Sudden change in performance
Hi Baker Friends,
I have been successfully making Tartine bread style loaves (75 - 80% hydration) for the past 8 - 9 months using a starter that I have been lovingly feeding. It's a 100 - 125% hydration liquid starter that I have been feeding with 50-50% ww and bread flour using only 20% starter during each feed. I have been usually feeding it at night, let it mature overnight into a bubbly vinegary smelling beauty, put it in the fridge during the day as I have to go my day job, and repeat again at night time. When I want to bake, usually on the weekends, I just use a tablespoon of the starter to build the levain (usually 200 g flour and 200 g water).
Anyway, I was able to get nice burnished crust, with a decently open crumb and good oven spring most of the time, except the last month or so... All of a sudden, my loaves started looking paler with a less pronounced oven spring, usually a denser crumb with some ugly big holes. I haven't changed anything in my technique, which is mostly in line with Chad Robertson's recommendations in his book... During bulk fermentation and the subsequent stages of bench rest, shaping and final proofing (overnight retardation in fridge), the dough feels more or less the same.
I am thinking of the following factors that may be influencing the results:
- I forgot to put the starter in the fridge a couple of times after a night's feeding and maturing; I did refresh it immediately after though using even a smaller portion of the mature of the starter, maybe like 5 - 10% to overcome any bad effects from the overripining.
- I was using Bob's Red Mill Organic WW flour, and recently I changed over to KA organic WW flour. I am not sure about the timing of this though, but I thought I'd throw it in the mix.
- Too much chlorine in tap water (I've been using filtered tap water)? Maybe, it killed some of the good bacteria in the starter and with a combination of some contamination somehow, the starter is not performing as well as it used to... Although, on its own, it still smells good on its own, bubbles up and floats well.
- Going from the summer season to the colder fall and winter season? Although the temperatures in my house obviously don't swing as much... I try to keep the dough at about 78 - 82 degrees and sometimes a bit warmer during bulk fermentation. The room temperature is typically around 66 - 70 degrees.
- Anything else?
I'd very much appreciate any feedback. Are there any tests that I can perform on the starter for example? I have made maybe 4 batches in a row with failing results, each time trying to focus on dough temperature, maturity of the starter, and my shaping technique...