Beginner sourdough questions and process

First loaf crumb
Second loaf starting baking
Second loaf baked
Last loaf baked
Last loaf crumb


I've been following this site for a while and (trying to) make sourdough since July 2013. My starter seems good and has been going strong since June 2013.

My results vary greatly and maybe I have been greatly varying my process which is causing me issues.

My first loaf was really quite amazing and I haven't been able to reproduce it again. I make round loaves and have been improvising without a proving basket.

My first loaf was crusty, stood as tall as I would expect, had a great crumb but expanded slightly too much for my cuts which only caused the diamond on the top to be slightly off centre.

Anyway, since then I haven't been able to do that again. I make a lot of fairly flat loaves that seem to spread out on the stone in the oven before they have a chance to rise up and then never really do very much.

My flour is Callington Mill Lite Sifted.

My process is this:

  1. The night before I get the starter out of the fridge and refresh it and leave it out so it is maximim height in the morning.
  2. Get my flour, water, starter and salt ratios according to a calc off this site. I make a 1.3kg loaf consisting of 20% starter (80% hydration) and 60% loaf hydration (tried 65 which was sticky and 70 which was a complete disaster).
  3. Put flour into mixing bowl - form a well in the middle with most of the water at room temp or slightly warmer. I mix my starter into the water in the middle and then start combining the flour gradually. There is no kneading here, just combining, though I do find I have to tear the dough apart to get to the moister part to collect the flour still remaining at the end and add the remaining water to soak it up.
  4. This then sits covered in the bowl with glad wrap for an hour before I turn onto bench to push in salt just until it is no longer visible on the outside. This includes the first stretch and fold at the end.
  5. This then sits on the bench covered for 10 mins between stretching and folding maybe 6-8 times. Usually until the dough gets harder to stretch.
  6. This then proves (correct term)?) until it has doubled in size. Normally about 8-12 hours depending on temperature.
  7. I think remaining part of the process is where I come unstuck. I get the dough out onto my bench again and shape it into a round loaf. I do this by placing my hands on opposite sides of the dough and push my hands under it while rotating. What I observed on the weekend was that rather than having a nice smooth, tight outer surface, it was just tearing and exposing all the little bubbles.
  8. After shaping, I made two cuts on the top in an 'X' and it went into a preheated oven on a preheated pizza stone covered in semolina. The oven was 180c conventional which I don't think was hot enough as it spread out and never really rose. Baked for 1.5 hours (I increased to 220c conventional when I realised things weren't going well after an hour) with a tray of water below for the first half. The crumb was quite sticky and dense still and the bottom was soft.

Thinking back to my first loaf, I stretched and folded it (wrightly or wrongly?) before and after proving, then shaped it immediately and baked it. This seemed to work. It also started baking in a 240c conventional oven which I reduced to 220c after 10 minutes and then 200c after 20 minutes. This had a brilliant crumb, hard, hollow sounding base and crusty outside. I can't remember what hydration it was.

Every loaf I have baked has always had a wonderful sourdough taste so no complaints there. I just need some guidance with my process I think.

Sorry for the long post. I appreciate you taking time to read it and any help you may offer. Thanks.



First loaf ever baked:

First loaf crumb:

Second loaf baking:

Second loaf baked:

Last loaf baked:

Last loaf crumb:

324 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2014 January 29

Hi Anthony,

Have a read of SourDom's beginners blogs on this site.  Lots of useful stuff in these including his Pane francesa recipe which is a good basic recipe (sounds similar to yours and is my standard everyday loaf).  Also have a look at this blog of mine which is done with this recipe.

From what you have said, I would think that you should increase your hydration.  At 70% you might think that the dough is too 'wet' but as it develops properly all comes good.

The other thing is reading you text is you prove the dough for 8-12 hours then shape and bake.  I would think you should be shaping, prove then (slash)and bake.  If you wanted, you could have a pre-ferment stage (maybe another hour or so) after development and before shaping though this is not absolutely necessary. 

For your round loaves, a kitchen colander lined with a tea-towel dredged with (rye - wheat can stick a bit) flour is fine for proving.

Good luck with your projects,


akelsall 2014 January 29

Thanks very much for your reply. I noticed a *very* similar topic from about a week ago which I should have seen. I guess you use that top paragraph quite a lot here :)

I dad a look at your blog entry and looks great. I'm happy that my timing is sort of confirmed where your process from mix to oven is about 8-9 hours.

I haven't tried the (non-wheat) floured tea towel yet for proving and that is me being lazy! I have to scrape my loaf out of my proving bowl and it disfigures considerably, hence the reshape after. This is definitely my next change. I have read rice flour is good here too. I might try rye first.

I think I got my process mixed up when read about making dough for more than 1 loaf. They tend to prove the dough in a single unit and then divide and shape it into baskets for a second phase.

Your loaf looks brilliant. I'll give the colander and tea towel a go and invest in a basket if it goes well.

As for 70% hydration, I feel like I am going to have to close my eyes and take a leap of faith in the process :)

Thanks again for the reply.

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