This is a collection of the questions that I am asked often, I hope you find this helpful. I often receive emails/messages/comments that start like this:
“I’ve followed your recipe to a T but my dough isn’t like yours..”
This is always my response:
Unless you are using the same flour, starter, and/or water as me, your dough will not necessarily look or behave like mine. And it doesn’t need to. As long as you are baking lovely healthy homemade bread, that’s all that matters!.
If however there are issues with your dough that are leading to loaves you are unhappy with, those things can be easily diagnosed and fixed, and in which case do read on!.
My starter has liquid on the top/bottom/separated, is it ruined?
It’s not ruined, don’t throw it out. It’s just telling you it’s hungry. Stir it, and feed it, and keep an eye on it.
Why is my starter is thin and runny?
If it’s runny it will be because it’s being kept somewhere too warm and eating through its flour too fast; feed it extra flour to boost it up and make sure you’re not keeping it anywhere too warm from now on.
What ratio should I feed my starter?
I don’t work with ratios, and I only feed my starter to use it and based on how much I will need for my dough as stated in my master recipe and starter maintenance pages.
Should I feed my starter after I’ve used it and before I put it back in the fridge?
No, it’s not necessary. Only feed your starter to use it, not to store it.
My starter is 6 days old and not doing anything should I start again?
No, keep going, this is normal starter behaviour. Give it time.
I think my starter is dead shall I chuck it out?
Never ever throw a starter away unless it’s gone mouldy. Starters can always be saved and boosted. Give it a boost, double check what flour and water you’re feeding it.
My starter isn’t rising what should I do?
Keep going, always keep going, it will happen.
Make sure you’re not using distilled or RO water, and that it’s not getting too cold and give it more days of alternately feeding and discarding & feeding.
Will my starter be ready by day 7?
You cannot base the readiness of a starter by the number of days since you made it, they all behave differently, some take less time, some take more. This is about activity, you need to watch and see how it behaves and responds, and once it routinely grows and becomes active several hours after feeding it’s ready to go.
How can I make my starter stronger?
The best way to make a starter stronger is to use it, and keep using it, and to always feed all of your starter.
Do I need to discard every time, I hate throwing any way?
No, you don’t need to, unless you’re making a brand new starter.
When it says to discard half, do I need to weigh it?
No, you can discard half by eye.
How much starter should I start with when I feed it to make my dough?
Start with all of it. Hopefully you are only keeping 100-150g of starter, in which case, always feed the entire amount, it helps build the strength of the starter every time you use it this way.
Why doesn’t my starter behave like yours?
Firstly, starters will behave differently in different environments, plus the use of different water or flour will generate different looks and behaviours in starters, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with them. The fact is that your starter does not need to look like mine; as long as it is doing the job it needs to do, it’s perfect!
It’s easy to assume a starter is to blame if things are going as you expect, but it’s rarely the case, as this post explains.
If you think it needs a boost, try my starter boost.
How much time is required between each set of pulls and folds?
There is no fixed time; fit in 4-5 sets of pulls and folds during the time you have, it doesn’t need to be at fixed timed intervals, just do them as fits in with life.
Why is my dough sticky?
This can either be due to the flour you are using, some flours will always be sticky to work with, or maybe all you need to do is to try using a bit less water in your dough and see if it makes a difference; some flours are happier with less water. Try 25g less water and see if it helps.
Or, alternatively dough can be sticky as a result of over proving. Keep an eye on your room temperature and how long your are proving for on the counter to ensure that your dough does not over prove. I typically prove my dough for 8-10 hours at temperatures of 18C/64F – 20C/68F. If it’s warmer where you are this needs to be much shorter (likewise if it’s colder, this needs to be longer!).
Visit this post for more information about preventing over proving in the heat.
Why does my dough stick to the banneton?
This can happen if you banneton is not sufficiently prepared for the purpose. Your banneton needs to have a nice crust of rice flour, and more rice flour added when you put the dough into the banneton to ensure that it doesn’t stick. To prep your new banneton, sprinkle the inside with water, sprinkle in rice flour, tap it round the inside of the banneton, then leave it to dry. This way it creates a virtual non stick layer.
