New and need help.


I am new to sourdough. I have been playing with it for about 8 months now and have maybe 150 loaves under my belt. I have two good starters that I use, one that I am fermenting an added cupof cracked grain mix in the starter (Red Mills 10 grain) and a standard starter.  I am getting great flavor, good sour and a fairly consistent loaf.

The issue is that my bread comes out "cakey". I get small uniform holes and cake like crumb that is fluffy and reminds me more of a store bought bread rather than an artisan style sourdough.  I use an AP flour.  I pour half a gallon of starter into my bowl, add a Table Spoon of sea salt and then add 1 1/2 cups of flour.  I stir till I get ribbons, then mix by hand until I get a ball. I remove from bowl and knead and add flour gradually untill I get a ball that is springy and does not readily stick to the counter.  I proof the dough in two bread pans which usually takes around 4 hours for the standard starter and 12 hours for the starter with10 grain. I bake the bread at 400 degrees for 40 minutes with a pan of water under the pans on the bottom rack. I get a good crust, great flavor and good sour, but the bread is fluffy and cakey rather than holey and chewy.

How do I get that shiney dough with large holes and chewier?

263 users have voted.


Thraundil 2012 August 8

That sounds like a lot of starter compared to the amount of flour you put in. I'm a little rusty with imperial measurements but a half gallon starter = almost 2 liters, and the 1½ cups of flour you add to this is ~a half liter or so? This gives the leaven relatively little to work with. Try it the other way around - make a small amount of starter (maybe a half cup), and then add flour and water up to your regular amount of dough. 

In addition, you say you proof and bake in pans. This might limit the "oven spring" of the loaf. Do you cut the surface of the loaf prior to baking? A standard sourdough proofing will make small bubbles in the bread, they only become large upon the expansion of the trapped gas as a result of heat. 

Klickitat 2012 August 8

I have not been cutting my loafs.  Can you please explain "oven spring", I have seen the term several times but do not know what it is and how it works. Thanks.

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 August 8

Hello Klickitat,

Oven spring is merely the amount of rise that you get in the oven mainly due to the expansion of the gas distributed through the dough during development and proving with a bit more added by the yeast activity before it is killed off.  However, oven spring can be affected by such things as early crust formation due to drying before loading, insufficient moisture in oven and by breakage and collapse of bubbles before the starches have set (often in over-proved dough).

One possibility for the 'cakey' texture is that the gluten has not been properly developed to be strong enough to support large openings until the starches set.  You can get a feel for proper development by doing the 'window pane' test or by the fact that the dough forms thin walled large bubbles naturally during the kneading process.

I have also found that gentler dough development techniques such as stretch and fold give a coarser and wider bubble distribution than if the dough strength is developed by more vigourous kneading - for the same volume of air entrained fewer pockets vs more pockets.  These then provide locations for the culture generated gases to accumulate during proving.

Either way, there is nothing right or wrong about the texture of the crumb in bread.  It is just a matter of fashion and there has been a reaction to the uniformity (and blandness) of mass produced bread.

Good luck with your projects.


Alie0Bronwynn 2012 August 8

One thing I love about sourdough is there are so many way's to make it!  See, I have a different issue - mine isn't as sour as I'd like - but I have great texture and crust.  *sigh*

First - I agree with what was said above - less starter for sure.  My starter amount is 360g for almost 1100g of flour.  Your break will rise better if the starter has more flour to work with.

A few things I do differently are:

1) Little kneading.  I let it rise, stretch fold it over itself making some pockets of air and then let it rise again.  Pretty much, no kneading.  Also, one thing I read was to give the best rise ensure you have a tight surface tension.

2) Let it rise in a humid environment.  I read some places where people actually put theirs in large plastic bag "tents" with some water, others cover it with loose plastic wrap, some put it in small airtight tubberware with water in bowls.  Anyway you do it - it the bread while rising generates it's own slightly humid atmosphere - don't let that evaporate.

3) Cold bread, hot oven.  I do this mainly to get more flavor from my bread, but I let it rise for a while outside, then put it in the refridgerator for a longer, slower rise - then go straight from the fridge to the oven.  This gave me the best "oven spring" I have ever had.

Hope this helps! If you have any tips for more sour flavor please pass them along!

Klickitat 2012 August 9

Thank you for the replies. It looks like I am doing many things that could be causing the problem.  I let my dough proof in my bread pans on a heating pad. I think I am over proofing it. My dough will more than double in size but I think my dough is getting weak.  The other thing I am not doing is getting a good tension on my dough. I will pay attention to that now. 

When I proof my dough, I put my pans in a plastic bag so that I do not get a dry crust on my dough before baking. 
After reading a comment on this thread asking me about cutting the loaf, (I don't) I went and started reading other threads about that. I had the problem at one time of my bread busting the top off of my bread when baking.

Now I get good rise, but  I am just not happy with  the texture. I think I am over proofing it and I am not paying attention to surface tention.  I think I am going to play with these two things one at a time first before I mess with my recipe. I am not saying that is not the problem, but I get good rise with it and after reading everything, I am going to try some of the other things first. I am thinking that the heating pad is my biggest problem (sorry that I did not mention that earlier).


