The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

What did I do wrong?

BigZ's picture

What did I do wrong?

Hi All, 


I'm new to the forum, though I've seen quite a few posts here before and I love it. I've been baking for a while at home, bread, pizza, naan, buns etc, and being in lockdown I thought I'd try my hand at sourdough.

I followed Patrick Ryan's youtube vid on sourdough, and the starter worked perfectly and was super bubbly and bursting out the jar on day 7. However (my fault), I did not follow his recipe, and did my own thing (mistake 1), and I would really like to know what I've done wrong so I can do better next time. 

  • I mixed 500g bread flour + 320g of water + 320g starter.
  • Left in the fridge overnight for about 10hrs.
  • Took it out, let it rest about an hour, then started stretch and fold in the bowl, having added in about 13g of salt. Did that a few times over a couple of hours. The dough felt very wet and extensible, it was very stretchy towards the end.
  • I found it very hard to shape it and had to sprinkle flour liberally because it just kept relaxing and spreading, managed to get some kind of shape out of it by stretching the corners and sides and 'stitching' at the back
  • Let it prove in the banneton for about 3hrs (it grew maybe 1.5x in size)
  • Oven on at 220 deg C, tray at the bottom for water to create steam, baking tray on the middle rack for the bread, and a big tray turned upside down over the top to create a convection catch for the steam.
  • Semolina on the bottom of the dough, flipped over and baked for maybe 30mins, removed water and top tray for a further 20mins approx. 
  • As soon as I put the dough in it flattened like something out of a cartoon. 


I know I should've followed a recipe (and next time i will 100%), but I would greatly appreciate it if anyone can explain what went wrong and why, and the science behind it. 

  1. I have a feeling that i just baked 100% pre-ferment (I saw something like that in another post.) If that's correct, how did I end up making a big preferment? I thought I was just making the final dough.
  2. I also think my percentages are totally wrong. I thought that I could use 10-30% starter, but it seems that its % of flour, not total dough weight which is what I did. 
  3. Confused about hydration. Using IDY was never an issue, so I thought sourdough starter 1:1 would factor into hydration %, another video I saw (Pro Home Cooks) gives 1kg flour, 770g water (77% hydration) and 150g starter (1:1). Wouldn't 75g flour and 75g water tip hydration to 78.6%?
  4. Why was my dough so difficult to shape,
  5. and why did it spread?
  6. I'm also having problems with the crumb.
    • It's never open enough, even if I try to get steam in the oven, and it seems to dry out quickly.
    • Also I sometimes seem to get tiny grains  that feel gummy (though the dough itself is not gummy).


Thanks everyone, this is a fantastic forum and I look forward to learning from you all!

Stay Safe!



cynic_15's picture

The obvious answer is that you deviated from Patrick Ryan's instructions/formulation. I'm assuming you followed the YouTube video, but there is also a text version which you might find easier to follow. Having said that there are elements of variance between the video and the text version, not least involving quantities and if you followedf the video,then that is where part of the problem lies,as the weight of flour is simply wrong. Don't beat yourself up; I've been hand baking bread for neartly 15 years and unless you have flour to chuck away, I'd stick with non-sourdough bread, something that gives consistent results without attendant tedium and difficulties. One of the things I've found is that initially the prep of sourdough does yield a faint acidic odour, but as the process moves on,this disappears and is replaced by aromatic compounds called esters, these latter are fruit flavours. Frankly I find it a lot easier to get down to my local branch of Lidl and buy their sourdough, one ofthe best I've ever tasted and which pretty much answers to the San Francisco form, though it isn't advertised as such.

BigZ's picture

Thanks for your reply. Yes I definitely deviated from the instructions, but I wanted to get some feedback about the science behind why so I can better understand bakers % and the process. If I just follow the instructions and things turn out well, I won't learn through failure and experimentation. 

Never tried the bread at Lidl, I usually like to get Gail's or from one particular organic bakery in a NW London farmer's market, they have some fantastic bread, but I do want to make the most of this lockdown and improve my own bread making!

phaz's picture
  1. Don't know what ya mean
  2. We use bakers percentages , which means everything is added as a percentage of flour used. This is standard procedure.
  3. Using #2 - 75fl 100% of that is 75w - and hydration is 100%
  4. Too much water
  5. Same as 4
  6. Same as 5, but also could be due to lack of gluten formation, which could be due to flour used and/or length of time from mixing to baking. Lack of open crumb could just be be due to excessive/rough though handling, which seems to have happened.

