Why is My Sourdough Bread Gummy? – Solving Chewy Sourdough Problems

Published Categorized as Beginner Guides

We’ve all had our fair share of failure. And for bakers there is no limitations to annoyance and frustration. You’ve tried your best to knead your dough, molding it to your defined perfection. The irritation that occurs once you slice your bread finding that its produced gummy crumbs. With every problem, there’s a fine solution, so if you’re worried that your sourdough bread might become gummy after several attempts, then let’s find the best solution for you.

person holding sourdough dough on white table

What Does Gummy Bread Mean?

Gummy sourdough also referred to as a dense, moist crumb is the most common sourdough bread problems faced by home bakers. The bread isn’t heavy, nor has it puffed up in the oven, and has a moist, dense texture on the inside.

Gummy sourdough can be caused by a starter that’s too young or inactive or under fermentation.

What is the Texture of Gummy Sourdough Bread?

A heavy bread, that hasn’t managed to puff up in the oven, with a moist, dense texture on the inside is a gummy sourdough bread. This can be caused by a starter that has been starved or too young to be activated.

What are the Causes of a Gummy Crumb?

The firm crumb structure of the sourdough bread is made up of gluten and starches, and as the freshly baked loaf exits the oven, the starches are swollen with water and are in a gelatinized state. While the hot loaf cools, the water leaves gelatinized starches and is absorbed by the dry crust, which causes the starch molecules to dry out and recrystallize, setting into a firm crumb structure.

If the loaf hasn’t been given enough time to cool, the water in the swollen starches has not evaporated adequately and the starches are still in a gelatinised state, which has a gel-like consistency. The resulting crumb will be gummy and gooey from the high quantity of gelatinised starches.

Signs of a Gummy Crumb

Did you know that the smell of your sourdough bread can determine whether there will be a gummy crumb? Sweet and fruity-smelling sourdough is a clear indication that your bread will turn out gummy.

Starches are converted into simple sugars by enzymes called amylase that is naturally found in flour. In a perfectly balanced dough, yeast undergoes fermentation at a rate which consumes most of these simple sugars, leaving minimal residual simple sugars at the time to bake.

When the activity of amylase enzyme is abnormally high, it’s an indication that there is an accumulation of these sweet smelling simple sugars in the dough, and can be used as an indicator of the rate of amylase activity.

Sweet smelling sourdough, resembling the scent of sweet fruits is a common indicator that amylase enzymatic activity is excessively rampant resulting in a gummy crumb.

Other Causes Gummy Crumbs?

There are many common issues that can make a sourdough gummy, sometimes it is due to too much moisture from an excessively wet dough, an oven that’s too cool, or a proofing issue.

Gummy bread is the result of several reasons, let’s take a look at the main 5:

  • Incorrect Flour
  • West Dough
  • The Starter Needs Feeding
  • Sourdough Proofing
  • Baked for too Long
  • Too much Steam

Incorrect Flour

Different flours are individually suited for certain recipes. Some flours collapse when they’re pushed for too long during bulk fermentation, before they have even made it to the windowpane stage. Others can be so strong that they need to be used in fast breads made with yeast otherwise they’ll emerge harsh and gummy.

Generally speaking you’d need to base the suitability of any flour on its protein content. Sourdough bread is generally made with 10 to 12% protein, but it doesn’t heavily rely on the quantity of the protein, rather its quality as well. Flours can be tested with all sorts of modern equipment to determine its stress levels, however we don’t have access to them at home. So you might want to give this a try:

  • Try selecting a flour that you know other bakers have had success with in similar recipes.
  • If you use a local mill, ask them for some guidance, or to be pointed in the direction of a bakery who uses a certain flour for sourdough.
  • Whole wheat flour will emerge gummy regardless. This is mainly due to the fact that the protein content is too high. Try swapping 50% of the flour with a lighter flour and review the results.

Wet Dough

A simple solution to a gummy sourdough bread is to lower the amount of water used in the recipe. Too much water makes it harder for the gluten to stretch and preserve gas. This results in dense and gummy bread. Try reducing the water if your dough is too hard to handle.

The Starter Needs Feeding

A weak starter is the cause of most sourdough bread fails, which is why its so important that you take great care of it. The sourdough should be actively rising at least double its original size, releasing wonderfully fragrant smells before its ready to use.

