The Fresh Loaf

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Advice needed regarding gluten development for Sourdough

abhattachar23's picture

Advice needed regarding gluten development for Sourdough

Hello all,

I've been having some problems lately when it comes to getting my desired level of crumb openness with my sourdough loaves.

After having tried everything from rebuilding my starter to get a more active one (I was having problems getting expansion during bulk fermentation, but no more), varying the length my target bulk volume increase, varying the length of my proof, bench rest, and everything in between, I've come to the conclusion that I'm not getting the level of gluten development that I seek.

My reasoning for this is that the stickiness of my dough does not change very much between the beginning of my bulk fermentation to the end of it. I also can't get the dough to dome at the end of the bulk fermentation, despite having tried bulk volume increases from 20%, all the way up to 90%.

I've tried everything from doing a 30 min autolyse to a 90 min autolyse. I've tried mixing very little and doing as many as 6 folds during bulk fermentation, as well as doing fewer folds and developing gluten largely through slap-and-fold (anywhere from 3 min of slap and fold to 20 minutes). Still, I can't see to get a dough with good mechanical properties. My doughs generally feel weaker than they should be, and don't display a good windowpane.

Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

And just FYI, I don't own a stand mixer.



Arjon's picture

There are more possible factors, but the first one that comes to mind is the flour(s) you're using. It's easier to develop gluten when there's more to develop.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

What flour do you use? And which recipe are you following? I'm not being nosey about where you live part. It actually can help with the answer :) 

abhattachar23's picture

My formula uses 75% KA bread flour, 12.5% KA whole wheat, and 12.5% Bob's Red Mill dark rye.

Additionally, I use 2% salt, and 83% hydration. The hydration takes into account the water in the levain as well as the water in the final mix.

Currently, I'm mixing all my recipes with water that I set out for 12 hrs to equilibrate to room temp, which is about 82F at this time of year where I live (New England).

Danni3ll3's picture

Reduce your hydration level to 75-78 % and see if that improves your dough. I used to play with super high hydration dough like yours and I always was disappointed in the results. Since dropping my hydration level, the dough is much easier to handle (still sticky but nothing bench flour can't handle) and I am finally getting those full round boules that I coveted. 

abhattachar23's picture

Thanks Danielle!

I'm thinking that for my next loaf, I'll dial back the whole grains a bit and perhaps play with my hydration. I'm just a bit worried that taking it down too low would limit my oven spring and the openness of the crumb, since I'm sacrificing some steam that would be generated inside the dough during the bake.

MonkeyDaddy's picture

here, but a couple things I noticed from your recipe:  The 25% whole grains will definitely mess with your gluten development.  The bran and germ fragments act like little razors that cut through the gluten strands, so that will definitely make this bread more challenging.  

Also, rye is notorious for its stickiness - one thing I have tried which helps a little is to do my autolyse in the fridge.  Chilling the dough down seems to make the stickiness a bit easier to manage.

And one last thing, whole grains suck up more water than the bread flour, and I've noticed that when I add even as little as 10% whole grain to a formula I have to increase the hydration level.  I've had success with going as high as 90% or 100% on the hydration and it helps to open the crumb a lot.  I also increase my autolyse times, to make sure the flours are as hydrated as possible - it really makes the slap-and-folds much easier.

I'm super curious to see what others suggest for your question.  ;-)


abhattachar23's picture

Hi Mike,

Thanks for your reply!

The last loaf I did had a hydration of 83%, and I did an autolyse for 90 min.

For my next loaf, I'm thinking I'll try taking the WW percentage down to 10%, and eliminating the rye. I've noticed that Bob's Red Mill dark rye has a lot more bran than other rye, which may be contributing to the weakness of my dough.

Am I thinking along the right track?


phaz's picture

Just my 2 cents - you don't really need high hydration for good oven spring and an open crumb. Good gluten development and careful handling will give you both. And you're on the right track with reducing the ww and rye. I love ww and rye in my breads, but too much of either or both will mess with gluten development. As a rule, the finer the flour (regular while flour) the easier to develop the gluten. I usually find more than about 10% total non white flour has a noticeable effect. King Arthur has a white ww, which is basically a finer ground ww which helps a lot to get the desired results along with desired flavor. Half, or more, of the fun with breads is the experimentation, so keep going, and enjoy the ride! Oh, check out and see Trevors crumb and spring with 65% (I think that was it) hydration. It can be done.