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Sourdough Bread Troubleshooting (Part 1)


adrober
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Hey! Hummingbirdkiss – that look’s a great loaf. From the small hole size, I bet you’ve got a really active starter. Jeniac42 has a good idea – depending how much water you were adding already you can try increasing it, provided it’s not too difficult to handle the dough. You could also try reducing the amount of starter you use and that would give you bigger holes.

Comment on saving starters – you really can just put some in the freezer!!! I used to cool mine overnight in the fridge in a plastic container. Then freeze and do the reverse on unfreezing. I used to give it 24 hours in the fridge to melt it before feeding.

Edited by Baggy (log)
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Hey!  Hummingbirdkiss – that look’s a great loaf.  From the small hole size, I bet you’ve got a really active starter.  Jeniac42 has a good idea – depending how much water you were adding already you can try increasing it, provided it’s not too difficult to handle the dough.  You could also try reducing the amount of starter you use and that would give you bigger holes. 

Can you explain why really active starter or using less starter would lead to larger holes in the bread? I've been working on this for a while now with mixed degrees of success.

"All humans are out of their f*cking minds -- every single one of them."

-- Albert Ellis

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I’m not sure if I can explain the observation fully. I have been trying for a long time to find ways of getting large holes to form in bread in a predictable way. There’s a long list of things, but even with yeast there is a very clear increase in hole size as I reduce yeast levels. This is proofing to the same volume before baking.

Another factor working in favour of larger holes is under-proofing which, I think, allows the steam to blow up the loaf (oven spring) without overstretching the dough. With under-proofing the holes go translucent. As spritzing the crust gives a gloss, I assume that this is because the steam gelatinises the starch. But the overall impact seems to be different from natural starters, where the whole loaf takes on a translucent sheen (not just the walls of the holes). This is might be due to the starch being more hydrated and so cooks down to a glue (and gives the loaf longer shelf life).

So I’m guessing that a loaf made with an active starter is going to have smaller holes and look more like a yeast-made loaf.

What other things have you tried (maybe we should start a ‘large hole’ topic)?

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Ok honestly???

I do not understand a lot of this stuff ...relative humidity..wet dry ratios... percentages all of that!!! I am sorry ....so please

could some one spell it out ..ABC how can get a perfect loaf of sourdough with all kinds of sizes of holes in it? Just tell me what to do very simple form..I cook by learning a process and a great sense of feel ..the technical stuff well... I love reading it ..am impressed by how it sounds and have no clue how to apply it ..I am sorry

I would be very grateful for the help so thank you so much in advance !!! OOOXXX

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Another factor working in favour of larger holes is under-proofing which, I think, allows the steam to blow up the loaf (oven spring)

I Agree... However! I wouldn't recommend trying to use a low hydrated dough (60-65%), under proof and hope for good results. In my experience Two things will happen ;

1) The good news is that you *will* get large holes, the only problem is that the texture of the bread around the holes will be very dense.

2) The bread will crack up. No matter how much steam you can create in your conventional oven, under-proofing a low hydrated dough will very often lead the gringe (cut) to be fully expanded, and the oven spring pushes the bread further out creating additional cracks and strange shapes. I've tried ice cubes, pans of water in the bottom of the oven......

In my experience high hydration (70'ish) and hot-stone baking is the key to a fine texture and lots of holes.

I've had boules lookign flat and unpromising blow up themselves up like bowling balls inside my oven. I think that's the thing I enjoy most about baking :-)

I have some pictures documenting the baking process in my foodblog

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I do not understand a lot of this stuff ...relative humidity..wet dry ratios... percentages all of that!!! I am sorry ....so please

Things can be a bit confusing at first, but you'll get the hang of it ! Here is the ABC on how to get a great loaf with open holes. Anyone please correct me if Im wrong here.

- All ingredients in a bread recipe are compared to the weight of the flour. This is called baker's percentages I believe.

- Hydration level usually refers to the amount of water in the recipe, compared to the weight of the flour, and *NOT* the percent of water in the total dough. This can be a bit confusing at first.

- So... Let's take an example basic recipe. (Should give you a wet challenging dough to handle, but should produce good open textured loaf) The starter should be active, lively and bubbly, and be aproxemately 50/50 water and flour. The "real" water content is close to 70% in this recipe, due to the wet starter. Some will probably suggest even wetter doughs, but they can be challenging to handle in the beginning.

