Trial and Error (Mainly Error)

Collapsed doughThe too-sour loafThe edible loaves

 I've been doing some experimenting this week, without much success. I'm trying to play around with timings to best fit making sourdough into my working week. My first attempt was a no-knead recipe. Now, I like kneading, it's one of my favourite bits of the process. This might sound all airy-fairy like, but it connects me to my bread and I feel as though I know what's going on with it. The dough did a near-24 hour bulk fermentation. By the end, it looked really spongy, but I managed to shape it into a ball. Then I put it into a proving basket and left it again for a couple of hours. That transpired to be too long, and the dough had completely collapsed. I didn't even bother baking it. I know I should have done, but I was too despondent by that point. Then I tried mixing and kneading a dough and leaving that for a couple of hours before shaping the loaf and leaving that to prove overnight. I baked it in the morning and it looked okay, but tasted horrible. Really sour. I was a bit worried about the starter at this point, but it looked and smelled okay. My third attempt was yesterday. I followed the Dan Lepard method I'd used before when I got really good results, but this time I mixed the flour and water first and left it for 10 minutes before adding the starter, then left that another 10 minutes before adding the salt. The loaves turned out fine, but weren't as good as the ones I did on 25th January. I think that maybe I'm not using the starter when it's at it's most active. Oh well, nothing for it but to keep trying!

14 comments

Anne - I can't tell you how great it is to have someone on the forum who doesn't seem to be an expert!  I am beginning to believe that everyone else has huge kitchens, someone to clean up all that flour(!), infinite time and patience to keep trying different recipes every other day, huge families to eat it all, the ability to understand all the complicated technical stuff ...I couldn't even figure out how to reply to your blog (and I consider myself reasonably computer savvy) without using the quote link! 

I love making the bread but I am so frustrated at recipes that don't work and the conflicting advice!  "Always follow the recipe exactly", "If it seems too wet, add more flour", "Add less water in the beginning because you shouldn't add flour later", "Just keep kneading - it will become firm enough after a while". 

But I do so love letching at all the pictures!

 

 Hi Hilary,

I made a promise to myself when I started this that I would post the results, good or bad. There seem to be so many variables with sourdough that the most important thing to be adaptable, and getting too wedded to one method will probably end in disaster at some point. So my reasoning is that so long as I keep trying, and keep a record of what I've done, I'll learn what works for me in my kitchen, which is definitely not huge! 

By the way - I thought your baguettes looked great!  I keep promising myself that I will make some but have stuck to the boules and batards so far.

Hi Anne,

Most of the people on this site are just home bakers like you and I, so don't be afraid to ask questions.

If I may ask, have you read through SourDom's beginners' blog? That might help you with knowing how long to leave the various stages - he describes the windowpane test and the poke test for the end of bulk fermentation and the bake-ready stages respectively. He also has some pictures of an active starter so you can tell how YOURS is doing.

The step you describe of mixing flour and water first is called "autolysing"; adding the salt as the last step in a dough formation is called the "delayed salt method" - you will see both terms on this site, so I hope that helps.

 

I'm not sure why your second bake was so sour - usually sourness increases with things like lower temperature proving, different flours, etc. I can't tell from your description which of those factors it might have been.

 

All the rest of baking is just being available to check for the various developmental stages with your components, so you can work out some timing to fit it round your busy schedule in future.

Hello Anne,

That is the secret.  Persistance.

Stick with the one simple recipe and method and make it a number of times.  It is surprising how often you progress from the 'ordinary' to the 'great' with nothing more than incremental improvements in your technique and confidence in the look, feel and handling of the dough.

SourDom is a great resource and there are loads of tutorials and videos available.  The thing to remember is to pick a method that will suit you.  There is no absolute right or wrong way to do things, mostly it is a matter of personal preference.  The important things are to get the dough properly developed, then to shape it well and let it prove.  Scoring and baking will have some effect on the appearance of the finished loaf but major faults generally have been put in place before you get to that stage.

Regardless, I have rarely heard of a loaf that was inedible.

What I do find interesting is your comment about excessive sourness.  Most comments about taste that I have seen bewail the lack of sourness.  Once again, very much a personal thing I think.

Keep on bakin' and let us know how you go.

