Troubleshooting Common Issues

Here are answer the some common of the questions we have seen the Facebook group. There is not always an easy answer as everyone’s method and circumstances can vary drastically.

We will continuously be adding and updating these over time.

Problems and Answers

Although making sourdough bread is, in theory, quite easy, in practice it can be challenging.  The quality of your bread is contingent not only on the quality of your ingredients, but also on mastery of your technique.  Stretching and folding, proofing, and shaping the dough all impact how your bead turns out.  And, like any art form, it takes practice to perfect your technique, and perfecting your technique will help eliminate the big air pockets under the crust.

There are three areas you should focus on.

First, make sure you are adequately shaping and folding your dough.  Stretching and folding helps ensure gluten formation, which makes the dough more pliable and allows gases to be more evenly distributed throughout the dough.  This creates an open crumb to the bread.  If the gluten doesn’t form adequately, gases will break through the dough and float to the top.  As you proceed through your stretch and folds you will feel a change in the quality of the dough.  It will tighten up and stick to your hands less.  This is good.  It is gluten formation.

Second, get your timing right.  The timing of your proofs, especially, the bulk proof, is critical.  How long to proof your dough depends on a number of factors—how much starter you’ve used, the temperature of your kitchen, the flour you’re using, etc.  Thus, you will need observe your dough during proofing and assess when it has proofed enough.  Generally, it is best to shape your dough for the final proof when the dough is doubled in volume.  If you shape it too soon, it could lead to big air pockets.  If you wait too long it there will be no oven spring (i.e., it won’t rise during baking). 

Finally, you will want to practice how you shape your dough for the final proof.  Handle the dough gently and avoid folding the dough onto itself as this will defeat the even distribution of gases and increase the likelihood of getting flour inside the boule (which won’t cause air pockets, but ill produce streaks of uncooked flour in your bread).


Making sourdough is like learning to ride a bike—you’ll fall off at first, but once you get the hang of it you will ride without fail.  Keep trying!

Factors that may impact oven spring:

1.  Crust formation:   if oven spring is to occur, expansion of the dough  cannot be inhibited by early crust formation.  That is, if the crust on your bread forms too soon during the baking process, the dough inside will not be able to expand up and out.  Crust formation can be delayed by adding steam while baking.  Commercial bakers have ovens the inject steam into the oven while the bread is baking, but most of the rest of us use Dutch ovens or cloches with the lids on to trap the moisture.  Sometimes placing ice on a sheet pan at the bottom of the oven will help.  Either way, the goal is to keep the dough moist to delay the formation of the bread.

2.  Baking temperature:  If your oven is too hot, it can kill the yeast, which is necessary for the dough to rise during baking.  It can also dry out the dough, which means the crust will form sooner.  It is unlikely that your home oven gets hot enough to kill the yeast, but it may be hot enough to dry out the dough.  You may try adding more moisture (see above) or lower the heat.

3.  Proofing.  If you allow the bread to bulk proof too long, there will be no gas left in the dough to produce the bubbles that create the lift.  Let your dough bulk proof until it doubles, but no longer.  If you let it rise more there will be no umph left for the oven and you won’t get oven rise.

4.  Flour:  The quality and type of flour you use will make a difference.  Whole grains and heavier grains like rye flour will not rise as much.  You will have a denser crumb and less over spring.  Also, flour with more protein, like bread flour, will create a better spring.  And, it has been my experience that cheap flour does not rise as much.

5.  Hydration:  A higher proportion of water in your dough will also produce a better oven spring.  

Here is a useful video.

Crust is a matter of taste.  Some people like it crisp and chewy others like it soft and pliable.  Controlling the hardness of your crust is really a matter of controlling the amount of moisture in your oven, which is mainly in the form of steam.

Commercial ovens, and some home ovens, can actually inject steam into the oven, but for most of us we must find other ways to control moisture. 

The most common way is to bake your bread in a Dutch oven or clay cloche with a lid.  The lid traps the moisture emanating from the dough and turns it to steam, which in turn will soften your bread.  If you want a harder crust, take the lid off before the bread finishes baking.

