The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Perplexed by my high-hydration sourdough

chelseasf's picture

Perplexed by my high-hydration sourdough

Hi. I have been having a frustrating dough experience that I would love someone to explain to me! 

When I make my favorite bread, no matter how much I develop the gluten through slap & folds, stretch & folds, etc., and how long the bulk fermentation, the dough flattens out like a pancake after I preshape - and I'm quite good at shaping!  After a 12-15 hour overnight refrigerator fermentation, the dough has risen but still seems to go flat as I get it into the Dutch oven. Every time, I'm convinced it's going to be a disaster. But it bakes up to be the best bread I've made - with a fairly open crumb (for a 75% whole wheat loaf) and tons of oven spring. The only issue is that the scoring closes up too much due to the hydration.

And this is only at 75% to 85% hydration, which isn't nearly as high as most recommend for a 75%+ whole wheat loaf. Or nearly as high as the formula this is based on:

My formula/method is:


55g ripe starter (at height of its rise after feeding)
55g water
55g flour (half Type 85 high-extraction, half Central Milling Artisan Craft Baker's Plus)


935g flour (usually half Type 85 high-extraction, half whole wheat such as Central Milling HiPro Fine or Lindley MIlls sprouted wheat. Have tried slightly less and more whole wheat too)
2-3g diastatic malt if the other flour isn't malted
20g salt
680-785g water, depending on the level of whole wheat and whether it's sprouted, holding out 100 g and adding after autolyse 

4 hour levain (using slightly warm water for this young levain) - levain passes float test
30 minutes to 2 hour autolyse with flour and water only (have not seen a difference) then add salt and levain
3-4 hour bulk fermentation, stopping when it's very bubbly, domed and jiggly
15-20 minutes initial slap and fold, 3 stretch-and-folds at 15, 45 and 75 minutes into the bulk rise
Shaping basically according to Tartine method
12-15 hour refrigerator retardation at 38 degrees

I've made other breads with lower hydration that didn't have this pancake type of dough. But they aren't as good. So my question is - this "normal" for a high-ish hydration dough?

Also, I'm baking this bread in an Emile Henry bread pot, which the dough barely fits in because it's flattened. If I baked it in a larger pot would it still rise as much or would it expand/flatten even more?  I wonder if the small pot supporting the rise.

Thanks for any advice!













Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

the small pot is supporting the rise.  Just like a cake pan or loaf pan supports the rising dough or batter.  Try placing the loaf on a sheet pan and find your answer. There is nothing wrong in supporting a loaf during the baking process. I think it is good to support wetter loaves.  

One thing to consider is that wetter loaves will ferment faster in direct comparison so the added flavour my be that the dough has fermented more.  I also see in the crumb shot that the loaf is very fermented (gas bbbles near top breaking into each other with a denser bottom crumb) and might bennefit with getting it earlier into the oven or cooling the bannetons before filling them to retard.

ciabatta's picture

I agree with Mini on both the bread pot is helping shape/lift the loaf and also that it looks over proofed a bit. 
Are you putting the dough in the preheated pot? What  temp?  the bottom looks a bit dense relative to the rest of the loaf

i think definitely try lower hydration and shorter proofing. Or Maybe you don’t need to warm your water for your levain. I think the goal for the bulk is around 20-40% rise. If you go beyond that with a long cold retard. It might go past prime. 

chelseasf's picture

I have only been baking bread for a couple months so this info is super helpful.  The dough definitely rises a lot more than 40%, so I will try pulling it earlier.  I do like seeing those bubbles on the surface, though :)

As for the pot, I guess I will stick with what I have.  Had considered getting the Challenger but don't want my bread to be flatter!


idaveindy's picture

"935g flour (usually half Type 85 high-extraction, half whole wheat such as Central Milling HiPro Fine or Lindley MIlls sprouted wheat. "

First: sprouted flour is definitely not an equivalent substitution for whole wheat flour.  It really changes the ball game.

Sprouted flour has much more enzymes than regular whole wheat... that's what sprouting does. It  will ferment about 4 times as fast, based on what I see in the formulas in Reinhart's book "Bread Revolution" about sprouted flour. His bulk ferment plus proof is done in as little as 2.5 hours total.

