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:
Loaves bulge and split at the bottom edges or sides of loaves.
- 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.
Loaves puff up initially in oven, but fall by the time the bread is baked.
- 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.
Loaves do not puff up well during baking. Loaves are somewhat flat.
- 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.
- 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.
Texture of bread is dry.
- Hydration level is too low.
- Use less flour and/or a little more water in preparing dough.
- Bread baked too long.
Crust seems fine when removed from the oven, but gets soft when it cools.
- Bread was not baked long enough.
Loaves spread out or do not hold shape while rising.
- 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.
Crust is not crisp enough.
- 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.
Bread is doughy in the center.
- Bread is under-baked.
- Dough was too wet.