cracking dough and slashing issues


Hi everyone,


We're new to baking and very happy to have discovered the Sourdough Companion - so inspiring and helpuf!

We've been having some issues with our dough lately and we thought some of you would have explanations as to why it's not working...

Problem 1: the dough cracks during proofing (see picture below)


We are using Shiao Ping's home bread recipe - 140g starter 100% hydration, 280g water, 420g home ground flour (100g rye + 220g wheat), 10g salt.

Method: mix, autolyse 20 mins, stretch/fold 10 mins, proofing 4 hrs covered in oven with hot water bottle, fold and shape, rest 30 mins, retardation in fridge overnight tea towel+plastic bag, slash and bake the next morning.

The cracking appears soon after shaping and gets worse with retardation.

It seems to be worse with the dough proofing in the bread tin, not so bad with the one in the banneton.


2: Slashing has been a problem too, the "skin" is dragging and the lame is not cutting the dough well. Again it works better with the loaf in the banneton and we're getting a fairly nice grigne however the loaves in the tins are not "grigning" at all and they look pretty sad!

3: One last problem (for now!) is the colour of the crust as you can see on the picture above: the sides are nice and golden but the top is white!! What would cause that?


Even though the bread is not the best looking one it tastes really nice!

Any help would be very appreciated

Estelle and Pete



209 users have voted.


Ruralidle 2011 January 5

I have not come across this problem personally but it looks to me as if the "skin" on the loaf is not stretching to accomodate the increase in size when the loaf proves.  I would suggest a number of possibilities:

1 - the top of the loaf is drying out;

2 - you may not be getting the surface tension correct when forming the loaf;

3 - despite following the recipe, you may not be getting enough gluten development.

The last one seems most likely, given that the bannetons look nice, and there could be a number of reasons for that.  Could you try the recipe using some commercial white bread flour?  If you can that will demonstrate if the issue is likely to be related to gluten development (as white flour develops gluten more easily).


As for the colour - no real idea (its not the flour from the banneton causing it, is it?)


Estelle 2011 January 8

Thanks for your reply. Yes it sounds like it's a gluten development issue more than anything else. We tweaked a few things from our original recipe and that's when this problem started so i think it's the flour/hydration bit that needs to be reviewed... Next baking day: wednesday, will let you know!



chalala 2011 January 5

Hi Estelle


The dough is overproving .... the white crust is also an indicator of overproving. This happens to me also and I find it happens much more in summer - those hotter days where the dough proves more quickly and the gluten has less time to develop (this especially with the no/low knead methods) and with wholemeal flour mixes.   

I have found that I need to get the bread shaped sooner (so a much shorter initial prove time - four hours sounds like a long time to prove before shaping!) and then keep a close eye on it so it goes into the oven to bake before it overproves.  Another thing I have found very helpful is to soak the flours (particularly the wholemeal ones) overnight before adding any leaven.  This allows the gluten to develop fully.  Make sure you leave some flour to add to the soaker mix with the leaven as you might find that you end up with too much hydration and a sloppy dough mix that won't shape up properly. 


If the dough is properly proved your problem with slashing should be automatically solved.

Estelle 2011 January 8

Hi Chalala, thanks for your reply. Overproofing - i was wondering about it actually! It's getting warmer here now so proofing should take less time. I will try shorter proofing times on our next baking day and see what happens. I like the idea of soaking the flour but i think i'll change one thing at a time! Will let you know how it went.

aparisi67 2011 January 5

your flour is a constant and should always be considered at 100%......Try the hydration at 75%..This will produce a very wet dough.  Since you are using freshly milled flour you may need to adjust hydration rates as the fermentation process will be somewhat accelerated..After you mix your dough let it rest for 30-40 minutes in the bowl..  Transfer to a larger stainless steel bowl and turn the dough every 30 minutes for the first three hours..this will help with the gluten development..Put the bowl in a plastic bag and depending on your ambient temperature leave it out overnight or retard in the fridge.  This will be your bulk fermentation..the next day scale and do a preliminary shaping of your dough.  Let it rest for thirty minutes..Do a final shape of your dough and put it back in the plastic to do a final proof  usually 3-4 hours....I like to bake my bread in a cast iron dutch oven with the oven temp set at 500 degrees..when you put your dough into the pre-heated pan slash at angled pattern cover and lower the temp to 450..The steam generated by the dough inside the dutch oven is what will yield the beautiful color...From the look of your final rise the dough is forming a crust and therefore cannot expand when cooked.  After 20 minutes remove the cover and bake until done..Hope this helps..

