The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


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davidg618's picture

I think one of the biggest differences between commercial artisan bakeries, that bake every day, and the amateur that bakes once or even twice a week is how each handles levain day-to-day. From my reading I've gleaned the commercial baker keeps his or her levain (starter) at room temperature, and feeds it on a periodic schedule every 8 or 12 hours. (I'm an amateur, so, experts, please correct me if I'm terribly wrong). on the other hand, most amateurs keep thier starters at refrigerator temperature (~40°F), and feed them once weekly, or less often.

I am less certain how commercial bakers maintain their starters' hydration, I assume, however, that perhaps as little as one day earlier they prepare a chosen amount of their maintained starter by feeding it an amount of flour and water that adjusts its hydration to the target for a days baking. Amateurs keep their maintained starters at a fixed hydration, and, although some amateurs maintain their starters very dry (50%-60%), or very wet (~200%), the usual maintenance hydration is ~100% to ~125%.

The challenge for us amteurs is, "How do I convert an alive, but nearly dormant, relatively cold starter to a formula ready starter, i.e., the correct formula specified starter weight and hydration?"; one might also add, in a reasonably short time.

Some recipes intruct a single feeding, without changing the starter's hydration, followed by a fermentation period--usually 12 hours--and adjusts the dough's flour and water weights to achieve the desired dough hydration. Some amateur bakers convert their maintained starter in one feeding to the target starter weight and hydration, and then feed it an additional one to nine times over a period of one or more days. Both these approaches work, and each have subtle secondary consequences, usually effecting the final bread's flavor. It's not my intent judge the merit of those consequences, merely note they occur.

What I want to do is describe the process I use, explain why I use it, and show some results.

First of all, I have two primary goals for creating formula-ready starters the way I do. One is related to the final dough. I want to achieve a very active starter, strong enough to produce two strong proofs, in moderately short time, i.e., 2-3 hours each; and with sufficient reserve to provide strong oven spring. And, I want to build this formula-ready starter in no more than 24 hours.

The second goal: I want to maintain only a barely necessary amount of starter, e.g., around 200g, 100% hyddration, and fed every two or three weeks.

I've succeeded in reaching both goals using a 3-build approach that triples the amount of starter with each build, and adjusts the hydration by one-third of the difference between the maintained starter's hydration and the formula specified starter hydration.

A couple of definitions, and a little math:

seed starter: the weight of maintained starter that when tripled 3 times yields the formula-specified starter weight.

Intermediate starter: the building starter, i.e. the starter at any time between the beginning of Build 1 and the end of Build 3.

formula-ready starter weight = seed starter weight x (3x3x3) = seed starter weight x 27; therefore:

seed starter weight = formula-ready starter weight/27. But, I always lose some--it sticks to the stirrer, and the its container's walls, so I add a little more, e.g. 20g.

intermediate starter hydration = seed starter hydration +(formula-ready starter hydration - seed starter ready hydration)/3 x # of last build.

An example:

Formula specified starter: 480g, 60% Hydration

Seed starter hydration: 100%

Added to make up loss: 20g


Seed starter weight = (480 + 20)/27 = 19g (rounded to nearest whole number)

Intermediate starter's hydration = 100 +(60 - 100)/3 x 1 or 2 or 3 = 100 + (-40)/3 therefore:

during Build 1 the Intermediate starters hydration = 86.7; during build 2 73.3%, and during build 3 60%.

Intermediate starter weights are: Build 1, 55g, Build 2, 167g, and Build 3, 500. (all are rounded to nearest whole gram.)

Now, I'm not going to do the Baker's math to calculate the flour and water weights added each build. I built a spreadsheet to do that for me, but it is possible by hand using Baker's math, and the intermediate starter weights and hydrations.

The results: Below are a series of five photographs that visually document the example above.

Why do it this way?