Try keeping hydration to about 65%, and at least 12 hrs fridge time - no need for any type of handling during this time. Then minimal handling after that. 

Also, since you have a sort of cover, really wet down the dough just before it goes in the oven - a spray bottle with water works great. You won't need another method to create steam. Lastly, bake to internal temp of 200F minimum, but try not going over 215F.

Hope it helps!

BigZ's picture

Thanks Phaz, 

I didn't feel like I over kneaded the dough. I mostly did a stretch and fold, and it became very extensible. I think I was using Shipton Mill Finest Baker's White Bread Flour (No.1), which apparently provides greater extensibility as it says on their website. 

The tight crumb happens a lot to me. I've seen videos of bread that has that openess and structure that you can tear a piece off nicely. I have a spray bottle and have used it - I'll definitely give it a go. 

I don't have a dutch oven, but I do have a ceramic casserole dish with a glass lid. Could that possibly work as a dutch oven?

Also, why shouldn't it go to 215F? I usually just put the oven on 180C and when the colour looks right I take it out (usually spends about 45mins in the oven). 

Also, the 12hr fridge time - is for bulk fermentation or for proving? 



dbazuin's picture

There is also a explanation how the bakers formule works. 

BigZ's picture

Hi Dbazuin,

Thanks, I've seen his videos, quite interesting!

What I want to understand is whether or not a 100% hydration starter changes the hydration % of the final dough. 

For example. If we say 1kg flour, 700g water, 20g salt, 150g starter.

Is the hydration 70%?

Or is the hydration 775 (700 + 75g (water portion of starter)) / 1075 (1000 + 75g (flour portion of starter)) = 72% hydration 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and you can use the search box to find more info.  Also try 1,2,3 and. 1 2 3. Lots of info and a community bake.  I like the fact that I can make any size loaf from x amount of sourdough starter.  

Its a nice recipe to use for comparisons too.  Basically 1 part (weight) sourdough starter to 2 parts water and 3 parts flour.  Two % salt on the total flour (1/2 weight of starter plus flour weight)  hydration is around 71% but use less water when using a refined fine flour, different flours absorb water at different rates so be advised to hold back a little as you are combining ingredients.  Water is the easiest ingredient to adjust up or down. It takes roughly eight hours to go from start to bake with a 123 recipe and you can have fun speeding up or slowing fermentation, adding folds, retards, switching up flours and/or liquids and seeing how different ingredients affect each other.

now simply compare to the posted loaf ingredients.  

If starting with 320 g starter, you will need 640g water, and 960g flour.  Yikes! Unless you want that much dough (6x320= 1920g).  If one starts out with a large % of starter or prefermented dough, be sure to check the recipe hydration and fermenting times.

Other relationships pop out as you become familiar with the 123 type of recipe... one can usually estimate the original amount of starter by taking half of the water amount.  In this case, half of 320g water is 160g starter.  Starter x 3 = 480g flour.  Not far from 500g flour in the recipe.   These figures you can do in your head when trouble shooting a recipe.  Take out a pencil and calculator for more investigation.  

When breaking down a recipe first figure hydration.  Make a list of all the flour and flour like ingredients, then list the water. Add them up.  Take the total water and divide it by total flour.  From the above 320 + 80 = 400g water.  500 + 80 = 580g flour.  400/580= 0,689 bla bla bla. Multiply by 100 (or move the decimal place over two digits to the right) and you get hydration in % or 69%.   It becomes a nice little game to break down recipes and compare them.

Milk gets separated too when using and I will add this because milk or scalded milk is a common ingredient to soften crumb.  Milk contains a little more than 10% milk solids.   For example: 100g Skim milk would be tallied as 10g (non gluten) flour and 90g water.   For each % of fat in the milk there will be that % less water.  Example  2% milk will have 88% water.  Whole milk will have roughly 86% water or 86g of water for each 100g whole milk.  Translated that means if you switch out water in the recipe and use milk it will have a lower hydration and you may have to add a splash (10 to 13% more) to get all the flour wet in your dough recipe.  

