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The Tasty Brick | Sourdough Companion

The Tasty Brick


I have been trying for years to get a decent sourdough loaf but am still baking delicous bricks - the inside is very dense and heavy.

I have had a starter for about 5 years and it does bubble up really well.  I am starting by discarding half of my starter and then adding equal quantities of organic flour and water ie 100g starter, 100g water, 100g flour and leaving for 12 hours.  I feed two or three times before baking to ensure it is ready.

I use 325g active starter, 162g water, 162g flour and leave 12 hours until active (levain)

I then add 160g water and 160g flour to the levain to make dough.  Knead 10mins until window in dough.

Shape into bowl lined with floured tea towel and leave until it doubles in size (14 hours) Cut some slashes in top and then put into really hot oven 35mins and spray with water.  The loaf is heavy and doughy inside.  It needs to be more airey and light  :(  Please help.




Try this formula.  It makes the most explosive loaves I have ever baked.  

"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose." Jim Elliot




Thanks I will try your recipe!



Hi Sally,

As I read what you have written, you are making a loaf at 100% hydration (equal masses of flour and water at every stage).  I suspect you have missed a number somewhere.

Fourteen hours proving is an awful long time unless it is very cold where you are.  That is the sort of time people would retard a loaf in the fridge so maybe you loaf is very over proved.

The doubling in size criteria can be very misleading.  What does it mean - double the volume, double the height, double the diameter?  Each of these criteria will give vastly different answers if you do the calculations.

I would start by trying significantly shorter proving times, maybe as little as three or four hours depending on the temperature.  Not much to lose and maybe a lot to gain.

Good luck with your projects.



Thanks for your suggestions - I will try shorter proving time.

My starter is 100g flour, 50g water, 50g flour.  I am not sure if my recipe for the dough is correct.. ( quantities of levain to flour /water)  should it be 60% hydration or higher?

Thanks for your time


Hi Sally,

It depends on the type of bread you are making.  60% hydration would be rather on the low side generally, a fairly normal mix would be in the range 70-75% and for pide and focaccia etc higher again.  The dough texture at a given hydration would be affected by the type of flour being used whether wheat, rye etc and whether sifted or wholemeal.

I guess the point that I was making before is that in your first post you appear to have 650g of levain at 100% hydration and add 160g each of flour and water.  In my experience this would be a thick pancake batter consistency not a dough that you could knead.  I was wondering whether you had made some sort of error in the numbers that you reported.

Keep on bakin'



Thanks for all of that.  I will try another loaf with 650g levain at 100% hydration and then add 224g water and 96g flour and knead it and then leave it for 3-4 hours and then bake it - does that sound right?

I am really keen to get out a proper loaf!  I am just baking straight sourdough loaf with white organic flour if that helps.


Hi Sally,

I suspect that you mean 224g flour and 96g water.  That would give you a dough with 77% hydration.

However, you have a very large proportion of levain/starter.  I don't know whether there is anything wrong with this and I have never tried anything like that amount but maybe it contributes to the denseness that you are getting

A more normal approach for a recipe is what is known as the 1:2:3 formula.  That is 1 part levain, 2 parts water and 3 parts flour.  So if you started with 200g of levain you would add 400g water and 600g flour (plus 11g salt) to end up with 1200g of dough.  The Pane francesa recipe that SourDom gives in his beginners blog is similar to this but uses 180g of levain, 320g water and 500g flour.  If you haven't already, you should read his entire suite of beginners blogs.

Perhaps you should also try one of these recipes.

In terms of how long to prove, as I said, it depends on the temperature and activity of your starter/levain.  Timings are notoriously variable unless you have a temperature controlled environment.  What is given with a recipe can only be a guide and you have to learn what works for you.  The poke test can be a useful guide for the state of your proving but it can be difficult to interpret but worth a try.

As they say in the ads - it won't happen overnight but it will happen!


Hi Farinam!


Thanks so much for your help.  What a great group of dedicated people!  It is so good of you to help others..



If you can get a window pain test it suggests the dough must be semi solid.


Try 500g flour 250g starter and 220g water this should give quite a stiff dough if you think you need to you can add a little extra water (about an extra 50 g max.)

Reading your description Sally I would say you are proofing too long.  I also use a high percentage of levain but this should cut down the proofing time.  My dough would collapse after 8 hours let alone 14 hours. For that length of proofing you would need an intermediate knead for the dough to restore its elasticity part way.

I have only been baking for a year and I know what it's like trying to follow recipes when there are so many people saying different things.  You need to start trusting in what you see and feel, observe what happens when things go wrong and see what happens when you change something.

I read all the blogs and articles and made plenty of bricks and pancakes in the process.  Try different things and you will find something that works for you.  The big lesson I have learned is not to get hung up on timings.  Trial and error means by using the same quantities every time I now know pretty well that a fully proofed dough fills my large banneton to just overflowing.  I found that slight underproofing means more oven spring and slight overproofing means a flattened loaf with holes beneath the crust.  

