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Sourdough Italian Demi-Baguettes: Variations on a Theme 

David M. Snyder

May 3, 2015

  

Last month, I made some Sourdough Italian Rolls, using a formula I had developed and used previously to make bâtards. This week, I continued to play with this formula. I increased the proportion of durum flour in the dough, doubling the amount in the final dough, and I shaped the dough as demi-baguettes. (I wanted to make bâtards. My wife wanted more rolls to use for sandwiches. Demi-Baguettes was the compromise. We use that shape for sandwiches frequently.)

 

Total Dough

 

 

Ingredient

Amount (gms)

Bakers' %

AP flour

334

60.7

Fine Durum flour

200

36.4

WW flour

11

2

Whole Rye flour

5

1

Water

400

72.7

Salt

10

1.8

Sugar

14

2.5

EVOO

14

2.5

Total

988

179.6

  

Liquid Levain

 

 

Ingredient

Amount (gms)

Bakers' %

Liquid starter

40

40

Water

100

100

AP flour

70

70

WW flour

20

20

Whole Rye flour

10

10

Total

240

240

  1. Disperse the liquid starter in the water.

  2. Add the flours and mix thoroughly.

  3. Ferment at room temperature until expanded and bubbly (8-12 hours). If necessary, refrigerate overnight and let warm up for an hour before using.

 

Final Dough

 

Ingredient

Amount (gms)

AP flour

300

Fine Durum flour

200

Water

350

Salt

10

Sugar

14

Active liquid levain

100

EVOO

14

Total

988

Procedures

  1. In a large bowl, disperse the levain in the water.

  2. Add the flours and sugar to the liquid and mix to a shaggy mass.

  3. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 20-60 minutes.

  4. Add the salt and olive oil and mix thoroughly. (Note: I squish the dough with my hands until it comes back together, then do stretch and folds in the bowl until it forms a smooth ball and the oil appears completely incorporated.)

  5. Transfer the dough to a 2 quart lightly oiled bowl, and cover the bowl tightly.

  6. After 30 minutes, do stretch and folds in the bowl. Repeat 3 more times at 30 minute intervals.

  7. Continue bulk fermentation for another 30-90 minutes, until the dough is puffy. If fermented in a glass bowl, you should see lots of little bubbles throughout the dough. Volume of the dough may have increased by 50% or so.

  8. Refrigerate for 12-36 hours.

  9. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces and pre-shape as rounds or logs. Cover with a clean towel, baker's linen or plasti-crap and let rest for one hour.

  10. Shape as Demi-Baguettes or Ficelles.

  11. Roll the loaves on damp paper towels, then in a tray of sesame seeds. Alternatively, you can brush the loaves with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

  12. Proof for about 45 minutes, seam-side down, on parchment paper pleated to separate the loaves and supported at both long sides by rolled-up dish towels. Cover with a damp towel, baker's linen or plasti-crap.

  13. One hour before baking, pre-heat the oven to 480ºF with a baking stone and steaming apparatus in place.

  14. When ready to bake, uncover the loaves. Pull the parchment from both long sides to flatten out the pleats and separate the loaves.

  15. Transfer the loaves, on the parchment, to a peel. Score them as baguettes. Transfer them to the baking stone. 

  16. Steam the oven, and turn the temperature down to 460ºF.

  17. After 10-12 minutes, remove the steaming apparatus. (Note: If you have a convection oven, switch to convection bake and turn the oven down to 435ºF for the remainder of the bake.) Continue baking for another 6-8 minutes or until the loaves are nicely browned and the internal temperature is at least 205ºF.

  18. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack. Cool completely before eating.

 

After cooling, the Italian bread crust was soft. The crumb was nicely aerated, but not as open as expected for this level of hydration. I suspect this is because of the durum flour (higher protein but poorer quality gluten) and the extra handling installing the sesame seeds. The flavor is heavenly. This is a sweet white roll with the nuttiness of durum and sesame seeds, dipped in high quality EVOO. How could that not be delicious?

One of the baguettes was consumed for dinner. 

Panino with roast chicken breast, caramelized onions with balsamic vinegar, sliced dried calmyrna figs, emmenthaler cheese and a light smear of Dijon mustard.

