The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Moist/dense crumb and massive airpockets

hace's picture

Moist/dense crumb and massive airpockets

Hey there. I recently started baking with sourdough and I haven't gotten a hang of it yet. As you can see the crumb is very dense, moist and there are massive holes. I did this:

420 grams bread flour, 100%

315 grams water, 75%

84 grams starter (passed the float test), 20%

8.4 grams of starter, 2%



10.00 Mixed flour, 305 g water and starter, autolyse

10.30 Salt + 10g water

11.00 Fold 1

11.30 Fold 2

12.00 Fold 3

12.30 Fold 4

13.00 Fold 5

13:30 Fold 6

14.00 Pre-shape 

14.30 Shaping (probably should've degassed it better judging by the massive airpockets)

15.00 Fridge


Retarded it for 16 hours, took it out for 1 hour before baking in a dutch over at 240 degrees (lowered to 220 when it went in). 20 minutes with lid, 25 minutes without. Waited an hour before cutting into the bread. 


Clearly I've messed up the shaping with not degassing properly, but the loaf is so dense overall, I dont really know what I did wrong. I appreciate any responses to this as I am very passionate about learning how to make the perfect loaf. Thank you very much.



not.a.crumb.left's picture

and I think your bread looks underfermented which could be the strength of the starter OR the dough needs more time to ferment during bulk.  Big air pockets combined with denser dough areas around it often are a sign of underfermentation of some form and it might be interesting to hear what other people suggest.

Trevor Wilson - the author of the really amazing ebook 'Open crumb mastery' refers to this phenomenon as 'Fool's crumb' and you might hear people on this forum refer to it.

I wonder at what temp did you bulk your dough and did you see during bulk signs of good fermentation such as bubbles and the dough will see people saying 'ignore the clock' and watch the dough to tell you when it is ready to finish bulk...

So, I think your shaping is not something to worry too much judging  from the crumb but focus on seeing really strong signs of fermentation in your starter (just a float test can be misleading) as well as during bulk fermentation.

Happy baking! Kat

hace's picture

I saw some small airbubbles on the dough during bulk, but since I folded it every 30 minutes I thought that was fine. My starter has been active for about two weeks, I keep it in the fridge, and when I want to bake I prep it the night before. It looked really strong and airy when I started.

Its currently quite cold here in Sweden, so I bulked it at around 22 degrees / 72 fahrenheit.

I think what you are saying makes alot of sense, but I havent really got the retarding right whenever I have baked. Its usually underproofed and gets a glossy kind of look to it in the finished product. I dont know if I need to proof the shaped dough more outside of the fridge or if this has something to do with underfermentation during bulk too?

Thank you for your input, I really appreciate it! 

not.a.crumb.left's picture

1. Starter...

I bake a lot so my starter does not go into the fridge unless I am going I feed in the morning and then again in the evening...

There are some amazing bakers here on TFL who have their starter in the fridge but my hunch would be to give it a try and give your starter more feeds than just the one the night before to really wake it up...and get it going...

2. Bulk...

I bulk at the moment around 74F  in my proofer in order to make the bulk if you bulk at 72F then really watch the dough to have that 'doomed look ' at the edges where it meets the container and watch the rise...and bulk might take longer at good temp is around 75F/25C...

You could also use some warmer water to get the initial target temp of the dough a bit warmer and get the bulk going and aim for 75 - 78F...

Many say to aim for 30% - 40% rise...during bulk.... I would give this a go...rather than relying on time...

Now, there are many ways of doing this but I prefer to autolyse my flour and water ONLY first...then add the leaven...wait approx. 20 -30 min and then ADD the salt with a bit of water that I withheld from the original mix.

This means that the natural leaven has some time to get going before the salt is added. People do things in different ways but this works for me...

Also - how do you mix your dough? I use a method called Rubaud combined with some slap and folds to finish off and get well developed dough with some nice air in it before bulk.

3. 2nd Proof

I have a strong hunch that it is the bulk and/or your starter and not the retarding that is the problem. If I have underproofed loaves from retarding or 2nd proof they have often excessive rise and oven spring in the oven...showing me that the bulk was possibly ok but not the 2nd proof...and underproofed there...

Vanessa Kimbell also suggests this in her baking book and not a bad idea to maybe focus on your starter, the bulk fermentation and AMBIENT proof your dough rather than retarding and start to eliminate what variable is causing the problems...

The other thing with retarding is to check the temperature in your fridge was too warm and I overproofed a many loaves in my fridge. 

It is ok if your fridge is 3/4C and then often as this is cold people let their loaves in the banneton sit at ambient temp for 20-30 min before going into the fridge. 

The more you  bake the better it will get....all bakers have been going through that learning stage and it probably never stops....:D  ... Kat

hace's picture

Thank you alot Kat, I will definitely give this a try tomorrow. I appreciate all the time you spent just to help me with this issue. Really, thank you!

not.a.crumb.left's picture

and good luck...Dan might also be able to help more with regards to starter out of fridge routine... Kat

DanAyo's picture

Kat, that is really great advice!

Question - since the dough had extremely large holes, do you think that would rule out the starter? I am guessing that the starter produced enough gas to make the large holes. But, I’m not sure. It would be great to get a definitive answer for future troubleshooting.


not.a.crumb.left's picture

Dan, if you could share how you do your starter maintenance routine from fridge as I don't really do this or very rarely...or share a good link as I know there are some amazing links about this but cannot remember as my 'Max' is not often in fridge...:D....

