Need Help Getting Started - My Bread is a Brick (Pics Below)

Hello all, 

So I followed a recipe for my starter from Peter Berley's modern vegetarian book.  He claims to have based it off of "Breads from La Brea Bakery".  It uses flour, water, and grapes.  The starter isn't fed very much in the first 7 days or so, but for the last three days (out of a total of about 14) one feeds the starter three times a day (approx. 1/2 cup, 1 cup, 2 cups water/flour at intervals during the day).  My starter is pretty fluid and raised in temperatures between 64 and 70 as it is winter here in Philly.  I haven't a clue about the hydration level of the starter.  Anyway, it bubbles and foams a noticeable amount on the top, but it certainly doesn't double in size overnight.  Is this a requirement despite the hydration level?  I usually feed it equal ratios of flour to water on a per volume basis, not weight.  So when I tried to use the starter per the book's guidelines, my bread needed to rise over several hours (at least 8).  It then asked me to punch it down and then refrigerate.  After an a night in the fridge, I needed to let it rise again.  It did so poorly over the course of another 8 hours or so.  After that, one must roll it out of the bowl, punch it down, shape it into loaves, and then prove it for a hour.  At this point it should double in volume.  So the loaves didn't hold shape and spread across my pan.  The loaves also didn't double in 2 or even 4 hours.  I baked the bread and it was a brick.  I tried to bake another loaf after this failure, but I skipped the overnight refrigeration and I never punched the dough down.  I also proved in a warm oven.  The loaves still took a long, albeit less amount of time to prove and they didn't hold their shape.  They are mostly King Arthur white flour with a little whole wheat.  What could be wrong here?  Do I need to pay closer attention to hydration by buying a scale?  Do I need to feed my started until it can double in volume?  Do I need to use less water in my dough so that it holds together better after proving (it's pretty solid when the dough is mixed and kneaded)?

 

I appreciate any feedback.  By the way, my second batch of brick bread is in the pictures below.  It's also worth noting that my bread has a nice sour flavor.  I am certain that I have both the yeast and bacteria growing in my starter.

Thanks,

Julian

 

 

14 comments

Don't give up!  Don't lose heart!  My first bread looked JUST like yours.  It's a VERY hard bread to make.  The starter is hard - the whole thing is a challange.  And, honestly, my difficulties I think sprung from a lack of detailed info.  In the end I bought 3-4 sourdough books and I've taken the best out of all of them. 

 

Because of this lack of info, I started a blog of my own to track all the info I could and my progress.  I think my bread is pretty darn good now!  So, take a look at my blog (http://sourdoughn00b.wordpress.com/) and then let me know if you have any other questions and I'm more than happy to give you what has been working for me.

 

One thing, though, is that your starter HAS to double.  It's how the bread rises.  Also, I've never punched my bread down, in a few books I read that this flattens the air bubbles you've already created and I found that to be true.  So when I knead the dough I stretch it gently (stretching the air pockets) and fold it over more (creating more large air pockets).  I found this helps it be less dense and have the fluffiest inside. 

Again, though, all of this is what works for me.  Everyone seems to have the meathod that works best for them - but I hope I can help so that your bread is airy!

Although your brick is tasty, nothin says love like a fluffy loaf of bread

I have done a couple of things to assist. 

 

1.  I lowered the water content just by 28 ml/1oz

2. I am rising the bread in a bowl instead of other methods

3. The dough is inside of a cloth towel during the rising process

4. I cover the bead wih plastic wrap for the 1st 90 minutes during the rise and leave it uncovered for the last 30 plus minutes (I live in the desert and the dough has a tendency to get a nasty skin on it!)\

5. I let it rise until it has doubled plus a touch - trained eye ;-)

6 Have patience

 

A good recipe is found on foodnetwork.com under Alton Brown - funny guy!

 

 

Hi Julian,

I had similar issues.  I have several starters, all are yogurt and milk based.  The first instructions I was following told me that when I fed the starter I should double its volume.  So, if I had a cup of starter I was adding a cup of water and a cup of flour.  It languished.

