The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Flat loaf :(

kenhill85's picture

Flat loaf :(

Hey guys,

I'm a novice baker (baked maybe my 10th loaf) and I have an issue with my "tartine" style country bread: despite developing the gluten quite well and achieving a beautiful open crumb, the bread proofs more outward than upward.

The recipe is this: 715g water 200g starter 900g bread flour 100g whole wheat flour 20g salt + 50g more water

I did a 2 hour autolyse, 5 rounds of stretch and folds over 90 minutes (instead of over 3 hours, following the method "Tartine for dummies" on Youtube). Bulk fermented 24h in the fridge with not a lot of growth, shaping with reasonable strength and tension (I bought a high gluten bread flour, so the handling of this relatively high-hydration dough was pretty cool), 12h fridge proofing, seeing that it didn't rise a ton. So I gave it 5 more hours at room temp, which finally produced the right springiness.


When I dumped the loaves into the Dutch oven, they were quite runny again and baked into beautiful, but flat loaves.


My assumption is that I lost a lot of the strength and tension in the long proof at room temperature - but my starter didn't move much in the 4°C fridge, so I decided for the room temperature proofing.


When I baked my first few loaves, I added very small amounts of active dry yeast to help my young starter out - those loaves proofed considerably faster and had better ovenspring (I didn't lose all the tension as I was able to proof them in the fridge, and a lot faster).


Ideas? More starter? Try to get the starter stronger? (it did float, btw). Other ideas about the process?


Thanks! Ken

DanAyo's picture

Hey Ken, the loaf you made was 79% hydration. That is very wet. A noble goal, but probably best baked once you gain a little more experience. If you are open to a different bake, take a look at this. The hydration is 71%.

This bread was formulated with new sourdough bakers in mind. It could be called, “a loaf for learning”. The idea is to simplify the process so that the baker has the best chance for success. Once this bake is achieved and the baker is confident, they can systematically move on and add different techniques to their repertoire.

The crumb of your bread is not bad. It is definitelty not a brick, and I should know. I’ve baked my share of them :(

I think the high hydration negatively affected your bake. It is possible to bake wet doughs and produce masterpieces. But it is not the best choice for someone new to sourdough. 


dabrownman's picture

is the 5 hour proof which should have been half as much or less.  If you overproof you get spreaders with no bloom or spring.  You are getting here.  Best to cut back the hydration by 4% and do a  shorter proof where you watch the dough get to 90% more volume and then bake it immediately for this kind of bread.  It took me a long time realize what a 90% proof looked like in my basket but you are at 115% most likely

Happy baking you are getting there.  Next time is the charm.

WatertownNewbie's picture

I agree completely with DAB.  The hydration was not the issue, and the crumb suggests to me that you handled the dough correctly (i.e., shaping is not the issue).  What occurred was a breakdown of your dough.  Even though you do not see a change in the shape of the dough, stuff is happening internally, and you need to be aware of that.

Do exactly what you did this time, except do either the bulk fermentation or final proofing (one or the other, not both) at room temperature so that you can observe the change in the dough during that phase of the process.

Happy baking.

kenhill85's picture

Wow, thank you all so much for your help! This is awesome :) I must admit though, I'm very surprised you diagnosed an overproofed dough - when I took it out of the fridge (both after bulk and the rise in the banetons) it hadn't moved much at all! It also sprang right back when I gave it a poke. And after the 5 hours on the counter it had moved by maybe by 30-40% and finally had a slower poke response.

So I will definitely try to do a slightly less hydrated dough (fun fact: my first three loaves were a 1:2:3 dough - worked like a charm, but were relatively dense, hence I was inspired by the promise of the open crumb by the tartine recipe!) and I will also try to proof at room temp from the start! Gotta tell ya, I'm getting the feeling the real skill in bread making is finding that schedule that works with your work hours!

Will report back, thank you guys again! 


kenhill85's picture

Hey guys,

I promised to give an update once I incorporated your ideas to the next batch, so here it goes! What did I do differently?

- Went down from 79% to 72% hydration (650g water initially, 50g more with the 20g salt, 100 in the 100% hydrated starter)
- Took the starter out of the fridge sooner and fed it once to activate it – it was nice and bubbly after 8 hours, so I built the levain which doubled in size and floated after only 3 more hours
- Did the bulk ferment at room temp over the course of 4h, unfortunately only got around to stretching & folding it 3 times, then divided and shaped
- Overnight proofing in the fridge, about 40mins bench rest to come to temp a little bit and baked them this morning

My takeaways:

- Slightly more strength in the dough, a bit more rise to be sure, but I wish there was more
- The dough did produce some bubbles during the bulk, but didn't change much in terms of stickiness and elasticity over the course of these hours. Maybe the fact that I didn't fold quite as often as I did the last batch (albeit in a much smaller time frame!) makes a difference here
- No measurable increase in size overnight in the fridge. My instinct would have said "underproofed", but I wanted to test your hypothesis that the last batch was actually overproofed
- Less spread/More strength upon dumping them into the dutch oven, I agree, relatively decent ovenspring, but as I mentioned above, I would hope for even more upward strength
- Crumb is slightly less open and glossy as the last batch, so maybe the gluten needs more stretch & fold action?
- Happy with the taste & crust overall

So, guys, what do you think? Did I underproof this time? Should I maybe proof in the banetons for a bit before retarding them in the fridge over night? (Which really works better with my schedule if I want to bake in the morning). Any of your awesome feedback is appreciated :)

Pictures below:


jmoore's picture


kenhill85's picture

Hey guys,

encouraged by the last test I wanted to see if I could push the envelope a little bit. To sum up the previous conversation: You guys suggested I was overproofing my bread – so as described in my previous post I baked it right out of the fridge despite it looking quite underproofed. And indeed, it was much less of a "spreader".