I reasoned that adding more than twice the weight of the seed starter (or the intermediate starter weights)  would dilute the density of the yeast critters beyond a "strong" density, i.e. each build should peak within eight hours or less, Yeast have little or no motility, so after a time, they are surrounded by their waste products: carbon dioxide and alcohol, not food, so production slows down or stops. Stirring , kneading dough, etc. all redistribute yeast, by-products, and food, but I don't want to be burdened with stirring. Furthermore, my goals focus on yeast production, not bacterial growth. (There are other things one can do to develop flavor contributing starters.)

1. Seed Starter: 19g of my refrigerator maintained starter.


2. Build 2. at its peak 16 hours after starting. I didn't photograph build 1, even at its peak it didn't cover the bottom of the container.


3. Build 3 at zero hour, I'd just added its flour and water additions and spread it out in its container.


4. Build three after only 3 hours (19 hours from the beginning); I consider its growth a good subjective indicator of its strength.


5. Build 3 after 7 hours (23 hours from beginning). You can see evidence it's peaked by the slight deflation around the edges. Immediately after taking this photo I made the dough...


...for this bread. This is D. DiMuzio's San Francisco Sourdough au Levain (firm starter) formula, but I used it for a Thyme-Feta Cheese-Toasted Chestnut vehicle, so it probably doesn't exhibit all the oven spring it might have in an uncluttered dough. Nonetheless, I think it stands a good example of my goal.


treelala's picture

I Was thinking about how to bring health to a community and I thought about scripture about breaking bread with others. I decided to reach out to Cincinnati my home town. I am going through the community centers and reaching out to the directors to be involved in a brick bread oven workshop. I believe this will be a great tool for healthier neighborhoods. I wan to share this workshop with the fresh loaf community hoping that you will npass this tool along to people you know who are go getters when it comes to lifting up urban life. Blessing to all!

Featured Site: Red River Gorgeous, Bread Oven Workshop
Weekend of July 24, 25 & 26 2009

Red River Gorgeous, Wilderness cabin retreat sponsoring a breadoven workshop hosted by Welsh timberframer, Don Weber. Interested parties please email cdourson(at) The workshop will be held the weekend of July 24, 25 & 26, 2009. Stay tuned for details and get ready for two days of hands on experienceop and enjoyment.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Yes I did it.  I found rye flour in Seoul, South Korea, in the Bangsan Market between wall paper shops and packaging tucked into the alleyways kept cool in the winding shadows from the burning sun.  I found two different ryes, that with my third, and my unending curiosity can only lead to one thing.... a comparison.  I have already gathered that there might be some flavor differences evidenced by the interesting additives in North American recipes...

So I decided to use Daniel Leader's Soulful German Farmhouse Rye in Local Breads combining all the ingredients except for added yeast (don't want it) and final 70% rye flour.  That way the only difference in flavor will be the flours.  All three doughs will be handled alike. 

The Rye:

  • Bob's Red Mill Organic Dark Rye flour @ 4000 won a kilo

  • German, Demeter Organic Rye type 1150 flour @ 7900 won a kilo

  • Austrian, Haberfellner Rye type 960 which is quickly running out


I mixed up the recipe and divided the liquid into thirds, added 117g rye flour to each bowl moistening the flour and covering for one hour.  I had already started noticing differences...

Bob's is a slightly coarser flour, has more speckles, is darker (but not by much) and not as sticky as the other two

German 1150 has two mosts: lighter color, and stickiness

Austrian 950 has dough color between the two but in the picture they look all look alike.

All mixed well, all sticky (typical rye) so I use a wet silicone spatula to fold the doughs twice.   After 3 hours the loaves were gently shaped with wet hands patted with oatmeal flakes and set over cutout bread letters to mark the bottoms.  (4 o'clock is Bob's, 12 o'clock is German)  They were rising nicely (not a whole lot) when they went into the oven.  (tip, it is very hard to judge rising in a flat round bowl shape)

As you can see, I'm having a little trouble lining everything up here...(someone please send me a note on how to do this!)    The picture below of the top shows Bob's Red Mill at 10 o'clock, Austrian 950 at 2  o'clock, German 1150 at 6 o'clock.


