I’ve been reading more about sourdough cultures, and learned something interesting — and valuable. There are two main acids produced by a sourdough culture; lactic and acetic. Acetic acid is the acid that produces vinegar, and it gives your sourdough bread a more distinctive tang, while lactic acid is associated with yogurt production and gives a smooth, milky flavor. As an aside, lactic acid is a big component in wine, where it is important to convert tart-tasting malic acid, naturally present in grape must, into softer-tasting lactic acid (malolactic fermentation). There are various ways of balancing how these two acids and flavors in your bread and your starter, including:
Hydration. Lactic acid thrives in a wet environment in your starter.
Whole grain. Acetic acid producing bacteria like whole grains.
Alcohol. Keeping the alcohol produced by fermentation (the think layer of liquid at the top) increases acidity.
Temperature. Acetic acid flourishes at 50F.
For me, this is one of those ah-hah moments. We have all heard (over and over) how retarding fermentation and long, slow fermentation gives us a dough that has more flavor and more character — and I have always intuitively understood that giving yeast more time for work on the flour is a good thing; and it even made sense that a longer fermentation gives enzymes and bacteria time to work on the carbohydrates in the flour (which is a good thing). But the idea that there is a bacteria in sourdough that works a lot better at a cooler temperature (and if you want to get that flavor you need to hold the temperature of your fermenting dough to a very chilly 50F) is such a clear statement. I think I get it. haha.
Here is the crumb of my latest sourdough whole wheat toasting bread. This is a 90% whole wheat/10% white AP flour (from my starter) and 70% hydration, so given my tendency to make the occasional whole wheat “brick”, I am really happy with this. This with zero yeast.
It tells me that my starter is very active, and the flavor is very nice. Plus, as many people will tell you, sourdough whole wheat has a lot of character — both in flavor and in the nice chewy texture of the crumb. The basic idea is that sourdough brings a range of bacteria, enzymes and wild yeasts that work on the flour, breaking down its complex carbohydrates and releasing lactic acid.
This was a three stage loaf, with an overnight pre-fermentation (without salt), and then a day-long fermentation (including some time in the refrigerator) with the finish flour and salt.
My sourdough journey will continue!
Wow. When they say that your sourdough keeps getting more sour as you divide it, feed it and leave it at room temperature — they really meat it. My starter became noticeably more sour and more tangy as time when on, and I want to see how far it would go. Today the answer was “really far”. Seriously tangy.
But all good things must come to an end, so today I started a pre-fermentation for a whole wheat loaf, fed my starter and put in into the refrigerator in a plastic, snap-top container.
I not going to slow down on my baking, so it will be interesting to see how a refrigerated starter changes how I build up my dough. If you’ve been thinking about starting a sourdough culture, go for it! It’s a lot of fun, and the bread is great.
This came out pretty good. My first attempt at sourdough rye with my new starter was made in two stages (three if you include building the starter). This is a 500 gram loaf with 70% hydration.
Stage 1. I added 160 grams of whole wheat flour, 160 grams of dark rye flour, 250 grams of water and 10 grams of salt to 180 grams of my starter — which contained 80 grams of white flour and 100 grams of water. Which means that my overnight pre-fermentation contained 400 grams of the flour and all of the water and salt. The overnight rise was good (yes! my starter is very active).
Stage 2. I added the final 100 grams of flour (50 grams of whole wheat and 50 grams of dark rye), and 30 grams each of honey and olive oil. After a multi-hour bulk fermentation, I folded the dough and shaped a boule, let that rise in a baneton for 90 minutes (it was very springy and ready to go into the oven), scored and baked.
The rye flour has a very distinctive flavor that I like, and I think I can get an even stronger sourdough tang before it becomes to strong. The crumb is moist and very light — particularly considering that it is mostly dark rye and whole wheat flour. As a quick side note, beware of store sourdough rye. It is typically about 85% white flour, with just a little rye. It’s rarely the real thing.
I am starting to experiment with sourdough rye (something I have been looking forward to), which got me thinking about multi-stage proofing and the ability to control proofing temperature. My oven has an 85F proofing setting, which has been helpful, but today I came across this.