Such a sandwich can only be washed down with good Italian beer, of course. 

I also baked a couple boules based on the "Overnight Country Blonde" from Ken Forkish's Flour Water Salt Yeast. Summer has arrived, and my kitchen is running 75 to 78 dF, so fermentation runs faster than the book specifies. The result is that bulk fermentation was complete in 5 hours. I refrigerated the dough overnight and divided and shaped the next morning. Even with the dough starting out cold, proofing was complete in about 2 hours. 

All of the sourdough breads I have made from FWSY have a strong family resemblance but more or less distinctive flavor profiles, depending on the flour mix used, the percentage pre-fermented flour and the fermentation routine. This bread had a crunchy crust and cool, chewy crumb. The flavor had that nice wheaty sweetness and a quite present but mild sourdough tang, with the creamy lactic acid tone dominating. Although this is a higher hydration dough, the flavor profile is very much like the Pain de Campagne from Hamelman's Bread. And that's not bad! Like my San Joaquin Sourdough, it contains mostly AP flour but with about 10% whole grain flours, divided between whole wheat and whole rye. The procedures I used for this bake, with the overnight retardation before dividing and shaping, gave such nice results, I am going to use it for a while and try increasing the whole grain flours, maybe adding some toasted wheat germ for its nutty flavor and who knows what else.

It has been a good bread baking day.

Happy baking!

David

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Sourdough Italian Rolls

April 18, 2015

Those familiar with my San Joaquin Sourdough will recognize the rolls I baked today as its Italian cousin. Besides the obvious difference that these are rolls rather than bâtards, they also have around 20% Durum flour, some sugar and olive oil, and they have a sesame seed coating.

I developed this formula in 2011. Originally, it had both diastatic malt and suger. It was pointed out to me that the AP flour is already malted, and, as a sweetener, the malt is redundant. I really didn't need both malt and sugar. So, today's version omits the malt.

 

Total Dough

 

 

Ingredient

Amount (gms)

Bakers' %

AP flour

434

79

Fine Durum flour

100

18

WW flour

11

2

Whole Rye flour

5

1

Water

400

73

Salt

10

1.8

Sugar

14

2.5

EVOO

14

2.5

Total

988

179.8

  

Liquid Levain

 

 

Ingredient

Amount (gms)

Bakers' %

Liquid starter

40

40

Water

100

100

AP flour

70

70

WW flour

20

20

Whole Rye flour

10

10

Total

240

240

  1. Disperse the liquid starter in the water.

  2. Add the flours and mix thoroughly.

  3. Ferment at room temperature until expanded and bubbly (8-12 hours). If necessary, refrigerate overnight and let warm up for an hour before using.

 

Final Dough

 

Ingredient

Amount (gms)

AP flour

400

Fine Durum flour

100

Water

350

Salt

10

Sugar

14

Active liquid levain

100

EVOO

14

Total

988

Procedures

  1. In a large bowl, disperse the levain in the water.

  2. Add the flours and sugar to the liquid and mix to a shaggy mass.

  3. Cover the bowl and let it rest for 20-60 minutes.

  4. Add the salt and olive oil and mix thoroughly. (Note: I squish the dough with my hands until it comes back together, then do stretch and folds in the bowl until it forms a smooth ball and the oil appears completely incorporated.)

  5. Transfer the dough to a 2 quart lightly oiled bowl, and cover the bowl tightly.

  6. After 30 minutes, do stretch and folds in the bowl. Repeat 3 more times at 30 minute intervals.

  7. Refrigerate for 12-36 hours. (Today, I retarded for 23 hrs.)

  8. Divide the dough into 8 or 9 equal pieces and pre-shape as rounds or logs. Cover with a clean towel, baker's linen or plasti-crap and let rest for one hour. (Today, I scaled 6 rolls at 4 oz and 3 rolls to 3.65 oz.)

  9. Shape as long rolls and proof en couche or on a baking sheet for about 45 minutes. (Note: Optionally, roll the rolls on damp paper towels, then in a tray of sesame seeds. Alternatively, you can brush the loaves with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds.)

