Problems with the recipe from Nourishing Traditions


Hello everyone!

I was mightily impressed when I saw the depth of your sourdough bread baking expertise! I had no idea how complicated this business can get.

I never baked bread before I tried Sally Fallon's recipe from her book Nourishing Traditions. I have baked quite a few loafes by now but I just don't seem to get it right. For my starter (which is about 2 months old by now) I have a soupy mixture of rye flour and water which I feed a little bit every day. My recipe for the dough is basically 1tbsp of rock salt disolved in about half a cup of water, about 0.9 litre of the starter mix, and about 6 cups of organic wholemeal spelt flour.

My problem is that the bread comes out much too dense, doesn't 'crumb' to the core and usually even burns along the bottom before it is baked inside - making the bread doughy and even harder to digest. 

I tried making the starter mixture less 'soupy' by adding very little water at feeding time, now it is just kind of gooey. This way I have to add less spelt flour to make a dough that springs back when I pinch it. This reduces the weight of the dough (which is usually very heavy). But it still comes out very dense and unbaked.

The recipe says to bake it at 180C for an hour, so I tried 150C for an hour and a half+ in the hope that it would bake it more inside. Not too much luck with that, either.

The bread usually rises just fine, within 4-5 hours it grows by maybe 50%. But here something seems to go wrong too, as I often get a 'floating crust'. This is one problem which I think I managed to solve by letting the dough rise for a shorter time, but it still happens sometimes.

 I love the simplicity of that recipe, but maybe it is making it too simple? I'm starting to get very irritated and I'm tempted to use up my starter for a couple more final tries and then give up on it. Any ideas? Maybe someone can recommend me a straight-forward recipe that allows me to keep my current starter? I've started to like it (I hope my Kombucha doesn't get overly jealous).

Thanks so much!


116 users have voted.


eyendall 2011 March 6

 There are lots of variables in getting good bread and I am sure others more expert than I will chime in, but your baking temperature seems much too low. I bake at 240-260,starting at 260 for 10 minutes or so, then reducing the temperature to 240 so that the crust doesn't get too dark. 30 minutes or so is usually enough baking time.


I would also strongly suggest that you start weighing your ingredients

HopesHope 2011 March 6

It seems to me that your starter is to soupy because there is to much liquid.  At your next feeding try adding the flour, but no water.  Let the flour soak up the "soupiness" of the starter, then make your bread.

sourdoug 2011 March 6

I tried doing that. Now my starter is much thicker (I can still stir it). It didn't make much of a difference. 260C seems really hot! I use a little portable electric oven, I'm not sure if it even goes that high! I would weigh my ingredients but the recipe doesn't give me accurate quantities...

Thanks for your suggestions! :)

Mariah 2011 March 6

 Just checked the book and recipe. They bake the sourdough at 350 F. for one hour. Every single time I have followed directions like that, against my better judgement my dough did not bake right, did not turn out good at all. Sourdough requires a longer baking time than an loaf pan of bread. It requires a hot oven. The conversion chart in the back of the book only goes up to 425 F which is 218 C. Yes that's hot. It should be. Almost a liter of sourdough and 6 c. of flour plus water is a large mass to bake in a small portable oven. If your oven gets hot on the outside it's losing heat. Get an oven thermometer so you know what you are working with temp wise. Cut your recipe in half. Find another recipe. Start all over. The messes you are having are discouraging. A liter of sourdough is a lot. Most people use much less.

Good luck


Ruralidle 2011 March 7

I'm with everyone on the temperature, start the bake at a high temperature (240C or as close as your oven will go) and then drop the temperature to 210 or 200 after about 15mins (when you remove the steam pan) and then bake for another 25mins or so until the internal temperature is about 98.5C.

 As for the flying crust, that usually happens if you overproof the dough immediately prior to baking it.  Use the poke test to see when it is ready to bake.  Use a finger to poke the dough and if the hole refills slowly until only a slight impression is left the dough is ready to bake.

sourdoug 2011 March 7

 Thanks so much guys I'll try out baking it hotter as soon as possible. I might give it a try today actually if I have the time :)

But whats a steam pan? I tried adding half a cup of water to the oven on the recommendaiton of a friend to help make the crust, does that count as a steam pan?

Ruralidle 2011 March 7

Usually a home baker will have an old (usually cast iron) pan at the bottom of the oven that they preheat with the oven and then add boiling water to as they load the loaf into the oven.  Add enough water that there is a little left after 15mins.  A water spray (plant spray) is also useful to mist the oven just before and just after loading the bread into it. 

Steam should help stop the crust setting before the dough has completed it oven spring. 

eyendall 2011 March 7

 It's hard to deconstruct the recipe from what you gave us in your original post because it is impossible to judge your hydration percentage but try this formula using your regular sourdough starter.


1:2:3    One part your starter, two parts water, and three parts flour, all by weight i.e. if your 6 cups of flour weighs 900 grams then add 600 grams of water and 300 grams of your starter.


Don't be afraid to vary the amount of water if the result appears to dry or too wet. It should not be like soup.


The single most important concept I have learned about bread-making is that of "Hydration" which is simply the amount of water to add to a given amount of flour. Different styles of bread call for different hydration percentages. The more water the stickier the dough. Sourdough 'country style' bread usually calls for hydration around 65% or 65g of water for each 100g of flour. Since the weight of different flours vary a lot, using hydration percentage by weight is much more reliable than using volume measures like cups and litres.


