Need Some Help


 Today was my second attempt at baking sourdough bread. I made a white sourdough loaf and a spiced fruit loaf (both recipes from the book Bourke Street Bakery). I used a white starter (equal flour and water) which is about a month old and going along beautifully. While I was reasonably happy with the taste of the bread, both loaves cracked on the side and bottom and are very dense and heavy. The shape of the white sourdough loaf is also irregular. 


Recipe - 

405g white starter

765g bread flour

400ml water

2 tablespoons sea salt


Makes 1.5kg of dough.


Method -

I mixed the dough for 10 minutes and let sit for 20 minutes (covered with t shirt). I then divided the dough into two and kneaded both for 20 minutes, mixing in the salt and mixing the spices, raisins and currents into the spiced loaf. I left both loaves to bulk proof in separate oiled bowls for an hour. Both were knocked back and left to sit for another hour. I then placed them in cane baskets and in the fridge for 9 hours. In the morning when I woke up I took them out of the fridge and let the spiced fruit loaf sit for 2 hours before baking. The white sourdough loaf sat out for an extra 40 minutes as I baked both loaves separately. Before baking, I heated the oven (fan forced) to 250 C. After placing the bread in the oven, I knocked the temperature down to 220 C. I sprayed both loaves lightly with water and sprayed the oven for about 10 seconds. I baked both loaves for 40 minutes and turned the baking sheet around a couple times.


Both loaves begun to crack after around 10-20 minutes of baking. I baked 2 white sourdough loaves last weekend and it did the same thing, although not as bad. I used organic bakers flour last weekend and a different brand this time and it didn't seem to make much of a difference. I'm thinking it's my technique which is the problem. I noticed when resting the dough and taking it out of the fridge in the morning it seems to develop a firm skin on top. I cover the dough with an old t shirt when it is resting. Am I maybe using too much flour when kneading? When shaping the loaves I follow the book which includes a pretty elaborate process of folding in thirds and rolling (kind of hard to explain without showing pictures). 


Any suggestions?


Am I dividing the dough at the right time or should this be done after knocking back? When is the best time to fold in the spices and fruit for my other loaf?


Also, both loaves have been scored (about 2 cm deep) right down the middle.


Bottom of spiced fruit loaf.



Bottom of white sourdough.

275 users have voted.


Muff 2010 August 22

I'd say that your technique is fine, except that the bread wasn't proofed (proved) enough before loading into the oven, and yes, you may have stiffened the dough some by using too much flour in handling..

Since it had so much time in the refrigerator before you took it out in the morning I am going to suggest that next time you make it you give it a little longer to "relax" after the final make-up before refrigerating it.

DO continue with the deep scoring, which helps the dough reach full volume by providing "accordion pleats".

DO try to minimize the amount of flour you work into the dough. Remember, kneading accomplishes gluten development but time does too- and a dough that is too sticky and soft to work now may be a little easier to handle in 30 minutes or an hour, and it will be fermenting at the same time- you can replace kneading with waiting and turning, and that means that you don't have to work a lot of flour into the dough to make it easy to handle.

Long fermentations of a soft (high hydration) dough at a fairly low temperature favors the lacy, shiny crumb that makes such a good-eating loaf.

You're well on the way- just keep at it.

Good luck,



benh 2010 August 22

 Thanks for the suggestions. When I take the dough out of the fridge it is usually around 6am and it is winter here at the moment so it is a bit cold. I will minimise the flour and leave it to prove longer.


When is the best time to divide the dour to shape the separate loaves? I'm guessing people here bake more than one at a time. The book indicates to divide just before shaping the loaves to put in the baskets (and in the fridge) but I'm unsure whether that is also the best time to be folding in more ingredients (like the spices and fruit) into the other loaf.

benh 2010 August 25

 Okay I baked another loaf this morning and it turned out a bit better. It did crack slightly on the bottom of the loaf but it was still easy to slice and eat. 


What I did differently this time -


3 diagonal slashes before baking

Proofed for 5 hours in the morning after taking it out of the fridge (where it sat for 11 hours)

Sprayed water on bottom, side and top of loaf before baking

Baked at 200 degree celsius instead of 250.


It did not rise as much this time but I think that was due to the lower heat. Also, I am still finding the loaf far too dense and heavy. I forgot to let the dough sit after shaping into the basket and before placing it in the fridge. I will try this next time.


Any other suggestions for a lighter and less dense loaf? Am I using too much dough and not stretching it out enough when shaping? I have bought sourdough loaves from various bakeries around here and they are about half as dense as what I have. It's okay for toast but not really anything else.

rossnroller 2010 August 25

Hi Ben,

Do you make sure your starter is ripe and at its peak of the current feed cycle when you use it?

