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Sourdough Bread Troubleshooting (Part 1)

591 posts in this topic

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.

Yup, I tell my oven what temperature I want, and it sings a little song when it's there (it's a Japanese thing). I remember before I came to Japan though and I had an old oven with a floaty kind of knob that shifted very happily all on its own--you never knew what temperature exactly that thing was at. Looking back, it's a miracle that anything ever turned out.

I am keeping a journal, but I have to be a bit more disciplined about perfecting one loaf before moving on to a new kind. :raz:

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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?

The bread and rolls are lite to tan in color with the rolls being very light and with holey inside. Actually the rolls to me are much better than the batard. The bakery at the supermarket is somehow affiliated with Nancy Silvertons LaBrea bakery in Ca. It looks like all the supermarkets are now taking on chefs and bakers to help them sell their products. Boulack you're going to have to sell your name and reap some of the bennies.

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Is the crust crisp? It is possible for breads, especially those not based on preferments, to have more flavor in the crust than in the crumb. A roll would give you a greater crust to crumb ratio. I am just guessing as I am not familiar with the batard. I have read the thread with a discussion of Broa and looked it up in my library, but do not have enough experience with it to make specific comments. There are many causes for a light to tan crust color which could include a low oven temperature, a lean dough, no use of steam, overproofing, formulation, etc. I would love to know more about the bread so that I could discuss it more intelligently. BTW Polack, my eGullet name is a disparaging word that patissiers use to refer to boulangers, so it seems as if I've already sold something.

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Is the crust crisp?  It is possible for breads, especially those not based on preferments, to have more flavor in the crust than in the crumb.  A roll would give you a greater crust to crumb ratio.  I am just guessing as I am not familiar with the batard.  I have read the thread with a discussion of Broa and looked it up in my library, but do not have enough experience with it to make specific comments.  There are many causes for a light to tan crust color which could include a low oven temperature, a lean dough, no use of steam, overproofing, formulation, etc.  I would love to know more about the bread so that I could discuss it more intelligently.  BTW Polack, my eGullet name is a disparaging word that patissiers use to refer to boulangers, so it seems as if I've already sold something.

Holy cowmoozingies, I did it. I made my first sourdough loaf without commercial yeast, and let me say, if they taste anything like they look I'll be in seventh heaven. Right now they're cooling off and waiting for the great taste test with the homemade chuck, vegetable soup for lunch. When I first made the sourdough bread and had it in the fermenting stage I tought that it was bad because it hadn't risen like the breads I had made with commercial yeast. After getting so many good instructions by the members on this board and really reading Silverton's book in detail, I found out that I really didn''t give my dough a chance to rize before I flipped it. This time I let it ferment, with the stretching and folding, for a good five hours and then shaped them and put them in the fridge over nite, to be baked this morning. They are beautiful specimens laying on the table.

Jackal I took your advice and used the cast iron frying pan with water in the oven for the steam needed, worked excellent.

Boulack, as far as the Portugueese rolls, they don't really have a very crisp crust to them, the crust is there but it is not flakey, maybe because they weren't baked as long as other rolls, don't have an answer to it, maybe you experts can figure it out.

Let me say I'm the happiest Polish Leprechaun on earth with my achievment today. Thanks to everyone for their help. Now I may be able to not only master sausage making but also bread baking.

Polack

After the cooling process I tried the bread and I have to admit this is definitely the best quality bread I ever made. The crust was hard and chewey, like I enjoy it, and the sour flavor is there with the holes. I can now taste the sourness of the bread as compared to when I used yeast along with the starter, it was not there. My only question is, when I brought the bread out of the refrigerator could I have scored the bread and put them in the oven to bake? I let them sit on the counter for two hours before I set them in the oven.