The doughs seem to rise in relationship to fineness of the flour.  Bob's is the heavier and coarser so it rose slightly lower than than the other two.  1150 and 950 were pretty close in height but the 950 rose just a tad more.  The darker color of Bob's is even darker after baking.  Now to squeeze in another picture, the crumbs.  Austrian is on left, German right, Bob's is the darker of the three, first on the bottom then on the top.

All have a moist heavy crumb (We like it that way) but the differences are slight but mostly in color and texture of crumb in the mouth. 

1150 feels smoother in chewing, 950 is more stick to your teeth smooth, Bob's tend to be more stick in between the teeth which gives it a longer taste in your mouth. 

After two days the sour is growing but I still can't tell one from the other as far as taste goes.  The Austrians at the office yesterday could also not tell any flavour differences.  They just wanted more.  So I've been baking and playing.  I keep in mind that Bob's won't rise as high as the 950 (or peaks sooner having more whole grain).  I made a loaf yesterday with Bob's and gave it a longer steam in the oven, 10 min instead of the 6 minutes in the above bread.  It came out lovely rose higher and being consumed as I write.   It also went into a banneton, tall and narrow.  I also use more spices than the recipe but far from overpowering the rye.

So.  I Guess I blew the top off that urban legend if there ever was one.  They all taste pretty much the same.  Thanks for waiting patiently for the results.

Mini Oven


Pablo's picture

Sourdough is going great right now.  Things have changed a lot.  I had been doing Xtreme low maintenance with my seed culture but ultimately I was disappointed.  Sure it bakes bread and sure it's very low maintenance, but I've been getting more and more suspicious that the oven spring has not be spectacular due to my culture maintenance technique. 

What I was doing:  Mix 200 grams or so of 60% hydration starter, let it sit at room temperature until there is definite movement within the container; the starter starts to grow, visibly.  Then chuck it into the 'fridge.  When I was going to bake I would take 10 grams of that starter, mix it with 20 grams of water and 20 grams of flour and let it double, then mix that with 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour and let that double and I would have 250 grams of ripe starter to work with in my recipe.  The seed culture would stay, unrefreshed in the 'fridge for 6 - 10 weeks before I got to the bottom and refreshed the initial 200g.

Now: 5g starter, 20g water, 30g flour and leave it at room temperature.  Once it's peaked (3xs, 4xs...) then extract 5g and do it again. It FINALLY penetrated my conciousness that the flour ratio can be manipulated to help control the rate of fermentation.  I had been using temperature (in and out of the 'fridge) and water ratio (drier doesn't ferment as quickly as wetter).  But I can also manipulate the ratio of flour - I had been slavishly following a rule I read: double the weight of the starter as flour, i.e. the paragraph above this one.  But people do all sorts of wild ratios.  I decided on 1:4:6 and I'm happy with that now.  That's 66% hydration.  I may adjust the flour ratio even higher in the future.  I want to get comfortable with this technique for now.

The leftover from the refreshment procedure I dump on the counter and work in a bit of flour so the yeast has food, and the whole lump is then pretty dry, like 50% or so and put it in the 'fridge.  The next refreshment do the same thing.  When I baked today I had 8 or 10 refreshments worth of 50% leftovers that I treated as pate fermentee and mixed into the dough.  Seemed to work great.  The starter also seemed to create a much more active dough.  I haven't cut into them yet, so I don't know about the crumb.  I made boules today, but there's 900g of dough in the 'fridge to make 3 baguettes tomorrow.

The weather has been hot.  My baguette skins were drying out and being hard to slash nicely.  Also proofing has changed.  This new dough, plus the hot weather, has them proofing much quicker even without heating the proofing box.  I've been slashing the proofing time in half, from 90 minutes to 45 minutes.  Still playing with that.  Putting a dampened cloth over the dough while preshaping and while proofing seems to be a good thing.  Maybe I'll keep that up even when it's not so hot.  The dough skin was perfect for slashing.  I did pay attention to getting some good tension during shaping as well.  I'm really curious as to how the baguettes will come out tomorrow.


photojess's picture

and I have to say it was very, very good!  There was no specific bean taste, although it was wheat-y.   I don't mind that at all though.  My husband is all about putting peanut butter on whatever bread I make.  It honestly doesn't matter what kind it is....which I find rather funny.  His favorites I would have to say are the ryes though.

