Problem using my sourdough starter

All, I have a sourdough starter that I made a while back and for the most part I have had excellent results making bread using it. However, every now and again, I have a weird result.
The dough seems to knead OK in the mixer, but after the fermentation stage it seems to lose all its texture. It takes a while to ferment, and I do sometimes retard it in the fridge because the timing is off, so I wait until the morning to shape and finally bake.
When the texture is off, it resembles shortcrust pastry (with bubbles!) not bread dough. It is almost as if the gluten hasn't formed fully.
Does anyone have any ideas why that might be the case?
Thanks in advance



boulangere May 30, 2012
Very good idea to add the salt later. To make a long story short, salt essentially rations water to yeast. Your internal structure will open up more if you add back some of the water you've taken out. Sourdough doughs are generally wetter than others. The additional water will let your wild yeasts reproduce more actively, therefore opening up the dough. Thank you for the update. It sounds like you're having a wonderful time.
Benny May 30, 2012
Make sure you are rotating the bread during the baking process. Also, I recommend the use of a baking stone. It will even out the heat in the oven for you. you can bake directly on it, or just put it on the lower shelf of your oven as soon as you turn it on for pre-heating.
ChrisBird May 30, 2012
Ok, I have been experimenting some - taking the suggestions here into account. Improvements are definitely occurring.
I am paying far closer to the feeding schedule.

First, I am using a whole lot less starter than I was. Cut down to 10% (baker's percentage).
Second reducing the water (down to around 55% - baker's percentage). That seems to help because the levain is also quite wet - nearly 100% bakers percentage, I think.
Third combing flour/water and autolyzing for 30 minutes before adding levain. Get some structure into the dough before adding the levain
Fourth salting after the levain addition has been mixed (no idea if that makes enough difference, but didn't want the salt on the yeasts in the levain)

So now I have a dough with a better structure, and more oven spring. It is still good and tangy after baking, but as you can imagine, the crumb is pretty tight.

The outside of the loaf is kind of mottled after baking - not a pretty even colour all the way across.

At least t his time I don't have to take a pick and shovel to eat it!
boulangere May 6, 2012
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ChrisBird May 6, 2012
That was protein, not petition. Autocorrect is a wonderful thing!
ChrisBird May 6, 2012
Thanks for your help. I may will not be feeding it often enough. I do autolyze so I don't think that's it. Since I don't have a good protein mesh, I bet the greedy little yeasts are gobbling up the petition!
I will feed more assiduously and report back..
AntoniaJames May 4, 2012
I've only recently started using my own wild-yeast levain, but I find that it makes a big difference too, if the starter is fully at room temperature before I start working with it. Also, as Benny noted, it needs to have been last "fed" well in advance. I've heard that six hours works, but I always feed the night before I plan to start my new loaves. Finally, are you letting the starter plus dough ingredients (just stirred to combine) rest for at least a half an hour before you knead? The autolyse makes a huge difference. I find that six minutes or so of kneading by hand after the autolyse is all it needs. Then I give it a good 3 to 4 hours to rise again. ;o)
Benny May 4, 2012
the above is correct. if you do let it sit too long without feeding, you can usually bring it back by feeding it as you normally would, but you have to do it a few times over a week until the yeast builds back up.

also, its best to make the bread one day after a feed. it will work up the three days after a feed like boulangere says, but the day after is ideal.

Voted the Best Reply!

boulangere May 4, 2012
It sounds as though you may need to be feeding your starter (barm) more often. How often do you feed it, whether you use it or not? It should be fed every 3 days or so, even if you're not baking that often. If it's a non-bake feeding day, stir it, pour off about half (into the garbage, not down the drain), then replenish it in a ratio of 60% bread flour to 40% water. If you let it go too long between feedings, the yeast will overconsume the starches in the flour, then begin feeding on the protein which is the only food source left to it. Once that happens, the starter will take on the consistency of thin-ish pancake batter and you'll have a difficult time making bread because the yeast population will have begun to die off. Too, the starter will be overly acidic, which will create a difficult environment for any remaining yeast to reproduce and raise a new batch of bread. I'm guessing it also doesn't brown well. If you're going to be gone for a few days, or just can't feed it as often, you can even raise the ratio of flour to water to dry the starter out a bit. A lower amount of water slows the rate at which yeast can reporduce.
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