The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough does not hold its shape after final proof + issues with slashing

Love Baking's picture
Love Baking

Sourdough does not hold its shape after final proof + issues with slashing

Hello all. I have been making sourdough loaves for a few years now. Sometimes I bake free-form on a baking stone, and sometimes in a cast iron Le Creuset pot and I have used a number of different recipes / methods. The end result is always good, with a nice crumb structure, pleasing crust and great flavour. My issue is that when I turn the dough out of the well-floured  banneton, it does not hold its shape. It doesn't stick to the banneton, but it comes out a little loose. It always rises a bit in the oven so the final loaf is not too flat, but I would like to improve my technique so that it holds its shape before baking. Could it be to do with the shaping (not tight enough?), the proving time or perhaps the starter itself? Or something else? I also have trouble getting a clean cut when slashing and feel the two could be related. I have the same issue regardless of whether I do the final proof at ambient temperature or in the fridge. I would welcome some advice. Thank you. 

gerryp123's picture
gerryp123

I've heard the key to this is in proper shaping prior to proofing.  Need to shape so that the dough develops a thin elastic layer (?) on its non-seam surface.  Usually formed by dragging the dough on a very lightly floured surface as it is being shaped.  The resulting layer helps preserve the shape once proofing is complete.

As far as getting a clean slashing cut, the secret is a sharp (new) blade, some water or oil lubrication, and a decisive quick-stroke cut.

Love Baking's picture
Love Baking

The sharp new blade did the trick. Thanks for the advice. Still working on the shaping. Having fun practicing.

BaniJP's picture
BaniJP

Recently I've had the same problem too with my standard sourdough bread, but the reason was a different one:

The gluten wasn't developed enough and I would guess you have the same problem. No matter how much and how well you shape, it will still come out flat if your gluten network is weak. So if you don't do it already, I would suggest mixing the dough longer until it passes the windowpane test (google for "improved mix"), has a semi-smooth surface and you can handle it without it sticking much to your fingers. This can take 4-6 min., depending on the machine. Then the dough is easier to handle and also doesn't lose its shape so quickly
You should also have a drastic improvement in volume, both in dough and loaf.

If you want to reduce mixing time (and thus prevent dough oxidation), you can do an autolyse first.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

so be observant and take notes.  Ambient temperatures could be warmer than usual or humidity higher, sometimes just a slight lowering of the dough hydration (removing a tablespoon of water from liquids) is enough or shortening the proofing time by half an hour.  Look back into notes and see if the problem is seasonal, a different flour or a stronger starter could also be influencing the dough.  Shaping sounds like a good place to start.

 

Tyler Dean's picture
Tyler Dean

As your loaf is nearing completion of the final proof, put the entire dough in it's banneton into the fridge and make sure to properly cover so it does not dry up. When I chill my dough fully proofed, it has a better shape and better oven spring than if I didn't chill it. Reason to put it in the fridge before final proof is done is because it will continue to proof in the fridge, especially before it cools down in there and an overproofed bread will not hold it's shape or barely rise. The cold dough is much harder to destroy and much easier to slash.
Another tip is to take a piece of parchment paper, place it between the banneton and a cutting board, a large plate or a pizza paddle (instead of your hand), and to flip the dough out of the banneton carefully. Then remove the banneton, and using the corners of the parchment paper, gently lower the loaf in it's parchment paper into the dutch oven.
I find that 500 °F is a good temperature for most boules, letting the dutch oven and the lid fully preheat after the oven beeps. I actually turn it up to 525 °F as I am loading the bread, as in before I even open the door. This way, you are losing no heat. The oven is building that heat back up as you open and close the oven loading your bread in. Once I get my bread in the oven, I turn it down to 450 °F so that it doesn't burn. When using parchment paper, it's harder to get a brown crust on the bottom, so after your first 15-20 minutes, it's nice to take the loaf out of everything and put it right on the rack for the remainder. Just make sure the crumb is completely set before taking it out or else it will collapse or generate imprints from the oven rack.
The stretch and fold method brings me great results. Kneading and slap and fold tend to destroy my doughs. I use white rice flour for dusting everything. It's better non stick than regular white flour and is hard to burn. Also white rice flour is cheaper than regular white flour, usually.
I hope I have provided some help to you my friend!
Thank you

Love Baking's picture
Love Baking

I used some rice flour and it helped. Will definitely follow this advice again.

