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I'm trying to find a balance between long proofing times for extra sour flavor and a nice golden crust.  I think it's overproofed and would like some feedback from those with more experience. 


On a related note, I've been getting different input from different sources and am trying to figure out which is right.  From one source I'm getting advice to proof longer and warmer (dough proof 12 hrs @ 21C, loaf proof 3hrs @ 30C) increase sourness.  But I've seen some information here to proof in the fridge to increase sourness.  Can someone provide some clarification for me?



204 users have voted.


cross1242 2011 September 7

I wish I were the one to give you the exact answer.  But, as a novice myself, I can only tell you what I've learned so far.

The problem with most recipes for sourdough is that the authors can't be in your kitchen with you to say that, "Well, in your case it's going to work a little differently."  Some of the big differences are how fast your culture works to make the dough rise and what the temperature and humidity is in your kitchen.

You've already figured out that the techniques to make the dough rise and be sour can work against each other.  Generally, the longer your dough proofs, the stronger the "sour" taste will be.  Unfortunately, if you've got a culture that works fast to make the dough rise, you're going to be forced to bake sooner and that means a less sour loaf.

The advice to put the dough in the refrigerator is intended to retard the rising so that the "sour" taste can develop.  (The bacteria that cause the taste apparently don't care what the temperature is and still work just as hard in the refrigerator.)

One alternative is to proof at 21 degrees and 30 degrees until double BUT when you start out add a small amount of "sour salt" (Citric Acid) (see: King Arthur Flour at: tp get the "sour" taste you want.


As to your basic problem of whether you are overproofing or not, I can't be much help.  I'm still trying to figure out an answer to that too.  If you go by proofing until the dough doubles and NOT by some clock time, that should cure your overproofing.  (This is what is affected by the strength of your culture and the ambient temperature where you are working.)  The other thing to look at is the step prior to proofing: kneading the dough.  Whether by hand or machine, it's got to have the gluten "developed" to exactly the right point.  Learn how to do the "window-pane test" (Google it on the web for video demos) and run the test about each minute or two while you are kneading.


On the mixing, kneading, proofing, shaping, and baking of sourdough, I've heard that it's more of an art than a science.  It's also much more than just reading a recipe and following it exactly.  I haven't gotten there myself.  Maybe you'll beat me.



eyendall 2011 August 14

I am not an expert either  but I would think that sourness is a function of your sourdough culture(starter) not so much any long proofing time of your dough either on the counter or in the fridge. Slowing the fermentation  by putting your dough in the fridge is more to help bring out the flavours inherent in the flour. Proofing time is, I think, more about dough structure than flavour.

cross1242 2011 August 15

It's my understanding that "proofing" is for the purpose of developing the levening and taste from the starter culture.  The starter culture has two organisms in it.  One is the yeast.  It eats the flour and discharges CO2 that causes the dough to rise.  The other is a bacteria that turns out acids that make the dough taste "sour" when baked.  There are flavoring agents in the flour that give the bread a slightly different taste depending on what kind of flour you use.  That is: whether you're using hard winter wheat flour, rye flour, whole wheat flour, etc., etc.  Those elements are in the dough's flour and need no development.


When doing sourdough, you're battling countervalinf forces.  The time it takes the yeast to make the bread rise may be short (as it is for all instant yeast) or long (as for most natural levening agents including the sourdough yeast).  But, the bacteria's ability for develop the sour tast always takes time.  Short of the use of sour salt, there is no may to make the bacteria work faster in creating the sour taste.


Check around.  There are all kinds of websites devoted to sourdough.  I think I'm right.

kc0kdh 2011 August 16


From what I've been reading and learning I have the same understanding as you.  While I'm having fun figuring this out, book smarts is clearly not enough to make up for baking time. :)

farinam's picture
farinam 2011 August 15

Hello Lance,

A trouble shooting guide in one of my books gives the following possible reasons for pale crust colour.

Overmature dough

Baking temperature too low

Lack of salt

Excessive steam in oven

Insufficient yeast

This is from a book that deals predominantly with yeasted bread but I imagine the troubleshooting would be similar.

In terms of the sourness question, I think the previous comments cover the ground.  Of course, sourdough bread doesn't 'have' to be sour to be good and striving for extra sourness could be counter-productive if your particular blend of 'good guys' just won't 'cut the mustard' so to speak.  Careful 'breeding' might eventually get you a 'blend' that suits your taste and I think time and repetition is the only thing that is going to get you there - it won't happen overnight, but it will happen (maybe).

Keep us informed.


colinang 2011 August 15

Based on the pic here, I think your levain is not strong enough.

The slow proofing method is called deferred proofing.  The process is do the bulk fermentation 1st (about half an hour) at room temperature, then shape.  After shapping, out the dough in chiller (15 - 18 degress C) overnight.  You can also put in the fridge (about 5 degrees C) up to 3  days.  Rest in room temperature for at least 1 hour b4 baking.

