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adrober

Sourdough Bread Troubleshooting (Part 1)

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I spent two weeks preparing a starter using Nancy Silverton's "Breads from the La Brea Bakery."

Last night was the moment of truth: after two weeks, the bread was ready to go in the oven and I put it in there eagerly. 45 minutes later, the loaf looked beautiful. I reached down with a cookie sheet and a spatula to pull it off the cooking stone and it was pretty stuck. I finally wedged it off and was proud to behold a gorgeous spectacle:

Image-ED7E6D76820111D8.jpg-thumb_269_202.jpg

Then I flipped it over (burning my hands) and beheld a not so gorgeous spectacle:

Image-ED92EA10820111D8.jpg-thumb_269_202.jpg

Despite the burnt black quality of the bottom, my bigger concern was the hole. There was a giant hole that went almost all the way to the top. The same thing with the second loaf, only bigger. Why did that happen? Does it have something to do with scoring the bread at the start? I thought I followed her directions pretty well. Can anyone explain this phenomenon? Thanks!

[And, if anyone's interested, here's a pretty silly video documenting my breadmaking ordeal. You need Quicktime to view it.]

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Great movie, even if a bit kitsch...

The grapes in the sourdough starter wern't requires, they have the wrong sort of yeast on them. The sugar in the grapes provides a quick boost, but its not the right food for the sourdough yeasts. Keep feeeding your starter just flour and water. The smell of the starter will get better as the contaminents from the grapes drop out.

You should review the eGCI Sourdough course and Dan Lepard's baking day

Looks like the baking stone was too hot compared to the rest of oven, hnce the burning on the bottom. Is the oven bottom heat? If so maybe moving it upa shlf or two might help. Also keep the oven at temperature for an hour or so before you bake to let things even out.

Making the stone wet before putting the loaf will make it stick. The amount of steam you can generate from a spray will have no significant effect. Better to spray the loaf.

Polenta or Matza meal on the peel and sprinkeld on the loaf in the basket before turning it out can also help it not stick.

The hole ("where the baker sleeps") I guess comes from insufficient kneading, and in particular loose shaping. When you shape a boule, you sort of roll it from one side so that the friction on the worktop shapes it. Its a bit like rolling a balloon along the worksurface with one hand at 45 degrees.

The amount of oven spring indicates that the loaf may have been a bit underproved. Dan Lepard has a useful technique of folding the dough sides to middle every hour for four hours during bulk fermentation.

Finally, practise, practise pratcise. Your loaf is a remarkable beginning, but if you bake your bread regularly, every week, not only will it spoil you for shop bread, but you will get better and better at it.

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love the video, the music, the Tom Selleck loaf

As jackal10 says, that loaf seems to have exploded when it went into the oven - it needed a longer rise. If you use the same recipe, but turn* the dough every hour for its initial rise before shaping, until you start to see signs of fermentation (if you cut into the dough with a sharp blade, you should see little bubbles forming, caused by the yeast as they ferment the natural sugars in the dough), and then shape the dough, you will get a better rise and a better loaf. You can even mix the dough at night, leave it in the refrigerator (4degC) until the following morning (8am), then shape it and leave until 2pm or 3pm before baking (or until it has almost doubled in height). Very lightly spray (with a mist-type pump bottle) the top of the loaf, rather than directly onto the baking stone. And get a oven themometer from the hardware store (the sort that you hang inside the oven). Keep the oven initially no higher than 220C.

It looks bold and proud. Did it taste good?

regards

Dan

*to turn the dough, pat it out flat on a floured surface, and fold it in by thirds, as if you're making puff pastry. Replace it seam-side down on a tray (or bowl), cover with a cloth and leave

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I'd like to add my support for the several hours initial rise, turning (or folding) every hour. It's a method that improved my breads immeasurably. Also, a suggestion about turning: if I have a really wet dough, and I usually do, I use two bench scrapers to lift and fold.

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Thanks everyone! I appreciate your help.

Are you guys familiar with Nancy Silverton's book? She's so wildly specific in her process that I'm scared to diverge from her techniques. I think jackal10 hit the nail on the head in suggesting the hole came from "insufficient kneading."

What happened was my mixer started sparking and smoking (perhaps too much dough?) and I plopped it out on the surface and attempted to knead by hand, Nancy Silverton style: (slamming it down on the counter, folding it over and lifting it up and slamming it again). The process was exhausting and I gave up after only three minutes (verse the recommended 5). And the resulting dough did not meet her requirements of "baby's butt"ness. It was still gooey.

I was going to reactivate the starter yesterday and bake another loaf tomorrow for practice, but as it happens my religion prevents me. What kind of God schedules Passover in the second week of a nubian's breadmaking? Inconsiderate, I'd say.

Thanks again.

