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rlf5 09-05-2007 04:13 PM

Playing with sourdough
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Well since its been raining here the past 3 weeks and I couldn't tend to the oven construction, I decided to dabble in some bread making in my kitchen oven. I began a sourdough starter around 3 weeks ago according to the instructions in The Bread Bakers Apprentice. After about a week and a half of feedings I decided to make bread (basic sourdough recipe in the aforementioned book) with the half that usually gets discarded.

One of the initial problems I had was that the bulk rise really didn't rise too much. Maybe about 30-50% if that. Then the final proof didn't really rise at all. The first picture below is the finished product. Very little spring, dry crust, and VERY dense crumb. It seemed as if the only air pockets in the crumb were the giant caverns that weren't supposed to be there. The bread actually tasted quite well though.

So a week later I tried again. This time the starter looked a little more active than it was before. The bulk rise took quite a long time (4-6 hours) and this time rose to about 70%. I think i kneeded this batch better, but when I did my final proof (overnight in the fridge this time) it only rose maybe 50%. I put it in the oven (better steam technique this time as well) and got much better spring and color to the crust. After cooling I cut into it and while the crumb had improved it was still denser than I would have liked and still had the caverns. Again the flavor was good and the crust was actually edible this time. One good thing is a couple days later I bought a freshy made loaf of 'pain au levain' from Central Market and had it with dinner. My wife asked how I could get my bread to look like that (lol). But after eating the bread she said mine was much better than the store bought one...she said the store one tasted fake. Oh the pics of the second run are below as well.

So with this limited information, anyone have any pointers? I'm cooking the bread on firebricks that have been preheated in a 500F oven for 1.5-2hrs. Oh and I usually feed my starter the day before. Is my starter still not active enough?

Dutchoven 09-05-2007 07:35 PM

Re: Playing with sourdough
Well the second two loaves are definitely better than the first.
1. What kind(s) of flour are you using?
2. When you say feeding, are you in fact doubling?
3. Where and at what temperature is your primary ferment taking place?
4. How cold is the fridge?
Starter should be active enough to bake in my opinion. the good news is it gets stronger with time. Store bought is sometimes somewhat fake, I have seen where some add vinegar to give the bread the sourdough tartness.:(

rlf5 09-05-2007 07:39 PM

Re: Playing with sourdough

I'm using King Aurthur unbleached bread flour. I began the starter with organic dark rye. When I feed I use at least a 50/50 by weight mix of flour and water to double (or triple as in today's feeding) the starter. Primary fermentation is taking place at about 75F. The fridge temp is set between 38 and 40.



DrakeRemoray 09-05-2007 08:27 PM

Re: Playing with sourdough
You say you feed it the day before...are you feeding it twice a day for the few days before? Then using it 8-12 hours after the last feeding? Also the doubling that Dutch mentioned is pretty important, I get the best results when I am doubling the mass each time...

maver 09-05-2007 09:43 PM

Re: Playing with sourdough
RLF5 - great looking loaves, the carmelization of the first batch looks great, and the gringe on the second set is clearly what we're looking for in a nice loaf.

I have to say, I'm not as particular about my starter regarding feeding carefully before use - I've used it even after it has sat cold in the fridge for over a week after feeding and it seems to do the job. I just try to be patient with the rising. I do a bulk ferment until it has clearly doubled, which is often 6-8 hours out on the counter (usually assemble the dough in the evening before bed). Once it has doubled I knock it down, then place it in the fridge for another 10 hours or so, then shape it (usually the second evening) and let it rise in a cool place (this time of year covered on the back porch works well) overnight until it has clearly risen. Then it's ready to bake in the morning. At some point I'll run into overrisen dough, but I have not seen that yet. The long slow rise gives me a slight sourdough flavor and I'm getting those beautiful tiny bubbles on the surface when I bake it.

From the microbiology standpoint, I wonder why feeding the dough twice a day a few days prior to baking would be any better than what I'm doing? I appreciate that better bakers than I (probably all of the bakers here) have been doing the (I'll call it) obsessive feeding technique Drake describes for quite some time, but once the yeast wakes up and starts feeding in earnest it should be all the same. I might introduce a little extra lactic acid in my dough with my week old starter, but that is diluted out pretty quick, and a little lactic acid is a good natural preservative. Besides, yeast can even use lactic acid as fuel in the presence of oxygen. I'm sure a well fed starter gets a faster jump on helping the dough rise, but a slow rise doesn't hurt the flavor or texture. My approach is all about baking on my schedule - it's casual - I just want to eat good bread.


james 09-05-2007 10:08 PM

Re: Playing with sourdough
I don't have a lot to add here yet, but I am joining the sourdough crowd. I had another boule with 50% king arthur and 50% caputo (and 6 grams of yeast in a 500 gram batch) fall in today after an overnight proofing -- using commercial yeast. Haven't had a culture in the refrigerator for two years, but.... it's time.

