In need of some tips!

Loaf after baking
Sourdough from the side
Sourdough, crumb view

Hey everyone!

My sourdough adventures have just begun, and I could really use some tips!

So far, I used recipes from Paul Hollywood's cookbook, which has a section on sourdough. 
His recipes call for bulk fermentation of about 5 hours and then about 12 hours of proving, both 
at room temperature. The result was very flat, and quite sour sourdoughs. Not untasty, but definitely not
good either. 

Recently, I was very, very happy to find this website, and made a sourdough using the tips in the beginner's 
guides. I used the folding method, so I hardly had to knead the dough and left it to prove in the fridge for about 
12 hours. This is what it looked like:

I baked the bread on a baking stone at 220 C for the first ten minutes, spraying it with water every 2 minutes. Then I turned the oven down to about 200C and baked for another 25 minutes. Before baking, I gave it two slashes. This is what it looked like:

* The weird flabby at the left end of the bread is there because I made the bread slightly longer than my baking stone, 
so it was hanging over the side during baking* 
The results were markedly better (disappointed in Paul!), but still not quite what I would like them to 
be. My first flat loaves were probably awfully overproved, I now know, but I still have lots to learn. 
This crumb looks better than the dense flatness of my earlier breads: 

Unlike what I read on this website, my sourdough did increase in volume quite a bit overnight in the fridge. 
It did rise a bit in the oven, which was a first for me, so that was very nice. However, the dough is still quite saggy
and doesn't hold its shape quite as nicely as I can see on other pictures on this website. 
Now I did not use a proving basket for my rectangular loaf, and used a towel to wrap it in overnight, as the 
beginner's guide descrives. The resulting loaf in the beginner's guide looks very perky, as if it was baked in a tin.

I would really like to know how I can get a better shape and of course any other tips and tricks would be most welcome!

Thanks in advance! 

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farinam's picture
farinam 2013 May 28

Hi Marmara,

I would say that what you need is practice.  You don't say exactly what recipe you were using but the basic texture of the loaf looks OK.

One possibility is that it is still a bit over-proved with the spreading and the pale crust.  By the way , are you confident about your oven temperature.  With the temperature regime that you give, I would have expected a better browning if it is not over-proved.  I also assume that you gave the stone a good pre-heating before you put the loaf in to bake.

The other possibility is in your shaping of the loaf.  It is important that you get a smooth tight 'skin' when you are shaping that will help to hold the loaf together.  You should also give it some sort of support during proving.  You could try making a boule and use a colander lined with your cloth or if you have some sort of a long narrow cane basket you could make a batarde.  Or failing that, if you have some timber offcuts (say 50mm square) you could use those to provide some lateral support.  There will always be some spread as well as rise during proving - less support equals more spread.

The recipe that SourDom gives in his beginners Blogs (Pane francesa) is a very good basic recipe that you should try and make it a number of times until you get the feel for the development of the dough and the look and feel of the proven loaf.  Don't blame the recipe, more often it is the method that brings the improvement.  The important thing is to know when the dough resists being stretched and tends to spring back after you do stretch it.  It can also be stretched into a thin 'window' - almost transparent - without tearing.  Once the dough is developed to this stage, then shape the loaf and leave for final proving.

And it will increase in size in the fridge.  The yeast activity does not stop, firstly because it takes time for the dough to cool through from the temperature that you have been working at, and second, because at refrigeration temperature activity continues whileever there is food available just at a much reduced rate.

As I said, practice is the way to go.  Once you crack it, you will wonder what all the fuss was about and then you can branch out and try your hand at whatever takes your fancy - but you must never think you can stop learning.

Good luck with your projects.


Marmara 2013 May 28

Thank you for all your tips Farinam! As I said, I have loads to learn, so I appreciate any extra knowledge I can get from people with more sourdough experience :) It might still be a bit overproved indeed, next time I am going to try a couple of hours less in the fridge and maybe less 'warming up' time out of the frdige before baking. Also, I will experiment with proving baskets (improvised or bought), but I had not done that yet because the recipe in the beginner's guide said that just the towel would be fine. The baking stone had been preheating for about 75 minutes, so I suppose it was hot enough. Temperature wise my oven might be a bit off, I will keep a closer eye on my oventhermometer. As for the shaping, I will practice, and practice, and practice . Of course, tips and insights are still most welcome!

shasta's picture
shasta 2013 May 28

Hello Marmara,

Farinam, gave you great advise.

I would add that I too think the loaves looked a bit over proofed.

I have found that a good simple recipe practiced over and over again will teach you to have a feel for where your dough is in development.

This is a link to a posting I did where I list the recipe and give the techniques I used all the way through. Take a look and see what you think. Feel free to ask questions.


Good luck!

Marmara 2013 June 13

Hey everyone!


Thanks to your tips, my second loaf was already a lot better!

I decreased the proving time from 12 to around 10 hours, kneaded a little more before the proving, also decreased
the extra proving time out of the fridge after a night of proving. Finally, I left the loaf in the oven longer and put the temperature up a bit, so it was at least 230 in the beginning and around 210 for the rest. Oh! And I proved the loaf in a bowl, covered in a teatowel (and a plastic bag overnight). 

The results were a lot better, but the air-bubble structure was bit dense, any tips?


Unfortunately, I can't find how to add images other than with an url. And since my pictures aren't online anywhere, I don't know how to add them! (any tips for that...? ;P )


So, making progress, thank you :)



Merrid 2013 June 18

If it was nicely browned (so probably not over-proved) but still a bit dense, it may just be your shaping technique. That does require practice and makes a big difference to the amount of rise you get.

If the recipe you used was similar to the one on the BBC website, he's making a fairly flat bread from the picture. The recipe has final prove at 4-8 hours after the initial bulk fermentation of 5 hours, so I think he must be working in quite cold temperatures - it seems very long for bulk fermentation at a room temperature of around 20°C.

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