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Turns out that its time and hydration that are more important than heavy kneading. You only really need to knead enough to mix to an even consistency

Dan's "turning" technique compensates for less kneading, but do it every hour for four hours.

For single loaf batches of fairly wet dough, 20 seconds in a food processor work OK; use the regular steel blade. Do 10 without the salt added, wait 30 minutes (amylisation), then do another 10 seconds to mix in the salt. Then prove for 4 hours at 85F, turning every hour before shaping.

Nancy Silverton's techniques may work for her, but your conditions, flours and ambient temperatures will all be a bit different. You are not her, and you are making your bread, not hers. Most bread books, including hers IMHO, are often plain wrong in details. Unfortunately it is often different details in each book.


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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i also follow the turning routine for all doughs, i do 3-5 turns every 20 mins after the dough is mixed using as little flour as possible - i like the wet dough and many times i use no flour at all, but slightly oil everything to avoid sticking.

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Foodie3, how'd the croc go?

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devlin, i was afraid you'd ask - the croc was a disappointment for several reasons:

a. it was extremely salty - 25 gr of salt for 550 gr flour = 4.6%, i should've caught this before making it, i couldn't eat it!

b. the texture was too chewy, i was also surprised at the "flat" flavor after a 48hr preferment, i used giustos bread flour and durum that i bought in bulk, can't really tell where durum came from.

c. i was determined to keep the dough very wet and should've baked it on the sheet pan rather than transfering to the stone, this was difficult and resulted in an ugly shape.

i also baked pane pugliese from the same book, had to add about 150gr of extra flour (i checked the salt amount it was ok, 2%) and the dough was still pretty wet, made 3 boules, both the crumb and the crust were nice and the flavor was pleasant (i used a 48 hr biga).

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Gosh, I'm sorry to hear about you experience, foodie3. I've tried only a couple of the easy direct method breads from the Field book so far but I've enjoyed them very much. I'm tempted to reduce the salt in the croc bread when I make it this week, but I think I'll try it as written and let you know if I agree with you.

adrober: the main thing you should take from your experience is that you've made a starter that is capable of raising bread. This is a major victory; many people never get there! Speaking as someone who's just recently (after a few failures) made a successful starter myself, I'm thrilled for you.

And I'm all for a thread in which we bread newbies show off our loaves and share advice/recipes.

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i am quite new to bread baking though i've been making foccacia and savory yeasted dough based galettes for many years - these are my staples.

my favorite book for recipes, so far, has been maggie glezer's artisan baking across america. i like the flavors of breads made with very little yeast and long preferments best, with these hearth type breads i get good dark crust and very good texture to the crumb. i have many favorites from this book!

sethg, i follow the recipes exactly and weigh carefully more so the first time around. there are mistakes in books, for instance, in c. fields the total weight for biga (the larger recipe) doesn't add up, rlbs bread bible has a web site with all the corrections. as far as the amount of salt in the croc, i don't know whether or not it is intentional, the standard is 2%.

the most useful reading for me came from joe ortiz "the village baker'', i also admire n. silverton, made some of her pastries but not her breads (yet), her recipes do work.

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jackal10, can you give specific examples of "wrong details " and what you consider the right approach including n. silvertons? this would be of great help to me since i rely entirely on books for my bread baking education.

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Foodie, you've reminded me that I worked for many months finessing the croc into just what I wanted, including adjusting the salt and experimenting with different ferment times. I use a sort of middling fine sea salt, and I now use only 1 tablespoon (just looked it up and see the book calls for more than that). That may have something to do with your displeasure with your final product, but I suspect it may also be something to do with the duration of the ferment. Here's the schedule I finally found provided the flavor I most prefer in this bread. I finally decided on a 17 hour ferment for each of the first two days. For example (and this is currently my baking schedule for this bread):

first day: 10 pm, mix first starter

2nd day: 3 pm, mix second starter

3rd day: 8 am, mix dough for rise

I also add about a tablespoon of raw wheat germ to every cup of flour, even in the starters, which adds a nice little extra dimension of flavor to the bread on the whole and a tiny bit of interesting crunch to the crust.

I never get what I'm looking for the first time I make a whole new kind of bread, and I really had completely forgotten how much time over so many months I'd spent working on this one bread. Many times, with other ferment schedules, I ended up with a flat tasting bread. So I hope this one experience hasn't discouraged you from trying it again. It's worth the effort.

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devlin, thanks for your encouragement and advice!

this bread was the only one, so far, that i found to be inedible and had to throw away, which is completely against my principals.

too salty, too chewy and flat tasting - is a bad, bad recipe in my book! i suspect that what you are making is, indeed, a different bread. i do "optimize" my favorites as well, but it has to become a favorite first. i may give it another shot in the future, but for now there are many others on my list to try.

have you baked from m. glezer's book?

