The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

weak structure - sourdough

fletchy's picture

weak structure - sourdough

Hi.  Been following a few books in regards to natural yeast breads (ken forkish, josey, tartine).  No matter which version, long fermentation (fridge, no fridge) is leading to a final dough with weak structure.   When I dump out of the banneton it just quickly turns flat.  In a 3.8L dutch oven the flat dough climbs the wall an actually has oven spring, while the second dough in larger cloche, without supporting side wall,  just turns into long flat bread.  Crumb always has uniform holes, crust is always tasty and easy to chew.  Ken forkish recipes using poolish/biga or the hybrid (yeast + levain) usually have more structure but as soon as I go to the pure levain my dough is getting weak.  Doing some journal/ internet investigating.  Proteases in the flour and/or glutathione are likely suspects breaking down the gluten matrices along with acidic environment when fermented over long periods.  Tried 50 mg/L Ascorbic acid in the hydration water with some improvement but nothing significant.  Increased water hardness by using 30 mg/L Ca and 10 mg/L Mg in hydration water as my local water is crazy soft (hardness = 3 mg/L CaCo3). Been using the same flour (13.5% protein) as it is local(  Below is the last recipe i performed.  Been adding diastolic malt as the final crumb can be wet and gummy without it but it is still good.  Takes a couple of rounds in the toaster to get toasted though. 

So question: Can anyone explain what am I looking for in regards to structure.  Should the dough spread out in a matter of seconds after dumping from banneton?  Or should it be minutes.  Is there anyway to direct my starter populations to help with reducing this weak structure? The bread below only had a hint of acid so I don't think my issue is acidity.  Or Is this just a function of flour and I need to switch flours? 

Starter life:


Sunday to wednesday in fridge

Wednesday to friday - 75g mature starter + 150 g 50/50 whole/white + 150 g H2o @ 78 degrees F.  Feed at 11pm and by 8 am it has doubled.  I missed the double feedings per day instructions in the tartine book before making the levain.  Going to try this next but not holding my breath. 

Levain is then ~20g of this mature starter into 200g of 50/50 and 200g of H20 at 85 degreeF.  Usually take 6 hours to get to floating in water stage.     



- adapted tartine No3.

  1. 500g high extraction (sifted Whole wheat - Anita)
  2. 250g medium extraction -(Anita - Canadian)
  3. 250g whole wheat AP (Anita - Canadian)
  4. 70 g wheat germ (bobsMills)
  5. 1g diastatic malt
  6. 25 g sea salt
  7. total H20 = 850mL (med hardness)
  8. levain (young) - just floating 150g. 

Autolyse flours with 750 mL of H20 for 3 hours -Heated 100mL  H20 to 105 degree added to autolyse with salt and levain Used the pincer method to mix (~8 min).  folded every 30min for next 2 hours. Folds included enough turns to get the gluten tight and forms a ball.  Proceeds to relax in 30 minutes.  Entire duration of  fold + bulk fermenation was done around 78 to 82 F. Dump dough onto counter .  Dough is slack.  Do  a preshape and cover.  Over 30 minute it spreads out quickly.  Do a full shaping (tartine technique) and put into proofing baskets.  Put baskets into a container to proof for 3 hours @ 78 to 82 F.  Dump dough and score.  Place on dough into 3.8 L Dutch oven and the second dough is put into a larger area Clouche.   This dough is not very acidic. 


RoundhayBaker's picture

...but it would be a real shame if you had to resort to ascorbic acid and other additives, plus tinkering with your water etc. to achieve the bread you want. 

Have you thought about going back to the original simple recipe and then adjusting technique and timings? For example, you mention proteases breaking down gluten. Here's what Jeffrey Hamelman says:

"While an excess of protease activity could result in a ‘shreddy’ dough lacking in structure, a modest amount can improve loaf volume. Consider this: when we use high-protein flours or make sourdough breads that are high in acidity, it's difficult for the expanding loaf to break through all that strength and acidity once it enters the oven, and loaf volume suffers." (Bread, p.10)

Your Canadian bread flour will have a super-high protein content. It's not great for standard loaves, and if your starter is very acid (you can tell just by tasting it) it might be worth switching to four-hourly feeds (with white flour) to make it milder. The combination of high protein and high acid is a big obstacle to overcome. Do a test bake, see if that helps.  

Then maybe cut your autolyse radically to only 20-60 minutes. Again, Hamelman's advice about autolysis is always worth heeding:

"It’s both fascinating and mysterious to mix final dough and water together in a minimal way, to pull on the dough and observe the complete lack of structure, and then to return in 20 short minutes and to see how perceptibly the gluten bonds have developed during the autolysis rest period."

The reason for my suggestion again follows Hamelman's autolysis advice:

"(After autolysis) much less mixing time is required to develop the dough. In my experience the overall mix time is reduced by as much as 40 per cent. In fact, the dough will develop rather rapidly after the autolyse period is complete, and also can break down quite quickly. You must keep a close eye on it as it mixes."

In essence, an over-long autolysis (producing too much protease activity) and over-long mixing can combine to create a slack puddle of dough. Again, experimenting with test bakes would probably help.

Finally, you are attempting some of the more challenging breads for a home baker (Tartine/Forkish). If you haven't already done so (and apologies if this is grandmother-sucks-eggs time), maybe you could consider mastering simpler loaves so that you have a solid bed of experience to build on?

fletchy's picture

Thanks for the response.  The autolyze points are interesting.  I currently am trying to get away with just tweaking on weekly bakes, with one bake, but I probably should put a little more effort into selecting a variable and making a series of adjustments; like 30 min, 1 hr and 2hr autolyze OR  Young, medium and older levain and have same day results to compare. 

I think the next round will be back to basic recipe and have less autolyze but try to get more starter feedings in a day prior to levain to minimize acid, promote yeast growth and minimize dead yeasts.  I might try white flour feeding if too acidic.  


MichaelLily's picture

I am seeing a 2 hour bulk ferment and 3 hour final proof.  With such a young starter, I certainly would get under proofed bread.  I am not sure how Chad and co. get fully proofed bread with a young leaven, because I for sure never could.  My suggestion is to use a more mature starter (very bubbly/frothy/lively), bulk proof about 4 hours (rather, until noticeable increase in volume ~20-30%), and then either final proof overnight in the fridge or not.  An under proofed dough tends to be very relaxed and easy to work with but will spread out quickly, and the baked dough will be gummy with big air holes and not a lot of height.

fletchy's picture

Yes, this last round was not acidic enough but did get enough oven spring.  I think I will be increasing this when i get other factors dialed.  I do the ken forkish poke test and is usually slow to bounce back so I assume it is good bake.  But i can shake the banneton and I can see the dough jiggly just a little too freely and I know it will be too weak to bake in the larger vessel.  Maybe I just go buy another 3.8L dutch oven and just deal with the slack dough :)



bikeprof's picture

in addition to the good ideas from Roundhay...if this is a new endeavor, you might benefit from cutting back on the hydration until you improve your dough handling skills (and you may need to be more vigorous and thorough with your folds).

PatMax's picture

  Banneton  dough needs to be on the  firm side , it  has to be able to stand up on its own , just as  cob ,  or  cottage loaf dough  has to be able to.

AnneG's picture

Hello, reading your post strikes home...I’m a new baker (2 months) and my starer behaves just like yours...did you straighthened out this issue?