Next Sourdough Question, featuring under-proofing and taste issues

Many of you might remember the question I asked last week about a struggling starter. I baked with it on Saturday and it yielded an very much *unrisen* loaf.

I switched from the unbleached white flour to the Tartine method-- 50/50 whole wheat and unbleached white. Immediately the starter showed lots of activity, rising and falling beautifully and always full of bubbles.

I baked with it this morning-- here was my schedule:

Tuesday Morning (6:30amish) : mix levain, mix dough for extended autolyse. Both at room temperature.

Tuesday Evening (5:30pmish): mix levain into dough (levain was young and bubbly and smelled awesome at this point), add salt, set for bulk rise. The bulk took place in my oven. Periodically I would turn it on and immediately turn it off, so it sat somewhere in the 80 degrees (f) range. Every half hour for the first two hours I did stretch and folds, and after I did it once. The entire bulk rise was approximately 3 hours.

By that time I had to get it moved to the final rise because it was time to go to bed. I could tell through the shaping that it was underproofed. Nonetheless after the bench rest I put each boule into baskets, covered them, and set them in the fridge. This was at 10pm.

Wednesday morning (5:30am): I took the loaves out of the fridge and turned on the oven with my cast iron in it. By 6am it was ready and I baked the first loaf.
It rose only in the very middle, and not very much at all. The loaf was dense and had large holes sporadically throughout, and it was *really* sour.

The other loaf-- the one that sat out at room temperature while the first was baking-- didn't rise at all. It's a brick.

I've attached a picture of the crumb of the first loaf so you can see what I'm talking about.

My question is two-fold:

1. How can you tell *during the bulk rise* that your bread is adequately proofed? I can find loads of info on the internet about signs of under-proofing and over-proofing, but never what it looks like when it's perfect.

2. Why did my bread taste so sour? I was told that the longer, cold final fermentation would help develop a more mild, tangy flavor, but I got the opposite.

Thanks, bread experts!

Kate Chambers
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kristin T. April 3, 2016
Kate, I am re-pursuing my sour dough bread efforts also. I have had your experiences too. Have a new batch of starter going gang busters in my kitchen as we speak... I am using KAF recipe for a boule with all kinds of good seeds, etc... but it calls for added yeast....what do you think?
Kate C. March 31, 2016
Wow. And it doesn't over-proof? That's something I'm struggling with-- how can you tell when it's perfectly proofed? I'm underproofing consistently.
hardlikearmour March 31, 2016
The small amount of starter takes a long time to work its magic. For the bulk fermentation FWSY has info for how much volume the dough should expand, so I use that as my guideline. I do the finger dent test on the formed loaves to see if they're proofed. The note Ken Forkish has in the Levain chapter about proofing levain loaves is this: "The finger-dent test may indicate that the loaves are proofed after 3 1/4 hours. At my house at 70º F, the window for complete proofing is between about 3 1/2 and 4 1/4 hours. Initially, I found that the bread baked nicely after a 3-hour proof, but further tests bakes had better flavor with a full 4-hour proof, and the loaves didn't deflate." A note in the Eight Details for Great Bread and Pizza chapter about bulk fermentation is: "Detail 5 -- Allow for complete bulk fermentation.... Maximum flavor development requires allowing enough time for all of the desired biochemical reactions to take place. Every recipe operates on its own ideal timeline. Make sure you give the first rise, or bulk fermentation stage, enough time. Rush it and you lose."
Kate C. March 31, 2016
I like the flexibility of that. Since it's so long do you do it in the fridge?
hardlikearmour March 31, 2016
Room temperature ~70º F. The dough should approximately triple in volume (less if it's winter/cooler).
hardlikearmour March 30, 2016
How much size increase did you have during your bulk fermentation? Was it what the recipe called for? The recipes I use typically call for the dough expanding a certain amount for the bulk fermentation.

My suspicion with the excessive sourness was the warm temperature you were bulk fermenting at promoted the lactic bacteria to convert alcohol into acetic acid. (But I don't know this with certainty) I'd definitely try bulk fermentation at room temperature next time and see if it works better.

I've done most of my bread baking from Flour Water Salt Yeast by Ken Forkish. The 100% levain bread recipes call for overnight bulk fermentation (12-15 hours), followed by a shorter proof time (3.5-4 hours). The levain accounts for 12% of the total flour weight used for the bread. So your shorter bulk fermentation could work, but would require a larger amount levain. The book also includes some hybrid levain recipes (combo of commercial yeast and levain) which call for a shorter bulk fermentation times (5 hours) and longer proof times (12-14 hours). So depending on your bread baking schedule a hybrid dough may work better for you. They tend to have a mild, pleasant sourness.

I hope you have better luck with your next loaf!
Kate C. March 31, 2016
Interesting. So in this overnight bulk fermentation, do you wake up to do the stretch and folds?
hardlikearmour March 31, 2016
Nope. You do 2 to 3 stretch and folds in the first hour, then 1 additional fold anytime that's convenient before you go to bed.
HalfPint March 30, 2016
Serious Eats did a Breadmaking 101 series that might help you:

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