having terrible results with sourdough- help please?



I have only been baking sourdough for a few months, once or twice a week, but I feel I really should be getting a good loaf by now. All the recipes I have tried end up being too dense and sour and I am the only one in the family who wil eat it. Inevitably much of it goes to the chickens. I always only bake one loaf at a time as it is such a waste to make two or three such loaves.

I am keen to nail this as I live in the countryside where all bread is white and sliced and crappy- supermarket style. Down in Melbourne there are excellent artisan bakeries- such a shame there are none in more rural areas. We seriously need some culture up here.

I am interested in making a basic loaf that is about 50% whole wheat or rye or spelt- as I will not feed my kids white bread. If you have any really great beginners recipes for 50% wholewheat / wholespelt sourdough, please, please lead me to them :)

I am specifically looking for a recipe using 50 %whole spelt and 50% white spelt with a rye or spelt starter, but have not found one anywhere. I use freshly ground flours- and we don't eat yeasted breads.

I have been following recipes from various sources with no great results, so I am thinking it could be the fresh flour or the culture? hate to think I am just a total failure :(

Anyone have any ideas about difficulty with fresh ground flours?

I have both a rye starter and a spelt starter- both seem active, I energise them for 6 hours before I start a recipe. I always get a nice risen dough that does not collapse when touched. But I always get a dense sour loaf that needs toasting to eat.

 My gas oven runs hot and is fan forced- the fan can't be turned off, so I feel the bread bakes too quickly. Can I turn it down and bake slower? what is the lowest temperature I could bake at ? I will be buying an oven thermometer today to see what the temperature really is n the oven.

Any help is greaty appreciated- even just a link to the best fool proof wholemeal sourdough recipe you know.

Many thanks



250 users have voted.


Seaniz 2012 November 10

How about posting some details about your sourdough to start? 


Also, if your recipes are 100% spelt that could be your problem as ive heard that spelt doesn't rise as well as wheat. Try a 50/50 mix to start and then once you get good results go 60/40  then 70/30 spelt to white bread flour.

here is a pic of the 3 loaves I baked yesterday:


40% kamut 20% rye 20% whole wheat

yogaguerilla 2012 November 12

Oh they look so delicious! Just the kind of bread I aim to make- love the look of the crust.. my mouth is watering, I can imagine a large slice with lashings of organic yellow butter.

Any chance of the recipe you used?

I have been using the bread cookbook: Classic Sourdoughs by Wood and Wood, just sticking to the simpler recipes. Have also tried a few internet recipes.

I tend to make my dough in the evening, knead it and let it sit overnight at about 20 degrees celcius room temp, then knead and shape in the morning, rise a second time for 2 hours then bake. I dont have any mixers, etc it's all by hand.

I bought my rye culture online a few months ago. When I do a spelt bread I start a spelt leaven a few days in advance.

The starter is very active, though starting now to get a grey liquid on top that I mix in. It is kept in the fridge and I always activate it for at least 6 hours with fresh flour etc before I start my dough. I freak out about waste so I never discard any, just add a 1/2 cup of fresh flour and 3/4 cup of rain water to it. It is very sour tasting, too much so for my young children.

I just bought a thermometer to test the inside temp of the bread, an oevn thermometer, and some gluten flour which I hope helps with the spelt rising.

I think I'll stick to making chappettis for a few days though- fool proof!




Seaniz 2012 November 13


If you want your bread to be less sour you should stop refreshing your starter with so much flour and water. Unless you plan to throw out most of it or bake regularly I use my whole starter (about 200g) let my bread rise and cut my starter back out again before I shape the loaves. This way the starter is fresh and clean. Part of the sour flavour you are obtaining comes from a buildup of waste products that inhibit the yeast. I try to keep it very simple that way I have time for everything else  7grain sourdough Ingredients1000g flour (70% 7grain 30% white) 800g water 20g salt  1. Mix together 300g 7grain flour and 200g white bread flour.Place 500g water in a bowl, add 200g starter, if it floats (mine always does as I bake nearly every day) I add the flour mix from above and  allow it to rise overnight.  If it doesn't float just add the weight of the starter in flour and in water (for example use 50g starter and add 50g whole grain and white mix and 50g water). Let rise for 4 to 8 hours and proceed with the rest of the recipe.  2.The next morning add the rest of the water and flour from the recipe (300g water and 500g more flour 7 grain and white in same proportions).  Cut out the 200g starter and place it in the fridge (this way I have skipped plenty of steps. Why feed the dough and the starter separately when you can feed them at the same time)  Flatten the dough adding 18g salt and knead for 5 minutes letting it rest for 5 or 10 and kneading for 5 again as its a pretty wet dough it's hard to knead without adding too much flour, the resting helps. Also, possible to give the dough a turn (lift dough out of bowl and allow it to sag and stretch in your hands, replace in bowl with sagging bits on top) every half hour for 2 hours instead of kneading as this is a pretty high hydration dough.  3.Then another bulk ferment of 3 hours until it rises to double it's size. Shape into two 900g loaves (i like to make 2 relaxed batards) let rise for 3 to 4 hours more in a basket.  4. Score the loaves (I usually bake them 1 at a time) bake at 450 for 40 minutes on a stone ( with a Corningware dish full of boiling water to keep the dough moist for that all important tough crust)  Trust me, this works. I used to keep a separate starter but I was just wasting fridge space and time not to mention throwing out flour and water every time I refreshed it. What a waste! Now I just keep a small bowl that slowly rises in the fridge until I bake with it again. Oh yeah, sometimes I use 100g starter for a sweet bun recipe that takes 200g milk but no water ... I usually just use the 100 that's left for my next 2 loaf recipe of 'normal' bread and it doesn't seem to make any difference in flavour or speed of rising. I have never added anything except flour and water to my starter and I'm not about to sully it now.
Olivier 2012 November 12

