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Any pointers on getting a 75% hydration wheat sour dough loaf to hold more shape and spread less?

Full details of current method:

I have a 100% wheatflour levain with a 75% hydration. It is stiffer than most I see online but grows well. It lives in the fridge all week until I make a loaf. It then gets fed with 40 g flour per 30 g of water and left to expand.

I then make a kilogram loaf using 400 g flour and 300 ml water. This is vigorously kneaded for 10 minutes by hand or a good 5 minutes by a Kenwood Chef Mixer with the dough hook.

After being left for an hour in a moist environment then folded and added to a cane banneton it is left untouched until it has expanded by varying amounts (somewhere between 50-100 % extra in volume).

It is only touched once more when the oven is preheated -it is turned out onto a silicone sheet on an oven tray and then placed on a preheated, upturned glass dish to warm the bottom of the loaf. It's then baked in an oven at 220 C for ten minutes and then 200 C for another 30 minutes.

Invariably, the loaf produced is very flat compared to the banneton with a nice crumb and flavour. The crumb is stretchy and a little chewy.

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I have tried adding less water than this with similar results. This loaf was proved in fridge overnight and baked in the morning. The loaf looks similar when proved at room temperature over shorter durations.

All I want is to produce similar results except the bread holds its shape more and produce a taller. Any tips?

As my partner and I only eat one loaf per week it's a slow trial and error process varying hydration and watching for expansion.

marked as duplicate by Sobachatina, Cindy, Ward, Stephie Jun 29 at 18:01

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    I don't have experience with as high a hydration as you use, hence making a comment rather than an answer. My standard loaf has 500g flour and 325g water (including those contributed by the starter) and I don't knead or stretch at all, just mix and leave to rest at cool room temp for about 22 hours, then roughly shape into a banneton for a couple of hours. I bake in a pre-heated cast iron pot. Before I tip the loaf out of the banneton into said pot, I pull the edges in and pinch a seam along the soon-to-be-base, which creates some tension to the outside and holds it a little while it springs. – Spagirl May 22 at 14:14
  • Thanks. I shall try the edge pulling, seam ponching technique. Anything to keep a bit more shape. – Flash_Steel May 27 at 6:36
  • Pinching the base didn't seem to help much. I think I will just slowly cut out some of the water over the next few weeks and see what happens. – Flash_Steel May 30 at 13:19
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When you put the dough into the banneton do you shape the dough to develop a surface tension? I have found that makes the major difference when I make sourdough bread. Here is the site I got a lot of info on shaping from. https://www.theperfectloaf.com/guides/shaping-a-boule/

  • Yes. I leave it in a moist environment for 30 minutes and then stretch the dough once in four directions, folding each outstretched end back over the dough. You can definitely feel it really tighten up before it goes in the banneton. – Flash_Steel May 25 at 8:04
  • Also cutting a cross atop the dough might (in spite of the fact that I suspect it was done to somehow bless the bread in christian cultures) might favour the dough to grow in eight. – Alchimista Jun 8 at 12:05
  • Cutting techniques do seem to have an effect. My banneton is more rectangular than round and I find I get the best results if I cut parallel lines along the length of the loaf. – Flash_Steel Jul 1 at 7:14
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As the other answer suggests, more shaping may be the key. One possibility is to add additional folds. Most sourdough recipes I've worked with have a first rise (before shaping and placing in a banneton) much longer than an hour. Try leaving it out more like 3 hours total, and do a stretch and fold at 1 and 2 hours in. Then shape tightly as a boule (better still, preshape into a ball, let rest for 10-20 minutes, then do a final shaping).

Another thought is that, based on the description of the feeding method for your sourdough, you might have more luck feeding for a day or two before you want to make bread. The bacteria and enzymes in a sourdough starter break down the structure of the starches in the flour over time. The bacterial activity slows down in the refrigerator, but the enzyme activity largely doesn't. This enzymatic breakdown is part of what produces all the nice flavors one looks for in sourdough bread, but also means that using a starter that has been sitting for a long time will lack structure. In the extreme, the buildup of enzymes can quickly break down the structure of your loaf after you add the starter.

Try pulling out your starter 2 days before you back and feeding at 12 hour intervals before you bake.

  • Thanks. I have tried diluting my starter more and less and this doesn't seem to have as much of an effect as stretching. From other users here (that this question was marked a duplicate of) - cooking.stackexchange.com/questions/29627/… - it sounds like a more rigourous shaping may be required. – Flash_Steel Jul 1 at 7:17

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