I read elsewhere (I think "Artisan Baking - La Brea Bakery") that it's best to feed by mass and your goal isn't really doubling.  It depends on the position in life of the starter, early on you may be feeding more water than flour (or the other way around, can't remember), but as the starter has reached maturity you're actually feeding 1x flour, 1x water.  So, if you have 1 cup of starter you're adding 1cup flour, 1 cup water, giving you 3 cups starter.  At this point you should wait for it to rise (maybe double in volume) then drop back down.  Once the starter has dropped back down, it's ready to use (and ready to be fed again).

I also switched to feeding by mass rather than measure, it's much more consistant.  If you feed my measure you have the "worry" of whether you've packed this cup down more than you usually do.  Or, is this flour the same density as the flour I had been using.  You can get a nicely featured digital kitchen scale for under US$30.

-John

Hi Julian,

I know exactly what you're talking about with the brick bread. It's interesting that I will always get this result from my rather basic electric fan assisted oven.  However, the very same sourdough ferment will convert to a perfect bread when I bake it in my parents Aga! 

 

Can anyone explain the reasons for this?

 

Thanks,

 

Milo

It's better to buy scales it's so easy especially to start. I'd wait till my starter can at least double and something very important is to use it at it;'s peak of activity. I'd try to get some stronger gluten with fold too. I think you'll be ok if you do that.

My loaves sometimes come out like bricks, too.  From my research, it seems to be that the starter wasn't at its prime - either rushed or over proofed.  I had a starter reviving on the counter today and when I got home from my second job was so thrilled with its appearance I put together a loaf.  I may yet run into trouble, though, because I've been keeping most of my ingredients in the freezer because we got a major mealworm infestation from some packaging.  I tried to let the flours warm by playing with them in my hands.  I also added a quarter cup of warmer water and kneaded briskly for four minutes.  Today was my first try with basket rising - I put a clean cotton napkin that I ground some flour into in the bottom, lightly dusted the top of the loaf and covered with another, then put the basket and a pan of hot water in the oven that had been set to warm for a few minutes then turned off.  It's looking good, but the proof is in the baking! 

Last night's pizza gave even the dog's jaws a work-out.  It was just not a cooking day for me at all....even the cheesemaking went awry. 

Other times, I've had such beautiful loaves I had to resist showing off my lunch to my co-workers.  haha  

The USDA suggests that people place a bay leaf in the bags of flour to prevent infestations. The bay leaf isn't supposed to leave an odor or flavor in the flour. I haven't needed to try it out, yet.

I swear I'd rather see a spider than a mealie.

My sourdough loaves are currently bricks also. I have tried the no knead method as well as starting the dough in my bread machine. Neither is working. I am a little confused about the starter; mine is quite active. Some say the starter should be fully active (does that mean while it is doubled?) and others say use after it subsides. Which is correct? Thanks.

Hello Cookin905, There possibly is no real 'correct' answer as either will give a result. Conventional wisdom suggests that if you start your dough when the starter is at the peak of its activity, then it has a flying start with no need for an induction period to get going again when the new supply of food arrives. However, if you think about it, if the starter has 'peaked' (stopped increasing in volume - but not decreasing) the activity has already slowed. So, from a purely theoretical point of view, if you want to start your dough with the yeasts etc at their most active, you should be using it when the volume is increasing at its greatest rate - rather hard to pick though. So, what does all this mean? I think that the main reason for feeding and monitoring your starter is to prove that it is truly alive and well so that you don't waste your time (and money) making a dough with no possibility of leavening. Much the same as yeast recipes exhort you to mix the yeast with some water, flour and sugar and set aside until it is frothy - nothing to do with being necessary other than to prove that the yeast is alive. My advice would be not to fret too much. It is certainly wise to ensure that your starter is active, but if it is before during or after peak will not make a great deal of difference in the long run other than a (possibly) slightly longer time to produce a proved loaf. Keep on bakin' Farinam

since i'm passing let me mention that

 

1. NEVER go by volume in baking, use weight for everything, 1cup of flour isn't anywhere near 1cup of water when it comes to weight.

 

2. there is all the info you need on this very website/forums, there is no need to look for yet another failed recipe on foodnetwork.com

 

3. start here http://sourdough.com/blog/sourdom/beginners-blog-starter-scratch and you will endup with working starter (yours isn't working if it isn't doubling overnight out of the fridge) and you will endup with great bread

 

 

Bake Me !

