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I tried Foodgeek's 85% hydration tangzhong sourdough bread recipe (video here, text here). I only made 2 changes to the recipe:

  • I used 100% bread flour (no whole wheat).
  • I don't have a banneton, so I put the shaped loaf in a small rectangular storage container to proof overnight. When I pulled it out of my fridge in the morning it looked like a puddle of dough with no structure. It also didn't seem to grow much if at all.

As you can see, I wound up with a flat, dense hockey puck that is practically raw inside. I don't think the picture even quite conveys how inedible this is. Any idea what went wrong?

enter image description here

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    Have you previously made successful sourdough bread with the same starter? And how much total rising and proofing time did it have out of the fridge? – Mike Scott Feb 10 at 9:35
  • Absolutely, many times, including this morning! 72% hydration is my go-to these days. I'd say it was bulk fermenting at least 5 hours and proofed in the fridge overnight. It sat on the counter maybe an hour while the oven was preheating. – kccu Feb 10 at 16:22
  • I'm still a bit of newbie, but I'd wonder if (in addition to other issued discussed) there could be insufficient gluten development and perhaps the 'coil fold' is not sufficient to develop it. Would a few rounds of 'stretch and fold' perform better that 'coil fold'? – Rick Feb 15 at 1:36
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It's hard to say exactly what went wrong, I've worked with plenty of high hydration doughs and sourdoughs so I have a few ideas though. I can see from your picture that you did get yeast action in your dough, with lots of holes and good structure, so you did something right, probably most of it.

Shape

Firstly, whole wheat flour absorbs more water than white flour, so by substituting white for the whole wheat you increased your hydration. 85% is already very high, this would have added a couple of percentage points to that, which changes your consistency. Next time I'd reduce the water a small amount to compensate.

High hydration doughs are tricky to work with, you need the right equipment at the right stages. Very high hydration doughs do not hold their shape, and tend to pool out if they aren't supported by something, just as you saw. That's normal, and a sign that perhaps you are a bit over-hydrated. Even if you had a proofing basket it's very possible this would have lots its shape right away.

These doughs are also are extremely sticky, and easy to knock the air out of. When you put it in a container to proof overnight it would have adhered to the sides, if you were rough with it getting it out you may have bashed some air out of it. Be gentle, use oiled hands and an oiled scraper to free it up.

Density

I think you had a good amount of air left though from your picture, I suspect a big reason for your dense loaf is that your oven was dry. Sourdough crusts form quickly in a dry oven and are very thick, I think what happened is that your crust dried out and prevented the loaf from being able to spring. Sourdough and high hydration doughs need to spring a lot, if they can't spring they get a consistency that is very dense and you get a raw dough consistency as you describe.

To resolve this you need a moist oven to start. Get your oven up to temperature and put a pan with plenty of hot water in it a good 15 minutes before you put your bread in to bake. Open the door, get it in quick, close the door most of the way and then squirt some water in with a spray bottle before closing all the way. Let it bake in your moist oven until it the spring stops and it stabilizes in size and shape for awhile, this is usually about 60% of your baking time, then remove the pan of water and finish baking in a dry oven.

Safety Note: When you open the door of a moist oven keep back as the steam will billow out. It's probably not enough to burn you, but it certainly isn't comfortable!

In Summary, reduce your water a bit to help improve the shaping, and bake in a moist oven to start to allow it to spring and fix your density problem.

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  • That's a good point about the whole wheat flour. I didn't realize it would absorb water differently. I actually proof my dough on top of parchment paper inside a container, so there would have been almost no agitation getting it out of the container. I forgot to mention that I baked this in a dutch oven with the lid on for 20 minutes, then 20 minutes with the lid off, so I don't think moisture would be an issue with all that steam trapped in the dutch oven. – kccu Feb 10 at 16:25
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    Did you heat the dutch oven before putting the bread in? – GdD Feb 10 at 16:42
  • Yes, for an hour at 500F. – kccu Feb 10 at 20:48
  • That seems very high, did you bake the bread at that temperature? – GdD Feb 10 at 21:21
  • It's what the recipe called for: 500 for 20 minutes with the lid on, then lower to 450 and 20 minutes with the lid off. My usual method is 450 throughout, 30 minutes lid on, 10 minutes lid off. – kccu Feb 11 at 3:41

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