The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

another disaster

christinepi's picture

another disaster

I have had reasonably good success with breadtopia's sourdough no knead method recipe. Great crust, but dense-ish. I always followed this recipe:

66 g starter at 100% (1/4 cup in the recipe, and in my case it amounts to 66g)

300g white bread flour

143g whole wheat bread flour

343g water

1.5 tsp salt

I mix this at 6pm, let it ferment until 9am, food it once, let it sit 15 minutes, then shape and let it final proof for 70 minutes.

I feed my starter twice a day, at 1:1.5:1.5. It rises and generally behaves predictably.

Elsewhere on this website I found a suggestion for someone who largely follows the same recipe. The suggestion said this wasn't enough starter in proportion to the dough. He said to feed 40g starter ( in the morning before the day of baking) with 91g of flour and 91g of water; then in the evening, make the dough (with 40g taken out of it for the next starter) with 182g of starter, while taking out those 91g of water and 91g of flour out of the recipe.

In other words, I used 300+143-91=352g of white flour, 143g of whole wheat, and 343-91=252g of water. However, as I was mixing the 182g of starter with the water and remaining flour, I realized if I used all of the 252g of water I'd end up with soup, so I retained ca 10g water, and it still was goop. That was one problem. I did this at 8pm.

The other may have to do with the starter: it took a long time to peak. I assume this is because the ratio was different, since it was 1:2.27:2.27 (40:91:91). I stuck it in a box at initially ca 77 degrees, and after ca 4-5 hours I turned it up to 84 degrees, and it still took 10 hours--is that normal?

Anyway, when I approached the fermenting dough in the morning, at 8am, there was hardly any life in it. It had risen, but not as much as normal. Very few bubbles. I waited until 11am, a few bubbles appeared. I decided to get it out of the bowl to get on with the day. The texture was such that it seemed to tear more easily than normal when I tried to s+f it. And it was sticky as heck. I did two s+f's 10 minutes apart, and let it final proof for 2 hours. Nothing. Never rose, an poking it was like poking a bit of wet, compacted dirt. Total frustration. What on earth went wrong this time??

I just stuck it in the oven. I hope maybe at least it won't be a tooth breaker. 

Update: took it out of the oven and it's tiny. Haven't cut into it yet.

Also: when I make the "original" recipe with the 66g starter, I don't subtract flour from the rest, although I don't use the full 343g of water--maybe more like 336g. 


Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

Liquid starter may not rise like firm starter, if it's really liquid the gas will just bubble up and escape out. Whereas with firm starter the gas is trapped and the starter rises.

Sounds as if you didn't get much gluten development in the final dough. Four s+f's at 30 minute intervals is typical. Also two hours final proof is pretty short. 4-6 hours is more typical, but it's all very temperature sensitive, so you cannot use the clock as your guide and must watch the dough.

Please don't get discouraged. We have all had these experiences. You probably learn more from this than when everything works out.

christinepi's picture

... a recipe for no knead bread, I only threw in the s+f's before the final proof at all out of desperation. With this in mind, would this change your approach?

Thanks for the encouragement. And it's true I learn more from failures. Since I'm a newbie, if things went perfect right now, it would be luck, not experience, so nothing learned. BUT!!! I just want some nice holes...

Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

Indeed, no-knead does not mean "no s&f". You definitely must s&f. A typical regimen would be

4x s&f at 30minute intervals

proof for 1hr +-


rest 20-30min

final shape

proof until ready for baking (you'll learn when that is, it's highly temp dependant, poke test is a good indicator, "doubling" is another, don't get impatient and shortcut this. If it's a cold day and your not heating the house this could take 10 hours, or as little as 4 hours. You can use the fridge to retard and fit this into your schedule).

You will definitely get better results and it will definitely be worth the effort. Now "getting nice holes" is a bigger challenge, but getting an open crumb and very tasty crust isn't too hard. Good luck, send pics, and ask again.

dabrownman's picture

My No Knead recipes don't call for any S&F's and they work fine.  Doing S&F's nakes a no knead recipe one that is kneaded.right?

The usual problemare the 18 hours in the counter if the kitchen is hot, a starter that is not correct or at peak for the recipe or a recipe that has been modified say, adding WW insteas=d if the flour specified and not increasing the hydration to account for it.  NK recipes are wet for a reasin and sloppy to work with.  But no kneading means no kneading, including S&F' s too.  You can do some but they aren't required or part of the recipe.