You can also try putting a pan of ice at the bottom of your oven, which, of course, will turn to steam as the bread bakes.

Some people try using a spray bottle and spraying water into the oven.  In my opinion, though, opening the oven door too often will not only allow what steam there is to escape, but also lower the temperature of the oven.  So be cautious doing this.

An uneven crumb is most likely due to the handling of your dough when you stretch and fold your dough or when you shape the final loaves.

Stretching and folding does two things:  First, it promotes the development of gluten, which gives the dough flexibility and the ability to accommodate the development of carbon dioxide evenly throughout the dough—this helps create an even crumb.

Also, stretching and folding will distribute the temperature more evenly as the dough proofs.  This results in fermentation at more equal rates throughout the dough.  That is, its not fermenting faster in the warmer places than it is in the cooler places.  Again, this promotes a more even crumb.

That said, you don’t want to undo the benefits of stretching and folding when you shape the dough.  After the bulk proof, you should handle the dough carefully.  If you are making multiple loaves from your dough, you will need to divide your dough separate boules.  Do so as gently as possible.  Then when you shape it, also be gentle.  Do as little as possible to get the dough into the shape you need.  And always make sure you don’t fold any flour into the interior of your dough—the raw flour won’t bake.


The bottom line is that you have to practice and you must develop your technique.  Most importantly, don’t give up.  Sourdough is an art—the more you practice the better you get.

Disclaimer: Whilst we hope the information provided is helpful and informative, we cannot guarantee that all details will be 100% accurate.  There are many schools of thought and conflicting ideas on many of the sourdough processes and methods.  This site is simply meant as a broad guide to baking sourdough, and is not a scientific reference.

Also, please forgive the mixed US and UK spellings throughout. We have a team from various countries working on this site.This site may contain affiliate links. 

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A special sharp knife, or tool which holds a razor blade, in a curved or straight manner. You use it to score the dough before baking.

Dutch Oven

A Dutch Oven is generally understood to be a covered earthenware or cast-iron container for cooking casseroles. They are ideal for bread as they can accommodate bread dough and be covered to help generate the steamy environment requiredto encourage the dough to rise. Enamel roasters with a lid, covered pyrex dishes, or even a flat tray with a bowl over the top of the dough, are equally effective.

Bakers’ Percentages

Sometimes called baker’s math, this is a method to express the different ingredients as a percentage of the total amount of flour. It makes scaling a recipe or building a recipe very easy once you know the total weight of the flour, and also allows you to know the ‘hydration’ of your dough.

Example: If you build your dough with 1000 gram flour, 670-grams water, 20-gram salt, and 8-gram yeast. According to bakers percentages, that will be 100% flour (the amount of flour is always 100%), 67% water, 2% salt, and 0.8% yeast.
You divide the amount of the different ingredients with the amount of flour.

Banneton / Brotform / Proofing Basket

A type of basket or container used to provide structure for shaped loaves of bread during proofing. Banneton baskets are also known as ‘Brotform’ or ‘proofing baskets’. It is normally used for doughs that are too soft or wet to maintain their shape while rising. They come in a range of sizes and shapes. Look for ones that fit the size of loaves you want to bake.

They are often made of natural rattan, or wood fiber. You can also use any container lined with a well-floured tea towel.

Oven Spring

The final burst of expansion of dough upon being introduced to a hot oven and where the yeast activity is increased during the first few minutes. At approximately 60C/140ºF degrees the yeast is killed off, but up until that point, dough can expand in the oven in the first phase of baking if it’s not over-fermented and still has dough strength. Many factors can impact oven spring including the length of fermentation, gluten development, and the hydration of the dough.


An alternative to traditional kneading used to develop gluten. The process is performed periodically in the bowl throughout the bulk fermentation. Take a side of the dough and gently stretch it up and over, to fold it upon itself, rotate the dough 90º, and repeat, then turn the bowl 45º and the same stretch and fold. Once all four corners of the dough have been stretched and folded, gluten development and a smooth, elastic dough are underway. Also, see ‘Folding’ and ‘Coil Folds’.

