teething problems

wishfish's picture



I am having some problems. I have a extremely low tech set up in the middle of nowhere in a rural village in the tropics. I am having trouble with consistancy. I can't weight anything and my measuring cup is improvised. My oven doesn't really get hot enough.


All that aside - my starter seems pretty strong and certainly very quick. If I leave things to ferment and proof at room temperature it doubles in size (that vague and unquantifiable term) extremely fast. Ambient temp is around 28 - 29 degrees. And it's humid!


The recipe I use suggests a pre-ferment time of 8-12 hours but I find that 4-6 hours is more than enough for the activity to start subsiding again. My proving times for the first and second proof are also only a couple of hours. Sometimes I retart it in the fridge if it's going to fit in my schedule better that way.



My main technical problems are with shaping the loaves. I've tried improvising proofing baskets but I find the cloth lining I am using tends to stick a bit and the dough deflates when I transfer it to the baking tray.





More recently I bought some round 'disposable' foil baking dishes that seemed about the right size that I can put directly in the oven which gets around that problem. I saw some aluminium "dutch ovens" at the supermarket last time I went into town which I thought might work, too, but they were a bit of an investment $$$wise for me at the moment.


Todays loaves looked good. I shaped them according to the instructions here on the beginners forum but when I checked how the proofing was going I saw that my nice round forms had splt and they look terrible. At least it meant that I didn't have to bother with slashing.





Slashing is also something of a challenge. I did get hold of a craft knife last time I went to town and that at least is sharp enough to do the job reasonably but the dough still seems to deflate a little when I slash.


Can anyone suggest why my dough seems to not want to stick to itself? You can see in the first photo also that the surface of the dough is kind of weird. It looked OK before it rose...


Feeling a little frustrated with the various limitations of my set up but all the loaves I produce are pretty edible so I guess I shouldn't complain too much. Any words of support or encouragement would be appreciated.



My basic recipe is below but I generally add a bit of rye flour for extra flavour (but a pretty small percentage of the total flour content):




•    2 cups warm water

•    6 -8 cups flour (this depends on altitude and how thick your sourdough starter is)

•    1 cup sourdough starter (unproofed)

•    2 teaspoons salt



        In a large bowl, combine the water, sourdough starter and 4 cups of flour.

         Mix well and cover with plastic wrap in a warm place 8-12 hours (I do it over night).

         The next day stir in the salt and add flour 1/2 to 1 cup at a time to make a very stiff dough .

Knead till smooth.

Cover and let rise 2 to 2-1/2 hours.

        Punch down and divide in half.

Knead till smooth and form into rounds. Place on a greased baking sheet. Cover lightly and let rise till double and puffy (1 to 1-2 hrs).

Heat oven to 400°F.

Carefully place a small pan of hot water on the bottom rack of the oven.

Cut two slashes across each other on top of each loaf.

Bake for 45 minutes.

You are suppose to allow this to cool for 2 hrs to develop the sourdough flavor fully -- we wait maybe 30-45 minutes!



258 users have voted.


farinam's picture
farinam 2012 July 21

Hello wishfish,

You don't say what the hydration of your starter is, but based on the volumes that you give, I reckon that your dough hydration is only about 50% at best, depending on how you fill your flour cups.

I see that the recipe calls for a 'very stiff dough' which seems a bit odd but the proportions would give you just that and this would contribute to the sealing problem.

I would try making the dough at a higher hydration and see how it goes.  Perhaps try an extra half cup of water first.  Depending on how that goes, you could get really brave and try a full cup extra further down the track.

On your cloth lining, it is a bit hard to tell but from the picture, it almost looks as if the cloth is wet.  The cloth should be dry and coated with a low gluten flour such as rye or rice.

Let us know how you go.


wishfish's picture
wishfish 2012 July 22

Hi Farinam,


Thanks for your comments.


I have played around a bit with hydration. I take the recipe as a pretty rough guide  - since I have no real way to ensure accuracy and consistency - and have experiented with the quantities of water. For a while I was making a pretty soft dough - as soft as I could manage but I had problems with the whole thing deflating and spreading too much when I turned it out of the baskets. The cloth is not wet but it is not a nice sturdy linen - it's an old sarong I cut up for the purpose..


I'm wondering a bit about the quality of the flour. Not very good, I think.


No access to rye or rice flour, unless I go to Panama City. I have one packet a friend bought back for me so I'm a bit loath to use it flouring my "banneton."


But on your advice I will up the hydration again on my next attempt and change my approach to shaping.


I am pretty frustrated by my lack of equipment and my crappy oven. I might see if I can invest in a set of scales next time I go to town but I can't imagine that I will be able to buy anything of sufficient quality to be very accurate. Not much to be done about the oven.



I'll keep you posted on how it goes.

farinam's picture
farinam 2012 July 22

Hello Wishfish,

Even fairly cheap digital scales should be more than accurate enough.  They only need to have a range of a couple of kilograms and an accuracy to 1g.  There would probably be something available on line if you can't get to the city or nothing is avalable locally.

In the meantime, you might consider the following procedure to improve your 'reproducibility' using cup measures.

1. Stir the flour up in your container or sift a quantity (say 50% more than you need for your loaf) onto a tray/bowl/bench to aerate the flour.

2. Use a spoon to fill your cup above the lip and scrape off the excess with a straight blade (spatula/scraper). 

3. Do not shake or compact the contents in any way.

4. Repeat 2 and 3 for required number of cups.

5. Return excess flour to your container.

You can use a similar method for the water if you like - that is fill the cup until just (before it) spills and scrape across the top with a straight blade to remove the excess.

On the subject of flour quality, does the packaging include any sort of analysis, particularly protein content?  A desirable level is a bit of a moot point but the one that I use has about 11.5%.  The other question is age, the general advice is, the fresher the better.

Hang in there, if they could make bread in the bronze age, I'm sure you can too.


wishfish's picture
wishfish 2012 July 22

Fairly often the flour has weevils in it if I buy it from the closest town which would indicate that it is more than six months since it was milled. The only information about content on the packaging is that the flour is enriched with vitamens and iron. It's poor people's flour, designed to keep you alive even if your diet is terrible.


Still, the weevils will add to the overall protein content, I guess :- )



Online shopping isn't an option, unfortunately, because there isn't an effective secure post or delivery service.


But I'm pretty happy puddling along doing the best I can and I'm sure I'll make killer bread if I ever get back to a better resourced part of the world.

Alexander 2015 May 20

Hello all,

I´m in Brazil and had many problems with the temperature in the past. Here in my kitchen it's never runing below 30º (yes is it). So when I began changing the time settings I got great success. Working without retarding in the fridge could be a disaster too.

Post Reply

Already a member? Login