Saturday, November 26, 2016

Summer sourdough

So the day before the big tank, moving day, I decided to make another tutorial about how to make sourdough. It would be featuring, Griffin, the sourdough starter again, and how to turn it into wonderful, soft sourdough bread.

The day before last, was uneventful for Griffin. My starter performed as expected, once I split and fed it. I happily collected photos along the way. At about 10.30pm that night, I made up the dough and put it to bed, overnight, on my kitchen counter. Complete with the glass top to preserve moisture.

I have done this evening process, of leaving the kneaded dough on my bench overnight, for many years now. But there's always one thing you cannot predict. The overnight temperatures. If it gets too warm, the wild yeasts, feast quicker.

That's when I woke up to this....

My dough had over-proved. In this particular bowl, the dough just barely touches the glass top, when it's ready. But the dough had lifted the glass top instead, so a skin formed on the exposed dough, billowing out the sides.

If you're fortunate, like I was, the dough hadn't completely broken down it's gluten yet. So I was just able to handle the wet, sticky dough, quickly enough to place it into a greased tin...

There is nothing graceful about handling a sticky dough, which won't hold it's round shape. A little flour on the counter and hands may help, but I wouldn't attempt to deliberately knead more flour into it. As this will give you a heavier, more gritty tasting loaf.

When dough over-proves, after the first rise, you're going to have problems handling it, and you may even have to have a longer than normal proving time, the second time around. That's because all the stores of food, are almost completely exhausted. It's a case of "seeing" if you can rescue it, but with absolutely no guarantees.

As if the first rise wasn't over-proved enough though....

Guess who's timer went off, when I was helping move the water tank into position, and subsequently didn't hear it? I was so elated with the new tank finally being laid, and all the photos I took afterwards, that I completely forgot I left bread to rise, in the switched off oven.

Hence, why the above image demonstrates a flat top to my loaf, instead of a rounded one. All the gluten strands were breaking apart, instead of holding their form. The first rise had already cost my loaf, and now the second rise, had almost done it in.

Nowhere to go however, but forwards. So into the oven, it went...

I really wish THIS is how it turned out. But this is a comparison photo, of what a well timed sourdough loaf, should look like. It has a lovely rounded top, and the crust is really smooth, where it has baked against the tin.

On the other hand, if you don't time your sourdough well, and over-prove your dough, the gluten won't hold it's form, and it will look more like this...

The top is more flat, and the crust is rough, because the dough hasn't risen uniformly. It baked well, in the 27 minutes I put it into the oven. The fact it hadn't completely caved in the middle, meant the dough still had some remaining stores of gluten left, to hold "some" form.

But I wouldn't know it was edible, until I opened it up and gave it a try. I had to wait many hours until it was completely cool, as I knew this loaf would be harder to slice.

The crumb was okay. Which meant the bread wasn't falling apart. There was still some flexibility in the slices. The taste however, was a little more sour than normal. My youngest didn't like it and my oldest, still ate it when made into a toasted sandwich. Is there nothing grilled cheese cannot fix?

The moral to this story, and the reason for this post, is to demonstrate how your sourdough making will take some twists and turns, because of some elements you cannot always control. Temperature will always be one of them. Not hearing when your timer goes off, is another. *wink*

So what can you do when the overnight temperatures get warmer? One option is to put your dough in the fridge and allow it to rise slowly. Make sure to get it out of the fridge several hours before you intend to bake with it though, so it has a chance to come to room temperature. A second option though, with the quicker rising times, is to bake a loaf in a day.

Here's a sample timetable:

  • Get your starter out of the fridge at 7am
  • Split and feed it at 9am
  • Leave your sponge to sit on the counter, until 12pm
  • Make dough and have it start rising, from 12.30pm
  • Knead dough lightly, and place in bread tin, by 6pm
  • Let it rise again for an hour
  • Be ready to start baking your bread by 7pm
  • It will be out of the oven, by 7.30pm

This is a guideline, because on warmer days (especially during summer) your dough and starter will be extremely active. Which means you'll need to watch it's activity level, and intervene when it's the right time. Rather than following a prescribe time format in hours. So what are some of those visual cues you can look for?

When it comes to your sponge, after splitting and feeding, you watch the bubble activity.

This demonstrates some bubble activity, after a recent addition of flour and water. The presence of large bubbles tells you that, the starter is actively feeding. But it's still not enough bubble activity, to tell you the sponge is ready to start turning into a dough yet.

This demonstrates many more bubbles, so the yeasts are multiplying enough, to start to turn the sponge, into a dough. This has probably been sitting an hour too long though. A sign of the warmer temperatures, accelerating the yeast production. How do I know it's been sitting too long? The finer bubbles on the surface (like froth) instead of being trapped in the custard-like sponge.

The above can still be turned into a dough, it just means we have to watch the dough rise the first time, to make sure we don't over prove it, for the second rise. Your dough of course, is ready to be placed into your baking tins, once it has doubled in size (or slightly more). We don't want billowing dough, falling out the bowl though.

These are the skills you will learn as you bake bread through summer. Times will accelerate, with the yeast being so active in the food you feed it.

I have more to share about sourdough making, as I gather the photos for it. But I hope this helps anyone encountering problems, making dough at this time of year. Know that you aren't doing anything wrong in the process, but your times for intervention are accelerating. Keep a timetable in mind, but watch to see when you need to intervene. It will probably be sooner than you think during summer.


  1. Thanks for those tips, Chris. They will come in handy. I have just been reading Yoke Mardewi's book and must try some of her recipes too one of these days. It is always fun to experiment.

    1. You're welcome. And I'm glad to hear the spirit of experimentation is with you too. It can only add to your ability to read sourdough.

      I've heard of Yoke Mardewi's book, when I was attempting to bake gluten free. She's written other's too, but I came across Mardewi's work, specifically in relation to Gluten Free. The book was only on loan however, so I didn't get much experience using the information in it.

  2. I learnt more from this post on Sour Dough bread making than in any other I have read. Thanks Chris for breaking the process down so clearly. Thanks too for sharing about the 'forgotten loaf' as it just clarified so much of the process.

    1. Seeing what works and what doesn't, helps to discern your own bread making. Otherwise you're constantly wondering if you're doing it right. At least that's what it felt like when I was first learning to make sourdough, and it didn't always go to plan. ;)

      I'm really glad to hear you're going to try making sourdough. You won't realise how much better it tastes than bread made with instant yeast. You'll get to experience the difference, all from your own kitchen too. :)

  3. This happened on my 2nd attempt, none of us could eat the bread it was far too sour. I thought I had made a mistake in my ingredients, glad to know it wasn't me so much as the heat. Thank you for clarifying that for me. Guida

    1. It doesn't help when you're just starting to learn sourdough making, to have something change unexpectedly. Especially when you followed all the steps correctly. Yes, it wasn't you. It was the higher temps, exhausting the food supply quicker. We just have to learn to catch it at the right time. And that "right" time will be different in every single kitchen. :)


Thank you for taking the time to comment. I love reading what you have to share. Gully Grove is a Spam free environment though, so new commenter’s only leaving hyperlinks, will be promptly composted.