  10. One hour before baking, pre-heat the oven to 480ºF with a baking stone and steaming apparatus in place.

  11. Transfer the rolls to a peel. Score them, if desired. Transfer the rolls to the baking stone. Or, if the rolls were proofed on a baking sheet, score the rolls and place the sheet in the oven. 

  12. Steam the oven, and turn the temperature down to 460ºF.

  13. After 10 minutes, remove the steaming apparatus. (Note: If you have a convection oven, switch to convection bake and turn the oven down to 435ºF for the remainder of the bake.) Continue baking for another 6-8 minutes or until the rolls are nicely browned and the internal temperature is at least 205ºF.

  14. Transfer the rolls to a cooling rack. Cool completely before eating.

Sourdough Italian Roll crumb

My wife frequently asks me to make “soft” rolls to use for her sandwiches, but I seldom do so for some reason. I baked these while she was out. When she got home and saw them, she asked if she could use them to make sandwiches for the bridge group she is hosting next week. I know I can make more, so I just asked to save one for us to share with dinner. Well, after tasting the dinner roll, she started talking about getting rolls from the bakery for her bridge group and reserving the sourdough Italian rolls for us. I thought they were pretty good too. In fact, the flavor was so good I would hesitate to cover it with sandwich fillings.

 

I also made some blueberry muffins. The recipe is from The Best Recipe, by the America's Test Kitchen folks. 


They were delicious as well.

 

Happy baking!

David

Submitted to yeastspotting

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Warning!: This report contains graphic images of misshapen loaves and loaves subjected to extreme thermal trauma. Young children and those easily upset by pictures of charred crust are advised to immediately go on to the next blog.

My long-awaited first bake in a wood-fired oven occurred yesterday. The day before had been hopping from dough to dough. I had mixed one large liquid levain to use in both San Joaquin Sourdough baguettes and the miche from the San Francisco Baking Instute's "Artisan II" workshop. That was made with a mix of AP and CM T85 flours. A 100% Whole Wheat liquid starter was mixed to make Hamelman's "Whole Wheat Levain."

For most of the day, I was a slave to my kitchen timer.

By late afternoon, I had the SJSD dough in the fridge and was shaping the other two doughs, the WW levain as two 940g bâtards and the miche dough divided into two 1010g boules. I figured that, except for the baguettes, all the bread should be in the same size loaves, so the bake times might be the same.

An hour before going to the WFO venue, I divided and pre-shaped the SJSD into rounds, and, just before loading the car, I shaped the pieces into 4 demi-baguettes. So, we loaded the car with 4 baguettes en couch on a proofing board, 4 loves in bannetons and a box with assorted bread baking paraphernalia - oven gauntlets, a lame, my super peel, cooling racks and more. We drove the 20 minutes to J.S.'s house and unloaded the car.

I was introduced to the WFO. I thought it was pretty neat.

J. had fired her oven the night before. When I arrived, the wood was burned to coals and ashes and raked to one side. The oven flour was at about 650dF. The "roof" was about 100dF hotter. We discussed raking out the ashes. I didn't want J. to go to too much trouble, so we left them in the oven. That was a big mistake. I wanted the oven somewhere between 480 and 580dF, and the oven floor could be brought to that range by leaving the oven open for a while. But, as soon as the door was put up, the oven floor temperature went right back up.

We discussed options for humidifying the oven. Since I wasn't going to come close to filling it with bread, there was no question that we needed to do something. We decided to fill a cast iron skillet with water and place it deep in the oven before loading the breads. That worked reasonably well.

I decided to bake the baguettes first. I transferred them from the couche to my SuperPeel. I then discovered that the oven door was narrower than the SuperPeel was wide. The loaves were therefore transferred to a semolina-dusted aluminum pizza peel and loaded to the oven deck with only moderate distortion of their shape. I would call the result "a movement disorder." (That's a medical joke. Sorry.)

All the advice I had read told me to not even peek at the loves for the first 20 minutes, so the steam in the oven isn't let out. Well, I figured the baguettes would probably bake in much less time than that, so I "peeked" in 15 minutes. And quickly removed the baguettes from the oven.

The second transfer clearly damaged my baguettes' structural integrity and provided a very nice illustration of how oven spring will always find the weak spots in your gluten sheath and expand at those spots. Anyway, the two baguettes on the outsides of this pathetic line-up were judged worth trying. 