It’s from Brod & Taylor, and it costs about $150, and the temperature can be set at 70 – 120F. You know. Perfect for bread proofing. It pops up when you are using it and folds down for storage. And it has an internal water tray that allows it to maintain even 60-80% humidity, so you don’t have to cover your loaves.
Very, very interesting.
One note on my sourdough starter. They say that if you divide and feed your starter every day, and leave it out on the counter, that it will get more and more sour over time. And they’re right! My starter is now very tangy, and I really like it. At some point I am going to have to consider storing it in the refrigerator.
More to come on my sourdough rye.
I started my baguette around noon to give the dough time to develop, and went with 100% AP flour and hydration of 70%+ — I’m not really sure exactly what it was, but it was too high. My dough didn’t have enough structure to proof in baguette shape without sagging sideways. It might have been too much water and it might have been the flour. You can see that my loaf is flatter than I would like.
Recently I have been using both Central Milling Tipo 00 flour and Caputo Pizzeria flour — both of which are just great, but I ran out both. Sort of like the cobbler’s kids shoes. So I had to use Trader Joe’s AP white flour, and while there isn’t anything wrong with it, it definitely is not as nice to work with as the artisan flours.
The bread has a subtle sourdough tang, the crust was crunchy and thick, and the crumb was moist with a nice elastic texture. But I have never been able to get a nice caramel brown exterior with I use the Trader Joe’s flour.
Next up I am going to try a more adventurous whole wheat loaf with an overnight soaker for the whole wheat flour. For now I am going to keep dividing my starter for baking and continue leaving it outsides. It’s never hot here (pretty much in the 60′s year round), so I don’t really think there is a risk of having the starter become too acidic as long as I am using it most days — and for now, it is continuing to develop the stronger sourdough tang that I like.
Time to get a supply of nice flour in the house.
This is a fun weekend bread. 100% white flour; in the case Central Milling Tipo 00.
I pulled off 180 grams of my starter (and fed it) around noon, and built it up to a 300 gram/72% hydration focaccia formula. By the math, the starter was 80 grams of flour and 100 grams of water, so to finish the dough I added 220 grams of flour, about 115 grams of water, 6 grams of salt and a splash of olive oil.
There is no doubt that sourdough starter takes a lot more time to develop bread dough than cultured yeast, but after about 6 1/2 hours on the proof setting in my oven (a consistent 85F), it got there. I topped it with salt, rosemary and a little drizzle of olive oil.
The bread was crunchy and chewy and it had a lot more character than a basic white bread focaccia.
Meanwhile, my sourdough starter is getting a little more tangy every day. I think I’m going to leave it out and feed it one more time tomorrow, and then we’re good, and I’ll start storing it in the refrigerator, and only feeding it when I bake.
According to the instructions, it would take five days to building before my new culture would be capable of develop bread. But rather than throw away the cup of starter (about 200 grams) when I divided it and fed it, I decided to add 150 grams of whole wheat flour, 5 grams of salt and a little honey, olive oil and water. What the heck; what’s there to lose.
And I ended up with a nice loaf of toasting bread. This is going to be fun.
I’m going to make whole wheat focaccia for dinner tonight when I divide and feed my culture. My starter is very alive and getting fragrant.
It’s bubbling and starting to develop a nice tart smell.
The sourdough starter was sent dried in a small ziplock bag. The instructions are to resuscitate it with 1/2 cup of warm water and 1/2 cup of flour the first and second days to bring it back to life. Now that it is active, I will pull off one cup of the starter and added 3/4 cup water and 3/4 cup flour each day. It should be active enough to make bread in 2-3 more days. Meanwhile, I am going to make a few pancakes with the batter I pull off.
Here are a couple of photos of my first attempt at making whole wheat focaccia and Community Grain whole wheat flour. It came out nicely, though it might have benefitted from a long bulk fermentation and a slightly longer final proofing.
And to confirm. The Community Grains whole wheat is great. Excellent. Wonderful.