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Slow fermentation in my white dough

_vk's picture

Slow fermentation in my white dough

Hello. I've being finding my white dough to be very slow. The last one I did (100% Flour | 70%H20 | 2%starter) took 9 hours to go to the oven, and I think it could have fermented a bit more. This not counting the 12hr pre ferment of 25% of the flour. 

I though my starter was becoming weak, as it was taking more than 3 hrs to double (1:1:1 feed), but then I realised that I was measuring the time with the starter coming just out of the fridge. So I waited it to come to room temperature (about 21c), then I fed it 1:1:1 and It doubled like in 3 hours, tripled and was looking very bubbling and active. 

So I thought, I'm going to use more than 2% for my next white dough. But I'm wondering. As I'm making a pre-ferment, will this make any difference? Isn't the pre ferment, after raised,  just a big amount of starter? I'm confused.

How can I deal with it?





Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I'm surprised it didn't take a week.

Hang on a minute... what do you mean by 2% starter then a pre-fermented 25% of the flour?

The pre-ferment will be a starter!

Can you explain?

I'm a bit confused but 25% shouldn't take 9 hours.

What's the difference if you feed your starter, take some off and use in your bread or take some off, feed it and use in your bread? Answer = 0. Both are starters. Doing a preferment allows you to keep your mother starter one way and build a starter a different way e.g. different flour and/or hydration. It also allows you to keep not too much mother starter so it's more manageable.

Your pre-ferment is your starter. Or becomes a starter. You're just keeping a mother starter separately.

So if you're building a preferment then no need to add in some of the mother starter. Now what we need to find out is why 25% starter is taking 9 hours which seems quite long. I think you need to take us through your recipe step by step.

_vk's picture

Hi Lechem.

You see, I'm the one confused here. And you just nail one of my doubts. As I said "Isn't the pre ferment, after raised,  just a big amount of starter?" So the answer is yes, it is. That's already something you helped me to understand. ;)

So perhaps the 12 hr pre fermentation is making the preferment pass its peak and became weak... If it peaks in, let's say 5 hrs, in the following 7hrs is the stuff  dying? Well I'm again forgetting the proportion. the mother starter is timed in a 1:1:1 ratio while the pre ferment is  0.02:1:1 so... I don't know. Things just worked, and are not anymore...

I don't know, I haven't changed nothing in my usual recipe. And it was not that slow. The same recipe applied to a 60% WW works just fine. I know that WW speeds up the stuff, but... I really don't know what I'm missing.

I usually feed my starter with half whole, half white. Is It possible that I'm raising some WW only eater in my mother starter? Should I keep a white and a WW starter separetedly?

I'm going to measure the starter activity more accurately to see when it peaks. 

I have my notes at home, but the basic recipe is:

100% white wheat

70% water 

2% salt

2% starter to make a preferment of 25% of the flour.


DDT = ~24c

Mix 25% of flour with same weight of water and the  2% of starter.

wait around 12 hrs

mix the rest but the salt

autolyse for 30 to 60 minutes.

add salt

knead until medium to good gluten development 

Rest 2hrs , doing S&F each hour

Rest 1hr - pre shape

Bench rest about 20 min and shape

Final proof for 2 1/2 hrs.

Well this is the basic recipe and timing, but in fact I go much more by the look and feel of the dough than by the watch.

I was checking the dough every now and then and making S&F when I feel it was slack. 

After it looked fermented enough (soft, hollow, bubbling, raised), some more S&F, pre shape, 20 min bench rest, shape, banneton. It took like 2hr to visually double. Got to oven. Nice oven spring. Nice taste. Crumb a little dense, but soft with some bigger holes, not  a bad crumb, but denser that I usually get.

This is the Manitoba first experiment, so I'm not sure if the denser crumb is due to low hydration for such a strong flour or I needed more fermentation. But I've noticed the slowness of the dough in previous batches, so i don't believe it's a Manitoba related issue.

When I got time (tonight I hope) I'll make another post with the photos and more accurate timing as I promised. :)



Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Here is a basic recipe


flour 100%

Water 65%

salt 2%

Starter (or pre-ferment) 25%


So plugging in some numbers:


500g flour

325g water

10g salt

125g starter (or preferment)


This it what i'd call 25% starter. The flour within the starter is 12.5% but the starter (flour + water) = 25%.

The final hydration would be higher than 65% if the starter is 100% hydration. So in this case the dough will be 69%. A range I like for a strong bread flour which would be somewhere between 65% - 71%.

Now onto the building of the preferment. Well it depends on a few factors. How long since my mother starter last matured? What ratio of mother starter to fresh flour? When would I like to bake?

My starter is quick. It springs to life very quickly even after sitting in the fridge for a while. I cannot get such long fermentation out of it as some people get with theirs. So what I might do before bed is an overnight build something like this...

25g starter + 50g water + 50g flour = 125g starter.

Come morning it'll be ready.