I only do them for a quick shaping :-) 

Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

I had never though of s&f as kneading. But your success without even s&f speaks for itself. I've found it to be necessary in order to get some strength in the dough.

cerevisiae's picture

I'm with dabrownman on this one. Sometimes no-knead really means no kneading. Sometimes it does mean Tartine-style gentle development. Because I like examples, here's Exhibit A:

Jim Lahey's No-Knead Bread

The only time it says to fold it, it seems to actually be code for "preshape".

cerevisiae's picture

First, just to make sure I read things correctly:

1) You've made the above formula previously with success, but it's a little dense.

2) You changed your starter to a different feeding ratio, but it's still 100% hydration, which is what you've been using all along.

3) You increased the amount of prefermented flour (the amount of starter, in this case) in the recipe, and subtracted some water and flour from the dough in order to still have the same amount of dough (about 854g, taking into account your reduced water). So, your formula now looks like:

182 g starter @100 hydration

209 g white flour

143 g wheat flour

242 g water

1.5 tsp salt (~8.5 g)

Total weight: 784.5 g

So, rounding slightly, you've gone from 15% starter to 41% starter, which is quite a lot. Actually, about 40% is generally the most starter you want in a recipe, I've heard. I usually don't go above 20% myself.

Meanwhile, it looks like your original formula is about a 77% - 79% hydration dough, depending on whether the flour and water in the starter are included in that calculation. Your new formula should be about 75% hydration (including the flour and water in the starter), or slightly drier than before. So I'm not sure how you got a more soupy, goopy result than usual. It does not seem from your post that wet dough was an issue previously.

Also, it sounds like you suddenly changed your starter's feeding and went straight into using it after one meal. Since it seems that you made a pretty substantial change, it probably would've been better to feed it a few times with the new ratios before using it in a dough again, so that it could adjust. 

So, if you want to try this recipe again, get your starter back to a predictable state with some consistent feedings, and keep on eye on your numbers when scaling.

christinepi's picture

You read all this correctly.

The goopiness surprised me, too, since hydration should have changed.

One question: you explain that starter should be built up over more than one feeding when changing the ratios, which makes sense. But what precisely would then be different? Is it just the time it takes for the starter to peak? Or will its vivacity be affected as well, meaning I just can't expect a starter to have developed enough oomph to do its job after just one feeding and having changed the ratio like I have?

Maybe it would be best if I just used a higher percentage starter/dough, say 30%, of my regular predictable 1:1.5:1.5 starter and take it from there?

cerevisiae's picture

With regards to starter feeding, I like to think of it this way; if someone suddenly told you that you needed to eat half again as much, you'd be sluggish for a bit, too. So, yes, your starter will take longer to peak while trying to process all the extra food and get back to it's regular activity level.

Getting your starter onto a regular schedule, regardless of the ratios, sounds like a good start. Increasing starter to 30% sounds worth a try. Do you think you want to simply increase the amount of starter in your usual recipe and increase the amount of dough slightly, or do something more like what you tried above and simply increase the amount of prefermented flour in the same amount of dough?

christinepi's picture

I waited until it peaked. It took longer, yes, but it still did all the things it should have done, incl. doming and tripling and getting real bubbly. So why wouldn't it raise the dough?


I'm thinking I will do the same recipe again, add, say, a 100g instead of the previous 66g starter, and subtract the extra flour/water from the dough.

DavidEF's picture

Just doing the math, the original recipe would have been just shy of 79% hydration, which is very wet, and should be expected to be slack and goopy. Depending on how your whole wheat flour absorbs water, it may be less so. Changing the inoculation amount should not have changed the hydration at all. If it did, you may have done something wrong in reducing the amounts of flour and water. The overall change should have ended up being that the flour and water amounts in the final recipe were exactly the same, yet more of it was in the levain versus being added in the dough. Try reducing the total water down to 326g, which is a 50g reduction from the original recipe.

Also, the salt amount, if you convert to grams, comes out to less than 1.8% of the total flour amount. The salt helps the dough in several ways. Basically, less salt will result in faster fermentation and breakdown, more salt will result in slower fermentation, and stronger gluten. Try rounding up to two full tsp and see if that helps.

