Why doesn’t my dough grow?

There are certain rites of passage when it comes to making sourdough, we make our starters, there may be some bumps in the road, but in the end, we get there. Then we make our first doughs, again, lots of learning, and even when we think we’ve sussed it, suddenly something can throw us. This is why I constantly share whatever tips I can to try and anticipate your questions, so this is another one in case it’s useful:

What prevents dough from growing?

Peoples immediate response is to blame the starter, and it’s rarely actually the case. If your dough grows your starter works. If it’s slow, it could be for other reasons, or…

BUT if your starter has become thin for any reason, it is therefore weak and will struggle to lift itself, let alone a dough. So keep an eye in the consistency. If it has become thin as a result of heat, or weak flour, just spoon in some more flour and thicken it back up to give it some body and power. Let it respond before using.

A young starter is not by default a weak starter; I have used a 3 day old starter and it’s worked perfectly. Yes, they gain flavour and power with age and use, but a young starter is again, rarely the reason.

A big culprit is cold temperatures, they slow down the proving, so your dough hasn’t ‘not grown’ it just hasn’t finished growing. Give it more time. That’s all it needs.
If you want to put it in some warmth go for it, but don’t leave it for too long, and keep an eye on it.
(Don’t forget to look at the boost on page 61 of The Sourdough Whisperer if you’ve got it).

Another issue that people often overlook is a dry surface. If your dough has got a dry surface as a result of not being covered properly, only being covered with a dry tea towel, or you live in a dry place, the dough underneath cannot grow (this also works the same for a starter). Remove the dry surface and let the dough continue to prove and next time cover it with a shower cap or similar. It needs the moisture and protection.

Heavy doughs also struggle to grow. If your dough has a lot of add ins, it won’t grow as much as a dough without additions, and that’s fine. Let it get to double if you can.
A heavy wholegrain dough may take longer to grow, especially if you’re using home milled flours and haven’t allowed for it needing extra water.

These things are all fixable, as is everything with sourdough, hopefully they’re useful tips. If you’ve got your own to add, please feel free in the comments xx

Let me know what you think...