1000g (1 kg) AP flour (100%)

650g (6 dl) Water (65%)

20g salt (2%)

300g Sourdough starter (30%)

- As you can see, all ingredients are given in the percentages of the flour weight.

The water content is listed at 65% this does *NOT* mean that the fina dough has 65% water in it, only that the water's weight is 65% of the flour's weight.

My online tool for calculating percentages

- To help with oven spring , bake on a hot stone. And make sure there is steam in the oven during the first 3-5 minutes of baking. I usually just throw 1 dl water in the bottom of the oven, a couple of times.

Did any of this make any sense ?

Edited by glennbech (log)
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"Did any of this make any sense ?"

actually it took a minute but it did!!! thanks so much for breaking it down for me ....and I think once I measure it out and see what you mean it really will sink in....like everything else in life it is a learning process....

weighing and measuring has always been an issue to me ..but I am working on it...

one more thing please while I have some attention on this subject?

if the dough is really wet how do I get it off the pan I am resting it on into the oven?

I have two strikes against me on a good day ...my oven is too high and I am too short!!!

I usually just slide the loaves off onto my preheated stones ..but if they are wet loaves ..then they stick as they rise and do not move and I have ended up with a globby mess ...

I never cared in the past how my breads turned out really if they tasted good ..but now that I am starting again I want accomplish a really nice loaf!

thanks so much again this information is priceless and I am so appreciating it

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Glennbech I just looked at your foodblog

that was entirely helpful!!! thank you so much!!!

I am going to make another sponge right this second ...my bread will have those holes!!!

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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weighing and measuring has always been an issue to me ..but I am working on it...

Working withe percentages is very usefull when comparing recipes.... If i see a recipe using the baker's percentages, I don't have to care about the size of the dough (it might be baking huge bakery sized doughs), and I don't have to care about pounds, ounces, kilos og kilograms. It's all in the percentages .-)

if the dough is really wet how do I get it off the pan I am resting it on into the oven?

I Usually let the loaves rise on a baking sheet on a peel, and put the loaf with the sheet onto the hot stone.

I know this is "cheating", but imagine losing a few days work in the last few seconds of the baking process.... Believe me, that has happened :-)

Some suggest flouring the peel/pan with generos amounts of Semolina flour. My experience is that doing that leaves my whole apartment smelling of burnt flour for days.

This is the "crux" of the process for me... Slicing the loaves, into the oven onto the stone, spray-misting or pouring cold water/ice cubes into the oven, and slamming the door shut :-) It's not easy, but it's so fun to watch those loaves rise for for first 10-15 minutes. I sometimes sit in front of the oven watching... My wife thinks Im crazy .-)

Edited by glennbech (log)
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I STILL NEED MORE OF THOSE HOLES!!!

the taste and tang are prefect the crust is just the way it should be ..both these loaves have wonderful flavor ....I love the shape of the one that is more round (that was the purchased starter) but it had less holes and less thag than the flat one that looked worse that one had lots of tang ...

any hints by looking at them ? more hydration ..if so ..won't I have a pizza???? I really would like to get the nice round shape..same crust maybe a little more tang but not much it is very good right now......and all kinds of those wonderful holes insde ....

bread009-1.jpg

bread014-1.jpg

bread011-1.jpg

bread013-1.jpg

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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Some pre-bake pictures would help, but I'd still guess you need to build the strength of the dough by folding before you shape it....  The dough will kind-of let you know when it's folded enough by fighting back a little.

Darn I was going to take some "phase" type pics and didn't ..but will this next round .....I did fold actually just like you said...and the way I saw in that amazing pumpernickel pic...

both of the doughs felt soft but with a little pull to them ..they felt really good in my hands ..the flatter one was wetter for sure ...same percents in both ..so maybe the starter?

I cooked them on a pan just to be sure I would not ruin them transferring them to the tiles ...

I am not kidding when I say they taste spectacular..I can not believe how good the flavor is compared to what I used to bake ....

now I am on a mission to get this right ..I will do another batch before I go on my vacation and see if it works ...

