Suddenly No Oven Spring
Hi. I am having a bit of a dilemma and wanted to see if anyone has the same problem or if one of the experienced bakers here that I respect so much might be able to diagnose the difficulty.
I have a sourdough starter that I began about 3 months ago. It is 100% hydration. I have been keeping it refrigerated and feeding about weekly according to the instructions I found here – basically discard all but about ¼ cup, feed 1:2:2, allow to rise and then begin to descend, then feed again and use or just refrigerate after the 1st feeding if no use is intended.
So far I’ve had good success, especially with the 1 – 2 – 3 Sourdough recipe I found at this site, which is basically 1 part starter to 2 parts liquid and 3 parts flour plus a little salt for flavor. The loaves I’ve been making have been very good from the 1st, and my recipe is adding 125 g. mature starter to 250 g. water and adding that to 325 g. bread flour, 27 g. white whole wheat flour, and 28 g. whole rye flour, totaling 355 g. total flour. Per the original recipe, I allow this mixture to rest for 30 minutes, knead in the salt briefly, and allow the dough to rest in a covered bowl, with stretch and folds every 15 minutes until it windowpanes.
I then place the pre-shaped dough in an oiled bowl to either rise for a couple of hours, or put it in the fridge overnight.
I bake this in a crockery insert from my slow cooker covered with my pizza stone, at 450 for 40 minutes, then remove the cover for the last 15 minutes or so, until the internal temp is around 206F and the crust is deeply browned.
My family has absolutely loved this bread, which I have been making for about 8 weeks. I even started using 1 cup of toasted ground old fashioned oats in place of the whole grain flour and proceeding with the rest as usual, and although the loaf came out much denser than before, it still had lovely color and a reasonably pleasant oven spring.
I went happily on with this recipe and my starter until this week – disaster. I baked two of these loaves in succession, the first original recipe (bread flour with the whole wheat and rye) and also one with the ground oats.
The original had a crust which was almost unpenetrable, although it was edible with a strong jaw, which I fortunately have. The taste was very nice, slightly tangy, and sweet, but there were very large, unattractive holes in the crumb and by the 2nd day the crust was a fortress and the middle was stale, even though it was stored cut side down on a board, the way I store it always, and usually get 3 days before it needs to be covered to prevent unappetizing hardening. Normally the bread does not last that long in my house, so this alone is a testament to the inferiority of this particular loaf.
The oat/bread flour loaf was also flat – almost no rise whatsoever in the oven. Surprisingly, however, it had a lovely crust, and even more astounding was that this flat loaf which was no higher than your average cake baked in a 9 inch layer pan, was LESS dense than the loaves I’ve made with this dough that have risen impressively. It also had a very nice texture, was nicely aerated with holes and tasted very good.
I believe that based on the above my starter must have weakened and am seeking advice on how to correct this. However, I realize that I am a novice baker with a penchant for disorganization and so I defer to the wisdom of those who are above such debilitating character flaws and may be able to diagnose the problem and help me take the necessary steps to correct my errors.
My disappointed family will be very grateful for any assistance you can give. Thanks!