The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

No Rise to My Sour Dough?

aturco's picture

No Rise to My Sour Dough?

This website is great. I recently starting making my own bread using Mark Bitman's NY Times no-knead recipe. I've had tremendous success with it and I am using a clouche. The crust and crrumb almost perfect and I am creating some nice loaves.

I wanted to try a sourdough loaf at the request of my 10 year old daughter. I used Mark Shepard's Simple Sourdough formula/recipe for a starter and the bread.

I am able to get a pretty good starter, it bubbles has a sour smell, has hooch and looks a lot like the pictures posted on the web sites I visit. I also am able to get a pretty good sponge. Its a little too wet but again its bubbly, has a sour smell and when stirred has a pretty good body.

My problem is when I make the dough, I am not getting a good rise. I let it sit in the gas oven with the pilot on for 4-6 hours. It looks like it is rising or doubling is size but when I go to put it in the clouche or a loaf pan it just lies flat. I follow the directions and start out with a cold oven and set it to 375 and let it bake for 55 minutes.

The loaf comes out as a flat disc that is very dense. The last one I made had a an alright crumb, nice holes in it but it was very dense. The flavor was pretty good too but not nice and airy like the other bread I've made. I am using King Arthur Whole Wheat flour for the starter and for the dough.

Any suggestion to get a good rise would be greatly appreciated.

btw, i have ordered the starter from Carl Griffith's page and am thinking about ordering the starter from King Arthur.

 I have the starter in the refridge now and it looks pretty good.



staff of life's picture
staff of life

If your starter has hooch, that means its very very hungry and needs more food!  A starving starter is not going to give the bread a good rise.  Neither will, for that matter, a starter that's used when it's not fully ripened.  Make sure if you have a wet starter, that it's puckering on the top before you use it--that's the indicator of ripeness.  Also, in regards to the flat bread: Your dough may not be strong enough, in addition to your having a lackluster starter.  Give it a few folds while it's fermenting and see if that doesn't help.  I speak from experience on both accounts here.  Good luck!


aturco's picture

Hi Sol

What do you mean when you say "Puckering"? This morning i woke up and my starter was puffy and bubbly and sticky. I stirred it up a little and it has the consistency of pancake batter. I added a little a/p flour and a tiny bit or bread machine yeast. I put it back in the oven with the pilot on and will check it later.

I guess i am not sure what the consistency of a "good" starter should be? Is it okay to mix it up once it sits overnight or will that ruin it? By adding a little bit of a/p flour (about 4 tblsps), it is now a little more thicker than pancake batter.




saintdennis's picture

Hi Aturco,

 the problem with your sour dough starter (1)you need temparature about 75F -90F

and starter take longer than with yeast.2) Try to mix a little with a/p flour and then  if starter is strong that put w/w flour. 3) If you living in the cold climate than try use 1/4 teaspoon of yeast. 4) make sure the your starter is strong (feed it three times a day or two before you use it.


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, arturco. 

I don't know the recipe for Mark Shepard's starter. If it is a liquid (batter-like) starter, it may not rise that much. The signs of full activation in a liquid starter are lots of foamy bubbles throughout and some expansion. You will get more expansion with a firmer (dough-like) starter. So, you may be looking for the wrong cues. 

The point staff-of-life made about hooch is also important.  

Since you have ordered a couple of reliable starters, follow the directions that come with them, and you should be in good shape. 


Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I've used Carl's quite often over the years, and while it is hard, but not impossible,  to make it deliver a truly sour bread, it has always risen well.

Sourdough takes getting used to.  Here are some common problems people have, along with suggestions to resolve them.

Many starters are kept too thin.  A thin starter burns through food too quickly.  Partly because there is less food in it than in a thicker starter, partly because the critters in the starter can move around to find the food.  The thinnest starter I recommend is 100% hydration.  That is, 1 part of water to 1 part of flour BY WEIGHT.  If you measure with cups, that's 2 parts of water to 3 parts of flour if you are scooper, and 1 part of water to 2 parts of flour if you are a sifter.

Next, starters at room temperature need to be fed no less than twice a day.  If they are fed less than this, they are in a state of slow decline.  I've known bakers who have played with temperatures and thicker starters to try to get away with feeding their startes once a day.  All of them have gone back to two or more feedings a day.  Notice, I didn't say "every 12 hours" I said twice a day.  If you're late getting home, feed it then, don't skip a beer with friends to feed the starter, it's not THAT critical.

Starters need to be fed enough.  Each feeding should be enough to double the size of the starter.  If you are just maintaining the starter, discard 1/2 the starter and then feed it.  Use the discarded starter to make pancakes, waffles, a cake or something.  If you don't discard the starter, you'll have a swimming pool full of starter faster than you'd imagine.  In 10 days, you'll have a modest home pool filled with starter.  In 13 days, you'll have an olympic sized pool full of starter.  And 12 hours later, you'll have two swimming pools full of starter.  Not discarding starter is FAR more wasteful than discarding. 


