The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Bread conundrum

get bready's picture
get bready

Bread conundrum

I've been a baker for several years. I follow a basic tartine recipe with stretch and folds; have been experimenting with 80- 100% wholemeal recently, plus sprouted rye and spelt.

Here's a typical loaf:

Or this:

...and I'm usually pretty pleased with it.

But just in the last couple of weeks - following a sudden cold snap in the weather here in Sydney - this is happening:

Flat, poor rise, big holes centred in the middle of the bread. Howls of consternation from the kitchen. Although it still tastes good.

Any thoughts? Here's the basic recipe (2 loaves):

700g fresh milled and sifted wholemeal

300g unbleached white bread flour

800ml water

20g salt

sesame seeds, toasted


Starter / levain passed the float test

1hr flour presoak, before -

0.5 hr hr autolyse

2.5-3hrs bulk fermentation with regular stretch and folds, getting gentler over time

0.5 hr shape and bench rest (seemed good - nice structure)

1 hr final proof in bannetons, before baking.

What do you think it might be? I'm wondering what's changed recently - hence my suspicions about the weather. Can't think of any major recipe alterations - although I do tinker constantly. Would love to figure out what's going on... Help!

David R's picture
David R

Is it cooler in your kitchen?

Or is it warmer than before because you're noticing the cold and turning up the heat?

Or neither one?

get bready's picture
get bready

We are putting the heater on, but I really am not sure whether it's any warmer because of that, or about the same.

If I had to guess, I'd say it's a little colder even with the heater on. But I suppose it could be drier.

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

It's amazing how a couple of degrees can affect fermentation and proofing times. Changing seasons really mess up my sourdough schedules! The latest loaf looks underfermented to me (dense, gummy, flat and with large 'mouse holes'). I find that in the cooler weather I might have to let my dough bulk ferment at a cooler room temperature (I put it in the basement rather than leaving it in the kitchen, but don't put it in the fridge) as long as overnight to get a full ferment. With a high percentage of whole meal flour, it should go a little more quickly, but I wouldn't be surprised if you will need 5 - 6 hours for the bulk ferment. Or you can put it in the oven with the door slightly open and the light on for warmth.

get bready's picture
get bready

"mouse holes" - that's lovely. Okay, I'll experiment with times and / or temperature.

get bready's picture
get bready

Sounds like you're actually suggesting a longer / colder temperature bulk fermentation...? That's interesting - I'd have thought it better to go for a shorter  warmer / fermentation by using the oven...

Just got my hands on a thermometer. Found that today's about 20 degrees C outside the oven - or almost 28-29 degrees C inside it!

So what's the sweet spot in terms of temperature? 

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

I guess what I'm suggesting is to ferment it until it's ready! That will be longer at a lower temperature (e.g. 15-18C) and shorter at a higher temperature (e.g. 26C). At a 20C room temperature it will probably take longer than 2.5 to 3 hours, anyway. Inside my oven with the light on and the door propped open to keep it from getting too hot is about 26C, generally. A dough with a high percentage of wholemeal flour probably won't get as billowy as an all-white loaf, but it should still be well-risen and airy with lots of bubbles. Do you ferment in a clear container, so you can see the bottom and sides of the dough?

hreik's picture

Looks underfermented to me. Can you tell us what the temp in your kitchen is?  Is it rising during the bulk fermentation?

I have a chronically cold kitchen except in high summer.  My bulk fermentations go on for hours and hours.  I routinely bulk ferment for 6 hours or more for a loaf like that.  With stretch and folds 2x every 2 hours and the last stretch and fold (#3) just as I dump it out for final shaping. 


Filomatic's picture

Almost certainly it's under-bulk fermented.  A primary clue is the bread itself, compared to prior bakes.  I also suspect that you might be able to recall differences at various stages where the dough didn't seem quite ready.  If you're following the same process despite differing temperatures, you'll see more variation than you want.

So the first step is to control your temperature.  It's the single best thing I did to make my process more predictable.  You can either rig it yourself or get a Brod & Taylor (  Either way, this is an instructive result, and failure is of course the best teacher.


get bready's picture
get bready

Wow - that's great guys, thanks. I'll definitely try a longer BF. Not sure quite how to control kitchen temp so I guess it's time to experiment...

josh.m's picture

Hi, I had the exact same problem with my loaves around 73-74 degrees F ambient temp in bulk. When I bulk fermented for 5+ hours I had much better results. Also might push final proof an extra hour.