The Fresh Loaf

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Hardball starter (Dial-up warning: lots of photos!)

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PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Hardball starter (Dial-up warning: lots of photos!)

A few years ago, while still living in Houston and being totally ignorant of sourdough, I attempted a starter from Tom Jaine's Baking Bread at Home. It was not a good experience. The flavor was intensely sour and the bread more closely resembled a brick than anything else. I'm still not sure whether it was my own ineptness, stale flour, Houston microflora, temperatures, or perhaps some combination of all of those things that led to such disappointing results.

Since then, having moved back to Kansas, I have experienced some modest successes following Sourdolady's procedure for getting a starter up and running. My thinking was that if Jaine's starter was still too sour for my tastes, that maybe I could combine my existing mild starter with a more sour version and come up with something that had the rising power of my present starter but with a more robust flavor. Or not. So far, I'm liking the results with Jaine's starter and haven't attempted a shotgun wedding of the two starters.

Jaine's instructions, with my photos, follow.

The starter:

1/2 cup (60 g) wholewheat or rye flour (I used Wheat Montana Bronze Chief wholewheat flour)

2 tablespoons non-chlorinated water

Mix the flour and water to a paste and knead it with your fingers and thumbs until it is a smooth, firm dough. (I found it necessary to add almost another tablespoon of water to make the dough hold together.)

Put this nut of dough in a glass or small bowl, cover with cheesecloth, not plastic wrap, and leave it in a warm place, at approximately 75-80F, for about 2 days. (Not having cheesecloth on hand, I covered the bowl with a clean dish towel.)

Freshly mixed and kneaded starter

Although the outside will crust over, the inside will be moist and slightly aerated. The smell will be sweet. Discard the crust and proceed with the first refreshment. (Hence, the "hardball" designation in the title of this post.)

The First Refreshment

1/4 cup (60 ml) non-chlorinated water

1 cup (120 g) wholewheat flour

Dissolve the starter in water, add the flour and mix to a dough. Knead with the fingers on a work table.

Ready to mix; 1st refreshment

Put the dough in a smll bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Put it back in your warm spot and leave for a day or two.

After 1st refreshment

It will crust again, but it will also have enlarged and the aeration will be greater. The smell will be very slightly sharp.

48 hours after 1st refreshment

(48 hours after first refreshment, above. Note that it has easily doubled in volume. The crack came from me breaking open the ball before remembering that I wanted to take a photo. Interior of ball, below.)

48 hours after 1st refreshment

Discard the crust and proceed with the second refreshment.

The Second Refreshment

1/2 cup (120 ml) non-chlorinated water

scant 2 cups (225 g) unbleached white bread flour (I stayed with wholewheat flour for this refreshment.)

Repeat as for the first refreshment, but this time leave it for about 8-12 hours and it should show every sign of life: growing and rising like a normal piece of dough with a slightly sharp edge to the smell, but not rotten or "off".

The leaven is now ready to be added to a dough that will proceed as any other, though often more slowly. (At this point, I put mine in the refrigerator since it would be another day or two before I could bake.)

Results

This time, I really like this starter! The flavor is complex, combining moderate acidity with rounded, almost sweet, wheat notes. Never having had desem bread, I'm not able to draw a comparison, but I wonder if there are similarities in flavor between this approach and the desem approach. The flavor isn't nearly as overpowering as the first attempt was.

To give it a test run, I baked the Pain au Levain with Whole Wheat, page 279, from the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking book. Since I made the starter with 100% wholewheat, about half of the wholewheat flour in the bread came from the starter. I started the dough Friday night, it went into the refrigerator overnight and then I finished it the following morning. The fermentation proceeded slowly but steadily after the dough warmed back up (kitchen temperatures were in the low to mid 70F range). Here's one of the loaves just before it went into the overn:

WW Pain au Levain dough

And here is how it looked after it came out of the oven:

WW pain au levain, baked

Plenty of oven spring and a deeply colored crust (probably because of the honey in the formula). Sorry, no crumb photo. Maybe I can add one after we cut into the surviving loaf. The crumb was moderately open with some medium-size cells. Pretty good for a bread containing wholewheat.

The only downside, if such it is, is that I now have two starters to keep track of!

manuela's picture
manuela

Hi PMcCool,

 

great loaf!

I recognized this method of producing a natural leavening since I grew up in Italy and it is used there also, we call it the "madre" (mother of yeast)--made with a ratio of 2:1 of flour and water, and left to ferment so that it forms a crust on the outside. The longer you maintain it and the better your bread gets, especially in terms of flavor, and keeping qualities.

I have recipes to use this type of natural yeast to make focaccia and pizza dough as well as some sweet doughs. I will be happy to share them (I just need to translate them into English from Italian).

:)

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Thank you, Manuela.  I would like to see any recipes that you are willing to share.  There have been a few occasions when I tried to use Babelfish to translate recipes from Italian (or other languages) to English and the results were, um, interesting.  I'm sure that your rendering will be more helpful.

