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The last two attempts at my sourdough have resulted in flat bread...I mixed the dough, let it proof for the 12-18 hours. Then when I went to shape it for the final proof, it became much more moist and then wouldn't shape or rise. Just blah. Is it possible if this happens to add more flour and water and let it rise? or will it just remain flat?

Why would it over proof in the first proofing/fermenting? I would like to be able to make consistently good loaves of bread.

Thank you for any insight you can give.

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    Welcome! Could you please edit your post with more details about your current recipe and method? Our experienced bakers will then have more to start with an could come up with better answers. And for all new users we recommend the tour and our help center, especially How to Ask, to learn more about how the site works. – Stephie Aug 13 at 18:37
  • 12-18 hours seems excessive unless you are starting with a very small amount of starter or live in siberia – aris Aug 13 at 21:46
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    @aris For the record, 12-18 hours is pretty normal for a sourdough bread that doesn't use commercial yeast, which is what I assume when I hear "sourdough," lol. – kitukwfyer Aug 14 at 3:24
  • @kitukwfyer as I said it depends on the amount of starter you use and your dough temperature. Popular recipes like Tartine's country loaf usually call for 3-4 hours of fermentation. – aris Aug 14 at 3:43
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    @aris Sorry I misunderstood your comment, but keep reading through step 11 of Tartine's loaf. It requires a minimum of ~7 hours of resting/rising. 3-4 for the first rise as you say, but a further 3-4 hours at room temp for the second rise, or 10-12 in the fridge, which together is 13-16 hours. I checked out the recipe because I've never seen a true sourdough with a 3-4 hour total rise time, lol. It's preferable to let a sourdough loaf rise "in Siberia" for a long time to allow flavors to develop. :) – kitukwfyer Aug 14 at 3:54
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I might be answering too soon, but you typically don't "shape" sourdough bread. The sourdough starter will denature the gluten protein in flour, which will cause it to become wetter/stickier after long fermentation times. It's hard to say exactly what happened without your exact recipe (and ideally how you created your starter-- do you feed it with equal parts flour and water by volume or by weight) and your exact procedure.

That said, I would not be concerned with the stickiness or the apparent flattening. In my experience, sourdough, even if it appears to completely deflate after being tipped out of the banneton or even when slashed right before baking, tends to make a complete recovery.

As for the shaping aspect -- If you're following a tested recipe and the dough seems sticky and unworkable, then my guess is that you aren't supposed to work it. You said in your question that you mixed the dough -- not that you kneaded it. Just transfer it to it's baking sheet (or pan, I suppose), trying not to deflate. No real shaping/kneading should be required.

If you want to make a shaped loaf for a normal loaf pan, then you probably would want to make a stiffer dough from the start. However, adding more flour AND water would just give you more dough, not make it less sticky.

As for the uncooperative, wet mess you have... if the shape it had from drying out during the cold ferment has been destroyed, I would probably move it into a normal loaf pan and put it back in the fridge in hopes that the gluten would reform and allow another rise. However that loaf will likely be noticeably sour.

One thing I'd recommend if you don't have much experience with sourdough is to look up some examples on Youtube -- That way you can see the "right" texture and the techniques they use. I'm a Chef John fangirl, but there are a number of good videos.

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