Sluggish Starter or Weak Rise

Solution: Feed your starter regularly with equal parts flour and water (by weight). Maintain a consistent feeding schedule and keep it at room temperature for optimal fermentation. Consider adjusting the feeding ratio or using different types of flour to boost activity. If necessary, try incorporating small amounts of whole wheat or rye flour, which tend to be more active.

Dense or Heavy Bread

Solution: Check your dough hydration. If it's too dry, the bread may turn out dense. Adjust the water content to achieve a slightly sticky and hydrated dough. Additionally, ensure proper fermentation by allowing the dough to rise adequately before baking. Experiment with longer proofing times and consider using a proofing basket to support the dough's structure during fermentation.

Over-Proofed Dough or Collapsed Loaf

Keep an eye on the dough during fermentation to avoid over-proofing. Look for signs such as excessive expansion, a very bubbly appearance, or a flattened shape. Shorten the proofing time, reduce the ambient temperature, or place the dough in the refrigerator to slow down fermentation. You can also gently press the dough with your finger—if it springs back slowly, it's ready to bake.

Bread Spreading Sideways Instead of Rising

Solution: Pay attention to dough consistency. If the dough is too wet or lacks sufficient structure, it may spread sideways instead of rising. Adjust the hydration level and consider incorporating stretch and folds during bulk fermentation to strengthen the gluten structure. Use a banneton or a well-floured proofing cloth to support the dough's shape.

Gummy or Undercooked Interior

Solution: Ensure proper baking by preheating your oven adequately. Use a baking stone or a preheated cast-iron skillet to create a hot baking surface. Also, check the internal temperature of the bread using a kitchen thermometer. Sourdough bread is fully cooked when the internal temperature reaches around 200-210°F (93-99°C).

Dense Crumb or Lack of Air Pockets

Achieving an open crumb requires proper gluten development and fermentation. Consider incorporating stretch and folds during bulk fermentation to strengthen the gluten structure. Allow the dough to rise sufficiently before shaping and ensure an adequate rise during the final proofing stage. Proper shaping techniques, such as tension pulling, can also help trap air and create a lighter crumb.

Sourdough with a Very Sour Taste

Solution: If your sourdough bread has an excessively sour taste, consider adjusting the fermentation time. Shorten the bulk fermentation or final proofing to reduce acidity. Additionally, factors like temperature and hydration can affect sourness, so experiment with adjustments in those areas as well.

Sourdough with a Metallic or Soapy Taste

Solution: A metallic or soapy taste in sourdough can be caused by the use of uncoated metal utensils or bowls. Avoid using reactive metals during mixing, as they can interact with the acids in the dough. Instead, use stainless steel, glass, or food-grade plastic equipment.

Mold or Off Odors in Starter or Bread

Solution: Regularly maintain a clean environment for your sourdough. Discard any starter or dough that shows signs of mold growth or unpleasant odors. Keep your equipment clean and use sanitized containers for storing and feeding the starter.

Remember, troubleshooting sourdough is often a process of experimentation and adaptation. Even experienced bakers encounter challenges, so don't be discouraged. Keep practicing, adjusting, and learning from each baking experience.

Frequently asked questions.