The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Uneven proofing / dense crumb

Manu1987's picture

Uneven proofing / dense crumb

Hi Everyone,

I am new to sourdough baking and looking for help to improve my bread. My loafs are delicious and crispy on the outside but I struggle with an uneven proofing (big bubbles) and crumb that is on the denser side (see picture attached). 

I have moved down to lower protein flours for the bread to fix the problem and I am now using King Arthur all-purpose flour (11.7% protein). I have an active starter (doubles in 4 hours) based on King Arthur Organic Whole Wheat (14% protein) that I feed at 100% hydration. 

For my bread I use 70% hydration. Steps followed:

-Autolyse my flour and water for at least 1 hour

-Add 20% starter, 2% salt and teaspoon of honey

-Bulk ferment with frequent stretch and folds for 3-4 hours at 75 - 80 degrees

-pre-shape and shaping at which I am getting better each love (starting to look like youtube bakers)

-Final proofing usually overnight in the fridge or an extra 1 - 2 hours at room temperature depending on my schedule

-Baking in dutch oven preheated at 550 degrees for an hour. First 15 minutes with lit on, remaining 25 minutes without lit. I bring down the temperature to 450 when I take the lid off. 

I have tried different flours (King Arthur bread flour, and mixes with 10% whole wheat), different hydration rates (moved from 80% to 70%) as well has varying my proofing times a bit but the problem seems to be consistent.

Any tips on what I should try first to fix the problem?

Thanks for your help.






naturaleigh's picture

Hi Manu!  What is the ambient temp where you are?  If I had to guess, I think your dough might be over-proofed given the large 'mouse holes', flattened shape and light crust (although that could be due to under baking), since it sounds like you have shaping in hand.  However, I seem to only have a 50/50 agreement rate with the other posters on this site when opinions on over/under proofing are raised ;-)

What does the dough look like before you decide to shape?  Collective wisdom (at least for the most part on this site) suggests no more than 30-50% rise during bulk ferment. The dough should also appear visibly lighter with large and small bubbles scattered throughout.  If you are waiting until the dough has doubled or tripled, you have likely gone too far.

Another thought, you could take the hydration down a little, until you get a crumb you are happier with and can nail down your BF and final proof times.  Then you could take the hydration level back up a bit. 

How old is your starter and how many loaves had you made with it?  Maybe it isn't mature enough yet.  Are you using it when it is at its peak?

Also, I have the best luck with recipes that use mostly strong bread flour with a smaller percentage of AP and/or WW or a touch of rye. 

Aside from this, it looks to me like you are not baking long enough at the higher heat with the lid on.  Most recipes I've used or seen call for a good 20-25 minutes with the lid on and another 20-25 with it off at the lower temp.When you say 'frequent stretch and folds', how many are you doing?  Perhaps you are over-working the dough? 

Sorry for all the questions, but so many factors could be coming into play.  

idaveindy's picture

... under-fermented.  The tight dense crumb is what I'm clueing in on.  The bloom at your score line also suggests its not over-fermented.

(This is a different tack than naturaleigh is on, so one of us will likely stumble on a solution for ya. :-)


Any-hoo, welcome to TFL!


How long has it been since your starter has been reliably doubling  after feeding?  Is it at least 7 to 10 days?  and at least 14 days since you started your starter?  did you start it from scratch, or start with a dried culture, or someone else's wet starter?


Just a side note: 550 is kinda high to bake white bread.  You can preheat at 500, but need to lower the thermostat to something like 450 when you put the bread in. 


Also, 100% organic whole wheat is wasting money to do maintenance feedings for a starter.  Cheap AP or bread flour would be fine, once the starter is reliably doubling.


Something doesn't add up, because with a mature starter, fed 100% whole wheat, 20% inocculation, and the timings you give, it should be over-fermented if anything.

Tell us what kind of water you are using.  Is it heavily chlorinated?   That could kill the fermentation too.

How much does the dough expand during bulk ferment?  how much during final proof?

Is there anything else you haven't mentioned? 


as a wild guess, maybe the yeast is spoiled/acustomed to feeding on whole wheat, and when you give it white flour in the main dough, it goes on strike.  

Benito's picture

I agree with Dave, your bread looks underproofed.

White flour ferments more slowly than whole grain.  For your formula with 20% levain and mostly white flour, bulk fermentation at 75-80ºF will likely take a fair amount more than 3-4 hours.  Are you able to estimate what degree of rise your dough had prior to ending bulk fermentation?  

I’ve posted before about using an aliquot jar, it isn’t my invention I first read about it on Full Proof Baking’s IG feed, but it has been useful to me and others.  After you have mixed your dough and done the first stretch and fold, remove about 30g or so of dough and ball it up.  Place it into a small narrow clear jar and press it down with as few bubbles as possible then mark the meniscus.  You can then pretty accurately estimate the rise of the main dough by the aliquot jar assuming it is kept in exactly the same conditions (temperature) as the main dough.  Mostly bakers aim for between 30-50% rise during bulk fermentation.  I think if you try your formula again, use an aliquot jar you’ll find that you need to give your dough more time to reach that degree of rise and you’ll find that your crumb will be better.


Manu1987's picture

On the questions raised

  • My starter is over a month old and I started it from scratch. I use it at it’s peak when it has doubled (4-6 hours)
  • I do stretch and folds every 30’. After 6 times I typically stop. 
  • How does the dough look like after BF? This is the question I struggle with as I find it hard to judge by eye so not sure what the exact rise is. It’s also where I feel I am guessing a lot when baking :). It looks like the gluten are nicely developed and translucent when I stretch it out. 

Let me start to follow the advice off getting a small eloquent jar to test the optimal bulk fermentation time (30%-50%). Whether it’s under - or over proofed, feel this will help me assess this better. 

Thanks again for your help! I’ll let you know how it goes after my vacation (promised my wife to pause bread baking for a week 😅).



phaz's picture

If ya already have something with straight sides (not angled or a bowl - most do) you're all set. You can even use a bowl, but ya gotta observe and test a little to know the right point. Bowls make it tough to determine a % rise at first, but ya get used to it. Enjoy!

Manu1987's picture

Hey everyone, getting back to you with a positive result. Using a little jar with straight sides helped me judge the bulk fermentation much better and seems like it needed much longer proofing than I was giving it initially (approximately 8 hours). I am attaching a picture of the result:

Please note that in addition to the longer bulk fermentation, I did some other changes as well to the process based on your feedback:

  • Decreased hydration level a bit to 67%
  • Added 10% of whole grain to my bread flour mix
  • Kept the lit on my dutch oven for the full 20 minutes
  • Lowered the initial oven temperature from 550 to 500 - switched it to 450 after 20 minutes (I forgot about it initially!)

Thanks again for helping me getting a step closer to that perfect loaf :) and the trick to control the process much better.




Benito's picture

That is a much much better bake Manu, good for you.  Glad our recommendations helped.  I use the aliquot jar and it has really helped me with fine tuning my bakes and I see that it has helped you too.


The Roadside Pie King's picture
The Roadside Pi...

I personally like to use these straight sided fermenting containers. They are not that expensive and come in a multitude of sizes! I pick mine of at the bowery restaurant supply store district. It will be a crying shame when gentrification pushes out all of these businesses. What was once a whole commercial neighborhood is down to a few blocks, I love to brose the packed shelves for forgotten gems! Maybe one day if I can convince my wife to play camera person, I will do a video of a restaurant district hop!