This feeding regimen is important for two reasons.  It provides food for the starter and living things need food to survive.  It dilutes the acidity of the starter and all living things can only tolerate so much of their own waste products.

Two things I look for in a healthy starter are that it will rise to double it's size between feedings and it does not develop hooch inbetween feedings.  If these conditions are not met, it needs to be fed.  If a starter is very sluggish, I'll feed it 3 times a day, and feed it enough to triple its size.

If a starter seems bland, I'll put about 5% whole grain in the flour for a few feedings.  That's about 1 tbsp of whole wheat or rye in a cup of white flour.  This helps restore the balance between yeast and bacteria.

If you get tired of maintaining a starter, you can refrigerate it.  However, refrigeration doesn't preserve starter it just slows it's death.  The best time to refrigerate a starter is right after it is fed.  Before you even think about refrigerating a starter, it should be healthy.  So, you don't need to see it rise after you feed it.  Just feed, cover and refrigerate.

Since the starter is declining in the fridge, I like to see that it is healthy before I use it.  If your starter has been in the fridge for just a few days you can probably skip this, but when I pull starter out of the fridge, here's what I do... I take a tablespoon of starter out of the jar and mix it with 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of flour.

12 hours later, I add another 1/4 cup of water and 3/8 cup of flour.

12 hours later, I add 1/2 cup of water and 3/4 cup of flour.

12 hours later, I add 1 cup of water and 1 1/2 cups of flour (yeah, I'm a scooper).

12 hours later, I have a bit over 2 cups of flour to use in baking.  If I need more starter, I just feed it a few more times.

While I'm waiting for my bread to rise, I clean out the starter jar in the fridge, feed the leftover starter one more time, and put it into the freshly cleaned starter jar and then refrigerate it.

It takes a consistent process to create a consistent product.  You can't take starter of unknown age and vitality from the fridge and expect it to make consistently good bread.



aturco's picture

After a lot of practice and money spent on flour, I think I may have created an okay starter, sponge and sourdough. I seems like a thicker starter is the way to go as mentioned above, I was initially using a thin pancake like starter. Also feedings are important, 2 - 3 times a day seem to be key. I keep my starter in the oven covered with a towel with the oven light on, I have a gas oven. The thermometers register around 75-80 degrees. I also used a little bit of yeast to get it going.

I got married and was on my honeymoon so I am just getting back into it. I made another starter the other night and created a sponge last night. I used a recipe that called for 2 cups of sponge, 3 cups of flour, a little olive oil, sugar and salt.

I used my bread maker to knead it and had to add some water. The heat in the bread maker I think may have helped. After about 3 hours in the bread maker I took it out and put it in a metal bowl sprayed with cooking spray. This morning I woke and I had a beautiful site, the dough had rised 3 to 4 fold and was puffy and airy. I will bake it tonight.

My question is what should the starter look like, mine is thick with a lot of bubbles and what should the sponge look like. The sponge looks a lot like the dough I use for the No-Knead bread I make from the NY Times recipe (Bitman). The dough itself is very dense but after it went through the stage of rising it is very puffy.

Thanks for all your help, pictures would be a help. I will post a picture of my loaf tomorrow if it is successful.


nerdhub's picture

There are some helpful points in Mark's booklet re the sponge method, but his info on starters is quite misleading. No-one ever explained to me *why* frequent purging and feeding develops a starter culture... i.e. you are selectively breeding the fastest responding yeasts. If I had known this I would have not given up on sourdough baking 25 years ago. At the time I made numerous starters with flour-water paste, and tried to use them in dough as soon as they bubbled, but the dough never rose enough. I just concluded that Australia must have sluggish wild yeasts. Now I know better. Here is something I wrote to a friend recently about her bread's failure to rise due to following the advice in Mark Shepard's booklet:

<<You need to be sure of an active starter, so if you start your own (and once the flour-water paste starts bubbling) you have to discard most of it (called 'purging') and feed it often (twice a day) for a few days until it is really quick to foam up. This process 'selects' for the fastest growing yeasts by feeding them first so that they take over. He doesn't deal with this, seems to think you can just get a starter going by leaving flour-water paste out for a few days and as soon as it bubbles it is ready to bake with (it isn't). You want a foamy starter, not just a few bubbles. Always keep your starter in the frig in a glass or plastic jar with a hole in the lid or a loose lid. Whenever you use your starter, pour all of it into your sponge and then feed what is left on the sides of the jar with about equal amounts of rye flour (or wholemeal if you haven't got rye), and water, maybe half a cup of each. Shake well, put straight back into the frig. Even a tsp of leftover starter should work thru all the flour in a couple of days. You need to either use it or feed it at least once a week to keep the fastest yeasts active. If it goes flat and separates off a layer of grey liquid, it is exhausted and very acidic, and needs to be 'purged' and fed again over a few days to select for the fastest yeasts again. A healthy starter smells only faintly sour, like cider. It doesn't smell like baker's yeast, which has a very distinctive and powerful 'wine' smell.>>