What am I doing wrong?

My starter only gets a thin layer of bubbles, then it goes flat.

Try reviving your starter. Dump it all out (except for the small amount that clings to the insides of the jar). Then add 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cups of water. Using 3/4 cup instead of 1 cup of water will also hold the bubbles better and increase the peak time.

My bread rises, but it does so horizontally, resulting in a very flat loaf. Other than this, the bread is tasty.

You've got everything right except the water content of the dough. It's too wet. Simply add more flour. If you're using a stand mixer, after a while you should not have any dough sticking to the bowl, especially at the bottom center of the bowl. If you see a small glob of dough at the bottom, your dough is too wet. If this is not the problem, you are kneading the dough too long, which is damaging the gluten. Don't knead for more than 5-10 minutes.

It's been 12 hours and bread dough is still not rising.

If the starter was bubbly when you made the dough, give it more time. If you use less starter, you will actually wind up with a more sour flavor but it might take 24 hours to get to the first rise. When it doubles in size, punch it down and let it rise again.

My bread rises, but then it falls during baking.

You have left out the salt or have not added enough of it. Salt actually retards rising slightly, but strengthens the gluten so the loaf will keep its shape. Use 1-1/2 teaspoons of salt for every 3 cups of flour.

My bread just doesn't bake right. It turns brown and gets a crust before it rises any in the oven. It just doesn't look like a store bought loaf.

Several things can cause this. Make sure you catch your sponge at it peak, which will help to rise the bread more. Your starter has become too acidic- dump most of it out and start over using a few tablespoons of the old starter. Too much butter- don't use any at all next time to see if this is the problem.

My bread is not chewy enough.

Add some butter, or use a second or even a third rise.

My bread is not crispy enough.

Use less butter and/or reduce the kneading time. When the loaf comes out of the oven, you should hear and see the crust start to crack. This is a good indication of a good crispy crust with the right amount of water and kneading. To save the existing loaf, keep it in the oven as the oven is cooling down to dry out the crust some more.

I slash the top of the bread, but my knife tears and stretches the loaf.

Use a very sharp knife. Spray cooking oil on the knife blade. Some people have good success using a wet razor blade (in France, this is mounted to a holder and called a Lame, pronounced lam). Also, try spraying the loaf with water. But be careful- too much water will flatten out the loaf.

After rising my loaf just became flat, looks a little wet, but has a very strong sour smell.

Too much acid/alcohol in the starter. You need to dump out most of the starter. You can try and revive your starter by dumping all of it out, preserving only the small amount that sticks to the sides of the jar. Add an equal amount of flour and water and let it set and rebuild itself.

My bread is not sour enough.

The sour taste is usually a function of time. The longer you let the bread rise, the more sour the taste. If the yeast culture is very active and you simply can't let it rise any longer, use two or three rises, punching down the loaf in between. You can also add a few tablespoons of white Rye Flour, which will enhance the sourdough flavor.

My bread doesn't brown properly or is not very crispy.

Not enough steam during baking. Fill a spray bottle with water and spray the inside of the stoneware bowl and top of the loaf before baking. Too much butter- don't use butter at all or cut back half of what you're using.

I've tried everything, and I still can't get the dough to rise enough.

The purists out there will probably email me about breaking the "artisan bread rules", but here are two things that will give your dough a strong and fast rise. Malted Barley Flour- About 1-2 teaspoons (5-10ml) per 3 cups of flour. This acts as a complex sugar to feed the yeast during the rise. Apple Cider Vinegar- This makes the dough more acidic which will strengthen and increase the rise. Use 2-3 teaspoons per 3 cups of flour.


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