Starter and bread getting watery when rising


First time poster here!  I've been trying to make sourdough bread for a month or two now but haven't had a really successful loaf yet.  The last dough I tried took forever to rise (about 24 hours) and turned from a dough to a batter during the rising process.  I think my starter wasn't active enough and that's why it took so long to rise, but the increased watery-ness is what's confusing me.  I had to add 3 cups more flour to the 6 cup recipe make the dough something I could even handle -- it was literally a liquid.  I baked it anyway, but it was like a brick (no surprise there).

After that incident I decided to toss my starter and start a new one.  I've been using King Arthur white whole wheat flour at about a 1 : 2/3 flour:water by volume ratio and feeding it twice daily.  It took awhile (about 12 days) and it's starting to get active, doubling in size in about 12 hours.  I'm going to wait until it doubles in about 8 hours to give it a try in a bread.

However, it still seems like it's getting waterier while it's sitting out.  It has even gone from something that could stick to a spoon hanging upside down to something you could pour out of a bowl.  What could be causing this?

Thanks for your help!


133 users have voted.


mlucas 2010 June 17

It's normal for the starter to seem to get 'waterier' over time after it's refreshed, especially for a high hydration one. My 100% hydration starter is like muffin batter (thicker than pancake batter) when I first refresh it, and very sticky. Within an hour or two it looks different, kind of wet like you describe. Then when it reaches its peak (most active point) it's frothy and bubbly, kind of like shaving foam. It can pour at that point, but only very slowly, so I always help it with a spoon to pour it out.
If I were to leave it longer, it would collapse and as the gluten dissolves it grows more 'watery'. I almost never let it get to this point though, I'll either refresh it first, or put it in the fridge!

The dough you describe turned into a batter because the enzymes in the flour & starter eventually destroy the gluten. 24 hours is way too long! It may be that your starter, being so new, has limited leavening (rising) ability. Some tips:

1. Pay attention to how long it takes your starter to peak after being refreshed/elaborated, and try to make the dough at or just before that time.

2. Don't wait for the dough to double, 1.5 times volume can be good enough. A better test is actually 'the poke test', where you poke a finger into the dough about 1/2 inch depth (up to first knuckle), then take it away and watch how the dough bounces back. It is ready when it comes back only slowly, and doesn't bounce back all the way. I find this works best with plastic wrap over the dough, as without it (even with wet or oiled finger) the dough often sticks to my finger.
From what I've read, this test is mostly used to determine when proofing (second rise) is finished, but I think it works pretty well for the bulk fermentation (first rise) phase too.

3. Don't be afraid to throw your dough in the fridge at any point, it's like pressing the pause button. (Although remember it's not an instant pause, as it takes 30-60 minutes for the dough to cool down enough to stop fermenting.) This can be done during bulk fermentation (first rise) or proofing (second rise).

Happy baking

akamat 2012 March 3


I have tried to make a starter/sponge and now I have watery pancake batter looking stuff that smells as if you drank or ate it you'd end up in the back of some old Chevy doing something you never knew you could do. 

What am I doing wrong? I read that you can't screw up a Sponge. Well I beg to differ, because I'm pretty sure the stuff I created would be undefinable in any lab.

So what am I doing wrong.


also can you use a starter or a sponge in any bread recipe?

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 March 3

Hello akamat,

Without knowing more about what method you are following and what you have done so far, it is a bit hard to be of much help.

However, I recommend that you follow the beginners blogs on this site and, if you haven't read them, then you should.

Sometimes in the process of developing a starter, it can go through phases of seeming to be pretty 'off', particularly a rather nasty acetone (nail polish remover) smell.  But very often if you keep following the method, things will come good.

In terms of using  sourdough starter for any bread recipe, I have substituted sourdough starter for yeast with success.  What you have to do is adjust the flour and liquid quantities in the recipe to allow for what is in your starter.  And of course the timing will be significantly longer than is indicated for a yeast based recipe.

Hope this helps and if you can give more detail then maybe we can help some more.


akamat 2012 March 10

 I read from a recipe to do the follow

1 cup flour

1 cup water

1/2 teaspoon yeast.

You are suppose to toss out some and replace what you took with the flour and water.

The one I did the water had sperated from the flour and yeast and was floating on the bottom

I stirred it and it only got gloppy and smell like Alcohol. So I pitched it out.


Thank you for replying me.

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