The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Poor oven spring and ear (grigne)

phishie's picture

Poor oven spring and ear (grigne)

Lately, I've been frustrated with my sourdough bakes, I can't seem to get the desired oven spring and ear I'm aiming for.

I thought it might be an issue with my starter as I had been using it only a few times a month and was storing it cold (always with 1-3 refreshes before baking). After some informative reading (thank you Debra Wink and Ian Lowe!) I had convinced myself that my starter had migrated to a type-II starter. Therefore I revised my starter maintenance and fed it 3x daily (1:3.7:5 starter:water:flour) for 7 days while adjusting to a 75% hydration. My starter's flavor has improved dramatically so that now it's sweet, slightly acidic, and is peaking consistently in 6-7 hours. 

I baked my first loaf with that starter today since the revised maintenance schedule and unfortunately without improved results. (Attached image)

This boule was 90% KA AP flour, 10% KA bread flour, 82% hydration, 17% mature liquid levain, 2% salt. 15 cold proof in final shape. I very closely followed the following process but scaling the recipe for a single loaf:

So now I'm evaluating my entire process and dough rheology. Was my loaf underproofed or overproofed? Over or under developed? Did I handle it poorly for the hydration level? Is the flour not strong enough for 82% hydration? I'm not sure. My hunch is maybe it's overproofed or the high hydration is an issue for me.

Thoughts or advice?

On a related note I finally started keeping notes on every bake (with temps!) to help figure this out. That was long overdue. I've had great bakes in the past but without keeping notes so my current predicament. Today's dough is exactly the same process but with 72% hydration to see if the result differs significantly for oven spring and ear formation. If not I'll return to 82% hydration with Friday's dough and change the bulk rise or cold proofing time.


Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

Actually, that looks like a lovely bread with a nice texture (and I'm assuming it tastes good too!). However, it might be a little bit overproofed if you are looking for more oven spring. I have found my high hydration doughs often overproof if they are retarded for the final proof. I prefer to retard the bulk fermentation overnight, then shape and proof at room temperature where I can keep an eye on it. If you are in a place where the weather is hotter and/or more humid than it was a while back, this can actually make quite a difference, even if the dough is in the fridge. That might be why you have noticed a consistent change lately.

phishie's picture

Thank you for your kind words. It is indeed a tasty bread and far from a bad loaf, just not what I'd ideally like to produce.

Appreciate the advice, I was suspecting it might have been overproofed but I just wasn't sure if that was it.

the hadster's picture
the hadster

I also have problems with oven spring and ear formation when I retard in the fridge after shaping.  I have consistent results when I retard during the bulk fermentation. 

phishie's picture

Thank you! I'm curious about the overall pro/cons of bulk cold retarding vs final shape cold retarding. I don't see much conversation of that online and a lot of the popular Sourdough bakers seem to do final shape cold retarding so I'm on the fence.

the hadster's picture
the hadster

I learned about retarding the dough from Crust & Crumb - the book that changed my life.  I followed Peter Reinhart's instructions To-The-Letter, all of them and in order, for quite some time.  

Then one day my schedule got thrown to the wind and I had to shove the dough in the fridge before I had time to shape it and let it rise.  I was terrified the bread would be a failure, and I was baking for a party....

Not only was the bread fantastic, I had solved my over proofing problem.  AND, importantly at that particular time, fridge space was saved.

So, now I use the fridge during the bulk fermentation.  I recently tried shaping first, and it wasn't pretty.

Your loaf looks wonderful and I would be proud to serve a loaf like that to my friends.

not.a.crumb.left's picture


I have exactly the same problem. I get very good bread or let's say most of the time if I do the cold bulk fermentation in the fridge over the night shap and do the final proof and bake on the following day. If I try the Tartine method with stretch and fold and then the overnight retard in banneton, I seem to much quicker have a flat loaf. Still edible and crust not too bad but no oven spring!

How did you get on with this or  did you stick to this? Just infuriating that it does not work the other way...

Danni3ll3's picture

begore going to bulk fermenting in the fridge, try shortening your final proof to 10 hours. I find that is the sweet spot for me although I must agree with lazy loafer that I really don't see anything wrong with the loaf you posted. 

ejm's picture

I think this bread looks brilliant. I particularly like the wonderful deep colour of the crust.


1. Are you baking the bread under a hat for the first half of the time in the oven? It was making this transition that dramatically increased the loft I got. I don't have Le Creuset, so preheat  a cast-iron frying pan and large stainless steel mixing bowl.

2. When you knead, do you start with Richard Bertinet's "slap and fold", then put the dough back in the bowl to rest for 20-30 minutes? Do you then follow with 3 or 4 "stretch and fold"s at 20-30 minute intervals? (I like to do stretches and folds in the bowl, Chad Robertson style.)  And finally, on the last stretch and fold, do you shape the bread, leave it on the counter for an hour and then put it in the fridge? (Since I started doing this, the results have been dramatically different.)