Polack


Edited by polack (log)

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After my pastry teacher split up her starter (from Nancy Silverton's Breads from the La Brea Bakery) and gave some to each of us, I've been baking at least one loaf of sourdough every week. The starter is wonderfully active and happy, and every loaf tastes great. Before I use the starter, I refresh it three times (morning/evening/morning, usually), with 5 oz. of AP flour and 3 oz. of water. I knead that into a loose dough and then mix in the starter and let it sit until the next feeding. After the dough has bulk fermented, I pull off a quarter of it and put it in the fridge until next week's baking. My recipe is as follows:

300 g. starter

300 g. bread flour

200 g. AP flour

300 ml. water

10 g. salt

Mix into a dough. Knead. Bulk ferment until doubled (usually 2-4 hours, depending on the temp). Punch down, portion out dough, loosely shape into balls (I do one 750g boule usually). Bench rest 15-20 min. Finish shaping. Place in couche (for loaves) or banneton. Refrigerate overnight. Proof until nearly doubled (I do this on a baking sheet, under a bus tub with a glass of hot water changed every half hour, set into a warmish place), usually 2-3 hours. Bake at 425ºF. I preheat my oven one hour to 500ºF before baking (with quarry tiles on the bottom and a pizza stone on the lowest shelf. Baking directly on the quarry tiles gives me a burned bottom). I spritz the top of my loaf and slash (with a lame) and then spritz the oven when I put the bread in, and twice more at about 1 minute intervals, then reduce the heat to 425ºF.

Here are my questions/challenges to getting the best bread out of this. Like I said, it tastes great. But only once has it been a truly sour bread like I could get from Acme. My other problem is that the slashes tend to sort of heal over to leave a smoothish surface. You can tell where the slashes were, but there are no fantastic ridges like you'd get on a commercial artisan loaf. You can see it in the photo here:

gallery_17645_490_1106000364.jpg

Can someone offer me some suggestions?


"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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I too used Nancy's recipe and make some of the best bread that I've tasted. When I first started I also didn't have the sour taste like like you mentioned so I asked the people on this site for help. I ran a thread on sourdough starter and here's what some of the answers were for the sour flavor. Let your starter set in a temp. of 85F and let your starter sit a longer period of time without feeding it should make the taste more tart. If you could find that thread, you will find some very good pointers from Jackal, Boulack, and a few others that will get you streightened out. I know when I bake my bread the top crust will get somewhat distorted, good and crispy, and very chewey. I don't know if you stretch and fold but that's one thing Jackal mentioned and I do it 3 to 4 times when I'm proofing the dough.

Polack

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I too used Nancy's recipe and make some of the best bread that I've tasted. When I first started I also didn't have the sour taste like like you mentioned so I asked the people on this site for help. I ran a thread on sourdough starter and here's what some of the answers were for the sour flavor. Let your starter set in a temp. of 85F and let your  starter sit a longer period of time without feeding it should make the taste more tart. If you could find that thread, you will find some very good pointers from Jackal, Boulack, and a few others that will get you streightened out. I know when I bake my bread the top crust will get somewhat distorted, good and crispy, and very chewey. I don't know if you stretch and fold but that's one thing Jackal mentioned and I do it 3 to 4 times when I'm proofing the dough.

Polack

I forgot to mention that I put a small cast iron pan in the oven and when I put the loaves in to bake on the stone, I put the water in the pan, shut the oven door and don't open it until the bread is baked. My oven is set at 400F and it takes roughly 45 minutes for them to bake.

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Nice-looking loaf, j.

I have a few thoughts:

1. You appear to be keeping a "stiff" starter, which some maintain produces less sour flavor than a "liquid" starter. Have you tried liquid (100% hydration, i.e. equal weights flour and water)? You could refresh it as liquid and save some of the refreshed starter for your next loaf rather than saving a piece of fermented dough.

2. You'll get a lot more sourness if you let your dough rise at a higher temperature. Jack Lang has reproduced a chart here in a few places which shows the bacterial development (which produces acidity and sourness) going off the chart as the temperature of your rising dough gets up into the 80s.

3. You're refreshing your starter and then using it immediately. If you refresh the starter, and then let it sit in the fridge for a day or two, it will still work (despite whatever Silverton might say), and the bacterial development will continue in the fridge, producing more sour flavor in your final bread.

