The Fresh Loaf

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Where did I go wrong - bread is more like a pancake!

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poorlittlefish's picture
poorlittlefish

Where did I go wrong - bread is more like a pancake!

About a week ago I made a starter using 2oz rye flour + 2oz water (discarding half and feeding same quantities daily), which started to show bubbles under the surface  and rise after 4 days.  Over the past 3 days since then I've introduced a percentage of white flour when discarding half and for the past 2 days the starter has doubled in size over a few hours.  I took this to mean it was ready to use, so tried making the basic sourdough from Emmanuel Hadjiandreou's How to Make Bread book today (I'd tried making his starter but had no joy, though his seemed to still use equal quanitites of flour and water).

I followed every step of the recipe faithfully, but even though I left the dough for longer than suggested - 8 hours, it barely rose at all.  It looked very "wobbly" under the surface when I turned it out of the banneton and as soon as I even slightly touched it with a knife, it deflated and went flatter than it was already.

I thought that maybe it would gain some oven spring, so went ahead and baked it, using a pre-heated baking stone, the cup of water in a tin at the bottom and spraying water onto the walls of the oven too.  Sadly for me, absolutely nothing happened and I ended up with a sourdough pancake about 1" high rather than anything that could be described as proper loaf of bread.

I'd be grateful to know where I went wrong, eg was I wrong to use my own starter in the recipe or is the starter doubling in size not an indication that it's ready to be used?  I fed the starter after I'd removed what I needed for the recipe and again it doubled in a few hours, so I've now put it in the fridge, under the impression that I can leave it there now and just refresh it once a week.  Am I even on the right track with that?

Many thanks!

Laurentius's picture
Laurentius

What was your bread formula?

poorlittlefish's picture
poorlittlefish

The ingredients were:

250g bread flour
150g water
75g starter
4g salt 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Doubling is not peaking.  Let the starter double (fine) but don't feed it or use it.  Let it continue rising until it reaches its maximum height or peak, otherwise you risk overfeeding and actually reducing the number of yeast in the starter.   With each feeding; after the peak, leveling out and subsequent deflating of the starter; you will find it rising higher each time and also sooner.  Time from feeding to the peak of activity.   If that is under 8 hrs, then try it in a simple test to time the starter.  

Mix up 10g starter with 20g water and 30g flour  (1:2:3) and pack into a tall narrow glass, mark and see how long it takes to peak.  That should give you an idea how long your total play time should be for the recipe.  Mark "double" and how long it took to get there, then use that information for your first folding with the recipe dough. (stretch & fold before doubling> use site search for method)   After it peaks, knock it down with a wooden spoon or something similar and watch it rise again, mark that also and any differences in texture and handling when you remove it from the glass.  

How did it change from when you first put it in? Like the deflated dough?  Then you might have been able to bake it sooner and the dough was overproofed.  Try the test above and see how your fast your dough is rising in your conditions.

poorlittlefish's picture
poorlittlefish

I tried your test and found that the dough (the mixture you suggested) doubled in about two hours, but it didn't rise any higher as far as I could tell (it had not risen any more by the time I went to bed). When I knocked it down the following morning there were bubbles on the surface and it was "stringy" underneath.

My starter definitely has a lot more bubbles than it did last Sunday, so maybe I'll have more success when I try again at the weekend. I don't think the first attempt could have been over-proofed because it just didn't seem to rise at all.

