The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Good Starter, Bad Bread

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Joe McPlumber's picture
Joe McPlumber

Good Starter, Bad Bread

Hi,

I have very vigorous wild culture i captured here in the California foothills. "SpongeBob" is an organic whole wheat starter who i try to keep at 100%. I'm new to this so i'm not sure what 100% is supposed to look like but SpongeBob is a spongy(!) mass when risen and about the consistency of a stiff cookie dough when newly fed.

My only unconventional caretaking practice is, i can't bring myself to throw any away and so feedings are generally added to whatever amount of starter is in the bowl. That amount fluctuates depending on how much i use and i know that throws off the hydration so i just try to adjust the flour until i have the same approximate consistency as i do when doing it the right way.

Anyway,,,

Despite many attempts with many recipes i have yet to produce a good loaf. They are usually dense and heavy, although my wife says that they are very tasty.

I began with a no-knead recipe from Instructables .(http://www.instructables.com/id/Sourdough-Bread/), however that recipe is short on details for handling the dough after the first rise. I think that my dough collapsed at the point where he says to "turn" it, and i didn't get a second rise.

Since then, because it seemed it should be fool-proof, i've been using the 1-2-3 mixture for my dough and various strategies for proofing and baking. It's almost always the same story. Dough collapses, doesn't double again, and doesn't spring in the oven.

Here's the thing... i'm told that the way to get tasty bread is with longer proofing times. So usually what i've done is mix up the dough at night (and stretch and fold it in some cases), then deal with it in the morning. At that point it is usually something more than doubled and full of tiny bubbles. Thus, it collapses when handled. I can't get it formed suitable to a loaf pan, much less the more advanced shaping. It's too spongy, sticky and wet, and anything i do from that point on is slapstick comedy as i try to unstick the dough from here only to stick it to there. Then i can't get a second rise and i don't know if it's because the dough is exhausted or because it got handled too roughly.

I also tried making my dough in the daytime and keeping something of an eye on it so it didn't get over-proofed. The result, it was under-proofed and tasted like dirt.

Sorry for being so wordy but i am confused and frustrated and even in all this verbosity i probably omitted critical details. I will try to remember them if someone will try to coax the right ones out of me. I'm wondering, e.g., if my starter is way too hungry and consumes the dough before it is sufficiently proofed? I mean, does that happen? What might i possibly be doing wrong and how does a newbie go about making subtle adjustments to established recipes and procedures? I should just like to get *one* decent loaf so i can duplicate the procedure.

TIA,

- joe

phaz's picture
phaz

 hi Joe,   it sounds like the dough is over proofed. it sure will happen when left too long, and higher temps = less proving time. at room temps,  overnight is a bit long.  do you find the crust doesn't brown well?  that would be a sign of over proofed dough, along with little out no oven spring.  I do the poke test -  poke a wet finger into the dough up to the 2nd  knuckle and see if it springs back.  for the first proof, I like to see the hole fill back in about half way - 8 hrs max when temps are mid to upper 70s.  then I shape and let rise again for another 2-3 hrs our so. I bake when the poke test barely starts to fill itself back in. I once left a dough overnight on the counter thinking temps would drop to the upper 50s to slow everything down - it never did - and I had a small manhole cover once it came out of the oven! folks recommend long fermentation times for more sour and flavor, but that's usually retarding the dough in a fridge. that kind of cool slows down the yeast and allows other bugs to do their thing, which is create the sourness we all look for. actually, to get more sour, try feeding sponge Bob a little rye flow, that seems to help the sourness. I'm now in the process of playing with feeding various amounts of rye to see how sour changes. it sure looks like more rye = more sour. my starter was white flour, now it's about 25% rye, it's more active, and more sour. handling the dough - I take a minimalist approach, I handle it as little as possible. bulk proof is in a large metal mixing bowl, then it's removed and shaped on the pan I bake it on. when risen enough, that goes right into the oven. only time I have my hands on it are for the stretch and folds and the shaping. I believe you had the sticky problem just due to the over proofed dough, it does get mighty sticky at that point! I know the no knead method is high hydration, and is a sticky dough, but sounds like you were past just sticky! anyway, keep at it, there's lots of good advice here, and lots of helpful folks. I think all you have is a little adjusting and you'll see success! let us know how it goes, and happy baking!

Joe McPlumber's picture
Joe McPlumber

Sometimes i get confused and the simplest things slip my mind. That was my primary quandary; the dough appeared to be over-proofed but i wanted it proofed longer. The fridge didn't occur to me. None of the recipes/blogs/etc. i read mentioned it either, even when talking about proofing over several days.

It's also handy to know little things like the final rise happening in the baking pan. That didn't occur to me either because none the directions said i should do that.

So thanks, i'll try that.

Does the rye flour affect the taste beyond sourness? Because my loaves have a definite flavor of whole wheat from the starter. Also the 1-2-3 mix makes for a very wet dough, does the "poke test" apply to that?