As for the slashes, yours look good to me! You get that raised ridge by holding your lame at a very shallow angle to the bread as you slash-- almost horizontal. It also might help to uncover your dough for a little while-- 10 or 20 minutes-- before you slash. This forms a little bit of a skin that can help define your slashes.

I'd love to see your crumb. What percentage hydration are you using? You've given a mixture of ounces and grams in your formula, and I haven't the energy to figure it out for myself.


"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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One other thing!

You could also try using more starter as a percentage of your total ingredients.

A lot of folks maintain, by the way, that the sour tang you get in San Fran is particular to the lactobacillus that is native to the area. Of course, you're there in that area, so maybe you have it!


Edited by SethG (log)

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Nice-looking loaf, j.

I have a few thoughts:

1.  You appear to be keeping a "stiff" starter, which some maintain produces less sour flavor than a "liquid" starter.  Have you tried liquid (100% hydration, i.e. equal weights flour and water)?  You could refresh it as liquid and save some of the refreshed starter for your next loaf rather than saving a piece of fermented dough.

2.  You'll get a lot more sourness if you let your dough rise at a higher temperature.  Jack Lang has reproduced a chart here in a few places which shows the bacterial development (which produces acidity and sourness) going off the chart as the temperature of your rising dough gets up into the 80s. 

3.  You're refreshing your starter and then using it immediately.  If you refresh the starter, and then let it sit in the fridge for a day or two, it will still work (despite whatever Silverton might say), and the bacterial development will continue in the fridge, producing more sour flavor in your final bread.

As for the slashes, yours look good to me!  You get that raised ridge by holding your lame at a very shallow angle to the bread as you slash-- almost horizontal.  It also might help to uncover your dough for a little while-- 10 or 20 minutes-- before you slash.  This forms a little bit of a skin that can help define your slashes.

I'd love to see your crumb.  What percentage hydration are you using?  You've given a mixture of ounces and grams in your formula, and I haven't the energy to figure it out for myself.

Is there a particular starter recipe you would recommend?

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Is there a particular starter recipe you would recommend?

I made my starter, whom I call Ringo, using Peter Reinhart's instructions in The Bread Baker's Apprentice, page 229. This particular starter begins with coarse rye flour, and once it gets going, you feed it with white flour until the rye is no longer a part of the picture. Reinhart has other methods which don't call for rye, but this particular method worked well for me. Rye flour loves to ferment, and my starter grew like gangbusters for a day or two. As I transitioned it to white flour, it seemed to stop growing, but with persistent feeding it became a working starter withn a week or so.

I wouldn't recommend Silverton's method, mostly because of unneccessary stuff it contains (grape skins) and the impractical amount of starter it produces-- but it ought to work. Really any method that starts with flour and water and tells you to feed it at regular intervals should work. But I would tell anyone following any method to disregard the timetables in most of these starter recipes. If your starter isn't growing as much as it ought to be by day three or four, don't despair. Just establish some regular pattern of feeding, be it once, twice or three times a day, and keep doing it for several days, and you ought to have progress.


"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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Most of the sourness comes from the acidity added with the long developed dough in the sponge starter. If you want the bread sourer let the starter develop more - let it sit in the warm overnight after the last feeding but before use.

Also allow time for amylisation - mix the dough without the salt, leave half an hour, then add in the salt.

I calculate your recipe as follows:

                         Flour       Water
                       -------     --------
300g Starter             187.5       112.5
500g Flour               500.0
300g water                           300.0
Totals                   687.5       412.5
Bakers percentage        100.0%       60.0%

Salt is 10g or 1.45%

60% is quite a stiff dough. If you want bigger holes and a more open crumb you might want to increase the amount of water, say by 50g to 350g for a 67% hydration. Salt is also a little light, normally 2% or 14g, but it depends on your taste.

As mentioned above, slash at an angle, so you are almost cutting a flap, and maybe a bit deeper.

