The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Overnight Country Gloop

HarryR's picture

Overnight Country Gloop

Hi all,

I've only been baking bread a short while but am hooked already after my first good loaf, a nice crusty white baked in a dutch oven. But my spirits have slumped these past few days after trying and failing twice at an overnight country blonde, from Ken's book Flour Water Salt Yeast.

My first batch was made to spec. Bulk fermentation was done at 25 degrees Celsius (77 degrees Fahrenheit) for 12 hours. Seemed fine, but when I went to unload it onto the bench I discovered a gloopy mess that oozed out into a pool and attached itself to the unfloured parts of the bench. I could do nothing other than scrape it off and swish it down the drain.

Second batch was made at 70% hydration instead of 78%. After my stretch and folds I had a nice elastic dough that easily held its shape. Fearing I'd over-fermented the previous lot, I put the dough into a measured container and kept it with me in the air-conditioned bedroom for the night. The air temperature was 20C (68F). After 8 hours there was no appreciable rise in the dough so I put it on the kitchen bench figuring the cool air has somehow retarded the dough. After a few hours it started to rise and though the recipe states the dough should triple in volume I became worried and decided to turn it out and shape it after it had doubled in volume. Well, I was utterly dismayed to find the dough in much the same state as the first lot. It was again unusable and so went down the drain. 

My starter was fed as directed and achieved double volume in 7 hours and was used after 8 hours. Ingredients were measured very accurately. I don't see how I could have over-fermented the dough as it only reached double its volume. I gave it the correct number of stretch and folds and achieved a nice elastic dough that held its shape with ease.

In this video here:

Ken's dough is far firmer than mine is. He is able to pick it up and plop it back down. If I tried that the dough would run through my fingers and stick to the bench.

Can anyone help me? I want to try again but I do not have an endless bucket of flour to scoop from and I don't have time to keep getting it wrong. I am baking bread for my family and want to learn levain breads as my daughter has a certain intolerance to gluten. I read the long fermentation times can render the gluten into a more easily digestible state.



ElPanadero's picture

I think for many people the move from "standard" hydration loaves to higher hydrations tends to challenge ones expectations.  The dough behaves very differently and typically doesn't hold itself in the same way as lower hydration loaves.  When you turn out a normal loaf it stands there proud and ready to be scored.  When you turn out a higher hydration loaf it just "flollops" into what looks more like a pizza than a loaf but that's just the way of it.  In the oven the miracle of oven spring transforms it.  I'm wondering therefore if your dough was actually ok?  As an example take a look at these two pictures of Tartine style loaves, the before and after. 


HarryR's picture

I was prepared to meet a slack dough, but one that should still have some tension, as of the dough Ken handles in his video. To shape my dough in that fashion was impossible. Whereas he can perform the stretch and folds necessary to bring his dough together and then to a round, jellyfish-like state, I could not. My dough was too wet and slack and lacking in tension and what I ended up with was a gloopy mess. It would have only been possible if I'd used a lot of extra flour and most likely thoroughly degassed the dough in the process. I did exactly as shown, using flour, floured hands and a very delicate touch. I am to ferment in a sealed container, aren't I? There's no trick that gives the surface some extra tension? I have found some simpler recipes that have much shorter fermentation times and less hydration. But I feel defeated and disappointed as Ken's book is based around high hydration doughs and I bought it because I love his breads. If I can't get it right I can scratch off many recipes I'm dying to try. I have started his recipe for white bread with poolish to make sure I can indeed handle a wet dough. And still, I would call what I had after bulk stringy gloop, not wet dough.

Thanks for the photos, and for the help.

tea berries's picture
tea berries

I'm new here and am trying to solve some of the simplest problems in starter and dough myself, but I wonder why instead of washing it down the drain you didn't just add some more flour to it and knead it a bit and give it another rise? Was it a dough made with starter (pre-fermented wild yeast) or packaged yeast? If it's instant yeast then I guess you only have a set amount of time to rise your dough, but with a starter as far as I know if you feed it with flour, the yeast will continue to multiply, eat the flour and create CO2. So shouldn't flour be the fix to any watery type dough, the obvious downside being you'd have to let it rest and rise again for another 4-8 hours depending on the activity of your yeast… 
If I'm wrong I'd love to know because I'm bound to have the same issue eventually, and I'd like to know if this is the right fix! 

clazar123's picture

I watched the you tube video and then watched several others. I was trying to hear what he had to say about the primary fermentation of his dough but none of the videos really addresses that.  I do not have his book.

