Yet another heavy damp loaf

Jibsman's picture

I just got back into making Sourdough after a 10 year hiatus. I started by making my own sourdough starter. The first time I got into making sourdough I got a starter from Carl. An 1847 Starter that came west from Missouri with some Basque sheep ranchers. Good stuff but I haven't been able to find the dried starter I saved. Ah well. Anyway to my problem...

The starter is just a Rye Flour & water starter, and it picked up some tasty wild yeast spores. It rises fairly quickly without warming. I can get a nice bubbly sponge after ~6 - 8 hours. Smells delicious!

Here's the recipe I've been working with:


1 c.starter @ 100% hydration

4 c. AP or bread flour

3 c. 100 degree F. filtered water



1 Tbsp Salt

2 tsp. Citric Acid

2 Tbsp Sugar

2 Tbsp Olive Oil

~4 1/2 c. AP or Bread Flour

Mix first 3 ingredients with 1 c. flour. Add to sponge.

Add Olive Oil

Start adding flour 1/2 cup at a time, mixing with a Danish Dough Whisk until the dough can't be mixed with the whisk.

Turn out on a floured surface and continue adding flour 1/4 cup at a time. This can take a half hour easy to get all the flour incorporated. Sometimes I use 4 cups, sometimes a little more or less depending on the starter and sponge. When I just can't get any more flour integrated I drop the doughboy in a Olive Oil coated glass bowl, cover with damp cloth not touching the dough and let it rise to double. First rise I punch down every half hour for the first 2 hours. Then let it double. This can take a while.

Plop it back on the floured surface and cut into 2 loaves (these are ~2 lb loafs each, shape and put in either my Chicago Metallic Nonstick Perforated French Bread Pan (makes 2 bagettes), 2 lb loaf pans or just a bowl for a round loaf.

Baking: I bake at 550 degrees F. That's as hot as my oven gets.

Bake until thumping the bottom sounds hollow. I have tried longer baking times, like 10 minutes after I think it is ready. Times vary between the types of loaves I am making, which is as to be expected.

No matter what, the bread is heavy and dampish. I do not cut it before it is completely cooled.

I hadn't thought to take photos, but the bread has tiny bubble holes. Not like the huge 1/4 inch holes some sourdough has.

This last bake was my 4th attempt, and I even (gasp) used a Tbsp of Commercial Yeast to see if that would help. It rose bigger but still heavy and damp.

I realize this is a lot of data to take in. Sorry! I'm willing to try other recipes or make whatever changes I need to. If I use my sponge to make Sourdough Flapjacks (pancakes) they are fantastic and taste so so good!

Thank you all for your time!

Happy Baking!


252 users have voted.


Jibsman's picture
Jibsman 2016 February 6

By the way, this recipe was adapted from a French Bread Recipe that is SO EASY to make and tastes so good I had to try to convert it to Sourdouch.

farinam's picture
farinam 2016 February 7

Hello Jibsman,

First off, I recommend that you have a good read of the Beginners Blogs by SourDom on this site.  You can access them from the Home Page in the right hand panel.

Second, I have made an estimate of your recipe based on the cup measurements that you have given and the hydration of your dough works out at somewhere around 60-65% which is pretty low in the scheme of things.  I would be thinking in terms of going up to at least 70% or even higher to get a softer, more extensible dough.

Third, you don't give any detail of your dough development other than the time after mixing and 'punching down' so it is possible that the gluten structure has not been adequately developed to allow an open crumb (big holes) to develop.

Fourth, shaping of the loaf is also an important stage of the process to get a structure that is capable of maintaining its integrity through the proving and baking stage of the process.  You don't give enough detail to really comment on yours.  However, baking a boule (round loaf) in a bowl could be problematical given the time that it would take for the bowl to come to temperature.  Bread really should get a  good hit of heat at the bottom from the start which is why many people use a stone in the oven (heated to maximum temperature for a good time) when they are baking, whether free-form or in tins.

So, with a higher hydration dough and proper development of the gluten (to passing the window test stage) followed by proper shaping and proving, I think you will find a marked improvement in the quality of your bread.

As far as the citric acid and sugar goes, I would give them a miss.  SourDom's Pane francesa recipe (sourdough version) is a very good basic recipe to cut your teeth on.  Digital kitchen scales are quite cheap these days and would be a good investment for controlling your recipe for consistent results (at least until you get your techniques sorted).

Good luck with your projects,


Jibsman's picture
Jibsman 2016 February 7

Thanks so much Farinam! To save my sanity and the kitchen I only make Sourdough on the weekends. I just started the "Flex" bread recipe I found here, but next weekend I will try SourDom's Pane francesa recipe.

Meantime, to try and answer some of your questions the Boule is not baked in a bowl, it is just shaped in a bowl and then turned out on a cookie sheet for the final rise.

I used the citric acid to give a little more sour flavor. It doesn't help much but I haven't used that much, and I can drop the sugar and citric acid next time I try the recipe.

As for shaping the loaf, I manually integrate flour into the dough so I spend quite a bit of time folding and stretching the dough.

I did notice the Flex recipe I am trying seemed to make a very sticky dough. Almost too sticky to work with, and I ended up adding a little more flour so I could handle the dough. I will find out tomorrow morning if it works.

Thanks again for the tips. Making bread is fun for me and very relaxing to do, mistakes and all.



farinam's picture
farinam 2016 February 7

Hi Jibsman,

You should find that as the dough develops the stickiness should go away and the dough will become smooth and elastic (that is it will resist stretching and will tend to spring back towards its original size and shape) when you let it go.

