The Fresh Loaf

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Care and Feeding of a Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter

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linder's picture
linder

Care and Feeding of a Whole Wheat Sourdough Starter

For those who maintain a whole grain sourdough starter, what is your care and feeding schedule?  At what hydration level do you keep your starter? I keep my starter in the fridge.  Before baking day, I remove the starter from the fridge.  My starter is at 100% hydration, I feed it 1:1:1 equal weights of starter, water and home ground whole wheat flour are added to the starter twice daily for two days before I make bread.  Once I've removed what I need for the bread formula, I feed the starter again and then put it back in the fridge for a week or so until the next baking round.  The starter usually doubles in about 4-6 hours.  Is this OK?

Should I continue to feed just whole grain or would it be wise to add some AP or bread flour to the mix? 

What do you do to maintain your starter?

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

of 50% each dark rye and WW Desem starter in the fridge at 60% hydration.  I use from 1g to 20g to build various levains for breads depending on what it is and my time constraints.  I never feed it, even if 2 weeks old. but do use it up till there is about 5-g left or so and then build that back t0 60% hydration and then back in the fridge it goes.   The part I like the best is no feeding fuss and no waste.

Others do a totally different thing with a liquid levain of white flours  they keep on the counter and feed every day.   

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi linder,

I maintain a white levain [strong flour] @ 60% hydration, so you might appreciate that my approach to leaven maintenance is very different.

I do however hold my starter in the fridge for around a week at a time in between baking sessions.   I only keep 40g of stock leaven.   I generally feed 4 times prior to baking, typically every 4-5 hours.   I expect to end up with between 2 and 8kg of leaven at the end of feeding.   Strong white flour, mixed as a stiff levain gives maximum tolerance throughout the feeding.   I am not worried about flavour, in the sense that I don't want a "sour" loaf; I want a properly fermented loaf which has bags of lovely taste, not overt acidity.

This was my last feeding schedule late on last week.  I held the leaven, after the final refreshment, in the fridge overnight and took it out at 05:30, and used it at 07:30. So 40g produced 8kg of leaven in 24 hours.

Day

Time

Stock

White Flour

Water

Total

Temp °C

Thursday 6th December

07:00

40

300

180

520

20

Thursday 6th December

12:00

520

600

360

1480

20

Thursday 6th December

17:00

1480

1500

900

3880

20

Thursday 6th December

22:00

3880

2600

1560

8040

18

 

So, a few thoughts: if you use freshly ground wholewheat in a liquid starter then the fermentation is going to race away, although, there is the qualifier that you do not offer any temperature regime.   For all you are feeding 4 times, I suspect there will be so much enzymatic activity in your culture that you really have no control over the rate at which activity proceeds.

My advice would be to work cool, and to use a stiff culture rather than the current liquid one.   If you use wholegrain, maybe try 70% hydration.

One area I really would advise you to look at is that you are feeding your culture, then immediately retarding the stock element in the fridge.   I would recommend that you hold it in the retarder after you have fermented it to some extent at least.   Actually, this is most likely why I think you ended up with uder-ripe dough in the last post you put up on TFL.

Best wishes

Andy

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

Do you ever bake a small batch of bread when your levain gets ripe at 520 g rather than going through the other 3 builds to get enough levain for your big bakes?  I was wondering if your levain at the end of stage 1 would produce the same tasting bread in the same time  - just a smaller batch?

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi DA,

Even on a smaller batch of dough, for wheat leaven, a single feed of starter held in the fridge for a week will not produce good bread; that is the rationale behind keeping your starter at room temperature and feeding it daily.   Like you, I do not countenance the waste that results.

You just have to adapt the feeding, and make less leaven, probably using 2 feeds.   But, the more you feed the levain, and the more frequently you make bread, the stronger the levain becomes, of course!

I want to reach the point where my production levels mean I no longer need to retain only 40g as stock....800g is my target, producing 20 - 50kg of levain.

Best wishes

Andy

Best wishes

Andy

mwilson's picture
mwilson

Interesting Andy. Were you at all influenced by the maintenance typical of Italian sourdough? As there is a some similarity...

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Michael,

I am used to a production bakery which operates 24 hours each day.   That equates to 3 x 8 hour shifts.   Each shift was responsible for producing several batches of Pain de Campagne by refreshing the levain at the start of the shift, and ending production by baking off the finished breads.   41kg of leaven produced 200kg of French Country Bread dough plus sufficient levain to regenerate the same dough plus stock.   We often had to produce twice this amount and more on the night shift!

The instruction originated from France, not Italy.

