Sourdough Wont Hold Its Shape

If you’re a sourdough baker, you know the feeling all too well: you’ve carefully mixed and kneaded your dough, let it rise for hours, and yet when it comes time to shape it, your bread just won’t hold its shape. It’s frustrating, but it’s also a common issue that many bakers face.

Luckily, there are a few key factors that can contribute to this problem, and with some adjustments and troubleshooting, you can get your sourdough loaves looking and tasting just as they should. One of the main culprits behind a dough that won’t hold its shape is gluten development.

Gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, is what gives bread dough its elasticity and helps it maintain its shape as it rises and bakes. Without proper gluten development, your dough can become too slack and loose, making it difficult to shape and resulting in a flat, dense loaf. In the following article, we’ll explore some strategies for improving gluten development and other factors that can affect the shape of your sourdough, so you can achieve the perfect rise and crumb in your homemade bread.

Understanding the Importance of Gluten Development in Sourdough

You need to understand how important it is for gluten to develop properly if you want your bread to maintain its form and structure. Gluten is a protein that forms when flour is mixed with water. It is responsible for giving bread its elasticity, allowing it to hold its shape during baking.

Without gluten, your bread will be dense, flat, and lack structure. When working with sourdough, gluten development is even more important because sourdough breads require longer fermentation times than traditional yeast breads. During this longer fermentation process, the gluten strands have time to fully develop, resulting in a more flavorful and textured bread.

However, if the gluten is not developed properly, the bread will not hold its shape and will be dense and unappetizing. Gluten development can be improved by using a higher protein flour, using a technique called autolyse, or using a stretch and fold technique during the fermentation process. By understanding how to properly develop gluten, you can ensure that your sourdough bread will have the perfect texture and hold its shape beautifully.

Finding the Right Proofing Time and Temperature

By experimenting with different proofing times and temperatures, we have found that sourdough dough can be quite finicky when it comes to holding its shape. The proofing process is crucial in developing the gluten network, which gives the dough its structure and elasticity. However, it is important to find the right balance between proofing time and temperature, as both can affect the final outcome of the bread.

One common mistake that home bakers make is leaving their sourdough to proof for too long. While it may seem like a good idea to let the dough sit and rise for as long as possible, overproofing can cause the gluten network to break down, resulting in a sticky, flat mess. On the other hand, underproofed dough will be dense and heavy, lacking the desired air pockets and texture.

Therefore, it is important to keep a close eye on the dough during the proofing process and adjust the time and temperature accordingly. When finding the right proofing time and temperature, it is important to consider the environment in which the dough is proofing.

A warm, humid environment will cause the dough to rise faster, while a cool, dry environment will slow it down. This means that the proofing time and temperature will vary depending on the season, the room temperature, and even the altitude. By closely monitoring the dough and making adjustments as needed, we have been able to consistently produce beautiful, well-shaped sourdough loaves.

Adjusting the Water Content of the Dough

Let’s adjust the water content to create a more delicious and satisfying loaf! One of the common reasons why sourdough won’t hold its shape is because of the water content of the dough. If the dough is too wet, it can be difficult to shape and maintain its structure during the proofing process.

On the other hand, if the dough is too dry, it can be tough and less flavorful. To adjust the water content, start by measuring out the flour and water precisely. Use a kitchen scale to get accurate measurements. If your dough is too wet, try reducing the water content by 10-20 grams at a time.

If your dough is too dry, add water by the tablespoon until it reaches the desired consistency. Keep in mind that the amount of water needed may vary depending on the type of flour used and the humidity in your kitchen. Once you’ve adjusted the water content, give the dough a good mix and feel the texture.

It should be tacky, but not sticky. If it feels too dry, add a bit more water. If it feels too wet, add a bit more flour. With the right amount of water, your dough should be easier to handle and shape. So, don’t be afraid to experiment and make adjustments until you find the perfect balance. Happy baking!

Using the Right Flour

When making sourdough bread, the type of flour you use is crucial to the success of your loaf. One key factor is the protein content of the flour, which determines the gluten formation and overall structure of the dough.

We’ve found that flours with a protein content of around 11-12% work best for sourdough bread. Additionally, there are a variety of flours that are well-suited for sourdough baking, including whole wheat, rye, and spelt.

Importance of Flour Protein Content

If you use flour with a low protein content, you might end up with a disappointing outcome that doesn’t meet your expectations. Protein is an important factor in the development of gluten, which is what gives bread its structure and elasticity. If the protein content is too low, the gluten won’t be strong enough to hold its shape, resulting in a flat, dense loaf.

