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Troubleshooting Free-form Sourdough Loaves

Sourdough Bread is not always baked in a loaf pan. It can be shaped in a basket and then baked directly on a baking stone or shaped on a baking sheet. While making free-form loaves can be simple and rewarding, there are some issues that may arise. Here are some common problems, their causes, and solutions:


1. Loaves bulge and split at the bottom edges or sides of loaves.

Cause Solution

The loaves did not rise long enough.

Let the loaves nearly double in size before baking.
Gases did not have an escape route. Make a few slashes on the top of the loaves, so gases created during baking have a controlled escape.

 

2. Loaves puff up initially in oven, but fall by the time the bread is baked.

Cause Solution
The dough proofed too long, especially if the texture of the bread is coarse.

If dough over-proofs, reshape and proof again. The subsequent proofing period will be much shorter.

 

3. Loaves do not puff up well during baking. Loaves are somewhat flat. 

Cause Solution

Dough was too warm when placed in the oven.

Avoid proofing free-form loaves in a very warm location. You’ll actually get better “oven-spring” if the internal temperature of the dough is 50-55°F when placing in a hot oven.

Dough was too wet.

If dough hydration is too high, the dough will be too slack to hold its shape. Try adding a little more flour or a little less liquid to the dough.

Bread was baked at too low a temperature.

Bake free-form breads at 400°F, for best results.

Dough was handled too roughly in transferring to the oven.

Shape bread on a piece of parchment, proof, then slide loaf, parchment and all, onto baking stone when ready to bake.

 

4. Texture of bread is dry.

Cause Solution

Hydration level is too low.

Use less flour and/or a little more water in preparing dough.

Bread baked too long.

Use an instant-read thermometer to make sure bread is 190-205°F before removing from oven. Bread will lose too much liquid through evaporation if baked too long.

 

5. Crust seems fine when removed from the oven, but gets soft when it cools.

Cause Solution 
Bread was not baked long enough. Bake the bread a little longer. Use an instant-read thermometer to make sure bread is 190-205°F before removing from oven.


6. Loaves spread out or do not hold shape while rising. 

Cause Solution 
Dough too soft to hold its shape.

Proof in a basket or use spring-form pan ring to hold dough's shape during rising. Place the dough on parchment paper first, then easily transfer loaf plus parchment directly onto a hot baking stone. 

Dough was under-kneaded.

Knead dough well to sufficiently develop the gluten, to help dough hold its shape


7. Crust is not crisp enough.

Cause Solution
Bread requires high humidity during baking to produce a crispy crust. Add steam to oven during baking. Spray walls of oven with a fine mist of water immediately before placing the loaf in; spray again after 5-10 minutes of baking.


8. Bread is doughy in the center.

Cause Solution
Bread is under-baked. Bake 30-45 minutes at 400ºF. Insert an instant-read thermometer into the center of the loaf to check for doneness.
Dough was too wet. If dough hydration is too high, the dough will be too slack to hold its shape. Add a little more flour or a little less liquid to the dough.

 

                                                
 SMJ  
Flour-dusted artisan sourdough bread boule


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