Irregular grain (what am I doing wrong)


Hi I'm a first time poster with a question on texture. My loaves (unbleached plain flour) look and taste great but i can't seem to get that elasticcy open grain that I get from commercial sourdough.  I have my own starter that foams up wonderfully after a good feed and the loaves always double in size so the yeast is nice and active it's just the bread has a very even grain like factory white bread and i like the open grain more. Any hints or pointers? Thanks in advance.


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Croc 2008 January 30

welcome drpete
you don't mention recipe and methods so only clear problem that i can see from info included in your post is "plain flour"
plain flour is what people use for cakes and gives such texture because of low protein/gluten content.
you want to buy white bread flour to replace your plain flour, if you have lots of plain one don't worry, you can mix those two and use up old flour too so there is no waste.
protein level should be 11.5% and up
popular laucke (spelling?) flour that many use here is 5kg bag in coles and it got 11.9% proteins (if you in australia that is)

drpete 2008 January 30

That's perfect.  It's exactly the sort of stuff I need to know. I am using organic unbleached flour and sometimes wholemeal. My recipe is simple: I add a cup of warm water and flour to my cold starter and let it sit for six hours or so then feed it again and let it sit again (here in Brisbane it's very hot and it reacts quickly), by then I have a big bowl of foam so I add my flour, olive oil, sugar and salt (I keep it as smple as possible) then knead it adding flour or water until it's the right consistancy. Then I make it into a loaf and let it prove for about an hour or so and bake it in a pre-heated oven. Sometimes I mist it with water and spray the inside of the oven as well.  Sometmes I paint it with olive oil instead. Someone once suggested to me that rye flour might help and that maybe keeping the dough at a softer consistancy might too. 

Croc 2008 January 31

going by your 2nd post your problem is not just flour.
your kneading/proveing is the first problem you have to address and that alone will show you huge differnce.
total of 1hour proveing for sour dough is just not on, it is even on short side for yeasted bread.
also you really should follow recipe or make your own but you need to control amount of water/flour so you can adjust to troubleshoot your bread, going by eye is not recommended if you want to get same quality bread all the time.
I recommend you read sourdom beginers blog on this very website for technic and other info.
and since you like white bread then use that info with recipe for white sourdough vienna in recipe section.
you already got starter going so some parts you might skip in sourdom blog but i recommed reading all as it might show you few other things you doing not right 100%.

drpete 2008 January 31

Well I tried proving for twelve hours as i read that somewhere else, and it just flopped. Great taste, but too dense and no rise.  Then I checked a faq page for sourdough and they said don't prove for too long or it will flop. They did say to prove for two or three hours though and I am cutting that short but the loaves get so big that I worry they have peaked and will start to flatten again after an hour.  I will give it the whole three hours in future.

TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2008 January 31

Did they mention that the 12 hours is spent retarding in the fridge? That seems an awful long time to spend in ambient temperature, even if it's cold. In my kitchen temp of 29 deg C...what I normally do is bulk-ferment 2.5 - 3 hours, cut through the dough to check if there's a nice spider network (mostly, I skip this part), shape the loaves, then (1) prove around 2 hours or more, or, (2) let it retard in the fridge overnight. If it's (1), you can use the finger indentation 'test' to see the dough's readiness. When you press and it pops up immediately, give it a bit more time, say half an hour. The dough is ready when it springs up slowly. I sometimes skip this part now; after a while, you'll know your breads and their behaviour.....mostly. Do you do some intermittent stretch and fold? This helps to develop the gluten. Depending on your formula, you might see some nice bubbles along the way. Be firm but gentle when doing your folding so as not to burst any of them, to get lovely irregular crumb.BestTP

