The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

new to sourdough - great starter, great sponge, bread won't rise

metroave's picture

new to sourdough - great starter, great sponge, bread won't rise


I've been making yeast bread successfully for many years, but I just started experimenting with sourdough. I made a starter from KA bread flour and water and it's really active. Rises like mad. I've tried several sourdough bread recipies, but I can't get the dough to rise. The sponge rises great, and I'm kneading enough (I think - windowpane test is good). The dough, once kneaded, feels great. Then it just doesn't rise. Even more than 12 hours later. It's summer here and the kitchen is warm but not hot. Help?

Many thanks!

fancypantalons's picture

Maybe try increasing the amount of starter you're using in the sponge?  I know I tried Reinhart's sourdough from the BBA, which uses an overnight firm preferment, and found that the rise the next day was... less than ideal, despite the preferment doubling up quite nicely during it's initial rise prior to refrigeration.  In my case, I actually opted to completely replace the preferment with an equal amount (by weight) of my liquid starter, and got a much better rise, as well as a much more intense sour flavour.

madkisso's picture

Hi there, you seem very knowledgeable and quite frankly I am overjoyed to find this site.  I am wondering if you might have any advice?  I have been using the KA sourdough starter and have kept it live and active for over a year now.  I feed it weekly with 1/2 cup of distilled water and 1 cup of flour.  Sometimes I discard and sometimes I do not. 

I always start my bread off a sponge and by adding 1 cup of the freshly fed starter with 3 cups of AP flour.  I always get a good bubble with the sponge and let it sit for 8 hours or so, then I make the first dough and let it rise.  It is always excellent with a doubles at least (I let this go usually overnight in a cool place :45-65 degrees).  Once I divide and shape and let go for the final rise, it never rises just lays there.  I usually let this rise go for at least 2 hours. When I bake I use steam and a 450 degree oven for 20 minutes.  The loaves come out dense and somewhat sticky- the crust is crisp and the loaves look good.  The flavor is far, far less sour than what I would prefer in a sourdough loaf.

I have tried experimenting with rye flour starters, and many, many other starter recipes.  Any ideas of what I could be doing wrong?  Also I keep seeing the term windowpane here and am wondering if maybe this might aid in my pursuit of the perfect sourdough bread. 

Your thoughts and input are very greatly appreciated!


dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Madkisso.

A little more information would help clarify your problem.

From your description, I am not even sure whether you are adding sourdough starter to a sponge (pate fermente? Poolish?) made with commercial yeast or using an intermediate starter made with your sourdough starter, just adding flour.

Distilled water is generally not the best water to use for any breadmaking. The minerals in the water help the yeast grow.

If you are making sourdough bread with no additional baker's yeast, 2 hours is not a long proofing time. Your loaves may need longer. And your bake time is short, unless you are making baguettes or rolls.

Perhaps you should give us the recipe and procedures you are using in detail.


ClimbHi's picture

Not sure this will help much (I'm pretty new to all this bread alchemy too), but I've been using the KA starter for about 5 months now and I'm happy with the results. (I started with the KA starter based on the advice from The Sourdough Home website -- owned and operated by Mike Avery, a regular here as well.)

Here's my "MO":
I brought the starter to life per the instructions that came with it. Since that time, I've used it once a week since I generally only fire the oven on weekends. I've used it in recipies from Crust & Crumb (which I don't think gets enough kudos -- everybody references BBA -- but I think C&C is a great book) and BBA, as well as a few experiments in pizza dough. I use the amount of starter called for in the recipe, leaving about 1 cup (or less) left over for rebuilding. I feed this leftover by adding flour/water at 100% hydration. I'll add about 4.5 oz each if I'm not planning on needing a lot the next time I bake, or up to 8 oz each if I want to make a double batch of bread next time. (At first, I used bottled water, but got tired of the hassle and started using tap water and have not noticed any difference between the two.) I let it sit out for an hour or so, and then put in into the fridge, usually until the next weekend when I start the process over.

Most of the bread I've been experimenting with calls for building a sponge (biga, poolish, firm starter, whatever -- I'm hopelessly confused by the different and often interchangable ways people use those terms), letting it preferment in the fridge overnight, and then making the final dough. The final dough usually takes 5 - 7 hrs from mixer to oven -- levain just isn't as quick as yeast.

The bread from this starter has been fine every time -- I think the only serious issues I've had revolve around my learning curve for the wood-fired oven, not the dough. (Can't blame burned loaves on Peter Reinhart! Also, my crusts can sometimes be a bit tough, but that's not a starter issue either.) I tend to try to make the dough as wet as I can and still shape and handle it. I'm still very much in the experimentation stage on that count -- it's a wonder I'm not still stuck to the bench from my last loaves. Billy Mayes and Super Putty came to mind while I was shaping the loaves. ;-)

The sour flavor is not particularly pronounced, but I don't like really sour bread. I'm looking for more of a buttery, creamy taste/feel and I've been pretty lucky to be able to achieve that almost every time with this starter.

I use KA bread flour (white, unbleached) almost exclusively, except when I am making whole wheat. For WW, I usually just use the white starter with whatever else the recipe calls for and it's been fine, although it's technically a transitional bread I suppose. I did confuse flour containers one time and used Gold Medal AP flour for the final dough and that turned out fine as well.

Oh, and if someone else hasn't already said this, "windowpaning" is taking a small bit of your dough and stretching it between your fingers to see if it can be stretched thin -- like a windowpane -- instead of breaking or tearing. It's a test of how well the dough has developed from kneading (or stretch & fold, if that's how you develop your dough). It's not a magic bullet -- just a test to see if you've kneaded enough.