I usually find with about 25% starter about 4 hours bulk ferment will be about right till the dough feels ready. But I cannot give you an exact time. It all depends on how warm it is, what flour etc. I don't go solely by doubling. When it feels aerated, billowy and has gained elasticity then ready for the final proof.

Proofing at room temperature will vary once again but generally i'm looking at 2-2.5 hours.

I can only get a 9 hour bulk ferment if I drop the starter (pre-ferment) to 10%. I hear of many people getting longer bulk ferments with more starter but I find mine works quickly (by comparison) and my dough will turn to starter if left that long.

Hope this helps.

_vk's picture

HI Lechem. I got this numbers my self from the recipe I am tweaking. It's pain naturel from the weekendbakery.

The recipe is:

455g of flour

295g water

7.5g salt

15 g levain @ 100%

total dough 772,5g


and the poolish is:

115g flour (25% of total flour)

115g water (100% of flour in poolish) 

15g levain (3% of total flour) 

Total of levain 245g which is 53% of flour or 31% of total dough

So my 25% was referring to the percentage of flour used in levain rel;ated to total flour, as I thought every thing was relative to flour. Is this the wrong way to think about it?


What I do (as they) is to build a 100% levain, and later add the rest of the flour and water, bringing the mix to final hydration 70% in this case.

What is the difference in a bigger or smaller pre ferment?


Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)
Ingredients for the Poolish
115gwheat (bread) flour
115gwater (room temperature)
15gsourdough culture
Ingredients for the Pain Naturel
makes 1 loaf
  the poolish from step 1
340gwheat (bread) flour
7.5g(sea) salt

It has been laid out slightly different to how you've written it. Your starter (they call it a poolish here) is 245g at 100% hydration. Yes, the poolish has 15g starter in it but this is the pre-ferment and as discussed this becomes the starter in the final dough.

You have 340g bread flour + 245g "starter" = 72% starter.

The prefermented flour is 122.5g which = 36% in baker's percentages

or 26.5% of total flour.

No wonder it is just under 3 hours for the bulk ferment. It is a high percentage of pre-ferment.


Final proof is 2.5 hours which I think would be quite long for so much pre-ferment.

I'd also think if this was such a good idea to use a high amount of pre-ferment when using weak gluten flour.


_vk's picture

Don't the flour in the poolish counts to the total flour?

I mean 340g + 115g = 455g of total flour

so  122g would be 27% of 455 

Am I lost? :)

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Total Flour = 462.5g (7.5g in the starter + 115g added to the poolish + 340g main dough) What did I say? Can't remember.

Amount of pre-fermented flour = 122.5g (7.5g in the starter + 115g added to the poolish)

So % of total flour that is pre-fermented is 122.5g out of total 462.5g = 26.49%

So far so good?

Now in baker's percentages terms we can also say that we have 245g pre-ferment (15g starter + 115g water + 115g flour) to 340g flour in the main dough = 72.06% starter.

Some people only count the flour within the starter as % pre-ferment and others will count the starter as a whole. Some may do both when breaking down the formula.

Either way we have a large amount of starter or poolish or pre-ferment.

Maverick's picture

I would say that the issue lies with the fact that you are taking a starter that is normally fed 1:1:1 and suddenly feeding it nearly 1:8:8 (well, 7.7 at least), and expecting it to be at full strength in 12 hours. The numbers Lechem give are correct and if the starter was strong enough this would be ready a lot faster.

I personally would say that you have 26.5% pre-fermented flour in the formula since the hydration levels of starters can vary from person to person and this makes it easy to convert based on whatever starter you are using. This is a healthy amount and closer to waht you normally see with commercial yeast (like a traditional poolish, biga, or pate fermentee). Most sourdough formulas I see keep it closer to 15% pre-fermented flour.

What you really want to do is to build up to 145g of starter (plus extra to keep it going if you aren't keeping a separate mother) that is peaked at the time when you want to make bread.

My starter would starve at 1:1:1, but it would also starve at 1:2:2. You have to learn your starter and how much you need to feed it to be ready in 12 hours. The starter at the weekend bakery is probably very vigorous and fed at peak times to be able to peak with a 1:8:8 ratio. I have a starter that requires 1:10:10 right now for a 12 hour peak which is insane. This same starter in another season could be as low as 1:4:4.

Like I said above, what really matters is what your starter needs. Just get the 145g of starter ready to use at whatever build you need. It can be multiple builds as well to get to that point if you want. It is up to you.

Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

Nine hours is not out of the ball park.  Everything sounds fine as you describe it - assuming your preferment was performing as you say.  Another time you can use warmer water to build your "preferment" or "starter" or "leaven" to speed up the process if you want.

Water temperature, dough temperature and room temperature are more the things I would question.

_vk's picture

Good point I've being a little relaxed when it comes to temperature, and the day was indeed a little colder than usual. But I tried to keep the dough in the 24~25 C range. I'll pay more attention to temperature again.

