sticky sourdough


Hi, I've been baking for over a year now, having gone on a course here - - brilliant, and my kids & wife bought me another course earlier this year - sourdough....I still use the starter we were given on the course in January - I bake usually every other weekend, some yeated, some SD; I came away from the course with several options of making sourdough - either overnight, or all the same day, or over a weekend, starting the refresh on Friday evening, adding more on Saturday a.m, making the dough Satyurday evening. fridge prove, divide & shape on Sunday morning, bake later on. I have had real trouble recently with any of the methods, with the dough staying really sticky, right the way through to putting it in the oven - I made four loaves yesterday - 2 yeasted, 2 SD. Picture shows the loaves - SD are far left, and back, the yeasted front & right. The sourdough on the left stuck to the banetton, and then stuck to my peel, despite semolina, hence the unusual shape! The tin SD was so sticky that I couldn't slash it. I've had the same trouble for a while - not sure whether it's the starter, although it refreshes fine, very bubbly - very fine bubbles though - or the recipe - but I haven't changed it from that given to me from the course, Recipe: 200 g (refreshed) preferment, 520g flour, 275 cold water, 9g salt. (or same percentages in bigger quantities - I usually have double this, to make two decent loaves. or the weather, or may be proving times - sorry to go on, but it's annoying... the thing is, it tastes great!! And has a good crust. Grrr.

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farinam's picture
farinam 2011 October 4

Hello Simon,

It shouldn't be hydration, because according to your amounts (assuming 100% for your starter) your hydration is only 60% and that should give you a very handleable dough.

You say that it is sticky 'right the way through' - do you mean right from first mixing through kneading (or whatever method you use)- or only after proving?

I don't suppose you have changed your brand of flour recently?

Other than that, the dough can get rather soft and appear wetter if it is overproved.  You have to keep in mind that activity continues, albeit at a slower pace, in the fridge so maybe if you shorten up your time frame, though you are coming into cooler weather (I hear that it has been unseasonably warm over your way recently which could be another factor).

I always recommend paying attention to what the dough is telling you rather than sticking religiously to time schedules which are very dependent on the activity of your starter and the temperature of the room/storage.

Hope this helps.


simon3030 2011 October 4

Hi farinam,


Thanks for replying.


Yes, it is still the same flour I have used since I started baking.


The mix was wet & sticky right from the bowl on Sunday - I had to sprinkle flour, just to ease the kneading, even then, I had to use the scraper to get back into the bowl for the first prove.


My recipe guide is 6-8 hours for initial fermentation (or until double), and 2-3 after shaping - I'll try and reduce, see what happens...

And yes, it was 29C on Sunday - forecast is 13C by thursday - don't you just love the English autumn...



farinam's picture
farinam 2011 October 4

Hello Simon,

You give the weights in grams - I assume that you are weighing your ingredients?

Also what is the recipe and timing that you use for your yeasted bread?  It seems odd that they are so different.


simon3030 2011 October 6



yes, I do weigh everything, including the salt...


The sourdough recipe is the one from 'loaf', run by Tom Baker (yes really) in Birmingham, and I have used this since I went on the course there. Having looked at the photos I took of my early sourdough loaves, yes I am that sad, the results have got worse over the months.

I've uploaded examples here going from my first attempts in february & march, right through to my latest.. you'll see from the picture titles 3.11 SD taken in March that I used to get great lift with the SD recipe. Compare with that 2.10.11 middle, back  - same loaf tin, same recipe..

I also use Tom's yeasted recipe, with great success (see photobucket photos) - although the yeasted loaves in the original pic I included in my post were a different  recipe, from the River Cottage Bread book - 1000g flour, 10g powdered yeast, 20g salt, 600 g water. I started the yeast off separately with some flour & water, and a squirt of honey. Timings - 10 minute knead, first fermentation around 1.5 - 2 hours, deflate & shape and then maybe 90 minutes proving before baking.


I usually bake a sourdough every two weeks, keeping the starter in the fridge, refreshing the night before. I've noticed that the bubbles are very fine, I seem to remember that it has been more vigorous with bigger bubbles before. I've refreshed it with wholemeal bread flour befroe now to see if it will bring it back, but it still seems to produce the same results. If I make a wholemeal and a white SD loaf, the wholemeal dough is much drier and therefore easier to work, I realise that wholemeal flour may need more hydration (is that the right expression for more water?), but using the same quantities as for the white, the wholemeal does not rise as much - is lack of water a factor in this?


Sorry for the wordy would be easier with a video!

farinam's picture
farinam 2011 October 6

Hello Simon,

He doesn't have a blue police telephone box does he?

Starters have different characteristics and there is no one appearance that is right or wrong (imho).  It will depend on the hydration and what you feed it on etc.  Mine is 100% hydration (equal mass of flour and water) and I include about 20% rye flour with white bread flour.  Other hydrations and recipes are just as valid although there is evidence that the addition of rye does help to maintain/enhance the vigour of the culture.

You are right about wholemeal being thirstier than white flour and a higher hydration would be in order to maintain consistency of dough texture.  There is another effect of wholemeal flour and that is the effect of the bran and germ physically affecting the integrity of the gluten strands/sheets causing them to be more fragile and thus give less rise.

I would monitor your starter from feeding and note the volume increase with time.  You should aim to make your dough with the starter at its peak volume or certainly not much past.  See one of my earlier blogs for pictures.  This time to reach peak will vary with the ambient temperature - shorter in summer, longer in winter.  As a general rule, if you are working at the same temperature, your dough preparation, fermentation and proving should work to a similar time frame.  The exception would be if you are retarding (which I think should be through the proving stage) and should be instead of, not in addition to RT proving.

As I said before, don't be too bound up with schedules given to you be others.  You have to learn and work to what your ingredients and conditions dictate.  What was right for you in March (coming out of winter) could be completely inappropriate for you in September (particularly an unseasonably warm one).

Keep on bakin'


panfresca 2011 October 7

Laucke Mills in Strathalbyn, SA, make an excellent organic bread flour (used by Baker D Chirico I believe), which is available at a few places in Melbourne. Two places I know of are Nicks Nuts in South Blackburn and Hindustan Imports in Dandenong.

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