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A very flat little loaf, what keeps going wrong?

leafitup's picture

A very flat little loaf, what keeps going wrong?

Hello everyone!

I'm a new sourdough baker, with not that much experience in baking bread generally.

Today was my 2nd attempt at baking sourdough bread (in my 1st attempt it went horribly wrong).


I halved the following recipe as I only wanted 1 loaf:

273g white bread flour

500g all purpose flour

175g brown bread flour

660g water

180g mature levain

18g fine sea salt


I did an autolysis by mixing the flour and water, left it for 30 minutes before dimpling in and mixing in the salt and active starter (passed the float test and had over doubled in size)

Then I did 2 stretch and folds at 15 min intervals than another at a 30 min interval (this took 1 hour total). It felt good at this stage, whenever I stretched and folded I could really feel the gluten developing and the dough getting tighter. I had so much hope!

I then left it to bulk rise for a further 2hr 45 mins in a warm place.

At the end of the bulk rise it had expanded quite a lot and had a scattering of big bubbles on the top. This is where it all went wrong.

When I put the dough out on the table it was quite an expansile mass, it seemed quite wet though it did hold a bit of shape.

I tried pre-shaping (I haven't done this before) and it felt so impossible. A friend was watching me on video chat and said my technique wasn't great and was trying to help with advice. They advised me to cut it into two as though it was only enough for one loaf I was having a lot of difficulty working with it. Even when my technique got a bit better and the dough would come together somewhat tighter and smaller,  it just start flopping outwards when I stopped working with it. Also it was getting so wet with me having to wet my hands and it looked quite milky at the edges.

It looked pretty bad but I just went through with it and tried to shape it and put it in the fridge overnight.

Today I have a realllllly flat bread but it does have quite an open crumb surprisingly, and actually tastes alright.

I would please appreciate any if your valuable insight into what is going wrong. The first time I tried after the bulk rise my dough was almost like a batter it was so loose. I don't know if I'm doing the same thing wrong every time? I don't remember them smelling like they'd overfermented but maybe I wouldn't know anyway due to lack of experience.

Is it just too high hydration for me as I'm a beginner? Is it possible that I'm wetting my hands too much during shaping so that the dough becomes really wet and unworkable?


Thank you so much! I appreciate any advice :)


suave's picture

I would blame it in on the combination of weak(ish) flour, too much water, and not enough gluten development.  Reduce water from 660 to 580-600 grams, and do stretch and folds continuously through the fermentation.

leafitup's picture

thanks for your advice, so I'll definitely reduce the water and keep doing regular stretch and folds. I'll stick with just bread flours for now then and stop using all purpose flour for it.

Also, unlike last time I won't leave the house to exercise and get totally distracted, and will watch it like a hawk this time!

BaniJP's picture

How long did you mix?

This dough would have needed way more stretch & folds. It needs resistance and strength, which you can achieve by folding it way more. Like every 15 min. more, until you have a dough that keeps a ball-ish shape even half an hour to an hour after the last fold.

Given the crumb and flavor are great, it was properly fermented, just not given enough structure. 

leafitup's picture

thanks for your reply BaniJP. I probably mixed after the autolysis for only about 5 mins, then I let it sit for 15 minutes before doing my first stretch and fold.

I will keep a much closer eye on the dough this time and do much more regular stretch and folds.

semolina_man's picture

Overfermented and possibly too warm kitchen environment. 

Read about DDT - desired dough temperature.  It allows the baker to adjust ingredient temperature (flour and water) to achieve the proper fermentation temperature. 

dbazuin's picture

I second this. 

leafitup's picture

hiya, thanks for your advice! as well as taking on board the other members advice I think you're right, my oven light keeps things pretty toasty. I'll keep it out at room temperature (it's quite nice weather and around 20 degrees celsius anyway). Even if it slows things down, hopefully it will make it harder to overferment and I can watch it more closely. 

leafitup's picture

Just to let everyone know I took all your advice on board and my dough is in the fridge overnight proofing as we speak! It was so much easier to shape and not liquidy at all I have high hopes for the bake.


1. I changed the all purpose flour to bread flour

2. I decreased hydration from 72 to 69%

3. I combined the flour and water and did this in advance as I have a habit of missing the peak of my starter. Then I  put in my starter when it was ready and left it for 25 mins before then adding the salt and giving it 30 mins before the first stretch and fold.

4. No popping it in the oven with the light on! I got a thermometer that revealed inside my oven was anywhere between 30-36 degrees ? Instead it sat on the side at 25 degrees.

5. I did the window pane test every stretch and fold which guided me on when the dough was ready. So it was 4 sets of stretch and folds every 30 mins, then another hour of sitting before doing the pre shaping.


I'll let you know how it turns out! All your suggestions have already taken me a million miles further than last time, I'm very grateful.



leafitup's picture

Thanks everyone, here is the final result after your suggestions. Much better than last time and I hope to keep improving!