The Fresh Loaf

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Sourdough - Temperature & Rise Time

colinwhipple's picture

Sourdough - Temperature & Rise Time

This weekend I took a go at Hamelman's Whole Wheat Levain.

The levain itself seemed to go well.  I initiated the levain according to the recipe on Saturday afternoon, and on Sunday morning it had risen and fallen back slightly. 

I mixed the dough, including following Mariana's suggestion in one of her posts of giving a 30 minute autolyze after just mixing the water with most of the flour.  I did "most of the flour" for that part, because a significant portion of the water was in the levain.

 I also tried to make sure the dough was thoroughly mixed after adding the salt, the levain, and the rest of the flour. Mariana had emphasized the importance of thorough kneading (or mixing) for gluten development.

The problem came with the primary fermentation.  I got only a small rise.  I folded the dough once, after 90 minutes, then I am afraid I lost patience after 3 hours, and did the dividing and shaping, and let it sit for about 3 1/2 hours.  Still only a small rise.  I slashed, misted the loaves with water, and baked.  The flavor was good, but there was only a small amount of oven spring.  The loaves ended up somewhat dense.

 The temperature for most of the day Sunday was at or under 70 degrees, not the 78 degrees that Hamelman prescribed.  Is that likely the major problem?  Should I have let the primary fermentation go on a lot longer?

My wife really likes whole wheat bread, but I have had a hard time getting it to come out right.  White flour, or just a small proportion of whole wheat flour, has been a lot easier.




staff of life's picture
staff of life

Hi Colin--

It seems like such a simple loaf, but it's probably been the most difficult for me to master!  Are you sure your levain was ready to go?  When I had a problem with mine fermenting so slowly, it was because my levain wasn't fully ripe.  I now always mark on the container so I'll know when it's doubled.  You can check it out by using the same recipe and adding just a bit of instant yeast, then seeing if there's a slightly speedier fermentation along with better ovenspring.  The air and dough temp make a difference, but it also might be your levain.  Check back with me also if you have issues with it spreading in your oven, or not browning well, and also if you decide to grind your grain fresh for this dough.  If there's a problem to be had with this particular bread, I've had it. :)


I've just read through your post again, and I'm wondering two things: first off, do you know that your levain rose and fell, rather than just didn't rise enough?  And if you used it past its prime, sometimes I (think) I've noticed that a starter can get lazy when it gets mixed into the dough.  This last idea I'm a bit sketchy on though; it's something I think I've just started noticing.

colinwhipple's picture


 The levain looked a bit concave in that the middle was slightly lower than around the edges of the bowl. That was why I figured that it had risen and fallen a bit.

 I don't have a great deal experience with sourdough; i just started with it in September and it seems very tricky.

 I plan to try it again this weekend.  If it is cool again, I will put it in the oven with the oven light on for the primary fermentation.