The Fresh Loaf

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Is this overproofed? Underproofed? Something else?

smorkoch's picture

Is this overproofed? Underproofed? Something else?

I'm pretty new to sourdough and I've been using the Weekend Bakery's pain naturel for the past couple of weeks. While shaping has gotten a bit easier and I'm starting to wrap my head around the numerous details involved in the process, I'm still having trouble pinpointing exactly what needs to be changed to improve my loaves. 

I maintain a stiff (60% hydration) rye/AP starter that reliably doubles every 10-12 hours. I made the poolish for this loaf around 9:00 last night, used it at 11:00 this morning, and followed the recipe pretty much as written.

The issues I'd like to be able to address are as follows:

1. My loaves are consistently spreading at the score marks rather than producing ears.

2. More often than not, the dough spreads quite a bit when removed from the banneton and when scored (overproofed or not enough strength in the dough? The recipe calls for 2 stretch and folds...can one just add more if necessary?)

3. I'm not seeing a lot of oven spring.

4. The crumb, while light and springy, doesn't have that coveted "holey" texture and is uneven in places.


Any tips or suggestions would be much appreciated!

David R's picture
David R

That's a nice loaf of bread!

I can't answer all of the questions, but...

  • Your unevenness of crumb-hole-size is not significant enough to be any kind of problem, unless you're baking bread for the photo department at an advertising agency. (Extreme unevenness does matter, but you don't have that.)
  • Increasing or decreasing the proofing time, the proofing temperature, and the number of stretch+folds, are always meant to be flexible and under your control. Being able to see and feel when little adjustments are needed, and which ones, comes from failing. So get out there and make some bad bread, so that you can learn something! ?
BreadLee's picture

I don't know,  that loaf looks great.  You may be getting as much spring as possible there.  On the score,  just make sure you're angling the blade.

Nice looking bread!

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

That looks just gorgeous, actually! I think the crumb is perfect - it looks tender, moist and springy and I bet it tastes great. Re the shaping: yes, go for as much strength as you can. Do more S&Fs if you think they are required. If the dough relaxes nicely in between you can do them 20 minutes apart to get more in before too much fermentation gas develops. Also, shape the loaf as strongly as you can, tightening it up for a good smooth tight skin.

The spring looks fine, really. That's about what you will get for this kind of scoring. If you want an ear, then do a single score with an angled blade. Curve the score line off-centre to the top of the boule. Even better, shape the loaf into a batard (longer loaf) and do a single score. It's as if you are undercutting the 'skin' of the loaf to let it lift up.

What do you bake on or in? I find I get the best spring baking either on preheated stones with oven steam for the first 10-15 minutes, or baking in preheated cast iron pots.

Paolina_P's picture


I am new to sourdough too, actually I just (kind of) successfully baked my so beloved first sourdough bread ( second try though ) after thinking nothing good would come out of the oven! I have two loafs, divided from a single bulk of 1.8kg dough (white, rye, wholewheat, einkorn mix) , they both did not rise at all in 12 hour fridge retarding, even flattened a bit, this morning I then decided to let them proof a bit at room temp, as I was hoping to see them alive and bouncy! They both did proof and came to life correctly but then when turning them out of their towel-lined baskets, they collapsed/spread - did not hold shape too much, quite flat looking and I was quite frustrated thinking nothing would happen in the oven. It's really interesting how they shaped up during baking though. Also quite interesting that they are both from the same dough but due to shaping and the way they were baked - they look different from each other.

Mine and your methods differ a bit, I maintain a liquid 100% hydration Rye/Wholewheat starter and I used the methods of Mauricio from theperfectloaf but modifying a bit. Long story short obviously I don't know as much as a professional baker would but I think I can help you with a comparison - see what a difference came out of my boule

Ear present_loaf1

I know it's not perfect crumb, but actually the ear is quite good and taste/texture are amazing, I was so so surprised, taking in mind this was a complete collapsed blob when turning out of the basket! I did bake this one in a preheated cast iron dutch oven (240 C) where the magic happened!

And my batard which also was extremely collapsed when turned out of the basked, looks like this, not so good:

So as you can see the batard has the same problem as you describe - no ear at all and it did spread along the score marks as yours. Obviously yours looks much better as it has risen upwards, like my boule. The difference between mine is that this batard was baked only on a preheated terracota stone directly in the oven ( I did not have a dutch oven that would fit it, it spread very large). Yes I did put water in my oven to steam it up, which definitely maybe helped the slight rise, but obviously it couldn't go upward more as it was quite flat.

