Sourdough Bread Baking: Troubleshooting

Sourdough-bread-rising
** 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?

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for the sourdough post. I am wanting to make sourdough exclusively for my family of seven, but am finding it difficult due to the long process of the starter to have starter ready to go for at least one loaf per day. Any tips on the process to always have available starter ready to go?
    Thank you.
    Beth

  2. karen hambrick says:

    Hello ! I need help with baking my sour dough bread. The bread is baking with a really hard crust. I am baking according to directions.

  3. I tried sourdough bread before and it didnt work so I’m gonna try it again with your recipe. I like it because it’s very explicit and detailed, I only have one doubt, how can I make my own starter?? I guess this what was wrong the last time.

  4. Nola and Rebekah, two of the pans I am using are ceramic coated stoneware. My MIL found them used for me, and they are a dream to use. They say “Bed, Bath and Beyond” on the bottom, so perhaps they still carry pans like these?

    The other pan is not Pampered Chef, but it’s basically the same thing (and cost the same, too! Lots!). It’s just a really good stoneware. I find that it turns out very consistent loaves, and when well greased, only sticks very slightly more than the ceramic coated ones. I’ve been so much happier with my bread baking since I got these 3 pans this winter, than when I was using conventional metal pans before. I would look around at garage sales for some this summer!

  5. I tried with many failed attempts at making sourdough bread. Finally I got it right and we just didn’t really like it. I don’t know if it’s because we are so used to yeast bread or what. My mom makes a sourdough bread that is really sweet but it’s fed with sugar and potato flakes. It this tradition sourdough bread just an aquired taste or is there something I’m doing wrong I wonder? Love you bread pans. I really would like some stoneware ones myself! Are they from pampered chef?

  6. Oh I also meant to ask what type of pans those are in your picture? Are they stoneware? Where did you get them? I currently use glass pans, since I don’t like to use non-stick especially the cheaper ones I used to have where the surface started coming off….yikes! So I switched to glass as I could easily find it second hand. I oil well but some recipes don’t seem to work well with glass. I was wondering about stoneware but want to know about it with breads…and where to get a deal, its expensive. (Like most good things, LOL).

  7. Thanks for the post! I’ll come back to see what others say too…now that I read this I think my starter didn’t work. It was a new one but I think it might not have picked up enough wild yeasts. I’ll have to start over and try the other recipe you posted sometime soon, after seeing what people say on here about sourdough. I’ll let you know how that goes. I hope I find something to work since I currently pay too much (price just rose again) for sourdough at the store.

  8. Jamie, Pick Your Own website has good instructions for canning with pictures – I always use their chart for changing over to honey instead of sugar. Will pray today that God provides for your needs – Matt. 6.

    As for the bread, I haven’t seen the original recipe, but if it calls for any salt, and you added the salt directly into the yeast without flour, that could have de-activated the yeast and kept it from rising. Baking 911.com has a troubleshooting guide and thefreshloaf.com is another good site with lots of tips for bread making. Stephanie has got it right when she says it’s both an art and science. I’m in the process of teaching my 16 year old the finer points of making bread come out just right and it’s the little things that make a BIG difference!

    Also Sourdough Home has tips on why bread might not rise at http://www.sourdoughhome.com/whywontmydoughrise.html.

  9. this is such a random post but i just want to say that you inspire me. i’ve declared this 40th year of life for me *the year of change* i turned 40 in late january. what a year of change it has been. ended a 13+ year career of doing childcare in my home. moved in to our first purchased home in a much different town. we moved from a rich snobby town to a small farming community of not so rich and snobby people. and in the early spring i found myself unemployed for the first time. and i loved every unexpected moment. and tomorrow i was supposed to start my summer nanny job for a family i’ve had in my life since each of their children’s birth. except the family can’t afford me ($260 a week for two kids full time) and told me so only one day before i was to be paid. wow. talk about a whirlwind of feelings. but today after a few tears throughout the weekend, i am celebrating. not sure where the money is coming from to pay the bills. or purchase food. but i am celebrating becaues this is just what my heart has desired. and i find myself with a slight spring in my step with all the wonder and discovery and newness of what this means for my family. with that being said…i’d like to draw on the inspiration of the women i’ve met through the blogs i adore. one thing i would like to do is make jelly/jam. do you have any fabulous recipes? i’d like to start with strawberry (and maybe strawberry/rhubarb) and raspberry jelly/jam. thanks for letting me share.

  10. I’m new to making sourdough bread, but it’s been turning out well. Two tips that have helped me are these:

    Be sure to kneed the dough until it passes the “window pane” test. This will assure you that the gluten is fully developed and that your bread will have the internal structure to rise well.
    I oil my bread pans and my loaves with coconut oil (you can’t taste it) before I cover them in a damp dish towel to rise. It really helps them not develop a hard crust on top.