Liseling posted her Pinto bean bread in this thread:

and here is a pic of the bread and crumb.  Not sure where that little air bubble came from though.  I rubbed the top of the bread with butter while still warm, and I made sure I pretty much pulverized all of the beans in the food processor.  I started the beans first thing in the am, let them cool, and used the warm water as directed.  I have to say, that this was a really nice dough to work with too.

Please feel free to comment on anything you see I should change, like shaping, or whatever.  For being a whole wheat bread, I think it turned out just dandy!

rhag's picture

I work at a small Organic Bakery in Winnipeg,MB. We get our grain directly from the farmers and mill our own flour/grain and press our own organic sunflower oil at the bakery . The bread is pretty basic but is made with the best ingredients possible. I work the night shift from 8pm to 430am by myself and on average I make between 275 and 400 loaves each night along with roughly 700 buns and 250 WW cinnamon buns. I make 9 kinds of bread during the night: Wholewheat, Wholewheat Multi, White, Cracked Wheat, White Multi, Wild Rice, Light Sourdough Rye, Spelt, and Ciabatta.

After I finish work at 430 I drive 45 min to bake in a woodfired oven for a farmers market on the weekend until 10am which is just for fun to help out a friend with production.

PICTURES! They're kind of crummy because I took them on my phone.










Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

This was my contribution to the July 4th feast this year. I was asked to bring a dessert, with a request for something fruity. Blueberry pie seemed like a perfect choice. Simple in concept, but not always simple in execution, baking the perfect pie can be quite a challenge. This one could have used a little more lemon juice in the filling (or better yet, some rhubarb :-), but the crust turned out surprisingly well. And so, I offer my tip for keeping the edges from overbaking:

Instead of piecing together foil strips, I like to cut a doughnut shape. But rather than wrapping it from the top down, like most people do, I find that wrapping upward from underneath the lip of the pan does a better job of protecting the fluted edge from the intense heat rising off the heating element. This allows for lower placement in the oven, which gives better browning to the bottom crust. I can monitor how it's going by baking in a clear pyrex pie plate, and move the pie higher or lower as necessary. 

davidg618's picture

My wife makes three loaves of light whole wheat bread, alternating every other week with an all-white flour version of the same recipe. Two of the loaves are our "daily bread", the third routinely goes to a neighbor. She uses our bread machine, a Zo, on the "Dough" setting, and does a 2nd bulk fermentation, panning and proofing, and baking outside the machine. The machine does a one hour bulk proof; her second bulk proof is usually 2 to 2-1/2 hours depending on the dough's behavior. The long bulk proofings allow the doughs, expecially the whole wheat version, a chance to develop good flavors.

Curious if I could convert the recipe to a sourdough, i scaled it to produce the same dough weight and hydration as the original recipe, but replaced some of the white flour and water with 240g of active sourdough starter at 60% hydration, built using the 3-build approach I use for all my sourdough formula.

The photo answers my curiousty with a firm yes.

However, the experiement taught me the question I should have asked: "Is it worth the additional time and effort?"

This bread is all one would ask for in a sandwich bread: excellent flavor; closed, but light and slightly chewy crumb; and a soft crust--even before I brushed them with butter. But I can say the same things about my wife's bread. Here's a photo of her all-white version I took a couple of weeks ago.

From my point-of-view we're going to stay with the tried and true Yvonne has baked for the last six years. Doing the sourdough was fun, and we will certainly enjoy eating the result.

Sometime in the future I'm going to see if I can be successful baking a single sourdough loaf entirely in the Zo. I think it's possible, in the programmable mode, using a very active starter, and removing the paddles after the knead step. This will allow up to a four hour bulk fermentation step. But that's for another day.

Shiao-Ping's picture

I have been having problems with my San Francisco starter.  This is the only starter that I have used so far that is not home grown.  It is not as vigorous as what I am used to.  This is the third time I've used it to make sourdough but I'm still not getting the open crumb that I want.  I am documenting it because my husband claims that it is the best sourdough I've made so far.  He absolutely loved the flavor and could not stop raving about it.  He said "it's long in the palate, like wine."   

