** My sourdough bread rising on the counter, nearly ready to be baked.

I just tried your sourdough bread that you posted a while back…I
looked over it and it seems I followed all the steps, I used whole
spelt flour (freshly milled). I am not sure what happened but it never
really appeared to “rise”, I kept following the directions hoping
for some change but at the time it should have gone into the oven it was
just two flat blobs on a cookie sheet, they smelled sourish but were
just all flat. Any idea what happened? I really want to make sourdough but
am leery of trying that recipe again. Let me know if you have any
thoughts if you get a chance.
Thanks, Nola

I always find it a bit sad and frustrating when I try recipes from others and they don’t work. Unfortunately, baking bread and specifically sourdough bread, is definitely both a bit of an art and a science, and recipes that work well for one person don’t always seem to work well for everyone.

That said, I tried to brainstorm a few things that might make a recipe like the one I use turn out as a dud, and some ideas to make it work better the second time around (should you be so brave!).

  • Was your starter very fresh/recently added to? I think that the
    process can go a lot slower or sort of flop if you haven’t recently topped
    up your starter so that it’s nice and bubbly and active. I’ve learned that it’s best to add to mine the night before I use it (leaving it out on the counter) and then I know it’s ready to go when I start the next morning.
  • Were you using a starter that you’ve previously had success with? Not every starter I’ve tried to make has turned out. A few of them just didn’t seem to pick up the wild yeast in the air very well, and thus weren’t very effective in my bread making. Here’s a great tutorial for making your own sourdough starter. Or purchase one, as I did not so long ago, from a company like Cultures for Health.
  • Could you have possibly under kneaded/mixed it? I think it’s
    possible to under mix sourdough and have the starter not
    spread really thoroughly through the batch. Also, being under-mixed
    could mean that the starter doesn’t get a chance to be further
    activated by
    the mixing and the air being added to the dough in the process. Of course, this requires some experimentation and keeping track of how long you knead for, but it’s worth paying attention to if you’re having problems.
  • It might just need a longer rising time. I had a similar thing happen once. After the usual rising time, my bread dough was
    totally not ready to bake. I have a feeling it was as I mentioned above, that my starter was only semi-active, and so I ended up leaving it
    overnight instead of baking it that evening. It had risen more by the
    next morning, still not quite as nicely as usual, but it did finally
    rise. I baked it anyways, and it worked, but it had a much more sour
    taste, of course. The starter obviously wasn’t able to work as effectively as usual, so it simply required a lot more time than it normally does.

For those wanting to try their hand at baking sourdough bread, here are my two current favorite recipes (I’m not including the recipe that the reader tried because I’m happier with the results using these two recipes instead):

Simple Sourdough Bread– my current standby recipe. It is so incredibly easy, and it has worked very consistently for me almost every time I try it!

Sourdough Bread (from Sue Gregg’s Whole Grain Baking book– this one takes more time and effort, but it does make a very nice bread)

Any other suggestions for troubleshooting with sourdough bread, ladies? What are your tips for turning out perfect loaves each time?