starter proof time to dough proof time?


Can some practised hand give me a guide-line on the relationship betwean the time a starter takes to reach it's peak and how long to bulk proof / final proof the bread.


My example is a starter of 100% hydration, consisting of 30g rye to 70g white flours which comes to it's peak in the jar after 4.5 - 5 hours (room temp. can vary from 22 - 25). I usually feed it from fridge cold in the evening to mix the dough 24 hrs later, then bulk proof in the fridge overnight, for shaping and final proof in the morning before baking. ( My dough is usually the same balance of white to rye)

I frequently have a problem with the bread not holding shape but collsapsing into a flat spread out version, it has a little

oven spring, and although it is nice enough in taste and texture it does not have the really light and open quality that I am trying for.

I try to follow recipes closely but timing is difficult to get a feel for and it must be the most variable factor, apart from the starter, the flours, the other ingredients, etc etc etc.

Any tips / ideas gratefully recieved



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farinam's picture
farinam 2011 December 30

Hello Sylvia

My theory is that the peak time for your starter is the time that you should be aiming for, for your dough and loaf preparation (for a simple flour/water/starter/salt loaf).  In your case that would be 4 to 5 hours divided about half and half between bulk ferment and shaping/proving.  If using stretch and fold the timing of S&F would need to be adjusted to suit as would any other intermediate procedures that might be involved.  However there is a cavaeat.  You have to pay attention to what the dough is doing in terms of volume increase and readiness.  While the finger poke test can be hard to interpret, it is worth trying.

The rate at which things happen depends on the activity of the culture and the temperature that you are working at.  So the timing will vary with the seasons or whether you have the air-con on or whether you use a proving box . It will also be affected by the ingredients that you are using if you are making exotic recipes.  As a for instance, my recent venture into making panettone required 24 hours of proving.  You have to 'listen' to the dough.

Keep on bakin' and let us know how you go.


sylvomah 2011 December 30

Thanks for that, one additional ?  - is it also the case that the starter should be at it's peak when you make the preferment ? Or does it not matter that it has gone way past and sunk back down to it's initial volume?

I am a bit confused as most recipes talk of feeding the starter and then leaving overnight, then mixing the preferment and again leaving overnight, before mixing the dough and starting to time the bulk and final provings, and when the dough also gets a fridge bulk proving it seems difficult to estimate the whole time.


I feel in my first few attempts that the final proof seems to be at optimum but often the shape is lost in transfer to oven and does not come back up in the baking, resulting in a rather flat spread out shape and not many holes in the finished bread.




farinam's picture
farinam 2011 December 30

Hi Sylvia,

Here's what I do.

I keep my stock of starter in the fridge between bakes.

The night before I am going to bake I take 90g out of the stock jar.  I replace it with 45g flour and 45g water, mix and back into the fridge.  To the other 90g, I add 45g flour and 45g water, mix and leave on the bench till morning.

Sometimes by morning it is at its peak, sometimes a bit past depending on the temperature.  But at least I know it has been active.  If you think about it, the only real reason for mixing bakers yeast with a little sugar, flour and water and letting it sit until frothy is to guarantee that the yeast is active and that you don't waste your time and ingredients to make bricks.  Just as you can add bakers yeast straight into your flour to make dough ( if you are confident that it is fresh and active), you could so the same with your starter.

The idea of using the starter that you have prepared for your loaf at its peak is that it is probably still actively dividing rather than winding down into a state of dormancy and thus has a flying start when the new food arrives when you make the dough.  I do not know for sure whether this is a real benefit or not.

Spreading non-rising dough is quite possibly due to overproving.  This could be supported by the sort of timeline that you outline in your first post.  I would try shortening the whole procedure to similar to what I suggested above.  Prepare a loaf starter at night and next day make your bread with (say) 5 hours from mix to bake (assuming that the dough is doing the right things as I mentioned previously).

Not much to lose other than half a kilo of flour and it will most likely be perfectly edible just the same.

Let us know how you go.


sylvomah 2012 January 7

Thanks Farinam, that has worked much better this week, just keeping to room temperature and splitting the time betwean the bulk and final proofing made it much easier to judge the actual feel of the loaf.

It held it's shape much better, though not perfect as yet since I did not manage to get the cuts right and so still had some wild breakout low down on one side of the loaf. I need a better blade and to practice my technique of slashing, I'me just a bit too timid with it, afraid of deflating it.


Next week I might even feel it deserves a picture!


Thanks again - any favourite simple sourdough recipe to share / reccommend??




farinam's picture
farinam 2012 January 7

Hi Sylvia,

Glad to hear that things are coming along.

For simple bread you can't go much past the 1-2-3 formula - 1 part 100% starter, 2 parts water and 3 parts flour - all in grams/oz by weight.  So that would be 180g starter, 360g water, 540g flour (71% hydration).

The Pane Francesa recipe in SourDom's beginners blog is very similar with 180g starter, 320g water and 500g flour (69% hydration).

These give good handleable doughs in my experience but I have gone up as high as nearly 80%, particularly with higher proportions of wholemeal flour because of the greater thirst of wholemeal.  Your best bet is to experiment to find what suits you best.

Look forward to your brag shots.


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