Rice flour is non porous which is why it is perfect for this job. Check out my video here for more information on how to prep your banneton.
Alternatively your dough is sticking for the reasons mentioned in the previous question.
Why does my dough spread?
This may be due to either your flour not being strong enough, or too much water in your dough, or not building up enough structure in your dough during the pulls and folds. As a starting point, try 25g less water in your dough. Or check out this post full of help and tips.
It can also be due to over proving, see above.
My rule of thumb is that if your dough is soft and sticky BEFORE the overnight prove, you probably need less water in your dough; if it’s soft and sticky AFTER the overnight prove, it’s probably over proved and you need less starter in the dough or a shorter prove.
Why can’t I score my dough?
As above, it can be due to several possible reasons, a soft dough will always be difficult to score so ensure that you have a firm well structured dough. Also make sure that your blade is thin enough and sharp enough for the job.
You could try leaving the dough for longer in the fridge and if that doesn’t help, try less water in the dough and see if that makes all the difference.
My dough hasn’t risen?
If it was cold overnight your dough will not rise much and just needs a few more hours in the morning to do it work.
If you fear it’s your starter, give it a boost.
My loaf is flat, I don’t think my starter is strong enough?
This is rarely due to your starter. If your dough grows and doubles during its main/bulk prove overnight, it shows that your starter is fine and working well.
The issue could be that you need less water is your dough; your banneton/banneton alternative is too wide so your loaf is wide and flat; your dough over proved and lost all of its structure and could not lift during baking.
Why is my dough so sticky?
This could merely be due to the flour you’re using, some produce a sticky dough. In some bases the dough needs less water, in some case the dough is under, or over proved.
However, if the loaf bakes well, that’s all that matters and in which case, don’t worry about sticky dough.
My bread is great but my dough doesn’t look like yours?
And it doesn’t need to; unless you’re using the same flour, the same water and working in my kitchen with my hands, it won’t. All it needs to do is create great bread, which it is, so don’t worry about how the dough looks along the way.
My dough isn’t bubbly in the morning?
It doesn’t need to be, in fact very bubbly dough usually means it is over proving or is a wet dough.
And some flours never produce bubbly vivacious doughs. Just look for your dough to double in size and have a nice firmness and resistance when you handle it.
I’ve proved my dough for 8 hours and it hasn’t grown much?
In this case, allow it longer to do its things, BUT learn to watch the dough and not the clock. The behaviour of your dough is dependent on room temperature, not number of hours.
How can I tell if my dough has proved enough?
The simple answer is, look for your dough to double in size. It also needs to be well structured. This post will help.
How long can I keep dough in the fridge before baking it?
This really depends on the strength of your dough, some doughs can withstand 24-48 hours in the fridge
What is the temperature in your fridge?
My fridge temperature is set to 4C/40F; if your fridge is warmer, it can affect how much the dough firms up i.e. not as much as you need it to, you may need to test for your fridge temperature to be sure.
Do I need a wholegrain starter to make a wholegrain loaf?
No, you can use any starter made with any flour in any dough, the flours do not need to match.
Why don’t you shape your dough?
I do shape my dough, I just do it in the bowl. I don’t turn the dough out on the counter like other bakers but it doesn’t mean I don’t shape it. I just do it cleanly and efficiently in the bowl. Visit my YouTube channel to see videos of how I do it.
What is the final prove in the fridge for?
The aim of the time in the fridge is several fold: it allows the dough to firm up so that when it is turned out of the banneton it holds its shape, whilst also making it easier to score.
It also helps to develop the flavour of your loaf, as well as allowing the baking time to fit in with life.
Why is the dough in the fridge? And should I leave it out of the fridge to warm up for a while before baking it?
The dough is in the fridge to firm up as well as develop flavour.
If you leave it at room temp for a few hours, it will soften & spread when you turn it out and lose all that firmness creates in the fridge.