3. When you take it out of the fridge, are you bringing it up to room temperature? If so, try baking it right away (if the loaf passes the finger dent test on the side of the loaf)

(Over the years, I have had a bad habit of over-proofing both before and after shaping. Recently, I've been very strict with myself to do the finger dent test and believe it when I see the dough gradually returning after being pressed.)

jimbtv's picture


Personal experience has shown me that different breads perform differently in cold proofing. I was really hoping to be able to cold proof baguettes but that was a total disaster. I am having moderate success with cold fermentation but have recently bit the bullet, got out of bed hours earlier, and made baguettes in real time - start to finish.

My Pain au Levain performs well with cold proofing but I have to be mindful of time and temperature. A little wiggle on either factor seems to make a big difference in oven spring and grigne.


My sourdough pan bread is very forgiving with any missteps in cold proofing. This is the one bread I can usually count on to perform well even if proofing time and temperature are out of tolerance.


 I think my point is that experimentation is required to determine what works best for you. 



Trevor J Wilson's picture
Trevor J Wilson

Certainly not a loaf I would be disappointed in. In fact, I remember Ian specifically saying at one point that if his bread develops an ear then he considers that a failure on his part for not adding enough water. At that time, he wasn't looking for ears. Gerard Rubaud also considers a well-developed ear to be a flaw in his bread. So ears aren't everything.

I don't see that you're doing anything wrong here. It looks neither under nor overproofed to me. In fact, the crumb is quite lovely. Developing a nice ear is really just a matter of getting lots of little things (and a few big things) right. And sometimes a bit of luck as well. My guess is that if you continue doing what you're doing, with minor adjustments here and there, you'll eventually land on a method that brings you fairly consistent ears.

It might just be that this loaf was at it's absolute maximum proof when you put it in the oven. Bread at its maximum isn't yet overproofed (i.e. deflates), but doesn't really have enough strength left to accommodate a large ovenspring. It's difficult to get a nice ear without a good ovenspring, but that doesn't make the loaf a failure. 

On a related note, I'm terrible at judging proof when retarding loaves. I usually do all my proofing at ambient temps, so on the rare occasion that I retard my dough I don't have a very strong baseline from which to judge. The result is often times bread that looks just like this. Good volume, nice crumb . . . and no ear.

But goes down well all the same.





phishie's picture

I got an "ear" of sorts on this latest bake but overall I believe it was under proofed with the crumb bursting through the score and turning this boule into an elongated batard shape. I think there was too much tension in the proof from my folds leading to the compressed crumb; it was a strong dough from the get-go. On the flip side, the crumb is fairly lacy even at just 72% hydration. Your book is helping me make sense of the results so thanks for that!

MonkeyDaddy's picture

to your post that your loaf looks great.  

One thing that I have read about ear formation is that slashing technique is a HUGE consideration in the process.  There have been tons of posts here from the more experienced posters (dabrownman, dmsnyder, and alfanso come to mind) on this topic.  You can also search YouTube for videos from the San Francisco Baking Institute and a baker named Richard Bertinet which are very helpful.  

A couple of things I learned from them that were helpful to me:  come in at a low angle of approach -- the blade should be almost flat to the surface of the dough, but no higher than about 30 degrees.  This allows you to essentially slice under the "skin" to free it up from the mass below.  Too steep an angle cuts into the crumb and it swells to fill the void, which usually obliterates my grigne.  Also, as you make your cuts, have a definite plan for where you want them and be decisive -- any hesitation seems to make the blade drag through the dough and impairs the overall result.

Take a look at any of alfanso's posts about his baguettes - he tirelessly strives to perfect his loaves and his slashing technique is masterful.


BreadBabies's picture

Where exactly are you seeing this information from Ian Lowe?  On his instagram I'm seeing mostly pics and short videos which are beautiful but not full of information. His posts here and at his blogspot seem to have been deleted long ago.

What am I missing?

albacore's picture

I'm thinking loaf shaping might be an important factor. I made some dough yesterday and shaped into two 900g bats.

The first one I didn't shape very well - it was a kind of double fold and roll either side of the centre affair that didn't work very well, so I did a fold over, stitch and roll for the second, which I've done quite a lot before and got some nice tension in it.

I retarded both loaves for about 14 hours, scoring and baking in the morning. The first one had poor grigne; I don't have a picture of it but it was like your original photo, but the second had good grigne:





Prairie19's picture

Your loaf looks good.  Are you steaming it?  I have a gas oven which does not hold steam.  So I bake the proofed loaf on a baking stone with an aluminum foil roasting pan to cover it for the first 25 minutes or so.  I spritz the inside of the pan with water.  I posted this some time ago:

albacore's picture

Thanks; yes I do use steam; boiling water dripping onto unglazed terracotta tiles, plus a nice thick bake stone.

My oven is electric, but like most domestic ovens it is underpowered and will always underperform compared to a commercial deck oven.

I don't envy you using gas through; life must be even more difficult, given the fact that the gas burning process will actually create moisture, even when you don't want it.