The starter shouldn't have had any trouble raising the dough. Changing the feeding ratio of the starter doesn't hurt the starter in any way. Instead of thinking of it as trying to eat more food in one meal (and feeling bloated or sluggish), it is more like having more food in your pantry. It just simply takes longer to eat more food, if you eat the same way you did before. It's that way with yeasts and LABs. They only eat what they need, unlike some of us! In fact, changing your feeding ratio is a good way to regulate the feeding schedule to fit around your schedule, and I recommend it often. If your starter peaks in 8 hours, but you're tired of having to feed it in the middle of the night, you can just feed it a little more and make it to peak every 12 hours. For the lazier among us, feeding twice a day is still too much like work, so add a little more food and we can make it 24 hours, or once a day! Now, the yeasts and LABs don't just eat, they also reproduce, so it isn't exactly a linear scale, but it definitely works when you adjust it by the right amount.

The dough may have just been too slack to raise. Or there may have been other variables that interfered. With whole wheat flour involved, and less than 2% salt in the dough, it may have been over-fermented.


cerevisiae's picture

I though it seemed strange, too, that the hydration seemed so different. I originally got a % like yours, although when I compared the new and old formula, using the slightly decreased water amounts mentioned, it seemed that the newer formula is actually slightly drier; it should have seemed less soupy, but not by much. Let me show you my math and you can let me know if I've miscalculated.

Original formula hydration:

(starter + white + wheat)

33 + 300 + 143 = 476 g flour

33 + 336 = 369

368 / 476 = 77.52%


Revised formula hydration:

91 + 209 + 143 = 443 g flour

91 + 242 = 333 g water

333/443 = 75.17%

DavidEF's picture

The "new" formula should have been just like the "old" formula, is the point I was making. Whatever changes are made will always affect the outcome. In this case, we're looking to make a simple change in production so that we get a single change in outcome. The single change we're looking for is the inoculation amount, which will affect rising times, and somewhat, flavor profile, but shouldn't change hydration level.

Here's the change that should have been made if we agree that the inoculation should grow from 66g of starter to 182g of starter. That change itself hasn't been confirmed or denied, but assuming it was the right thing to do, here's how it should look:

33 + 300 + 143 = 476g  changes to  91 + (300 - (91 - 33)) +143 = 476g  or rather  91 + 242 + 143 = 476g

33 + 336 = 369g  changes to  91 + (336 - (91 - 33)) = 369g  or rather  91 + 278 = 369g

See what happens? The amount subtracted from the flour and water in the recipe should be the same amount added to the starter, not the total new starter amounts. Part of the new starter amount was already accounted for in the recipe, so only the amount by which it changed needs to be adjusted out on the other side.

At any rate, the hydration is very high for this dough and probably could stand some reducing of the total water. I agree with others, too, that working this dough is probably not desirable. It's going to have enough trouble holding itself up without someone coming along and knocking the wind out of it. If the hydration is not lowered, then the dough should probably be panned, and not touched at all until after completely baking!

christinepi's picture

See what happens? The amount subtracted from the flour and water in the recipe should be the same amount added to the starter, not the total new starter amounts. Part of the new starter amount was already accounted for in the recipe, so only the amount by which it changed needs to be adjusted out on the other side.

 Breadtopia also has a yeast no knead bread that uses exactly the same amount of flour and water, 443g and 343g respectively. All he does is add 1/4 tsp yeast and salt. the thing I never understood is why he doesn't adjust the flour/water amounts in the sourdough version. This is what you based you math above on. But he doesn't. He uses 1/4 tsp yeast and 1/4 cup (66g in my case) interchangeably. So that's why I did the math the way I did, subtracting the starter amounts from the dough. Make sense? So I'm unsure what to do for my next attempt: simply add the starter (my planned 100g)  to the total dough or subtract?