So what I can think of in my case is that the dutch oven helped with the ear, as it kept it going upwards, my boule was the exact size of the bottom of the dutch oven so maybe that also helped not spreading but rising up..

Not sure - maybe somebody else could say what's both of our problems, I will definitely keep going and trying!

I stretch and fold at least 4-5 times across 4-5 hours bulk,  2 folds doesn't seem enough to me- but just look how your dough is, I am sure we will both learn and have excellent loafs soon enough!

Good luck,

David Mackie's picture
David Mackie


Can you provide a few more details?

How much white/rye/ww/einkorn in grams or percentage?

How much water?  ie. what hydration is your final dough.

I suspect from the colour that you have a smaller percentage of white flour.  Einkorn has a lower amount of gluten and the gluten is "weaker" so it will not add to the structure of your dough.  Rye also has a lower amount of gluten. 

I suspect from the uneven crumb and the large holes that your hydration was off (too low?) and the mixing was off and the bread did not have the sufficient strength to capture the CO2 in smaller gluten strengthened pockets. Were the sides of the bread cells glassy looking?  This indicates good gluten development if they were.

My suggestion is to go back initially to a recipe with more white flour (unbleached no additives) and maybe 10% - 20% of the other flours to start.   I make a lovely bread with 90% white, 10% dark rye, and a final hydration of between 65% and 75%. In fact today I am finishing a bake with one loaf at 65% and one at 75% to see the difference.  

My loaves today where very good when coming out of the banneton - maybe the best I have seen as sometimes they lack structure and collapse somewhere although I usually get it back in oven spring.  

The recipe I used is from Hamelman - Vermont Sourdough.

My method:

Built 300 g of levain from my starter. I always use the starter and build levain for the bake. I don't use existing starter in the bake but build it specifically for each bake. This way I can control the acidity - or get more lactic acid in the levain by building at room temperature and using about a TBSP of starter. I use 100% hydration for the starter and levain and adjust the flour in the recipe to get the final desired hydration. Depending kitchen temp my builds are taking between 6-12 hours. The final levain is very frothy but not yet collapsed, and shakes like a jelly.  It floats in the mixing stage -see below.

Water - 90F. add the levain to the water and disperse

Add the flour.

Mix in Kitchen Aid 6 qt mixer at speed 2 for about 1 minute - dough is shaggy.

Autolyse for 40 mins. FInal dough temp was 78F which is where Hamelman says it should be for best fermentation.

Add salt and mix for 3 mins at speed 2. Watching the dough to get what I think is good strength. I don't use windowpane as I think (as does Hamelman) when you can see the windowpane it is overmixed and too oxidized.

Bulk ferment. My kitchen is about 71F +- 2 degrees.  This time I planned a bulk ferment of 4 hours but went for a nap and ended up leaving it for 7 hours.  I had maybe a volume increase of 1.5 or slghtly more which is more than I usually do.  I did 3 folds on this bread in the first hour or soe.

Pre shape, bench rest for 15 mins (had to go out so could not leave longer). The dough was easy to work with at this point and I was very happy with it. Maybe the longer bulk ferment really helped in this case. The dough had very good structure. I use Hamelmans preshaping techniques.

Final shaping. The dough was easy to work with. I use Chad Robertsons shaping techniques - I like the feel. The 65% and 75% hydration doughs were very similar which surprised me. Again maybe the longer bulk ferment helped.

I proofed the loaves for 12 hours overnight in the fridge.  They rose in the fridge as well.  When I emptied the baskets they were firm and no spreading at all.  Into the oven (dutch oven method) for 30 mins at 475F covered and this time 22 mins uncovered. I like my bread with good dark crust. Good oven spring.

The keys I think are your hydrations and the mix of flours, the amount of mixing and therefor gluten development, and of course the fermentation.  

I also keep detailed notes of each bake and pictures so I can try and evaluate what works and what does not. I built a spreadsheet (I call it my Breadsheet) to calculate hydrations, flour amounts etc and to take notes.

Here is the result..the bread with the cross scoring is the 75% hydration. I maybe got a little more oven spring from this loaf.  Have not tasted yet.  The bread is not as dark as it looks in the picture  - but I am a fan of baking longer as is Chad Robertson who first did this in his bakery in SF.

This is wordy but I am getting very good consistent results with this method.  Again I think it is your high concentration of flours with low and weak gluten content and perhaps your hydration.

David Mackie's picture
David Mackie

David Mackie's picture
David Mackie