The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Summer Problems

dandipiero's picture

Summer Problems

Hello everyone, 

I have been baking sourdough for four years, and this past year had finally hit a kind of stride where my bread was turning out consistently how I liked. I was even having some success pushing the envelope at 80-85% hydration, doing weird recipes with sticky grains, etc...

This summer, however, is my first in an apartment without air conditioning. As soon as the weather turned, the same dough that I had been making all year long suddenly behaved quite differently. It's a sticky, unmanageable mess--even at 75% hydration--that melts all over my bench. 

I am making the exact same recipe I always have. The only changes have been how regularly and how much I feed my starter (because it goes more quickly in the heat). But why should that make such a difference in the behavior of the dough? 

I'm really at my wits end. It's been two months of flat bakes, when I can manage to bake them at all (and I mean, seriously, comically flat). 

I am going to experiment with bulk fermenting in the fridge, but I'm wondering if anyone has experienced a radical shift like this, and if so, what might be the cause. Is it really the heat? 

I worked in a bakery one summer where the heat was well above 90 almost all of the time. So why should my apartment being at 80 make such an incredible difference? 

I'm totally lost here. Any help is greatly appreciated. 

kendalm's picture

This is not much different than dealing with change of season where all winter long you get used to slow rises and then suddenly your kitchen is 5 degrees warmer and you risk over proofing. At the end of the day I think its all boils down to time adjustments so in your case the yeast is getting to work much faster. It always amazes me how just a few degrees turn the yeasties from pretty much dormant to very active. If you are baking over proofed loaves why not start taking time off of the steps involved - have you tried that yet and if so what are the results ?

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

Yes, sounds like time for a change in recipe / technique. Retarding in the fridge will probably help. Mixing with cold (or even ice) water will help. Reducing the inoculation (i.e. less starter as a percentage of flour weight) will also help. Reducing fermentation and/or proofing time will help. Put the dough into a cooler with an icepack. Have fun, and don't forget, summer will end sometime and you'll have to remember how to bake in the winter!

dandipiero's picture

Thank you both for your replies! 

I have tried a few more experiments, and I think two things are going on:

1) In the heat, I think my starter had wonked itself out, since I didn't really adjust my feedings in accordance with the weather. Since my first post, I've scrapped the starter and started a new one. 

2) With the new starter, I haven't been getting a melty insane mess everywhere...but I'm still having summer problems. Funny enough, the loaves I've made have been pretty under-proved (because I was so nervous based on my initial problems). I guess now it's about getting that timing down. As you say, just in time for fall.