The Fresh Loaf

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Troubleshoot my walnut and date sourdough?

tortie-tabby's picture

Troubleshoot my walnut and date sourdough?


I'm not sure why my loaf turned out so flat and dense. I have a few suspicions but I was wondering if anyone could give me suggestions on how to improve.

Starter 150 g
AP flour 300 g
150 g bread flour
Whole wheat 55 g
Water 364 g (76%)
Salt 12 g
IDY (1/8 tsp to supplement starter)

2 tbs oatmeal (soaked then pressed dry)
120 g toasted chopped walnuts
100 g dried dates

1. Feed starter
2. At the same time, mix flour, salt and water for a 1.5 hr autolyse (I know I didn't do this for long enough)
3. Dimple starter into dough and gently fold to incorporate.
4. 3 rounds S&F between 30 min intervals (add soaked oats, walnuts and dates after first round), a total of 2.5 hour bulk ferment
5. 20-hour cold ferment
6. 1 last S&F to help release dough from the bowl, pre-round then bench rest for 1-2 hrs (dough very wet although gluten development looked good, walnut pieces might've been too large)
7. Shape
8. 40-minute hour proof in towel-lined bowl (cut short because the poke test indicated the dough was ready)
9. bake at 500 F on baking stone with steam for 15 mins
10. bake with convection at 470 F for 25
11. returned to oven, covered in foil, for 30 mins at 350, loaf had already cooled for 25 mins



Edit: added extra images




ifs201's picture

If I am reading your process correctly, it looks like the levain build and the autolyse took place at the same time and for 1.5 hours. It is very unlikely that the starter would be ready to be used only 1.5 hours after feeding. In my experience, one would usually use their levain/starter more like 3-8 hours after feeding (depending on temperature, size of feed, etc). It is fairly likely that the starter was not active enough if it had been fed only 1.5 hours before being added to the dough. 

I don't know the temperature of your environment, but a 2.5 hour bulk ferment would be pretty short. In a 75-80 degree climate, I'd probably expect the bulk to still go longer than that.

Third, I was a little confused that the loaf was returned to the oven for another 30 minutes after the loaf had already baked and cooled. I would guess the loaf should have already been fully baked after 15 minutes at 500 and then 25 minutes at 470. Why was it then cooled for 25 minutes and baked for another 30 minutes at 350? I feel that this could be the culprit as it could seriously disturb the crumb that's already began to cool and set.  

I hope you can get some answers from others on this site. 

tortie-tabby's picture

So I returned it to the oven. I think the added nuts and dates made the loaf really dense, so it was hard to tell when it was cooked inside. Do you think 15 at 500 then 25 at 470 should be sufficient to cook any loaf of this size through? I would have thought the same based on other recipes, but I second-guessed myself when I pulled it out. You can see that it still looks a little doughy from the images though.

Thanks for the feedback, you're definitely right about the starter, I shouldn't have fed it was actually peaking nicely when I started baking. I did such a short bulk ferment because I had ruined a dough once before from adding too much yeast, fermenting for too long and letting it all turn into a mush. I guess I way overcorrected my mistake this time.

tortie-tabby's picture

And looking at my other sourdough bakes, I've always done a short bulk ferment. I looked through my browsing history and realized that I did that because I was basing my process off the San Joaquin sourdough which has a 90 minute bulk ferment, so I thought I was being generous already (why is his bulk ferment so short??). From a more careful read of other popular sourdough recipes, you're right, I should be doing a much longer bulk ferment. I think from now I'll stick to one tried-and-true recipe from TFL and perfect that before moving on. I feel I'm playing with too many moving variables.

Also I'm blown away by your bakes, that's definitely something to aspire to!

idaveindy's picture

probably too much sugar.

Based on the photos, you had a dense, "enriched" (from the sugar in the dates, and oil in the walnuts), and wet loaf, that did not bake off enough moisture.  Sugar/dates will hold on to the moisture, as will oatmeal.  