It may just be the photography, but the loaf looks a little pale, either not baked long enough (40 mins), or your oven is not at the temperature yiu think - it might be worth checking the oven temperature with a thermometer.

Admin: Edited to fix legibility of chart

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To generally address a few points here:

1. Contrary to some opinions, I think it is a bad idea to let the starter "age and become more sour" before adding it to the dough. The reason for this is quite simple: by the time a starter is becoming noticably sour it is already well bast peak growth conditions and the population of microorganisms is actually beginning to die down. When you mix the starter together with the dough, you want the yeast/lacrobacillus population as large and healthy as possible so it can do its thing.

2. One way to add a big slug of acid to your dough and still use a healthy starter is to "pre-ferment" a separate piece of dough. In this case, you would mix up about 1/4 of your eventual bread recipe, inoculate it with the starter and let that ferment until it became very sour (e.g., 24 hours). Then, when you mix the final dough you can mix the pre-fermented dough (full of acid now) together with the remaining 3/4 of the flour/water from your bread recipe and an inoculum of fresh starter. It is possible, however, to make a very sour loaf of bread without adding any "soured dough" simply by using a strong flour and doing a lengthy fermentation.

3. The sourness of bread is largely determined by the ash content of the flour. Sourdough lactobacilli aren't so much affected by acid concentrations, but they are affected by low pH. Flours with a higher ash content have greater buffering power and therefore are able to accumulate more acid before the pH gets too low (growth is inhibited at pH 3.8 and acid production stops at 3.6). This is why whole wheat doughs tend to be more sour than white wheat doughs (whole wheat has a much greater ash content).

4. It may also help to add a bit of diastatic malt powder to your dough. One reason that rye flour produces such strong fermentations is that rye flour has high enzymatic activity which breaks down the starch into sugars that can be consumed by the yeasts and lactobacilli. White wheat flour has comparitively low enzymatic activity, and it is possible that the organisme simply run out of food before they can produce enough acid to be inhibited. Diastatic malt powder includes diastase, which is an enzyme that breaks down starch into sugars (thus providing food for the microorganisms to do their thing).

5. One thing you have to be aware of is the fact that acid breaks down gluten. So you need to have a very strong flour with lots of gluten if you want to go extra-sour.

6. To improve the crumb of your bread, I would encourage you to go with more hydration as others have suggested. You might also experiment with retarding the dough in the refrigerator. I like the effect retardation produces. I also find that a slightly cold dough has less tendency to deflate when slashed and produces a much more dramatic oven spring -- both of which would probably help with your "healing slashes" problem.

7. I'm not entirely convinced on the whole "rising at high temperature" thing. Here is a chart of representative growth rates for sourdough lactobacilli and yeasts:

gallery_8505_416_48651.jpg

Up to about 28C (82.5F) we have fairly similar growth rates for yeasts and lactobacilli. Yeast growth is increasingly inhibited above 28C, with no growth at 38C (96.8F). If one wanted to create temperature conditions that significantly favor lactobacteria over yeast 30C (86F) would seem to be the ideal dough temperature. However, this is problematic for a number of reasons: First, if the temperature dips much below 30C there is not much effect and you're going to a lot of trouble for nothing. Second, if you go much higher than 30C you're getting into an area where the yeast is significantly inhibited, which is not so good either. Third, remember it's the dough temperature that counts, not the ambient temperature. It's not as easy as you might think to keep the dough temperature right where you want it, and it's very easy to undershoot or overshoot.

Fundamentally, though, I think the temperature manipulation method is based on some flawed assumptions. First, it is not the case that the yeasts do all the leavening while the lactobacilli only produce acid. In fact, scientists estimate that the lactobacilli typically do about half of the leavening. So, if the premise is that a temperature condition that favors lactobacilli over yeasts gives the bacteria more time to do their souring thing before the dough is leavened, that is unlikely to be significant. Second, as explained above, the sourness of the bread is largely determined by the buffering power of the dough, although the enzymatic action of the dough (as it affects the available food supply) and the gluten content of the dough (as it affects the dough's ability to maintain integrity and leavening after gluten is degraded by acid) are contributing factors as well. I've managed to make some loaves of mouth puckering sourness fermenting entirely at around 50F.