The crust was very crunchy and the flavor was delicious. That was a relief!

Before loading the other loaves, I left the oven door open until the floor was down to 640dF. I then refilled the cast iron skillet, loaded the 4 loaves and closed the oven door. After 15 minutes, I opened the door, expecting to rotate the loaves, but they appeared quite well-baked. I took them out, knocked their bottoms and checked their internal temperatures with an instant read digital thermometer. In fact, 3 of the 4 loves were done, with internal temperatures over 205dF. The 4th was almost done. I gave it another 5 minutes in the oven, and that was plenty. 

As had been mentioned, oven spring in a wood-fired oven is exuberant. That was nice. Having the experience with the baguettes, I was more cautious with the larger loaves. all were somewhat charred in places, but none was ruined.

On slicing (still warm), I saw that the loaves were not cooked evenly. No part was totally under-cooked or gummy, but some could have used a few minutes' more baking at one end, at least. 

Appearances aside, the eating quality of all the breads was very good, and the WW Levain was amazingly good. The crusts were very crunchy. The crumbs were tender and slightly chewy. The flavors of the WW levain and of the baguettes were as good as I have every had. I think the "miche" would have been improved by more whole grain flour.

While the breads were baking, J.S. opened bottles of Chablis and Sangiovese and did the final cooking of a cioppino with talapia, shrimp, clams and mussels. The chef from her deli had made the sauce for her, and it was by far the best fish stew I have ever tasted. J. had decided to make it with the thought of having a delicious sauce for dipping bread into. An excellent decision! I apologize. By the time we sat down to eat, I was too tired and too hungry to even think about taking more photos.

We all had a delightful afternoon. I was disappointed in how the breads looked, although I really cannot complain about their eating quality. I did learn a lot, and I think I won't make the same mistakes again. (I'll make new ones!) The most important mistakes were not sweeping out the coals and not waiting until the oven was cool enough. If I am to try baguettes again in a WFO, I need to get an appropriate peel. The oven steaming method I used was adequate and a lot easier than using a mop or a garden sprayer.

I want to thank all those generous TFL members who responded to my request for advice on WFO baking. I collected all the suggestions into a single document and left a printed copy with my hostess. 

She invited me to use her oven whenever I wanted to, and I am eager to apply what I learned yesterday.

Happy baking!

David

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This week, I baked a batch of SJSD baguettes. They aren't the prettiest I've ever baked, but I'll post a couple photos of mine, since there have been so many folks baking these and enjoying them recently.

I also baked another couple loaves "in the spirit of FWSY" - loosely based on Forkish's "Pain de Campagne."  I fed an activated liquid starter per Forkish one afternoon, let it ferment at room temperature and then refrigerated it overnight. The next day, I let the starter warm up for a couple hours,  I mixed the dough, bulk fermented to 2.5X the original volume, divided, shaped and cold retarded over another night. Then, baked the following late afternoon. The flour mix of the final dough was 500g AP, 200g WW and 100g Medium Rye.

Both breads are really delicious.

Happy baking!

David

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Pan de Horiadaki

(Greek Country Bread)

based on a formula in Maggie Glazer's A Blessing of Bread

 

Maggie Glazer wrote that she got the recipe for this bread from Rica Sabetai, a woman fromThessaloniki who escaped the murder of the vast majority of its Jewish community by the Nazis and emigrated to the United States.

I have made at least two other versions of a Greek village bread before. Neither was really a keeper, but I learned a few things about traditional Greek breads in the process. As elsewhere, prior to the last 100 years or so, most breads used local, whole grain flours predominantly and were leavened with wild yeast. That is, they were sourdough breads. From several descriptions I have read, I strongly suspect that durum flour was used, at least as part of the flour mix.

Glezer includes a sourdough version of most of the breads in this book. That is the version I made. However, Glezer's formula calls for bread flour entirely. I substituted whole wheat flour for 25% of the bread flour. I expect to make the bread again but with the addition of at least some durum flour.

What I describe below is the formula and procedures I actually followed for this bake.