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jackal10, can you give specific examples of "wrong details " and what you consider the right approach including n. silvertons? this would be of great help to me since i rely entirely on books for my bread baking education.

Some examples, specifically for Sourdoughs from Silverton.:

Using grapes to make a starter. Grapes have the wrong sort of yeast on them, and the sugar gives a spurious activity to the dough. If anything the yeast on the grapes inhibit the growth of the correct symbiotic yeasts and lactobacilla.

She adds wheatgerm. I don't. On the otherhand, following Prof. Calvi, a knife-tip of Vitanin C powder helps as a flour improver if the flour is fresh. King Arthur already include this and diastatic malt in their bread flour.

Her dough is stiffer than mine - about 60% rather than 66%

She advises 70F-75F for ferment and proofing. This is a bit cold. If you look at the scientific bit (http://www.egullet.com/imgs/egci/sourdough/science.html) attached to my egCI sourdough unit you will see that 85F is optimum.

I use 30 minutes instead of 20 for autolysis. I doubt it matters much

She does not "turn" the dough

She advises to let the dough return to room temperature after retardation, before baking. This can take hours, and the dough can overprove on the outside, while still cold inside. I find it better to bake direct from cold for very wet doughs- you get a bigger oven spring and lighter bread, and the dough is easier to hadle cold, as it is stiffer.

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I spent 7 hours yesterday helping a guy in Smithfield R.I. who built a 6x8 Alan Scott oven. We turned out 3 full oven loads, about 60-70 loafs per load, and the stuff sold right off the peel. By the time I left I don't think he had 20 loafs to sell for the rest of the day. He was a little lackadaisacal about proofing too, as some his loafs bulged here and there.

The trick to slashing with a sharp serrated knife is to think follow-through even as you start the cut. The cut almost seems to be incidental. I also find that getting really cool "ears" is one of the more elusive techniques to master. Sometimes I'm just satisfied if the loaf looks good and didn't pop.

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I want to shift the direction of this thread a bit.

I have been working with a very stable San Francisco sourdough starter culture. The loaves that come out of the oven smell great, taste great and have a good "hole-y" texture- very close to the real thing. But the problem I'm having is with forming the loaves and getting a good hard crust.

The process is thus: Combine flour and water and let it autolyse for 30 minutes. Add the starter sponge and salt. This makes a very sticky dough. Place the dough in a bowl and let it proof for about 12 hours at room temp. Punch down the dough and let it proof for 5 more hours at room temp. Form the loaves with a minimum of handling, placing them in wicker baskets to proof at room temp for 2 hours. Roll the forms onto a peel, slash, spritz and bake in a commercial convection oven, on a stone, at 450F for 15 minutes, switching to 400F for the rest of the bake. I steam for 20 seconds at about 3 minutes, and again at about 10 minutes.

The problems are thus: The dough is very sticky and moist, and does not form well. Should I be more aggresive in forming the loaves? When I roll them out of the baskets onto the peel, they sort of smooze around a bit. When I slash them, the cuts tend to "heal" up. Okay, so into the oven they go, and they brown really nicely after about 35 minutes of baking, but the crust is not as thick as some of my customers would like.

Any thoughts on what I might be doing wrong? We're at 3000ft here - is that going to have an impact on the quality of the crust? Bottom line? Help!

Cheers,

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Retard the loaves. Put the dough in the baskets into the fridge for between 12 and 24 hours...the cold dough will also be stiffer and handle easier.

Steam as soon as the loaves are in the oven to gelatanise the starch on the outside of the loaves.

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  Roll the forms onto a peel, slash, spritz and bake in a commercial convection oven, on a stone, at 450F for 15 minutes, switching to 400F for the rest of the bake.  I steam for 20 seconds at about 3 minutes, and again at about 10 minutes. 

I used to bake san fran sourdough in a double rack rotary hobart oven and always had the same problems of paper thin crusts and cuts that healed and never broke open. I think it's inherent to that kind of oven. They're not really any kind of hearth oven.

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My dough recently did the same thing when I slashed it: almost immediately sealed itself back up, even after 12 hours retarding in the fridge. Is there such a thing as a dough that is too wet? When I pulled the bread out of the oven, its temperature was 210'F, but even after waiting for the loaf to completely cool before cutting into it, the bread had a very gummy, damp texture. Could the problem be that my dough was too wet? Or is this a problem with my starter?

Sobacie, Kolachi is probably what you ate, it's poppyseed or nut roll and can be found just about everywhere during the holidays. Now if you can find a Green Slovack cookbook, you will find many, very good, eastern European recipes in it. The cookbook usually can be found at a Slovack church and if the church doesn't have it, they know where to get it.

Oh, kolachi, huh? Thank you so much, Polack. Being in Japan, I'm not sure if I'll be able to find that cookbook you recommended, but now that I have a name, I'm sure I'll be able to find a recipe on the Internet. Thanks!

