The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

My Sourdough Is Too Dense

Craig Stevens's picture
Craig Stevens

My Sourdough Is Too Dense

Hello, my fellow bread bakers,


I have a question. Why is my sourdough bread always so DENSE? From what I can tell, my sourdough starter is highly active, because I feed it 2 to 3 times a day and it bubbles right up each time. I also measure my ingredients by weight in order to make sure the percentages are accurate. No matter what I do, the bread always turns out DENSE and HEAVY. The flavour is always subtle and complex, but the texture is just too thick and chewy.

I know this has something to do with the strength of my sourdough culture, because when I spike my recipe with COMMERCIAL YEAST, the bread turns out light and airy with a nice open crumb. But I don't like using commercial yeast to supplement the fermentation because it makes the bread taste more "commercial."

I need more RISING POWER from my sourdough culture. How can I improve my yeast's rising power?




cranbo's picture

If your loaf is too dense, it could be many things, here's a few


  1. Sourdough too weak
  2. Didn't let your final dough rise enough
  3. Not enough gluten development in the dough
  4. Recipe hydration is too low
  5. Other recipe variables
It would help to know what sourdough hydration you have, but we can look at other things for now.
Let's assume you have your sourdough on a regular schedule, and that after feeding it can double (or more) within a 6 hour period (a sign of a healthy, active starter). This means we can ignore #1. 
Did you let your dough rise long enough? Sourdough is unpredictable, it can take a long time for bulk fermentation to take place, as well as your final rise. For example, I refrigerate my dough, and after removing from fridge and shaping, it regularly takes 7+ hours to double from the time I've removed it. You just can't rush a sourdough. 
Not enough gluten development? This means more kneading, or better yet, stretch-and-fold. Then again, maybe your dislike of "dense" means dislike of "chewy", which means perhaps too much gluten development, so try kneading less (or using stretch-and-fold). 
Recipe hydration? I don't know what recipe you are using (post it here, it will help troubleshooting), but maybe you need to make the dough wetter. Wetter dough = bigger holes. Try making your bread with 70% hydration, and see if you like the outcome. With high hydration, it's important to use stretch and fold techniques for dough handling, to deal with stickiness and building structure. 
Other recipe variables: could be hydration, fat amounts, starter amount, rise times, other ingredients, too many variables to analyze without posting your recipe. Part of the joy of baking bread!
Still too dense? Try a recipe like Floyd's "Daily Bread" (just search the forums), which uses a preferment. Preferments add really light texture that I haven't been able to get otherwise. Or try making the Tartine Country Bread recipe, I found that to be pretty light in a sourdough way. 
My sourdough has always been a little heartier, but I like it that way. If I want a really fluffy loaf, I'll make white sandwich bread with a ton of yeast and a short rise. 


mrfrost's picture

Is your starter just recently started? How old is it?

Can you link to some recipes you have tried? Are these recipes sourdough recipes, or commercial yeast recipes that you are attempting using your sourdough culture?

Yumarama's picture

Hi Craig,

Aside from all the good points above, temperature plays an important part in the proofing stage. Sticking "to the letter" of a recipe on proofing time but at a too cool temp could result in a loaf that hasn't quite reached it's potential.

So let's add "What is the temperature you are proofing at" to the list of questions. It may be that you simply need a slightly warmer spot.

It may also be helpful if you noted what recipe you are using. If it is from one of the more popular bakers' recipes (Hamelman, Lepard, Glazer, etc.), someone here is likely familiar with it and be able to pinpoint where the problem may cropping up from. If it isn't from a well known book, a quick rundown of the recipe would likewise be useful.

Craig Stevens's picture
Craig Stevens

Thanks for the help, guys, I appreciate it. Cranbo, I went over your checklist and I agree that the problem isn't the starter. My dough always doubles within 6 hours or so. But none of the other variables seems to apply. My hydration, depending on the recipe, ranges from 50% to 75%; my gluten development is generally sufficient but never excessive, since I rely on the "window pane" test; and my proofing time is usually whatever it takes for the shaped dough to double and no longer.

The problem is either my sourdough culture--that is, the particular strand of wild yeast I captured--or sourdough is simply supposed to be dense. Is it?

