The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help for a new Sourdough enthusiast

Naomi's picture

Help for a new Sourdough enthusiast

I'm very new to Sourdough baking and to this site, but I'm thoroughly addicted to both.

I've baked about 8 or 9 white or whole wheat boules (I think?) in a cast iron dutch oven using a recipe from the Weston Price Foundation website ( I love this recipe, and have used it for white or whole wheat. The bread is a bit dense, but I like it that way.

My question is this: No matter what I do, my loaf splits terribly. I let it rise the last 12 hours in a wicker brotfrom, and then turn it into my pre-heated cast iron dutch oven and slash the top in several places. I bake it the first hour with the lid on, and then remove it for the final 20 minutes or so. My slash marks are usually completely obliterated in the deep irratic splits that go from the top all the way down the sides of the bread. Every loaf no matter what variables I change has turned out like this. I don't even really know enough to try different things. Can anyone tell me what causes this?

Also, I'm looking for a good enriched whole wheat sourdough sandwich loaf recipe (what a mouth full--I know). My husband likes a bit softer, sweeter bread for sandwiches, but I don't want to use commercial yeast or white flour if I don't have to. I would really apprciate it if someone could point me to a good recipe or at least to the right principles so I can experiment.

Thanks a million!

wishstik's picture

Hi Naomi.

Without seeing a photo it is difficult to know what is happening. Slashing is a way of directing the energy of your dough as it expands rapidly during 'oven spring'. Deep slashes (1-3cm) will more effectively guide the dough as it springs. How deep are your slashes?

Ideally your dough will be well-proven, while not completely exhausted, when you slash and place in the oven. A wetter, more fluid, dough will usually spring well when placed on a hot surface like your pre-heated dutch oven. However if it is too wet it could loose shape.

A 12 hour final rise could indicate cool temperatures (refrigeration) or a low amount of initial sourdough activity in your final dough, or both. There are other ways of making sourdough that build a higher level of fermentation before the dough is shaped into a loaf and/or use warmer proofing temperatures.

Shorter final proofing times can make it easier to judge when the right time is to slash and bake your dough.

- Try typing 'slashing' into the search engine at and compare your slasing to cuts from other bakers.

- Perhaps try a different method that uses high/strong leaven content. There are many recipes on the above site, or visit

Good luck! Wishstik 

holds99's picture


Like Wishstik said, it's hard to tell without knowing more details and seeing some pics.  It could be a combination of things.  I read your link to the Westonprice recipe and don't know why they call for external steam when using a covered clay pot or dutch oven.  The steam is created inside the covered cooking vessel, external steam should not be necessary.  I have made some sourdough boules but there's lots of folks on this site that are far more competent than I am re: sourdough; Sourdough lady, Bill Wraith, Mike Avery, Eric Hanner, Dave Schnieder, J Monkey, Zola Blue are a few names come immediately to mind. Maybe one of them will chime in.  As I said,  I'm no expert on sourdough but from your description it could be underproofed or your starter isn't built up enough to kick the dough up and/or the dougn isn't wet enough (too dense) and/or perhaps the scoring isn't deep enough.  There's lots of variables in the equation.  There's also quite a few good books available too.  I have made rustic boules approximately the same size (using a poolish, not sourdough) in a dutch oven and haven't had a problem.

I did a search on "dutch oven" on this (TFL) site and came up with quite a few hits, some of which were sourdough.  You might try searching and see if you can find a solution or a recipe that meets your needs/desire for the type of bread you're looking for.  There are some amazing bakers and recipes on this site.  Good luck.

Howard - St. Augustine, FL

JERSK's picture

   There are several things that may be causing the splitting. Maybe it's from the shaping of the loaves, They aren't tight enough to hold together.I don't think it would be from overproofing, but maybe underproofing. How much oven spring do you get ? I checked that recipe and it seems like it takes quite some time at fairly cool temperatures. Sourdough, for me at least, seems to work better when I do all my fermentation in a 70-80 deg. F range. The bread comes out much lighter and not as sour, which my family likes better. I can also get it pretty much done in a 24 hour period. Four days is a lot and a lot could go wrong. A 12 hour proofing seems like a long time. Also. a 4 lb. loaf is pretty big and takes quite a while in the oven. Two 2 lb. loaves might work better for you. With out using some white flour to make a lighter bread I'd say doing all your fermentation at warmer temps will help a lot. Using just whole wheat and no rye will make it less dense. For sweetness, you could use some malt syrup. There's problems with honey ,if it's not pasteurized, it may contain organisms that may affect your starter. I assume that if you don't want to use white flour you probably don't want to use sugar. There's also white whole wheat flour that's a little bit lighter than red whole wheat.