To be honest, though, I don't think sourdough breads should really have that one dimensional up-front sourness like so many supermarket brands do. A mild sourness and greater complexity of flavor is more what I'm after.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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jgarner, that is a really nice loaf, especially for doing it in a home oven. i wouldn't get too carried away and start making big changes in your method when your clearly on the right track. I too give my dough a shaped cold overnight rise. This develops a mild sour (i hate to use that word because its not REALLY sour) and really helps develop the flavor of the grain....but this is how my customers like it. i've found that when they get that REAL sour on their tongues, they don't like it. i found this out because i started cold overnighting my starter for use in the next days dough which would in turn be bulk risen (at room temp.) and given a cold overnight shaped rise. This made my dough noticably more sour without me having to change the recipe. I liked it, but it just wasn't what my peoples wanted.

ps. go ahead and stuff that loaf with sausage and peppers, cmon, go ahead.


...and if you take cranberries and stew them like applesauce it tastes alot more like prunes than rhubarb does. groucho

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I knew the Jackal would get into this thread, it's his passion and does very well with it. I used his advice and am reaping the rewards every time I bake bread. I too wait about 20 minutes, after the first knead, before I put the salt to it. When I tried my first loaf I was adding not only my starter, but a tsp of dry yeast and that definitely kept the sour flavor out.

Polack

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1. Contrary to some opinions, I think it is a bad idea to let the starter "age and become more sour" before adding it to the dough.  The reason for this is quite simple: by the time a starter is becoming noticably sour it is already well bast peak growth conditions and the population of microorganisms is actually beginning to die down.  When you mix the starter together with the dough, you want the yeast/lacrobacillus population as large and healthy as possible so it can do its thing....

I guess the key to Sam's statement above is his use of the term "noticably sour." I don't know how long you have to wait for the starter to become noticably sour-- it might be long enough to do damage to your starter's ability to cause bread to rise. I don't aim for sourness myself. I sometimes leave my refreshed starter in the fridge for three days or more before I use it and I think it adds a bit more sourness (which is why I mentioned it), but not a ton.

I would agree that if you wait to use your refreshed starter and either leave it out overnight or put it in the fridge, it may be past its peak when you use it. But it will still work just fine, within reasonable limits. In her original post, jgarner53 says her dough doubles in two to three hours-- this is evidence of a very active starter indeed. Her bread will still rise just fine if she waits a bit longer to use the starter.


Edited by SethG (log)

"I don't mean to brag, I don't mean to boast;

but we like hot butter on our breakfast toast!"

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OK, based on your responses, this is what I will try this week. The loaf will be edible regardless, so it's an experiment I'm happy to make.

I will refresh my starter at a warmer than room temp (this for me means in the oven with the pilot light on and door open) except for the final which will go into the reefer.

I'm not sure I really need to autolyse at this point because my dough really is a happy thing. Fred (that's my starter's name) is a busy little yeast colony. But if the cool refresh doesn't make my dough more sour (I'm not really after mouth-puckeringly sour, just a noticeable twang), then I will go from there.

Perhaps the angle of my slash is the problem. I tend to go at it closer to 90º.

I know my bread is done (to address whoever thought it looked underdone) because if I insert an instant-read, it reads at least at 200ºF (the bottom also passes the thump test). This week's loaf is considerably less pale on top. (I have also been fiddling around with tile arrangements in my oven to try to optimize the thermal mass)

I'm actually quite happy with the crumb. This photo is of this week's loaf, which has about 15% whole wheat flour in it (I ran short on AP) The shape is a bit funky because a small spot stuck to my peel where I hadn't put enough semolina. Though I may very well add more water to open the crumb out a bit. (This loaf is also, what, now, several days old?)

gallery_17645_490_2751.jpg

gallery_17645_490_1033.jpg

Really, I see this as an ongoing experiment. I love the idea that the flavor of the bread can vary so much based on how the starter is treated, the temperature of the dough/fermentation, etc. Thanks for all the suggestions.