One problem with incorporating flour gradually is that the flour takes time to absorb water and it is very easy to add too much.  You are better off to incorporate all of the flour at once and keep a bit of the water back (or add extra water).  This time effect is part of the rationale behnd the autolyse phase which gives the starches time to hydrate as well as getting enzymatic action going towards developing the gluten in the dough.  You also end up with flour with different degrees of development which can have an adverse effect on the dough structure.

Have a look at this photo essay of mine which uses the Pane francesa recipe and tries to show the various stages that the dough goes through.

Good luck with your projects.


Jibsman's picture
Jibsman 2016 December 28

Thanks for your help. I have been trying different recipes and still come out with heavy loaves and tiny air holes. I've tried hand kneading until my arms fall off, using my Kitchen Aid with Bread hook.

If I understand the development of gluten (and apparently I don't) I need to knead the dough until it does not tear? I watch videos of bakers patting the dough and it almost ripples and bounces. My dough never gets to that stage. I live in Portland Oregon where it is wet wet wet. Do I need to add more flour? It seems the more I knead the dough, the sticker it gets, making me add flour (maybe a tablespoon) to the kneading surface to be able to handle it again. Then I continue kneading and it gets sticky again. But it still tears. I'm going to try and get a good loaf this week since I have vacation, and time to play. I made a couple loafs last night and attached a photo. They look really nice, taste great, but tiny tiny air bubbles in the bread...

Jibsman's picture
Jibsman 2016 December 28

I guess I should add the recipe I used to get the loaves above.

King Arthur Sourdough Bread Recipe

240g “fed” sourdough starter
350g lukewarm water (100°f)
600g to 720g All-Purpose Flour
13g salt

3g citric acid
13g sugar

Yield: 2 loaves

Pour the cup of starter into a large mixing bowl. Add the warm water and about 360g of flour. Beat vigorously. Cover this sponge with plastic wrap and put it aside to work. This period can be very flexible, but allow at least 2 hours and up to 8 hours. A longer period (at a lower temperature) will result in a more sour favor.

After the dough has bubbled and expanded, remove the plastic wrap. Blend in the salts, sugar, and remaining 240g of flour. Mix until the dough comes together, then knead, using your hands, an electric mixer, or a bread machine set on the dough cycle, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Add only enough extra flour to keep the dough from sticking. Place the dough in the bowl, cover, and let it rise until doubled, 1 to 2 hours.

Divide the dough in half. Shape each half into an oval loaf, and place on a lightly greased, cornmeal-sprinkled baking sheet. Cover, and let rise until doubled (this can take up to 2 hours). Remove the cover, slash the tops, and bake in a preheated 450°F oven for approximately 20 minutes, until golden brown. Remove from the oven, and cool on rack.

farinam's picture
farinam 2016 December 29

Hello Jibsman,

The recipe that you give is quite low hydration, ranging from 65% down to 56% depending on the two quantities of flour that you give though I would question the weight of starter given when you mention a 'cup' in your method.  However, that is neither here nor there.

At those sorts of hydration, I would be imagine that the dough would be rather 'dry' and stiff rather than wet and sticky as you describe.

I am not familiar with the specification of KA All Purpose flour though I have read quite a bit where people are using it quite successfully.  Perhaps you could try getting some 'bread' flour that could have a higher gluten (protein) content or you could get some gluten flour and strengthen the AP by adding a percent or two of that.

Dense bread with small bubbles, in my experience, points to under-developed and under-proved dough.  And that is one of the problems of adding more flour, in that the flour takes time to hydrate and develop so you end up with a dough that has flour at different stages of development and the 'age' of the youngest component is the most significant in affecting the strength of the dough.

The other thing to keep in mind is, that the times that are given depend very strongly on the temperature that you are working at and the times that you mention, I would only expect to see in a very warm environment and if your kitchen is on the cool side, I could see you needing four to six hours and in extreme cases overnight.  This is why it is important to learn to assess the state of play by the look and feel of the dough rather than by the tick of the clock.

There is no 'secret' recipe that will make things 'right'.  It is a matter of sticking with it and being prepared to take note of what happens and being prepared to experiment.  Let the dough rest for at least half an hour (or more) after mixing to the shaggy mass stage before you add the salt (don't worry about the sugar and citric acid the culture doesn't need it).  Persist with the dough development (follow my pictorial for the stretch and fold over three or four hours) and resist the temptation to add more flour.  After shaping leave for another three to four hours and don't be afraid to go longer.  Once you have seen one over-proved loaf, you will know what to avoid - plus it will still be edible as will any other 'failures' that you might have.

Before you know where you are, you will be making bread that meets your ideal and you will wonder what all the fuss was about.

Good luck with your projects.


Jibsman's picture
Jibsman 2016 December 30

Hi Farinam,

You said "(follow my pictorial for the stretch and fold over three or four hours)". I can't find the pictorial on this site. Can you provide a link?



farinam's picture
farinam 2016 December 30

Hello Jibsman,

The link is in my reply from back in February.  But here it is again:

I have found that the stretch and fold method of dough development gives larger gas cavities than you get with dough that has been kneaded in the conventional way or by machine.  I think that the more vigourous kneading creates a larger number of small 'starter' air bubbles that then results in the finer crumb.  On the other hand, the gentler folding makes for larger 'starters' for the fermenting gasses to migrate into and results in the more open coarser crumb structure.

Good luck with your projects.


Jibsman's picture
Jibsman 2017 January 4

Just to close on this thread, I tried the Pane francesa recipe and got a nice open hole loaf. I over-proofed it a bit so it didn't rise very much. I prefer a little sweetner in my bread but otherwise I really like the results.

Thank you again Farinam for your comments and patience with my learning curve!

I plan to try the Pane francesa recipe with a little honey next time, and watch the rise more closely!

Happy Baking


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