Runny dough


 Hello again!

This is my second post after a long post on a similar topic a long time ago (maybe a year ago?).

In my previous post, I was concerned about how my dough seemed like it was becoming waterier over the course of proofing.  At the time I was using a no-knead 24-hour rise recipe that, for me, started like dough and by the end of 24 hours ended like batter.  Needless to say, it did not produce good bread. 

I wouldn't say I totally solved that problem; rather, I worked around it.  Assuming that my starter or technique were causing gluten breakdown, I started reducing my proofing times.  I also started using a cookie sheet to transfer my dough into the oven -- when I try to pick up the shaped loaf to put in onto my pizza stone, it drastically changes shape, stretches out, and sticks to my hands (like a very high hydration dough might).  This disruption, I think, is the cause of my flat, denser loaves I produce when I try to make free-formed loavs.  When I use a bread pan, I can make good-tasting bread with a nice crumb and that I'm fairly satisfied with because I don't have to disrupt the bread at all after shaping.  However, I don't like being restricted to a bread pan, so I'm back to this forum to find out where my problem could be.

I follow Shiao-Ping's Home Bread recipe that I got off of this site.  I've tried reducing the recipe's overall fermentation time to 4.5 hours (also with about 20 hours spent in the fridge, which I've found doesn't affect runniness as much as out of fridge time) time and I've tried reducing the hydration to about 60-65% and still the dough tends to turn runny.

So what could be causing this?  The fact that it seems to depend on temperature suggests to me that my yeast culture is particularly fond of protein, causing it to break down the dough's gluten too quickly.  However, I have made very good pizza dough, bagels, and free-formed bread with it, so I think there may be an aspect of my technique at fault too.  Kneading seems like an obvious place if we're thinking gluten breakdown, and I'm admittedly no kneading expert, but I'm skeptical because the no-knead recipes that are quite popular online definitely will not work with my starter.  Shaio-Ping's stretch-and-fold technique also seems fairly straight forward, so I'm not sure how I could be messing it up.  

I also have almost no idea how to shape a loaf properly beyond stretching it or mushing it into the shape I want.  I suppose it's possible that this is part of the problem, but the fact that the runniness process starts even before I get to shaping suggsts otherwise.

Below is a (for some reason sideways) picture of my most recent free-formed bread.  The crumb isn't bad and it's not too dense, but it spreads out so much just from gravity that oven spring (which did happen) can only do so much.  It's the Home Bread recipe with a 4.5 hour overall fermentation time (plus 20 hours in the fridge) and a 65% hydration.


Thank you all for reading this long post, any advice would be much appreciated!



221 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2011 October 4

Hello Kyle,

Be aware that activity does not stop in the fridge - it only slows down.  So it is quite possible to over-prove a loaf while it is in the fridge.

If you need the retardation, then I would look at shortening it significantly - say no more than 12 hours and see if that makes a difference.

I would also try doing a loaf at room temperature and 'listen' to the dough - observe what it looks and feels like and don't be bound by time lines.  The amount of time can vary hugely depending on the activity of your starter and the temperature that you are working at.  You indicate that the 'runniness' starts even before shaping (after 4.5hrs bulk ferment as I read it) - so perhaps that time should be shortened as well.  Perhaps look at no more than 2 hours bulk ferment and 2 hours proving.

On the matter of shaping loaves, there are any number of tutorials about both written and video that should help a lot to get you on the right track.  SourDom's tutes on this site would be somewhere to start.

Keep on bakin'


JODoughMaker 2011 October 5

While I am no expert, I feel that your assessment is right on. My starter might start out a bit on the thick doughy side, but the fermentation does thin it considerably. I am still getting the hang of reading the dough. I'm just now starting to understand that the timing is not as important as listening to the dough. Listening to the dough is like when telling someone to wait a certain amount of time for something to dry before proceeding to the next step. Depending on where you live, how long it would take to dry will vary greatly. So how long to wait to prove the dough is a matter of how the dough reacts than it is about an actual fixed duration of of time. For shaping, there is no better source than YouTube. There are many experts who give excellent guidance on all aspects of bread making. For me, the demonstration is better than some pictures. Some of the videos are narrated, and the moves are done slowly. It is amazing to watch an expert chop dough from a large mass, divide it into 8 equal lumps, then quickly turn them into all sorts of shapes. Some will even bake the bread, and show the finished product. Oven spring was described as catching the dough on the way up, and not waiting for it to peak, before putting it in the oven. They say that the gas producing the rise will come to a halt, and the goal is to catch it a little before the peak, then let the heat of the oven speed up the last few minutes of rising as it cooks.

kpp8987 2011 October 5

 Thank you both for your comments, I'll definitely look into shaping videos.

