We've got news for you.

Register on TimesLIVE at no cost to receive newsletters, read exclusive articles & more.
Register now

Grill Hills

Why did my sourdough bread flop?

Our food expert solves your cooking conundrums

04 June 2020 - 09:17 By hilary biller
Sourdough bread has been one of the trendiest bakes to try during lockdown.
Sourdough bread has been one of the trendiest bakes to try during lockdown.
Image: 123RF/Marina Saprunova


During lockdown, I’ve been making a no-knead sourdough bread. The original recipe comes from Sullivan Street Bakery in New York and was found on the New York Times website.

I’ve been so pleased with my results, which have improved with each bake. However, my most recent loaf was a big disappointment and was quite flat, with a  tough and doughy texture. Could it be because I added some seeds and spices, something I’ve never done before?

Also the dough was proved on a very cold day and I put it in my warming drawer, set on low, and it rose quickly. — Jo from Linden, Joburg


I know the recipe you refer to — it’s delicious and easy to put together, with very good flavour. I don’t think the seeds and spices would have any impact on quality of the dough, other than adding flavour. I feel sure the problem arose in proving the dough in the warming drawer.

In her book Rising to Perfection, expert baker Carolie de Koster describes yeast as a living organism which multiplies under favourable conditions, producing carbon dioxide which leavens the dough. To multiply, yeast requires moisture, food (sugar or carbohydrates, the flour) and the correct temperature, which is just above body temperature: approximately 39 to 42°C. 

Any temperature even slightly warmer than specified will harm or destroy the yeast cells. In low temperatures, the yeast cells aren’t destroyed; they go into a rest phase and will reactivate once the right temperature is reached. So in cold conditions the dough will take more time to rise.

Rather than using an external heat source, ensure the dough is well covered when it’s very cold, even wrapping the bowl it's in in a blanket.

Don’t give up on adding flavourings as you did because they offer a new dimension to the bread.  


In a cookery quandary, have a problem with a recipe, bogged down by measurement conversions, or baffled by an ingredient? For sound advice, Sunday Times Food editor Hilary Biller is at your service. Send your queries to food@sundaytimes.co.za, and if yours is selected, we'll answer it in an online article.