I don't follow the doubling idea, I don't think dough gets much beyond 75% before being baked, it gets to 100% in the oven.

I have found the proofing time depends on how much active levain you use.  More means shorter proofing and vice versa.  The longer your starter has been fermenting the more sour the bread and vice versa.  As long as hydration is somewhere between 60% and 70% I don't worry, the bread will have different textures but all are good.

This is what works for me, keep it simple:

To get a good active levain I start with 100gms of 100% hydration starter (might not have been fed for a week in the fridge).  I used to be throwing out buckets of starter every few days and wasting flour, but how I work now means i only need to keep a very small amount of starter active if I am baking once a week.  Then 12 to 24 hours before starting to make bread  mix the starter with 250gms of flour and 250gms of water (600gms in total) to make the levain.  After at least 12 hours I then add around 250 to 270 gms of water to 500gms of the levain (leaving 100gms for next week) and 500gms of flour and 20gms salt to create my bread dough.  I like to knead and shape because I find it helps the oven rise and the loaf shape, but it works OK regardless of how much kneading and shaping.

Leave it to proof for about three hours then remove gently shape  and put in proofing basket.  It will fill my kilo banneton in three to five hours or I leave it in the fridge overnight and take it out and allow to rise until banneton filled, could be two or could be four hours.  If I leave it much longer it starts to collapse.  Do't get hung up on times, look at what your dough is doing.  With practice, you will know exactly when your dough is proofed.

 My approach means I am giving a small amount of starter masses of food and when it is at its height you give it more food which is the final dough mix so I have maximum activity.  It proofs very quickly and in fact I now routinely refridgerate over night so that I don't have to mix and bake the same day.  I also find I get a better texture and oven spring by retarding overnight.    



Wow thanks for all your help!  I'm having another go now with less levain and will see how it goes.

So close and yet so far away (I was)



Couldn't have put it better myself Burles!


There is clearly a relationship between levain percentage and time to maturity. But Burles, while you say you use a high percentage of levain, if I'm not wrong, you have 250 g flour in your levain (500 g levain at 100%), and add 500 g new flour to make bread dough. So that's a ratio of levain flour to new flour of 1:2.

Salsaff by contrast has 325 g flour in the levain, and adds 160 for the bread dough, so a ratio of levain flour to new flour of 2:1. That's a lower ratio of new flour in the bread dough than Burles by a factor of four!

If you take a fully fermented levain like one that's peaked and starting to collapse (a whole lotta bugs with their food exhausted and gluten in that flour pretty degraded), and add twice as much flour as is in the levain -well now you have a mix that's is mostly new flour. With this you can knead and get developed gluten, and with all the new food available to the bugs get new gas to make the loaf rise. But if you take another identical blob of the same levain and add a quarter of that flour, now you are providing very little new gluten - so very difficult to get any structure, and very little new food - so difficult to get any rise, and it'll be mushy before you know it. It's a big engine with very little fuel.

Salsaff, whether you change to quite 1:2:3 (Like Farinam suggested) or not, I think you will do a lot better if you use a ratio that puts a lot more new flour in the bread dough than there was in the levain. I reckon you need that as a starting point, then sort out the timings that work for that.

Nailed my problem - thanks for your help - hopefully will be better this time.





Thanks for your help - seem to have sorted out my problem which was in the recipe!


Yeah!  Off to the kitchen to test this out...



Hi there,

I had a go at Fredbread and although I mucked it up a bit (forgot to put in the salt and then lost alot of air incorporating it at the end) it is a 'unique' method but it does work.  I am going to have another go at it soon.. 

I also had another go at sourdough using the Dom tutorials recipe and did have a much better loaf than previously it was still a bit doughy and undercooked.  I didn't take a photo :(

I have been using 100% white organic unbleached flour and wonder if I should change it to include 50g of rye.  Would that help?  Still not sure what I am doing wrong.  I really just want a 'normal' loaf of sourdough!

Thanks again for all your help - very cool site!


Hi Sally,

I have found that the best approach is to select a recipe (say SourDoms Pane francesa - sourdough version) and make it a number of times.  You will find that, without changing the recipe, the quality of the bread will improve as you get to understand the dough and how it develops and proves and as your dough handling and shaping technique comes together.

The recipe includes 50g of wholemeal wheat flour which will have the effect of producing a slightly stiffer dough that will be easier to work but with not enough roughage to cause problems with the gluten sheet continuity.  With rye flour, you will probably find that the dough becomes stickier and slightly more difficult to handle.

If the loaf was 'undercooked' after baking for the recommended times, one possibility is that your oven temperature measurement is not accurate.  If you can get hold of an oven thermometer, it would pay to check just to be sure.  Failing having that, try baking with your oven set higher by 10C and if still a problem, next time go higher again.

Good luck with your projects.