All good wishes

Andy

acook's picture
acook

Andy

I am interested to understand why the proportion of stock to flour is so different in your first build, given that all the builds take the same amount of time. Is the purpose of the first fermentation more about yeast production and less connected to sourness and ripeness, and it is in the subsequent fermentations that the dough is fed in ratios that allow its flavor to fully develop?

Ang

ananda's picture
ananda

Hello Ang,

Good question, many thanks.

Actually, my feeding regime is in no way fixed in stone.   I will set up the feeding pattern using a number of different factors.   One of the most important, in the context of the question you ask, is how long a time has elapsed since my starter was last fed.   I am not one who keeps their culture ambient and feeds everyday.   Instead I hold both a rye sour and a wheat levain in the fridge in between bakes...40g of each type.   I generally bake at least every week, and will have to build anywhere between 2 and 10kg of either culture...or both!   If a long time has elapsed, ie. 2 weeks, I would build the culture much more slowly.

As for feeding, I tend to think that my most significant factors are to make sure that the proportion of flour and water are kept perfectly in balance, and trying to maintain the temperature of the dough at target levels.   The main variable for me has to be the last feed, as I do that at night, then use the leaven when I get up early the next morning.   Sometimes I am brave enough to prove the leaven in the fridge overnight...almost desem-style.

My levain is kept in pretty good shape as it is getting plenty of use now, and is built into decent sized batches, which I find really helps to build strength.   When I spent the week baking with Codruta for the Powburn Show late July/early August I built the Wheat levain for 4 consecutive days of production, and on the main day at Leeds had to build around 15kg if I remember rightly, maybe more.   It really is about maintaining a balance of wild yeast and bacterial activity, and I suspect that is the thrust of your question.   All I can say is that I prefer my wheat levain to be NOT sour.   However, if a levain is "green" it will not make good bread.   The feeding pattern I posted is just my attempt to meet the essentials needed in a high performing levain.   That's probably about as helpful as I can be here, I hope it's enough.

Best wishes

Andy

acook's picture
acook

Andy

the designated subject matter of your reply is much better than my attempt!

Your response is illuminating in lots of ways, as are all your contributions to this website...so thank you. I would like to ask you two more questions, which I hope are not too off-topic:

1. I have a proofing box, and am not sure when following Detmolder builds if it would be better for me to understand designated temperature as applying to that of the fermenting dough, or that of the environment iwhtin the proofer...in my experience they tend to be quite divergent — on one recent occasion, after ten hours of proofing, the dough was 10 degrees warmer than the proofing air.

2. I am currently baking a 100% wholegrain rye pumpernickel. It has been baking now for 13 hours, and I have lowered the tempertaure from 230 degrees to 190 over that time. The temperature of the loaf is at 185 degrees just, climbing about one degree per hour. Do you think there is an optimal temperature for 100% whole grain rye, at which point I should take the bread out of the oven?

Best

Ang

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Ang,

Firstly thank you for your kind words.   Answers to your 2 questions:

1. Since the activity takes place within the culture, I would attach greater importance to the temperature of the leaven as opposed to the atmosphere.   But you probably have to use your knowledge of how the proofer operates to achieve the required temperature in the leaven over time...not an easy task, of course.   Here's a little sidenote: we used to mix French Leaven in c.130kg batches at Village Bakery where I worked in the 1990s.   It would take between 3 and 4 hours for the leaven to prove up [3hours Summer, 4 hours Winter].   But there was no way to hold back the leaven for significant length of time by putting it in the Chiller.   Even though the walk-in fridge ran at 3*C, the heat generation at the core of 130kg was sufficient that the fermentation in the leaven simply continued apace.   So, the temperature of your leaven is all-important, but you control that by paying attention to all aspects of the environment in which the leaven is working.   Do you have Hamelman's book for reference on Detmolder, by the way?

2.  This is kind of not relevant to the focus of the OP's question, so I'm not going into too much detail here, even though it's a really interesting technical question.   Two of my first checks for baking: how long has it been in the oven?   What is the moisture content of the loaf?   However, when it comes to the temperature of the loaf, I only ever check the core temperature, and to me this is critical as it tells you if the loaf is baked, and it is a food safety check too.   My target temperature is 96*C, but that is used in tandem with the time in the oven, moisture content of the loaf, and other factors besides.   Personally I think your temperatures are too high for the time the loaf has been in the oven as it is likely the areas around the crust of the loaf [base, sides & top] will be too hard and dry...I assume you are using a tin with lid.   I love baking for up to 16 hours, and it is ok to set the loaves at 230*C, but I think you need to be looking at 150*C as a more realistic working temperature as the oven is allowed to fall.   Hope this helps you

All good wishes

Andy

 

acook's picture
acook

It cetainly does help...

