The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Success at last - but why???

aroma's picture

Success at last - but why???


I have been struggling along with my sourdough for about 11 months now and have had some successes and some failures – like most here I expect.

However, the one thing that has eluded me is decent oven spring – I have tried all sorts of variations in recipe, ingredients, flour, hydration etc. but have never managed more than 2.5 inches in height on an 8 inch loaf.  I have been so envious of you all here showing off your well-risen loaves!!

My standard ‘baseline’ recipe (and the one I keep going back to in order to establish whether a new technique is successful) is as follows:-

Flour - 510g (490g strong white and 20g rye)

Water – 320g

Culture – 180g  (based on white bread flour at 100% hydration)

Salt – 5g (I try to use as little salt as possible)

This makes two loaves of around 500g each.  I mix, then autolyse 40 min, then introduce the salt and do at least 3 S&Fs within 90mins, then bulk prove 2 to 3 hours before carefully shaping into the bannetons and lastly a 2 to 3 hour prove before baking on a preheated stone.

With my latest attempt, I made a Poolish the previous evening with recently refreshed culture. The following morning I added a tiny amount (1/4 tsp) of dried yeast in the flour before mixing it in with the Poolish and remaining water.  After reading someone else’s recipe, I also dispensed with the Bulk Prove (usually 2 to 3 hours) and instead did 3 S&Fs spread out over about 3 hours - the final one immediately before shaping into the bannetons.  The result this time was spectacular!

My question is:- Did that small amount of dried yeast make the difference?  And if so, what can I do to my lovely culture to boost it to a point where I do not need to add dried yeast?  Or was it due to dispensing with the bulk prove and doing the S&Fs much later on in the process than normal?

Many thanks in advance.

dosco's picture

As far as I know oven spring is a function of gluten development, yeast/culture activity, and to some extent steam in the oven.

So, for gluten development you need to use good flour, autolyse, mix/knead properly, pre/final shape properly, and proof the dough correctly.

Yeast activity is pretty simple/clear, although with natural levain/cultures "activity" can be unclear. If using natural yeast you should ensure the levain doubles quickly (IIRC 4 hours is about right) ... also some folks do the "float test" where a piece of levain is plunked into water - if it floats it's ready. If your starter culture is unfed and has been sitting around for awhile, it may not have enough "oomph" to lift the dough.

Steam in the oven can be a challenge ... I plan to move to Dave Snyder's method of a cast iron pan with lava rocks, with a smaller pan on top with a few holes and ice cubes.

I'd guess that the commercial yeast certainly helped, however it is possible that you did something differently with the dough and proofing.

Nice looking loaves, BTW.



PS: I'm still a bit unclear about gluten development as a function of kneading. If you watch the youtube video of "That's a Lot of Ciabatta," she makes some seriously gloppy dough and mixes the hell out of it with her kitchen aid. The resulting loaves inflate like balloons. On the other hand you have the S&F folks which appear to barely develop the gluten but these folks also get excellent oven spring and ears. I have to admit the conflicting advice regarding "overkneading with a machine" versus "gentle S&Fing" has left me a bit fuzzy on what's going on ...


DavidEF's picture

Really, the main difference between mixing/kneading in a machine vs. even normal mixing/kneading by hand and especially S&F's is TIME. It takes a lot longer to S&F your way to good gluten development than it takes for a machine to develop the gluten for you. Left alone, flour and water will form gluten strands without any outside influence. That is why people can even have such a thing as no-knead bread! Working the dough in any way speeds up that process, and the more intensely it is worked the more quickly the gluten formation takes place. Really, in some cases, the S&F's are so gentle that there is not much in the way of "working" the dough, and the main function isn't to help form the gluten, but rather to orient the strands of gluten so they produce a more uniform architecture in the dough, giving it more strength.

mariana's picture



Beautiful breads! stunning photo. just stunning. Congratulations!

I think that yes, that dried yeast made all the difference.

1/4 tsp of dry yeast to 600g of flour in your dough translates to 0.75% of compressed yeast to flour weight, nearly 3 times more than 0.2% yeast addition allowed in true sourdough, in pain au levain (according to the French law, says R.Calvel).

So in essence you created a new kind of bread, which French call levain de pâte. Levain de pate has sourdough sponge and 0.5-1.0% of fresh yeast (or 0.17-0.33% instant dry yeast) added later on when mixing the dough. 

To know what to do to your culture to boost its leavening power, we would need to know what you have been doing so far. Why wasn't it lifting your bread dough before... What kind of regimen did you use for it so far for feeding and maintenance? 



aroma's picture

I suppose I have been a bit unscientific in my approach - which for someone who spent his life in scientific research is a tad stupid - but I was getting desperate after so many mediocre results.  I made three changes:  1. converted the standard recipe into a Poolish  2. used a small amount of dried yeast in the second stage and 3. changed the S&F routine so that the last S&F was just before shaping and putting into the bannetons.  I suppose I will just have to repeat the experiment and eliminate the changes one by one to find the cause of the success.  The big test will be when I add wholemeal spelt to the flour mix - I'd just love to see that lightness of crumb in a spelt/flour loaf

However, I am dead chuffed with this result and now I know it can be done, my confidence has been boosted.  Bring on the spelt!! 

DavidEF's picture

You seem to be moving in a direction similar to what I did when I started baking bread less than a year ago. I jumped right in with both feet. I got some sourdough and started mixing it with flour and water and baking it in the oven, without any real way to know what it should be like when it's right! I spent lots of time and energy producing less than satisfactory bread, until I decided to start at a single point and move forward from there.

I recommend that you start with a recipe that is known to work for lots of people and to consistently give the results you're looking for. Practice with that recipe until you're sure you're doing it right, then practice doing it right. As you experience challenges along the way, pop in here and ask some of these very experienced bakers about it. Try one fix at a time, and keep chugging along slowly. As skills develop, you can then experiment and make changes for change's sake with the confidence of knowing that if there is a problem, there can be only one failure point - the change that was made. Doing things this way may seem boring, but it will be a lot less frustrating in the long run!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It would be hard to narrow it down to the exact cause.  I think the obvious is the yeast and it could be that your previous routine with the sourdough just wasn't long enough to get full use of the natural yeast increasing at a slower rate in the dough.

Keeping the salt under 1% is also risky, raise to at least 1.5% to get more consistent results.  

aroma's picture

My culture was given to me by a very nice lady about a year ago - she made some superb sourdough and I was an immediate convert.  I keep 100g in the fridge and about every 5 or 6 days, I refresh it by taking 20g and adding 40g of bread flour and 40g water - stir it well and leave for about 2 hours before putting it back in the fridge.

The remaining 80g I make into a starter using another 50g of flour and 50g water and leave overnight to ferment.  In the morning, the starter is well doubled - so that is/was my method.

This last time, after refreshing the starter in the morning (instead of at night) and leaving it for 8 hours, I made a Poolish with another 200g flour and 200g water and left that out overnight - it was really going well by morning.  Perhaps this is the key - having 580g of Poolish to play with instead of 180g starter?

mariana's picture

Perhaps this is the key - having 580g of Poolish to play with instead of 180g starter?

- perhaps. The only way to know is to eliminate dry yeast and see if 580g of preferment will work better than 180g. 

Good thinking! A series of two refreshments are always better than one, for sure. You are on the right track!

I see nothing wrong with your culture regimen. If I were your starter, I would love it : ) You treat your culture well. : ) 

best wishes,