Farinam

I have literally just joined the site after stalking it for months and drooling over all the " bread experts" pictures. You made me join Anne as like you  and Hilary I thought i was too much of a novice to join the club. 

I made my own starter last May and i am still baking with it. I live in Scotland and its not a warm climate.  Some of my breads are amazing some are just good but all are still very edible. I've had a few disasters and thats mostly when i try something off the wall and new.

Great advice from Farinham is find a simple recipe you like and stick to it.  Norwich Sourdough recipe is my safe bet. I will post it soon once i work out how too.

The Norwich Sourdough recipe gives you the option of baking the same day or prooving overnight in the fridge and this then gives you a wee bit more flexability.  In my "novice" experience i find that bread baked sooner doesnt taste as sour as bread baked after a longer slower  proof ( its ferment first and then proof second..........is that right ? ....you see i told you  I was a novice, the science is just too confusing). 

  I do find that my bread bakes better when my starter has been fed a  good few times before using it and also when i use the starter just after it seems to have reached its max in size and when its just  starting to fall again.

  I do think real expert bakers out there don't really want us home bakers learning their skills and they do try to confuse recipes or leave out important techniques.  I have read loads of Sourdough sites and found that  one mans method is another mans failure.  Keep trying as its so worth it.  What i love about sourdough bread is that I can eat loads of it and dont seem to get bloated or put on weight.  It truely is a miracle food. 

regards 

Lenohbabe 

I have literally just joined the site after stalking it for months and drooling over all the " bread experts" pictures. You made me join Anne as like you  and Hilary I thought i was too much of a novice to join the club. 

I made my own starter last May and i am still baking with it. I live in Scotland and its not a warm climate.  Some of my breads are amazing some are just good but all are still very edible. I've had a few disasters and thats mostly when i try something off the wall and new.

Great advice from Farinham is find a simple recipe you like and stick to it.  Norwich Sourdough recipe is my safe bet. I will post it soon once i work out how too.

The Norwich Sourdough recipe gives you the option of baking the same day or prooving overnight in the fridge and this then gives you a wee bit more flexability.  In my "novice" experience i find that bread baked sooner doesnt taste as sour as bread baked after a longer slower  proof ( its ferment first and then proof second..........is that right ? ....you see i told you  I was a novice, the science is just too confusing). 

  I do find that my bread bakes better when my starter has been fed a  good few times before using it and also when i use the starter just after it seems to have reached its max in size and when its just  starting to fall again.

  I do think real expert bakers out there don't really want us home bakers learning their skills and they do try to confuse recipes or leave out important techniques.  I have read loads of Sourdough sites and found that  one mans method is another mans failure.  Keep trying as its so worth it.  What i love about sourdough bread is that I can eat loads of it and dont seem to get bloated or put on weight.  It truely is a miracle food. 

regards 

Lenohbabe 

I wouldn't be so suspicious, lenohbabe - this site is run by a bunch of professional artisan bakers who just want to spread the word about sourdough and artisan baking in general.

You will find, though, that the main difference between professional baking (even if it's artisan) and home baking is consistency - mostly because at home, we don't have nearly so much control over environmental factors during mixing, proving and even baking, and we don't have the customer expectations to meet to such a rigorous standard.

Also, a little-mentioned fact is that flours have different properties depending on the particular variety and growing conditions - at that's even leaving aside different grains. We mostly can't control for those things (and as home bakers we don't even usually think about it). That's why you'll often find that a recipe written for a certain country won't work nearly as well in a different country where you've substituted a different local flour, and why most of the advice on this site is about working out the correct stage of YOUR dough, in YOUR conditions. That's true artisan baking - the way people have done it since prehistory.

Thanks Merrid, you've put me in my place. 

Thats the thing about writing things down you just don't get the tone right.  My tone was excited, passionate and exuberant you must have thought it was complaining and woeful.   I am so passionate about sourdough baking that i virtually do it every day.  I did say that the science is my problem and I dont really know when MY dough or MY conditions are exactly right.  So thats where i would love the professional artisan bakers to make it all a wee bit simpler and more detailed in their recipes.  Thats what I meant about them being economical in their recipes and techniques.  I read your reply tone to me as being reprimanding, scolding and disparaging..........but hey i might have also read the tone wrong. 