I do have Hamelman's book

the temperatures I gave were actually fahrenheit.

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi Ang,

I don't think I've managed a successful 100% Rye bake in my wood-fired oven if the temperature drops below 100*C [212F, I believe]   Something inside me tells me it's not "baking" otherwise, and with 85% hydration, that's a lot of moisture to bake out!

Sorry for the confusion regarding oven temperatures; I used to happily convert from "old money" to "new".   I'm hoping there will come a day when everyone accepts "new money" is so much easier to work with...50+ years after its official adoption here in the UK!

All good wishes

Andy

acook's picture
acook

The apology is for me to make, because I just gave a number, without indicating C or F.

I put the pumpernickel into a 500F convection-set oven and immediatley turned it down to 230F and left it at that temperature for 7 hours, by the end of which the loaf's internal temperature was 178F.

The manual to my oven says that on convection setting, the oven bakes about 25 degrees higher than normal...if so, then the lowest convection temperature the oven reached while baking this pumpernickel was 190F, i.e. effectively if not literally above 212F/100C for 18+hours, and literally above 212/100C for 12 of those hours. The bread already looks baked to me, and the maillard reaction is very much more pronounced than in any of the photos I have seen of other pumpernickels that don't rely on coffee etc to darken the crumb. When I have made similar bread times in the past, it has always at higher temperatures, but this is definitely the darkest loaf I have achieved. 

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

I keep 8.4 ounces of starter between baking sessions, which occur about 5 days apart.  My starter is kept at about 70% hydration, in a plastic Ball storage container, in the refrigerator.  The morning of the day prior to baking, I add 6.6 ounces of cold water to the starter, stir well, and leave it on the counter-top until evening.  In the evening, I feed it a total of 9.6 ounces of freshly milled flours.  I now feed it 50/50 hard red winter wheat and barley.  Up until two batches ago I fed it with rye in place of some or all of the barley (basically I phased out the rye over about four batches), in order to use up my supply of rye, which I do not favor in my bread.  The culture seems to like rye and barley equally well.  I leave the fed starter standing, covered, on the counter-top overnight.  In the morning, I move 8.4 ounces to the Ball container, press it down evenly, and dribble just a little water over the top of it for protection from dry air.  The remaining starter goes into the bread dough, which at the moment is based on 19.2 ounces of hard white wheat plus 1.2 ounces of barley in the form of water roux.

My bread rises well, and now has a nice tang.  It did not have much tang last summer.  Last summer, I added a couple of ounces of flour on the morning before baking, with the cold water, to prevent starvation of the culture.  My kitchen in summer is 80F day and night.  In winter it is 65F at night and 70 in the day.  My refrigerator is 35F these days, but was 30F last summer.  I finally got it properly adjusted this autumn.  Some or all of these things may explain why I have tangy bread now, and did not last summer.  I expect I will learn more next summer.  *grin*  I do love baking with sourdough.

 

subfuscpersona's picture
subfuscpersona

...since I can't understand the goals(s) of your post. Are you having problems  (wiith the starter? - with the resulting breads? something else?)? Are you simply interested in how others might maintain their starters? If the latter, then you will get varied feedback (as there are many approaches) which may (or may not) be of interest to you.

If you are having problems with the starter (or with the resulting bread - which you suspect may be due to the starter), what are they? A lot more detail would be needed to address them properly.

If you're looking for a different taste to your sourdough breads and feel that the starter might be part of the problem, what is unsatisfactory and what would you like to achieve? Again, detail please.

Given your initial post, the only part that puzzles me is why you do this

Quote:
Once I've removed what I need for the bread formula, I feed the starter again and then put it back in the fridge for a week or so until the next baking round
You've already feed the starter 2 times a day for 2 days. It is obviously quite vigorous, since it doubles in 4-6 hours. I would agree with ananda's advice
Quote:
One area I really would advise you to look at is that you are feeding your culture, then immediately retarding the stock element in the fridge.   I would recommend that you hold it in the retarder after you have fermented it to some extent at least
linder's picture
linder

Subfuscpersona--

In answer to your questions, I had some problems with my last sourdough bake (see post A Tale of Two Loaves) and was hoping to get more info on what others do to take care of their whole grain starters in hopes of being a better 'steward of the yeastie beasties' and avoiding these problems in the future.

RE:

Quote:
Once I've removed what I need for the bread formula, I feed the starter again and then put it back in the fridge for a week or so until the next baking round

You've already feed the starter 2 times a day for 2 days. It is obviously quite vigorous, since it doubles in 4-6 hours. I would agree with ananda's advice 

  Based on ananda's advice, I'll let the starter rise some before putting it back in the fridge for a week until the next bake.