed on the jar.

I typically keep 225g of starter on hand in the fridge. You can keep more or less depending on your needs.

I take my starter out of the fridge once a week to feed it. If I'm not going to make bread, I discard 2/3 or 150g.

The easiest way to make sure I get it right is to use my scale and use the weight of the jar I wrote on it.

If my jar weighs say 300g and I have 225g of starter, my total weight should be 525g. Now If I want to get ride of 150g, the easiest way is to take the weight of the jar 300g and add 75g to that giving me 375g. Thats my target weight. Now all I have to do is leave the jar on the scale and remove starter until I have a weight of 375g. I then zero my scale and add 75g of water and 75g of flour and mix. I'm now back to my original 225g of starter. The total weight including the jar should be 525g.

By starting with 75g of starter and adding 75g of water and 75g of flour, I'm using what is known as the 1:1:1 feed ratio.

Now lets say that I want to bake 2 loaves and I will need 400g of starter. I would do the following:

First, knowing that I would want to have starter left over I would plan on having 500g of starter at the end of my build up. So, if I want to use my 1:1:1 ratio, I would divide 500 by three. That comes to 166.6 so I just round off to 167g. 

Next I would take my jar weight of 300g and add 167g for a total of 467g. That's my new target. I would remove starter from my jar until I had a total weight of 467g. Then I would zero my scale and add 167g of water and 167g of flour. I'm now at my desired amount of starter of 500g. The total weight with the jar should be 800g. 

Keep in mind that starter kept at 100% hydration will double or triple in size as it rises so make certain that you use a large enough container for your target amount.

So after 12 hours, my starter is ready to use. I would pull out my 400g of starter for my bread and follow my recipe.

With the remaining starter I would place my jar on the scale and follow the process I described earlier to get back to my 225g of starter and place it back in the fridge for the next time.



Now, for your bread, it sounds like your dough was over proofed. 12 hours is a long time on the counter for dough, even sourdough. I also think the recipe leaves you with a fairly dry dough. I calculate it to be about 62% hydration factoring in what I figure is your starter hydration of 100%. That plus 12 hours on the counter could have given you a skin on the dough that was hard to slice through.

Might I suggest a different recipe that will give you a wetter dough. I also use a process that includes refrigeration of the dough over night. The recipe is as follows:

200g of starter (100% hydration)

300g warm water

500g bread flour

11g salt

The process is easy. 

Feed your starter about 12 hours before you want to start. I have gone 6 to 8 hours with no issues.

When the starter is ready, pull out 200g and place in mixing bowl. Add the 300g of warm water and the 11g salt. 

Mix and dissolve the stater ad salt in the water. (You can leave the salt out and do what is called autolyese by adding the salt 30 min. or so after the flour water and starter are all mixed but adding it now is easier for mixing for a beginner.)

Next add the flour and mix it all together. It should look something like this.

Cover with plastic and let set for 30 min.

Then I start a process called stretch and fold. I pull on four sides of the dough in the bowl and fold it over on itself.

I do this every 30 min for two to three hours. Your looking for the dough to de light and a little bubbly. Cover the dough with plastic between folds.

After the stretch and fold process, turn the dough out on a lightly flowered surface and form a round loaf (boule). Let it set on the counter for 30 min. uncovered. It should look a little something like this.

After 30 min. flip the dough over and press it with your finger tips which will degas the dough some and flatten it out some. Then reform the loaf. You can for the loaf to any shape you want. The reason you flip the loaf is because you have formed a slight skin on the outer edge of the dough and you will be stretching it in the next forming to give the loaf surface tension.

Since you have indicated that you don't  have a peel of proper baking stone I thought I might show you a way to make the loaf in a dutch oven. If you don't have a dutch oven you can use the method you have available. The dutch oven does provide for good steaming of the loaf though.

So for the process I'm showing you, you would reshape the loaf again to a round or boule shape. It should look something like this.

Note the bubbles, you can pierce them if you like but they are a good sign of how the dough is developed.

Next I take a bowl in this case but is can be a banneton and spray it lightly with water and coat it with a layer of rice flour. Place the dough top side down into the bowl or banneton.

Then cover the dough with plastic. 

Allow the dough to set for another 30 min. and then place in the fridge over night. It can be left up to 24 hours.

The next day, pull the loaf out and allow it to proof (covered) for two to three hours. You want to be able to poke it lightly with your finger and not have the dimple fill in quickly of completely. You should preheat you oven to 425F (218C). You can preheat the dutch oven or not. It seems to work well both ways.

Uncover your loaf and sprinkle it with cornmeal or semolina flour, you can use rice flour too.

Turn the dough out gently into the dutch oven. and score the dough. I used parchment paper under the loaf to help prevent sticking. I also usually spray the dough a little with water to promote steam at this point.

Place the lid on the dutch oven and place in the oven for 18min. Then pull the lid off.

Finish baking until you get the desired coloring.

Pull the loaf out and cool on a rack for an hour or so before cutting.

The higher hydration of this dough (about 67%) should produce some nice holes in your crumb.

This was a long post and I hope I did't confuse you more than I helped. I have found that the methods used above gives consistently good results. I hope this helps you. 

One last note. You can use a baking stone in place of the dutch oven but for good results you will need steam. You either need to make steam in your oven or cover you loaf with a metal or clay lid during baking.

Best of luck!

Littlebrooklyn's picture

Thanks so much for all that advice and the lovely pics, gosh your bread looks divine and I hope that maybe one day I'll be able to make bread that looks so gorgeous.  That makes total sense regarding weighing the jars, hadn't though of that so I'll give that a go next.

