The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Flat as a pancake

nickg's picture
nickg

Flat as a pancake

Hello all -

Looking for some help troubleshooting a problem. Over the last few months my breads have been failing to rise and I haven’t really changed anything in my method or recipe. 

Ive been keeping a close eye on my starter and it is rising/falling within 12hrs-doubling in height. 

The bread recipe is as follows:

800g KA Special Patent Flour (12.7% protein)

100g Bakers Authority Stone Ground Fine WW (13.2% protein)

702g Water 

180g Levain (overnight build 1:2:2)

18g salt

I’ll usually try to autolyse for about an hour. 
Then slap & fold for 8-10min until the dough starts to smooth out. 

I’ll do anywhere from 3-5 folds throughout bulk. 

I’ve been generally seeing the dough completely double in about 6hrs. Then, I proof overnight in the fridge for ~12 hrs. Bake at 495 degrees for 30min covered and 20min uncovered at 450. 

Again, this has been my method for quite a while and have got some great results and then things started going downhill and can’t figure out the variable that is causing this. The one thing I’ve noticed is that the bulk time has increased, but I’ve been chalking that up to cooler weather.

Any thoughts are appreciated. 
Thanks!

 

 

 

 

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

You are probably not feeding the starter in a balanced "enough" fashion in terms of frequency and feeding ratio, in relation to what it _needs_.  Therefore, it got weaker over time.

Go to the user page for "phaz", and then his "Track" tab. Within the past 2 or 3 months he has given excellent advice on this.

You're about the third person to have the "starter got weaker over time even though I have not changed anything" problem.

I believe you about not changing anything. The starter has slowly changed itself, probably because it is not getting what it needs in the long haul.

Good luck amigo.

nickg's picture
nickg

Could it be consistently rising within 12hours if it were inbalanced though? As the seasons change I do typically vary the ratio I am feeding my starter. Currently, it’s cold here so I’ve been feeding 1:2:2 with about 75 degree water. 80%AP 20%WW. 

Also, I should mention. The bread itself is not dense. In fact, it looks like there is good fermentation. Just no rise. 

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

In my opinion, Phaz, Abe, and Debra Wink are the 3 foremost helper-experts on starters here.

Phaz and Abe have recently addressed this very topic several times.

So rather than repeat the scores or hundreds of their comments on the subject, I'll refer you to them:

phaz:  https://www.thefreshloaf.com/user/53930/track

Abe: https://www.thefreshloaf.com/user/160677/track

I am not able to explain it better than they already have, so I'll content myself with pointing you in their direction.

--

If it is not the starter that changed, then one of the other ingredients has changed.... or you have made some change in procedure.

Input + process = output.

If the output has changed, then either an input or a process has changed, or both.

--

Another thing to keep in mind when doing "detective work" is the concept of "false equivalency".  All of us, but especially new bakers, sometimes substitute one thing (ingredient or procedure) for another, thinking they are equivalent, when in fact they might not be.  

The "culprit" can sometimes be one of those kinds of substitutions/changes.

phaz's picture
phaz

After the starter rises and falls, what happens 12 hrs later if you just stir it up without feeding? 

nickg's picture
nickg

I’ll have to test that out. 
I’ll typically try to feed it as it is beginning to fall from its peak or shortly after. 

Out of curiosity, what should I be looking for and what is the overall benefit if I stir and let it rest another 12hrs? 

Thanks!

phaz's picture
phaz

Your looking for what the starter does. That's all for now. Enjoy! 

nickg's picture
nickg

Ok cool, I’ll give it a test and report back. Thanks!!

nickg's picture
nickg

I think there is some fermentation happening here  it doesn’t look dense, just flaattttt  

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

"That's a whole different kettle of fish."

I misinterpreted your original post.

I really flubbed this one. Very sorry. 

 

nickg's picture
nickg

LOL. No problem. A picture is worth a thousand words. I figured that might help out. 

any other thoughts after seeing the pic?

texas_loafer's picture
texas_loafer

correct it looks like its almost 80%. Maybe your flour won't take it. If you changed lots of flour or it is absorbing humidity??

nickg's picture
nickg

You’re right. It’s 78%. I’ve experimented with lower hydration without much luck. 

I do typically use KA Bread Flour and this was KA special patent, but the protein in both is practically the same. Maybe a .1% difference between the two. 

If it were summer here I could see the humidity being an issue, but it’s dry as a bone. My thermometer/hygrometer is telling me is 30% humidity in my kitchen.  

