The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dough losing strength

Vicki_S's picture

Dough losing strength

Hi all

I am trying to understand what is going on with a new sourdough recipe that I have been trying.

I have been making sourdough on and off for several years, but weekly for the past few months (The Covid effect).  I always make to a simple, no fuss, 70% hydration recipe that I formulated over time from parts I liked from the ratios and procedures of other bakers; works for me every time, with whatever bread flours are available.

So after that little background, here is my question.

I am not really one for fancy scoring, but it is nice to do once in a while – special occasions, gifts etc.  While perusing YouTube I happened upon the Channel ‘Bread Journey’, where the channel owner ‘Anna’ demonstrates some intricate scoring on dough that is near 90% hydration, which seems to hold its shape during the scoring as well as my 70% does.  This inspired my to have a go with her high hydration recipe, mainly as a learning experience.  I have tried it now twice and both times the same thing happened and this is what I am trying to understand.

The processes she performs is goes along the lines of a three hour autolyse, followed by the incorporation of the starter with an enthusiastic  Rubaud knead, a little later add the salt and another short knead then finally a small amount of hydrated bran (about 10%) and another short knead.  The added bran has at this point been soaking for several hours in about twice its weight of water, initially added at boiling point.  The process continues with five sets of coil folds every thirty minutes before the dough is finally ready for the overnight refrigeration ferment.  There is a full video on her very instructional channel, entitled, “Best Sourdough Bread Recipe for Scoring”.

I have tried this twice and both times the same thing happens: at the point that I add the salt my dough is starting to resemble soft plastic; it is very firm and glossy.  15/20 mins later it is very much like firm plastic and it is hard to incorporate the bran.  The first coil fold doesn’t really work as the dough is so solid (like a plastic ball).  From this point on the dough seems to progressively weaken, to the point where after 60 minutes, or so, coil folding has become almost impossible for the very opposite reason of having lost all its strength and being so soft and sticky that it is doesn’t want to leave the bowl.  It’s all downhill from there on.

I suspect that this is an issue with flour I am using (“Very Strong, 14.9g protein” too strong?), or the bran somehow reacting with the dough, but would like the opinion of others with more experience so as I may uncover a starter issue, timing or temperature problem, or something subtle that I need to be aware of.

As I said at the start, I have no problem making bread I am happy with, so this really is an academic/learning experience for me, nonetheless if there are simple changes I can make it is something that I would like to have a success with.

Thank you in advance for any advice.


phaz's picture

Have seen before - and it was a starter issue or bad flour. Detailed info on the starter would be helpful - age, storage temps, feed ratios, timings - anything ya got would be a help. Also, any flour change recently?

Vicki_S's picture

Yes it was a new pack; same batch for both attempts.

The Starter is from a 100% rye mother and was as the recipe stated: 35g starter to 160:160 bread flour:water.  Well doubled and active in 6/7 hours. 

Vicki_S's picture

I have just started another bake from a new bag of (the same) very strong white flour as my usual recipes, just to check it has no issues with something I am very familiar with.

The flour comes from A reputable miller; marriage's; and has a best before of April 2021 and I can't imagine it would be the problem.

The starter is 100% hydration dark rye which I use half of once a week, then feed and store in the refrigerator at 3°C.

I have the feeling it is either something to do with the addition of the wholemeal bran, or my incorporation technique. It's almost as if the dough is so strong at this point that I destroy the gluten network as I work to mix in the brain and it never recovers. Could it be that I am just being too aggressive at this point? Can you overwork a dough and so (relatively) early in the process?

Still at a loss.