Dates, with a huge amount of moisture, sugar and fructose, behave very differently than dried fruit such as raisins or cranberries.

In my experience, to bake off a lot of moisture, especially a dough that wants to hold on to moisture  (such as  mostly WW or sugary) you need a longer lower-temp bake, one that will not harden the crust and prevent moisture escape.

With such a dense 1.2 kg dough mass, it just takes time for the heat to penetrate all that distance and density and bake the center before the crust seals up.   It's similar to how a big Thanksgiving turkey  takes longer to bake and at a lower temp than a smaller turkey -- if you don't lower the temp for that huge turkey, the outside is over-done before the center is cooked.

Several suggestions to try:

  • reduce amount of walnuts to 100 g.
  • reduce dates to 60 g.
  • reduce hydration by 2% points.
  • reduce initial temp from 500 to 450, for first 15 min, still using steam.
  • stop steam at 15 min.
  • continue baking at 400, (uncovered), for at least 30 minutes.
  • Try it without convection. Convection might dry/seal the crust too quickly for moisture to get out.
  • Testing with an instant read pen thermometer, bake until internal temp (close to center) is 200-205 F*.   Start temp reading at 45 minute (overall) mark. But don't take internal temp more often than 8 min intervals.
  • Keep going even if it takes 80 minutes total.  

Then be sure to let cool for a full two hours (sitting open, not in a bag) before cutting open.  This allows excess moisture in the center to migrate/seep out towards the crust, "re-hydrating" the crust a bit, and evening out the remaining moisture throughout the crumb.

* With my whole wheat high-hydration loaves, I go for a 210 F internal temp.  You're using mostly white flour, which generally calls for 200 F, but your enrichments (oil and sugar) may need higher temps.  So 200 should get you in the ballpark, and you can experiment/adjust from there.

Bon chance.

tortie-tabby's picture

Thanks for the advice! This is so helpful. I definitely bit of a little more than I could chew coming up with this recipe. I just had a bunch of dates walnuts at home and it seemed like a good idea at the time. More research into enriched breads would have helped for sure.

I'll reduce the mass of added fruit and nuts and follow your instructions for baking next time. I will definitely also do more research into how the additives change the dough and affect bake times. I was really happy with the flavor so this is definitely a bake I want to do again soon. Will hopefully post updates! :)

DanAyo's picture

The weight of the dates and walnuts combined were 61% of the total flour weight. That is a lot of weight to ask the yeast to lift and the gluten to contain. Was this a known good formula? It doesn’t sound right to me.

For example - Hamelman’s Five-Grain Levain bread is some what demanding to produce a semi-open crumb and the combination seed and grain add-ins are ~34% of the total flour weight.

My Bad! Idaveindy just PM’d me. I missed something when adding up the total flour. He is correct, it is only 37.9%.

His calculations -

I got 37.9 % addins, not counting the oatmeal.

(120 + 100) / (75 starter + 300 AP + 150 BF + 55 WW)

220 / 580 = .379


Starter 150 g
AP flour 300 g 
150 g bread flour
Whole wheat 55 g

120 g toasted chopped walnuts
100 g dried dates

This percentage seems reasonable. Sorry for any confusion...



tortie-tabby's picture

is a great one, I'll try it out and see how it goes! Thank you! Thanks for giving such thoughtful feedback, I really appreciate it.

idaveindy's picture

For walnuts, check out this page:

1 cup, 117 g of walnuts, scroll down a bit, left hand column, this has 76.5 g of fat.

For medjool dates, see:

Change serving size to 100 g, scroll down, under Carbohydrates, this has 66.5 g of total sugars. Click "more details" and see that it is almost all glucose and fructose, which are even more sticky/gooey than sucrose (table sugar), as separate entities.  

(Glucose and fructose, when bonded one molecule to one molecule, literally make a sucrose molecule, but separately are gooey-er and sweeter.)

--  is good to remember or bookmark. It has calories, fats/carbs/protein, vitamins/minerals for almost every food.


tortie-tabby's picture

on, I really appreciate all of this advice!