The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help me improve my sourdough.

ATXBreadmaker's picture

Help me improve my sourdough.

Hey guys. I'm fairly new to bread baking and would love some tips about how to make my sourdough better.

I've made the basic sourdough from here

several times using my own starter. The starter is quite active and predictable. Using this recipe, my levain is nice and bubbly, and the bulk fermentation is really good. Very soft and full of air. Then when I cut and shape the dough for the final proof, the dough seems a bit too wet and doesn't have enough tension to hold itself upright. I let the dough proof overnight in the fridge and bake the next day. By the time the dough makes it into the oven, the ball is semi flattened out and doesn't have enough tension. But as you can see, the results aren't bad. The crumb is nice but a bit too rubbery for my taste. The overall taste is delicious.

I'm using King Arthur bread and whole wheat flours as well as some random rye. Following the recipe pretty closely. What I'd like is a better oven spring and tension while working the dough, and less rubbery texture of the final crumb.

And advice is much appreciated.

BreadBabies's picture

I think we might need some more information.  Are you following the timing and the percentages on that recipe's link exactly?

Also the height looks pretty good for a levain loaf.  Did you measure it at its peak?  I bet if you survey the crowd here, you might be surprised to find that your loaf is relatively tall.

Generally, a few factors that affect the height of a loaf (and we're assuming your starter is perfectly active here). I think you're probably already accounting for a lot of these things:

- gluten development. If you're using too much rye flour, for example, that would affect your loaf's ability to rise as rye and whole wheat don't develop gluten quite as well.  You can also try to develop more gluten with some initial kneading following autolyse or doing a few more stretch and folds.

- hydration. The higher the hydration, the flatter the loaf. Cook's Illustrated has a nice demonstration of this.  Search "No Knead Bread 2.0"  Their example shows the difference using commercial yeast, but it's applicable to levain breads as well.

- Over-proofing.  Proof too long and the gluten actually starts to break down. Use the finger-poke test to ensure you're loaves aren't going too long. (A quick search for that term will net you more info.)

- Shaping. This is an easy one to take for granted. But effective and efficient shaping can make a huge difference in the height of a loaf. It's really easy to tear up a loaf during shaping, especially a sticky one with a lot of hydration. King Arthur Bakery has some really nice videos showing how to properly shape loaves.

-Initial heat.  In order to get that great initial oven spring, you need a blast of initial heat. That's why most recipes call for preheating a cloche or cast iron Dutch oven. I know some folks who routinely slightly underproof because they feel they get a better final height when the dough hits the heat that way.

Just some thoughts.  Good luck.

ATXBreadmaker's picture

Thanks to BreadBabies for pointing me in the right direction. I adjusted a few things, and got much better results. First I set up my levain the night before. Right now its cool in the house and so by morning the thing is really potent. Come summertime here in the south it might get too warm and I may need to retard the levain overnight. 

When I mix the final dough using my hands I skip the autolyse essentially incorporating it into the bulk ferment and I'm much more aggressive getting the levain distributed. The dough is very hydrated and sticky. Then I stretch 3 times during bulk fermentation over a few hours. The recipe I cited calls for shaping and then proofing overnight in the fridge which previously made the dough collapse and ultimately produce a rubbery crumb. Instead I proof for about 90 minutes in a warm spot and then bake in my Dutch oven the same day. 

The results are an amazing mild sourdough just what I was looking for. Essentially i needed to experience a properly fermented and proofed dough texture to know what I'm looking for all along the process. Now that I know what works in my kitchen I can adjust as temps and variables change. 

Here are my results. This is the second loaf made using my adjusted technique. The first one actually had a more even crumb.  I have some work to do on my scoring and any suggestions on my uneven crumb would be much appreciated.