The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help! My Sourdough Misadventures

BreadBoy239's picture
BreadBoy239

Help! My Sourdough Misadventures

I am attempting to make sourdough bread; I have a good starter going, and I feed it regularly. I have baked three loaves so far, and none of them have turned out good on the inside (the outsides look lovely.) Whenever I cut into them (after letting them cool,) they are always under cooked, dense, and doughy with huge air bubbles. After my first loaf, I baked at a lower and slower temperature to try and get it to cook more evenly. This gave me a loaf that was nearly identical to the first one. So far I had been flowing a popular recipe I found on YouTube (https://youtu.be/APEavQg8rMw) and I decided to try a different recipe (https://youtu.be/oidnwPIeqsI). This time, it baked hot and fast like rather than low and slow like I had been trying previously. It looked lovely coming out of the dutch oven, but when I cut it open it was HOLLOW! There was an inch thick layer of dense, dense "bread" on the bottom crust and the rest was almost completely empty. I am following these recipes exactly and getting VERY different loaves, can anyone offer suggestions for better loaves? 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

which can easily happen with a new starter.  Tell us more information on how the recipe was followed, how long the steps took and detail about how the starter is maintained including amounts of starter, water and type of flour, how long the starter takes to reach "double volume" and "peak volume" along with the temperatures.  Sounds exhausting just to think about writing up detail but the more you can tell us, the easier it is to trouble shoot.  A photo of the baked or under baked crumb (cross section) including the outside crumb can say a lot. 

One of the most common problems in the beginning of sd baking is giving the dough enough time for the  yeast population to increase during the bulk rise.  More detail from you is needed. Wild yeast most often take longer than commercial yeast to raise a loaf.  While letting the dough rise, cut into it quickly with a sharp knife to expose the gas bubbles forming inside the dough.  Letting the dough rise in a transparent container with straight sides is also a good way to observe the building up of gas.  Gas which is evident of yeast and bacteria action.  

I prefer the first video, the second one is too distracting and confusing when trying to sort out info from jokes.  One thing did stand out to me was how long the Frenchman in the first video let the dough rest before starting to fold the dough, I believe he said 4 hours but the video editing made it look more like 4 minutess.  4 hours sounds about right at a room temp of 75° F or slightly warm oven.  It should have somewhat risen, maybe increased about a third of its original volume while resting before folding.  This is a classic 1-2-3 sourdough recipe (s-w-f) with retardation.  There are many posts here about the 1,2,3 recipe with lots of variations.  Retarding slows the yeast down and tends to saturate the dough with lots of tiny bubbles.  You can cut the dough anytime to look at the bubbles. Just slap the cut parts back together and gently reshape if you desire.  Some check the bubbles while scoring.  If you don't see a good distribution of bubbles in the dough, give it more time before baking.

Gradually the dough will show not only tiny & larger bubbles but small & medium sized bubbles all through the dough as you get closer to baking time.  Look carefully at the dough between the large bubbles.  Folding and preshaping the dough to pop large bubbles during rising will help strengthen the matrix, redistribute temps and help the dough hold small bubbles until the dough is saturated with them.  Finally let the small bubbles expand  somewhat with a final proof and bake the dough into bread.

 

BreadBoy239's picture
BreadBoy239

I don't have any of the photos of my bread unfortunately, but I can tell you about my starter.