Dont worry i haven't taken it personally.  Once again for me its all about baking sourdough bread its exciting, satisfying and a learning experience every time. 

I attempted lluisanunez's Kamut bread recipe today and  doesn't look as good as hers but heyho it will be edible i am sure.  I will try to add a wee picture of my effort......which is not one of my better ones but still looks passable. .....You can see my picture under lluisanunez  Kamut Bread xxxx

regards

Lenohbabe

I certainly didn't mean to "put you in your place" - so I suggest you have another look through SourDom's beginner's blog again. I think you might find you're picking up extra detail this time round, which might help. I found his explanations very detailed indeed.

But there's really no substitute for experience, so I'm glad you're passionate about baking. I just don't agree that people are trying to keep anything secret - mostly they're just trying not to overwhelm the inexperienced with too much information.

Thanks !! Merrid SourDom certainly gives away all his knowledge. He explains in great detail and makes it all seem so much clearer................I just hope i can remember it all and put it into practice.   My new bucket list item is to acheive a really wide opening. Dont know if its the scoring, the oven spring, the rise  the bulk ferment or the proving that makes you acheive that.  The widest i have had is about 4 inches and it was when i tried a potato sourdough recipe by Dan someone.

 

I love your blog Anne - the highs and the lows. Sourdough can be so frustrating and then - next time, it works. I made a sourdough loaf today, following the Dan Lepard system which seems to work  for me. I've never got a reasonable slash but this time I did with an oiled razor blade and a pair of scissors. In fact, the slash was huge - so huge in fact that it almost caused the loaf to collapse into four parts. It tasted good too. In my excitement I dropped the loaf as I got it out of the oven. But it just about managed to stay in one piece.

 

Do please keep on posting.

 

 

 Thanks everyone, I am persevering! It's been a very busy week and I was away for work, so I haven't made any more sourdough. I do have one on the go at the moment though, which I'm doing over three days. I did read SourDom's tutorials after my post last weekend, and I found it very useful. I'm going to be away quite a lot during February, so one thing I decided to do was put my starter into the fridge so that it didn't need feeding every day. I fed it yesterday morning, left it on the counter all day and then put it in the fridge last night. So that will introduce another variable that I'll have to get to grips with! Farinam, I am also perplexed about the loaf that tasted bad. I am wondering if something else somehow got into the dough, because I have used both the flour and the starter since and the loaves have tasted fine (even if they didn't look that great!). I am definitely playing a long game here, I realise that there's no substitute for lots of practice and experimentation. The feeling of disappointment when you have nurtured a loaf for so long only to have it fail to meet your expectations can be crushing, but there's nothing else for it but to dust yourself down (literally!) and start again. 

 

Hi All,

 

     I too am trying to fit baking into my work-a-day life and am new to the sourdough method. Like Anne I have decided to post my failures in the belief that it will help others. Reading through the post on here has certainly helped me.

 

     I didn't start blogging till after my first few attempts but I must say they were also VERY sour. I didn't mind but my other half couldn't stand the taste! It turned out in my case that I wasn't feeding my starter often enough. I was keeping it in the fridge and feeding it twice a week. This was partly because it was a 50% hydration starter (as I came to learn) and feeding it more regularly was using up flour like nobodies business. So I decided to keep it out of the fridge and feed it with 100g of flour and 100g of water every evening. It smells much less sour and has started to 'double in size' after being fed, which I find very reassuring. My bread is now much better tasting also and I like the fact that it is ready to go whenever I am. That been said I fed it earlier than usual yeaterday and I think I had the same problem with it not being active enough with the bloomer I attempted this morning as it took forever to knead and was still very sticky.

     

     I know some people on here have talked about having 'slow' starters. If this is the case I think I must have a 'fast' starter. It usually takes about 5 - 6 hours to prove my dough in a warmish spot. I have been experimenting with mixing some dough on a Friday or Saturday night then popping it in the fridge. I find it still need to come to temperature and rise for about 2 hours in the morning, but if it goes wrong it does mean I can still bake something else to make up for it.

 

I would be interested to know if this is the same for you? I wonder how much variety in starters there really is?

 

Hope this helps, sometimes you just want to know 'am I normal?'

 

Happy baking everyone !