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Old 04-23-2008, 11:26 AM
Ed_ Ed_ is offline
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Default Starter and bread formulas/methods

The following information about how I bake is in response to a question George asked in another thread about the loaf pictured below. I don't consider myself an expert by any means--although the quality of my bread is steadily improving, I hope to learn a lot from the accumulated experience here.

It's kind of a ramble, but I'd appreciate comments and suggestions based on your experience!

Starter

I originally made my starter a couple of years ago, mostly by following Dan Wing's instructions in The Bread Builders, a book many of you are probably familiar with. I went down to my local organic food co-op and bought some wheat flour and some rye flour (roughly equal amounts) and mixed them up. I mixed 50g or so of that flour with an equal amount (by weight) of water. I was very surprised at how quickly it took off! For the first several days, I fed it twice a day by discarding half and bringing it back to its original weight by adding equal amounts of flour and water. I slowed to once a day feedings, and eventually once a week when I kept it in the fridge.

At first, the starter had a very strong acid smell, but within a few days it mellowed out quite a bit. I attribute this to the bacteria taking off first, and the yeast taking some time to catch up. It is now not especially sour at all--one of the things I have yet to learn is how to nurture certain flavors.

Two other side notes. First, I just feed it with the KA all-purpose I bake with. No doubt other flour (rye?) and temperature control would both help control the flavor. Second, I have left this starter neglected for a period of months and still been able to bring it back to life. I suppose the acid helps preserve it in the back of the fridge.

Bread

When I bake, it's usually just plain ol' bread--flour, water, and salt, with all the leavening coming from my starter. I use KA all-purpose flour, and we're lucky to have very good tap water here. I shoot for about 65% hydration (by baker's percentage), and starter will make up 20%-40% of the final dough weight (more in cooler weather). I know my starter is half flour and half water by weight, so I have to take that into account.

As an example, for 1kg of dough, I might use 200g of starter, 506g flour, and 294g water. (That's a total of 606g flour and 394g water, for 65% hydration). Toss in an amount of salt equal to about 2% the weight of flour or slightly less. Sometimes I put in whole wheat flour for about 15-20% of the flour.

I usually don't have enough starter in the fridge, so I'll pull it out the night before, triple it, and leave it on the counter.

I let the dough rise for at least 3 hours; longer if it seems slow. (In general, slower is better--I have a friend who's a baker, and he always retards his baguette dough in the fridge overnight. Good for the flavor and good for the schedule.) Deflate and shape, and let it rise for probably another 90 minutes depending on ambient temperature. Slash it, put it in the oven, and try to get some steam for the first few minutes (I use water in a hot cast iron pan).

As you can see in the photo, I'm still working on careful shaping. Little lumps turn into big lumps pretty easily. I also don't make such fat loaves--that one probably should have been a round.

I usually get pretty dramatic oven spring, even on the thin tiles I use as a stone. I probably end up over-baking a bit for the sake of crust color. This shouldn't be a problem in a WFO (which I hope to have by the end of summer!) Although it may suffer from the over-baking, the crumb is a bit chewy and fairly open (see photo). The flavor is mild and just slightly sour.

*whew*

Please please offer your own suggestions on this process, tell us what you do differently that works for you, etc. If you don't chime in, I'll feel very self-conscious, since I'm hardly a leading bread authority.

One of the things I'm curious about is how you handle wetter doughs (e.g. for ciabatta) and what you do differently other than the hydration.
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Old 04-23-2008, 01:28 PM
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Default Re: Starter and bread formulas/methods

I've got Dan Wing's book, too. So its all pretty similar to yours.... I started my starter with equal parts of flour and water and let it hang around for about four days - no feeding or anything. Must have been really lucky because it started up and works really well by now. I feed it and use it once a week.

But my bread is denser than yours, still working on rising times before and after shaping. And I'll be interested to see what warmer weather will change there, too. So far its only ever had about 18 C (64 F) to rise in... And I use darker flour.

I take the starter out of the fridge before going to bed, tripple it, leave over night, add some more flour and water the next morning (usually less than triple again because otherwise I'd end up with far too much bread...) wait for maybe two hours until it bubbles, then do the baker's percetage thing with more flour and water and some salt, knead the dough and allow to rise for maybe three or four hours. Form, allow to rise for another two or three hours, slash and bake.

One thing that is very different from bread with conventional yeast (apart from way longer rising times) is that it rises fa lot more while its in the oven. Do you find this? Every time I look at the dough and think uh-oh, its not going to work this time, and then the loaves come out and they're huge!

Oh, and I use a pot with water for steam, too. Even in the WFO - since I'm nervous about spraying water in there. Is there any reason against doing it like that?

So, just a lot of blather from another non-expert baker to keep you company. I think your bread looks great by the way! I hope I'll be able to get the texture of mine to look like that one of these days....
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Old 04-23-2008, 04:26 PM
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Default Re: Starter and bread formulas/methods

Ed,

Take off a bit of your original starter and begin feeding it 50 % whole rye and 50% bread flour to make a separate levain. That mix will increase the sourness. You might even want to build up to 100% rye, which is what they do in Germany and Eastern Europe.