I am also keeping notes on this as Baggy mentioned when I get it right I want to keep it right !!!

Thank you so much ...all of you ...again for all the help !!!

I am still not sure what starter I like best they all have such varying characters to them ..I hope they don't "localize" and loose the distinction ...

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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First, as to the use of a starter, generally the ultimate flavor is controlled by temperature.  The bacteria like cooler temperatures, and the yeast like warmer temps.  Consequently, if you promote a cool fermentation, say 60F, the bacteria will multiply faster than the yeast, developing a stronger sour taste in the final product.  Raising the temperature for fermentation to say, 75F, will promote the yeast growth and the fermentation/raising will be completed much faster, with less of the "sour" taste. 

THANK YOU for that information. I prefer the yeastier flavor and do not really like sour breads as much (unless it's rye or pumpernickel) and I had never considered this.

I haven't re-started my starter. Surgery was yesterday and it's hard even typing this, because I'm on some pain meds. But I may re-start him tonight; the thing is, it's cool in here and I'd prefer it to be warmer for the reasons mentioned above.

hummingbirdkiss, your bread is looking nice. I wish I were experimenting as much! I think you could do a wetter dough and not have it end up a pizza, so long as you can still shape it and there's oven spring? I am no expert though!

Jennie

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I STILL NEED MORE OF THOSE HOLES!!!

the taste and tang are prefect the crust is just the way it should be ..both these loaves have wonderful flavor ....I love the shape of the one that is more round (that was the purchased starter) but it had less holes and less thag than the flat one that looked worse that one had lots of tang ...

Your images look a *little bit* like my atempts with baking with a not optimal starter.... If you take a look at my website by going here ;

http://www.glennbech.com/2006/04/sourdough-disaster.html

You can see pre-bake photos of my first futile atempts. When I baked those, they were pizza's. Yours look a lot better though; Keep up the good work .-)

How long do you "ferment"? (first stage of rising), and for how long do you "proof"? (rising, after you have shaped your loaves), and how do you keep your dough during the proofing stage ?

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Well, I FINALLY got my starter going and was actually able to use it today. Did a Jewish Rye which really turned out well. Thanks to everyone here for reminding me about how much I've enjoyed sourdoughs in the past. I needed the encouragement :)

gallery_20352_3866_37137.jpg

gallery_20352_3866_228939.jpg

The following is the same bread, but without a flash, shows the crumb better:

gallery_20352_3866_457070.jpg

If you're interested, you can find the recipe and step by step pictures at http://www.recipesonrails.com/recipes/show...sh-rye-no-knead

Edited by UnConundrum (log)
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Well, I FINALLY got my starter going and was actually able to use it today.  Did a Jewish Rye which really turned out well.  Thanks to everyone here for reminding me about how much I've enjoyed sourdoughs in the past.  I needed the encouragement :)

gallery_20352_3866_37137.jpg

gallery_20352_3866_228939.jpg

The following is the same bread, but without a flash, shows the crumb better:

gallery_20352_3866_457070.jpg

If you're interested, you can find the recipe and step by step pictures at http://www.recipesonrails.com/recipes/show...sh-rye-no-knead

Those are gorgeous. And how did you like the flavor?

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omg that rye looks spectacular!!!...I am going on vacation for a week and will try this again when I get back...I tried the minimalist no knead recipe after reading through a billion pages of that thread! I was mixed about it ...while the crust was good ..it did not make a very attractive loaf....I just don't like it that much and think it is missing the open oven for some reason...(does that make sense?) ..I like baking on the quarry tiles better...

My starters are really very active and I think I proof it long enough... 12 hours?

2 things I think I was doing wrong

1 handling it too much

2 too much flour

I am making myself nuts trying to make this perfect ....the loaf I took to work yesterday was pretty darn good ...I did not take a pic but it had nice holes and good crust ..just not enough salt ...it was demolished by my coworkers who insisted I need medication when I started picking it apart...so a break will be good ...I feel like a smell like sourdough now!!!

thank you all so much ...I am going to go tell my starters good bye and ask them to please stay really active while I am gone!!! OOOXXX

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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way to bust out the charts, jackal!

so it appears from looking at this lovely graph that my theoretical room temp starter, at or around 70, would be the least tangy of all temperature possibilities.

that doesn't sound very promising. :sad:

you can't start it cold, can you?  as in, in the fridge (please pardon if that's a stupid question, a lot of this still seems a bit like alchemy to me)?