Bake it direct from the fridge for best success.
I want to add cheese/seeds/extras to my dough, when do I do that?
Add any extras right at the beginning when you first mix up the dough.
My dough doesn’t rise in the fridge…
The dough doesn’t need to rise in the fridge, some do, some don’t, and it’s not an issue either way; all we need is for the dough, and loaf, to rise in the oven
I want to make several loaves at once, so if I make a double or triple batch of your dough, at what point during the process would you split it?
Personally, I make one dough per bowl. You would need a huge bowl to make a double or triple batch and allow it room to fully prove.
Can I make sourdough in a mixer?
Yes you can, find full details here.
Read more about flour here.
BUT, all that being said, as long as your loaves bake up well, don’t worry about how the dough behaves along the way. It doesn’t have to behave or look like mine.
My bread is good but the bottom keeps baking hard and dark, how can I prevent that?
Try placing some foil in the bottom of your pan, underneath the parchment paper to protect the base on your loaf.
I don’t have a pan to bake in, can I bake uncovered on a stone or oven tray?
Yes, I’d bake the loaf at 450F/220C convection initially, then turn it down half way through so that the outside doesn’t over cook.
Can I bake your master recipe as an oval/batard, and if so do I need to change anything?
Yes you can, and you don’t need to change anything.
Use a 28cm long oval banneton for my standard master recipe quantities.
How can I make my bread more sour?
Try doing a longer final prove in the fridge to develop the flavour or including whole grain flours in the dough. Or allow your starter to get hungry a few times, stir in any hooch it creates, and it will build more flavour into it.
How can I make my bread less sour?
You can reduce sourness by replacing some or all of the water with milk. Or by using a stiff starter which means you feed your starter the usual amount of flour but half the water for a couple of days and make it into a much thicker consistency, then use it as per the recipe.
Why don’t my loaves look like yours?
No two loaves ever look the same, even in my kitchen, and with different ovens, flours & water, your loaves will be unique to you and your kitchen. As long as they taste great, that’s all that matters.
Can I scale recipe up or down?
My master recipe is easy to scale up or down; to make multiple loaves, feed your starter sufficient flour and water to generate what you need ie 30g flour + 30g water to make 1 loaf; 60+60 for 2; 90+90 for 3, and so on.
To make smaller loaves, scale down the full size loaf quantities, for example, 300g flour, 210g water, 30g starter, 1/2 tsp salt. Do everything else exactly the same and bake for 35-45 mins.
What can I use if I don’t have a banneton?
You can line a similar sized bowl with a clean tea towel and sprinkle that with rice flour in place of a banneton.
Do I need to clean my banneton after each use?
No, you don’t need to clean them out unless they go mouldy.
After each use, leave them on the counter to dry out then put them back into the cupboard for next time.
Does it matter what size banneton I use?
Yes, it does…for example, if you are getting flat wide loaves and there seems to be no reason for it…check on the size of banneton or banneton replacement you are using. Sometimes wide flat loaves are merely the result of the banneton or alternative being too big for the dough.
For example, standard master recipe (50g starter, 500g flour, 350g water + salt) works best with a 22cm diameter and 9cm deep round banneton, or a 28cm long oval banneton.
If you use a 20cm banneton it is too shallow and your loaf will be shallow.
If you use a 25cm diameter or larger banneton it is too big amd your loaf with be wide and flat, you would need to make a much bigger dough to fill it.
Likewise, if you use a 30cm plus long oval banneton, your loaf will be long and flat.
Do I need to preheat my pan?
No, you don’t need to preheat your pan, I never do, even if you have a cast iron Dutch oven it’s not necessary.
Can I make your master recipe in a loaf pan/tin?
To bake in a loaf tin, pull the dough together in the morning as if for an oval banneton (I have videos online), and place it into a prepared loaf tin. Cover it again and either prove at room temp for 2-3 hours, or in the fridge for several hours, then bake at 200C/390F convection for 40-45 mins.
Read more about equipment here.
If you still have questions, please contact me directly.
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