"I just hate health food"--Julia Child

Jennifer Garner

buttercream pastries

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That is a good looking loaf, so whatever you are doing, it is the right thing!

I'd let the sponge warm up and become active before making the dough, if you refrigerate it.

You might get a bit more oven spring, and hence wider "gringe" (grins or slash marks) and bigger volume by proofing a little less. Personally I bake straight from the fridge.

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First off, I must confess that I'm a lazy, rule-breaking sourdough baker, but this seems to work for me... I pull my starter (kept at 100% hydration) from the refrigerator (I typically bake with it once a week, but occassionally two or three weeks with have gone by), make a sponge, then the dough, one rise, shape and final rise.

In the winter, the sponge is 6-8 hours at room temp (~76 degrees), first rise also at room temp and then the shaped rise overnight at cool room temp (~60). According to my SF bay-area born husband, the resulting loaves taste like "real" sourdough. Nice and tangy. Fantastic crumb and crust.

In the summer, the house is simply too warm for an overnight final rise. Instead, the sponge is overnight in the refrigerator, with the first rise and shaped rise at room temp (~78 degrees). It results in a medium sour bread. (I just got a second refrigerator, so this summer I'll probably experiment a bit with refrigerated overnight shaped rises.)

Whether it is the warmer sponge or the cooler. longer shaped rise or both, I have yet to determine. An experiment for when I have more time...

Also, if you don't already have it, you might want to get a copy of Jeffrey Hamelman's "Bread, A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes". It has a great section (with photos!) on slashing technique and also contains good sourdough information. It was discussed in this thread.

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I've recently returned (after many years) to trying my hand at baking sourdough bread. My first two attempts resulted in flavorable, nice textured loaves that were too moist to form!! The supplier of the starter suggested that I kneed the dough for only 5 minutes - rather than the 10 minutes at low speed on my KitchenAid I'd been doing (and are in her instructions. I just tried that. At 4.5 minutes, it looked great - pulling away from the sides of the bowl. At 5 minutes, it broke down and seems too moist, but I'll go ahead and bake it.

Ideas? Suggestions?

Oh, my mixture is 2 cups of starter, 2 cups of bread flour and 2 tsp of salt.

Thanks much,

Sidecar Ron

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The acid in the sourdough can break down the gluten.

Actually you don't need to knead at all, just mix to an even consistency, and then fold sides to middle, and top to bottom line you are making flaky pastry every hour for four hours during the bulk ferementation phase.

The wetter the dough the bigger the holes, but you will need to support the dough during rising with a banneton. I usually make mine around 72% hydration.

See the eGCI SOurdough Unit http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=27634

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I had a similar problem myself. I solved it by not allowing my loaves to overproof and by doing the envelope folding method every hour during the fermentation.


Believe me, I tied my shoes once, and it was an overrated experience - King Jaffe Joffer, ruler of Zamunda

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Thank you folks. I'll either try NO or VERY little kneeding next time.

Sidecar Ron

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all your trying to do is make sour dough starter into bread?


Edited by chiantiglace (log)

Dean Anthony Anderson

"If all you have to eat is an egg, you had better know how to cook it properly" ~ Herve This

Pastry Chef: One If By Land Two If By Sea

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Well ... starter plus bread flour plus salt.

Sidecar Ron

all your trying to do is make sour dough starter into bread?

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      The team over at Modernist Cuisine announced today that their next project will be an in-depth exploration of bread. I personally am very excited about this, I had been hoping their next project would be in the baking and pastry realm. Additionally, Francisco Migoya will be head chef and Peter Reinhart will assignments editor for this project which is expected to be a multi-volume affair.
    • By Chris Hennes
      The folks behind Modernist Cuisine have announced a projected publication date of March 2017 for their new five-volume set on bread (previously discussed here). Start saving up now!
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