Not much help, I know, but keep trying. Take notes and change one thing each time and keep track of how that change affected things. Worry about getting good bread first, and then tweak to adjust the "sour".

Pittsburgh, PA

ehanner's picture


Could you tell us some of the details of the mix? For example what is the hydration and handling of the starter? What percentage of the total flour weight is made of active starter?

If your starter is say, equal weights flour and water, your starter would be considered ready to use if it will double in 6-8 hours in warm weather. If that happens, and you are using mild (70-80F) water for the dough mix, your dough will rise. The higher percentage of starter you use, the faster the dough will double. The longer it takes to double, the better it will taste as a rule.

The key is in making sure your starter is really active. There are others here more knowledgeable in this area but I can tell you this. Feed your starter at room temp every 12 hours with a pinch of whole wheat added to the AP flour or maybe Rye if you don't have WW. Once the starter will double in the 6 hour time frame, a tablespoon will inoculate 1-1/2 pounds of dough and raise it to double in 12-18 hours easily. There are a few variables here but this is a general guide to get started.

Hope this helps.


MaryinHammondsport's picture

You say your starter is active: how long have you been feeding it? Some folks jump the gun a little and, mistaking bacterial action in the early days for yeast action, use the starter too soon. So knowing when you began it and how often you have fed it will help us diagnose your problem. It also would help to know where you are storing it when it is not being prepped for use. The questions and comments from Fancypantaloons and Eric are also right on the mark.

In other words -- there are so many different recipes for starter that we need to know how you made it in more detail before we can help much.

Mike Avery, one of our sourdough experts, has a section "Maintaining a starter" on his Website at

This may help.


metroave's picture

Hello all,

First, thank you for your speedy and detailed responses. My starter began as equal parts flour and water, and as I fed it, I maintained that (i.e. whenever I feed it, I add equal parts). I've been feeding it only about a week and I've kept it out on the counter the whole time. It doubles in about 8 hours. 

The recipes I've tried call for a wet sponge risen overnight, then dough. In each, I've used between 1 and 2 cups of starter, depending on the rec. These wet sponges have all risen enthusiastically. The starter, sponges, and kneaded doughs all smell strongly fermented, though not the same as regular yeast. 

Thanks in advance for any further insights!

ehanner's picture

Try adding a teaspoon of whole wheat in the next 2 feedings then go back to white AP. Maintain the room temps.

When you mix your dough, do you knead it and start to develop the gluten? You should do that even if you plan on stretching and folding later. You need some development to help trap the gas so it rises in volume.

What does your starter smell like? It should be pleasant and maybe fruity like apples or wine. Not at all nasty or harsh.

Also, what bread are you attempting to make?


Paddyscake's picture

I agree with Mary & Eric, your starter is probably too immature. You have bacterial action, not an active starter. When I make a 4 lb batch of dough, I only use 46 g of starter, which is a little over an oz.  1-2 cups of starter is what I would use of "waste" starter for muffins, waffles ect.
You are discarding a portion of your old starter before feeding, right?



KosherBaker's picture

Hey metroave.

A starter doubling in 8 hours is kinda long. Mine started doubled in less than 2 hours, when I started using it for bread. What flours did you use to start your starter? This sounds like an all AP starter. Generally the more details you provide theasier it will be to figure out what's wrong.


fancypantalons's picture

"A starter doubling in 8 hours is kinda long. Mine started doubled in less than 2 hours"

Buh??  In all my readings, I've *never* come across a recommendation that your starter be able to double itself in 2 hours.  That is, frankly, insanely fast. :)  8 hours to double or triple seems to be the standard advice everywhere I look (my own starter triples in about 8 hours and begins collapsing at 12).

KosherBaker's picture

Thanks FP. Thanks for chiming in. I guess it's just mine then that does that. Good thing you chimed in.

However, I'd still encourage the OP to surrender more details about his starter and the recipe(s).


fancypantalons's picture

Certainly.  BTW, I certainly wasn't intending to throw down or anything... frankly, I'm jealous, I *wish* my starter was that active! :)

jacjietom's picture

I need to change user name from jacjietom to jackietom

Curious Cook's picture
Curious Cook

I feed it weekly with 1/2 cup of distilled water and 1 cup of flour.  Sometimes I discard and sometimes I do not.

I don't know if anyone else noticed this, but I used to do something similar, and couldn't figure out why my starter would sort of peter out.  Then in some completely unrelated conversation the subject of ratio and exponential growth came up, and the light bulb went on.  Needless to say, the folks I was conversing with were a little confused when I muttered to myself, "so that's what's wrong with my starter... duh".

Basically, my starter was begun with equal parts liquid and flour... a 1:1 ratio. 

The premise of feeding dictated that by the end of 5 days I had fed the starter the equivilent of another batch, thus now doubling the ratio to (aprox) 2:2. 

Now, the starter would be fed over the next five days, but the ratio is slightly off because I would be feeding the same amount for a ratio of 1:1 to a starter that was comprised of a ratio of 2:2.  THAT is why it's important to divide out a portion of the starter and either discard one or feed them both separately  If you don't want to separate your starter, and you just want to grow a giant mother sponge, then you need to feed it more to keep the ratio as even as possible.  The ratio will increase exponentially (2:2, 4:4, 8:8, etc.)  Basically, as your starter doubles up, you need to increase it's food because, well, it's growing and there's more to feed!