When it comes to sourdough, the protein content of the flour is particularly important because the natural fermentation process creates a more acidic environment. This acidity can break down gluten, making it even more important to use flour with a high protein content. Bread flour is usually the best choice for sourdough, as it has a higher protein content than all-purpose flour.

However, if you can’t find bread flour, you can try adding vital wheat gluten to your all-purpose flour to increase the protein content. By paying attention to the protein content of your flour, you’ll be on your way to achieving the perfect sourdough loaf.

Types of Flour Suitable for Sourdough

Choosing the right type of flour for your sourdough is crucial for achieving a perfectly structured and elastic loaf. When it comes to sourdough, you want to choose a flour with a high protein content, which will give your dough the strength it needs to hold its shape and rise properly.

All-purpose flour, with a protein content of around 10-12%, is a good option for sourdough beginners, as it is readily available and easy to work with. However, if you want to take your sourdough to the next level, you may want to experiment with other types of flour. Bread flour, with a protein content of around 12-14%, is a popular choice among experienced sourdough bakers, as it produces a stronger, more elastic dough.

Whole wheat flour, with a protein content of around 14%, is another option to consider, as it adds a nutty flavor and a darker color to your sourdough. Rye flour, with a protein content of around 7%, is a lower protein option that can be used to add flavor and improve the texture of your sourdough. By experimenting with different types of flour, you can find the perfect combination to create a sourdough that not only holds its shape, but also has the perfect texture and flavor.

Shaping Techniques

Get creative with your shaping techniques to achieve the perfect loaf every time! The way you shape your sourdough can greatly impact the final result of your bread. There are a variety of techniques you can use, from the classic boule shape to more intricate braids. One popular shaping technique is the boule, which creates a round, rustic loaf.

To achieve this shape, start by gently flattening your dough into a circle and then folding the edges towards the center. Use your hands to create tension on the surface of the dough, pulling it taut and forming a tight ball. Let the dough rest and rise before scoring and baking. For a more decorative shape, consider trying a braided loaf. Divide your dough into three equal parts and roll them into long, thin ropes.

Braid the ropes together tightly and tuck the ends under to create a neat, uniform shape. This technique can be used with any variety of sourdough and is a great way to impress your guests. No matter what shaping technique you use, be sure to handle your dough gently and with care. Overworking the dough can cause it to deflate and lose its shape. With a little practice and experimentation, you’ll soon be able to create beautiful, perfectly shaped loaves every time.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

Let’s talk about some common issues that can arise when baking sourdough: flat or misshapen loaves, dense or gummy crumb, and sourdough with large holes.

We’ve all been there – excitedly cutting into a loaf only to find that it’s not quite right. But fear not! With a bit of troubleshooting, we can work through these problems and get back to baking beautiful, delicious bread. So, let’s dive in and figure out how to fix these issues.

Flat or Misshapen Loaves

If your loaf turns out looking more like a pancake than a traditional round loaf, it may be due to incorrect shaping techniques. It’s important to ensure that the dough has been properly developed and is not too wet or too dry. If the dough is too wet, it will spread out during baking and lose its shape.

On the other hand, if it is too dry, it will not have enough elasticity to hold its shape. To shape the dough properly, start by gently pressing it into a rectangle. Then, fold the top third down and the bottom third up, like a letter. Roll the dough into a tight cylinder, tucking the ends under.

Place the dough seam-side down in a floured banneton or on a floured surface to rise. Be sure to give the dough enough time to rise, as an under-risen loaf will not hold its shape during baking. With practice and attention to detail, you’ll soon be able to shape your sourdough loaves perfectly every time.

Dense or Gummy Crumb

We’ve talked about how to address flat or misshapen loaves, but what if your sourdough is holding its shape in the oven, yet coming out dense or gummy on the inside? This can be a frustrating problem, especially when you’ve put in the effort to shape and bake your bread with care.

One common culprit for a dense or gummy crumb is under-fermentation. If your dough hasn’t had enough time to fully develop, it may not have enough structure to hold the air pockets that give bread its characteristic texture. Make sure you’re allowing your dough to ferment for long enough at each stage of the process, and consider using a levain that’s been refreshed more frequently to give your bread more strength.

Another potential issue is over-proofing, which can cause the gluten to break down and lead to a dense crumb. Keep a close eye on your dough as it rises, and don’t let it go too long before shaping and baking. With a little attention to the fermentation process, you’ll be on your way to a perfectly textured sourdough loaf in no time.

Sourdough with Large Holes

You’ll be delighted to see the airy, rustic texture of your next loaf with large holes scattered throughout the crumb. Achieving a sourdough with large holes takes practice and patience, but the result is worth it.