Croc 2008 January 31

all what TP said and remember there is no buts about it you need to more than one hour with sourdough and you need to do bulk proving then shaping and proving again.
knead shape and prove for 1hour is just not on :)

drpete 2008 January 31

Hi again. Just to clarify (the Ph.D was a while ago and I'm not that bright anymore); at the stage when I would usually feed the starter again, INSTEAD I actually make and knead the dough smooth as if I were going to form loaves but I don't form loaves? I keep it in a bowl and let it prove like this. Then after 12 hours or so I gently knead it again and form loaves that I then let prove for at LEAST 2 or 3 hours before slashing and baking? Does this sound rightish?  It's the bulk proving that threw me because the recipes don't really explain what they mean by this and I've been a bit confused.
I also like TechPoh's suggestion of proving in the fridge overnight but you don't just pull it out and bake it do you? Do I have to prove it again or warm it up at room temperature at least? Also, can you please explain what you mean by "stretch and fold".
Sorry for all the questions but I really want to get this right.
I really appreciate all your help.

TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2008 February 1

Peter, it's a major plus that you have a  lively starter when you want to make bread. Without consulting my bread books (incidentally, do you have any?...check out the book thread) for the "why's" , I'd tell you that, generally, breads (not all) have 2 'rises', which they call 'bulk-ferment' for the first rise, and, 'prove' for the 2nd rise. When I first made breads, most recipes tell me that breads must be punched down after letting it rise for some time. I remember reading somewhere this action of punching down is one of the reasons you get a uniform crumb. Some commercial bakeries working with strong enough flours even punch it down more than once for that end. That is what is desired for commercial breads, especially, those meant for slicing.  That was then.What is people are looking for breads with a more rustic look, with irregular holes...big ones are great for sneaking in more marmite or preserves, slurp. Gosh, as you can see, from our replies to you, making bread is dependent on so many factors. Can you forget about your first 12-hr proof (or rather, bulk-ferment) for now? Try 3 hours. What we mean by stretch and fold, is instead of vigorous initial kneading, some breads are happier to let time work in their development. Aussie-stock Dan Lepard uses this method a lot. It involves a no-sweat initial 10-secs kneading, then a rest of 10 mins, to be repeated a couple of times. Thereafter, the dough is stretched (slightly) and folded left to middle, right to middle, top to middle, bottom to middle to stretch the gluten. This is done from one to as many as 4 times during half an hour to 45 mins intervals. The beauty of this method is as you work your dough, you can feel it changing. Do look at the resources pages....much helpful information can be gleaned from them. And, have I mentioned getting a few good books?Using the fridge not only helps you manage your time better, but bread which have been retarded has better flavour. I have baked directly out of the fridge before. Some say this jolts the bread to maximum spring....just remember to give deeper slashes or the bread tends to burst at the bottom where the heat is at the highest, that is, if you bake on a stone/tile in a preheated oven. But you can also let it warm up for, say, an hour or so. Gosh...I can go on forever, there's so many permutations for so many reasons, you just have to read a lot and bake a lot to learn. It's a great adventure which I'm still on. Happy baking!CheersTP

drpete 2008 February 1

Thanks for all your help.  I checked my flour and it is unbleached, organic white made from hard wheat that has a protein level of at least thirteen percent.  So that's good stuf right?  Also, I do, have a good book (at least I think it's good, I have no frame of reference) by Ed Wood.  Now that you've explained "punching down" and 'folding" to me, I think it will make more sense.  So no heavy kneading? I'm going to try it tonight.  That's the beauty of a good starter and cheap flour I suppose, I can try and try and try and it costs bugger all.  Also, just between you and me, I have actually quite liked the bread that I have been baking badly.  I can definetely tell that it's not right, but it's still been pretty good.  I'm sure my view on that will change when I get one right.
Thanks again

TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2008 February 1

Who doesn't appreciate homemade breads?On books, Ed Wood's is only ONE way of making sourdough breads. *wink*TP

drpete 2008 February 2

Wow! I did what you said to, kneaded gently and stretched and folded at intervals for an hour or so then proved for three hours and refrigerated overnight. It was FANTASTIC! My wife and I have nearly finished the whole loaf and I only baked it this morning. It tastes exactly like the best sourdough that I buy from the shops with the same consistency and crust as well. Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou. It is orders of magnitude better than my previous efforts.

dukegus 2009 September 8
Well done Pete, you bread looks amazing! Wellcome to the amazing world of "knowing all there is about sourdough bread" :D :D

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