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Overfermented sourdough dough with minimal rise.

JaneDough's picture

Overfermented sourdough dough with minimal rise.


I'm sorry if this is long-winded but I'd like to share as much information as possible.

I cannot get my sourdough dough to rise. If I try to be patient and allow for longer rise times, it turns into unshapeable batter. I'm located in Mumbai and our current temperatures reach up to 34C (max) in the afternoons and 26C in the early morning (min).

I've kept my starter going for about 2 weeks now and this is what I feed it once a day:

25g mature starter

100g whole wheat flour, unbleached

100g filtered water

It does form fairly decent air bubbles and takes about 8-9 hours to double in size and this is the highest it'll go. I wait until it reaches this stage before adding it to my dough. The best way for me to describe the smell at this stage is "sourish and fermented". It also never falls unless I deflate it by sticking a spoon or something into it. It fails all float tests but I've read that this may not always be reliable, especially since I'm using a heavy whole wheat flour.

My dough is 400g of WW flour with 85% hydration. I do a 3 hour autolyse and knead after adding the starter and salt. The dough is very wet and sticky at this stage but perfect for kneading with Rubaud method. This is followed by 5-6 stretch and folds at intervals of 20 minutes, which also seems to go well and the dough seems perfect.

I've tried using 10% starter but it barely rose even after several hours in room temperature. I tried being patient and after 20 hours or so, it did rise a bit but it had also turned into unshapeable batter. 

Yesterday I upped the starter to 20% and after 8 hours at RT there were minimal air bubbles with an almost unnoticeable rise. I shaped it anyway (as it seemed like it would turn into batter again if I let it ferment any longer) and stuck it in the fridge overnight but it did not rise.

I try to follow recipes for whole wheat sourdough breads, but I'm not sure where I'm going wrong if the dough seems to overferment even with a minimal rise.

I'm also unable to change to a different type of flour since the only types I seem to have access to is this WW flour (With a bit of barley flour mixed in) or maida (refined flour - bleached and processed similar to cake flour. I would not like to use this). If there are any bakers here from this part of the world, I'd highly appreciate recommendations for brands available here.

Any help is appreciated!




Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

If you're keeping your starter at room temperature, only feeding it once a day and it's 34°C then the issue may be in your starter.

Do you keep your starter at room temperature?

JaneDough's picture

Yes I keep it at room temperature.

I started it at room temperature for the first seven days until it was ready and I figured I should try baking a loaf once or twice before moving it to the refrigerator and feeding it once a week. It does bubble and rise and even smells sourish and fermented. (I'm sorry to say I don't even know what a proper starter should smell like.)

If you think I should keep in the fridge, do you think I should also start over? Or should I continue with the same one but feed it twice a day (at the end of 8 or 9 hours when it has peaked and doubled, perhaps?)

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

A starter kept at room temperature, in your case 34°F, and fed only once a day! will be the issue.

Do not start again. Rather switch to...

  • 20g starter
  • 100g cold water
  • 100g flour

And feeding it twice a day, every twelve hours, for the next few days.

Then when you're ready catch the starter when it's peaked, e.g. in the morning after being fed the night before, and use 20% in your final dough.

  • Flour 100%
  • Water 80-85%
  • Salt 2%
  • Starter 20%

Autolyse just the flour and water for 1 hour maximum. That should be ample. Use cold water too. Then add the salt and starter and combine. If your starter is good and healthy then at 20%, plus it being very warm where you live, it should take no longer than 3-4 hours. But watch the dough and not the clock. When it's aerated and billowy it's done. Do not aim for doubled. You just want there to be a good matrix of bubbles in the dough. Shape and final proof till 80% risen then bake.

I think the feeds of once every 24 hours and the quick ferment because of the warmth depleted the yeasts within your starter. You need to build that back up with the bigger feed and twice a day.

No need to start over.

EDIT I've increased the starter feed just because you're using starter straight in your dough, for the time being, without building a levain. So you'll wish to build enough for a recipe.

JaneDough's picture

Thanks, Abe. I will try this out.


Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

But it should be a step in the right direction. Should there be an improvement then you can build on that and we'll know the issue was the starter. A healthy starter should smell yeasty and have a pleasant smell. Not overly sour.

Then you can look into keeping it in the fridge, working out a maintenance schedule and look into building levains for your recipe which will make your starter much easier to manage.

Let me know how it works out for you. Best of luck.

Don't forget your starter is still young and may also need time to further mature.

JaneDough's picture

Hi Abe

So I created an off shoot from my starter and I've been feeding the offshoot at least twice a day (thrice yesterday). Each time, I've only fed it once it had doubled in size. That usually happens in 5-6 hours.

I've been feeding the original starter just like I always had (For comparison). Strangely though, this starter has developed more of an alcoholic smell. They're both kept at room temperature, next to each other.

The quantities of feed were as per your suggestion and after having fed the off shoot 5 times in the last 2 days, I wanted to try attempting another loaf but I faced the same problem. No rise. Very few air bubbles in the dough. These pictures are after 8 hours of bulk rise @ RT.

Dough recipe:

70 grams starter (off-shoot. The one that doesn't smell like alcohol.)

350 grams WW flour

297 grams filtered water

6 grams salt


The only difference between the dough and the starter feeds are the hydration levels and the salt. Am I killing the starter in the dough with salt? I try to incorporate the starter into the dough before adding salt. So I don't understand why the starter has not trouble doubling in size or forming decent air bubbles but the dough wont rise.

Was this too soon to attempt a loaf?

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

You've got 20% starter and you bulk fermented the dough for 8 hours. And you're in a warm country. Your timing is very off. On top of that it's all wholegrain so it'll ferment faster and it doesn't need to rise as much as bread flour. 

You don't see the dough full of bubbles? 

I live in London. Not very warm. At 20% starter I can get a 4-6 hour bulk ferment depending!

JaneDough's picture

There are a few flecks of tiny flecks of bubbles after 8 hours but it is nothing like the starter. Most of those flecks also look like bran upon closer inspection.

This is the dough after 8 hours of bulk rise:

Dough after 8 hours

These are both starters after 8 hours:

Starter bottom after 8 hours

Starter after 8 hours

I'm not sure why the starter will bubble up like that when both the dough and starters have 20% mature starter and the only difference is the hydration and salt.

I'll continue feeding both of them at least twice a day for the next few days and make another attempt on Friday.


Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

If you start finding it's peaking within 6 hours then that is a good sign. However it's also a sign it needs feeding again. But you can't stand there feeding it all day. You live in a hot country and this is something you need to work around.

It's a sign it's probably strong enough to try another bake. So by all means catch it at it's peak and use it. If you aren't ready then refrigerate it till you are ready and then give it another feed before using etc.

If you still wish to carry on feeding it twice a day for a few more days then you can give it a bigger feed. Or once it's peaked within the 6 hours, refrigerate it and then take it out a few hours later to feed it again. Sort of a balance of room and fridge maintenance while still feeding it everyday.

JaneDough's picture

I will give this a try for a few days and post an update.

treesparrow's picture

you can also put it in a cooler box. Cover with a plate and put just one cold pack on top. That'll not be as cold as in the fridge, just not quite as hot as room temperature, and will slow it down a little.

JaneDough's picture

Thank you :) I'll have to try this in the summer.

It is getting a bit cooler now because 'winter' is here. I doubt it will ever get colder than 18C or 19C so the starter should feel quite comfortable at RT at least until the end of January.