Our kids' God parents came tonight and I made roast pork leg for dinner.   There was only a little bit leftover and my husband said he couldn't wait to have roast pork sourdough sandwich with apple sauce tomorrow.   Another reason why he likes this sourdough is because the crust is not too crusty (thick crust hurts his gum?!).

Well, if it makes my family happy, I am happy.  So I am going to be "thick-skinned" and show this somewhat dense crumb here.  



          San Francisco Sourdough  


                          The crumb  


For this sourdough, I tried to follow Leader's San Francisco Sourdough recipe (p. 212 - 215 of Bread Alone), but I had no patience.  A 29-hour procedure became 65 hours for me because I left it in the refrigerator for too long.   And maybe that is what contributed to the great flavor!  



dmsnyder's picture

Inspired by the gorgeous rye breads hansjoakim has been showing us, I made Hamelman's 70% 3-Stage Rye Sourdough today.

I've made lots of light rye breads and enjoyed them, but I had not yet tackled a rye with over 50% rye flour. I had also never made a rye using the "Detmolder 3-Stage" method. It was time.

I'm glad this was not the first rye bread I attempted. My acquired comfort level with slack doughs and sticky rye dough helped immensely. Working this dough, which has so little gluten it never develops perceptibly, would have been discouraging and confusing without that experience. A 70% rye dough is a different critter from a 40% rye. The latter feels like a "normal" dough, except stickier. The former is like moulding clay. A light and  quick touch is needed to successfully handle the dough, especially in shaping. I was pleased that, using this approach, almost no dough stuck to my hands.

The 3-Stage Detmolder method was developed by German bread scientists to optimize flavor and, particularly, the balance of yeast, lactic acid-producers and acetic acid-producers in the dough. This requires some advance planning. I started the whole process 3 days ago by activating my rye sour with two feedings prior to starting the first "stage" of the Detmolder process. The 3 Detmolder stages are rye sour elaborations that differ in hydration, fermentation temperature and length of fermentation. The final dough adds to the rye sour some high-gluten flour (I used KAF Sir Lancelot.), more water, salt and, optionally, instant yeast. It has a very short fermentation of 10-20 minutes and proofs in bannetons until expanded somewhat less than 100%. I proofed for 1 hr, 15 minutes. In hindsight, I could have proofed for another 15 minutes. (My kitchen was around 79F.)

The dough is divided into rounds which are "docked" rather than scored. Docking involves poking multiple holes in the crust before baking. There are toothed rollers that professional bakers use. I used a "Susan from San Diego Special Mixing Implement," otherwise known as "a chopstick."

The 1.5 lb loaves were baked in a "falling oven temperature," starting out at 490F for 10 minutes to maximize oven spring, then at 410F for another 30 minutes. I left the loaves in the oven, with the oven off and the door ajar, for another 10 minutes to dry the crust.

Steaming should be intense but brief. I poured some hot water over lava rocks in a pre-heated cast iron skillet 3 minutes or so before loading then poured some more water on the rocks just after loading. The skillet was removed after 5 minutes, and I left the oven door open for a few seconds to let some of the steam out before continuing the bake.

Hamelman says to delay slicing for at least 24 hours. 

70% 3-Stage Rye Sourdough, with this afternoon's crop of cherry tomatoes.

70% Rye profile

70% Rye crumb

Slicing the bread, one gets the sense that this is a heavy bread. However, in the mouth it doesn't feel dense or heavy. The crumb is quite tender. The first flavor hit is earthy rye with a very mild sourness. (The sourness may well increase over the next few days.) The surprise is the long-lasting aftertaste which is decidedly sweet!

I think this bread is made to eat with a hearty stew. Too bad it's way too warm for that. Smoked meats or smoked fish are more appealing. How about some Cotswold cheese? I'm off to go fishing for some smoked salmon.


Submitted to Yeast Spotting on Susan FNP's marvelous Wild Yeast blog


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