Franz 2011 January 6

Hello Estelle

Unless you have made a typing error in your recipe, I would say you have a hydration problem.

Flour- 420 + 100 + 220 + 70 (from starter) = 810

Water- 280 + 70 (from starter) = 350

Hydration- 350 / 810 = 0.432 or 43.2%   Hydration should be between 60% and 70%

The starter percentage of tofal dough is also quite low..

Total dough weight - 1170

Starter weight - 140

140 / 1170 = 0.1196 or 12 %    20% to 30% starter would be more appropriate.

I hope this will help solving your problem.


Estelle 2011 January 8

Yes i did make a typing error!! Sorry. i use a total of 420g of flour  ( 100g rye+320g wheat= 420g)

your calculation is therefore not correct. The exact quantities are as follow:

-flour: 420g + 70 (from starter) = 490g

-water: 280g+70 (from starter) = 350g

which should make the hydration around 70% but still a low starter/dough ratio around 16% maybe? Can't believe i'm dealing with all these numbers, i used to hate maths!! Maybe they should use bread making as a teaching tool for kids at school, makes it's more fun!

It sounds like there's a gluten development problem and also overproofing issues so i'll try to adjust that and we'll see!

Thanks you for your help

joshuacronemeyer 2011 January 7

 Recently I've been experimenting with some different flours.  One brand that I tried behaved just like the pictures you show above.  It turned out that flour had low protein content.  I'm in agreement with Ruralidle above.  You aren't getting good gluten formation.  You need to try a different flour, something with high protein content.  The nutrition information should tell you what you need to know.  Look for something that is greater than 12% protein.  Kialla was the brand I ended up using when I lived in Australia.


As for the grigne, what are you using to make your slashes?  It sounds to me like your lame isn't sharp enough.  I had a disposable lame that was never sharp enough to be useful.  It wasn't until I replaced it with a lame that used interchangable blades that I had any luck.  Good lame blades are incredibly thin and sharp and it makes a world of difference.  They will go right through sticky wet dough and even nuts and seeds that you might have on the surface of the dough.

molifemo 2011 January 12


I had same problem before,  especially in summer.   In my case, it was because of overfermentation. You can check your culture first whether it is over ripened or not.  If your culture is over fermented, here are some tips that I have found from here. 


- Increasing new flour and water  when you feed the culture if you don't want to change feeding schedule.  

- More frequent feedings would be also helpful. 

- Adding salt a little in the culture. Salt is said to slow down fermentation. 

- Using the fridge to control temperature. Your culture don't want to stand at high room temperature for full time. 


Vigorous bacteria activity in the overfermented  culture degrades gluten network . This is why your dough has cracks on the skin and your slash doesn't work .(  As the gluten network is demolished , the dough tends to be  slack and sticky .  ) 



If your starter is proven to have no problem, then you can look for other factors, like as flour quality, proofing time and temperature. 







chalala 2011 January 25

Hi molifemo


Interesting comments you make about overfermentation.  That also rings true to me.  I'm wondering if you have any further tips on recognising an overfermented leaven.  I can pick it up with the smell, but are there other tests that will indicate when the leaven is at its best?  I've tended to fly by the seat of my pants on this aspect somewhat, so it would be good to get some further advice.


many thanks


jean valjean 2013 January 15

Hmmm I would say over fermentation/proofing issue. The gluten has been eaten away in simple words. is your starter dough very Hungry? the good news is : we have all experienced that at some stage :) and still do !


pjglennon 2013 January 18

Great thread! I had similar problems and reduced the hydration of the dough, retarded the 2nd prove by placing in the fridge and the dough was much firmer and shaply. It scored with a blade really cleanly too, no dragging. I also followed the suggestion to use a Dutch oven for one of the loaves. The results were a fantastic improvement! Thanks for all the posts and advice.

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