To get good color for the crust, reserve some old dough (ie previous batch dough) in the fridge, and add about 20% of the old dough to your new dough (ie if your new dough flour is 1kg - b3 adding water - then the old dough to be added is 200g)

Hope this helps 

cross1242 2011 August 16

Or, to get a good color, use an egg wash.  (One egg and about a teaspoon of water.)  Use a pastry brush to paint the entire loaf with the solution.  If you want, you can then put some surface features too such as seseme seeds, poppy seeds, cracked wheat, etc.  The loaf will be a golden brown every time.  (Be sure to use a probe themometer after baking to be sure that the bread temperature is at least 185 degrees F.)'s picture 2011 August 16

Hi Lance, you ask a great question and one to which there is no answer.  Bakers work for days, weeks, months, and years to get the combination of flavour, texture, and colour that they want.  The way to think about it is that it takes a certain amount of sourdough starter to "make rise" a certain amount of flour (in the same way that it takes a certain amount of yeast to "make rise" a certain amount of flour).  How you build to that amount of flour is up to you.  You can refresh the sourdough and build to the final flour amount over 24 hours or over several days, adding flour and water as you go.  The longer the dough is on the go, the more sour it will taste.  If you put a lot of flour and water in at first and then simply top it up with a wee bit of flour at the end, the taste and the rising time will be different from putting in a small amount of flour and water at the beginning and adding the bulk of flour at the end. 

If you are really keen, keep a log and experiment, scoring for taste, texture, colour and rising times.

Eventually you will come up with something you like the best.


I hope this helps! 

kc0kdh 2011 August 16

Thanks to everyone for your input and feedback.  I'll post the results of my next bake (planning on tomorrow).  My plan is to try times inbetween the long 12 hour proofs I use for sourness and shorter 6 hour proofs described in the how-to by sourdom (I got great crust with his timelines).  I'll just have to keep experimenting, wait, and see.


kc0kdh 2011 August 16

Thanks to everyone for your input and feedback.  I'll post the results of my next bake (planning on tomorrow).  My plan is to try times inbetween the long 12 hour proofs I use for sourness and shorter 6 hour proofs described in the how-to by sourdom (I got great crust with his timelines).  I'll just have to keep experimenting, wait, and see.


schmmd 2011 August 16

Hi, I think your loaf could use more moisture in the first 20 minutes of baking.  When I have insufficient moisture, I get pale, white crusts like those in your picture.  The best way I have found to obtain sufficient moisture is to use a cloche, dutch oven, or cover the loaf in foil.  Spraying and adding boiling water seldom gives enough moisture.  It's worth an experiment!

Dizzy 2011 August 16

 Hi Lance

Maybe others have noticed this too - I have found that different flour sources (same mill but different grain sourced for separate millings) give a different colour to the crust - maybe this is due to varied sugar content in the grain. I have found that the addition of a little sugar (molasses, honey etc) will improve crust colour without masking  the sour taste.

schmmd 2011 August 16

Sugar often improves crust color (it is used commercially as a browning agent)--but it is not necessary.  Seriously--try the moisture.  I have side-by-side pictures of the same loaf with different levels of moisture.  One loaf is beautifully darkened and the other is ghostly pale.

Merrid 2011 August 16

Proofing is to allow the gas bubbles (a byproduct of the yeast feeding on the flour) to form in the dough for the rise. The yeast still grows at cooler temperatures, just slower, but some of the bacteria which produce the acids giving the sour flavour will work just as well at the lower temperatures as the higher temperatures. So retarding the dough in the fridge gives the bacteria more time to work, as the yeast will raise the dough more slowly.

The overall sourness in the dough is a function of the state of the starter culture (the particular colonies of bacteria and yeast), the particular flours you have used, and the time allowed for the bacteria to produce acidic byproducts.


So you really need to proof for longer times at cooler temperatures - probably around 15°C is best, but failing a wine cellar, the fridge will give good results although it is cooler and will therefore take longer.


12 hours at 21°C bulk proof and 3 hours at 30­°C for your final proof stage sounds like far too long to me, which probably explains why your crust is so pale and the bread so dense. In summer, I was bulk fermenting the dough for about 2 hours at high twenties to mid thirties (whatever the internal house temperature was) and retarding overnight (about 8 hours) in the fridge for the final proof, and even that was probably a bit too long. In winter I'm bulk fermenting for 3 hours at low twenties and retarding overnight for the final proof, which seems about right - the bread is nicely soured, the crust golden and blistered, and the texture nicely springy.

kc0kdh 2011 August 16

Wow, a lot of great advice and experience here, thanks much.  While I understand that sourdough is more of a process than a flavor, I like a strong sour flavor. I think this would be much easier if that weren't the case :-).

Between my experiments, reading, and everyone's advice, here's what I think I'm hearing. PLEASE correct as needed:

Finding the right combination of temp and time when proofing is critical to getting the sour, crust, and crum right.  While the yeast feeds on the flower and expands the dough, the Lactobactillus feeds on the yeast, and the byproduct of the Lacto B. is where the sour flavor comes from.  Both the yeast and the Lacto B. experience peak activity at different tempratures so the trick is to not let the yeast overproof the dough while encoraging Lacto B. activity. Am I on target here?

