How to Stop Sourdough Spreading – 7 Troubleshooting Tips

Published Categorized as Sourdough Tips

Mastering the art of baking artisan bread can be incredibly rewarding. Although, naturally, many bakers may encounter issues, like sourdough spreading. Fear not, as we have compiled a bunch of troubleshooting tips to help you tackle the problem in no time. Pretty soon you’ll be creating beautifully shaped sourdough loaves, so get ready to elevate your baking skills and enjoy the well-defined sourdough creations you’ve been dreaming of!

How to stop sourdough spreading – 7 troubleshooting tips

Table of Contents

Why Does My Sourdough Spread?

Your sourdough may spread due to several factors:

Using The Wrong Kind of Flour

When it comes to sourdough recipes, certain types of flour – like wholewheat flour and freshly milled flour- contain bran particles that can compromise gluten development. This results in a weaker dough structure and increased spreading during sourdough baking.

Instead, opt for strong white bread flour with a higher protein content to enhance the gluten strands and support your dough’s shape. Avoid using normal bread flour as it may not contain enough protein for the overall gluten structure in your bread dough.

Poorly Developed Gluten

Gluten is the protein network responsible for providing your sourdough bread dough with its structure and elasticity. Inadequate kneading or insufficient fermentation time may compromise the gluten formation resulting in a weak dough structure that struggles to hold its shape during baking.

The dough spreads when there is less gluten strength to enable gas production, leading to a flat or spread-out float.

Not Using a Banneton

A banneton or proofing basket (and their alternatives) supports the dough during the final proofing stage. They also help the dough maintain shape and structure. Without a proofing basket, the dough can spread and lose definition, during the fermentation and baking stage. A banneton’s ridged surface creates beautiful patterns on the dough’s surface, therefore enhancing its appearance.

To avoid the dough from spreading, use a well-floured banneton for proofing. This will enable the dough to rise upwards instead of spreading outward.

Proofing it For Too Long

Long fermentation can cause the wild yeast and bacteria in the sourdough to produce gas, creating too many air pockets in the dough. Over-fermentation weakens the gluten structure, which also causes the dough to lose strength and collapse. To prevent this from happening it’s essential to monitor the dough closely

and consider things like the sourdough starter strength, as well as temperature. Balancing temperature along with proper fermentation will ensure a well-risen and well-structured sourdough loaf.

Bad Shaping Technique

Proper shaping is important for creating tension on the dough’s surface, which enables it to hold its structure during fermentation and baking. If the dough is not tightly shaped, it may lose its form and spread outward instead of rising upwards during proofing to create a good loaf.

Additionally, weak surface tension can lead to surface cracks which can compromise the dough’s ability to hold its shape. To avoid spreading, practice some shaping methods, like pre-shaping, and final shaping to ensure a smooth, well-tensioned surface for your sourdough loaves.

Adding Too Much Water

High hydration levels can weaken gluten development, making your dough more sticky and challenging to handle. A weakened gluten structure struggles to hold its shape during fermentation and baking, leading to a flat loaf. To avoid this, maintain an appropriate hydration level according to the sourdough recipe, and adjust it based on the flour type and environmental conditions.

How to stop sourdough spreading – 7 troubleshooting tips

How to Help Sourdough Keep Its Shape

There are many ways you can hep sourdough keep its shape. Check out the tips below:

Use a Banneton

Using a banneton enables the dough to hold tension and form a well-defined crust. The banneton also provides support to the dough, preventing it from spreading, rather it encourages the dough to rise upwards during proofing to create a taller loaf.

It also prevents the dough from becoming too sticky by keeping away excess moisture, enabling it to keep its structural integrity

Build Surface Tension

When we bake bread, its essential to focus on the proper baking techniques to ensure a well-baked loaf. Specifically, the dough’s outer layer must be stretched and tightened to hold its form as it expands during proofing, to prevent excess spreading.