As for my starter and proofing times, I'm already down to a 5 hour total fermentation time (2.5 of bulk, 2 after shaping).  Is this going to affect the taste of the bread?  And should I be judging my bread based on how runny it is instead of how much it has risen (I never really see much dough rise, but my starter on its own gets frothy and there are holes in my finished product)?


farinam's picture
farinam 2011 October 6

Hello Kyle,

Where then does the 20hrs of fridge time come in?

The timing will have some effect on the taste because of the differing rates of activity by yeasts and bacteria (particularly lactobacillus).  However your dough management has to be to get the dough into the right condition for baking.  One of the potential benefits of retarding is, I believe, that the rate of activity of the lactobacillus is less affected and so you can get a more sour flavour developed.  However the retardation is instead of, not in addition to, room temperature proving.  If I am reading you correctly, I would try baking after your 4.5/5 hours and see how it goes.  Alternatively, put it straight into the fridge after shaping though I would try the latter first.

In terms of dough rise, you definitely should be able to see it. Perhaps if you get a proving container with deeper steeper sides it might be more obvious.  If you look at one of my earlier blogs, I published a series of photos taken during proving that might be helpful.  However, I suspect that the rise and deflation of the dough is occurring during the long stay in the fridge and that is why you are not seeing it.

Hang in there and keep on bakin'


kpp8987 2011 October 11


The 20 hour fridge time came in after the bulk rise but before shaping.  I don't always do it but on the day I baked the bread in the picture I started late and didn't have enough to shape, wait, and bake that night, so I went with the fridge.  I had also done an only 2 hour bulk rise, so I figured the fridge time would help increase the flavor.

Like I said, I don't usually use the fridge.  My usual schedule is just like Shaio-Ping's recipe calls for, which is about 3 hours of bulk rise and 3 hours post-shaping.  It also calls for a stretch and fold every hour during the bulk rise, to which I attributed to my less-than-obvious rising.  The apparent gluten breakdown happens when I follow that fridge-less schedule too.

Thank you for all your advice everyone, keep it coming!


farinam's picture
farinam 2011 October 11

Hello Kyle,

The change in the character of your dough does sound like a timing thing so I wonder whether you should shorten it up significantly to see what happens - maybe half of what you currently use.  As I said before, you have to pay attention to the dough.  If you have an idea of at what time that the runniness develops, then try to get your timing down to shorter than that.  If you want to persist with the stretch and fold technique, then just shorten the time between - down to 15 minutes if necessary.  Otherwise do your kneading up front and let the dough bulk prove in peace before shaping.

You say that you just 'mush' it into shape.  One of the things that you have to develop is the technique of forming a nice smooth 'strong' skin on the shaped dough.  Obviously, this is being made difficult by your stickiness problem.  Dusting your hands with flour can help with the hands and short sharp continuous actions will also help. The other thing that happens during proving is that this skin dries a little, increasing its strength to hold the dough in shape until it starts to set in the heat of the oven.

If you are having problems transferring the loaf to the oven, try using baking paper instead of dusting your peel/tray.  Hold the sheet of paper over the top of your proving container/basket and invert onto the peel/tray, remove your container, slash and transfer to the oven.  The quicker you can do this reduces the time for spreading to occur before the oven heat starts to have an effect.  You can remove the paper if you prefer after about 15 minutes baking.  I usually do it when I remove the steam water dish.

The other thing is to be sure that your oven temperature is high enough and that your baking stone and steam water container are fully heated so that there is plenty of heat around to minimise the drop when the door is opened.

Keep on bakin'


CayoKath 2011 October 7

 Your sourdough is very well-behaved!  Those yeastie beasties are growing rapidly.  One thing about any baking is to remember the recipe is a suggestion when it comes to time.  That can't be more true than with wild yeast!  I love love the idea of getting to know your dough by letting it proof at room temperature.  Crazy amateur that I am, I can't get enough of looking at and feeling the dough in all its stages.  It really helps you learn.  Pay attention to the weather too. The climate du jour can have a huge effect on what goes on.  I've overproofed plenty of bread...but gosh the JOY of a perfect loaf is indescribable.  Even overproofed and flat, a sourdough bread is just good.  

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