I think your oven temp is too low @ 200C for the entire bake. I find it works well to start with a maxed out oven: 250C in my case (fan off...although others may differ on this). I drop a couple of ice cubes on to a tray in the bottom of the oven and leave it for a couple of minutes before loading the shaped proofed dough on to a pizza stone or baking tile (both the tray and pizza stone having heated up with the oven). Then quickly spray a few bursts of water into the oven from a plastic spray bottle and shut the door. Two minutes later, I give it another quick spray, then shut the door and turn the oven down to 225C. My baking times can be summarised as follows:

15 mins @ 225 (after initial 250C and two sprays)
Rotate bread, then 12 mins @ 215
12-15 mins @ 200

This is a general guide. Different doughs and sizes will alter the baking times; hence, I take notes every bake (almost!), so I have a record of what worked and what didn't, and can make tweaks in future bakes.

As for proofing, you need to do a poke test, rather than going by time - ie: when the dough is in final proof stage, poke it with your finger. If it springs right back and doesn't leave an indentation, it's underproofed. It is ready when your finger causes an indentation that only partly springs back. If it doesn't spring back at all, your dough is overproofed.

Also, I wonder if your spraying the dough top and bottom before loading it is hampering the rise? I know some recipes direct that you spray the loaf before loading, but I never do, having found it works well to spray it in the oven as mentioned above.

Are you de-gassing the dough before your final shaping? I know some bread gurus recommend this, but I've found that treating the dough very gently gives a lighter, more open crumb.

Hope some of this might help.



benh 2010 August 29

The day before mixing the dough, I take the starter out of the fridge and feed it 50g flour and 50ml water at 1PM. Then at 9PM I feed it 100g flour and 100ml water. The following morning at 7AM I feed it 200g flour and 200ml water. By the afternoon it is usually bubbling and double in size. I then start mixing the dough, rest/autolyse, bulk prove, knock back the dough, and shape into cane baskets before putting it in the fridge overnight. Then in the morning I take it out and do the final proof and bake. So kick starting the starter, mixing and baking is done over 3 days.


I have tried the poke test but it doesn't seem to help. When I do the final proof in the morning I poke it after a few hours and it indents and springs back slowly. After 4 hours it does the same thing. Maybe it's just too cold here in Perth at the moment? In the book Bourke Street Bakery, it says ideal temperatures for the final proof are 25-27 degrees C but it doesn't hit 20 degrees here until the afternoon. Unfortunately my kitchen is open so I can't warm it up easily. I have been putting my dough near the heater to try warm it up.


Here is a picture of my loaf from today - 


rossnroller 2010 August 25

I'm in Perth too! You shouldn't need to warm your dough up like that.

8 hours between feeds of your starter in these cool ambient temps may not be enough to allow it to peak. Try giving it 12 hours before mixing up your dough next time and see if that makes a difference.

I'll post one of my most reliable recipes along with my current proof times if you like. Since we're in the same place, what works for me should also work for you.

What flours are you using?

BTW, the crumb you're getting as per your pic looks OK. I wonder what you're comparing your bread to when you say it's 'too dense'?

benh 2010 August 25

 I'd be very interested to see one of your recipes. Originally I used Eden Valley organic bakers flour but now I use Laucke Wallaby bakers flour. To be honest, I haven't really noticed the difference between the two, but that's probably got something to do with my baking. In regards to the crumb, I guess I'm comparing it to the sourdough I used to buy from Baker's Delight.


Also, I've found even after proper storage (in a bread tin), the bread is stale within a day and unusable for sandwiches. I suspect this may have something to do with the density of the bread?

rossnroller 2010 August 25

I haven't tried the Bakers Delight SD and don't intend to, but I used to buy their pane de casa before I began baking my own SD bread. Not bad for a franchise yeasted bread, but from what I've heard of their SD, it's bland and dumbed down - ie: probably lighter in crumb and less complex in flavour than a good artisan SD. That might explain why you regard your own SD as 'dense'? That said, you can do lighter SD breads at home, too.

Re the bread being stale after a day - I used to think the same. To my taste, a home-baked SD is still best on the day of the bake, but over time I began changing the way I perceived bread. You know some Europeans won't even cut into some types of SD bread for a few days, because they consider the flavours need time to properly mature?

The crust loses its snappy crispness next day, and the crumb loses that fresh soft feel, but it's certainly true that flavours start to develop and some complexities come through that were not present on day one. Once you start to enjoy that, the perception of 'staleness' alters. Also, toasting can lift your older bread so you continue to enjoy it.

With storing, I reckon the best you'll do is a thick brown paper bag folded over a few times to keep the air out, and put in a plastic bag. You might find that excludes more drying air than a bread tin...but maybe not.

I only use Eden Valley, so can't comment on the Laucke. I believe it's excellent, though, so I'm sure your flour is not an issue.

Send me a PM with your email address and I'll give you one of my old reliables to try, along with detailed directions.


faithh 2010 August 26

For what its worth, (you've had plenty of good advice I see) the main points I notice are;

proofing - I proof 6-10 hours, in this weather (Melbourne) on either a sunny window sill or near the stove when I have it on.