Bulk Ferment

Most loaves have two fermenting cycles. One before and one after the loaves are formed. Bulk fermentation is the first cycle, with a long fermentation period of the dough after the initial mixing of flour, water, starter, and salt and often comes during and after a period of kneading or ‘stretch and folds’.During this stage we are aiming to create dough strength, structure and flavor. The dough should feel alive, strong, airy, spongy and the surface shouldn’t feel sticky.

The bulk fermentation generally takes place at room temperature, unless otherwise noted in the recipe and is a longer period of time (4 -12 hours) than the final proofing period. This step may be referred to as the first prove or first rising. Acetic acid, an organic acid is produced by bacteria in the sourdough culture during the fermentation process. The presence of acetic acid helps to gives sourdough its characteristic acidic tang. The warmer the environment, the faster the development of the dough will be

Window Pane

The window pane test is one of the best ways to tell if you’ve sufficiently stretched and folded your bread dough. Pull a small piece of the dough and using both hands and your fingers stretch the dough very thin if it holds its shape without tearing the gluten is well-developed and your dough is ready to be pre-shaped, shaped and rest for it’s final prove.

Starter / Starter Culture / Sourdough Starter

A mixture of flour and water used to leaven bread that contains bacteria, yeast, and organic acids. Made either by inoculating with an established colony of bacteria or by capturing wild bacteria and yeasts over a longer period. Sometimes also called Leaven / Levain.



Autolyse (pronounced auto-lees) is a process in which a portion of (or total) water and flour in a bread recipe are gently pre-blended and set to rest for a period of time.

This resting period gives the dough special processing characteristics and improves the overall quality of the baked goods.

During autolyse process, several events can occur in the pre-mixed water/flour mixture:

  1. Continued flour hydration. Water molecules work their way into damaged starch, intact starch granules and proteins.
  2. Protein bonds continue to develop as a consequence of adding water, creating more gluten strands without mechanical work. This leads to better gluten structure and gas retention.
  3. Flour enzymes (mainly proteases) acquire time to adapt and work on the gluten by breaking down protein bonds.Protease activity is higher at low pH (acidic conditions). This is why autolysed doughs that contain yeast or pre-ferments (e.g. poolish) often experience greater protease activity. Such doughs are more extensible, weaker, softer and show less resistance to deformation than autolyzed non-fermented doughs.2
  4. Finally, as a result, the dough feels less sticky and very smooth after the autolyse.

As a general rule, the longer the autolyse time:

  • The shorter the dough mixing time (less mechanical development of gluten-forming proteins in needed). This means less energy consumption during mixing.
  • The shorter the dough stability duration
  • The less tolerance to overmixing. Breakdown is more pronounced once peak (maximum strength) is attained.
  • The smaller the P value in the alveograph test
  • The more extensible and less elastic the dough becomes at the end of autolysis
  • The better the sheetability and machining of dough during lamination of croissants
  • The easier and faster the dough expands during oven spring (better volume)
  • The lower the need for dough conditioners
  • The better the flavor and aroma of the finished product
Leaven/Levain/Sourdough Starter
  1. A substance, in this case a wild yeast starter, that is used in sourdough baking to make dough rise.
  2. Some methods of baking, such as ‘Tartine Method’ require a sourdough leavening agent be made from a sourdough ‘mother culture’ (aka your Starter). This technique is often employed to boost the yeast activity of the sourdough starter by feeding a small amount of starter a larger quantity of flour and water. For instance, if a recipe calls for 1 cup of sourdough starter, a leaven can be prepared 8-12 hours before the dough will be mixed by combining 1 Tablespoon of sourdough starter with ½ cup flour and a scant ½ cup of water. This leaven can then be used as the sourdough starter and will be quite active come baking time.
  1. cause (dough or bread) to rise by adding leaven.