Others on this forum and at http://groups.google.com/group/rec.food.sourdough/topics

have convinced me that the two most significant variables for controlling the sourness of the finished loaf are:

1. the percentage of the total flour that is in the starter when the dough is mixed (less requires a longer ferment, but produces a more sour loaf irrespective of the level of hydration), and

2. having some whole wheat or rye flour in the mix to buffer the dough and allow the total acid to grow and add sourness before the pH drops below about 4.5 and shuts down the lactobacilus activity.

My experience is that this is true irrespective of the average fermentation temperature - within the range of my kitchen over the course of the year (65F - 80F).

Twenty percent of the flour in the starter produces a relatively mild loaf while five percent makes a more sour loaf. No whole wheat (or rye) will make a less sour loaf than 25% whole wheat, but I can't yet rationalize a particular fraction.

Perhaps this is a case of following your nose to the answer.

Doc

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I totally agree on your conclusion in point 1. If I want an "easy going" laof that anyone would like, still with that characteristic sourdough crust, I use up to 35% active starter in my dough. This is also a faster way to bake sourdough.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I still suck at making this sourdough bread!!!!

I forgot the salt this last batch and the loaves looked so horrible that I broke them up and fed them to the birds in my yard ..who have yet to really taste it ...

I have a few days off this week and will refocus and try again ..but something I am doing is just not working ..I have measured by weight ...increased my hydration ..tried the minimalist no knead technigue ..folded...tried mildly kneading it ..went on vacation and came back....use KA flour ...my starter is very much alive ...my oven is true to temp ..I have tiles in the bottom of it to put the bread on ...

my loaves are not attractive ..they taste good when I remember the salt ....but the holes are not impressive at all ...I am just not doing something right at all ...it is making me more crazy than I already am!!!

why am I always at the bottom and why is everything so high? 

why must there be so little me and so much sky?

Piglet 

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I still suck at making this sourdough bread!!!! 

I forgot the salt this last batch and the loaves looked so horrible that I broke them up and fed them to the birds in my yard ..who have yet to really taste it ...

I have a few days off this week and will refocus and try again ..but something I am doing is just not working ..I have measured by weight ...increased my hydration ..tried the minimalist no knead technigue ..folded...tried mildly kneading it ..went on vacation and came back....use KA flour ...my starter is very much alive ...my oven is true to temp ..I have tiles in the bottom of it to put the bread on ...

my loaves are not attractive ..they taste good when I remember the salt ....but the holes are not impressive at all ...I am just not doing something right at all ...it is making me more crazy than I already am!!!

Could it maybe be you're not letting them proof long enough? And how long generally do you allow the first rising with the fold method?

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Come on you can do it! :-) Just make sure that your starter is active when you incorporate it into your dough, and that you follow a proven recipe for ratios of flour/water/starter etc.

Please post your progress :-)

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I mix in a cup of flour and some water then proof it for 12 hours then I mix in the amt of flour to make a sticky dough and then proof again for 12 hours then I fold it and let it sit until it doubles in size about 2 hours or so....

but I have done so many things now and not been good at keeping track exactly...I will try to take step by step  pics of my attempt starting tomorrow ...I am frustrated but determined to get this right ...

there is no real reason I can not make the bread I want is there????

[scolding :angry: ] First, you need to take notes. If you can't remember what you've done from one batch to the next, you'll have difficulty making progress.

[back to friendly mode :smile: ] When you say you proof for 12 hours and then fold and let sit til it doubles, do you mean you fold it only once?

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I totally agree on the advice on taking notes. I have a hand written scetchbook with pages stained with dough, olive oil and flour from my first sourdough atempts.

Also; Invenst in a digital scale if you don't have one. Measure and record everything, so you can reproduce the good results, make improvements and evolve .-)

Also; If you have "non stick memory" like me, you might also find it usefull to use a water-based marker pen, and write *on* the plastic wrap / cling film covering a dough at what time it's finished fermenting etc. etc.