  

Total Dough

Baker's %

Wt (g)

Bread flour

9.6

99

AP flour

65.6

673

Whole wheat flour

24.9

256

Water (85-90ºF)

67.7

696

Salt

1.9

20

Turbinado sugar

2.9

30

EVOO

2.9

30

Total

175.5

1804

  

Starter

Baker's %

Wt (g)

Bread flour

64.7

99

AP flour

11.8

18

Whole wheat flour

23.5

36

Water (85-90ºF)

58.8

90

Total

158.8

243

Note: The starter consists of 30g of a 50% hydration starter that had been fed with mixed flours. This is mixed with 80g of water, 99g of bread flour and 36g of whole wheat flour.

 

Final Dough

Wt (g)

AP flour

655

Whole wheat flour

220

Water (85-90ºF)

606

Salt

20

Turbinado sugar

30

EVOO

30

Active starter

243

Total

1804

 

Procedures

  1. The evening before mixing the final dough, make the starter by mixing 30g of active, firm starter with 80g of warm water, 99g of bread flour and 36g of whole wheat flour. Cover and ferment overnight at room temperature.

  2. In the morning, mix the flours and water in the final dough to a shaggy mass. Cover and autolyse for 20-60 minutes.

  3. Add the levain to the autolyse in chunks. In a stand mixer with the dough hook, mix at Speed 2 until you achieve a medium window pan. About 6-10 minutes. (Note: At this stage, I did add about 11g of water to what Glezer's formula called for. This was to achieve the desired dough consistency and was necessary because I had substituted some WW flour for some Bread flour.)

  4. Add the salt, sugar, and olive oil. Mix at Speed 1 until all ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.

  5. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured board, stretch it into a rectangle and do a letter fold. Form a ball and transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl.

  6. Ferment at 76ºF for 2 hours. The dough will not have expanded much, but it should be full of tiny bubbles.

  7. Oil two 8 inch cake pans generously with olive oil.

  8. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Preshape into rounds. Cover with a damp cloth and let rest for 10-20 minutes.

  9. Form the pieces into tight boules. Roll one in each of the prepared cake pans to coat with oil.

  10. Place each pan in a large, food safe plastic bag or cover with plasti-crap.

  11. Proof at 76ºF until the loaves have domed over the top of the pans and the dough does not spring back when poked with a finger tip. (Note: This is a fuller proof than done for most bread, but it will not be scored. If proofed just right, there will be good oven spring but no bursting of the loaves.) This took about 3.5 hours. (Glezer says the proof should be for 5 hours, but at room temperature.)

  12. Preheat the oven to 400ºF with a baking stone in place.

  13. Brush the tops of the loaves lightly with olive oil. Bake in the cake pans at 400ºF for 50-55 minutes. (Note: No oven steaming is called for.) If needed, turn the loaves around to get even browning and turn down the oven if it is becoming too darkly colored. It should be a deep brown when done. The bread is done when thumping the bottom of a loaf gives a hollow sound and the internal temperature is at least 205ºF.

  14. Transfer the loaves to a cooling rack. Cool thoroughly before slicing.

 

The aroma of this bread is heavenly, I think because of the olive oil. Tasted when almost completely cooled, the crust was chewy on top and crunchy on the bottom. The crumb was pleasantly chewy. The flavor was slightly sweet, very slightly sour and quite wheaty. I liked it a lot. My wife loved it.

 This version of Pan de Horiadaki is by far the best I've made to date. But I'm going to try a few tweaks – maybe boost the whole wheat to 50%. Maybe substitute some Durum flour for some AP. Substitute honey for the sugar. How about sesame seeds?

What I will definitely keep is the procedures. The autolyse and doing most of the gluten development before adding the ingredients that can interfere with that – both salt and sugar compete with gluten for water – definitely improves the crumb structure.

I'm happy with this bread, and I'm looking forward to having it toasted tomorrow morning. I'm thinking it would be a great bread for panini. And for bruschette! Oooooh! Toasted, rubbed with garlic, floating in onion soup with a heap of melted gruyere. Sheesh! And I just finished dinner!

Happy baking!