The key to getting those big holes is to create an open crumb structure, which is done through proper gluten development and fermentation. To start, make sure your dough has been properly kneaded and developed. This can take anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes depending on your technique and the strength of your flour.

Once the dough has been kneaded, give it ample time to ferment. A long, slow fermentation will help to break down the gluten and create air pockets in the crumb. Be sure to keep an eye on the dough during fermentation and adjust the temperature and humidity as needed. With practice, you’ll be able to create a perfect, airy sourdough with large holes every time.

Frequently Asked Questions

How often should I feed my sourdough starter?

When it comes to sourdough starters, feeding frequency is key. We recommend feeding your starter once a day if it’s being stored at room temperature, or every 2-3 days if it’s being stored in the fridge. Feeding your starter regularly not only helps keep it active and healthy, but it also ensures that your sourdough bread will rise properly.

It’s important to use the right ratio of flour and water when feeding your starter, typically a 1:1 ratio, and to make sure it’s well-mixed and aerated. With a regularly fed and well-maintained starter, you’ll be on your way to baking beautiful, delicious sourdough bread that holds its shape perfectly.

Can I use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour for sourdough?

Yes, you can use all-purpose flour instead of bread flour for sourdough. However, keep in mind that bread flour has a higher protein content, which helps with gluten development and structure. So, if you use all-purpose flour, you may need to adjust your hydration levels and kneading techniques to achieve the desired texture and rise.

Additionally, using a combination of all-purpose and whole wheat flour can also add more flavor and texture to your sourdough. Overall, experimenting with different flours can be a fun and rewarding way to personalize your sourdough baking experience.

What is the best way to store sourdough after baking?

When it comes to storing sourdough after baking, it’s important to keep in mind that this bread is best enjoyed fresh. However, if you find yourself with leftovers, the best way to store sourdough is in a paper bag or wrapped in a clean kitchen towel at room temperature. Avoid storing sourdough in plastic as it can create moisture and cause the bread to become soggy.

It’s also important to note that sourdough will become stale more quickly than other breads, so try to consume it within a day or two of baking. Overall, the key to storing sourdough is to keep it in a dry environment and avoid any moisture or humidity.

How long does sourdough bread typically last before going stale?

As avid sourdough bakers, we know that the question of how long sourdough bread lasts before going stale is a common one. In our experience, sourdough bread typically stays fresh for 2-3 days when stored properly. It’s important to store sourdough bread in a paper bag or bread box at room temperature, rather than in the refrigerator, which can dry it out. If you want to extend the life of your sourdough bread, you can freeze it for up to three months.

Just be sure to wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or aluminum foil before freezing. While sourdough bread may not last as long as store-bought bread, the flavor and texture make it well worth the effort of baking fresh loaves often.

Can I freeze sourdough bread to keep it fresh longer?

Yes, you can definitely freeze sourdough bread to keep it fresh longer! In fact, freezing is one of the best ways to preserve the flavor and texture of your homemade sourdough bread. To freeze your sourdough bread, simply wrap it tightly in plastic wrap or foil and place it in a freezer bag.

When you’re ready to enjoy it, just let it thaw at room temperature for a few hours before slicing and toasting. However, if you’re experiencing issues with your sourdough bread not holding its shape, it could be a sign of over-proofing or under-kneading. Try adjusting your technique and see if that helps improve the final results.

Can the Same Solution Be Applied to Both Waffle and Sourdough Bread Making?

When attempting to tackle the issue of waffle batter not rising properly, it’s crucial to adopt a specific solution for waffle making. However, this solution may not be applicable to sourdough bread making. The chemistry and composition of each batter vary, necessitating different approaches for optimal rising and texture in both waffles and sourdough bread.


In conclusion, making sourdough bread that holds its shape requires a combination of factors such as gluten development, proofing time and temperature, water content, flour type, and shaping techniques. As experienced bakers, we understand the importance of these factors and have learned to troubleshoot common issues that arise during the bread-making process. One of the key factors in creating bread with a strong structure is gluten development.

This can be achieved through proper kneading or stretching and folding techniques, as well as using flours with high protein content. Additionally, adjusting the water content of the dough can also impact the gluten development and overall structure of the bread. Finding the right proofing time and temperature, as well as using the right flour, can also contribute to a well-formed loaf. Lastly, mastering shaping techniques can take practice, but can greatly improve the final result. Overall, making sourdough bread that holds its shape requires attention to detail, patience, and practice. By understanding the importance of these factors and troubleshooting common issues, we can create delicious and visually appealing loaves of bread.

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