It is a 100% hydration, 50% organic whole wheat and 50% unbleached bread flour (14% and 12.7% protein contents respectively.) I feed my starter every week (I keep it in the fridge because I cant supply enough flour to feed it every day.) To feed it I scoop it all out into a bowl, clean the container I use, then I put about 50 grams of starter into the container along with 100 grams of my 50/50 flour mix and 100 grams of room temperature tap water. I cant say about double volume or peak volumes, but it has been looking active and consistent when I check up on it. When I took some out to make some starter for the bread itself it probably gets 2.5 times as big as it was originally, very light and bubbly (easily passes the float test.) For the main recipe I've been using starts off with a 1-2-3 ratio of 200 grams of mature starter, 400 grams of water, and 600 grams of flour. I used room temp spring water and unbleached, 12.7% protein bread flour. First I mix in the starter and water; once that's all together I add the flour, mixing until there's no dry lumps, and then let it rest for 30 minutes. Then I added 12 grams of salt and an additional splash of water and mix that into the dough. The first time I kneaded using slap and fold for 10 minutes, and the second time I used a mixer and dough hook for around 8 minutes; both times I got nearly identical breads. After the knead I let it proof in a slightly warm environment for four hours (we have a wood-stove so my house temperatures are a bit funky; I found that my kitchen table was a nice temperature, slightly warm. The oven with the light on was too cold as it is on a wall that is on the outside of my house.) After that proof, I turned it onto a floured counter and folded it envelope style with the floured side down to get a rough ball. After a 30 minute rest, I floured the top, flipped it, and envelope folded it again. Then, seam side down, I tucked the sides of the dough underneath with my hands while also turning it. I found this technique gently stretches the dough and gives the dough ball some nice surface tension. Then I heavily floured a towel, placed it in a bowl, and put in the dough seam side up. I proofed that in the fridge overnight, for about 16 hours. I got the dough out of the fridge two hours prior to baking; 45 minutes before baking I set my oven to 480F and let it and my dutch oven preheat. When the two hours was up, I put the dough in the dutch oven, scored it, and put the lid on and put it in the oven. This is where I deviated from the recipe; I didn't spray the dough with water on my second loaf, because the first time I did that and the crust was like a rock; I am not kidding when I say the bottom was like hardtack, I've made it before. For both the first and second loaves it seemed like I had to bake it for much longer than it had to bake in the Frenchman's video; he says 25 minutes, take the lid off, and bake for another 25 minutes. When he took the lid off after the first 25 minutes, his bread was nice and golden, and looked like it sprung nice. After 25 minutes my dough sprung a little, and was only barely gold on the lips of the score, the rest of it still looked practically raw. I had to bake it for about 40 minutes till mine looked like in the video; It was the same for the lid off section of the bake, I had to bake it for around 30-35 minutes until it looked done. The second loaf I made, I followed the process as listed previously but with no water and I baked at 430 instead of 480 (thinking the low and slow would make it done more evenly.) Surprisingly, the first and second loaves turned out remarkably similar: under done and dense in the middle with large bubbles, and painfully hard on the outside (although the outside looked very nice.)

I think I've covered everything I can, but if you want any further clarification let me know.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

"Starter is a 100% hydration, 50% organic whole wheat and 50% unbleached bread flour (14% and 12.7% protein contents respectively.) I feed my starter every week (I keep it in the fridge because I cant supply enough flour to feed it every day.)"

Depending upon how mature the starter is fermented, the starter may not need refreshing every week.  When talking about wasting flour, one only needs to keep a small amount of starter.  Mine for instance is about 100g and slowly declines as I remove 20g at a time to use for baking.  When it gets down to 20g, I feed it building it back up, wait for it to start rising, then chill.  This is my maintenance starter and it lives in the fridge.  One standing out on the counter can be less than 100g.  For example, one teaspoon of starter, two spoons of water and enough flour to make a soft paste. Mark the level. Cover with plastic and loose rubber band to prevent drying out.

"To feed it I scoop it all out into a bowl, clean the container I use, then I put about 50 grams of starter into the container along with 100 grams of my 50/50 flour mix and 100 grams of room temperature tap water. I cant say about double volume or peak volumes, but it has been looking active and consistent when I check up on it. When I took some out to make some starter for the bread itself it probably gets 2.5 times as big as it was originally, very light and bubbly (easily passes the float test.)"

From experience, I should warn about cleaning out the "cage" too soon.  Tip: Get a second jar and don't wash the old jar until the newly fed starter is showing itself to be active.  The old jar serves as a backup source for the culture should anything go wrong. (All one needs to do is toss in a few spoons of water, a little flour and warmth to re-establish the starter.)  

When removing 50g from the 250g of fridge starter, what Is done with the other 200g of starter? Used directly as a levain (starter) in a recipe?  Or does most of it become discard and part of it is used to build a fresh levain (starter) for a recipe?

Also how soon after feeding the starter (250g fridge starter) is it chilled?

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

"I didn't spray the dough with water on my second loaf, because the first time I did that and the crust was like a rock; I am not kidding when I say the bottom was like hardtack,"

Been there, did that!  Oh gosh!  One of my first sd loaves!  I think mine was steam-fried as the sides of my pan were buttered!  Figured out later it must have been over steamed.  No spraying needed, and if so, only lightly on the lid, no dripping please!  There is enough moisture in the dough itself to make steam esp in a small space.

I was wondering if the dough surface dried too much during the retarding.  Refrigerators tend to dry.