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Help with Sourdough Bread Interior Texture

Hi Chowhounds,

I've been trying unsuccessfully to recreate a sourdough bread that has both a chewy crust and an airy moist interior characterized by lots of holes. (My favorite example is Trader Joe's San Francisco Sourdough.) I have a sourdough starter that I've been feeding regularly and have tried several different recipes with no luck. They all have a great exterior and taste like sourdough, but lack the airy interior texture I'm looking for. Do you have any thoughts on what I can change to achieve an airy interior?

Thanks for the help!


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  1. what temp are you cooking at? Are you adding steam or water to your oven? How long are you letting it proof? What size/shape are you baking?

    1. Try experimenting with lower and/or higher protein content flour ex) cake flour, AP flour, and bread flour.

      1. Usually a wetter dough gives me bigger holes in my crumb.

        1. I've been allowing the oven to pre-heat for an hour at 425 with a pizza stone on the lower third of the oven. Just below the pizza stone I have a drip tray, to which I add about 2 cups of water immediately after placing the bread on the stone and then shut the oven door to create steam (this has resulted in a great crackly and chewy crust). Baking time has been about 25-35 minutes depending on the size of the loaf.

          The bread is shaped like a boule, and is free standing on the stone.

          I've tried both a two stage proof (about 2 hours - punch down and shape, then another 1 hour until doubled), and a cold proof (5 hours in fridge - punch down and shape, then about 1 hour out on the counter until doubled).

          I've also tried a very wet dough from the Artisan Bread in 5 mintues a Day book. I'm using King Arthur all purpose unbleached white flour, and a new package of SAF yeast. Thanks for the thought on experimenting with flours - maybe a higher protien content is what I need? I'm kind of at a loss for where to go from here.

          2 Replies
          1. re: Phoo_d

            Unless you have a different sourdough than I have ever used, your ferments are much too short. I never ferment less than 12 hours and often go 24 and even 36 hours via a cold rise for the best flavor and texture.

            I do agree with the different flours and a wetter dough if you want a open texture. How long are you kneading the dough because insufficient knead wont develop the gluten strength necessary for a airy texture.

            Your baking sounds correct, but I am wondering if you are tapping the bottom to determine doness or do you check the internal temperature of the boule? I like a internal temp of 205°-210°F, but a few degrees hotter will give a chewier crumb and more flavor because of the extra browning. .

            1. re: Kelli2006

              Thanks for your response. I will try a longer ferment. I assume that you mix and knead, and then place in the fridge covered for the 12-36 hour rise? After that do you let it sit out at room temp until doubled?

              I've been kneading the bread for about 10 minutes - until the outer texture noticeably changes to a smooth and stretchy consistency. I also have been baking to an internal temp of about 210 and a nice golden crust.

              What mix of flours would you use? Thank you for all the help. It is one of my personal goals this year to figure out how to make my favorite sourdough!


          2. TJ's bread is made with bleached flour if I remember which tends to give a higher rise. My current go to recipe is this
            For a SF style sourdough the recipe by Peter Reinhart in his book Crust and Crumb is probably closer to what you're looking for.
            www.thefreshloaf.com is an excellent resource for bakers if you have further questions