I'm ready to start the the "obessive feeding technique" again.

rlf5 09-06-2007 05:15 AM

Re: Playing with sourdough

Originally Posted by DrakeRemoray (Post 14778)
You say you feed it the day before...are you feeding it twice a day for the few days before? Then using it 8-12 hours after the last feeding? Also the doubling that Dutch mentioned is pretty important, I get the best results when I am doubling the mass each time...

No, its only getting fed once. When kept in the fridge, I feed it once every 3 days. Usually on the 4th day (1st day after feeding) I use some to make bread.

CanuckJim 09-06-2007 05:28 AM

Re: Playing with sourdough
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The marked difference between the first and second batch shows you're definitely on your way. The spring on the second batch tells me you used enough steam to keep the surface moist for the correct amount of time. Let's not forget that home ovens read air temp, not surface temp. It's virtually impossible to mimic the results of a brick oven in a home oven. You will get better spring, volume, caramelization, crust in your WFO with a floor brick temp of around 550 F.

I suspect that your starter is not quite mature yet, hence the difference in the bulk rise of the two batches. Be patient until all the good bugs you want take up residence and thrive, but don't stop baking in the meantime. Dutch and Drake are correct, you should always at least double your starter. If you want it to be slightly sour, feed it with hard, unbleached bread flour. If you want to increase the sourness somewhat, use organic whole wheat a few times in whatever proportion with bread flour you wish. If you want to really increase the sourness, use about 50 percent organic whole rye with bread flour. This has to do with the proportionally larger amounts of grain sugars in whole wheat and whole rye, plus the naturally sour flavour of rye grain.

Recently, I've been following Jeffrey Hamelman's recommendations on feeding. The day before I make the dough, I take the "mother" starter from the fridge and measure out the amount I'll need then feed it. I simply let it sit at room temperature for about 14 hours. It's ready to go when there are definite stripes of foam on the surface, as well as deeper bubbles. See the pic attached.

There are many, many variables in making consistently good sourdough. The trick is to remove one at a time as you progress. The density and crumb of your loaves might have to do with overkneading. Reinhart and Hamelman differ on this. Reinhart usually specifies a fully kneaded dough temp of 77 to 81, while Hamelman sticks mostly at 76. Reinhart commonly requires water at 90 to 100 F, while Hamelman manages dough temp by accounting for the mixer's friction factor, plus sourdough temp, plus air and flour temp, then adjusting the water temp to get into the 76 range. On a hot summer day, this might mean the water is at 47 F. Sounds odd, but it definitely works. It's better to shorten the mixer kneading time and finish by hand, rather than risk overheating the dough. Also, you might experiment with very short machine time and stretching and folding the dough once or twice during bulk fermentation to strengthen the gluten matrix. It's the gluten, in part, that contributes to good crumb.

I've found over time that levain doughs don't really double in bulk fermentation; they swell and grow to almost but not quite that. During retardation of the shaped loaves, you'll get about the same. Commercial yeast doughs will definitely double (or more:( ), but the activity is not the same or at the same rate.

It may be, too, that you are overhandling the dough when shaping. Believe me, this takes practice. My procedure is to divide and scale the loaves, then pat the pieces more or less flat, but not too aggressively, then do a preliminary shaping, let rest for 15 minutes, seam sides up, then flip them over and shape quickly before turning them into banneton.

However, having said all this, the difference between your first and second batch shows enormous improvement. Just keep at it. After all, good levain loaves are highly prized because they can be tricky to make consistently well. That's why people write books about them.


CanuckJim 09-06-2007 05:39 AM

Re: Playing with sourdough
2 Attachment(s)

Here's two pics that might help you. One is a close up of the grigne of an olive levain hearth loaf. The other is the crumb of the same bread. You'll notice the pronounced caramelization in the loaf shot, as well as the dark portion on the flap of the grigne. Both have to do with grain sugars on the surface of the dough that benefit from overnight retardation.


rlf5 09-06-2007 06:02 AM

Re: Playing with sourdough
Thanks to everyone for your replies. I forgot to mention that I'm kneading exclusively by hand b/c I have no mixer. I kneaded for about 15 minutes on the second batch and the internal temp was about 80F. The first batch only had a ten minute kneading and I forgot to get a temp. Also, I believe I used room temperature water (75F) for both batches. When shaping the first batch I could see the dough slightly tearing, or wanting to tear from the surface tension. This was not the case with the second batch.

Jim I really like the idea of measuring out the starter I'll need and feeding it. I'll have to try that for my next loaves. I"ll also try to handle the dough better during shaping.

Thanks again!

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