What am I doing wrong?

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

Starter is over fermented. Revive it by dump it all out except for the small amount that clings to the insides of the jar. Add 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cups of water and stir to mix. Continue this every 12 hours until the bubbles rise at least 2 inches within a few hours time.

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

Either too much water or your starter was not active enough. If the dough also has a wet sheen to it, it is definitely caused by a weak starter.

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. It should get close to double in size when ready to bake.

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 starter at its 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 more water next time.

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. 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. Lastly, rising the loaf in the refrigerator will increase the sourness but double or triple the rise time.

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. Diastatic Malt Powder- This is what commercial bakeries use to make 100% wheat bread rise as good as white bread.


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