As for a good sour; I think I get good sour because I use so much starter. I use a glass gallon jar. My jar is usually kept around 2/3's full. When I make bread, I dump 3/4's of the contents into my wood bowl. I add 2 cups of flour and 1 1/2 cups of flour back in my jar. I only feed once a day and usually only add 1/8th of a cup of flour and stir it in. I do not add water for feedings. I end up with a very thick starter and is more like a sponge.  I do get an alcohol smell from my starter, but it has never efected the taste of my bread.  The best sour flavor I get is from my Ten Grain starter. I put a cup of starter in a new jar and added two cups of flour and two cups of water in. Then I added 2/3rds of a cup of Red Mill's Ten Grain hot cereal mix.  I let this ferment for 3 days without touching it. Then I fed it once and then made bread with it after it settled. I maintain it the same way I maintain my other starter. This is my families favorite for toast and snacking. This one goes really well with sliced beef.


I make bread at least 5 days a week, so I will keep everyone who helped informed on my progress.


BTW: thank you again for the help, I really apriciate it.

Klickitat 2012 August 9

OH, please do not think I am ignoring everyones advice on the amount of starter.  I am listening, it is just that I like the flavor so much of my bread right now, that I want to try everything else first.  I will try adjusting the ratios if I can not find results with the other suggestions first.

SlackerJohn 2012 August 9

Dear Kilickitat,

           Usually when I bake sourdough bread, I just get small even holes, and the bread is just fine.  I would never describe it as cakey!  Cake has no holes at all.  Many pictures on this site show bread with large irregular holes but, there being so many variables in play, it can be hard to get the same results.  So, don't be too critical!

Your starter is thick, and you don't seem to add any water to the mixture, so your dough will be very stiff?  That will greatly inhibit the formation of large air bubbles.

Finally, for oven spring, you need a very hot oven.  Bake at 450F for the first 15 minutes, then turn down to 400F for the remaining time.

Good luck,




CaperAsh 2012 September 29

OK, you really like a very sour flavour. I am not sure exactly what is wrong with your loaves but the consensus seems to be too much starter relative to flour and too much heat leading to serious over fermentation. But you like that flavour.

First - maybe you should enjoy what you have. It's yours.

Second: to get a richer sour flavour you can reduce the hydration of the starter and lengthen the time it 'cures'. For example you can build it to your desired quantity a few days early and retard in the fridge. You can also add in salt as well. This will give you a very cheesy, tangy starter but without over-hydration which also accelerates the final fermentation / proofing period.

Pay attention to the room, and thus also the dough, temperature. If your dough is much about 80F because of your pad, it is on maximum speed setting. Probably you don't need this. 70F is pretty ideal.

In short: in order to get more tang, lengthen and deepen the pre-fermentation but then make sure your temperatures and hydration come out relatively normal at the end (i.e. around 65% hydration if baking in home oven at 450-500F). That way you will be able to get a more chewy / holey crumb texture whilst still having quite a bit of tang.

Personally I don't try to manipulate flavour all that much except by playing with different flours and/or extra ingredients (like fennel, onions, garlics, coriander, fennel seeds, anise seeds, caraway etc.). I just want good fermentation so the grain is properly 'pre-digested' and also rises nicely when baked which lightens the grain and makes it more aromatic and, I believe, digestible. Some breads come out slightly sweet (esp. with spelt I find), some very sour (dark fresh ground rye which has to be well fermented). But I pay attention to what the grain in the dough seems to need to be properly fermented and then do my best to make the final bread as light as possible, even though with certain whole grain loaves (like 100% rye, there is only so light you can get. I use high hydration, thorough fermentation and then place in loaf pans since otherwise they would be flat pancakes which take up too much oven space even though they look authentically Russian or Finnish. These are the sort of decisions you make based on your needs and tastes.

I agree with someone above - don't knead too much. Kneading is necessary only if you are trying to accelerate the natural soaking process. If you take 100% wholewheat and soak it for 12-20 hours, it will form gluten on its own and be as soft and manageable as most artisan white flours. You'll get nice crumb with large holes. If you knead to accelerate that process you won't get as good results. Professional commercial bakeries doing high volume with shift labour favour rapid processing times. But that is why most commercial bread is so bad. We don't need to do that if we are doing real sourdoughs because we have already decided to take our time - or rather let the dough take its time. I find that two stretch-and-folds an hour or five after mixing, each one lasting about a minute or so (I just stretch the dough out flat in all directions to get long gluten strands and then roll it all up again) is all it takes.

I wouldn't go much above 50% of the total weight with the starter, and find that 25% is usually pretty good assuming you have 4-8 hours to let it rise in (depending on temp and humidity). Myself I like slow processes so the most I use (which I did today) is around 15% and eight hours development. Often I let it ferment slowly overnight. In winter I use about 9% for 12-18 hours, but in summer I use about 2%. It comes out fine but the timing gets trickier and also the dough is not as light and fluffy as the shorter methods with higher percentage starters. These are things which I think you will come to enjoy playing with. Don't get stuck on your 'recipe'. Sourdough baking is a process that involves learning to work with many known and unknown variables so it's good to experiment a bit and that way you begin to feel your way into better understanding what you are doing.

I had an interesting day that way. In fact, for the first time in 2 years I used test-tube single strain yeast (rapid rise stuff) because I misread my spread sheet and was 1 kg short of starter. So I had to adjust a lot of things on the fly to end up making 10 kg of focaccia. They came out well, but not as good as the sourdough versions. Still, if I hadn't been playing around so much with various approaches and formulas for so long, I would have had a hard time improvising like that I suspect.

I have pictures of that loaf at:

Weird that I should post it on this, my favorite sourdough forum - my only yeast loaf in two years! But there ya go, the point is: play around a little and then you can understand better and then you can tighten up or lock down certain formulas once you know what you are shooting for and how to get it and once locked down, you know how to adjust it seasonally, or when the flour changes because you really understand what's going on with it. Takes a few years. I'm about half way there I think.


Anyway, best of luck.

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