Abe's picture
Abe

From the description I was expecting pancakes. That's a nice looking 'flop'. Don't think the starter is the issue here as it clearly rises and punches air pockets in the dough. So with the starter out of the equation something else has changed.

Are you using different flour? If so that points to gluten and/or hydration. 

Has the weather changed? That points to hydration and/or fermentation time. 

When troubleshooting something like this I like to go down the no frills route. Drop the hydration and knead the old fashioned way till the gluten is strong. See if you get an improvement.

As an afterthought just what is your starter maintenance and prep for a recipe? 

nickg's picture
nickg

That’s what’s bothering me. I can see the fermentation is there but just can’t figure out what the issue is related to the rise. 

I have switched flours. About 8 months ago I bought a bulk order of KA Special Patent so I’ve been using this. I feel like I did get some good loaves with it though for a while. Certainly the weather has changed and I’ve been trying to adjust water temps accordingly to keep my dough temp the same. 

 

For my starter, I am usually adjusting based on my kitchen temp. I don’t have a dedicated controllable area to keep it. But when I am not baking it’s in the fridge and then pull it out around Tuesday and feed until I’m making the dough on Saturday. I either build the levain the night before or early Saturday morning and use a young levain. Which is actually what I prefer from a flavor standpoint. 

as far as regular feedings, usually twice a day and feeding anywhere from 1:2:2 to 1:4:4 and adjusting water temps to try and keep the schedule at 10-12hrs between each feeding based on ambient temps. I usually feed it 80% AP and 20%WW. I did try swapping the WW for rye and using the rye at about 10% a few months ago but didn’t see a big difference. 

Abe's picture
Abe

How about 2% salt of total flour, lowering the hydration to 70% with no autolyse. 

  • Flour 100% (80% bread flour + 20% wholegrain)
  • Water 67%
  • Salt 2.2%
  • Levain 20%
  • Bread Flour 400g
  • Whole Wheat Flour 100g
  • Water 335g
  • Salt 11g
  • Levain 100g 

For the levain build: 10g mature starter + 45g water + 45g flour (about 12 hours, use when active and bubbly should have a nice aroma) 

No fancy stuff. Mix flour and salt then make a well. Add the levain and water to the well. Form the dough. Knead till full gluten formation 8-10 minutes till you get a strong smooth dough. Ferment till about doubled then shape and final proof till ready about 1.5-2 hours. 

I've halved your recipe. Better to make a smaller batch while you figure this out.

nickg's picture
nickg

I can give that a shot for sure. Thank you. 
Just to confirm you are suggesting increasing amount of salt from 2% to 2.2%?

Abe's picture
Abe

That'll help too! The salt is 2% of total flour. And the final hydration ends up at 70%. Both have been worked out to include the levain. 

nickg's picture
nickg

Ahh I see how that sakes out now. Thanks

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

but I do read a healthy starter.

I am willing to bet your starter is so darn healthly your now proofing times are too long.  Shaping and chilling at "double" might be too fermented and getting it chilled earlier might be your solution.  

Mini

nickg's picture
nickg

Interesting. It is still taking a solid 6hrs to double. So it isn’t like it’s happening “too quickly”. I can always try for a 30-50% rise on the initial bulk instead of 100%. Perhaps I’ll lower the temp in my fridge as well to prevent any additional that may have inadvertently been happening. 

attaching a pic of my starter. This is from this morning, so we’re about 9hrs in right now. Fed it 1:2:2

 

 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I know, hard to resist.  But if you shorten the bulk time, leave everything else the same.  

Another option would be to use less starter in the dough.  The pictures show a very ripe active starter.

 

nickg's picture
nickg

Thanks! Going to give it shot!

nickg's picture
nickg

Alrighty–so thanks to everyone's help here and a little trial and error over the weekend it looks like I'm headed back in the right direction.

 I think overall, it was a combination of over hydrating this new flour I am using and perhaps pushing the bulk a little too long.

The attached image I just pulled out of the oven this morning and was only ~68% hydration with a 5hr bulk 20% levain.

I haven't cut into yet, but if the other loaves I baked this weekend were any indication my guess is it might be a little under proofed. BUT–the good thing is that I know have bread I can actually make a sandwich on. 

I think the next step for me will be keeping the hydration low while using this flour and continuing to push the bulk a little further each time to see what this dough can handle.

 

Thanks again everyone for your help!