Troubleshooting Sourdough

April 27, 2020 , In: Baking, Cooking, Sourdough , With: No Comments
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With quarantine in full swing, so many people are trying out sourdough for the first time. Sourdough is a little fussy, and it’s easy to make mistakes. Here are some common mistakes people make, and how to fix them.

1. Dense bread with no air holes

This can be a few things. Your starter may not be alive/awake – make sure you feed your starter the day before, and that the starter is active and bubbling before you use it. You may not have kneaded it long enough. Even though most recipes will give you a timeline of how long to knead, you need to keep kneading until the dough is strong enough. This means it can be stretched until you can see light through it, without it tearing. This can take a long time, often twice the amount of time listed in the recipe, but if you don’t get it to this point, it won’t be strong enough to hold in the air bubbles.

How to Fix: Make sure your starter is active and bubbling, and knead your bread until it’s smooth, strong, and you can stretch it without it tearing.

2. Huge Air Pockets 

This means that there is too much gas in the dough. Typically it means you overproofed the dough, or, in other words, you let it rise for too long. The gas built up and took up too much space, so you have massive holes and not enough bread.

How to fix: decrease the proof/rise time, and watch the dough. If you give it a gentle poke and the dough pops back to shape, it’s still rising. If it comes back a little bit, it’s ready to bake. If the indent from the poke stays there, it’s overproofed.

3. Bread Splits or Bursts 
This can also have a few causes. You may not have shaped the bread enough. This process is to pull the outer skin of the dough tight, and to allow it to hold in all the gasses from the starter. It involves folding the dough in on itself and rolling in flour until the outside forms a tight, dry outer skin. If you skin is too weak, it can burst through. Also, if you don’t score your loaf, the bread has nowhere to rise, so it will get bigger until it tears the dough open. Finally, it can be a sign of underproofing. If you don’t let the dough rise enough, there can be too much rise in the oven (called oven spring), and the pressure will build up and burst the dough
How to Fix: Shape your loaf well, giving it a strong outer layer before the final rise. Score the loaf deeply before baking, and leave to proof/rise until it’s ready to bake.
4. Dough Isn’t Rising
I use the same recipe for bread, in the same kitchen, in the same city, and have had a loaf ready in 1 hour, and another ready in 6 hours. Temperature, humidity, pressure, all change rising time. If it’s a cold, wet day, and your dough is sitting on the counter, it will take a long time to rise. If it’s a hot, dry, summer day, it can rise incredibly fast. You have to adapt, unless you have a proofing setting in your oven and can maintain a constant, perfect proofing temperature. The other possibility is that your starter is inactive/low activity/dead. This can come from being too cold, not warming up long enough, not being fed before usage.
How to Fix: Keep your dough in a warm dry spot, if you have it, or just wait longer. Make sure your starter is room temperature or warmer, is well fed the day before, and is active and bubbling before you use it.
I’ll be doing a review of this book soon, but if you want help, the Sourdough Baking Bible is Flour Water Salt Yeast. Super recommended for anyone new to baking bread, and sourdough in particular.
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