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Need advice on bulk ferment for sourdough

ATXBreadmaker's picture

Need advice on bulk ferment for sourdough

40g starter
80g WW
80g H2O

374g Bread Flour
55g WW Flour
25g Rye
350g H2O
9g salt
92g Levain

I've been at this off and on for a year, and make a decent sourdough like the one shown. But I'm baffled by my bulk rise, and hope someone can help me figure it out.

So my starter and levain are predictable and blow up in about 3-4 hours nicely. When I autolyse and mix the dough, my bulk ferment never goes as everyone else talks about. I bulk rise in 75-80 degrees. If I stretch and fold about 4 times in 15/30 minutes, the dough will not significantly bulk up for shaping until 8-12 hours. Most people talk about 4 hours. Now if I excessively stretch and fold (10 times over 3-4 hours) I get much more vigorous bulk rise. Why is this?

Inevitably, I have to proof overnight, which results in too much acidity for me. I want to produce a very mild and light sourdough/tartine and do that within a full day to avoid overnight proofing.

Any help on how to better understand bulk fermentation is much appreciated.



Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

Your levain is 20%. You're bulk fermenting at 75-80°F and it's taking 8-12 hours!?

For me 4-6 hours at around 70°F on average. 

Perhaps it's more to do with recognising when it's done. A dough doesn't have to necessarily double. You want to look for an aerated dough with a good matrix of bubbles. Then onto the shaping. 

The one thing I can think of is because you're more excessively folding the dough you're developing the gluten better so it's trapping the gas bubbles more effectively. 

Ok... Three suggestions

1: make your levain build the same ratio as your levain to final dough. So your starter to fresh flour should be 20%. See how long that takes to rise. Will give you a good idea of what to expect for your dough. 

2: give the dough 5-8 minutes of kneading when adding the levain then go onto stretch and folds. Get the gluten formation going. 

3: as an experiment finish the bulk ferment in the timescale it takes your levain to peak. Even if you think you're jumping the gun. One should always watch the dough and not the clock but you need some trial and error with a reference as a guide. It might not be perfect but trying this way might help you to identify where you're going wrong. Once you get the feel of it then you can begin to learn how a dough should feel at each stage.

ATXBreadmaker's picture

Yes, I am looking to find a reference point for everything, and trial and error works for me. I love the idea of adjusting the levain and using that since the levain is in a jar and testable by float. Thanks, I'll give that a try tomorrow.


WatertownNewbie's picture

One thing you do not mention is an initial mixing.  Here is what I mean.  "When I autolyse and mix the dough ..."  Do you include the levain in this step?  Typically that will not be the case (although Hamelman does include a levain in his autolyse).  After the autolyse do you then add the salt?  (That would be typical too for when to add the salt.)  Keep in mind that the pre-autolyse step involves mixing only to the point of combining the flour and water and is not intended to work the dough.  Now is the part that I need you to fill in and clarify.

Specifically, after the completion of the autolyse and the addition of the salt (and levain if not already), do you do a thorough mixing of the ingredients?  If this is where you add the levain and salt, you need to make sure that everything is thoroughly distributed so that you do not end up, for example, with a lot of the levain or salt in one region of the mass of dough and not in other regions.  (All of the wee beasties need an equal opportunity to feast.)  Also, if you do mix at this step, for how long, using what method, and how do you know when to stop and begin the first rest phase before an S&F session?

My reason for focusing on the step immediately after the autolyse is because you indicate that everything to that point is proceeding as expected.  Because you did not discuss the post-autolyse mixing stage (except to refer to the later S&F sessions), I want to know whether you omitted anything between autolyse and the first S&F.

leslieruf's picture

Maybe your dough is too strong, which can be counter productive. you could also try stretching out the time between sets of s&f to say one set evey 30 mins for 2 hours followed by hourly gentle folds. i only leave dough until about 50% increased in volume but you can see the fermentation so this goes 4-5 hours.then shape and proof in fridge overnight or if it is ready, room temp and bake in the evening. 

 not sure why it seems to take so long for you atm. lots of things to try. 


ATXBreadmaker's picture

Yeah so my autolyse. I mix the flours and water to autolyse for 30 minutes, then add the salt and levain across the top. Then I thoroughly mix and fold for about 5 minutes. I am sure the final dough mixture is homogenous without being over worked. Then, because the dough has high hydration (~75%) I pull and slap down the dough, turning a quarter turn each pull, to complete a full turn.

I believe that I'm missing the experience and intuition about what bulk fermentation is and how to know when it's done. My assumption with a dough like this is that it is ready when the dough ball feels like a marshmallow because of all the air. My only comparison is when you use commercial yeast to make bread, and the bulk fermentation is very fast, and very obviously ready to be slapped down and shaped. Maybe the marshamallow-ey feel should occur on the final proof? 

bikeprof's picture

You say your starter and levain "blow up" in 3-4 hours...when are you refreshing and then using these and what are your percentages?

ATXBreadmaker's picture

I have my starter going the day before, then at 10pm I feed it, so that in the morning, it's just past it's peak. Then I make the levain in the morning per the weights listed in the first post.

ATXBreadmaker's picture

So this morning I set up my levain build taking Abe's advice and making my starter/flour percentage the same as my levain/dough percentage to get an idea of how long the bulk should last. The levain took 5.5 hours to get nice and ripe (using WW flour) while sitting in my oven with the light on (80 degrees). I just made the dough, and will see what it looks like in 5.5 hours, but will shape the dough no matter what to just see what results.

I see that if I just increase my levain % next time, I would get a faster bulk rise, and that with this recipe, I was not aware that the levain build has 30% more active starter than the final dough which is only 20% levain, so of course my levain build in the past was much faster than my bulk rise. Makes sense.

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

How did the trial go?

ATXBreadmaker's picture

The bulk rise took about the same as the levain build since I evened out the %. I was able to form the dough about 5.5 hours later, but then had to overnight the proofing and bake in the morning. Then in the morning I let the dough warm up for 2 hours and then baked. The results were at least more predictable, but still kind of sour.

So I am trying again today, but upping the levain percentage to 25% to see if the bulk does go faster, and I can get to proofing and baking tonight. One other thing I did yesterday was lower the water percentage by 5% and got a stiffer dough which helped in the shaping. Today I'm back to the original hydration with just the change in the levain percentage. I'll post here with the results.

ATXBreadmaker's picture

So even with 25% levain, the bulk rise took about 5-5.5 hours. Since I began my levain build last night, I have more time today, and will try to bake in about 2 hours. We'll see if skipping the overnight proof cuts down on the sourness.

ATXBreadmaker's picture

Well I managed to make a delicious un-sour bread by not proofing overnight in the fridge. I appreciate the help and nudges on this thread.

This makes me wonder about how so many people proof overnight, and whether their bread is so sour, or maybe their starter is just really new. Is it possible to proof overnight for flavor, but not get so much sour?