Sourdough Proofing

A gummy crumb is a common indicator that your sourdough has been over proofed. Essentially, the gluten structure collapses as it bakes which makes it almost impossible for moisture to escape.

Try the poke test to test whether the dough is ready. Lightly oil or flour a finger or knuckle, then give the dough a gentle but firm poke, as if you’re trying to get its attention. If the dough springs back instantly, then it needs a few more minutes to rise. If the dough springs back slowly, and your poke leaves a minor indention, its all ready.

Baked for too Long

If a loaf spends too long in the oven it can easily become gummy. This is because the steam can’t escape as the crust becomes thick and tough. A stronger outer barrier crust prevents moisture from easily escaping its core. To achieve a dryer crumb you’re going to want the crust and the gluten matrix to set quickly and the moisture to pass easily through the crust as the bread cools.

When the bread looks ready some bakers turn the oven off and leave it inside for 20 minutes, sometimes with the door slightly ajar. This is said to dry out the gumminess. However, this technique will prevent the moisture from escaping when the water activity is at it’s peak. It’s going to cause the bread to be more gummy.

Instead, preheat the oven at a higher temperature 465F and then drop the temperature down to 450F as the bread enters the oven. Once it starts to brown (15 to 20 minutes) lower the temperature again to 390 to 410F depending on the color of the bread. In this situation keeping the door slightly ajar can be helpful.

Too much Steam

Bakers who leave a water bath in the oven for the duration of the bake as a way to add steam in the oven may have experienced too much steam in the oven. Signs of this are observed in cuts not splitting fully and a discolored softer crust.

Releasing the steam after the oven spring has finished allows the crust to set. And this can be a contributing factor to letting moisture escape the crumb. This is typically achieved by releasing the damper in specialist bread ovens which is basically a plug that covers a little hole at the back of the oven. Opening it up allows the steam to exit.

Preferably you’d want a small amount of airflow to continually remove the steam from the bread. This is hard to do as the heat also disappears out the gap. Most home sourdough bakers find lifting the lid on their Dutch ovens works in a similar way. Try opening the door for 5 seconds every 5 minutes once you get to 20 minutes of baking. If you are using a Dutch oven you should do this alongside lifting the lid.

How to Make a Great Sourdough Starter

Making a sourdough starter for the first time can be both a challenging, and exciting experience. You’ll only need simple components like flour, water, time and a bit of warmth. The process needed to create the starter is the same for every sourdough starter. The natural fermentation process does most of the work so not much effort is acquired from your side.

To make your sourdough starter you will need:

  • Flour
  • Water
  • A set of scales
  • A small bowl or tub with a plastic cover or lid.

Here are the steps needed to create your sourdough starter:

  • Make the Sponge
  • First Refreshment
  • Middle Stage Refreshment
  • Final Stage Refreshment

Make the Sponge

Place the bowl on a set of scales, set it to zero then add 50 grams of water followed by 50 grams of white bread flour. Mix with a spoon, or your fingers if you like, until you find that a thick paste without lumps has formed. To thicken or thin the starter, add extra water or flour.

You might want to adjust future feedings by the same ratio. Cover the contents of the bowl with a plastic lid or wrap. The pressure will increase inside the bowl, so the lid should be tightly secured, and left for 24 hours.

Try to keep your starter above 68 °F to increase the activity of the wild yeasts.

First Refreshment

The next day you’ll hopefully notice a few tiny bubbles in the starter. Don’t panic if that isn’t the case, sometimes it’ll take a few more days to notice any signs of life. Remove half of the starter, this is what you’ll be getting rid of, and you will be left with 50 grams of starter in the bowl. Using the scales, measure 50 grams of water, then 50 grams of flour, and stir until there are no lumps remaining. Cover and leave it for 24 hours.

Middle Stage Refreshment

At this stage the starter will be attracting yeast bacteria, and developing organic acids. For the next 4 to 5 days, try to keep the feeds small to keep the discard wastage as low as possible. Using the same 1:1:1 ratio of starter, water and flour, as we did during the initial refreshment.

Using the scales remove 100 grams of the starter from the bowl and throw it away, leaving yourself with 50 grams. Add 50 grams of water and then flour. Mix and cover leaving it for 24 hours. Repeat this process everyday for the next 4 to 5 days.