David

Submitted to yeastspotting

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This particular version of my San Francisco-style Sourdough, with 30% whole wheat, has become our favorite. I will confess that the version with mostly white flour does get made (and enjoyed), but we are enjoyed breads with increased whole grains more often, in recent years. The basic formula and procedures for the bread I made today can be found here: San Francisco-style Sourdough Bread with increased whole wheat flour

The changes in the bread I made today were:

1. I made a single loaf of a bit over 1 kg dough weight before baking.

2. I increased the water in the final dough to about 370 g. This raised the dough hydration to 80%.

3. I machine mixed the dough following the autolyse for about 10 minutes, did one stretch and fold 1 hour into the bulk retardation and bulk retarded in my 68 dF kitchen for a total of 4 hours before shaping and cold retarding overnight.

3. I baked the loaf in a Lodge Combo Cooker cast iron Dutch oven at 460 dF, covered, for 15 minutes. Then at 440 dF convection-bake, uncovered, for another 30 minutes.

I am very happy with the appearance of the loaf as it came out of the oven. The crust is shinier than when this bread is baked on a stone with my usual oven steaming method.

Compared to my previous bakes of this bread, the crust softened more, presumably due to the higher hydration. A half hour sitting in a turned off oven might have kept it crisper.

The crumb was nice but, interestingly enough, less open than previous bakes, in spite of the higher hydration. I think there are two reasons: The longer mechanical mixing and, perhaps, more aggressive de-gassing during shaping.

The crust has a bit of crunch but is mostly chewy. The crumb is nice and moist and moderately chewy. The flavor is mildly tangy but well-balanced with no bitter or grassy overtones. It is quite delicious and should go very nicely with the winey daube de boeuf I have reheating for dinner.

Happy baking!

David

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The Sourdough Seed Bread was one of the first formulas I baked after buying Hamelman's Bread, and I thought it was one of the best tasting breads I had every had. I believe it's been  more than two years since I have baked it, and I wondered why I hadn't made it more often after tasting a slice last night. It is really good.

I made a bit over 2 kg of dough and divided it into 3 equal pieces. In order to bake all three at once on my baking stone, I shaped two bâtards and one boule and placed them with the bâtards kind of in an L configuration and the boule between the two arms. It worked well. 

This bread always has really great oven spring and bloom for me.

The crust is very crunchy.The crumb was quite tender and pretty open. The aroma and flavor of the flaxseeds is very present in this bread. I happen to like that a lot.  The bread is delicious plain or toasted. I had a slice last night with a thin spread of sweet butter and had a couple more slices toasted for breakfast with almond butter and apricot preserves. It's also very good with cheese. Just good bread.

David

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Ken Forkish calls this "Overnight Country Blonde," but that doesn't describe the method I used.

Two days before baking, I activated some levain from my refrigerated mother starter. I let this ripen to a "young" stage, where it had doubled in volume. Bubbles were just starting to appear on the surface and, the aroma was fruity, not vinegary. I then mixed a half batch of Forkish's levain (which is still about double what I needed for the bread I was making). This was mixed at about 11pm and fermented overnight. The day before baking, I mixed the final dough at about 8 am. At about 7 pm,  I divided and shaped the dough. After about 45 minutes at room temperature, I refrigerated the loaves. They were baked today at 4 pm, after sitting at room temperature for about 90 minutes.

I haven't tasted it yet, but it sure smells delicious. In fact, the whole house smells delicious with the aroma of fresh-baked bread, complimented by the smell of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies.

I gotta go wash some chard, fry some fish, pour some pinot grigio and slice some bread. 2015 is getting off to a pretty good start chez nous. I hope it's the same for you all!

Happy baking in 2015!

David

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My Sourdough Starter Routine: FAQ

December 30, 2014

 

I get questions about how I manage my sourdough starter frequently enough that I decided to put the information in a single blog entry to which I can refer in the future. What follows applies to a sourdough starter/levain containing mostly white wheat flour. Mostly rye and mostly whole wheat starters are different beasts.

Please understand that this is my routine. It has worked well for me for a number of years. I am not presenting it as the only way to manage sourdough starters. It may not be the best way at all for some one else. But, as I said, it works for me, and here it is:

My starter was originally was purchased from KAF in about 2008. (See: Classic Fresh Sourdough Starter - 1 oz.).

