The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Failing sourdough texture

Cooky's picture

Failing sourdough texture

Hi, sourdough enthusiasts. I've been trying to work on my sourdough technique and I'm running into a problem whenever I try to use 100% starter, 0% yeast spike. 

 Basically, the dough grows in size, full of beautiful holes (I ferment it in a glass bowl), but when I turn it out for shaping, there is no gluten formation. The texture is like a crumbling rubber sponge. No windowpaning at all.

 What's going wrong here? Too much starter? Contaminated starter? Overproofing?

 I don't have this problem when I use a little glob of starter for flavor and get most of the leavening from dry yeast.

It is so frustrating to be unable to master this fundamental skill that peple have been using every damn day for thousands of years!

Cooky's picture

 I'm using the multi-step recipe from Crust & Crumb, beginning with my own firm starter instead of his barm.



"I am not a cook. But I am sorta cooky."

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Cooky was heard to say:

 I'm using the multi-step recipe from Crust & Crumb, beginning with my own firm starter instead of his barm.


Barm is not a sourdough process.  If you do some reading of more authoritative sources, you find that barm is a process most used in England that involved harvesting yeast from actively fermenting beer.  It was a way of NOT using sourdough.


You can't make a barm out of sourdough any more than you can make a vegetarian meal by starting with a pork chop!


I am told that Peter Reinhart has said he regrets that misuse of the term barm and the confusion that it has engendered.




mariana's picture

Cooky, I don't keep a pot of barm in my kitchen either, but I converted my starter to 135% hydration starter as Peter asks, to obtain the results he promises.

 So take a piece of your firm starter and feed it with water and flour in proportions necessary to convert it into 235g of barm. Once your barm is ripe, proceed according to the recipe. This recipe requires both liquid (barm) and stiff (biga) starters to build flavors and strength.

 If your dough looks like desintegrating rubber, it's because your starter is stronger than Peter's or more acidic to begin with. Acids from your starter destroyed the gluten network in the dough. Reduce fermentation times and you will be successful.

leemid's picture

Could you be more specific on your recipe and process so others can be more helpful, please? Not all of us have C&C or the time to look up the recipe, nor can we safely assume you are religeously and correctly following the process...


mariana's picture

Lee, the recipe is 

San-Francisco Style Sourdough

makes 1890g of dough, enough for 4 loaves. 

235 g of barm (135% hydration sourdough starter)
100 g bread flour
135g water

4 H at room t, then 8-24 refrigerated

Stiff sourdough
430g refrigerated barm
245g bread flour
1-2 tbsp water if needed

Knead for 4 min. Bulk fermentation 8H at room T, Refrigerate for 8-24h. 

Bread dough
730g bread flour
675 g refrigerated stiff sourdough
7g malt (diastatic I assume) or 7 g sugar
20g salt

475g cool water. 

Chop soudough into pieces prior to adding it to the mixer bowl along with flour and warter. Mix the dough for 1 min on first speed, then knead for 6 min on second. 

Bulk fermentation 4 h at room T. Shape, place it in proofing baskets and cover. 4hr proof at room t then 8-24h refrigerated. 

Prior to baking take out loaves in the baskets from the fridge. Let them sit at room T for one hour, while the oven and baking stone are preheating to 475F. 

Slash, and bake at 450F, with steam, for 30 min. Turn off the heat and let the loaves sit in the oven for 10 more minutes. 

Cool bread for 1 hr before slicing. 


When I tried to follow the times in the recipe, I failed. The dough was way overfermented and ugly. The resulting loaves were gray and pale (no sugar left in the dough, too much damage to gluten from acids in the starters).  

So I redid the recipe, this time not following Peter's times, but following his descriptions of how starters and dough should look like at the end of each stage and was successful.

I.e. I gave 'barm' one hour at room t ( until it began to bubble), then refrigerated it

Stiff starter . I gave  it one hour at room t ( until 1.5 times increase in volume), then refrigerated it

Dough. At room T until 1.3 times increase in volume, shape and proof at room t until 1.5 increase in volume, then refrigerate.

By letting the dough dictate me the times of fermenation, instead of rigid time schedule I got a great loaf bread out of Peter's recipe. Beautiful, tasty, sour, and fragrant.


Following Peter's time table


 Following Peter's descriptions of how starters and dough look when they are 'ready',



Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

If that recipe is giving you trouble, you might try a simpler one.


I have a fairly nice and gentle introduction to sourdough at my web page.  Surf over to for my "Fast Track to Sourdough"


Also, it isn't clear where you got your starter, what condition your starter is in, or if it is a healthy starter.  Having a good, healthy, active starter is the key to making good sourdough bread.



dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Cooky.

I've made Reinhart's SF SD from C&C many, many times. In fact, the photo on the right of the TFL home page is an example. It is procedurally complex, but does make fabulous bread, at least to my taste.

Look at the formula Mariana posted. What might you have done differently?

One consideration, from your description: I wonder if you under-mixed the dough. You should make sure the gluten is very well developed before fermentation. That's when you should check for window pane, not after fermentation is complete.

Also, Mariana's point about using Reinhart's times just as guidelines is worth considering. The only thing I would add is that, if the dough is rising too fast during fermentation, as Mariana's did, rather than cutting the fermentation short, I'd do a fold at hourly intervals for the first 2 hours, but make the fermentation last 4 hours so the flavor fully develops.

This formula is worth mastering, in my opinion. So, stick with it. Let us know how you are doing. Help is here for the asking.