How To Kill Your Sourdough Loaf

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If I’m experimenting then I expect to have a few failures but failures that happen when you know why and you were in a position to stop it I find frustrating, it’s a kicking-myselt type of situation.  I wanted to make a loaf for my meeting with John Letts yesterday, he was kindly providing some lunch at the farm.  I wish I hadn’t offered to bring bread, these sort of occasions I’ll turn out a duff loaf which I did below, both of them.

I’ve been experimenting with water temperatures to feed my levain, and it’s been working out well putting the theory into practice.  Wild yeast do not like temperatures exceeding the 30˚C +, I have been adding water ranging from 27˚C – 32˚C and that’s been ok, the water is poured over the flour by the time it’s mixed in it will happily sit in the highs 20s˚C.

For these loaves I added water around 36 – 37˚C  yep I know…pushing it.  There was still yeast cells active, but I had killed some.  Not a disaster and very recoverable if given time, only I didn’t, I didn’t give the remaining wild yeast in the new levain time to multiply.

What I should have done in this situation is to leave the levain time to show signs of bubbling away, near the exploding stage as in photo number 2 in this post here.  But I wanted to use a young levain to take down the acidity in the loaf and to give some extra lift as I was using stoneground flour.  I didn’t think through the consequences, I suspected I might have killed the yeast and instead of waiting I was running out of time and went ahead, foolish.

I used the levain too soon and the result was what I have below, on the surface the loaves look ok, but I knew even before baking these they were wrong.  I had left them to prove overnight at room temperature and by morning they should’ve been bursting at the seams instead they had increased some but not enough, at that temperature they should’ve increased significantly.

The rise these have are from what yeast cells I hadn’t killed, and the exceptional rip in this circumstance is down to the characteristic of the late oven spring amaretto flour gives a loaf.

Just in case you’re thinking these loaves are a failure because they’re slightly flat it’s not,  you can still produce slightly flat loaves and have a great crumb, this can happen with very hydrated loaves.  Very high hydration is always relevant to the type of flour that is used.

The reason they failed is the horrible crumb and I knew it was awful when I lifted the loaves out of the oven because they were heavy, sign of a dense crumb.  Heavy is ok for a rye but not for a wheat loaf.

The first slice above looks sort of ok but not great, the first slice always has more air bubbles in a folding-method loaf.

The second slice is now giving a true picture of the wrongs with the crumb.

You have to ignore the large holes, they mean nothing.

What you need to look at is the crumb texture, the aeration around the large holes, that will indicate the difference between a good crumb and a bad one like this one.

Can you see how so much of the crumb is closed around the large, medium and small holes?

Around the holes there should be lots and lots of other bubbles formed setting the structure of the crumb.  The more bubbles the lighter the crumb.

I highlighted two areas on the slice above but it’s all over the slice not just there, a failure of air pockets.

In order to see exactly what I mean I have picked out some slices of different sourdoughs below, sometimes it’s easier to see what’s wrong when you put it next to correct examples.

If you see the aeration all over the crumb of these loaves there isn’t a dead space.

Even below in a low hydration crumb it’s not dense and heavy, the holes are just very small but on close inspection they are there.

Below is a crumb from a 10 hours last rise crumb, the lightest of sourdough crumbs you can have without having to add anything.