The Fresh Loaf

A Community of Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts.

First Sourdough Bake

teejaye85's picture

First Sourdough Bake

Hi Everyone!

I baked my first sourdough yesterday, with sort of mixed results.  I thought I would drop a few pics into this thread and see if the experts can help me tweak some variables for next time.

I want to preface all this by saying: I have never eaten sourdough bread in any context ever before this.  So it's possible some of the things I'm going to describe as problems are actually just known differences with sourdough bread vs something baked with storebought yeast.

Ok, on to what may be kind of a lengthy post filled with unorganized ramblings :)


  • 100g WW flour (robin hood)
  • 400g Unbleached AP white (robin hood)
  • 330g H2O
  • 100g Starter (100% hydration starter made/fed with same WW flour as the bread dough)
  • 10g Salt

I autolysed for roughly 1 hour, mixed the rest of the dough ingredients, did some gentle mixing/kneading for a couple of minutes (just pulling and folding), and then did coil folds in a pyrex pan roughly every hour or so throughout bulk fermentation.

think I bulk fermented for roughly 8 hours, although I did lose track.  This is my first theory on where I went wrong; I may have over-fermented?  I used a trick I saw online where you take a small piece of your dough and put it aside in a little container and use it as an indicator of how much rise has occurred throughout the fermentation.  Seemed like a good idea, since the relative volume of the main dough is tough to gauge while doing all the folding, and there are so many variables (temp, etc) which could make a fermentation period managed purely based on time inconsistent.

Issue is that my little "indicator" piece never rose by a noticeable amount at all (in fact just out of curiosity I still have it set aside and roughly 24 hours later it still looks pretty much the same--I suppose it could have risen and re-fallen while I was asleep, though).  So I was waiting waiting waiting....eventually I ran out of day and figured "let's just bake and see what happens".

The dough came out of (2 hour) proofing--which I did in a makeshift banneton consisting of a towel in a mixing bowl--looking pretty much like a pancake.  Again, since I was out of day and figured this was a first-time experiment, I went ahead and baked anyway, honestly expecting a hockey puck to come out of the oven.

Much to my surprise, it actually sprung.  A little inconsistent and weird-looking, but actually kind of sort of looking like a baked bread :)

I've included a close-up of the crumb below as well, as I'm curious what people's thoughts are on the look/texture of it.  To me, it seems like the parts of the crumb that aren't holes are very dense and almost leaning towards feeling/looking like uncooked dough (incidentally I did an internal temp check when removing from the oven and all was ok, so I don't think I underbaked, but that's certainly a possibility).  This is one of the main things I alluded to in my intro:  maybe this is just what sourdough is like?  I will say that, just at a high level, this loaf feels very heavy for its volume compared to yeasted ones I've baked.

My other main theory (which I didn't know where to inject within the narrative) is that maybe my starter wasn't quite ready for primetime?  That would explain the "indicator" not rising for sure, and I was honestly 100% convinced this was my problem right up to when the bread sprung in the oven...that threw me for a bit of a loop, as, if my yeast is inactive, where'd all those holes come from? :)

My starter is roughly 10 days old, and easily more than doubles on itself every day, so think it's ready to make bread.  I prepared for the bake the night before by making a 1-3-3 offshoot (I guess that would be a levan?) separate from my main starter, and when I incorporated it in the morning it seemed like it was in the sweet spot (nice and bubbly, more than doubled in size, a little bit sour-smelling...), but this is still one of my main theories for where I went wrong...maybe my starter is still too young and weak to be making bread?

Anyway, I think that's about it for my kneejerk thoughts.  Really enjoying this process, and hopeful that some of you with a bit more experience under your belts can help steer me closer to that ideal loaf.



Abe's picture

It does need more time though. It's under fermented. Knowing when the ferment is just right comes with practice. I'm sure it's still delicious and you'll enjoy eating it. Your starter is young and will continue to mature over the coming month or two. This is what is called a 'false crumb'. It has good, often excellent, oven spring. All appears well on the outside but the crumb tells a different story. Now unless you live in Antarctica 8 hours bulk ferment for 20% starter would be more then enough time for the bulk ferment. In fact with that time scale one would expect it to be over fermented yet yours is under so that tells me the problem could very well be with the starter. Is it simply not ready yet or used too early after being fed? Continue giving your starter TLC over the next week and see what happens with the next bake. FWIW at 20% starter i'd expect the bulk ferment to be around 3.5 - 4 hours give or take. 

teejaye85's picture

I really appreciate the quick and thorough response.  I guess my little "indicator" wasn't lying to me after all!

