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I live in a warm and humid climate - average temp is mid 80's. I have been making sourdough and like the flavor, but the loaves are flat, very dense texture and crunchy crust. Even when I bake in a bread pan the loaves don't rise much. I use whole wheat WW in the starter and equal parts of white and WW in the bread. Starter is working nicely and quickly, about 3 hours to double/triple in size. Am thinking that I need to start using some yeast, but would like to bake acceptable loaf without it. Any thoughts would be appreciated. Thanks, Mike

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It sounds like you have a good active starter, so if I had to guess I'd say your dough is too dry, preventing a good rise. Without a recipe or knowing your method I wouldn't attempt an actual answer. –  GdD Feb 26 at 9:22

2 Answers 2

If your starter is tripling in 3 hours, it's unlikely that you need to add additional yeast.

If the humidity is causing your dough to spread as it rises, you could try slightly lowering your hydration to account for moisture in the air. You could also add a fold in your bulk ferment time to give more gluten strength.

You don't mention how long you are proofing your loaves, which could be very important. Generally sourdough will need several hours at a moderate temperature to rise properly. Be sure you aren't rushing to the oven. (When you poke a loaf, it will gently and slowly spring back when it's ready.) This may mean that you will need to proof in the refrigerator, basement, etc to keep your loaves cool as they proof.

Finally, if spreading continues to be a problem, adding some vitamin C powder (ascorbic acid) can help get more volume in your loaves. This works by making the gluten tighter, so use it sparingly. It is especially beneficial in whole grain sourdoughs.

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Thanks for the quick reply. I'm making another attempt tomorrow and will head your advice, especially about the proofing time. That's a tough call for me at times. I'll also take another look at the hydration issue, now that you mention it, the dough does seem to get "wetter" as it proofs. –  user23446 Feb 25 at 23:23
    
If the dough is getting wetter as it proofs, it can help immensely to just dust it lightly with flour and give it a gentle fold a few times during proofing. I've actually seen great artisan bread made with this method using entirely kamut flour, which is very low in gluten. –  sourd'oh Feb 26 at 18:50
    
Ascorbic acid? I haven't tried that before, I do get some spreading when I use much whole grain, and some vitamin C cannot hurt :D Anyway, folding is great way to make the bread firmer. I fold 3-4 times on my sourdough and it firms up for each time I fold. –  daramarak Feb 26 at 22:21
    
@daramarak Yeah, generally most spreading can be fixed through folding. The vitamin C is just sort of insurance for when you're not sure. –  sourd'oh Mar 3 at 19:25

It's almost impossible to diagnose your baking problem without knowing your recipe, method, and skill level, but I'm going to have a swing at it anyway! :)

First, make sure you're using the right kind of flour. Do not use whole wheat pastry flour, bleached flour, or cake flour. These will all cause problems. You'll want to use good, *unbleached *all purpose or whole wheat flour with a protein content around 12-14% (check the label -- 3 or 4 grams of protein per 30 grams of flour). Even better: check the ingredients for hard red winter wheat. Don't use anything that says soft wheat.

Second, unless you're confident in your recipe (i.e., you've made it before successfully), I would recommend sticking with white flour at first. It's much more forgiving than whole wheat, and once you gain confidence, you can start to substitute whole wheat a half cup at a time.

Third, really keep an eye on things during the proofing stage. When I make sourdough bread, it takes about 2-2.5 hours at 65-75 degrees. If your house is 85 degrees, you may need to reduce this to 1-1.5 hours. Or, like sourd'oh suggested, proof in the refrigerator. In fact, I've had great success with doing the final proofing overnight in the fridge. I don't even let it warm up when I bake it -- just throw it straight into a hot oven!

Finally, if the recipe you're currently using continues to give you trouble, try another one! My favorite resource when I was learning to bake was The Fresh Loaf forums. In fact, there's a reliable whole-wheat sourdough recipe there that you might want to compare to your own. There are also a number of excellent modern baking books to consider, including Peter Reinhart's Artisan Bread Every Day.

Best of luck baking!

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Thanks for the feedback and insights. As you may have guessed, I'm not too sure of my recipe and am seeking the right one. I was baking break regularly a few years ago, using the basic recipe from " the Tassajara Bread Book", and am just coming back to making sourdough. The bread never did rise to my satisfaction, whichiismwhy I'm –  user23446 Feb 26 at 3:24
    
Sorry, hit the send button by mistake. To continue, I'm trying new recipes. Another question, should the dough be kneaded much, or at all, before the second rising and shaping into loaves, or gently shaped and placed on baking sheet or pan? Thanks again, Mike –  user23446 Feb 26 at 3:34
    
The protein content and red wheat are not at all necessary for high rise. Many countries never use them and make bread with low protein flour, bread flour is a North American thing. You have to use them if you want the typical high-gluten texture, but they won't help with bread which doesn't rise. –  rumtscho Feb 26 at 11:19
    
User23445, you should treat the dough very gently before shaping. Kneading at this point is unnecessary, because the gluten structure has already been developed. I think Rumtscho may be right about protein content. You can use cake flour or pastry flour, but higher protein flours are easy to come by and will give you the results you want. –  ericbakes Feb 26 at 12:23

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