Nice to know its not out of the ball park.


dabrownman's picture

fridge and 12% pre-fermented flour to make the levain over 12 hours is my standard procedure.  I usually do a 3 stage, 4 hours each, levain build but, when I do dump all the flour on the starter to make the levain at once. I stir it every 4 hours to make more food available to the wee beasitees.

Here in AZ, 25% prefermented flour in the levain would be way too much most of the year except in the dead of winter and then it would be 20%.  If your 25% levain is doubling in 12 hours it is ready to lift a loaf very fast regardless of flour used but whole grains will be faster.  Fast is not better when it comes to SD as the flavor will suffer the faster the loaf ferments and proofs.  The texture of the crumb will also be different

I would think for a white bread it would be ready for the oven 5-6 hours after mixing in the levain in the summer and 7-9 hours in the winter with 25% pre-fermented flour - but watch the dough and not the clock.

Happy baking 

_vk's picture

Hi dabrownman. I wonder, what's the relation between the levain amount and the season? As I said to Lechem, above, I'm tweaking a recipe, and this amount of levain I blindly got form it. But I'd like to understand what are the effects of different amounts of levain.

I have noticed that speed is not better. Longer fermented loaf tastes better, I can already say that.



and Happy baking :)

dabrownman's picture

is needed to keep times as long as rerasonably possible for best flavor

Filomatic's picture

The "wee beasties" are highly susceptible to temperature variation.  What temperature are you fermenting at?  Books like Hamelman's Bread and Tartine (and I'm sure others) are quite specific about fermentation temperatures at every stage.  That's what lead me to get the Brod & Taylor proofing box.

_vk's picture

Hi Filomatic. I tried to keep dough temperature in 24~25 c range, as asked by the recipe. But the weather was a bit colder than usual.

Thanks for your thoughts.

happy baking


dabrownman's picture

kitchen which gets to 74 F in the winter and up to 90 F in the summer.  In the winter I use more pre-fermented flour to speed things up and I use less in the summer to slow things down to fit my bread making schedule.

_vk's picture

The flour:


before autolyse:




 The result:

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Is this a typo?

"...the mother starter is timed in a 1:1:1 ratio while the pre ferment is  0.02:1:1 so..."

A  0.02 has to be multiplied by 50 to equal 1   so the ratio is  1:50:50   and that would take quite a while to mature.  One gram is about the size of a pea.  Is this correct?

_vk's picture

Well thanks everybody for so much info. 

@Mini Oven - no that's not a typo, was a stupid math error... Shame on me :) Thanks for pointing.

@Dabrownman - Now that you said it seems so obvious, thanks. How and why is this 4 steps building happening?

@Lechem - So it turns out that I've being doing my math all wrong... I really thought in bakers percentage everything was based on the flour total. You mean there is no consensus about specifying the levain related to total flour or total dough? That's a big difference isn't it? Anyway as I said I took all that "blindly" from the recipe. I'll experiment with smaller pre ferments next. And again thanks for enlighten me about levain = starter = preferment. I know it is so obvious, but it was not that clear to me. Things makes more sense now.

@maverick - A good point that I also keep overlooking. The proportion of the feed. That's a lot because I was thinking  the preferment as a different stuff from the starter. I'm working on the timing my starter now to get to know it better. Thanks.



I'm thinking that perhaps I should try a 1:2:3 bread instead of this recipe as a base recipe to tweak. Right now I'm repeating the same formula with different flours to try to know them. But next try is going to try a smaller preferment. Do you think 1:2:3 is a good start point, or would you suggest a different recipe?





Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)'s not wrong to work out how much flour is pre-fermented from total flour but baker's percentages will work out the percentage of everything in relation to non pre-fermented flour. Sometimes recipes will tell you the percentage of the whole starter in relation to the flour and other will tell you the percentage of flour within the starter that is pre-fermented. You might see two tables in a recipe. The first one being flour, water and salt. Then the second one will rearrange it to flour, water, salt and starter. There are so many ways and everyone has their own preferred method. Calculating the percentage of starter to non pre-fermented flour gives you an idea of how long you have for the rest of the recipe (although there will always be variables).

Think of your mother starter as a pre-ferment. after all it is! So if your mother starter is a preferment then automatically if you take some of the flour and pre-ferment it in a levain then that is your starter when you put it in your dough because that is what will leaven your dough. It does get confusing as everyone will have slightly different terminologies for the same thing.

I think you should experiment with your starter (just a suggestion). You seem to only be able to get weak gluten flour so why not build a starter that has lower hydration. This will also give you more tang if that's what you want. 1:2:3 formula is very good! If you use a 100% hydration starter then your dough will always turn out to be 71% hydration. Should you use a lower hydration starter then of course you'll be lowering the hydration of the final dough. But because you're using a weaker gluten flour then I think you'd want to do that anyway if you're using all, or mostly, white flour.

Lovely bake. Really nice! Bon Appetit.

Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

And easy to manipulate your basic formula to see what altering percentages of the ingredients does. 

Jane Dough's picture
Jane Dough

Take a look at the following link.  It features a beautiful bake and describes the process to get to that point using 1- 2-3 as a starting point.