Tyler Dean's picture
Tyler Dean

I almost forgot, the shaping of the dough on the bench is crucial. I like to tip the unfloured dough out onto a completely unfloured surface. It comes out of the mixing bowl after several stretch and folds, if you have done the stretch and folds correctly, even at a high hydration (ciabatta even). Just tip the mixing bowl over before shaping the dough, and hold it up in the air. The dough will slowly fall out onto your surface. Reason I don't use any flour yet is because I want to the dough to stick to the counter so that I may pull it and create that surface tension. It's also very easy to accidentally tuck flour into the seem of your bread while shaping. You wont know you did this until you cut into a pocket of flour in your finished loaf. Happens with ciabatta more often to me than boules.
Using the stickiness of your dough to your advantage, you can create some serious surface tension. I find that wetting the dough scraper with water a few times as your shaping can help it slide under the dough, just be careful. Once the dough is very tight, I release it with white rice flour on the counter, on the dough and on the scraper. I use the dough scraper in my right hand to pick the dough up, while creating even more tension in this event, and hold with my left hand as I carefuly tip it into the banneton floured with white rice flour. You can even squeeze the seem to some degree as you plop the dough upside down into the banneton. It's okay of the bottom looks a little shaggy in the banneton. It's about having a small seam and a very tight surface.
Really hope I am able to help you!
Thanks again!

Love Baking's picture
Love Baking

Really good advice about not adding flour to the counter. Thank you. I still have to practice my shaping as it didn't go that well this time. Need to work on getting a small seam and a tight surface. Will keep following your tips and hopefully see some improvement. 

gerryp123's picture
gerryp123

You wrote:

As your loaf is nearing completion of the final proof, put the entire dough in it's banneton into the fridge and make sure to properly cover so it does not dry up.

Wondering how long you refrigerate (at 40F ?) before baking?

Tyler Dean's picture
Tyler Dean

Of course, there is a minimum amount of time in order to get the dough chilled. I tend to plan so that I am not waiting around for it to be chilled before baking. An hour at the very least I'd say, but the bottom/front of your fridge vs the top/back could be a whole 10 °F difference!
Leaving the dough in the fridge for several days could improve the flavor. Leaving it in for more than a week I have not tried, but given that it's sealed and that it's at a somewhat constant temperature of around 40 °F or lower, it could probably stay unbaked for longer than you would think.
How far along in the final proof, and what temperature it was before entering the fridge can have a great impact on how long to leave it in.
So I would factor the period of time in the fridge into your plan before you even begin the loaf.
I've even heard of some people putting the dough in their freezer before baking, and in this case for as little as 10-15 minutes. I've always got too much meat in my freeze to fit any bread so I've never tried, but if you have space it's worth an experiment!

Love Baking's picture
Love Baking

Thank you.

Love Baking's picture
Love Baking

With this particular recipe (see below) it was 24 hours. 

Love Baking's picture
Love Baking

Thank you all so much for your helpful advice. I shall put it into action, particularly working on the shaping to start with. I will let you know how I get on.

Love Baking's picture
Love Baking

I had a bit more success today, especially with the scoring. I put it down to my new lame with a Derby Extra blade which arrived today. Much better than previous ones. For the second time, I used this recipe which I really like:https://bake-street.com/en/sourdough-bread-77-hydration/

Still harder to shape than I had hoped. I have found some excellent videos for shaping high hydration doughs, but it was a bit too wet. It held together a little better though. Will keep working at it and referring to your great notes. 

Love Baking's picture
Love Baking

I followed the same recipe again. This time it seems seemed firmer when I turned it out of the banneton. I also had better success with the scoring, using my sharp new blade. Unfortunately, this caused it to collapse a lot and so it went into the oven quite flat. It gained a little height when baking but I am still keen to understand how to have a firmer dough to start with after the final proof. Everything goes really well until I turn it out. Just the nature of high hydration sourdourgh? Or any ideas? The finish result is great, except for it being a little flatter than I would like.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

.. sounds like it proofed too long and or rose too high.  Try shortening the rise letting the oven do the final lifting.

Love Baking's picture
Love Baking

Thank you. I had wondered if that could be a factor, so will follow your advice next time. I also had problems shaping again so there was no tension (it lost its 'skin' as I tried to do the final shaping and so went in very loose) and I guess the two could be linked. 

RichLee44's picture
RichLee44

I have experienced this problem a couple of times and I think the dough was likely over-proofed before I put it in the fridge for the night; however, this has happened twice in the last month and on both occasions I used flour from an independent, a smaller farm that grows and mills its own wheat. my ration was 75% bread flour, 20% whole wheat (both Brule Creek Farms) and 5% dark rye. The bread flour was 70% extraction hard red fife wheat, the whole wheat was whole grain hard red fife and the rye was whole grain. I am still working on this issue but I am convinced it is the flour rather than my technique. I usually bake two loaves but with different flours, along with dough I described, I baked a loaf with 80% bread flour (King Arthur) and 20% Khorasan (Bob's Red Mill) in both cases I used a very active starter at 20%. I baked both loaves in a Lodge combo cooker, covered at 500F for 20 mins and uncovered at 425 for 20 mins. both loaves left the oven at 210.8 degrees. The Khorasan loaf had 41/2" of oven spring and the WW loaf had 3". I am going to experiments with the Brule Creek flours by blending it with other flours.

Love Baking's picture
Love Baking

Thanks Rich. We'll both continue working on it and improving!