I don't have a dutch oven but I think I will order a peel and a stone or I'm never going to get this right.  I've been measuring the temperature in various parts of the house to see which is best for proving the dough.  Yesterday I left the dough in the airing cupboard for the 12hrs, although the hot water tank is so well lagged that the temperature in there is usually only around 16/18c so not exactly warm.  The fridge is only 3c so wonder if that is a bit too cold?  The conservatory is around 10c at the moment so maybe that is a better temp to leave it in?

I have been putting an old roasting tin in the bottom of the oven when I first turn the oven on and then pouring in a jug of hot water just before I put the dough in, so hopefully that is okay?

I think I have an awful lot to learn but I will follow the recipe you suggest and see if that gives a better result :)


tchism's picture

Maybe try splitting the time between the fridge and the conservatory, although I have kept my starter and dough near the 3C temp with good results.

I also normally use a baking stone but I use a roasting pan to cover  the loaves for the first part of the bake for steam control. See this video for how it works.

Roasting Lid Baking Method for Sourdough

Atropine's picture

This is just my .02, but unless you just REALLY want a peel and a stone, it is not necessary to buy them to make great bread.  I have made bread for years without either.

Now, I am not saying don't get them :)  I just wanted to say that it is not necessary.  I am having a great deal of success lately with a roll of parchment paper and a cast iron pan.  I put the pan in the hot oven, let the bread rise on the parchment.  I take out the hot pan when I am ready to bake, set the parchment (with dough) into the cast iron pan and pop it back into the oven.

I am not a purist, so I have no bread-making ethical dilemmas from coating the dough with oil to keep it soft ;).  However, I also use plastic to keep the dough soft when it is rising in the bowl.

I have made wonderful bread with just the plain aluminum pans.  I think the cast iron gives a better result with some breads, but others are wonderful without it. 

Just my .02 :)  Keep at the bread baking!  It is wonderful when you get a system that works for YOU :)

Littlebrooklyn's picture

That really does look fabulous, thank you for sharing.

I don't have a roasting lid, least I don't think I do but I'll look out for one.

I was going to have another go today with my bread and took my starter out of the fridge last night and fed it 75grams of wholemeal flour and 75grams of tepid water and had expected it to be bubbling away just like it was on Saturday.  However when I checked it this morning, about 9hrs after feeding, although it had risen it didn't seem to be as active as it was on Saturday.  I am worried that I have done something wrong, although I am sure I followed the instructions.

I've got another couple of kilner jars that I bought yesterday and have thought about measuring some of the starter into one of them and feeding that to see if it helps and then just replacing what I take out of the original starter with some more flour and water.  The starter seems to be quite thick, not sure if I have messed it up.  Honestly I can't believe how upset I was this morning when I checked it and saw it like that :(


Bakingmadtoo's picture

Fridge or conservatory are both fine for your starter and dough, it will just change rising times.

Is it possible that your starter had peaked and begun to fall again, I usually find that mine takes a while to rise when I feed it straight from the fridge, but the second feeding after it rises much more quickly.

Do you mark your jar when you have fed your starter, this is an easy way to track how much it has risen? If you try to keep the sides of your jar quite clear you can also see the mark it peaked at and that it is falling again.

Littlebrooklyn's picture

I just checked the jar again as it's now just over 12hrs and I would say it has now doubled in size, although it's not as active as it was on Saturday.  I think I will take 200grams out and put some in the other jars I have, which I have weighed so I will be able to tell how much starter is in each jar.  I am assuming I add 100grams of water and 100grams of flour to 100grams of starter? I am hoping it's not my water that is wrong as I have been using filtered tap water, not bottled water, although I do have some bottled water if that is a better option, I wasn't sure if the chlorine in the water was only a problem when you are making a starter.  Have to say we have quite hard water where we are.

I was intending to try a go at another loaf today but I have just ordered a peel and a baking stone to be delivered tomorrow so think it's probably best to wait till I have them so that I don't end up just throwing stuff away again.

Here is how the starter looks now


tchism's picture

Your starter looks healthy enough to me. Yes, you have the feeding ratio correct. You can adjust how much you start with depending on how much you want to end up with. 

I found my roasting pan at Walmart. I actually use the bottom vs the lid because it's deeper. The roasting pan was inexpensive.


Muskie's picture

Take a piece of parchment paper, and some 20g-30g of that starter, and just butter the paper as you would a nice piece of toast. Leave that on the counter till it dries feeds, no nothing, just let it dry. Then take those dried bits, put them in a plastic bag, and then push out all the air and put it in the freezer. You know have "forever" will last long past your end of days, with no additional feedings or any other help.

Making a new starter out of that dried stuff is actually pretty easy, far easier than capturing new wild yeast. You got it going, save some for when you don't....;-]

Littlebrooklyn's picture

Good idea about freezing some of the starter, hadn't thought of that.  My starter seems to be just weird in that it seems to do nothing at room temperature now, but when I first got it just over a week ago it doubled in size on the kitchen worktop.  Last two times I've tried using it I've had to put the central heating on and put the jar on top of the radiator and then it's doubled quite quickly, possibly a bit too quickly!  I left some dough proving in the conservatory for most of yesterday, put it in the fridge overnight and then moved it onto the kitchen worktop this morning.  It seems to have doubled so I've put the oven on and we will see.  I am going to try to slash the top properly this time :)