Having no luck in getting my starters to rise/ferment/proof in actual bread-making.
Being an overwhelmed neophyte, I am having enormous trouble getting my sourdough starters to make the transition to the big leagues: basically, to move from being a starter in a mason jar to being a leavening agent for loaves of bread. I have had success in “giving birth” to the starters, but can’t seem to get them to robustly participate in the final process of making bread . . . things seem to go OK until my little yeast/bacteria colonies are asked to rise in either the fermentation stage or in the proofing stage.
(Please excuse the length here, but I figured you’d all want the details of what I was doing, so you could be better detectives).
I am mostly using methods from Daniel Leader’s “Bread Alone”, combined with lots of stuff from various blogs, all for the goal of making versions of No-Knead Sourdough Bread (I guess I’ll move to kneading, and other traditional methods, next?). One of my main guides for No-Knead has been the website “Breadtopia”
but I’m afraid all I’ve been ending up with is Brick-topias.
(For background . . . ) I have 3 starters going: one acquired from a favorite sourdough bakery, one of my own started with the dried-raisins method, and another of my own that used the pineapple-juice method. All 3 having been at least doubling after about two weeks of baby-steps and a final week of daily feedings (after discarding all but 50 grams) of 175g of 75-80 degree water (then vigorous aeration) and 135g of Giusto’s Old Mill unbleached white flour. (I’m quite confused on how to ascertain the “hydration level” of these starters, and not really sure how to utilize this percentage, as a decision-making tool, once I have it). These starters then have all performed admirably in a 75-78 degree homemade “proofing” closet (it being winter here in N. Calif).
I figured that since the starters have all been doubling after refreshments for at least a week, it was time to try to some loaves. All 3 attempts at bread have failed to rise in the final proofing stage, and two of the three had trouble rising (or, doubling in volume) in the initial fermentation stage. This resulted in three very yucky looking blobs of sticky dough being plopped into my dutch oven for the final No-Knead Baking Method Step, ending up with very flat, unrisen, bricks of Biscotti.
(To sum up some more . . . ) I’ve combined 50g of my starter (which is a “liquid starter”, ala Daniel Leader, and appeared much more pancake-batterey than the glop used on the Breadtopia site), with 1.5 cups of water (vigorously stirred), with 4 oz. whole wheat flour, with 12oz. Giusto Old Mill white, with 1 ¼ tsp. salt . . . stirred/combined, let sit for 20 hours (where it’s supposed to double), then the (very wet and sticky, almost too?) dough scraped out onto board, spread out and folded a few times (mine was essentially too wet to “fold”, resulting in quite the mess), rested 15 min, then placed in flour/toweled bowl with a towel cover for 1.5-2.5 hour “proof”, again in my 78 degree proofing closet. This is “supposed” to double again, then its onto the classic No-Knead bake method.
So, as said, barely any doubling/rising for me . . . and great angst and dread is setting in.
After much reading of all my sources, some of my questions are:
a) Am I “overfermenting” at some point in the process, using up all the oomph way before the final requisite proof or ovenspring?
b) Is my hydration level (??) leading to a lack of rise?
c) Do I need to get crazy about having my bowls (etc) at 75-80 degrees before any flour/water/starter touches them (it being 60 degrees in my house)?
d) Do I need to add some kind of “strengthening/feeding step” for the starters before I ask them to rise to the bread-leagues, something like making a Peter Reinhardt “Barm” as an intermediary step between the liquid levains and the bread-making?
e) Could a culprit even be my well water, which is running thru a Brita filter?
Thank you all for your help, and please pardon the wordy-length----Ted