So this time, I tried some controlled bench proofing after the fridge – because, again, despite having spent almost 36h in the fridge, the dough hadn't risen at all. Really, nothing. Felt dense and sticky, not puffy or airy.

The recipe that I was following this time, by the way, was an even-less-hydrated (70%) dough, following Trevor Wilson's "Champlain Sourdough"

I doubled this recipe:
304g Water
389g Bread Flour
38g Whole Spelt Flour
19g Whole Rye Flour
50g Starter @ 100% Hydration (25g All-Purpose Flour/25g Water)
9g Salt


So, I gave this dough the treatment Trevor Wilson suggests: Very long autolyse, divided the dough and added to one loaf 100g (roughly 25%) of sprouted quinoa. Then on to S&F for almost 6 hours (not a lot of growth here, maybe 30%, shaped, then into the fridge for 36h without any sign of growth. Took it out, got scared I might have created another set of spreaders, so tucked them in once more (no full shaping, just rounded them a little on the bench while trying to be gentle). Then, let them proof until the loaves showed some signs of growth. Both loaves behaved pretty similarly at this point. I baked them before they looked puffy, they rose by maybe 50% or so.

Now to the interesting bit: Baked the plain one first. Actually, a decent rise by my current standard! The second (with the quinoa seed), however, baked right after, came out flat. 

Quinoa Flat

Now I'm wondering if the Quinoa simply messed with my hydration and somehow robbed the loaf its strength? I'm surprised because the loaf didn't feel much different in the shaping stage to the plain one.

Any thoughts? Thanks, guys!


dabrownman's picture

going in the basket and right before it comes out of it.  I suspect the basket is way too big for the dough going in it.

kenhill85's picture

Good guess – indeed I have two different baskets, one being slightly bigger than the other. Ironically, though, the "spreader" came out of the smaller basket! Meanwhile, reading through this thread I am wondering if I should proof longer before retarding the dough. Maybe (sometimes apparently, not always), I'm losing crucial strength if the dough comes back to temp – knowing that my sourdough won't do much in the fridge, I probably best proof before, and not after... which is tricky in terms of the timing as the bulk ferment usually eats up one not anyway, but I might give it a try... :)

kenhill85's picture

Hey guys,

for those of you awesome folks who helped me with my issues, I wanted to give you a quick update on what I found – might actually help some folks that are starting out and that are facing similar issues...

So, I baked with Kat's virtual help (thank you so much again!!!) another round of the Champlain recipe (same as above). Here's what I did (differently), in a nutshell
- Made two loaves (but made 2.2 recipes to account for one of the bigger banneton as suggested)
- Made sure my starter was active (fed it for three days coming out of the fridge)
- Used coil folds and tension folds
- Bulked for a much longer time than ever before
- Finally understood my fridge temperature :)

My schedule allows me to work on the bread in the mornings and in the evenings. So I turned the process on its head: Started the AL and the levain in the morning, came home to autolysed dough in the evening. Mixed both together. This is right after mixing in the autolysed dough with the starter:

3 minutes (sorry, got tired!) of Rubaud and folding it on itself a few times:

After a coil fold, one every hour or so, left it alone at room temp:

No big growth in the bowl, nor bubbles – since it got so late (almost midnight) I decided to put it into the fridge instead of going into shaping as I normally would have:

But then, I did something different: I put it into the top shelf of my fridge instead of the usual spot in the bottom (turns out, it's 12°C there, whereas it's closer to 4 in the bottom) – as I've said before, my starter pretty much drops dead down there, and usually I never see any signs of growth no matter how long I leave it in there. But, lo and behold, the next morning, I see this:

Temperature is around 14°C – another important insight is that dough seems to take forever to cool down! Didn't have time to shape it in the morning, so I put it into the bottom shelf with some cooler packs on top to inhibit further growth. Worked like a charm!

So in the evening I shaped the loaves cold, which is a new, wonderful experience. So much easier! Pre-shape:

Bench rested for a full hour (they held their pre-shape surprisingly well) to let them come to temp (Kat's advice – given that the dough was really cold (around 4°C) I was going to let it proof in the banneton, but I also knew that there won't be much action given my frost-fearing starter... then I shaped.

Let them "seal" for 10 mins, into the bannetons and waited...1 hour, no growth, 2 hours, nothing... 3 hours, past midnight I get impatient (and tired) so I bake the first one. Dump it out. Seems a bit flat. Oh-oh. But then, I see this:

A winner! By my standards, this oven spring was amazing! The photo doesn't do the crumb justice as it was really quite light and fluffy (this was the slighly bigger loaf). 

And now, the kicker: I bake the second loaf (I can only bake one at a time), which only proofed 45-50 mins longer than the first and I see this once I cut into it:

Even crazier ovenspring and an even more open crumb! I must be crazy! Big takeaway: Don't get impatient in the proofing stage! And overall: I think my flatties of the past were really largely underfermented bulks as I never got the time and temp right before. Now I won't stop bulking until I see some serious bubbles!

Thanks again everyone, and especially to Kat :) Already looking forward to the next bake!


not.a.crumb.left's picture

in big format and what an amazing bake Ken and so many amazing Ahas..which will stay with you!

You cracked the fridge conspiracy and that took me many more loaves!!!!!  Kat

Jay's picture

Those are beautiful. I'm bulking a champlain right now, doubled also. I hope it comes out as well as yours.