I've been keeping the starter on the worktop rather than in the fridge and discarding/feeding daily, but now it is full of bubbles, is it time to transfer it to the fridge and just feed small amounts once per week?

ars pistorica's picture
ars pistorica

Hello, may I recommend not putting your starter in the refrigerator, like, ever.  I am often confused to why this approach is suggested in the first place.  The combination of minimal inoculant and severe dehydration of the medium with storage at moderately cool temperatures (and, once sufficiently dried enough through feedings, then frozen) will produce better results without changing the starter's microflora composition.  I would also recommend keeping your starter in as whole a grain as possible, at all times.  Using such a method, the starter has to be "worked" up (increasing hydration, but only slightly, as well as inoculant amount) and down (decreasing the water and the inoculant) with each successive feeding.  To maintain a stable culture, try inoculant amounts between .1% and 20% (this is composed on a flour to flour basis) and a dough-yield of 135 to 165, with a tendency toward higher values while building up and then progressively toward the lower values while building down.  Likewise, try a temperature range of 15 - 25 degrees Celsius, with, again, a tendency to build toward higher values as bake-time approaches.

Some other, good general rules of thumb if using a mother-to-leaven method:  keep your base starter at a low hydration, using the same amount every time (this provides a controlled variable); feed your base starter on the same schedule you have established, along with whatever inoculant and temperature variations are necessary (another controlled variable); feed your base starter in as whole a grain as possible (another controlled variable that allows the maximum fermentative, flavour, and enzymatic amounts possible); use your leaven-building stages to vary water content, inoculant amounts, temperature profiles (including retarding), grain content, etc., beyond the recommended ranges above, as this is the stage or stages where you can most manipulate the profile of your culture to suit the needs of whatever bread it is meant to be leavening.  You cannot do any of this reliably using a refrigerated-approach, especially if trying to predictably control flavour, texture, enzymatic production, and the make-up of the starter's microflora.

I hope this could be of help.

cranbo's picture
cranbo

So are you making rye breads with the part-rye starter? General rule of thumb is that it's best to match what you feed the starter to the kind of breads you bake (rye starter for rye breads, 50/50 white/WW starter for partial WW/country breads, white starter for white breads, etc). When you switch the food for the starter, there are changes in initial bacterial action that may make it look like your starter is ready, but it's not. This bacterial action will die down, and once the right starter 'ecosystem' is established, the leavening power will increase dramatically. 

More importantly, my guess is that your starter is not fully developed yet. Looks like you have about 9-10 days on it? Give it at least 5 more days. Keep it at room temp, feed at least 2x daily using your schedule. Make sure you feed it the appropriate food (if you need a rye starter, separate out a little starter and build/maintain a separate rye starter; etc. for each type of flour). Do not store any starters in the fridge at this point, give it another 5-7 days at room temp. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The yeasts numbers are too low.  Feed it and let it peak or rise to maximum volume before feeding again.  You can easily wait a few hours before feeding again but keep it out of the refrigerator while building yeast.  With each feed, the yeast volume with increase and happen sooner.   No need to get up in the middle of the night to check the level.   You can easily watch the next feed and rise as long as the overnight starter was rising and activity has dropped off.  

poorlittlefish's picture
poorlittlefish

Thank you for your advice. My starter is 12 days old now, it started off 100% rye but from day 4 I started introducing some wheat flour and for the past week that's all I've fed it. I've not fed it until I can see the "tide mark" to indicate it's peaked and subsided (the peak has never been more than double the height).

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

we should scare it.  If it doubles in two hours, wait until 4 hrs and then discard to about 10g and feed 40water and 60 flour.  Then watch it rise.  

oops sorry, oz not g   ok  one heaping teaspoon of ripe fallen starter to 1 oz water and almost 3 oz flour to form a soft dough.  Then watch it rise to peak.

poorlittlefish's picture
poorlittlefish

I tried using my starter tonight in a different recipe (this one, which I halved and made as a boule: http://www.kingarthurflour.com/blog/2012/06/14/classic-sourdough-bread-time-steps-in-for-added-yeast/).  The dough rose but when I slashed it, it flattened to about 1" high and I thought I was going to end up with another pancake.  How wrong I was!  Within two minutes of being in the oven it had risen incredibly well and the resulting bread had the lovely open texture I was hoping for.  The inside was soft but there wasn't much of a sour taste and I assume this will increase as the starter matures?  The crust was soft and chewy, but I was expecting it to be thick and crunch, so how would I accomplish that?