Taking care of mother

I keep my "mother starter" in the refrigerator. It is fed at a ratio of 1:2:4 (Starter:Water:Flour). When feeding the mother, I mix 50 g starter, 100 g water and 200 g flour to make 350 g total. This is refrigerated imediately after mixing. I refresh the mother every 2 to 3 weeks. The flour feeding is a mix of 70% AP, 20% WW and 10% Medium or whole rye.

Getting active

When preparing to make bread, I generally refresh the starter as a liquid starter at a ratio of 20:50:50 (Mother starter:Water:Flour) using the same flour mix described above. This is fermented to peak activity at room temperature (generally about 12 hours). 

This refreshed liquid starter is then fed again according to the specific formula I am following. In other words, the degree of hydration, the flour mix, the ratio of levain:water:starter and the fermentation time and temperature are variable.  When posting a formula, I specify these variables. This may involve converting the refreshed liquid starter to a firm starter.

Ripening

How long it takes to ferment a starter before it is ready to feed again or mix in a final dough depends on four variables (at least those are the ones I can think of at the moment):

  1. What flours you put in the starter. For example, flours with whole grains ripen faster because of their mineral content.

  2. The ratio of seed starter:flour:water. If you introduce relatively more seed starter, it has a “head start” and will ripen faster. All other things being equal, a more liquid starter will ripen faster than a more firm starter.

  3. The ambient temperature. A warmer temperature speeds up metabolic processes, including fermentation, at least within the usual range of kitchen temperatures. (The Temperature/Metabolism curves for fermentation and acid production are beyond the scope of this FAQ.) This effect can be rather dramatic. As a consequence, any instruction for how long to ferment a levain without specifying the ambient temperature should be taken with a grain of salt. (In fact, adding salt to the levain is one way of slowing fermentation down, but that's another topic for another day.)

  4. The flavor profile you want for the bread you are making. A “younger” levain will generally be less sour. A more “mature” levain will have more acid and make bread that is more sour. (Assuming the formula for the bread is otherwise the same.)

 How can you tell how ripe a levain is?

There is a lot of confusion about the criteria to use in judging the ripeness of a levain. The most common criterion I see is how much it has expanded, and “doubled in volume” is most often the specific criterion. The problem with this is twofold. First, unless you are fermenting your levain in a graduated container or have marked your container yourself, doubling is hard to measure accurately. Second, I don't think doubling carries the same meaning for liquid as for firm levains. And, at no extra charge, here is a thirdfold: Depending on the flavor profile you want, doubling (even if you could measure it accurately) may be too much or not enough.

So, as implied, I use somewhat different criteria depending on the levain's hydration, and I do use a container that is graduated, and I do use a semi-transparent container, so I can view the internal structure of the levain, not just its surface. My container is also tall relative to its diameter and has relatively straight sides. It is more like a cylinder than a bowl. This provides support to the ripening levain that permits greater expansion.

My Sourdough Starter Fermentation Container

Ripeness criteria for a firm levain

A firm levain is one with a hydration level of around 50%. That is, it contains half as much water, by weight, as flour. A firm levain can expand in volume a lot more than a liquid levain. So, volume expansion is actually a useful criterion for ripeness. A doubling in volume is generally associated with enough yeast activity to raise your dough well, but it may not be ripe enough to have fully developed flavor. I usually let my levain triple or quadruple in volume before I mix it in the final dough. In addition to volume expansion though, I look for an extensive network of large and small bubbles throughout the levain. I can see these through the walls of the container. I look for a well-domed top of the levain. And, last but not least, I look for any signs that the levain has had a decrease in volume, which indicates excessive ripeness. This is indicated by a concave surface, rather than a dome.

There is a lot of wiggle room between “ripe enough to raise dough” and “peak of fermentation, just short of collapse.” A less ripe (“young”) levain will make a sweeter bread, one with more creamy flavor from lactic acid formation. A riper (“mature”) levain will have relatively more vinegar-like, acetic acid sourness. Besides the criteria already mentioned, the aroma of the levain tells you the relative prominence of lactic versus acetic acid. You could use your sense of smell alone to judge when your levain is at the point of maturity you desire, in order to achieve the flavor profile you want for your bread.

 

Firm Levain, just fed

Firm Levain, 10 hours after feeding. Note: Approximately doubled in volume. Full of bubbles. Domed surface. I regard this as a still "young" levain.