DavidEF's picture

I don't know about his recipe, but there are a couple ways to look at it. He may have just figured the slight change in hydration wouldn't matter from adding the 1/4 cup starter, which would be correct. Even adding your 100g starter shouldn't matter much to the dough. It only matters to you and how you handle the dough. Any amount of 100% hydration starter added will raise the overall hydration of the dough. But dough can be any hydration you want it to be, as long as there is enough gluten strength to let it rise. So, if his original recipe uses unproofed (dry) yeast and he modifies the recipe with sourdough without adjusting the water, then you would be right to go ahead and make that adjustment in order to bring the recipe back into alignment with the original recipe. Which means, take the original recipe he uses with yeast, replace the yeast with your SD starter, and subtract the total amount of your starter from the flour and water. If your starter is 100% hydration, and you use 100g of it, then you would subtract 50g each of water and flour from the recipe. That will assure that the hydration of the dough is as the original recipe intended.

The other possibility is if his SD is not 100% hydration. I don't know if it is or isn't. Most recipes will assume it is, but maybe his is lower hydration, closer to what the dough is. In that case, you could add as much as you like and not worry about hydration changing.

A third possibility is that he just doesn't know about the hydration change. It never occurred to him that someone might want to modify the recipe and would have trouble with it. This could be a good time to apply Hanlon's razor. "Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity." If he doesn't really know about Bakers' Math, and he had this bread recipe that worked for him pretty consistently, and he made this change without really knowing what he was doing, and it still seemed to work for him, then he would never realize that he essentially changed the formula. In that case, I would give him a break and change the word "stupidity" to "ignorance" just to be a little nicer.

The bottom line is that the hydration change he made shouldn't keep you from making nice bread. The only reason I posted my math was to hopefully help you see how to incorporate starter into your recipes more accurately, especially when increasing or decreasing from the amount called for. But the hydration of this bread was already high to begin with. I prefer to make bread in the 60 to 65 percent hydration range. A sourdough bread at higher than 65% hydration is still too much of a challenge for me. If it were me, after failing to make bread the first time, my next step would not be to go back on the amount of starter, but reduce the amount of total water to the range I'm comfortable with.

cerevisiae's picture

Just because it peaked at all doesn't mean it's at it's most vigorous. It sounded like it took a lot longer to peak, so that says that something is off. I won't pretend to be able to explain in-depth what it is that was off or why because my grasp of such things isn't good enough for that...

...McGee doesn't really have anything useful on the subject, unless we consider "The more frequently the starter is divided and refreshed, the better the yeasts well be able to grow, and...leaven..." useful. My copy of Bread Science doesn't really have anything to offer on the subject either. I don't think I have any sources on hand that sufficiently explain what changes might be occurring when you change how you feed your starter, but many, many people do seem to think it makes a lot of difference.

I think your plan for trying again sounds good. Let us know how it goes!


AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11 (not verified)

530 grams (about 5 cups well fluffed up) whole spelt flour
350 grams (~1+1/2 cups) water
10 grams (1+1/2 tsp) salt
3 Tbs honey or sugar or 2 Tbs agave
1/4 cup sourdough starter

I always measure in grams, on scales, not cups.


My sourdough, which triples in size with every feeding, is a pineapple method sourdough with rye. Started with pineapple juice for the first 3 to 4 days then switched to water. Every so often I will feed it with more pineapple juice as a special treat. It likes that :) The sourdough is 50 : 50 flour and liquid by weight. So 100% hydration. I don't have a strict feeding pattern i.e. amounts, I simply feed it same amount of flour and liquid. So if I have 90g of starter and I'm going to use it for baking then I give it a darn good feeding the day before and wait till it triples in size and take off however much I need. At the beginning instead of feeding, halving, feeding again, throwing away etc, I started small and just kept adding to it till I got a good amount. Then I fed it, used some for baking and fed again. Will carry on like this with minimal throwing out.

Now converting cups to grams for sourdough. I took 1 cup = 260 grams from this website :

And worked very well for my sourdough.

christinepi's picture

For your inputs. I could follow what everyone said, but it leaves me rather confused as to what to do next. So many suggestions, all sound valuable... I'm the only bread eater in this house, so it takes a while for me to eat my productions, meaning experimenting is slow (every 4 days)--but I know I need to try one change at a time, or I'll never know what did what. So I'll try just increasing the starter amount to 100g, and do the math according to DavidEF this time. Will keep you posted...

LindyD's picture

Hi Rob,

This video will teach you a bit about mixing and folding dough.  The folding starts at 3:50, but the entire video is worth watching.