Also; Learn how to post pictures here if possible, as it becomes easier to help. Some of the people here have a keen eye for a loaf, and can tell just by looking at one if it's under/over baked, under/over proofed etc .-)

Good luck .-)

Edited by glennbech (log)
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    • By andiesenji
      ANDIE'S ABSOLUTELY ADDICTING BREAD & BUTTER PICKLES
      Here’s the thing about pickles: if you’ve never made them, they may seem to be an overwhelming (and possibly mysterious) project. Our listener Andie – who has offered some really valuable help to the show several times in the past – has sent this recipe which provides an opportunity to “try your hand” at pickle-making without much effort. Andie suggests that making a small batch, and storing the pickles in the refrigerator (without “processing”) can get you started painlessly. Our Producer Lisa says that the result is so delicious that you won’t be able to keep these pickles on hand - even for the 3-4 months that they’ll safely keep!
      The basics are slicing the cucumbers and other veggies, tossing them with salt and crushed ice and allowing them to stand for awhile to become extra-crisp. You then make a simple, sweet and spicy syrup, (Andie does this in the microwave), rinse your crisp veggies, put them in a jar, pour the syrup over, and keep them in the refrigerator until they’re “pickled” – turning the jar upside down each day. In about 2 weeks you’ll have pickles – now how much easier could that be? If you are inspired, I hope you’ll try these – and enjoy!
      MAKES ABOUT 1 QUART.
      FOR THE PICKLES:
      4 to 6 pickling cucumbers (cucumbers should be not much larger than 1 inch in diameter, and
      4 to 5 inches long)
      1/2 to 3/4 of one, medium size onion.
      1/2 red bell pepper.
      1/4 cup, pickling salt (coarse kosher salt)
      2 quarts, cracked ice
      water to cover
      2 tablespoons, mustard seed.
      1 heaping teaspoon, celery seed
      FOR THE SYRUP:
      1 1/2 cups, vinegar
      *NOTE: Use cider or distilled white vinegar, do not use wine vinegar.
      1 1/2 cups, sugar
      2 heaping teaspoons, pickling spice mix.
      PREPARE THE PICKLES:
      Carefully wash the cucumbers and bell pepper. Slice all vegetables very thin, using a food processor with a narrow slicing blade, or by hand, or using a V-slicer or mandoline. Toss the sliced vegetables together in a glass or crockery bowl large enough to hold twice the volume of the vegetables. Sprinkle the salt over the vegetables, add the cracked ice, toss again to blend all ingredients and add water to just barely cover the vegetables. Place a heavy plate on top of the vegetables to keep them below the top of the liquid.
      *Set aside for 4 hours.
      PREPARE THE SYRUP:
      Place the vinegar, sugar and pickling spices in a 4-quart Pyrex or other microwavable container (the large Pyrex measure works very well)
      Microwave on high for 15 to 20 minutes. [if a microwave is not available, simmer the syrup in a narrow saucepan on the stovetop, over low heat, for the same length of time.] Allow the syrup to cool. Strain the syrup and discard the spices.
      ASSEMBLE THE PICKLES:
      Place one wide-mouth quart canning jar (or two wide-mouth pint jars) with their lids in a pot of water to cover, place over medium heat and bring the water to a simmer (180 degrees). Remove the pot from the heat and allow jar(s) and lid(s) to remain in the hot water until needed.
      *After the 4 hours are up (crisping the vegetables as described above) pour the vegetables into a large colander and rinse well. The cucumber slices should taste only slightly salty. Return the rinsed vegetables to the bowl, add the mustard seeds and celery seeds and toss well until evenly distributed. Set aside.
      Return the syrup to the microwave, microwave on high for 8 to 10 minutes [or heat the syrup on the stovetop] until an instant read thermometer shows the temperature of the syrup is 190 to 200 degrees.
      Place the vegetables into one wide-mouth quart jar, or in 2 wide-mouth pint
      jars that have been scalded as described above. Pour the syrup over the vegetables, place the lids on the jar or jars, tighten well and place in the refrigerator overnight.
      The following day, turn the jar upside down - then continue to turn every day for 2 weeks. (This is to insure that the pickles are evenly flavored)
      After 2 weeks open the jar and taste. The pickles should be ready to eat.
      Pickles will keep in the refrigerator for 3 to 4 months.
      ( RG2154 )
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