The starter should begin to show signs of activity. Some bubbles appearing followed by a slight rise between feeds. If you have little to no activity, try warming it up a little and giving it a little more time, before moving on to the next step.

Final Stage Refreshment

At this stage you’re going to start providing your starter with some bigger feeds, while transitioning to bi-daily feeds. This will engage the bacteria to feast rapidly and after a few days it’ll act as a boost of fuel in your sourdough bacteria.

Discard most of the starter, leaving a dessert spoon or 10 grams in the bowl. Add 10 grams of water, 80 grams of white flour, and 20 grams of dark rye flour. Mix and just like before, once a thick paste has formed, try to adjust the amount of water or flour if needed. Then cover and repeat this refreshment every 12 hours. It should have enough activity to be able to use in 5 to 10 days.

Using your Sourdough Starter

Now that you’ve followed this step by step recipe, the next part is knowing when the starter has developed enough activity so that you can use it.

A ripe sourdough starter will have larger bubbles running through it breaking the surface. It should smell deep, sour and alcoholic. It will carry a pleasant smell, not rancid at all. The starter will also triple in size 6 to 8 hours after it has refreshed. All of these factors are vital and if it not ready, then continue to feed it. Starters often take longer to activate, with some bakers waiting 3 to 4 weeks till they manage to use theirs.

What is the Float Test?

To figure out whether your starter is ready try using the float test, which is a common favorite amongst home bakers. The float test is when a teaspoon of a starter is dropped into a glass of water. If it floats then according to this method it is ready to use.

Although this test isn’t always accurate, as every flour comes with its own variety of density, with sourdoughs being wet or stiff, so this test is prone to give misleading results.

When Can I Make Bread?

The longer you wait after feeding it will encourage the concertation of wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria to increase. Though it is not necessary for the starter to be at the peak of its rise. After feeding usually waiting for 4 hours before using it would be great, but 2 to 3 hours in warmer climates could work. If there is too much activity the bread will be slower to rise.

Common Sourdough Starter Problems

Sometimes the starter doesn’t triple in size, which only means that the bread will take longer to rise, some patience is needed. As long as there are some evident bubbles in the starter, followed by a tad of a rise, there shouldn’t be any problems.

You might find a discolored liquid floating around in your starter, don’t panic as this is perfectly normal, revealing that your starter is accepting its feeding well. This liquid is called hooch, and usually occurs when your starter begins to run out of food.

Why is my Sourdough Dense?

Dense sourdough could be the effect of a few different things. A dense sourdough occurs mainly due to the inactivity of a sourdough starter. However, it could also be due to improper hydration. Unfortunately your dough could be either over-hydrated or under-hydrated. More often than not the issues with having a dense sourdough leans towards an underhydrated dough. This means that you hadn’t provided your dough with enough water, making it resistant to the yeast allowing it to rise.

If your hydration is low, then increase it, if that’s not the problem then try the float test. Also waiting many hours after proofing your bread, before baking might do the trick.

Why is my Sourdough Bread Gummy?

Sourdough can be gummy for a bunch of reasons, the most common being that the bread is under baked. Generally speaking sourdough bread is done baking when an instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of the loaf reads between 200 to 210 °F. Another common issue is that the sourdough starter wasn’t really active enough. So the bread never had any gas inside to actually rise up into the airy loaf.

How Long Does the Bread Need to Cool?

Bread continues to let moisture escape from its core as it exits the oven. So its best to allow the bread to cool in an area with plenty of airflow. Try leaving it on a cooling rack for a couple of hours, then it can be cut and enjoyed.

Gummy Sourdough – Solutions

If you’re unsure of what could be the cause of your gummy sourdough, then you’ll find that you might have to go through each step individually before figuring out the root cause of the gumminess.

Of course, initial experimentation doesn’t call for perfection. Though it helps to know the possible problems, to help eliminate them for next time.

FAQs

Why is my Sourdough Bread Dense and Chewy?

A dense sourdough could be because the bread is under-proofed, or the starter is too young and inactive to be used.

Can you Fix Gummy Bread?

In most situations, an undercooked loaf of bread can be fixed by returning it to the oven for a few more minutes. This works for loaves that appear to be fully set on the outside, but with a gummy interior.

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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