Sprouted flour should not be autolyzed, unless called for in the recipe....  because sprouting is a form of autolyse.

Whole wheat, generally, should not be autolysed more than 1.5 hours, imo. Some formulas do an overnight cold autolyse in the fridge, but that is compensated for by adjusting elsewhere.

If you buy from Central Milling, you are getting fresher whole wheat than what has sat in grocery store shelves for months.  Therefore, it has more enzymes, making more sugar from the starch, therefore fermenting faster.

The type 85 high extraction flour is about equivalent to 50% whole wheat plus 50% white flour, according to  Chad Robertson. And so... being relatively fresh... also needs less autolyse, and less fermentation than grocery store whole wheat flour.

Things to try:

- do not autolyse the sprouted flour.

- max 1 hr autolyse for other flour.

- To keep your bulk/proof timings the same, use only 1/2 to 2/3rd that amount of levain for a loaf with CM flour. ( no sprouted flour)

- use only 1/4 to 1/3 that amount of levain for a loaf with 50% CM flour and 50% sprouted flour. And you still might need to reduce bulk and proof times.

- do not use diastatic malt flour with whole wheat or high extraction flour. Whole wheat already has the enzymes.  And do not use it with sprouted flour.... sprouted flour is already super-diastatic,  ... that is what sprouting does. (Well, you _could_ use some diastatic malt flour, but then you would need to reduce the amount of levain and/or reduce bulk-ferment/proof times in order to compensate.)

- Robertson uses 2.5% salt instead of 2% to slow fermentation of dough with a lot of whole wheat (Tartine Book No. 3).

Hope this helps. Bon appétit!

chelseasf's picture

Thanks, idavindy, that is crucial information for me.

I will start by trying some of your (and others') suggestions tomorrow:

- No sprouted flour (just got Yecora Rojo from Barton Springs, so will sub that)
- 2.5% salt
- 1-hour autolyse
- Slightly reduced hydration (because sprouted flour requires more water)
- No diastatic malt powder (especially since the 50% of the levain is malted flour)
- Watch the fermentation closely to not let it go longer than it should

If those things don't make enough of a difference, for the following loaf I will try a levain with less starter (the 1T. Tartine method), or less levain.

Also, if I don't like the flavor as much, I may go back to the sprouted flour (without autolysing it), because the flavor of that loaf was fantastic. The experimentation never ends!

idaveindy's picture

If you're a fan of sprouted flours, Reinhart's book "Bread Revolution" might be for you. 

Even if you do not mill your  own flour, you can sprout your own wheat grain and make a "mash" or "pulp" out of it, with a blender or food processor, adding a little water. 

The main thing is to get those enzymes and the sugars that result from the break-down of the starch.

If you have a food dehydrator, you can dry the sprouted grains, to stop the sprouting and enzymatic process, and thereby preserve a "batch" of sprouted grain, and use it up as needed.

An oven can be used to dehydrate, but be careful to not get it too hot, because above a certain temp, heat kills the enzymes, and makes it non-diastatic.

Bread Revolution has formulas for both mash/pulp as well as sprouted flour. It's currently  $26 (US) shipped for a new hardcover copy, and $13 for the Kindle.  You can see a preview at the Amazon page.  (Used copies in good condition only save you $1 or $2, so might as well buy a new one.)

Here's a link that gives the TFL webmaster, FloydM, a referal commission:

chelseasf's picture

Thanks. I have his Whole Grain Breads book, and I have to say, I haven't found that his method to be that worth the extra work —other than maybe the Struan bread, which I really like. And I'm pretty unlikely to start sprouting my own grain! (I'm probably coming off as lazy with these comments, ha ha)

chelseasf's picture

I replicated the formula above but used Yecora Rojo whole wheat flour instead of sprouted flour, reduced the hydration by 100g and left out the diastatic malt. The bulk fermentation time was the same but I did it at a lower temperature. It still more than doubled in size before it seemed "ready". The crumb looks better (more evenly distributed holes), but I'd give the flavor edge to the first loaf. I don't know whether to attribute that to the sprouted flour or the diastatic malt!