 

Firm Levain, after 10 hours. Note: Domed surface. Some bubbles on surface.

Ripeness criteria for a liquid levain

A liquid levain is one with a hydration level of around 100%. That is, it contains equal weights of water and flour. A liquid levain cannot expand as much as a firm levain. Quite simply, all those water molecules get in the way of connections between folds of the long gluten molecules that provide structure to a firm levain and a bread dough. Now, a liquid levain does expand as fermentation produces CO2 gas, but this forms bubbles that rise to the levain surface and pop rather than getting trapped in a gluten web and causing levain expansion. If you use a glass container or a semi-transparent plastic one to ferment your liquid levain, as it ripens you can see the internal structure of the levain become full of tiny bubbles – almost like a mousse.  On the surface, you see bubbles forming, faster and faster as the levain gets riper, until they actually form a froth on the levain's surface. The surface of the ripe levain often has a "wrinkled" appearance.

As with a firm starter, one can choose to use the liquid starter “young” or more “mature.” With a liquid starter, as with a firm starter, levain recession or collapse indicates that you have let your levain over-ferment.

 

Liquid Levain, just fed.

 

Liquid Levain, just fed.

 

Liquid Levain after about 9 hours fermenting at room temperature. Note: Bubbly interior.

 

Liquid Levain surface after about 9 hours fermenting at room temperature. Note: Bubbles forming. Surface just beginning to wrinkle. This would still be "young."

The consequences of levain over-fermentation

Over-fermentation implies any combination of several bad things. The yeast may have fermented all the free sugars they can get at. Reproduction and fermentation will both slow down. The levain may not be as potent in raising the dough to which it is added. The levain may also contain excessive amounts of metabolic byproducts, especially organic acids. A little acid is good for both flavor and gluten strength. Too much acid is bad for yeast growth. An optimally ripened levain has positive effects on gluten structure, but, over time, protease activity increases, and those enzymes will degrade gluten. (That's why a very over-ripe sourdough starter that hasn't been fed new flour for a long time gets more and more liquified.)

What's missing?

There is another important variable in my routine for sourdough starter feeding and use, and that is the manipulation of fermentation temperature. Temperature effects the rate of yeast and bacterial growth and metabolism dramatically. Different metabolic processes are favored by different temperature ranges. Temperature changes can change the flavor of your bread. However, that is an advanced topic which is beyond the scope of this FAQ.

 The one temperature manipulation I will discuss is cold retardation. I often refrigerate my levain, usually at the point that it is nearly fully mature. I do this for two reasons, primarily. The first is, quite simply, my convenience. If I have to go out (or go to bed) at the point that a levain is going to be optimally ripe and ready to mix into a dough, I will stick the levain in the refrigerator, maybe for a few hours, maybe for a day or even two. The other reason I refrigerate a levain is to make it more sour. Especially a firm levain will generate more acetic acid in a cooler environment.

If I have refrigerated my levain, before mixing it into the final dough, I will usually let it come to room temperature. Sometimes, I will let it ferment further at a warm temperature, for example 86 dF in a proofing box. It is appears almost over-ripe already when it comes out of the refrigerator, I usually use warmer water when I mix the dough, so the over-all dough temperature is no excessively lowered by cold levain.

 I believe I have addressed the questions I get asked most often about my sourdough starter care and feeding. As indicated, there are additional more advanced topics I have not addressed in this FAQ. Maybe I will another day. 

I hope this helps.

Happy baking!

David

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

We were invited to some friends annual Boxing Day party. It's always fun. It's a pot luck with wonderful food. There is always live music. This year it was a Celtic string band. I get to visit with friends that, since I retired, I seem to see only once a year, at this party.

I was asked explicitly to bring bread. I brought a large loaf last year, and they never served it. Oh, well. This year, my wife made a delicious shrimp dip, and I baked SJSD demi-baguettes to slice for the dip. I also made a couple small miches using the original SFBI formula.

We put out the baguette slices and dip ourselves, but, as we left at the end of the party, I saw my miche sitting there, still in its bakery bag. As we were saying good night and thanking our hosts, both thanked me profusely for the bread. 

I think I'm catching on.

I hope everyone is having a happy holiday season and Happy Baking!

David

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