Troubleshooting: “White-cap” Bread

troubleshooting white-cap bread

If you bake with Natural Yeast, you have had to troubleshoot “white-cap” bread at some point. It just comes with the territory. The good news is, this little hiccup in starter bread making is very easy to fix. Let’s take a moment to go over the symptoms, [probable] causes, and easy solutions for this strange phenomenon.

white cap symptoms

White-cap Bread Symptoms:

  1. Baked loaves have a distinct spidery white patch on top.
  2. Stronger flavor.
  3. Bread doesn’t rise as high.
  4. Bread stales more quickly.

While symptom #1 is the most pronounced, the others can manifest in any combination of strengths. Sometimes the bread will have the white patch but none of the other symptoms. Sometimes they are all present, sometimes only two at a time. Symptom #1 is the most telling and easy to spot, and can sometimes be fixed before any of the others show up.

Now lets switch to cause. No, I have not hired a personal bread-specializing microbiologist to test out my theory, but here is what observation has led me to believe.

White-cap Bread Cause:

  1. Increased Lactobacilli population
  2. Decreased Yeast population

This is most often due to:

  • Delaying feedings several times in a row (which allows acidity to build up).
  • Letting liquid sit too long on top of your starter, or forgetting to pour off liquid before feeding.
  • The microbiological powers that be have decided your bread has been perfect for too long and want to shake things up a bit.

Lactic acid bacteria love an acidic environment. Bread yeasts like acidity more than most yeasts but only to a point. When your starter gets more acidic for one reason or another, the yeasts begin to die off and the lactobacilli take over. The increased acidity creates the white patch and the stronger flavor. The decrease in yeasts accounts for the less-than-impressive rise. The acidity is also responsible for the faster staling of the bread.

Luckily, while all of this sounds very technical and intimidating/overwhelming, fixing the problem is EASY.

White- cap Cure:

  1. Reduce your starter to 1/4 or 1/2 cup
  2. Grow your starter over the next few feedings, without using it.
  3. FEED IT ON TIME!

Within the week or at the most 9 days, you should be back in business.

If on the odd occasion your starter is still struggling, check out the 3 Critical Keys to Success here on the blog, or the more extensive “5 Critical Keys to Success” in Beyond Basics with Natural Yeast, and “Healing your Starter” in The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast.

Comments

  1. Anne says

    Hi Melissa,
    I got your book for Christmas and I am soaking it up! I made rolls the other day and they were a bit sour and not super fluffy. I’ve still got a lot of learning to do. I am using Spelt flour. What kind of whole wheat flour do you recommend using for breads and rolls? Is Spelt okay? Is Hard White or Red Wheat better?
    Also, do you have any classes scheduled? I’d love to attend one and taste what Naturally Leavened Bread should taste like.

    • thebreadgeek says

      Hi Anne! I’m so glad you like the book! It sounds like your bread is coming along, although some improvement is needed that will come with more experience. Spelt flour is delicious and I love to use it. Spelt will have a slightly more pronounce flavor, and it is easy to add too much flour since spelt dough tends to be much more tacky to work with so people accidentally think they need to add more flour. The dough should be smooth and hold a windowpane (see the windowpane test in the book) but it will always be quite tacky to work with. As for the flour I recommend, it depends on what you are going for. Hard white will make a loaf that looks less like whole wheat and has a slightly milder flavor. I use that because my husband prefers it. Hard red will be darker and stronger flavored. Hope that helps!

  2. Anne says

    One more question, can I use a different grain for the full recipe than the grain that is in my starter? For example, I use Spelt in my start can I use Hard Red Wheat to make the dough?

  3. Kristin says

    I’ve done all the troubleshooting and power feeding I can think of, but my bread won’t rise. It looks good, smells good, it even makes excellent English muffins. What else can I do? Every time I get a new start from my friend, the first loaves work perfectly, bu after that, they just won’t rise. HELP!

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