Fat and oils are not water.  Sugar will act like water when handling dough.  Butter can vary so read the label, it also contains salt so in 100g subtract fat and salt grams to get water amount.  Recipes with large amounts of butter will be affected but a spoon or two per loaf isn't worth the bother of breaking it down.

I hope this helps.  Now you can look over the initial recipe and understand it more and learn from it.  If you haven't started a sourdough notebook, high time you did.  You can also start at the back of the notebook and work forward because as your breads improve, the most recent works will be the ones you first run into when you open the notebook.  Jot down recipes and break them down.  Start with this post (heck print it out and paste it in.). Knowing hydration and flours used in a recipe and how they feel and react in the dough can improve your skills greatly at "winging it."  Include in your notes date, weather condition type of oven, location, specific flours, rising times etc.  How it turned out and how everyone liked or disliked the bread, be specific.

 I find time converting troublesome so I make two columns one with actual military time as things happen and another with the practical time between steps.  It can happen too fast that you end up with a little pile of sticky notes which chicken scratchings and can't remember where to put them.  Keep your notebook handy in the kitchen with a pen tied to it.

BigZ's picture

Thanks! I never heard of the 1/2/3 but it's easy to remember, nice and simple!

I can see my dough was totally off considering it roughly equates to 5:3:3 (I was aiming for roughly 1kg final dough weight and didn't want to waste starter).

If i go by 1/2/3 and want a 1kg loaf, I should use 200g starter, 400g water and 600g flour - is that correct?

Following this video 15 Mistakes Most Beginner Sourdough Bakers Make his starter is 15% of the total flour weight. If I follow 1/2/3 that would be 33% of the total flour weight. I also see that as you've got 71% hydration with those ratios, you factor the starter in, but for some reason, he doesn't do that. 

I guess another question is how does the amount of starter affect the taste, timings, process etc. Does more starter give more flavour or less? Does less starter take longer to prove? 

Curious to know as well, if you do 8hrs from start to bake, do you start in the morning and bake in the evening? Do you prove 2x, what is your go-to process for this ratio?

In terms of a notebook, I have started trying to keep track of feeding the starter, but I should also note down the recipe, timings etc - that would be useful (and i have time with this lockdown!). 

Also, as I didn't want to waste starter (main reason I just winged it), how can I maintain a starter without feeding it exponentially!? I don't want to keep it in the fridge because it seems more effort to have to reactivate it, but I'm not baking a loaf every day. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

 For one kilo.  Divide weight by 6. (1+2+3=6).

If you want 1k baked bread add on 20% or about that for reduction during baking.

 Your figures include the 20%. So yes.  200, 400, 600

Now  If you want the dough weight to be 1k then:

1000/6= 166.6. Or round up to 170g and that's the starter weight.  2x = 340.  3x = 510

Martin Crossley's picture
Martin Crossley

Nice first effort, especially since you were flying by the seat of your pants.

I fully understand why you are asking the question, and I salute you for wanting to understand 'why' you got what you did, so you know what to change. Good for you.

Reality is however that there is a lot going on, and a lot fo inter-related aspects of the process - so there's a lot to understand... not just in the quantities of ingredients, but in the mechanical processes used to develop and shape the dough.

So you may find it quicker to start with a 'proven' recipe and technique, and then start adjusting things from there.... but you don't have to

That said, it IS possible to develop your own unique approach from basics (this is what I did) but it takes a while and there are quite a few different aspects to understand - that can be a lot of fun though, if you've got an enquiring mind and good staying power!

BigZ's picture

I agree I should probably stick with a simple sourdough recipe and try to get it right first before experimenting as it seems there are so many factors. 

I made Neapolitan pizza last week that turned out really well, best so far (with yeast) and tried to do it again with sourdough starter this week and it didn't work at all, though maybe the starter needed a couple of days to reactivate out the fridge.

I think with regular yeasted bread the process seems more straightforward, but with sourdough am I right in thinking the process and timings can vary much more? 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

i think I've answered these questions , no kidding, at least a thousand times so there are plenty of long answers to each of them.  Can type a simplified version into the site search box and find them easy enough.  Ok for the short answers....