So this leads me to another much of the sourness comes from my culture proof vs. the bulk / loaf proof?  I'm currently proofing my culture for 12 hrs at 29C. 

I happen to have a wine cellar at my disposal so I'll start using it to experiement with colder fermentation with the loaf I'm planning tomorrow.  Then I'll try some differnt moisture tecniques (aside from the spaying I'm doing) once I get proofing figured out. 

I'll post resuts of tomorrows loaf for review / critique.


eyendall 2011 August 16

 " much of the sourness comes from my culture proof vs the bulk/loaf proof?"


As I said before, if sourness is what you are after then you work on your culture(starter). The longer you keep feeding it the sourer it will get. That is why when you start making your culture you are advised to keep feeding it longer if you want a sourer bread. The same does not work for proofing because you will quickly result in over-proofed dough.


A slow bulk fermentation in the fridge of say 12 hours may increase the sourness somewhat but I don't think significantly. Sourness comes from bacteria; flavour comes from the yeast. The longer, slower ferment is intended to give  more time for the yeast to bring out the flavours in the flour, and for the dough to develop its structure. 


I have had an 800g preferment going in my fridge for several months now started from one of my sourdough cultures. I use half of it to make my dough, refreshing it with an equal amount at 60% hydration. I let it sit for up to a week before using it. I can detect no increase/change in sourness. It does result in excellent oven-spring, good crumb with holes and a great crust. I bulk ferment the final dough, made using the 1:2:3 formula, in the fridge for 12 hours or so before a final stretch and fold, shaping and final proof at room temperature.







panfresca 2011 August 17

What I've always understood is that the flavour and sourness come from the lactobacillii. Yeast is there purely to provide the puff, and has no flavour itself. That's the reason both Hamelman and Reinhart (from memory) give for it being OK to add yeast at the last stage to some extended methods - because it doesn't change the flavour, just adds extra rise.

I don't think that longer feeding will necessarily make the starter more sour either - that comes down to frequency and method (including hydration) of feeding, proportion of starter, plus temperature - different temperatures favour different cultures with different characteristics. It's quite possible for an old starter to be quite mild. One of the reasons it's difficult to give a simple answer to achieving sourness is because it is so complex, and quite hard to get a handle on.


Merrid 2011 August 17

I think the flavour ultimately comes from the flour, and the ratios of whatever bacterial and yeast colonies you have in  your starter - they're both feeding on the flour, just different bits, as I understand it, and their byproducts are what create the flavour (acids from the lactobacilli and alcohols from the yeast, plus whatever else). I gave some of my starter to my sister, who tends to make breads with a mixture of different flours whereas I mostly make it with white flour - and the flavours are quite different although made from the same starter culture. Obviously we are also handling it differently; I tend to keep a fair quantity of starter on hand, while she tends to use most of it in bread and only keeps about 50g or so. Some starter I keep in the fridge; some I leave out. The starter in the fridge tends to be a lot more sour than the starter kept at room temperature.

I find that as long as the starter is at the right stage after the 1st or 2nd sponge build preparatory to mixing the final dough, it will give the same texture although the flavour will vary slightly, even when feeding both fridge and room temp cultures with the same flour. Of course it's winter at the moment and I have a feeling it might be more difficult to control in summer, when the yeast runs rampant.

eyendall 2011 August 17

 From Wikipedia:


"Biga is a type of preferment.....using a biga adds compexity to the bread's flavour and is often used in breads which need a light, open texture with holes. Apart from adding to flavour and texture......Biga techniques were developed after the advent of bakers yeast as bakers in Italy moved away from the use of sourdough and needed  to recover some of the flavour which was given-up in this move"


My point is that the chemistry of yeast action on dough is complex with sugars and enzymes produced which do contribute to the bread's flavour.  Sourdough is no exception.

panfresca 2011 August 17

My introduction to breadmaking was a long-fermenting yeast bread - the long fermentation, though not sourdough, giving much improved flavour.

I suppose, thinking about it now I don't really know what part if any the yeast played in getting the enzymes etc. going. I suspect not much, as pre-ferments are used to increase flavour, and these often do not include yeast.

Time to go back to the textbooks methinks - it's a fascinating area though hard to get a handle on.

kc0kdh 2011 August 20

Thanks for all of the great information.  I was going to post results of my loaf from Wednesday but when transfering it from the proofing basket to the stone I fumbled and droped it and it collapsed. :-(  Oh well, even in failure there are lessons to learn.

farinam's picture
farinam 2011 August 21

A couple of things to consider.

I use baking paper.  Cover the proofing container with the paper and invert, while gripping the paper firmly to the sides of the container, onto the bench.

Then slash while on the bench.

I have a peel that I use to transfer the paper and loaf to the oven.  If you don't have a peel you can ad lib with something like a piece of cardboard or MDF (refer to SourDoms blogs).

You can remeve the paper after 12-15 minutes or leave it there the whole baking time.  It doesn't seem to matter in my experience.

Keep on bakin'


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