I tried making sourdough bread for the first time this week and it didn't work. I don't think it was a complete disaster but I didn't end up with anything that was eatable.

I followed Paul Hollywood's recipe for a starter over the course of the week, dividing and feeding it every couple of evenings. I'm pretty sure that it worked as I had plenty of bubbles in the first 24 hours after the last feed.

I made his basic recipe for a loaf and started straight after I got home from work. I left it to rise for a good 5 hours before knocking it back. At this stage the dough was silky smooth and felt like a good dough when I was working with it. I then shaped it into two balls and left it overnight in glass bowls covered with cling film (not a proving basket). By the morning the dough had clearly grown but it had also become loose and had lost its ball shape.

I decided to go ahead with the bake but I ended up with two flying saucers. When I cut into then bread it was very dense and hadn't risen at all in the oven. I tasted it and it definitely had the sourdough taste but it isn't bread...

Can anyone give me any suggestions for my next attempt? I've still got the starter but I haven't fed it again yet.

Thanks, Alan

  • What kind of flour did you use? What indication dd it give you that it had been sufficiently kneaded? You don't mention the details of the kneading at all...
    – SAJ14SAJ
    Jun 29, 2013 at 12:14
  • It was strong white bread flour. I kneaded it for around 5 minutes until it all came together. It felt smooth.
    – Alan Spark
    Jun 29, 2013 at 12:18
  • Hi Alan - is this working for you now? I'm having similar problems with the Paul Hollywood recipe using a 5 hour first prove, and 10-13 hour second prove. What proving times did you find worked best ?
    – Kevin
    Oct 7, 2013 at 17:52
  • Yes, and no. I still haven't got the texture that I would like and I think that is down to the second prove. My most recent attempt was a first prove of around 5 hours and this certainly doubled in size which I was quite pleased with. I've not gone over more than a couple of hours for the second prove again as I'm always afraid of it collapsing again - the margin between being OK and collapsing seems quite small for me. I still think 10-13 hours is too long but I'm also sure 2 hours isn't long enough.
    – Alan Spark
    Oct 7, 2013 at 18:19
  • Just proof it in the fridge overnight and bake it straight from the fridge.
    – user50726
    May 5, 2019 at 18:55

1 Answer 1


I have to contradict @saj14saj here. I have frequently had bread made with underdeveloped gluten (my grandma uses AP flour and tends to knead very short, 2-3 minutes per hand, and use very short proofing times). The bread is soft and cakelike, but it has no trouble rising, and it is neither flat nor dense.

On the other hand, I have had bread with exactly the same symptoms as yours - first feeling great, then left out for a long time to proof. After that, it looks good, but one touch makes it collapse into itself. The reason was very clear: overproofing. There is no doubt that underdeveloped gluten cannot have been a factor in my case. First, I am experienced enough to know when my gluten is developed - the bread was kneaded well beyond windowpane test. Second, it was a large batch of dough. I baked the first loaf at the optimal time and it rose just fine and had a nice texture with traceable gluten sheets through the crumb. It was the second loaf, which I baked a few hours later (and the proofing loaf spent them in a 30 degrees celsius kitchen in summer) which made the trouble. The dough had exactly the "loose" feel you describe, unlike the normal, springy feel before the proofing. It collapsed on touch and would not rise at all. It also had a very strong yeast fermentation taste, unlike the other loaf.

From your description and my experience, my conclusion is that overproofing until your starter died in its own waste products is the most likely culprit. The simple answer would be to not let it sit out overnight. The right amount of time to let it sit would depend on the room temperature, on the amount of starter you used, but also its leavening strength, and that is a bit hard to judge for a newly created starter. My best suggestion is to use trial and error and maybe bake 4 hours after knocking instead of 8 next time, and the time after that adjusting with a smaller increment in the right direction depending on whether the bread turns out overproofed or underrisen.

  • Thanks a lot for the comprehensive answer and suggestions. I was also coming to the conclusion that I'd left it too long to prove and what you've said makes a lot of sense. I'm going to go and feed it again now and will definitely try your idea of a shorter proving time for the next experiment.
    – Alan Spark
    Jun 29, 2013 at 15:59
  • @AlanSpark before I forget: You may still have underdeveloped gluten. 5 minutes is indeed rather short for hand-kneading. It is just that more kneading won't help with the saucerlike bread problem. It will give you a more chewy crumb in a properly risen bread.
    – rumtscho
    Jun 29, 2013 at 16:35
  • While I agree with rumtscho, I'm always suspicious of sourdough starters that rely on fruit to inoculate the mixture with yeasts. For sourdough you want yeasts that live on the starches from grain rather than the sugars from fruit so it makes more sense to start with organic whole wheat or rye flour. That way you have a starter that won't die out as soon as all the free sugars are used up. I think a lot of my early failures in sourdough were due to not really understanding what a strong, active culture looked like. Jun 29, 2013 at 17:43
  • Thanks @rumtscho, I will definitely knead for a bit longer the next time. I'll probably time it so that I'm not doing it last thing at night too!
    – Alan Spark
    Jun 29, 2013 at 17:58
  • Thanks @Didgeridrew. It's all new to me, so that is interesting to know too.
    – Alan Spark
    Jun 29, 2013 at 17:59

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