As the dough bakes, the surface tension promotes a controlled rise. This results in a beautifully defined crust and well-structured loaf. By achieving good surface tension, bakers can ensure their sourdough bread maintains a nice shape, with an airy crumb and wonderful texture.


During fermentation, the yeast and bacteria in the sourdough produce gas, which causes the dough to rise. Proper proofing time enables the gluten structure to strengthen, allowing it to hold the gas within the dough, therefore resulting in a well-risen loaf with a good oven spring.

Sufficient proofing also allows the dough to relax and spread properly, without uneven spreading during baking.

Proof It In The Fridge Then Bake Immediately

Proofing sourdough in the fridge or cold fermentation, followed by immediate baking can help your sourdough maintain its shape. Cold proofing slows down the fermentation process and allows the dough to develop flavors and strengthen its gluten structure.

The cold dough is also easier to handle and shape, therefore reducing the risk of over-spreading during the final proof and baking stages.

Develop Gluten

When the dough is kneaded, the gluten proteins align and form a strong elastic network. This structure traps the gases produced during fermentation, which creates air pockets that help the dough expand whilst retaining its shape.

Well-developed gluten ensures the dough can support its own weight, which prevents spreading during the proofing and baking. It also contributes to a good crumb structure, enabling the loaf to rise and develop into a beautiful and well-defined crust.

Consider Hydration Level

Hydration refers to the amount of water related to the flour in the dough. High hydration dough may be more challenging to handle and shape due to more stickiness, which can potentially lead to excess spreading.

Meanwhile, lower hydration levels can offer better dough manageability and structure. By adjusting the hydration level in your flour mix until you achieve appropriate consistency, you may be able to achieve enough gluten development, therefore creating an elastic dough that retains its shape during fermentation and baking.

Use Whole Wheat or Rye Flour

Both whole wheat and rye flour contain high levels of bran and fiber which can naturally strengthen the dough structure. The coarse particles create a tight network within the gluten structure and enhance its ability to trap gas during fermentation.

This enables the to dough o gain more strength, and elasticity during proofing and baking. Using these types of flours will produce sourdough loaves with an improved structure, a well-defined shape, and a scrumptious sourdough crumb.

Stop Sourdough Spreading

To prevent your sourdough from spreading you’ll need to pay close attention to several factors:

  • appropriate gluten development
  • optimal hydration level
  • enough proofing time
  • shaping techniques to help maintain the dough’s shape.

Once you’ve mastered these elements you’ll be able to achieve a beautiful and well-risen sourdough loaf, perfect to feast on!


How Do You Get Sourdough To Hold Its Shape?

When making sourdough bread, to get the bread dough to hold its shape you must implement proper kneading techniques, allow adequate fermentation time, maintain the right hydration level, and gently shape the dough.

How Do You Keep Bread Dough From Spreading?

Focus on proper gluten development through kneading, avoid too much water, and shape the dough tightly before baking. Keeping a controlled temperature will also play a key role in maintaining the dough’s structure, preventing it from spreading during the bake.

Why Is My Sourdough Not Holding Shape After Bulk Fermentation?

Your sourdough bread may not hold its shape due to insufficient gluten development, over fermentation, or improper shaping. Additionally, inadequate kneading, a weak sourdough starter, or high-hydration dough can also contribute to this. You must ensure proper fermentation time, handle the dough gently, and adjust the hydration as well as the starter strength for improved shape retention.

By Natasha Krajnc

Hi! My name is Natasha and I'm specialized in home sourdough bread baking and currently based in Slovakia - a very small country in Central Europe. My bread baking story began in 2011 when I decided to give up commercial yeast. I felt tired all the time (especially after eating bread and other foods made with yeast), I wasn’t motivated to do anything, had trouble concentrating throughout the day, my abdomen was bloated and I was like a trumpet on steroids – basically, I was quite a wreck. I was a big bread lover (and still am) and having to stop eating bread was quite hard at that time but I felt I was on a right way to give my body a chance to heal itself.

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