Bread Making For Dummies
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Sourdough can be so simple and yet so complex. Because your starter is alive, your dough is also alive, which means you have to treat it with care. Many variables can apply to sourdough baking. But specific to sourdough are some frequent questions answered in this list.

A rustic sourdough. A rustic sourdough.

Why Is My Sourdough Bread Gummy?

If you’re finding that your bread is gummy, make sure you’ve allowed it to cool completely before slicing into the loaf. Cutting into a warm loaf can create a gummy crumb.

If you really can’t resist the taste of warm bread, bake your sourdough as rolls instead. Then you can allow some to cool completely and still savor the taste of warm bread.

Why Is My Loaf Flat?

A light, rounded loaf is typically the goal of sourdough, but even experienced bakers sometimes end up with a flat disk. Doing routine stretches and folds really helps add volume to a loaf. Make sure the temperature is about 70 to 75 degrees F when it’s bulk fermenting. Then be sure to get a tight shape. After you shape, place the dough into a well-floured banneton or into your parchment-lined Dutch oven and let it rise (covered) for 1 to 2 more hours (or do a cold proof for up to 36 to 48 hours). Get your oven very hot. Then quickly score the bread and bake.

How Do I Know if My Starter Is Ready?

If you’re not sure whether your starter is ready, feed it again and let it rise before using it. If your starter has sat in the refrigerator for a while, do twice-daily feedings for a couple days before baking with it. The more you bake, the happier your starter will be and the better it will perform.

In addition to feeding the starter regularly, consider feeding with rye flour. Rye flour naturally imparts a beautiful color and tang (sour notes) into the starter.

The starter is alive! Treat it with care, feed it appropriately, and try not to neglect it.

What Do I Do If My Dough Is Too Sticky to Handle?

A dough scraper can be your best friend and help transfer dough from a bowl to a work surface. As you shape the dough, you’ll feel it become more pliable and less sticky. If you’re still struggling, use wet hands. Doughs with a higher level of hydration (more water than a standard loaf) can be trickier to work. Wet your hands and try your best to stretch and fold. If it seems impossible, place your dough in the refrigerator for a couple of hours and then try again.

A wetter dough is actually preferred among sourdough bakers and will yield the desired airholes sourdough lovers crave. If you’re a beginner in sourdough baking, you can use 50 to 100 grams less water, and see if the dough is easier to handle. A high hydration loaf can be found in this Spelt Baguettes recipe.

Baker’s percentages calculate the percentage of water to flour in a loaf. This topic is a common point of discussion among serious sourdough bakers. You don’t need to know baker’s percentages in order to bake a successful loaf — my grandmother never did and most folks I know don’t calculate it. However, most bakers understand higher- and lower-hydration loaves. If you’d like to learn more about baker’s percentages, head over to King Arthur Flour’s website and check out their excellent explanation of this complex topic.

How Do I Tighten the Dough after Bulk Rising?

Without the risk of sounding like your mother, practice makes perfect. Practice. Practice. Practice. When I first got started baking sourdough, I watched my friend shape and mold hers. Then I found videos on YouTube. And then I practiced on my own. With practice, I’ve figured out techniques that feel good to me, where I tuck and pull back on the dough, creating the desired tension. When I’ve rushed it, my bread tattled on me. The loaves that arch beautifully, have perfect crumb, and have great spring (when you press on the baked loaf after it has cooled and it springs back into shape), are letting you know that you’re doing something right!

A double scraper is your friend. This nifty, flexible piece of plastic can help you transfer and work the dough. Use it to your advantage!

Why Is My Loaf So Dense?

There are a couple of plausible explanations. Is your starter viable -- that is, bubbly and healthy? Is your dough too cold? Sourdough loves 70 to 75 degrees F for the bulk ferment. If it’s winter and your home is cold, try sticking the loaf in the oven with the light on (make sure the oven is turned off!), cover it, and see if this helps it double for a bulk ferment.

How Do I Get Those Fancy 'Ears' or Lifts in the Crust of My Sourdough?

Many people long for the curved flap produced from scoring the bread at a certain angle and a perfect oven spring at the start of baking. My recommendation is to worry less about scoring and more about getting the taste and texture right. You can find many videos online, explaining how to score bread. If you feel artistic and you’re ready to move toward that goal, seek out videos explaining the tricks of the trade.

To nail a good scoring, you need to have a tightened and shaped dough, a solid second rise, and a sharp scoring tool. Then practice, practice, practice!

Why Is My Bread Dense with Giant Holes?

Yes, holes are desired, but not giant holes! Generally, this can mean you’ve over-proofed your dough (in other words, you’ve let it rise too long).

Another possible reason can be your oven. Your oven may not be hot enough or you may not be baking your bread long enough. Set your oven temperature to 450 degrees F and give it a solid hour to heat up. Rushed on time? Shoot for 30 minutes. This helps you know that your oven is truly hot and ready for the bread.

Use a thermometer to measure the internal temperature of your bread. Has it fully cooked? Aim for 190 to 210 degrees F for sourdough. Bake your dough enclosed in a Dutch oven for the first 30 minutes; then uncover and continue baking until the desired color is achieved. Some folks really prefer a softer crumb and crust. If that's so for you, don't let the crust get as dark in color. But for a true artisan look, feel, and crunch, the crust will have a deep golden color and a classic crunchy sound when tapped.

Why Does My Bread Keep Burning on the Bottom?

Baking sheets are your friend. Placing a high-heat baking sheet under your Dutch oven can add a layer of protection so your loaf doesn’t burn.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book author:

Meri Raffetto, RDN, founded Real Living Nutrition Services (, which pro- vides one of the only interactive online weight-loss and wellness programs.

Wendy Jo Peterson MS, RDN, enhances the nutrition of clients ranging from elite athletes to pediatric patients, and is currently a culinary instructor at Mesa College.

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