problem with sourdough bread - crumbly crumb

Joined Aug 13, 2006
I've been making a modified version of the no knead bread (the little symbol near my name is a picture of how it always comes). It's delicious.  

Then my husband got interested (yay) and has taken over the breadmaking.  I was getting sick of having to deal with it every day, because we eat lots of bread and it was really getting hard to keep up, with work and all. 

Then our daughter made us a sourdough starter which came very well, using whole grain rye flour and water, and he started using that.  It seems that we can't get it to come right.  I've tried it (thinking he has only a year of experience making bread and i have 40) but it always has a similar problem. 

With the yeast version (1/4 tsp yeast to 4 cups flour) the top comes all rounded, and i slit it in a cross and the inside part comes up and makes a ball filling the space between the triangles where the outer skin was slit.  (you can probably see in the photo next to my name)

With the sourdough version the bread rises, but is more crumbly.  The triangles of the outer skin form a crust that sticks up in the center, the points of the crust curling up raised up from the bulk of the bread, and the part of the bread between the slits where it opens up remain lower, and instead of raising smoothly, get all cracked like arid land during a drought.  So the surface is made of four triangles coming toward the center of smooth crust that rise at the tops, and the space between them is all cracked and doesn't come up as much so the triangles are higher than the places between them.. 

I tried doing it with more water and with less.  We used half cup starter and 1/4th cup starter - whole and white flour and all white flour.  Nothing works.  It seemed at first liek there was too much flour and then like there was too little, but the problem remained. 

Is there something wrong with the starter?  Is this typical of sourdough?  any ideas?

here;s the recipe we used

1 cup whole wheat flour (occasionally we use all white flour - same problem,)

2 1/2 cups white bread flour

3 tsp salt

1 1/2 cups water

1/4 cup starter

 mix starter before measuring.  mix dry ingredients, add starter and water and mix well to combine. 

cover with plastic, sit 18 hours. 

add a little flour and knead briefly in the bowl. 

Shape in ball and put on baking parchment and let rise 1 1/2 to 2 hours while heating oven and cast iron casserole and cover

slit and bake

I'm pretty experienced, and have a feel for the right quantities of water and flour and adjust if too wet or dry, and use the same temp and technique as for the other bread.  We make the two exactly the same but with different leavening - starter or yeast.  Also the sourdough one has a thick crust that is not too pleasant.  The other has a tender and crispy crust.

I wish i could send a picture but my camera broke. 
Joined Jan 31, 2011
Is it imperative that you use no oil in the bread? If not, a couple of tablespoons might help with the dryness and cracking.
Joined Aug 13, 2006
Hi Grannysmith,

I was wondering why none of the breadmakers were answering - was going to ask if there is a breadmaker's conference somewhere and they're all gone!  /img/vbsmilies/smilies/smile.gif

Anyway, i don't want the type of texture that oil gives.  I want a nice crusty bread, with a chewy crumb.  I just want to know if this problem is typical of sourdough in general (I don;t think so) or if something may be wrong with the starter - maybe we're not feeding it right, or I don;t know. 

Joined May 5, 2010
If the starter was bad you'd know it immediately as it would have a foul odor. Your recipe looks not to be the problem either.  Have you tired making baguette instead of a round loaf?

I'm just guessing here on that.
Joined Feb 28, 2007
Siduri,  How active is your starter?  When I've made a recipe similiar to what you are making I found that if I fed my starter a few more days than I thought was necessary , so it was quite active, produced more oven spring. Another thing you might want to try is a higher protein flour or adding vital wheat gluten, I do this when I make a rye to ensure I get a nice loaf.  I'm out of guesses. 
Joined Aug 13, 2006
Chefross, i don't want to make a baguette because i want to use the cast iron pan method, which gives the crackly crust i like since i have no oven stone or other equipment. 

Angrybob, we use "manitoba" bread flour - it has plenty of gluten for bread with yeast so why wouldn;t it work with sourdough?  The starter seems very active, it bubbles and all, and it rises well in the bowl and when we shape the loaf.  I get the feeling there is something that is making the gluten break up and crumble but not at the beginning, when it gets into the oven. 
Joined Feb 28, 2007

My suggestions were based on some recent experiences I've had.  We had been residing in a place for the past year without access to a stove so when we moved to our new house I didn't have my old trusty starter.  My old starter never gave me any problems.  I whipped up a new batch of home made in late January.  In my first few attempts I was getting some results similiar to yours and after a few experiments longer feeding and developement times for the starter seemed to work.  I use the vital gluten when I'm using bread flour making the rye loaves because I use a lot rye percentage wise and it needs the boost.  Why sourdough might affect the gluten is a question for someone who has taken chemistry more recently and was better at it than I.  I would guess something inhibits the formation of the protein chains, but it's only a guess.  I'm sure someone else can shed more light on this subject.  Good luck.
Joined Aug 13, 2006
Thanks bob - we're using all white flour, or just a little whole wheat or other grain, but mainly white, so i don;t think it;s the gluten.  I think maybe there is something with the starter, not gone bad, but maybe like you say. It feels like either it's produced an enzyme that destroys something, (gluten?) or that it works fine in the first rise and second but breaks down before the last - or ? maybe it really works strongly and breaks through the gluten - making the crust where it;s been slit all deep cracks.   

I really am not the person to handle starters or cultures (yoghurt) - gives me too much anxiety keeping a thing alive that can;t communicate with me - like a kid or an animal would!  and so i have no experience with it.  We made a couple of yeast loaves, in exasperation, and i'm ready to give up the sourdough altogether, though it seems a shame. 

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