I guess another question is how does the amount of starter affect the taste, timings, process etc. Does more starter give more flavour or less?  The amount of starter (or better said prefermented dough) speeds up fermentation and slow fermentation tends to favour more flavour    

Does less starter take longer to prove?  Yes, obviously, as it takes time for yeast and bacteria to multiply.

Curious to know as well, if you do 8hrs from start to bake, do you start in the morning and bake in the evening? You can. Start being mixing up the dough.  Most elaborate or build a small amount of into a larger one overnight to use the next day.  (once you get the hang of this pattern you can manipulate it using the refrigerator but good to learn the basics first during awake hours so you can observe the dough.  

Do you prove 2x, what is your go-to process for this ratio?  The major difference between commercial yeasted dough and a sourdough is the inclusion of bacteria with the yeast. This changes the method as the bacteria work on the gluten in the dough and you will notice that sourdough loose their shape fast as they ferment.  They will also feel more liquidy as time goes on.  A direct comparison when going by feel, start with a slightly firmer dough with a sourdough than you would with a regular yeasted dough as it will loosen up with time. To deal with this change, sourdoughs are then folded during the bulk rise to regain skin tightness and shape.  There are many ways to go about folding, important thing is to do it with sourdoughs over 65% hydration...or if it looks like the dough is spreading more sideways than up give it a folding.  So in comparing..  a yeasted dough has clearer steps, and a sourdough is like one big long rise with a lot of interruptions.  

In terms of a notebook, I have started trying to keep track of feeding the starter, but I should also note down the recipe, timings etc - that would be useful (and i have time with this lockdown!).       Let's see.... date, weather conditions, temperature of room and dough can include type of water, flour types, starter type, recipe, running time, any changes made from a recipe.  Notice aromas, density of dough or dough feel, any pans pot or special equipment used, type of oven (gas, electric, mini oven, grill, etc.)  and settings used during the bake.  

Also, as I didn't want to waste starter (main reason I just winged it), how can I maintain a starter without feeding it exponentially!?  Yes.  There are lots of ways to maintain your starter.  Look up starter maintenance and read a few ways before deciding.  The main way to reduce starter is just that, reduce to a small amount.  Most keep about 50g in the fridge between feeding.  Anytime you can remove a portion and make it bigger.  Otherwise you can take baths in the stuff!  

I don't want to keep it in the fridge because it seems more effort to have to reactivate it, but I'm not baking a loaf every day.        I bake about once a week or even once every two weeks.  I feed my rye starter by feel.  I usually double or quadruple a teaspoonful  of starter with water and add enough flour to make a paste.  Like toothpaste.  Cover. Let it rise a little first about one third the way to peak height and then pop it into the fridge.  On the counter just keep it small using 10 to 20 g starter to feed.  I don't suggest going under 10 g.  With the fridge stalled starter, don't use it for at least 4 days.  When I want to bake, I take it out the night before remove a spoonful and return it into the fridge for more bakes within a two or three week period.  

I Take that heaping teaspoon ( one per loaf roughly, more in winter, less in summer) and add water and flour for my recipe starter.  Overnight it does a good job between 23° - 26°C.  In the morning, I check the starter by tearing the top open and take a good whiff.  If I like the aroma, taste (do spit it out) and the starter seems very active, a hint of sour and almost or peaking, I mix up my dough. If not active I check the temp and give it a little more time and maybe look for a spot a few degrees warmer to let it mature more.  Depends on the recipe. 

These are good times to write down the behavior of the starter. Maybe a separate section of the notebook or not.  In the beginning you might want to be more precise but once you get the nack of feeding your starter and how it behaves, it seems second nature.  Still good to take notes and taste the starter now and again before feeding it.  You will notice when it's behavior changes and should the yeast power seem to slow down,  give it a feeding and let the starter peak out and repeat for a few feedings before a feeding, third rise and tucking back into the fridge.  Temperature will make a big difference and always worth noting. 

...and that was a little bit longer than the short version....   :)

dbazuin's picture

The tool also gives the final hydration and that incloudes the flour and water from your levain. It asumes your start is 100% hydration.