            1. You can't go wrong by following Daniel Leader, Peter Reinhart, Nancy Silverton, or Maggie Glezer. There are a lot of good books that explain different ways to achieve a good sourdough loaf. My own experience, which borrows from all of them, may be helpful here. But I must admit that I haven't tried to make a "San Francisco Sourdough" loaf. I prefer a little less tang. But I have sometimes made some more tangy loaves by accident. Some mistakes are very instructive. And so let me make a list of some of the mistakes I have learned from.
              1. Using a real sour culture--you get the tang in the bread, but the acid weakens the gluten and the yeast and bacteria are not vigorous to give you a good rise. Always work with a young and vigorous starter. I normally refresh mine twice before baking if I have not baked the previous day.
              2. The wrong flour--different kinds of flour can produce widely differing loaves. For example, a white whole wheat loaf, while flavorful, will be heavier than a loaf made with an unbleached all purpose flour. But I don't think you need to get esoteric in your search for flour. Price is not always an indicator of the best flour. Recent independent tests gave the highest rating to Gold Medal Unbleached All Purpose flour for making a lean artisan loaf. You may find something you like better. We sometimes use Pillsbury clear patent flour which has slightly higher protein. I've made very nice bread from Dakota Maid unbleached all purpose or from Hawaii brand. So my suggestion is start by using an unbleached all-purpose flour.
              3. Dough too dry--keep it on the moist side. A medium soft dough works well. Ciabatta and other Italianate breads often are made even wetter.
              4. Fretting about kneading--most books say to knead until it passes the window pane test. You can knead it thoroughly, but it seems to do quite well if you knead about half as much as you would for a yeasted bread and then fold it several times during the rising process. And please fold, don't punch down. Whatever you do, work in all your flour when you mix the dough so all of it gets digested by enzymes and microbes and all of it is worked into the gluten. Even a sticky, wet dough can be kneaded if you keep it moving and aren't afraid to scrape it up if it sticks. Very wet dough can be pulled like taffy to knead it. Maybe the most fun is slam dunking it to knead it. (The CHinese both slap the dough on a counter and pull it when they make noodles--this is a very effective technique, but I haven't tried both together in making bread.)
              5. Punching down--sourdough gluten weakens in elasticity as the pH drops. So you need to degas it but not overtax the gluten. Handle it gently. Fold, don't punch down. And if your gluten was fully developed in the beginning, you probably don't need even to fold other than just before dividing and shaping the loaves.
              6. Retarding the dough--sourdough does not benefit from retarding in the refrigerator, because the yeast and bacteria do best at different temperatures. If the dough rises in the fridge, you don't get much acid. But the dough does benefit from a reasonably cool (room temperature) rise at which both yeast and bacteria grow well together. You will get a bread this way with a mild tang and balanced flavor. If you like a more sour loaf, let the bulk fermentation take place at room temperature and spike the acid production in the final proofing of the shaped loaves by letting them rise in a warm spot.
              7. Being careless about shaping the loaves--Don't simply roll up a loaf. Use a shaping technique that imparts some tension to the outer surface so that, when it rises, like a tent pegged down, it will go up and not simply spread sideways. Boules (round loaves) are the easiest to shape. That extra tension on the outer surface can really make a loaf stand up in the oven.
              8. Baking in a dry oven atmosphere--in a typical American oven, the crust dries into a hard skin before the loaf has a chance to expand. So your potentially lofty boule may turn out to be a hockey puck. It is worth the time steaming the oven by using pans of water or misters. But you get even better results by baking in a closed container (casserole, cloche, flower pot) for the first half of the bake. Don't forget to score the loaf to help it expand quickly. And bake hot--start at 475 or even 500. If the loaf is very large, you can reduce the temperature so it bakes evenly inside without burning the crust.
              I hope that helps. Measure carefully so you know the weight of ingredients. Keep notes. Every loaf will be good, but soon you will understand what works best for you and will be able to turn out the perfect loaf that you want.

              18 Replies
                1. re: Father Kitchen

                  Good heavens this is far beyond helpful - It's bread baking wisdom! Thank you SO much for kindly laying it all out. I will reference this post heavily for my next attempt. Thank you again.

                  1. re: Phoo_d

                    Thanks. Afterwards I rather regreted that long reply. On rereading it, it was a bit much.

                    1. re: Father Kitchen

                      No regrets here! Sometimes it is hard to know even what questions to ask, so the more detail the better.

                  2. re: Father Kitchen

                    I agree with everything you said, Father Kitchen. And I want to underline that for a really open, moist European crumb a good all-purpose flour is what you want (rather than a higher protein bread flour). The all-purpose seems to give a more extensible gluten than bread flour.

                    As far as the brand of flour goes, I agree that in the main, this is not overly important, with the following caveats:

                    1) If you are struggling to fix a recipe, use one brand of flour until you get it to turn out well consistently. Many breads are pretty indifferent to the specific flour, but others are fussy.

                    2) For fussy breads (e.g., what you are trying to do) and unless you bake bread several times a weeks and can hence make adjustments on the fly) I would recommend using a premium brand of flour (e.g., King Arthur, Gold Medal, etc.) only because their quality control (particularly King Arthur) is more stringent and they pay careful attention keeping the product very consistent, despite different seasons, growing conditions, etc. For cheaper brands (and particularly those you buy in bulk food stores) you would be taking a little of a risk.

                    1. re: zamorski

                      I would also add that how and where you store your flour makes a difference. If it is air tight in a cool dry place it will absorb more water when you mix. If it is stored in the paper bag, it can pick up added humidity and flavors from the air... using less water.
                      If you do not adust for that, you can end up with a dough that is stickier or drier than you want..

                      1. re: gardencub

                        I have been using a KA all purpose flour (stored in the dark pantry in an airtight container), so I'll continue to try variations with that flour - right now I've been making about 2 boules a week.

                        1. re: Phoo_d

                          how old is your starter? How often do you feed it? Did you start with wild yeast or and old dough starter that you let go sour?

                          Different yeasts create different breads, and not all local yeasts make great bread. San Fran sour dough tastes the way it does because of the specific yeast that is indigenous to that city, in that fog, etc.

                          The yeast here in East Haddam makes a much more mild sour dough, My monthy old starter gave me loaves that tasted like really, really good Italian bread, but never got that deep sour taste I associate with sour dough.