The steam pan is simply a metal pan which can hold boiling water. You place this in the oven at the beginning to generate steam. I don't use this technique rather I simply spray water into the oven using a simple plastic  spray bottle at the beginning and about ten minutes into the bake. Don't forget to use a higher oven temperature.


Good luck and tell us how it goes.

sourdoug 2011 March 7

 Okay, my latest try just finished cooling down and I'm eating a slice with wild blueberry jam. It's pretty tasty and definitely a step up from my last few tries! In terms of consistency it's still not 100% crumby to the core, but I think this kind of bread is just really moist. I made a half-recipe of this (this is straight from Nourishing Traditions): 

2 quarts sourdough starter

13 cups freshly ground spelt, kamit or hard winter wheat (I used spelt)

2 1/2 tablespoons coarse sea salt

about 1 1/2 cups cold filtered water

I baked as Ruralidle suggested, and I put in about half a cup of water at the start to steam it. The colour outside is now a much nicer brown and inside it looks less beige/light too. The crust is much better, too. I'm out of spelt now so I'm going to be doing my next try with 100% rye, but I'm encouraged to play with it a little more. 

What  could I try to bake it for a longer time without burning it? Higher temperature, then turn it down sooner? Or turn it down further? Or only use the bottom heating element? I think if I can get just a bit more heat into the core of the bread it should turn out very nicely!

If I can't get it work I might have to go and buy a scale and do it with eyendall's recipe, very precisely, by the gram.


Ruralidle 2011 March 7

 I wonder if you are able to measure the internal temperature of the loaf?  If it is 98.5°C or more in the centre it should not be gluey.  You could, as you rightly suggest, bake for slightly longer by reducing the temperature a little more during the bake so perhaps take another 20°C off the oven temperature after 25 min.  I would not reduce the initial temperature because that is what gives you a good oven spring.

I think that your recipe includes far too much of the starter.  I use about 200 g of starter to 400 g of flour at a maximum.  That gives a longer fermentation time than I suspect your recipe would but it does help with the flavour.  Personally, I am absolutely lost when it comes to recipes expressed in volume terms.  I only ever use recipes that specify weights of ingredients (and usually in grams).

As for a 100% Rye loaf, I would strongly advise against this as Rye can be a very difficult flour to work with because of a lack of gluten.  I would add no more than 20% or 25% Rye flour to strong white bread flour (or a mixture of white and wholemeal) certainly until you are getting consistently good results in other types of flour.  The spelt flour that you have been using has a more fragile gluten structure than normal wheat flour but I use it on a weekly basis in a 37% spelt wholemeal, 37% spelt white and 26% strong white bread flour recipe and it works up very well.  However, I do find Rye flour very difficult to work with in higher percentages.

Mariah 2011 March 7

 If you have a bowl roughly the size of your finished bread, one with a cover that can go in the oven and preheat with the bowl, you can eliminate the water (steam). Preheat the ceramic bowl or ?? and cover. When ready to bake place in bowl, slash, and cover. Return to oven and bake at least 20 minutes covered. Covering will keep moisture in and removing the cover to finish baking dry will help make a nice crunchy crust. It will also help retain and move heat to the center of the bread.

The use of a cast iron pan and cover, or a glass cover will work. Remember to grease the pan and using parchment under the dough as it raises will help move it to the hot pan with deflating it. My sure thing baking breads is covered. Sometimes I use a stainless steel bowl over my baking stone. Eliminates the need for steam. I usually give the bread a squirt just before popping it in the oven but it's not necessary. 

Have fun, looking forward to pictures.


sourdoug 2011 March 8

 Thanks so much for your advice guys! I'll let you know when I make my next bread (I first have to eat what I got now which will take me a while ;) )

wadada's picture
wadada 2011 March 9

I would suggest acquiring a different book, one geared specifically towards baking naturally leavened breads, and start reading up.  I love Sally Fallon's book, and use it as a go-to reference for all sorts of things...but not bread.  You need to familiarize yourself more with the standard process, and maybe start with something other than 100% whole grain flour.  That can be tricky to work with, especially if you want a lighter, more open crumb.  Try some loaves with mostly a good, unbleached white flour and maybe 15-20% whole flour until you get a handle on the techniques, then push up the percentage of whole flour as you get more confident.  It's possible to get the results you want with 100% whole flour (I've never worked with 100% spelt, though), but not without some basic skills.  I don't think you mentioned what you are doing regarding mixing, bulk fermentation and proofing times and temperatures.  Those, along with the hydration are key elements, and understanding how they affect the dough and the final loaves goes a long way.  Dough handling and shaping of the loaves also has a great outcome on the final product.


It sounds like your oven is less than ideal for this task, but play around with some of the suggestions in this thread, and you might have some success.  I've been playing with baking in a cast iron dutch oven lately, with good results.  I'm not totally happy with it, but it's better than using a "steam pan" or misting the oven.  Mostly it makes me motivated to build a brick oven in the yard this spring...


As for books, I would recommend Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes, if you want to really get in to it.  Another good book with a great, pretty in-depth section on baking naturally-leavened bread is Daniel Wing's The Bread Builders.  Finally, a friend loaned me Chad Robertson's Tartine bread book, and that is aimed pretty specifically at the home baker starting from scratch, with a good step-by-step for sourdough baking.  Hamelman's is by far the most comprehensive of the three, but the Tartine book might get you going faster, and with more confidence.  It also shows you how to bake in the dutch oven.  Wing's book is a great read, with lots of scientific and practical info, and profiles of bakers.  It also has a section on building brick ovens.

Good luck...there's a lot to learn, but the information is out there!

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