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Feb 26, 2013 12:55 PM

Wet Doughs

I have a question about high-hydration doughs. When I make them, such as with my brand new and tasty sourdough starter, my loaves turn out thin and flat. They have nice hole structure and texture, but as soon as they get into the oven they spread like the loose stuff that they are - !

What am I doing wrong?

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  1. What is the hydration level? I've been baking tartine bread for over a year and I've never had that problem. Maybe your hydration level is just too high or you have not allowed the flour to fully hydrate, it needs lots of time and 'turns'. 'they'always say that the more water the harder to work with. So to start, one should use less water and then work your way up to where you like it. What technique are you using?

    1. What kind of loaves? Are they proofed and baked in a pan, boules, baguettes...

      1. What hydration are we talking?

        1. I"ll answer all in one.

          I confess, I just winged it the first two times and made a very manageable, but obviously too wet dough. It was easy to fold, handle, and form, but evidently too wet.

          The flour was fully hydrated; it got several hours in the fridge and on the countertop.

          I threw the formed bread onto my preheated (450 for one hour) stone, without a pan.

          I have since worked out a dough formula based upon the hydration level of my starter that lands at about 65% - do you guys think that will do it? If so, I'll feed the starter tonight and do that one tomorrow.

          The bread, other than being two inches tall, was well-flavored and nicely textured. A flat boule, I guess.

          I still want to know how bakers get tall loaves from really wet dough - ?

          I'll look at the Tartine book again. Gloriaa, what is the hydration level in the recipe you use from them?

          15 Replies
          1. re: sandylc

            I generally make lean doughs about 67% hydration which I don't really consider high. The math works easy for me since it is 2 to 3. And 5 makes the right size breads for us.

            For it to stand up; the gluten must be well developed and the dough formed tightly into a loaf with good surface tension.

            Is it deflating during the scoring or the "throwing"?

            1. re: kengk

              My pizza dough is 75%, and my guessed-at sourdough dough (?) was similar to that, so with your input and my previous calculations, I will do a 65% or so tomorrow or the next day.

              The bread didn't deflate so much as it drooped.


              1. re: sandylc

                The tartine bread is 70% hydration, very different recipe than pizza. It is time consuming but very delicious. His technique of cooking it in a Dutch oven is brilliant.

                  1. re: Gloriaa

                    The Dutch oven also allows the bread not to spread so much, resulting in a nice crumb. Without the high sides (obtained nicely with a Dutch Oven), the bread otherwise droops and you wind up with a bread that's akin to a thick pizza.

                    1. re: Cheese Boy

                      My Dutch oven is too large - hubby says he has a smaller one in the camping gear, so I am waiting for him to pull that out for some bread use.

                    2. re: Gloriaa

                      How so "very different"?
                      My sourdough Neo-style dough is higher hydration but that's really the only difference.
                      The Tartine working technique of stretch and fold applies beautifully to pizza dough.

                1. re: sandylc

                  Two things--pancake loaves is pretty standard for a newly cultivated starter, IME, so if that applies to yours--meaning less than a few months old--give it another month and re-evaluate your product with the same formula. I can't emphasize this enough. Even if you're not seeing noticeable change in the way your starter behaves, it takes months vs. weeks to be fully functional.

                  Also IME, there is an upper limit to hydration that will still make a nice tall boule regardless of how good a job you do with gluten development and shaping. One attempts to walk the line between the ideal crumb and interior texture and a nicely shaped loaf, and I would second the suggestions to dial back on your hydration until you've gotten a shape you're happy with, THEN start upping it little by little until you find a happy point.
                  All of that assuming that you're really doing the best possible job of developing and shaping the dough.
                  (Try "Jason's Ciabatta" for an absolutely stellar primer in what gluten development gets you. You haven't seen gluten development or high hydration until you've seen and worked with that one!)

                  Using a brotform or banneton for proofing will help, but it's not an absolute fix.

                  Using the cloche method (ala Lahey/No Knead or Tartine) does not affect the spread of the loaf, IME. It does make a huge difference in oven spring and crust, but it would have to be a HUGE loaf to touch and be supported by the sides of any normal size covered vessel. That is not the point in any case.

                  The Tartine formula that has been mentioned is actually 75% hydration. I get excellent, high domed boules with that %.

                  Practice, practice, practice. Bread, sourdough in particular, is one of those things where what you were so proud of and thought was great in year one you'll find laughably sad and pathetic in year two and so on, but that's what makes it fun.

                  1. re: splatgirl

                    Thank you for yet more excellent information. I will persevere.

                    1. re: sandylc

                      My biggest problem was the crumb when I started out. My bread always looked perfect, not flat at all, but when you cut into it I would have one giant hole and the rest would be very dense. The process was very disheartening and I still cross my fingers when I cut into one. Making bread from homemade starter is definitely a labour of love.

                      1. re: Gloriaa

                        The crumb was surprisingly good. My starter could be too young, and I need to do more folds.

                      1. re: Lillipop

                        Thank you, Lilipop. There is no possible way I could do justice to all of the great teaching, advice and helpful sourdough minutiae I have received from others, but I do aim to pay that forward.

                    2. re: sandylc

                      How was the humidity and temp that day?

                      1. re: cstr

                        Cool and dry. Winter in Minnesota.

                    3. You've received lots of great advice already, but your situation sounds so similar to mine that I thought I'd add my $0.02.

                      I used to always knead my dough (67% hydration), shape it, let it double in size, slash it and then bake it (pre-heated pizza stone @450). My loaves were always pretty flat (though not dense). Then one day I miscalculated how much time I had to bake my bread, so I had to pop it in the oven after only a 45 min rest. It had only barely started to rise again. And wonder of wonders, it puffed up beautifully. I've gone as short as just a 30 min rest after kneading and it still works great, though the hole structure is very irregular.

                      So if all else fails, maybe try a very short post-kneading rest and pop it in the oven and see what happens.

                      Caveat is that I work with a salt free dough recipe (for medical reasons) so this may not work for you if you use salt.

                      Best of luck!

                      2 Replies
                      1. re: greymalkin

                        An excellent point, greymalkin. Sourdough is particularly sensitive to overproofing. Wiser dough heads than I have always advised to put the loaf in a bit underproofed to get the best oven spring.

                        I thought of a couple of other things:
                        Some sourdoughs do not do well with cold retard, so if you're doing so at the bulk or loaf stage, maybe stop, at least until you're more dialed in.
                        Also, how long was your final proof? Keep in mind that the longer that shaped loaf takes to be ready for the oven, the more the gluten can relax.

                        Here's my first attempts with a newly homegrown starter--pancakes to be sure! (Ignore the burnt--also my first attempt at WFO bread baking.)
                        In hindsight, this was 100% related to the immature new starter. I think it takes a while for the acid balance to figure itself out, and that leads to pancakes because acid relaxes gluten. Between that and taking too long to rise, puddle bread.

                        1. re: splatgirl

                          Ah-hh....So, I have a young starter that I overproofed that MIGHT or might not have been too wet......GREAT STUFF HERE!