Bread Flowing Out


I wonder if anyone can help.  I have been baking sourdough for about a year now, but I still have a problem with the shape of the baked bread.  Unfortunately I don't tend to keep note of baker's precentages, but the loaves I tend to make are big - using about a 3/4 kilo of white flour and 1/4 kilo of spelt/rye/wholemeal.  The starter (stiff) is usually half-rye/half-white, and weighs about 300g.   


When I mix the bread, I always add some water first and leave the dampened flour for 10 minutes. Then I add the starter and mix and leave for another 10 minutes. Afterwards I add the salt and additional water. The dough is not at all sloppy at this stage (though sticky), and I knead it three times at 10 minute intervals for about 20 seconds. After it has doubled (goes to a cool place – takes about 8 hours), I tip it out. It is not sloppy, but is soft. I stretch and fold, leave for about 40 minutes, then stretch and fold again. I roll it into a kind of cylinder and place in a baking tray. By the time the bread goes into the oven (about 4 hours later), the dough has flowed out – more or less covering the whole of the tray, much to my disappointment. The bread bakes fine and tastes great but I would like a little more height and definition. I am unsure why this is happening. Maybe I just need to add less liquid at the beginning? But I think the dough would be stiff to knead, and surely that is not the right way to go?            
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matthew 2010 April 22

Have you tried shortening the fermentation and proofing times?  If it's over fermented the gluten will slacken and struggle to hold the shape.  Also, if you don't mind me asking, why do you stretch and fold after the bulk fermentation?  Often that is done during the bulk fermentation.



Karniecoops's picture
Karniecoops 2010 April 22

How cool is the 'cool place' you use for bulk fermentation?  I agree with Matthew, maybe your fermentation and proofing times are a bit too long.

Have you tried using a couche or basket/banneton for proofing the loaf instead of what sounds like the dough just sitting by itself on the tray?  These will still not help if the dough is over proofed though.


Szkot 2010 April 22

How do I know if the dough is over-fermented though?  I put the dough in a cool place because I have always thought that a long, slow rise improves flavour.  I let it rise this long also because I'm out at work, and so it suits.  When I get home the dough has not expanded to approx twice its size - it usualy takes an hour or two still to achieve that.  So I am assuming that that does not signify over-fermentation (or am I wrong to assume that?).


I stretch and fold the dough after bulk/first fermentation, to elongate/increase bubbles.  I have always thought that that was OK to do.  I know you're not meant to punch down dough unless you want a tight crumb, so I don't do this.  Do you think it would be better just to fold the dough over,  without stretching excessively, and not stretch much the bubbles that have been created from bulk fermentation?  And do this just the once?  When I tip the dough out it is puffy and quite upright.  After stretching/folding it is flatter, and after proving flatter still.  When baked the loaf is, at its highest, about four/five inches in height - it tastes fine but the texture isn't as open as I had hoped for (though not completely tight either).  It's just I would like a nice, upright shape, not something that has flat, unseemly bits where the dough has finally come to rest against the edge of the tray.  Yet the dough when initially mixed is not overly wet - it is sticky but only to begin with.  Surely less water would result in a brick of a loaf?                 





Szkot 2010 April 22

I would rather not use a basket - have used them before, with varied success.  I would rather try first to create a good, free-standing loaf.

I place the dough (appropriately covered) near our front door.  In this weather it is cool - not as cold as your average fridge though.      

Muff 2010 April 23

I'm going to guess that you don't need to allow it to rise very much after shaping into loaves, and I'll suggest this: after shaping (or molding or make-up, whatever term you prefer) return it to the refrigerator and allow it to relax for at least an hour, and for as long as over night and then load directly into a hot oven, preferably on a stone or hearth.

You may indeed end up with a brick. Or, you may, as I hope, be quite surprised by the reaction in the oven; with luck the bread will  try to kick the oven  door open and try to walk out on its own. :-)

I does sound to me like your loaves are quite big, perhaps 1.3 kilo? I would expect to make at least two, possibly three loaves from that amount of dough. You might take your fully fermented dough and divided it into two or three pieces, round them up into rough balls, and allow them to rest for a short while, maybe 15 minutes, and then shape them as desired and return to the refrigerator. That would be instead of the folds you are making after the dough has had its long fermentation.