I add one teaspoon baking powder (helps with fluff)

kneading- minimal kneading and no knocking back, only one quick knead. (Sometimes no knead at all) Minimal extra flour added as just makes it crumbly

-oven on highest possible setting for 15 mins and then 45 mins on slightly lower setting.

-always cracks a bit but is fluffy.

-bowl of water in oven to keep air moist

faithh 2010 August 26

Forgot to mention; I've never heard of a sourdough being stale after a day? Mine keeps for two weeks unwrapped in a bread bin on the kitchen bench. The 6 yr old has it for his sandwhiches every day and it certainly isn't stale. I had always heard that a sourdough is best eaten 12 hours after baking, before this the fluff hasn't developed properly and this is what I've noticed with ours The person I heard that from had worked at Loafer Bread Organic Bakery in Melbourne for years.

benh 2010 August 26

 I think my loaves are just underproofed. I've just made some dough and increased the bulk proof to 3 hours and also let it sit in the banneton for an hour after shaping before refrigerating. It did seem to be slightly larger in size this time but it may require even more time. Also, I'm guessing it feels more stale quickly because it has such a closed and heavy crumb.


I did two knock backs this time instead of one which, after reading afterwards, probably wasn't a good idea. I made a mess of shaping it into a batard as well but I guess I'll learn after a few more tries.


I was reading that after kneading you should be able to grab a small amount of dough, stretch it and make a transparent window without it tearing. I tried it after 20 minutes and it seemed to tear pretty easily still.


Oh well, I'm looking forward to seeing the results tomorrow.

benh 2010 August 29

First off, I would like to thank everybody here for the suggestions. I baked a loaf this morning and it turned out to be my best so far.





Flour - 380g

Water - 200g

Starter (100% hydration) - 200g

Salt - 10g


Basically the same original recipe but everything halved to make only one loaf.


What I did differently - 


1. Used way less extra flour when kneading, knocking back and shaping the dough. The hydration of the dough is is already low enough (53%).

2. I actually did less kneading this time. Instead of kneading 20 minutes straight, I had a 5 minute break half way in between. While this probably didn't have much of an effect on the final loaf, it did show that I didn't have to work as hard to develop gluten. After looking at some videos I also changed my kneading technique.

3. Previously I did a 2 hour bulk proof after making up the dough and did my final proof in the morning after refrigerating and before baking. This was useless and my dough was not rising, probably due to a few things. First, I was using too much flour when mixing and a tough skin was forming while it was sitting the fridge. I believe this made it hard for my dough to rise any further. Second, it may have been too cold in the morning for it to wake up and start feeding again. This time, after kneading, I let it bulk proof for 4 hours with two knock backs during that period. After shaping the loaf I also let it proof for another two hours. As soon as I got up in the morning, I took it out of the fridge and baked it. I also baked at higher temperatures again (250 degrees for the first 10 minutes, then down to 240). It produced a great crispy crust.


One thing I still have trouble with is shaping the loaves into batards. I pushed a lot of air out of the dough because I shaped it too big for my banneton. I then had to reshape it a few times but it turned out to be pretty forgiving. After letting it proof again in the banneton it sprung back up. A few more attempts and I'm sure I'll get the hang of it.


The loaf did crack slightly on the bottom but not as bad as before. It didn't split at the sides. I'm guessing it cracked on the bottom due to my poor shaping skills as you can see it is along the seam. Also, my baking sheet warped even though it is suppose to be suitable for up to 260 degrees. I think maybe because the sheet is moving it is stretching the dough during the initial spring back.



Anyway, it turned out tastier, had a more open crumb and is less dense. It was fine for sandwiches unlike my previous attempts. All I have to do is refine my shaping skills, look for a better baking sheet and it'll be all good!


Thanks again everyone.


rossnroller 2010 August 29

Seriously, Ben, you may find you get improved results by not kneading at all. As you'll have noted from the recipe and directions I emailed you, I don't knead. Stretch and folds are all that is required to develop the gluten. Much less effort, and I think the gentle treatment helps to produce a lighter, more open bread.

There are some breads and other baked yummies that are best kneaded, so if you like it (as I do sometimes) there is plenty of opportunity, but for SDs, I reckon the 20 minutes you're doing is over the top. Why don't you try stretch and folding only and compare the results?

Better looking bread this bake, though. You might try extending your bulk proof by one more hour if you're going to bake without retarding overnight...that bursting through the seam may be due to your shaping, as you mention, or it may be a sign that your dough is still underproofed. I suspect an overnight retard would resolve the issue.

We're all learning all the time, and with knowledge and experience comes improvement. That's one of the most fascinating aspects of bread for me...there are always new methods, recipes and flours to try and skills to develop. There's no chance of perfection, and no chance of getting bored. The mystique of it all is never-ending.


apsleybakery 2010 September 1

With your leaven refresh I would suggest cutting back on the existing leaven you use. You may not be providing enough food at each refresh. So, for example, your first refresh you are adding 50ml flour and 50ml water; I'm assuming your chef leaven is 50ml. Use 25ml of the chef and increase the flour and water to compensate.

I recommend the folding method as well.


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