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Sourdough Not Holding Shape

Sourdough Not Holding Shape: What To Do (2023 Updated)

Last Updated on January 27, 2023 by Lori Walker

If you’re new to bread baking, you’ll likely explore various pieces of bread to get your bearings in the hobby. One of the most common types to bake is a sourdough loaf. 

There’s just one caveat: common does not mean simple. Preparing and baking sourdough takes longer. Plus, it’s more complicated to hold its shape than normal bread.

If you’re bothered by sourdough not holding shape, read on and find out how to properly bake bread with a weak gluten structure and save your sourdough.

6 Ways To Save Sourdough That Is Not Holding Shape

sourdough bread on a baking rack

1. Use A Bread Tin

Bread with a well-developed gluten network tends to rise in the oven rack. However, the baking process is different for sourdough loaves. 

If you’re dealing with over-proofed bread, you can use a bread tin to hold its shape and prevent undesirable dough spreads. 

Use parchment paper to prevent it from sticking in the hot oven [1]. Plus, the container will influence the final shape.

Find out how to bake a loaf of bread in a dutch oven without parchment paper here.

2. Combine With A New Batch of Sourdough

Often, the flour affects the dough produced. 

Different flours have their respective water-absorbing and gluten-producing capability. For instance, whole wheat flour absorbs more moisture than others. 

Combining your sourdough batch with high-protein flour like bread flour can create a better structure. With enough protein, they develop gluten bonds in the dough better.

But how will you know if the sourdough starter is dead?

3. Utilize A Banneton

Before you throw your dough into the dutch oven, it’s important to give the same dough room for proofing. 

This technique allows your dough to hold its shape during the final proof.

Moreover, banneton helps absorb excess moisture, especially from a high-hydration dough, resulting in a better-baked loaf.

4. Build Surface Tension

Unlike regular dough, shaping sourdough is different because of weaker surface tension. This is, in part, due to the active starter used. 

Normal dough utilizes yeast, while sourdough uses fermented rye flour.

You can build tension by shaping and stretching it to create a tout skin. This is done before you place the dough in the banneton.

5. Refrigerate

Refrigerating your shaped and proofed dough for at least an hour can help maintain its physical integrity. 

The low temperature of the fridge maintains the dough’s shape until after the baking time. 

We recommend placing the dough in a banneton to help hold its shape. Moreover, placing the dough for 10-15 in the freezer before putting it in the oven could also help.

But how long can I keep the bread dough in the fridge?

6. Reconsider the Hydration Level

The hydration of your dough influences the strength of its gluten network. Dough with too much moisture will be sticky and fall flat. 

For this reason, consider the flour you intend to use.

If you’re a beginner, steer clear from high-hydration flour like whole grain. The right flour should have low moisture absorption with high protein content.

Read: Why Does Rolling My Dough Cause It To Shrink?

Possible Reasons Why It Does Not Hold Shape

sliced sourdough bread

Undermixing

Mixing combines the proteins that build the dough’s gluten network, enabling the loaf to maintain its shape. In other words, a longer mixing time makes doughs stronger and stiffer.

You can even bake a taller loaf with adequate mixing before the baking process.

Overmixing

Conversely, overmixing the dough reduces the overall flavor by destroying its carotenoid pigments. 

While a strong dough helps hold its shape, over-mixture hampers oven spring, stunting any rise or crumb even when cooked in a baking stone. 

As a result, the crust won’t be as attractive as intended.

Excessive Hydration

The best way to workaround excess moisture is to use low-hydration flour. However, should you decide to use high-hydration doughs, you can use the bassinage technique.

This means holding back a portion of the water during mixing until you develop a dough with sufficient strength.

Improper Gluten Development

As mentioned above, mixing time influences gluten development. However, a longer mixing time is required when you mix in grains, seeds, and nuts into the sourdough formulation.

Otherwise, the finished product will not achieve your desired physical integrity.

Read: Is It Possible To Knead The Dough After It Has Risen?

Excessive Bench Rest

Like proofing, over-proofed dough tends to collapse. The same story applies to dough with excessive bench rest.

The dough shouldn’t rest for more than 20 minutes prior to shaping. Otherwise, the dough will slack too much, increasing the risk of tearing.

Not Enough Skin Tension

Shaping is the most crucial activity before the final proof. 

You want your dough to have enough skin tension to hold its shape before it becomes a full-fledged load (or two loaves with enough proof).

Lack of Salt

One function of salt is to tighten the gluten structure. With insufficient salt, your bread might be sticky and fail to maintain its shape even when straight from the fridge.

The rule of thumb is to keep salt levels around 2% of the flour’s total weight. 

High Damage on Starch

Sometimes, even if you do everything by the book, sourdough still comes out bad. You’ve experimented with various flours like whole grain and rye. 

You may have tried different mixing time durations too. 

In this case, there’s nothing else to blame but the flour itself. During the milling process, the starch molecules have been damaged to even be useful. 

Read:

FAQs

What happens if you proof sourdough too long?

Overproofing causes gluten to be sloppy and sticky, resulting in a flat dough. Fermenting the dough too long will also degrade its structure. 

How do you tighten sourdough bread?

The shaping process is the secret to developing a tout skin for your dough. This creates strong surface tension, resulting in desirable physical integrity after cooking.

Find out how you can save an over-kneaded dough here.

How do you keep dough from spreading out flat?

There are many factors at play in maintaining a dough’s proper shape: mixing time, proofing time, shaping, moisture level, and flour used. 

Hitting the right bells ensures your dough does not crumble and fall flat.

How do you shape zafter bulk fermentation?

The secret in shaping dough (regular or sour) is to stretch the surface as much as possible to create a tout skin that does not spread or relax too much. 

Putting the dough in the fridge can also help keep its shape before baking.

Can I reshape sourdough after proofing?

Yes, you can, but we advise against reshaping after proofing because you risk deflating the dough. Make sure to shape the dough properly before final proof to avoid reshaping after.

In Summary

Sourdough preparation might be simple, but there are so many nuances that complicate the entire process. 

There could be many culprits behind a dough that does not hold its shape properly, but with the right techniques, we hope you can craft the perfect loaf for you and your family.

Happy baking!

References:

  1. https://www.thepioneerwoman.com/food-cooking/cooking-tips-tutorials/a93622/7-reasons-to-use-parchment-paper/ 
  2. https://www.seriouseats.com/what-is-gluten-free-bread-dough-pasta 
Lori Walker

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