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After reading the last two posts, I would like to offer a few suggestions. To McDuff: it is possible to make respectable bread in a rack oven -- not great or world class bread, but some that is very good and very respectable. Jackal is right, for the desired characteristic thin, crispy crust of artisanal breads, steam is necessary immediately after the bread is placed in the oven. Depending on how much bread is in your oven, twenty seconds could be too much. Too much steam can close the cuts made while scoring and penalize crumb quality and volume as a result. Any steam after that is redundant. Are you venting the oven during the latter stages of the bake? That would help evacuate the steam that you have injected into the oven as well as the steam driven off from the bread during the bake. That should promote crust crispiness When the color is good -- and I mean good -- try leaving it in the oven for up to five minutes with the door cracked. That will assist in the final stages of baking without burning the crust. That might help your gummy situation, Sobaicecream. Wet doughs can require a long finish with the vent open and the door cracked. Proper cooling is critical after removing the bread from the oven, if you are baking in a rack oven, you are probably baking on pans. Even if they are perforated, try removing them to cooling racks, so that the moisture can continue to escape. Leave them well ventilated with plenty of room all around them. Another issue to examine about cuts not opening is that your breads might possibly be overproofed. It's difficult to say without seeing it or knowing more, but that is common of overproofed breads. Are they collapsing or even slightly deflating when you score them? If they are, try baking them sooner. If you are not getting good crust color, that could be another indication that your loaves are overproofed.

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Too much steam can close the cuts made while scoring and penalize crumb quality and volume as a result.    Any steam after that is redundant.

Thank you so much for your help, boulak. The only steam my bread gets is from hot water poured into a pan on the floor of my oven, at the very beginning, and then some water spritzing at 30-second intervals the first few minutes after the bread goes into the oven. When you say "any steam after that," do you mean that I should be pulling out that pan of water after a specific amount of time? I usually do that about 10 minutes before the bread's done baking. Is that too late?

Are you venting the oven during the latter stages of the bake? ... When the color is good -- and I mean good -- try leaving it in the oven for up to five minutes with the door cracked.  That will assist in the final stages of baking without burning the crust.  That might help your gummy situation, Sobaicecream.  Wet doughs can require a long finish with the vent open and the door cracked.

Also, what does "venting during the latter stages of the bake" mean? While the dough is still baking, the door of the oven should be open a bit?

Another issue to examine about cuts not opening is that your breads might possibly be overproofed. ... If you are not getting good crust color, that could be another indication that your loaves are overproofed.

I did wonder if my dough was overproofed because the finished bread sometimes has a...um...semi-digested quality. A recent bread of mine was so moist, it made audible squishing noisings when I chewed!

I've been following the cool retardation method, where I bulk ferment for about four hours and then put the dough in the fridge overnight (about 12 hours). Can a dough overproof in the fridge?

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You need a burst of superhot steam at the very beginning of the bake - pour a cup or two of water into a hot preheated cast iron pan, for example (care!).

After a few minutes it will have evaporated. After that anymore is pointless.

Commercial ovens have a vent to let out the steam towards the end of the bake.

Maybe you are not baking for long enough, or too hot for the size of loaf. I bake a boule for about 40 minutes at 220C..

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You need a burst of superhot steam at the very beginning of the bake - pour a cup or two of water into a hot preheated cast iron pan, for example (care!).

After a few minutes it will have evaporated. After that anymore is pointless.

Commercial ovens have a vent to let out the steam towards the end of the bake.

Maybe you are not baking for long enough, or too hot for the size of loaf. I bake a boule for about 40 minutes at 220C..

Hi Jackal,

I do do the hot water into hot pan thing, but I also spritz cause my oven is a little too efficient about quickly getting rid of any steam I create. Perhaps I am baking too hot (usu. 'bout 230'C/440'F for 45 min). I thought the best indicator was the internal temperature of the finished loaf (about 98'C/210'F). And my most recent loaf was more like 100'C. My bread always does tend to brown quite extremely though,even when there's no fat/sugar, so maybe I should be baking at about 210'C for longer...?

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Hi Sobaicecream, Wow,this thread is really fermenting now. Jackal is exactly right about steam and venting. Monitor your baking times as Jackal suggests. The factors that influence baking time are the type of oven (and the capacity to which it has been loaded) and the size and moisture content (or richness in some cases)of the loaf. It sounds like you are dialing it in which is truly baking nirvana. I wonder, are you keeping a journal? This is one of the most helpful tools for dialing it in and continually improving your bread.

Polak, I have never made Portugese batard, but am familiar with what everyone calls Portugese Sweet Bread. Is this what you are talking about? If it is, it probably sweetened and enriched and baked at a lower temperature. Is the crust color light, albino, tan, white?


Edited by boulak (log)

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