There was one error in my original post that I have since corrected.  My note about the first refreshment said that I had to add another tablespoon of flour to make the dough hold together.  It should have said that I had to add another tablespoon of water to make the dough hold together.  This wholewheat flour is thirsty stuff.  My apologies to anyone who was confused by the first, incorrect, version.

PMcCool

ryan's picture
ryan

It's very different that you discard the crust of your starter. I've never heard of doing that before. Is it because the dough is so stiff?  I would love to know more about this method.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Ryan,

Remember that I have only tried this twice, so my opinion is thoroughly unscientific.  From what I see, the crust is so dried out and hard that it would be very difficult to incorporate in the next build of the starter.  By the same token, most of the activity is taking place in the interior where there is sufficient moisture to support the microorganisms' growth, so including the outer shell probably wouldn't be of much benefit, anyway. 

The first stage, which has the smallest volume, also has the driest/hardest shell.  Subsequent stages have a more leathery shell, which would still be difficult to mix in with the next refreshment. 

One of the things that struck me about this approach is that it is very economical of flour usage.  The discarded portion is a relatively small fraction of the overall volume.  It did not occur to me to weigh the discarded portion and the retained portion each time, but I would estimate that 75-80% of the flour used in creating the starter is retained. 

The other thing is that this approach goes from flour and water to a viable starter ready for baking in about 5 days.  That is a shorter cycle from make-to-bake than with a typical wet starter.

Of course, my first attempt was a failure and this one was a success.  It would take a lot more attempts to know if this approach was more, or less, reliable than building a batter-style starter.

PMcCool

jlw's picture
jlw

What you are doing is basically a Desem, only you ar not starting you "nut of dough" in a sack of flour.  Look up desem on the web.  You might like the way i works.

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

It does look a lot like desem, but the maintenance temps are a lot different. Desem is supposed to be grown and maintained at very cool temps over a much longer time, 45-50F if I recall. I would think that would favor the growth of different organisms that may provide a different flavor than a stiff starter maintained at 75-80F as done here.

This looks like a nice quick and easy way to get an active starter grown, though, PMcool, great job! I know my first desem loaf did not rise that well the first time I used it, I am impressed how fast you got an active starter going capable of raising that beautiful loaf pictured above.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Mountaindog,

You are right about the differences between this approach and desem, especially the temperatures.  I suspect that the organisms that populate a desem culture are different than the ones in this type of starter, since they thrive in the lower temperatures.  It probably explains the "buttery" flavor that people rave about with desem. 

I don't have a practical way to maintain the necessary temperatures for a desem starter, so doubt that I'll bother to try creating one.  If anyone wants invite me over for a desem-tasting party, though, I'll be happy to accept.

Heck, I think the organisms in this particular attempt are much different than the organisms in my first attempt a few years ago.  The bread from that first try, in addition to not rising well, was almost sour enough to trigger a pucker when tasted (and not much got past the tasting point).  This starter has a noticeable, but mellow, tang.  It isn't sharp-edged like some other sourdoughs that I have tasted.  Seems like a pretty clear case of "better lucky than good" this time around. 

Thank you for your comments.  It was indeed a fast way to launch a starter.

PMcCool

Jeffrey's picture
Jeffrey

Not Again...

 

Twice this was attempted in the past two weeks.  Each result was much the same.  The outer layer was soft, and fluffy mold was all over the ball.  The inside was bubbly though.  My wife made me toss them out.

 

Do you think that it may be to humid for the outside to harden thus letting mold form?

 

jeffrey

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Jeffrey,

 

Sorry to hear that it hasn't yet behaved for you.  Two attempts spaced about 4 years apart don't make me an expert, so all I can offer are some guesses.

Your first guess about high humidity may be the best.  By keeping the outer surface moist, it would give mold a welcome mat.

Another guess might be higher temperatures.  My most recent (and only successful) attempt was incubated when house temperatures were in the 68-75F range.  If your attempts were run at higher temperatures, that might also favor mold growth.

A third guess might be less-than-fresh flour, which might be hosting a higher population of mold spores than a more recently milled flour.  Probably the least likely of the guesses, but you'll be able to determine if it has any validity.

A fourth guess might be that you are a little heavy on the water content in the starter.  That could also contribute to the symptoms you have been seeing.

If I'm remembering correctly, you live north of the river in the KC area.  It has been warmer and more humid recently, so those might be the culprits, particularly if you aren't running the A/C yet.  If you are willing to take another stab at it, here are some suggestions.  One, use the freshest flour you can find.  Two, locate a spot in your house that doesn't have big temperature swings and doesn't get much above the mid-70's.  Three, keep the water content of the starter as low as you can; just enough to form a very stiff dough.  Four, make sure that it can 'breathe'; just cover it with a cloth, not plastic.  Five, if it shows signs of internal growth, shorten the recommended times between refreshments so that there is less time for mold growth to occur on the outside.  Keep me posted on how things go.

Should all of that still not work, we could meet and I'd be happy to give you a chunk of my starter.

PMcCool

Jeffrey's picture
Jeffrey

Thank you PMCool,

 

Well you guessed three out of four. 


That flour was new back around Thanks Giving Day.  There was a cross communication, and we both came home with a bag.  Then one sort of got forgotten.  We'll have to get another, and hurry up and use this one up.  Wendy won't let me throw it out. 


