The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help Needed Re Starter & Dough Failures

Marian's picture

Help Needed Re Starter & Dough Failures

Help! I'm pretty new to all of this but very excited to receive for Christmas a Kitchenaide mixer (Professional 600) and then an Artisan breadbaking book for my birthday - Maggie Glezer.

So far my first 2 attempts have been completely unsuccessful.

First - I completely followed the instructions Ms. Glezer's directions to make a sourdough starter, but 3 weeks later it would do no more than double - not quadruple, the way it is supposed to after 2 weeks. Any ideas anyone?

Second problem, I tried the Acme baguettes in Ms. Glezer's book to start since that was one of the few recipes that didn't need starter. I made the poolish and the scarp dough the night before and everything look great the next morning. However, when I came to mix the dough, it just wouldn't bind together - it stayed soft and sloppy no matter how much more flour I added. I almost cried and ended up dumping it out. Again, any ideas anyone?

I'm completely committed to learning about all of this and still am very excited, but so far things just haven't been working out! I'd love to benefit from others' experiences and I know that failure is all part of the learning curve!

Thanks everyone!


Floydm's picture

If the starter is doubling, I would go ahead and try baking with it. Just give it a really long time to rise. Worst case, you toss out a hockey puck, but I would bet you'd get something edible.

On the baguettes: it is alright for the dough to stay pretty soft. It will tighten up as it rises, particularly if you fold it.

I'm not a big fan of Gelzer's books. She knows her stuff, without a doubt, but I don't think she makes things too easy for new bakers. I'd recommend one of Peter Reinhart's books or some of the recipes on this site, such as the rustic bread, if you want to start baking something artisan that isn't too tempermental.

Good luck!

Marian's picture

Thanks! That's encouraging... I'm definetely dedicated to getting this new passion off the ground!

Wayne's picture

I would agree with Floydm that you can probably use the starter as is, temperature makes a big difference in how fast the starter doubles, etc. I would also recommend Peter Riehart's book " The Bread Baker's Apprentice". It is an excellent book and the recipes are very good.

andrew_l's picture

I used Maggie Glezer's rye starter recipe - must have been about last May - and it goes great. It has NEVER quadrupled, but it gets quite perky and certainly more than doubles. It also makes excellent bread!

The first couple of loaves I made with it took about 13 hours to proof after shaping, but it seems to have gained in speed and strength over the months - even though I occasionally leave it for WEEKS unfed and ignored, then revive it with flour and water and it's back to strength in two feeds.

I never worry about it tripling or quadrupling, nor do I wait until it has "crested" as she suggest - it just has to fit in with my timetable and works well each time.

So don't give up, or throw it out - it will work just fine given time.


Marian's picture

Thanks Andrew for the comment and encouragement! I did throw the starter out - so I will start again! And just try it when it gets to the doubling point!

A further comment about dough failures, to everyone - I tried another loaf this weekend - A Rustic Italian Loaf from America's Test Kitchen, and the dough stayed completely soft and shapeless, and I know it was supposed to be firmer and hold it's shape. It ended up tasting okay, but was very flat. The same thing happened as with my baguettes dough, when kneading in the mixer the dough took some shape and balled up on the hook, but then flattened right out, and just wouldn't stay together even after 15 minutes. I added more flour to the baguettes, and it never made any difference. With the rustic Italian, I just baked it as is and accepted a flatter loaf. The dough was so soft, it wouldn't even hold a shape when folded, it just

Any thoughts about what is happening to my doughs, so they don't take shape? I let them rise, etc. as I'm supposed to. The first time the recipe called for all purpose flours, the second loaf was bread flour and rye flour, so it's not the same flour each time....

So much to learn, I appreciate any comments!

andrew_l's picture

I think you might succeed better if you stick to the same recipe exactly a few times - but alter the method a little each time. If method AND ingredients change, it is much harder to work out what is going on.

For example, if you were to try mixing by hand one time (do you know Dan Lepard's method of virtually no-knead dough making? If not, I'll post it here for you), in your mixer another, folding twice another, four times another - you'll eventually get the feel of the dough and when surface tension is developing.

Do you proof the dough in a former, or try to let it proof freeform after having shaped it? I find a wetter dough NEEDS to be in a former. Try a linen teatowel (linen has less furry fibres than cotton) in an 8.5 inch bowl, dusted with rye flour. This size seems about right for around 1000 - 1100 grams dough - when doubled in size it will be just about up to or above the rim.

Also, when proofed and risen up, if you refrigerate it for a couple of hours before turning out it will be much firmer and will go into a hot oven before it wants to start spreading.

It took me several tries, each with the Glezer starter, to feel I had what I wanted - but even though the first loaves were rather wide and flat (no former used) all tasted good.

Good Luck!


baguetteguy's picture

I have made several batches of the Acme baguettes. My results have been very good. However, I had to make several corrections to the information in the book. Here are some of the issues:

1. The recipe box for the fermented dough uses 1/2c (4oz = 113g) of water which is way to much for the dough. (This would result in the consistency of a poolish.) The text just after the box however gives the correct amount of water to use, 1/3c (2.67oz = 75.6g). This amount of water gives a dough hydrated at 66% which is fine.

2. The recipe box for the poolish uses 2/3c which is 5.3oz (151g), not the stated 4.8oz (113g). The text that follows then says to add 1 Tablespoon of the previously yeasted water to the 2/3c of water. This would bring the total water to 165g. This is too much. A poolish is equal weights of flour and water so the total water (including the yeasted portion) should be 150g. So, working backwards, 150g - 1T (14g) = about 135g which is the correct weight in grams listed in the poolish box. The weight in grams is accurate, but the number of cups is not. To reiterate, the water for the poolish is 1T of the yeasted water plus 135g of additonal water.

3. Finally, the water used for the final dough is stated as 3/4c + 2T. This turns out to be about 200g, not 180g. No matter which number is used, I feel the final dough (including the fermented dough and poolish) is over hydrated (67-70%). This level of hydration would produce a very slack dough (sounds like your experience). Of course, the final consistency of the dough depends upon the type of flour used. I obtained good hydration (64%) with only 161g of water in the final dough. The flour I have been using is King Arthur's Organic All-purpose flour. Their regular All-purpose flour will not make much difference in these numbers.

I would incorporate the following changes in the formula:

Fermented dough:
Flour - 115g
Water - 76g
Salt - 2g (about 1.8%)
Yeast - .3g (about 1/3 of the original yeasted water x 1/4t of yeast)
Fermented dough weight = 193.3g

Flour - 150g
Water - 150g
Yeast - .1g (about 1T of the yeasted water)(I typically double this to get the poolish to ripen within 12 hours; but then I ferment my poolish in a cool 60-65 degrees).
Poolish weight = 300.1g

Final Dough:
Flour - 340g
Water - 161g
Salt - 9g
Yeast - .9g (about 1/4 t)
Fermented Dough - 193g
Poolish - 300g
Total weight - 1004g

Even at this hydration level (64%), the dough is a bit slack and sticky after mixing/kneading but after a couple of folds (at roughly 45-60 min. intervals), the dough takes on a very nice level of elasticity (or firmness).

When is the poolish ripe? The surface will be pock-marked with numerous smallish bubbles but more important is the appearance of a crease on the surface. This crease (or maybe even an "X") is the tip off that the poolish is ripe and ready to use.

I hope these few tips will be useful to your efforts.



Kitchen Witch's picture
Kitchen Witch

Also when mixing in a mixer it doesn't take long for it to mix up and then over mix you have to be very watchful.