Hi everyone,

I am British but live in France. My wife and I have a 4.5 acre smallholding in Central Brittany.  In the past we have raised all our own meat, grown just about everything we needed to eat, cured our own bacon and hams etc etc. In 2008 I had to have an emergency Liver Transplant! Wow you say! Yes I know it is a bit of a conversation stopper.

Anyway, on to breads - since my transplant, we have been unable to keep livestock and now only have a few vegetable plots for our own need. But I do make breads - lot of different kinds of breads!

There are many ways of making a Sourdough Starter, as has been pointed out above.  This is how I made my sourdough starter, which is wonderful and works!

(I find the metric system much easier to follow and I am sure even you guys in the US can use grams and millilitres.)

Take 250 grams of Strong White Bread Flour

1 ORGANIC apple (it has to be organic)

250 millilitres (250 grams) of bottled or spring water (tap waters often contain chlorine and other elements which are detrimental to a natural yeast forming, so only use bottled or spring waters, or waters which you know are pure)

1. Core the apple, wash it well, do not remove the skin, and grate it coarsely.

Add the apple to the flour and then add the water.  Stir thoroughly.  Cover your mixture and leave for 4 days (we use disposable shower caps to cover our breads, they can be dampened or oiled to stop them sticking, and are very re-useable.)  Do not touch your mix until the 5th day.

2. On the 5th day, add 100 grams of Strong White Bread Flour and 100 grams (100 millilitres) of quality water and mix thoroughly.  Cover and leave for a further 2 days.

I have read on this site and many others about quantities and bulk versus cups and weights. You need to use metric scales! The weight of the flour must be equal to the weight of the liquid.  If you use the metric scale - 100 millilitres of water weighs 100 grams. Using cups is useless, flour and water by volume don't weigh the same. If you use metric scales you will get it right every time.

3. After 2 days, add another 100 grams of flour and 100 grams of quality water.  Stir together, cover and leave for 24 hours.

4. After 24 hours, repeat step 3.  After a further 24 hours, you should have a good, strong sourdough starter which is active and ready to go to work making you good breads with lots of volume.

Don't get hung up or worry about your sourdough starter doubling in size.  Scientifically, that's not important.  What is important is that you are forming a good healthy yeast that is growing and will grow if it is fed.

If you only want to use your sourdough starter once a week, you can keep between 400 and 500 millilitres in a sealed jar in your fridge.  2 days before you are going to use your sourdough starter, bring it out of the fridge and place it in a warm-ish place.  It doesn't need to be overly hot and it must not be cold.  Feed your starter with 100 grams of Strong White Bread Flour and 100 grams (100 millilitres) of quality water.  Feed it again 24 hours before you intend to use it with the same quantities of flour and water.  If possible, feed again 8 - 14 hours before using.

You can then follow your standard recipe or follow mine on my blog.

see my blog at http://handymanchef.wordpress.com

I hope this helps.  If I can be of any more help, just ask!

I also have another recipe for organic rye sourdough starter which is also on my blog.

handymanchef

 

 

handymanchef

http://handymanchef.wordpress.com

 

 

not to rain on your parade but your advice to use "1 ORGANIC apple (it has to be organic)" and without washing is a not so great and little worry.

ORGANIC produce can (and almost always does) contain toxic pesticides, so if you want to keep it clean avoid fruit in your starter unless you have your own apple tree and this way you can be sure it wasn't sprayed with any poison

tittle "organic" only restrics types of pesticides but growers can still use all sorts of poisons also not washing fruit that you didn't grow yourself is just plain silly, what if it was handled by someone with poor personal hygine that never washes hands after going to toilet even if they just gone pooping? you willing to take the risk and not wash it next time? if so enjoy the poop.

 

Bake Me !

Yes - OK - I take your point - BUT I have used an organic apple in my sourdough starter and it made a wonderful starter.

I guess I am lucky, as I have said, my wife and I have a 4.5 acre smallholding - ALL Organic, we use NO pesticides or chemicals so I know for sure that what I use is clean - with no added poo!

If someone buys an organic apple from a shop or farmers market - maybe it is a good idea to WASH it!

handymanchef

http://handymanchef.wordpress.com