Do you realize this was the first day in the last ten days that it didn't rain?  How do you spell jungle rot?  At least it doesn't seem to hurt the lawn, it's growing really good, too good.


We'll try again as soon as we get some fresh flour, and it stops raining for a couple of days.  We used a paper towel, which may not have been best.  Now that i think about it, paper towels are made to hold water, thus sealing the rest inside.  Also shut in a cabinet (keeps cats out), didn't help. 

Oh we have two starters going right now.  One i started from scratch, (Sunnie) it started showing life on Dec 20 (my birthday).  We feed it all sorts of flour, and grain, even some raisins from time to time.  Just to see how much flavor we can get out of it.  It was a bit more sour before the last raisins though.

The other we ordered from The Friends of Carl, (Carol), it only gets fed bread flour, yes we're cruel.  That way maybe it won't get to sour, Wendy says some people don't like sour.


We'd love to meet and exchange sour dough though.  Since we are sort of new to this we can find out what other sour dough is like.  Maybe we're on the right track.


thanks
jeffrey


PS  Oh we're on day two of one those whole wheat OJ concoctions, hope there's enough left in that old flour.


 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Jeffrey,

The wet weather we've had recently (like today!) really helps the molds grow.  Your idea of trying again with fresh flour when there are a few days of clear weather in the forecast sounds like a good one.  Glad to hear that your other starters are working well.

The grass is indeed happy.  Imagine what mine looked like after returning from a 10-day absence!

I have taken to storing my whole-grain flours in the freezer.  It seems to keep them fresher, longer.  There have been occasions previously when whole wheat or rye flours have gone rancid after being stored too long at room temperature.

Send an e-mail to khsmtu7377 at yahoo dot com and we can swap phone numbers to arrange a get-together. 

PMcCool

BlueDevil0206's picture
BlueDevil0206

After day 2, mine had one little dandelion like puff of mold, but I used a knife to cut the crust off.  Should still be fine, no?

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

I would think so, BlueDevil.  If it shows up in the subsequent refreshments, you might want to start over on the assumption that the mold has infiltrated the entire ball.  If not, then you are probably on your way to a healthy starter.

PMcCool

Jeffrey's picture
Jeffrey

Well dandelion wine good, so why not?

 

Wendy, wouldn't let me do that, so it was off to the compost pile.  I'll put the next one in the bedroom.  The temps are steady there, and not so damp like the basement, where wet doughs sit when growing up to be tomorrows dinner.

 

Congratulations, Bluedevil, with success on the first try, but of course i learned something.  That is hide the moldy balls from Wendy.  Until cleaned off.

 

jeffrey

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

orangejuice in your balls instead of water.    Mini Oven

Jeffrey's picture
Jeffrey

I might just do that, we have a few oranges sitting around.  It's kind of fun, squeezing a couple of tablespoons of juice out, and eating the rest.

 

We have a brand new bag of Stone Mountain's Bronze Chief, it's the type that was used while the other was forgotten.  The forgotten was was Gold Medal, which still has yeast on it, and taste ok.  The little wet starter that's being concocted, just may be ready to make bread with in the next day or two.

 

Knowing our way of preceding,  we'll probably play with both WW starters, decide which one is best, then mix them together.  oh well

 

Thank You Mini Oven

jeffrey

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

:)  sorry

Jeffrey's picture
Jeffrey

Why are you sorry, you had a very helpful suggestion, as soon as i find the oranges i'll get to work on it.

 

jeffrey

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

instead of "Home."  Happens to me all the time.  Either my mouse drags slow and when I click, I'm not really there yet.  Also getting new glasses, that should clear up my problem.  If I just type oops, then maybe Floyd can erase it.  The sorry was for Floyd 'cause I did it again.   I haven't figured out how to completely erase it once I hit the "Post comment" button.    --Mini Oven

Jeffrey's picture
Jeffrey

Once it's posted it's posted,

 

Sometimes my left button clicks on its own

Jeffrey's picture
Jeffrey

Well it was a week ago, but it worked.  It made a very sour loaf.  Not sure, but i think the squirrels ended up eating most of it.  We mixed it in with the other whole wheat, after a couple of weeks in the fridge, we'll see what they morph into.  By afterthought, i think we should have saved it, just to see if it stays sour, or was it just a new starter thing.

 

Thanks for sharing the recipe.

 

jeffrey

 

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

The bread looks great! How will you maintain this starter for future baking? Can it rest awhile in the fridge between refreshment and use?  I guess what I should ask is do you have to treat it differently than other starters?

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

KipperCat,

All I am doing with the starter is storing it, covered, in the refrigerator between uses.  When I need it, I refresh it (approximately 1 part water and 2 parts flour, by weight) until I have a bit more than the bread recipe calls for and save the excess in the refrigerator for the next use.  And repeat for the next baking.  Seems to be working without a glitch so far.

That's about the same routine that I use with my wet starter, other than the difference in hydration levels.

PMcCool

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

Thanks for the info.  I hope to put it to use very soon.