So I'll refocus on starter management for now.  I'll keep feeding throughout this week as you suggest in preparation for another attempt next weekend. 

I'm beginning to think that my starter may actually be peaking while I'm asleep.  I generally feed once a day somewhere between 6 and 8 pm depending on when I get home from work.  After my mediocre experience this weekend I was planning to transition to two feedings a day, so for the first time I have my starter "growing" throughout the day and its going way faster than I assumed it would.

I think maybe for my bake next weekend I'll do something like 1-5-5 the evening before (instead of the 1-3-3 I did this time) just to be sure I'm not actually missing the sweet spot while I sleep!  It's possible that this time around most of my workers had already gone dormant or died by the time I tried to put them to work? (I'm still not entirely clear on how the science works, but getting there!)

Thanks again for your help...without this post I would have probably been chasing an over fermentation problem, the exact opposite of my actual issue! 

Abe's picture

Once a day for a starter that's bubbling up no problem is going to be not enough unless it has a really big feed or you keep a very low hydration starter. 

1:5:5 is a nice levain build for overnight. That's a good plan. 

For now try 1:2:2 or 1:3:3 (depending on how strong it is) twice a day. This should strengthen it up nicely. As for most of the workers going dormant or dying off I don't think it'll happen so quickly. I have had my levain peak quite a few hours before using it and it still churned out a decent sourdough loaf. I'm thinking it just needs more time to build up a healthy yeast population and a little closer attention to good feeds and catching it as close to when it peaks as possible (but don't drive yourself mad). If you find 1:2:2 peaks too early for twice a day then up it a bit to 1:3:3 but twice a day should be fine. 

For the next bake try a 1:5:5 levain build 12-14 hours before moving onto the final dough. And look at videos and recipes to see how a dough should look and behave when the bulk ferment is done. It really comes with practice though. 

Benito's picture

Hi Teejay many of use have had worse first bakes than yours so don’t feel too bad. I have to agree with Abe, you crumb shows signs of underfermentation.  


To assess the proofing/fermentation ignore the big holes first.  What is the crumb like, are the alveoli in the crumb tiny and tight then more likely to be underfermented.  Is the crumb overall actually pretty nice and not tight then not underfermented.  Then the large hole characteristics next.  Are there large tunnels through the bread and not necessarily immediately under the crust?  This along with the tight crumb equals underfermented.  Are the large holes immediately under the crust?  Do these large holes show in them signs of gluten breakdown with thin broken gluten strands?  Then this points towards overfermented.  Then look at the profile of the loaf, decent oven spring or excessive oven spring is more associated with under proofing whereas flat profile is more associated with overproofing.


OK now you mention the aliquot jar, I wrote a post on this website and posted a video about the use of aliquot jars, they are HERE.


When looking to see if your starter or levain has peaked and is at optimal leavening ability, don’t just look for a doubling and call it at peak, my starter and levains generally peak at 3.5-5x rise.  Instead look for the dome to just start to flatten, that is when the starter or levain is at peak.  Abe has given you good advice so I won’t repeat his advice on strengthening your starter.


teejaye85's picture

Hi Benny, I just realized that despite reading and absorbing both responses, I only ever responded to Abe.

Just wanted to drop a quick note to say thanks!  I'm going to do two-a-day feedings on my starter this week and give it another try this weekend.

Thanks for the extra info on using an aliquot (and giving me a name for it!); I read through all the comments on your post and watched your video as well.  Super helpful stuff, which I will definitely incorporate on the next round.

Thanks again.  In the week or two that I've been around, I've noticed you're quite prolific around these forums and I assume I speak for everyone (especially other newbies) when I say thanks for taking the time to help out!

Benito's picture

You're very welcome Teejay, we are all new at one point and were helped by others, so it is good to give back when we can.


anmoo's picture

From one newbie to another, I think your loaf looks great! ;)