Or my hunches may be all wrong!

Good luck,



Admin's picture
Admin 2010 April 23

I wonder if your salt is fully dissolved after 3 or 4 brief kneads (?), particularly if it is a coarser salt. You could try adding the salt at the start, or even dissolving it in the water. I know, it goes against 'delayed salt', 'autolyse' principles...but the salt will reduce flow of the dough. Salt also reduces oxidisation during mixing...though in your case with such low intensity mixing that would not be a problem. In my own bakery i 2/3 dissolve salt in the water before adding flour, because it is very coarse grey sea salt. The final 1/3 dissolve happens during mixing.

And i agree with other comments above about your very long bulk fermentation. The 'double in size' rule for bulk fermentation does absolutely not apply to sourdough that has a decent amount of ripe starter added. A 20 % to 30% rise is often fine and all we do at our bakery, particularly for slashed loaves. If you are slashing your loaves, 4 hours final proof at cooler temps (8C to 14C) may be enough.

However if you are not slashing your loaves you will almost certainly need further proofing at these lower temps, say 6 - 8 hours, particularly if your bulk fermentation was short or your starter was not completely ripe. Your final, risen dough, needs to be well conditioned and extensible to avoid extreme breaking in the (unslashed) crust during oven spring. Without a form to contain the dough, it can be difficult to achieve the dough you want without it flowing all over the place.

Good luck from me too.

Szkot 2010 April 23

Funnily enough, I used to add salt right at the beginning, along with the starter and additional water, and mix that all up and leave it for 10/15 minutes prior to the short bouts of kneading.  I remember these loaves weren't so free-flowing, actually, after being formed.  I also used to add a grated potato to my starter, and that seemed to help.  The starters I used then were far more batter-like. 


Can I just state: the breads are by no means a disaster; they have some height but I just want them to look tidier. 


A 20% to 30% rise seems really low to me.  But I will try it.  I tend to slash the bread only a few minutes before it goes into the oven.  I get oven spring but it's not too dramatic.  But then these loaves are about 25% wholemeal/spelt etc, which obviously interferes.       

Szkot 2010 April 23

This sounds interesting.  So I should very, very carefully form the dough, trying not to lose any of the volume that has built up in the bulk fermentation?  The dough always looks very good at this stage.  Maybe I should be folding and only minimally stretching (only enough to fold adequately).    

I have always made big loaves of that size; I like them. 


mlucas 2010 April 24

I couldn't quite understand from the above, what kind of bowl/container are you proofing in? Is it a flat pan?

Even if you don't want to do anything fancy for the proofing stage, I still think it's a good idea to prove in a container that resembles the shape you want the final loaf to be. Especially if the container is somewhat narrower than the desired final loaf, so that a bit of "flowing out" once you transfer to peel/pan/baking surface, will still result in the shape you want.

I'm not very experienced, but IMHO if you're baking in a loaf pan you can prove in that, but if you're baking a freeform loaf you really need to prove in something other than what you bake on, (preferably with steep sides!)

Best of luck with your next big loaf!


Szkot 2010 April 28

Does excessive flow cause the gluten in the bread to toughen?  I know sourdough is meant to be chewy but I read somewhere that proving in a basket etc can be gentler on the internal structure.  There's not as much flow once you've tipped the dough out and got it in the oven; there just isn't time.  Whilst my bread is lying unfettered for several hours. 

It's not that my bread is tough, but the crumb is a bit on the firm side.  I find the kids aren' too keen on it, and that's disappointing.  I used to add quite a bit of milk, to counteract this.

I really don't know.


mlucas 2010 April 30

Instead of adding milk, why don't you try proofing in a towel/linen-lined basket or bowl, to reduce the flowing while proofing. It's really quite easy! Just don't be afraid to add a lot of flour when flouring the towel (so it doesn't stick when you take it out). A "generous handful" is a good amount.

And if you have it, someone told me to use rice flour (or a combination of rice/wheat flour), which won't stick as much. But white or whole wheat flour is fine too, if you use enough!

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