Going through a form (and dough) slump


I have made yeasted bread for over thirty years, and became interested in making sourdough about a year ago. I follow the Tartine method, and until a few weeks ago was consistently turning out loaves that looked and tasted how I thought they should be. Strong gluten windows when folding, resulting in lots of air pockets, some quite large, and a loaf that expanded rapidly once in the oven. Something has happened, though, and lately my dough just slumps once I tip it from the basket onto the stone for baking. As a result, the loaves are quite flat (see photo) and have a very uniform distribution of air pockets. The leaven that I used for the loaf in the photo looked as it should, and floated when I added it to the water, but the starter itself seems to be active for shorter periods after feeding and has a stronger (but not unpleasant) odour. Since the dough has started slumping I have not been able to make a loaf that looks like my earlier successes, no matter what I try changing. I'm beginning to think that there is something wrong with my starter. Any suggestions?

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farinam 2015 November 22

Hello Greg_H,

I'm assuming the map shows your location and you would have been in for some reasonably warm weather recently and your work-space temp could have increased as well.  So it is possible that this has been enough to raise the activity of your sourdough and you have been pushing towards over-proving if you haven't been shortening your process timing to suit.  Just about everything that you said would seem to support this so I would be looking to manage your process by the needs of the dough rather than by timing alone if that is indeed what you do.

As a rough guide, provided that the temperature is consistent, the time that it takes your starter to peak should be the sort of time that you take for your dough development and proving.  This is for a simple dough.  If you are working with a rich dough, then the timing will be different due to the effect of the additives (butter, oil, eggs, sugar etc).  The other alternative is to become familiar with the 'poke' test for degree of proof and use that as a guide.  Or even just the good old reliable eye-ball for the level of the dough in your banneton.

Good luck with your projects.


Greg_H 2015 November 22

Thanks, Farinam. That makes sense. Yes, it's been much warmer lately. Through the winter I kept the starter in a 25C environment 24/7, but it's been warmer than that lately. I've been starting the levin early evening on the day before baking. When I checked that last batch before going to bed it was very active, but in the morning before I used it it looked to be well past its peak. Also I understand that the profile of bugs in the starter changes with temperature, which is why you try to keep the starter at a constant temperature. The stronger smell I have noticed might mean that the starter now has a different profile and may well behave differently, perhaps? I'll try another bake in the next few days and will work to a much shorter timeline. Will post my progress here.

By 'poke test' you mean test to see if the dough springs back when poked with a finger? If so, it is ready for baking?

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