Why Is My Sourdough So Dense?

Written By Acacia Crossley


Bread is notoriously tricky to make, no matter what type you are attempting. Out of all those, homemade sourdough is on a whole different level of difficulty, especially if you are making the sourdough starter from scratch.

Because sourdough takes much more effort than most other types of bread, the last thing you want to find when you pull your bread out of the oven is a dense brick. It will still taste nice enough but will be nothing like the chewy crispiness a sourdough loaf should have.

To save yourself the disappointment, let us clue you in as to why your sourdough seems to always turn out dense. 

Like most other bread, sourdough needs sufficient proofing time to allow its yeast to activate and produce enough gas to make the bread rise in the oven. An under proofed sourdough bread will not have the same rise, resulting in a dense loaf. 

How Long To Proof Sourdough Bread

Those new to breadmaking always underestimate the importance of proofing dough, focusing instead on the kneading process. While kneading is essential, the most significant issues with sourdough can often be traced back to under or over-proofed dough. 

There is no exact time to proof sourdough as each method of making sourdough requires its own proofing time. However, most recipes will stick to a 3 – 4 hour proofing range. 

Now, we know this is a long time, even compared to other types of bread. That is why patience is a crucial part of making sourdough just as much as the dough itself.

The sourdough needs enough time for the yeast in the dough to activate and start releasing gas. This is what creates the bubbles in sourdough bread once it is baked and is what prevents the bread from being so dense. 

If you try to proof your sourdough for less than the required time, then the yeast would not have had enough time to activate, limiting the amount of rise it can give your bread. 

Proof Sourdough Bread Fully

Can You Overproof Sourdough? 

There is not really a way to overproof sourdough bread as it is a lot more resilient than other types of bread. So long as you can keep the dough cold (e.g. in the fridge) to help slow the proofing’s speed, then you can proof sourdough for up to 36 hours. 

That said, if you leave the sourdough to proof for longer than 4 hours at room temperature, where the yeast will work quicker, it is very easy to overproof the dough.

What Happens When You Ovenproof Then?

When the yeast is allowed to release gas for longer than it should in your dough, the hard-earned gluten in the dough will not be able to withstand the gas buildup and will break down.

This will stop the dough from then rising in the oven, creating a dense sourdough. So only proof your sourdough for longer than 4 hours if you are doing so in the fridge. 

Remember that the longer you proof sourdough and the longer the yeast is given to active, the sourer the bread will taste. If you are not a fan of overly sour or bitter sourdough, then proof your dough for the minimum amount of time. 

Can You Overhandle Sourdough?

The best mindset to have when working with sourdough is to think of it like a pastry. The more you touch and work the pastry, the stiffer it becomes and the worse its texture becomes.

Sourdough is very much the same. Handling sourdough too much can change the consistency of the dough itself, making dense bread. 

You are most likely to overhandle sourdough once it has been kneaded and proofed. It takes a lot of work and patience to encourage air bubbles to form in sourdough but touching the dough too much or too roughly once those bubbles have formed could very likely knock those air bubbles and pop them.

Without those carefully formed bubbles, your sourdough will not expand and rise in the oven as needed to make a light and airy bread. 

How To Tell If A Sourdough Is Going To Be Dense

There is nothing you can do to fix a dense sourdough once it has been baked. It will remain dense and you will either have to choke down the brick-like bread or simply throw it away.

But luckily, there are some signs you can look out for when making sourdough that may indicate a potentially dense bread. 

Added Sweetness is a Must

When following a sourdough recipe, even a super healthy one, if no sweetness is added to the dough, then it will be a dense sourdough.

The yeast and bacteria in sourdough needs some sugar to feast on and create bubbles. Even honey or potato starch can be used in place of granulated sugar, but the sourdough must include a little sweetness. 

A Rise Should be Obvious

You should notice an obvious rise in your sourdough once it has been proofed. After all, it is proofed for hours.

No rise at all in all of that time is a clear indication that something is wrong, such as the yeast has not activated as it should. Do not just rush ahead and bake sourdough that has not proofed as it should!

Add some sugar to your dough or knead it to try and get the yeast working, then let it proof again. If there is still no rise from the bread, I’m sorry to say that you should start from scratch as you will only end up with a very dense sourdough. 

Dense Sourdough FAQs

Do you have more questions about your dense sourdough? Then have a look through these common queries:

Why Is My Sourdough Bread Gummy?

The main cause of gummy sourdough bread is too much moisture. This could be a starter that is too wet, a dough that is too wet or an oven that is too cool and therefore doesn’t convert the moisture to condensation.

Why Is My Sourdough Starter So Dense?

Sourdough starter will be dense if it is not kept in optimum conditions. The primary condition to consider is the temperature it is stored at. You want to try to keep it between 21c and 23c.

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