                          1. re: gardencub

                            From what I have read--see especially Scott and Wig's "The Bread Builder"--I understand that the particular quality of a starter does not depend on the location where it is made. The Candida milleri grows on the wheat berry. As for the lactobacillus, no one has found its original vector, but it is suggested that Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis grows on human skin. I would conclude that any starter made from wheat grown in North America would probably have the same general characteristics. I think what distinguishes San Francisco sourdough is that the climate led to techniques that favored the outcome desired. So much depends on temperature as the two micro-organisms reproduce at different rates, depending on the temperature at which the dough is fermented. Also, research has demonstrated that once a culture is well established, it remains remarkably stable over decades. I have a starter that was first made in Russian California, was brought to Alaska, and came to me by way of Puget Sound. In flavor it is indistinguishable from a starter that I got going in Berkeley, CA. However, my "heirloom" starter has marginally better leavening power. I baked bread on Guam with it and got very much the same kind of bread I get in the summer in D.C.--a little more tang than my winter bread.
                            All the same, we do get widely differing starters from various parts of the world, because local strains of yeast growing on the wheat or lactobacillus can vary. And in very warm climates (e.g. Yemen), it would appear that possibly a different lactobacillus grows. There are a number of different species that show up in breads in tropical regions. Sourdoughs International sells about seven strains of starters with very distinct characteristics.
                            I'd love to see some time a direct comparison of an heirloom starter from the California coastal region, one from the Yukon, and another from New England. Would they be very much different.

                            1. re: Father Kitchen

                              if i had the space i would love to test each of them side-by-side!

                            2. re: gardencub

                              The starter is brand new. I recieved it as a Christmas gift from Mr. B (he got it from King Arthur). I have been feeding it once a week, following the instructions which came with the starter. It has a pleasant tang, so I've not been disappointed with the sourdough flavor, just my texture.

                              1. re: Phoo_d

                                Dear Phoo_d, for best results, you need to do more than feed your starter once a week. That will keep it alive and healthy. But to have a "young and vigorous" starter that has the oomph to raise a loaf, you should refresh your storage starter or "chef" just before you make the leaven or "levain" that goes into your dough. If my starter has been stored for more than a couple of days, I refresh it twice before making my dough.
                                Also, I only keep a small amount stored. My usual refreshment pattern is to mix a small lump of the old starter (maybe an ounce and a half) with a bit less than two ounces of water and a slightly rounded half cup of flour by the scoop and scrape method--enough to give me a medium soft dough. If I had a jigger to measure the water with, I could probably get away with one ounce of water and 1/4 cup of flour and a tablespoon of the old starter. Besides economizing on flour and space, mixing small amounts is less daunting. You can even use a mini processor or play patty cake with it.

                                1. re: Father Kitchen

                                  If you refresh it twice before making the dough, how long do you wait before the second refreshment? Thank you for all the details, there's quite a bit to learn!

                                  1. re: Phoo_d

                                    It's a matter of learning how your starter performs. It's a living thing, and like houseplants, not all cultures perform the same way. Sourdoughs International has a starter that is so fast that it goes dormant in the time others would be rising. The ideal is to let the starter fully expand. I think my dough starter is ready when it looks like tapioca with bubbles on top. If I rap the side of the bowl, it will drop. Some will say to let it go the full drop and then use it right away. I don't do that as it makes the bread tangier than I like. But you may want to do that. In any case, try mixing some starter and timing it to see how long it goes.
                                    Keep in mind that this is just flour and water. It is awfully hard to make a really bad loaf. So let it teach you. After a few loaves, you'll find you can get it right quite regularly.
                                    Right now I have a starter refreshing for the second time. Because it is cold and our kitchen is about ten degrees cooler than normal, it is taking longer than normal. Maybe eight hours. At a warm room temperature, mine will quadruple in volume in three and a half to four hours.
                                    My usual practice is simple, however. If I plan to bake on Tuesday, I refresh sometime earlier in the day on Monday and then again before I go to bed. If it has been a long time since I baked and need to refresh three time, one at six a.m., one in the early afternoon, and once at bedtime works well.

                                    1. re: Father Kitchen

                                      This makes sense. Thank you for explaining so clearly!

                        2. re: zamorski

                          I agree except I would add that some bulk food stores will surprise you. When I lived in Berkeley, I got flour by bulk from the Oakland store "The Food Mill." Their flour was from Giusto's (or is it Giusti's?) in South San Francisco. It was extraordinarily good, and I couldn't get it anyplace else. So if you buy flour from a bulk food store, ask what kind of flour they stock. You may be pleasantly surprised.

                          1. re: Father Kitchen

                            Giusto's now owns Central Milling Company which I've found available at some Costco's in the Bay Area. Alternatively you can order 25 pounds sacks of their flour and their shipping+bulk prices make this a nice alternative to supermarkets for some.

                        3. re: Father Kitchen

                          OMGOSH...... it's like i can see the heavens parting and hear the angels singing...... THANK YOU FOR ALL YOUR TIPS and insights! i am copy/pasting this to read over it before bedtime tonight!