Do you think that just one feed after the fridge is sufficient in your experience...especially if it is a starter on the newer side...



hace's picture

I fed the starter everyday for two weeks, and when I was confident it was very active I put it in the fridge. I feed it every 3 days, and let it sit out for 2 hours before I put it back in the fridge. Not sure if this is the right way, but it looks very active.

DanAyo's picture

My starter hasn’t seen the refrigerator in the last year, so I can’t comment on that. :-)

Do you think a weak starter can make those large holes? I have no experience with this.

I am sure the bread is under-proofed, and I do think the starter should be fed at room temp to be sure it is active. Once the starter has matured, the gluten strands should be visible within the airy mixture.

JeremyCherfas's picture

I keep my starter in the fridge all the time, and always do two builds before baking. The first is usually 5-10g starter in 45-50g of water and the same weight of flour. The second is all that plus whatever I need to get the preferment the recipe calls for.

I agree with Kat that the bread looks like it has not had a long enough bulk.

D'ough's picture

Hi Jeremy, I've found that starting off with a very small amount of cold starter can result in a sluggish build. My build tends to look like this from a cold start:

5pm Tuesday - Measure out 30g cold starter and leave at room temp

8pm Tuesday - Add 30g flour and 30g water at 24c

8am Wednesday - Discard all but 30g and repeat above step

8pm Wednesday - Discard all but 30g and add 60g flour and 60g water 24c

8am Thursday - Repeat above step

8pm Thursday - Repeat above step (or, if starter is looking strong go for 75g flour and 75g water)

8am Friday - Bake

If you like a younger levain, you can push the times later at night for the last refresh, or simply do another refresh in the morning and bake when you want to during the day.

You end up with more discard this way, but it means you can easily replace the mother starter when it runs low with some discarded levain and a stiffer mix of flour and water before putting into the fridge. Works well for me.

not.a.crumb.left's picture

remembered about your starter does not live in fridge as we discussed in the past how little a feed you use....:D 

I am not an expert but ....supercharging the starter cannot do any harm and I would give it a go to eliminate starter as the root of the problem....but other people here who put their starter in the fridge might be able to help and chip in with their thoughts...

Then I also would focus on the bulk and probably use warmer water to up the target dough temp a bit to start bulk and get the dough going or use a method to keep a bit warmer than 72F.....and see from there possible with an ambient 2nd proof rather than retarding...

I hope this helps.....



Sam Fromartz's picture
Sam Fromartz

I tend to agree with Kat. You get that tight crumb when the dough is underfermented and/or underdeveloped. Typically when dough is underdeveloped you get a huge air pocket at the top of the loaf. 

You will get more development in the dough simply by letting it ferment more in the bulk stage. I would want it to double in size in bulk fermentation and for more extreme hydrated doughs like ciabatta even triple in size during bulk. Also make sure the dough is relaxed before your next fold. 30 mins should be fine unless your room is really cold.

You can do everything you are doing now and then just put the dough in the refrig overnight to bulk ferment. It should double in that time with a good levain. And you will see bubbles on the side and bottom of a clear container. You can take it out and preshape it cold, then wait 20-30 minutes until the dough relaxes and shape it. Then let it rise until the skin looks taught but you can make an indent in it with a gentle press that doesn't spring back. (Knowing how long to ferment is the toughest thing, so don't get discouraged, it comes with practice).

Good luck, Sam 

hace's picture

Thank you Sam, I'll definitely give this a try tomorrow. Got a starter going, fed twice today and getting another feed tomorrow morning. Hopefully that, together with everything you wrote will produce a good loaf. :)

Appreciate the input and thank you for the good luck!

Abe's picture

It looks like the issue is in starter. Either it's very young and needs more TLC or the ferment times are off. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

As you are using bread flour, you could try everything again and start folding when the bulk has about half way to double increase in volume. Pull out stretching the dough so it folds over easily.  If it resists stretching, no need to fold so often.   At 72° forget the fridge so you can time the whole process without retards to throw off the temps.  Start mixing in the morning or when you have about a 12 hour block to watch the dough. Not much will happen in the first four hours or so, plenty of time to do something else at the same time and just check on it from time to time.

Novice's picture

Hi Hace, Some of my very first loaves turned out a bit like yours. I am in the UK so my kitchen is quite cool I have figured (in my situation) that it takes a while to 'get going' after the first mix and fold. I would try folding it less. I only do my twice before putting it in the fridge overnight to bake in the morning. I have found if I put it covered in the oven with just the lights on, they provide just enough warmth to get the ferment going. Then I shape and put it in the fridge overnight. My timetable is as follows:

Morning: Take starter out of fridge feed equal flour and water and bring it to room temp about 20C

5pm (ish) : Mix dough using room temp mineral water, let it sit for a hour, then fold, put it in the oven with the lights on for 3 hrs. Fold again, wait an hour then shape put in basket put in a plastic bag and put in fridge.

Next morning: Take out, bring to room temp, turn out spray with water and bake in 220c oven.

I watched a video a while back by Patrick Ryan from the Firehouse Bakery, his sourdough masterclass video brings lots of useful advice and "ah,ha!" moments! But his main piece of advice which I took away was "don't over think it".