The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

breadtopia's no knead sourdough failure

christinepi's picture

breadtopia's no knead sourdough failure

I've been baking breadtopia's no knead yeast bread with reasonable success, so I tried it with sourdough today. It's got a great crust, but it's DENSE. The flavor is far superior to the yeasted version, though.

Some measurements were the same; both 300g white, 143g whole wheat, but while both recipes call for 343g of water, I reduced the amount of water for the s/d by 33g, because it was super wet even so, so it only got 310g of water, but of course the 1/4 cup starter was 100% hydration and added more water. One thing I noticed was that after the bulk fermentation, it was NOT showing any bubbles and less increase in size, compared to the yeasted one, which bubbled quite happily. I let the s/d version ferment for 16 hours at 68 vs 14 hours at more like 64 for the yeasted. Should I have NOT omitted the water, and should I have waited much longer for bubbles to appear in the rising dough? I'm so paranoid of over proofing, maybe I erred on the under proofing side?

My hunch is part of the problem is my starter. I just looked at photos of sourdolady's starter, all bubbly and fluffy, and mine never looks like hers. Plus sometimes it just has an "off" smell, even though that fluctuates throughout the day.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

You won't overproof at that temperature in anywhere near that time. Either warm it up or take longer to proof. Wait until the dough looks and feels right and ignore the clock other than to note how long it takes for the next time under those conditions. 

Mebake's picture

Sounds like Your starter isn't healthy. It should not have an off smell; a healthy starter should smell acidic (like vinegar) when ripe. Try feeding it once every 12 hours at room temperature, or upto 24 hours at less than room temperature. This should take anywhere from 2-3 days, and your starter will be bubbly and rise consistently every time you feed it. Also, try mixing in some whole grain flours along with white flours to give your culture a boost of nutrients to feed on. This will speed up your starter recovery.

Best of luck,


andychrist's picture

As a precaution, I always proof my starter before building a levain from it. Just double its weight by whisking in first water then flour, then incubate it in a nice warm spot until the freshly fed starter doubles in volume. As long as adequate warmth is maintained throughout the rest of preparation, the dough should rise quite formidably.

That said, I agree with both previous posters; your starter might not be mature enough yet. So keep at it!

dpnync's picture

Despite making almost no-knead bread once-to-twice weekly, I got tired of the cake-like texture of the bread I made and tried sourdoughlady's pineapple juice starter recipe, then kneading.  Here's a few important conclusions and tips from my own experience I found that helped. Since I try to explain the whys with the hows, it's wordy. Sorry!

1. Starter preparation:

Based on sourdoughlady's posts on starter, I initially start with 2 Tbs flour and equal weight of Pineapple juice, stir and let ferment at room temperature for 24 hours. On days 2 to 3, I add 2 Tbs four and equal weight of pineapple juice, stir and ferment again. Starting with day 4, I add 50% by weight of the starter in flour and water, then stir and let ferment. At the minimum, I have to repeat this doubling of starter by weight for the 5th day. If the room is not warm enough (below 65F-68F), I sit the starter on top of the fridge or in front of the heater vent outlet on the floor.

During the year or so when I make nicely sour tasting AKN bread, I would make what some post on Breadtopia call 'fed starter'. It consists of feeding the starter with a small amount of flour (about 2 Tbs) but waiting only until it doubles in volume before making the bread dough. 

I've used the above procedure 3-4 times when I first start making Almost No-Knead bread according to recipes on Breadtopia and almost always get a bubbly starter after 24-hours, as long as the room-temperature is high enough. After that, I almost never start from scratch, instead I start with 2 Tbs of the leftover starter, then add flour and juice as call in Day 1's preparation. This has worked for me for almost two years now.

2. Natural sourdough flavor in the bread

This proves to be a tricker issue. I believe the key here is to not take shortcuts and short-change the fermentation. My starter usually start bubbling within 2-4 hours, but the sour smell doesn't always come until a day later. I learned that the first bubbling is due to a certain king of bacteria in the flour eating the flour, and creating bubbles of carbon dioxide(CO2).  I found out that you can use the starter at this point to make bread dough, but it may not taste sour.

As that bacteria consume the flour and create more CO2, the starter turns acidic and eventually kill off the bacteria, which probably explain why the reduction in CO2 production and shrinking of the starter. In the mean time, the environment in the starter favors another king of bacteria which makes acetic acid as it consume the flour. I don't think as much CO2 is given off at this time, but the starter smells pungent as a result. I believe each day of the starter feeding increase the population of this desirable bacteria in the starter. My experience is that I have to let this whole process complete with each feeding.

Since 24 hours fermentation is sufficient for the amount of flour called for by the recipe I use in each feeding, I would be concerned about the good bacteria running out of food(flour) and starving to death if I ferment too long. When you start smelling alcohol in your yeast, I believe you have over-fermenting the starter. You can save the starter by feeding it again, but you may have to repeat the feeding an extra day or two to build up the population of good bacteria.

Once you have build up the population of the good bacteria (sour smelling), all you need to make it fluffy is to feed it  that small amount just to get the starter bubbly again. Not to make it more complicated, I have found that this step is not often needed as I always retard the fermentation of the bread dough in the fridge for 12 hours before I take it out and start my first proofing. It seems that the cool temperature in the fridge is good for the good bacteria which consumes the bread flour and make more acetic acid that gives the bread the nice flavor.

3. Hydration

I include the starter, water, oil, flour in my calculation of hydration. What has worked for me is a hydration level of around 82%. Too dry and their is not enough steam to create large holes in the bread during baking. Too much and the bread is damp inside and dense. 

4. Full soaking whole grain flour

I presoak my Whole Wheat, Spelt, Rye, or a mixture of whole grain flour, and any Vital Wheat Gluten used (20% by weight of dry flour used) with enough of the water from my recipe for 15 minutes before mixing in starter, oil (1Tbs) my bread flour and rest of the water. I mix the bulk of the flour with my wet mixture in a KitchenAid Artisan mixer (using the hook) for 2 minutes at the lowest speed setting (#1). If the hydration level of the dough is optimal, it should start peeling away from the side of the bowl as by the end of the 2 minute period. It should not be so dry as to clump up like a ball around the mixing hook. With the 82% hydration level of my dough, I something find the need to mix in (with a spatular) about 0.5 to 1 oz of water. An overly dry dough is too stiff to stretch.

5. Kneading

After experimenting and reading about how long you have to knead, I gave up on French Fold and stick with the KitchenAid. After the 2 minute mixing of wet ingredient into the dry ingredient, I use the KitchenAid at Speed Setting 3 to knead the bread from 8-10 minutes. I stop the kneading when the dough has completely peeled off he sides of the mixer bowl and wipes the bowl practical clean as it is whipped around. The dough would barely be touching the bottom of the bowl in a 1" to 1/5" circle.  At the end of this kneading, the dough does look silky and stiff enough to shape with you flour-coated hand.