hi Heidi,

you say you wait 6 hours to use the starter after activation and use it. it could be enough, but try putting a little bit in water. if it floats, then it's ready. my starter takes a good 12 hours, though it is just a white starter.

also, i personnally wouldn't use rain water as rain carries dust, sand and other non commestibles.

I also use sourdough classics which i love. Ed Wood is quite strict about the temperature at which the dough prooves, and he wrote to me that i was living on borrowed time for not using a proofing box after I emailed him about something else. his recipes are quite low in hydratyion, which can make bread more dense. I occasionnally add 50-100ml water to his recipes.

Hope you get the bread you want soon!



yogaguerilla 2012 November 13

Thank you for your very detailed response Seaniz, that is very kind of you, and your tips very useful too Olivier ( I have found the sourdough classics recipes very dense but always too timid to add more water )

Olivier, I use rainwater that is filtered as the town water comes from the local river and is highly chlorinated- to the point where you cough in the shower from the fumes. I do worry about the algae in the rainwater tanks though, hence thorough filtering. I am a bit concerned that the silver in the filter may affect the dough, as it is antibacterial. Something I heard of somewhere.

Seaniz, I can't easily get 7 grain flour here, but I can get rye, wheat, spelt and oat- all freshly ground, plus white from the supermarket.

Could I perhaps make up a mix of those, leaning towards more whole wheat, to make up the 1 kilo of flour? 70% whole grains ground into flour may be too heavy though, me thinks. 

I LOVE the idea of cutting the starter back out of the dough- that makes a lot of sense to me. I hate waste so much I reckon I was a Puritan in a past life.

Should I 'rinse' my starter to get it back to a less sour state before proceeding? 

Many thanks,


Seaniz 2012 November 17

Hi Heidi,

Nope, no need to rinse your starter especially if you keep it as a stiff dough.

Don't worry about rinsing your starter. When you put your starter into a recipe and then take it out of your dough just before adding your salt you've done all the rinsing you'll ever need to do.

I think I've discovered an additional benefit of using your whole starter and then taking it back out before salting your dough ... I found this morning that the dough was much easier to knead before adding the salt! I kneaded it for about 5 minutes to make sure it was well mixed and then I took the starter out (I'm now working with a smaller starter to see if it changes anything so I took only 75g out of each of my 2 recipes).

When I added the salt to the dough it took a few minutes before I felt the salt was dissolved but the whole process was easier and the dough was much easier to knead both before adding the salt and then once the salt was added. I did the same recioes 2 days ago when I took out my starter at an earlier stage.

Anyway, no need to rinse your starter but if you don't think you will bake again soon (next 3 to 5 days) you should add as much extra flour to the starter as you can giving it a good 3 minute knead allowing to become very, very stiff. This will give it more than enough food to survive for a while in the fridge (let it sit at room temp for 1 hour before refrigerating).

By the way, no thanks needed. I'm so happy to be able to share and help others discover the wonders of real bread! 


I've given up trying to post pictures to this site but here are my latest breads. Yummy!



Oh yeah, by all means mix it up. I like to try different flour mixtures whenever I can. Try 50/50 to start and experiment with higher percentages of the other grain unless it's a gluten free flour that is (I don't like bricks for bread). I use a lot of white flour especially at the beginning of trying a new recipe, but I've never tried using less than 30% white.

davo 2012 November 18

I don't know what percentage of levain you use in your bread dough, but for me (where the bread dough is about 3.5- 4 times the weight of the levain, if I mixed and let it sit all night at 20 deg, it would be well past optimal to shape, prove and bake. While I have no idea of your recipe (other than that detail), it just seems way too long before shaping, and only 2 hours after shaping seems (to me) way too short. Personally, once I mix dough (usually at night when home from work), I bulk ferment about 3 hours or so, then shape and retard in a fridge overnight. To put the times in some perspective, if I left the shaped loaves at 20 deg all night, they would be overproved soup and would bake dense. WHen it's very cool I can get away with leaving them in the laundry where it drops to around 10, and they will just make it to morning. I do the fridge retard so I can bake the next evening. If I was doing a bake straight through (say, mixing dough in the morning when I didn;t have to work, my bulk ferment would be around 3 hours as I said, then the shaped loaves would prove in banettons typically 5 hrs at 20 deg, then bake- total 8  hours.

Maybe you could try playing with those times.

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