Made some bread Thursday that serves as a reminder to all of us and will hopefully serve to help some of you with erratic sourdough experiences.
I am currently maintaining four sourdough cultures and try to rotate using them so none of them get too far behind and out of shape. Usually that works pretty well but... apparently this week something went astray...
There is a strong logic that sourdough starters stored in the refrigerator should get at least one feeding/rise at room temp before preparing the levain. IF you feed your starter regularly you can often ignore that but...as this story will demonstrate, going straight from the fridge to the levain can be risky.
I pulled out two starters one of which I knew I used last week and was robust and the other that I thought I had fed and was okay. Mixed two levains and let them set out overnight. Both were foamy and frothy and looked great. So I mixed the final doughs. And went to bulk ferment. The first levain showed life during the bulk ferment. The second was...sluggish is a kind word. So...I proceeded with the first and baked and watched the second slowly emerge... but basically not do much. The first had been soft and supple and bouncy. The second was leaden and cold and... Yeah...just what I have been telling you about - if it ain't light and bouncy... Yeah...
I finally gave up and formed and then waited and waited to bake the second. The first was spectacular. The second was a bunch of bricks. Small, dense, heavy feeling. Pale (for even though the yeast was still building - they were overproofed and short on sugar).
So...lesson... ALWAYS do at least one room temp rise with starter before you begin making the levain! It will do much to make the condition of your starter more consistent (and consider two or three room temp rises if you are an erratic sourdough baker and don't routinely feed your starter).
Oh well, another short cut I have been getting away with goes down the tubes!
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