What am I not doing correctly?


Hope someone may have some suggestions on things I could do to improve my sour dough bread.  I was given a starter last year and have been making bread ever since.  I feed my starter with rye but I make my loaves with white bakers flour.  The taste is great but I don't get the 'holes'.  I kick off the starter (100% hydration) the night before with a feed of rye flour and warm water and put in a warm spot.  In the morning I mix up  warm water, starter and flour and autolyse for half an hour then add my salt.  I knead for about 6 minutes until the dough comes together then leave in a bowl in a warm spot covered for 6 hours.  Take out and stretch and fold to knock down.  Return then repeat the knock down two hours later.  Then i take out and place into banetons and cover.  The bread rises beautifully but when I turn out the bread onto the baking tray it deflates.  What can I do to stop this deflation at the time I am ready to bake?  When I bake I am happy with the crust but not the lack of rise and lack of 'holes'.   Sorry no photos but you get the idea. 

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farinam's picture
farinam 2013 September 10

Hello Julsa,

I suspect that your problem is over proving.  You don't say how long you proved your loaf for and what your temperature was.  However, up to eight hours in a warm spot plus your proof time (also in a warm spot?) would seem to me to be a prime candidate for over proving.

If you continue to use the warm spot, I would think of shortening the time significantly ( at least half).  However, rather than relying on time, which is variable depending on the recipe and the ambient conditions, you should work on when the loaf is ready (either a visual assessment or using the poke test).  If ambient conditions are closely controlled then timing is a valid approach (this is what they do in bakeries with temperature and humidity controlled provers) but in the kitchen the time required is variable depending on the weather and the season.

Hope this helps.  Feel free to provide/ask more detail.

Good luck with your projects.


davo 2013 September 11

Agree with Farinam.

A couple more things.

You can't judge how long is enough even when you know the temps, without knowing things like ratio of starter to new flour/water (and even then it will vary starter to starter). For me, making 4 large loaves per batch,  I use 1 kg of levain (starter) with about 2.7 kg of new flour/water (both at around 68-70% hydration), to make around 3.7 kg of bread dough. At that ratio, 6-8 hours of bulk fermenting would be way way too long. But maybe if I started with 500 g levain into 3.2 kg of new flour/water (for the same total of 3.7 kg of dough) , 6 hours would not be long enough.

Also, leaving 6 hours straight in the "bulk ferment" without stretch and folds is unusual, maybe you are out and can't do anything with the dough during that period? If that's the case, you might be better leaving it in a cool place (eg in a cardboard box with a towel over and a bottle of frozen water in there), and then stretch and fold when you get back to it.

Also, the concept of "knocking down" is not one that sits comfortably for sourdough as it does for yeasted dough - this is the air (holes) you have in the loaf, and you are squeezing it out! Hence better doing stretch and folds when the dough is less ripe than at 6 and 8 hours of warm conditions - you get the gluten development but don't have much air (yet) to lose (people talk of doubling dough before shaping, but for me this is too far). And when you do those S&Fs, and shaping, do them gently so as to knock out the least air possible.

The deflation on going onto the baking tray is a sure sign of overproof.

You are looking for the best overall rise including oven spring -  which is not the same as the biggest rise you can get before baking. It shoudl still be going up and still a bit resilient when it hits the oven. On poking a wetted or floured finger 1 cm into the dough, the indentation should spring back slowly, part-way. if it springs back fast and most or all of the way, its probably under, if it doesn't spring back at all, it's over...

If you take it too far the other way (shorter times/less fermentation) you will eventually get back to a spectacular bursting oven spring from an initially much smaller loaf, which will still be dense. You want the goldilocks zone somewhere in between. Enough air, but enough reslilience.

Julsa 2013 September 11

Thank you Farinam and davo.

Both the levain and the dough (in bowls) are sat on a small table near the wood fire.  The thermometer reads on average 30 degrees in this location.  The dough is left for 6 hours till well doubled.  I do the stretch and fold gently and try not to tear the underside (top).  Then back into the bowls again for another two hours, another stretch and shape and into the banetons for another two hours.  Total is 10 hours, 6 and 2 and 2.  If I poked the bread I am sure it would deflate like it does when I tip it gently onto the tray.  What amount of time would you suggest or is the poke test the best?

Thank you.


farinam's picture
farinam 2013 September 11

Hello Julsa,

You would probably be looking at two hours for development and two hours for proving at the most.

I would forget all about the doubling for the first proof.  The main requirement before shaping your loaf is that the dough is well developed.  In any case, what exactly does doubling mean - is it double the volume or is it double the height - if you do the maths these are very different results.

And Davo is spot on in that you want the best combination of proof rise and oven spring and they are pretty much inversely related and too much and too little are undesirable.

Have a look at my blog to get some idea of what I mean.


Good luck with your projects.


davo 2013 September 12

At those temps I agree with farinam that 2 and 2 might work, although an option is to reduce the temp a bit. My room temp is more like 20-22 c I find at the hot temps that it not only happens faster than I like but also the dough goes a bit sloppy. If you used the temps that are more like that, maybe you can stretch out those times to 3 and 3-4, or something. I generally prefer a longer proof time than bulk time, but there's no exact right or wrong.

Timx 2013 September 17

According to Northwestsourdough.com, who has done some experiments on the subject, the optimum time for autolysing is 2 hours, otherwise it makes little difference. I have tried this and it seems to work. Also I have found that the size of holes is effected not just by the level of hydration, but also by whether you work your dough on a floured surface or on an oiled surface - this obviously has an effect on the hydration of the dough when it goes in the oven! I recommend some of Northwest sordough's Youtube videos!


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