An interesting thought is that he mentions a blend of flours that has AP, Whole wheat and rye. Is that what you used? The only time I had a problem similar to what you describe is when I did a natural levain whole grain dough (usually whole wheat) with a long,cold fermentation. I also had the same problem when I used my homemade kefir in a whole wheat sourdough-only leavened dough which had a long primary fermentation.  I could pull the dough off in a clump when I tried to stretch and fold and the end would resemble a handful of hairs torn apart. The gluten strands broke right off.


If you use a blend of flours-what kind are they? Are they a commercially milled? Do you mill your own? If you mill your own, do you age the flour before using?

The other consideration is that it could be a starter issue. Is this a mature starter or a relatively new one? A newer starter may not yet have the balance of lactos/yeasts needed to handle a prolonged fermentation. Lactos can raise a starter but they generally do not have enough staying power to raise a dough through a long fermentation. If your yeast population is low (by comparison to the lactos), it could be they are not strong enough to finish the job.

12 hours at 77F seems to me to be a bit long-esp if this is a high hydration dough.

So given my ramblings, try changing a single thing at a time and seeing which works for you.

1. Build up your starter strength

2. Reduce the fermentation time. Perhaps adding a pinch of commercial yeast until your starter strength is up.

3.Change the flour mixture.

Good luck.

clazar123's picture

Dmsnyder is a wonderful baker and he reviewed this recipe. Take a look. You will find his comments very useful.

HarryR's picture

Hi Chris, I'm not sure what you mean, but salt is at 2%. There is no kneading in Ken's recipes. His method calls for several stretch and folds during bulk fermentation.

Clazar, for the country blonde I used only organic white flour which has a protein content of 11.5%. I cannot readily buy whole wheat flour where I live. My starter is also made from this flour. I should have mentioned this, but thought it was of no consequence. My starter was 6 days old, so very new. I have also not followed Ken's directions in the amount of flour used. I throw out all but 100g, but refresh with half the amount of flour and water he suggests. Could this mean my starter is not as strong? If I'm refreshing with half the amount, should I also throw away all but 50g of starter? As my starter was doubling in roughly 6-7 hours I thought it was vigorous enough to use. I think I am in error though.

I think I will try his hybrid levain breads that use instant yeast in the final dough, as you suggest I should, while I get my starter sorted out.

I had already read all I could find on this recipe, and so had read Dmsnyder's post. After reading again I am convinced I have a starter problem. Like him, I went by volume and not time for the bulk ferment, but after it had only just doubled it was too far gone to use. If the dough can't double without turning to gloop, it's surely a starter problem, right?

Thanks again for the help.

HarryR's picture

Well, I just pulled my white bread with poolish out of the oven and it has turned out rather nice with plenty of oven spring. Could have done with a few more minutes I think. I am certain now that the high hydration isn't the issue as this dough was easy to handle and shape.

white bread with poolish

clazar123's picture

That is one gorgeous loaf. Gorgeous color!

Keep working on the starter. I believe it was just too young to handle this big a job. I would keep a small amount at room temp and feed it daily for a while. It will start getting pretty active and demanding more food as the yeast population grows. Use the discard (if there is much) for baking short-risen breads or even in pancakes, biscuits or as an additive to other baked goods. Do this for a few weeks and try it again.

Have delicious fun!

HarryR's picture

Thank you. And thanks for the help. I'm going to get a rye starter going too. I will report back when I have a noteworthy country blonde to share :)

scottv's picture

I too had the same experience with this dough.  I followed the recipe exactly and let it proof to just over 2x the original size. I then tried to shape it but it was a blob and would not hold any form.  I am still going to try and bake this but ugh.. so frustrating!

HarryR's picture

I have managed to sort my starter out. Turns out the organic AP flour I was using was no good. Switched to Lighthouse bread flour and saw a marked improvement. After two feeds the starter was doubling in 2-3 hours and would reach almost triple its volume before falling.

To play it safe I tried a hybrid levain, Ken's pain de campagne. I am not altogether pleased, but not displeased by the result. I don't yet have a banneton so the overnight proof was done in a cloth-lined bowl, inside a plastic bag. Here is the result:

A few questions if anyone has time to help. I used quite a lot of flour to prevent the dough from sticking during the night. In the morning there was a skin on the top of the dough. Could this inhibit the oven spring? I made a slash in the dough to help it rise, but it rose slightly unevenly. Could this be due to the slash not being a consistent depth, or perhaps not deep enough? I was hoping for some nice ears to form, and for more of the inside to puff out, like the photo ElPanadero posted.

Could I also get an opinion on the crumb?

The taste is good. The crust is shattery. The sour notes are prominent. If I could get a little more spring and an even, wide slash, I'd be very happy.



HarryR's picture

How did your blonde turn out, scott? I'd like to attempt it again soon but am feeling a little nervous!