When I say "dense," by the way, I don't mean "chewy." I'm refering to the scientific concept of density, i.e. MASS divided by VOLUME. In this sense, my bread always seems to have too much mass for its volume, which partly explains why my bread is so HEAVY. When I pick it up, it seems to WEIGH too much. It weighs about twice as much as an ordinary loaf of bread.

If you wanted to rob a bakery, you could use one of my dense ryes as a brick and throw it through the display window.

But here's how I know all this has something to do with the YEAST. When I use COMMERCIAL YEAST to supplement the sourdough starter, the bread comes out FINE! That is, it's weight and density seem right. But unfortunately it doesn't TASTE like sourdough when I use this shortcut, hence my dissatisfaction.

Maybe I need to try using diastatic malt to give the yeast a boost. I don't know. I'm starting to feel disillusioned. Why do I keep ending up with these cannon balls?


cranbo's picture

Sorry to hear about your frustration Craig. 

Can you elaborate a little more on dense? I realize that it means the loaf is heavy. Does this mean your crumb has tightly packed holes and not a lot of air, instead of big, airy, uneven holes like this:

I can say with certainty that breads made with my sourdough are typically "heavier" than those made with commercial yeast. I attribute that in part to both my feeding habits of the starter as well as its general activity. I never get the same fluffy texture as I do with commercial yeast; I'd sure like to hear from people on TFL that do! 

Now that I think about it more, it may have to do with my sourdough recipes too. Many of the fluffiest breads I make have a lot of yeast, not necessary a lot of kneading, and other ingredients that lend to crumb lift, lightness and tenderness: oil/butter, milk, potato, and/or sugar. Each of those three lend significantly to dough lightness and tenderness.  

If your sourdough recipes don't include at least some of these ingredients, I'd be surprised if you can get the same lightness. Something made with just flour, salt, and water probably isn't going to ever be as light, tender or fluffy without these additions. 

That's been my experience, YMMV. 

If you don't want to add other stuff to your recipe, you may want to focus more carefully on improving your starter so that it has similar aggressive activity as commercial yeast does, if it's even possible. You may want to examine:

1. How often you feed your starter?
2. What hydration?
3. How long to double/just start to fall?
4. What temperature you keep it?
5. What kinds of flours (white, white+whole wheat, etc)

Good luck and keep us posted!



pattyfermenty's picture

i've been thinking quite a bit about this because my sourdough pizza is also dense. i think that what is going on here is that the denisity of yeast in the culture is the issue. think about it: i dump some culture into flour -- the yeast start eating. let's say that i have 100 yeast in there (just a number for argument's sake). these 100 yeasts eat, but lets say that they don't bud/reproduce. that means that i'll have an active dough that rose well, but which is not sufficiently permeated with yeast to provide lightness. its like swiss cheese -- a few holes. the same 100 yeast eating for hours, but if they don't reproduce, you have a dough that has insufficient holes in it. delicious, but dense. now take another scenario where you have the same amount of culture, but there are 5x the yeast in it - 500 yeast. 

so the question is: how can you ensure that your culture is chock full of yeast, density-wise. not just active, but loaded with yeast? therein lies the solution to the problem i believe.

cranbo's picture

Some of what I've learned since I last responded to this thread is that both the type of flour and the gluten development significantly affect bread density. 

First, flour: you're not going to have a super light, fluffy loaf made from 100% rye. It's just not possible. This is related to the type of flour, and the fact that rye doesn't have a lot of gluten. 

Second, gluten development: You can have a totally light, fluffy sourdough or even a light, fluffy whole wheat if you knead it intensively, and possibly do some enrichment (with milk, butter, etc). I've been impressed by and have used txfarmer's techniques for intensive kneading, they make a big difference in dough texture. If you're using a KitchenAid mixer, try kneading for at least 15min at speed #2. Try getting your dough to the windowpane stage; it may take at least 15min @ KA speed #2. 

I made a sourdough pizza yesterday that was super light and fluffy! Shaped dough balls fermented in fridge for 48 hours. I used 130% starter (@100% hydration) and 0.3% yeast.  I mixed it for about 15min total in the KitchenAid mixer at speed #2 (click 2).