Jim
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Old 04-23-2008, 07:04 PM
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Default Re: Starter and bread formulas/methods

CJ's answer is a great start, especially since that is the direction you were headed.

Reinhart suggests that (along with only doubling the starter v. trippling it or quadrupling it) allowing it to ferment longer will increase the sourness, which is caused by bacteria, not yeast. Given time to ferment longer, the bacteria catch up to the yeast and the sourness rises. I'd feed it 3 days prior to baking. See if that helps. The only reason I know this at all is that I've read and re-read that section of the book over the past six days.

I have no idea if that will really work. I just made my first sourdough ever today. I built my starter from 100% rye. It didn't do a thing for 3 days (then just a little), after adding bread flour on day two and three. The 5th day, the starter took off.
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Old 04-23-2008, 07:13 PM
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Default Re: Starter and bread formulas/methods

I agree also...our best bread flavor comes from a 50/50 whole flour/bread flour mix...in season we bake much more like CJ and don't have to worry about feeding as its part of the process but the 3 days prior feeding is an excellent ideaas is the longer, possibly cooler ferment...we almost always keep the starter in the fridge...makes it easier to control mixer temps and keeps any unwanted guests out of the mix too...
Dutch

Quote:
Originally Posted by gjbingham View Post
CJ's answer is a great start, especially since that is the direction you were headed.

Reinhart suggests that (along with only doubling the starter v. trippling it or quadrupling it) allowing it to ferment longer will increase the sourness, which is caused by bacteria, not yeast. Given time to ferment longer, the bacteria catch up to the yeast and the sourness rises. I'd feed it 3 days prior to baking. See if that helps. The only reason I know this at all is that I've read and re-read that section of the book over the past six days.

I have no idea if that will really work. I just made my first sourdough ever today. I built my starter from 100% rye. It didn't do a thing for 3 days (then just a little), after adding bread flour on day two and three. The 5th day, the starter took off.
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Old 04-24-2008, 06:41 AM
Ed_ Ed_ is offline
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Default Re: Starter and bread formulas/methods

Thanks for the great ideas!

Frances: I have had the same experience with oven spring--what looks like a flat, sagging loaf going in will grow very dramatically. As for the openness of the crumb, I know wetter doughs help in that regard. Overkneading would hurt the crumb structure too, I think--but it would be hard to overknead by hand.

CJim: Thanks for confirming my notion about rye flour and sour flavor. I'll experiment with it!

George and Dutch: I will try a longer ferment for the starter that goes in the bread and see what happens. It sure makes sense that it would give better flavor.
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Old 04-24-2008, 11:44 AM
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Default Re: Starter and bread formulas/methods

I just re-read the Bread Builders on the subject. They state that increasing the hydration of the starter will allow more lactic acid formation. As you know, they also recommend increasing the ash content through use of whole grain or rye flours. Less quietly and in one short sentence, the book mentions increasing the ferment time after feeding the barm. This all sounds pretty consistent with suggestions above.

Let us know about your results.
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Old 04-24-2008, 03:19 PM
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Default Re: Starter and bread formulas/methods

Ed,

So far as starters go, about the best place to look is in Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipies. It's on the pro side, but well worth the investment.

We all know that, for the most part, film is out and digital is in. What I didn't know is that camera shops, including one large chain in Ontario, are opting out of film entirely. Turns out this chain got rid of quite a few film fridges that were probably just taking up space. Through a friend of the guy removing them, I was able to score the one shown. Fifty-six inches wide, tons of shelving, lots of room for all my bread makings and as much retarding as I want. Best of the lot, it was FREE .

Maybe similar things are happening in your area, or you could get a used pop/soda fridge at auction.

Jim
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Old 04-25-2008, 03:00 PM
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Default Re: Starter and bread formulas/methods

You lucky so and so...a cooler like that at that price...we will have to keep and eye and see if there are any around here...we bought one simliar to that from a whole foods store the went out of business...ours has 3 glass doors so a bit longer, deeper and taller also...have not hooked it up because it is tough to get through doors...will hook it up soon though
Best
Dutch
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Old 04-25-2008, 03:15 PM
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Default Re: Starter and bread formulas/methods

SCORE - before reading Jim's post I was about to chide him for scrounging around the back of grocery stores. I am now haivng to buy my film from the web as most stores don't carry any real film anymore.

She Who Must Be Obeyed - let me buy a cook book the other day (so I bought 3 - deal with the Rath of Kahn later) I picked up Hamelman too.l Dude! 90 pages of science, all right almost got into the physics and chemistry. I was waiting for more diagrams. (On the same lines as What Einstein Told His Cook by Robert Wolke.) Get the book just to learn why you are doing what you do when it comes to bread.
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