Why Is My Sourdough Bread So Dense?

Sourdough isn’t typically as light as standard white bread, but this doesn’t mean you get a thick, chewy bread. However, it is easy to get dense sourdough bread. It can result from dough that is too wet and too dry. We’ll discuss what can make sourdough too dense and answer your questions on how to get lighter sourdough bread in the future.

So, why is my sourdough bread so dense? A common cause of dense sourdough bread is that the sourdough starter isn’t mature. It simply doesn’t have the power to raise the sourdough. One solution is to feed the sourdough starter at least twice a day to make it strong. You’ll know that it is strong when it bubbles and lifts on its own.

Alternatively, you could buy a better sourdough starter and feed it according to the instructions provided. People can run into problems because they over-proof their dough, too.

You want to catch the dough when it has started to rise but is still rising. If you put it in the oven as it has started to deflate, you’ll get a denser bread.

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The amount of water in the dough affects its texture. You can get softer sourdough bread by adding more water to the dough. You know that lack of water is the cause when there aren’t really holes in the bread. However, if the bread is full of large holes and tough, you have too much water.

You can make the bread flour more flexible by soaking the flour before you add it to the final bread mixture. This will soften the bran without removing it from the bread; you can even do this with some or all of the bran if you sifted it out of the flour.

How do you soak the flour without compromising the dough? You can do this by mixing most or all of the liquid that the flour requires to get at least a dry dough consistency, as long as you aren’t adding milk or raw eggs.

Take this liquid volume into account with your recipe so you don’t add that much more liquid to it and get an overly liquid mix that can’t rise properly.

When you add the liquid to the flour, leave it on the counter for several hours or even overnight. Cover it so it can’t dry out. When you’re ready to add this most mixture to your bread dough, continue with the rest of the recipe’s instructions.

The humidity of the dough affects its ability to rise. You could accidentally cause it to fail to rise as far as it otherwise could. One variation of this mistake is letting the dough dry out while it is rising.

This generally happens because you didn’t cover it while the yeast in the dough starter was working. We’ve already addressed how a weak starter mix will have the same result. The other variation of this is letting your bread dry out while it cooks. This can be as simple as opening the oven door too often while it is cooking, letting the moisture escape that otherwise would condense on the bread as it cooked. It could also happen because you let the bread sit in the oven too long, essentially drying it out.

How Do I Make Sourdough Less Dense?

One solution is to use a lighter flour. That means not using hard red wheat, whole wheat flour. This means you could get lighter sourdough bread by using spelt or einkorn wheat. Just switching to a flour with less gluten will result in more rise and less dense bread.

On the flip side, you can’t get low-density bread with low gluten bread flour from rye. It doesn’t have enough elasticity to rise and hold itself up while baking. You’ll get a relatively flatbread. If you want to use rye flour, mix it with strong white flour so it can actually rise and have a light, airy structure.

Another option is sifting the flour to remove some of the heavier parts. Doing this with even part of the bread results in lighter flour, no matter what type of flour you’re using.

You could use only sifted flour or mix sifted flour with the whole grain flour to get lighter flour and a lighter loaf. The goal is to remove the bran that interrupts the gluten strands that prevent them from forming long strands that hold the bread up when it is baking.

How Can I Make Airy, Light Sourdough Bread?

One way to get an airy, light sourdough bread is to bake it in a Dutch oven. You’ll cover the loaf with the Dutch oven lid while it is in your oven. This allows the bread to retain all of its moisture.

You have to heat the oven to a higher temperature before you insert the bread dough in the Dutch oven, typically 450-500 degrees F instead of 350-400 degrees F for bread in an open pan. The cook time will be similar – 25 to 30 minutes. Because there is more moisture, the bread will take longer to form a crust that inhibits further rising.

However, the bread may need more time sitting in the open Dutch oven once removed from the bread to finish baking and hardening.

This tactic also dovetails to the advice that hotter ovens equal lighter sourdough. This gives the bread the greatest boost early in the baking, resulting in the highest rise possible.

You also don’t want to turn down the temperature in the oven until the crust has formed; this is around twenty minutes in.

Ensure that the bread has cooked all the way through since a thick gooey center will never form an airy bread though you can cook it long enough to make it safe to eat.

Can You Get Lighter Sourdough Bread by Moistening the Surface?

Another option is to moisten the dough’s surface. You’ll give the dough more “oven spring”, and the crust will rise higher no matter what you bake it in.

A side benefit of this approach is that it can be used with any type of flour and done at the last minute. Some people brush an egg wash on it. This gives it an extra bit of color as it bakes, though you have to be sure it bakes hot enough to kill any salmonella. And don’t leave the egg wash out exposed to the air.