- joe

phaz's picture
phaz

 so far,I haven't used the part rye starter with straight white floor.  I'm also using a percentage in the dough for a different flavor. it is more sour, that I can say, but that was the reason for using rye in the starter. I also use small amounts of starter,  something like 3 or 4 tablespoons for medium sized loaf.  smaller amounts starter will also increase proofing times.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

going on at room temperature.  I would let it ferment for 30 minutes on the counter after the S&F's on 15 minute intervals and the either but retard it or as I prefer go ahead and put it in the proofing baskets or tins and let it sit for another 30 minutes before bagging it and retarding it overnight,

If you take it out bulk then let it rest for 30 minutes before shaping and final proofing.  If you take it out in baskets or tins just make sure it has doubled in volume before baking.  My bread turns to goo too if left on the counter as long as you do.  Retarding is great because it increases flavor and allows you to bake when you want to and the greatest thing since sliced bread!

Happy  baking

Joe McPlumber's picture
Joe McPlumber

are S&F's?

I've yet to have success with proofing basket, seems no matter how much i flour it, it sticks and then the dough gets beat up in the process of disengaging it.

Also what is "bagging" for overnight proof? I do not own plastic wrap or bags so i've been trying to get by alternately with a bit of olive oil, a spritz of water, and/or a damp napkin to prevent crusty stuff.

- joe

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

use the search tool help develop and align the gluten strands.  Use rice flour for baskets - nothing sticks ti that.  A bit of olive oil on top won't hurt but you must have at least plastic shopping bag to put your loaf in overnight in the fridge.

A man without plastic - wrap, trash can liners or shopping bags is a true environmentalist!

Joe McPlumber's picture
Joe McPlumber

, i have seen a woodchuck hopelessly stuck in six-pack banding and i am hyper-aware of that big floating debris pile in the Pacific and all the fish and birds with plastic bags in their guts.

I did fib just a bit,  our weekly CSA produce comes in plastic bags (why why why) and i wash and store them for reuse. But they're not big enough for my dough.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

The least we can do is be good stewards and conservationists.  I was very concerned about the waste when it came to maintaining a liquid starter with so many people starving in the world.  So now I maintain 80 g of stiff starter in the fridge.

I use 15 g of it each time, immediately putting the remainder in the fridge, to build a levain for each bake.  Making one or two loaves a week means I end up with about 10 g left after 2 weeks that I rebuild in 3 stages into a 66% hydration starter and then back into the fridge.

Cold, stiff and whole grain starters, levains and dough mean sour too.  This way there is no waste, no muss no fuss and no feeding necessary.

You can use a plastic shower cap for covering the bread too.  Works great and  is reusable forever not to mention the wife or daughter might have one already :-)

Happy baking

grandmamac's picture
grandmamac

S&Fs are the stretch and folds you've been doing. 

I don't use a proofing basket but I've read that using flour tends to make the dough stick to it. Rice flour or cornmeal are said to be good for this purpose. 

Bagging is a way of covering the dough so it doesn't form a crust. I don't use plastic bags much and try to minimise their use so I cover mine with an inverted stockpot which lets the dough rise in the fridge without the surface drying out which can impede the oven spring or cause splitting. A larger bowl will do. I think fabric might let some air through unless it's very tightly woven.

Ford's picture
Ford

First, I agree with the above about over proofing sourdough.  It does not need the long periods for developing flavor and the long proof at room temperature will destroy the gluten.  I bulk proof for about 2 hours at room temperature.

Second, I am concerned about how you refresh your starter.  You say, "My only unconventional caretaking practice is, i can't bring myself to throw any away and so feedings are generally added to whatever amount of starter is in the bowl. That amount fluctuates depending on how much i use and i know that throws off the hydration so i just try to adjust the flour until i have the same approximate consistency as i do when doing it the right way."  Does this mean you add the same amount of flour regardless of the amount of starter in storage?  If so, you are starving the little critters.  Try keeping a very small amount of starter, say 1 or 2 ounces then you can throw half of that away without much of an offense to your frugal nature.  Feed the  starter  flour and water each equal to the weight of the remaining starter.

Ford

Joe McPlumber's picture
Joe McPlumber

not quarreling but if i am starving the critters then why do they explode my dough? Is not vigor = health?

Also the recipes i've been using call for something around a cup of starter and i make sourdough cookies and tortillas which each use about 3 cups. It's mostly flavoring in that sort recipe but it was my way of utilizing the starter w/out tossing it. I am not much good at planning so it's difficult to know when small proportional feeding will result in enough starter, when i need it. As it is i've found my starter reduced to a few tablespoons and that panics me b/c i worked so hard to capture it.

Maybe it's just one those inner conflicts, objective practicalities vs. sensibilities, that i just need to get over it. I hate when that happens.

Um. to answer the question, yes i do that. I reckoned if it doubled in the bowl and it raised dough then it was OK. If it is *really* not OK then i would try to adjust. In which case tactical advice relevant to my circumstances would be appreciated. As you can see i don't get on well with cognitive dissonance or catch-22 type dilemmas.

phaz's picture
phaz

I once did this - instead of feeding my starter, I just stirred it up. it rose like it does after a normal feeding. now even more curious, I stirred it up again. and it rose again, not exactly like after a feeding, but very close. theory was, food is still there, but not really available. stirring makes it available again, and again. I keep a thicker starter, like a very very wet dough. try giving a good stir and see if it rises. if so there's plenty of food available. if not, you're on the edge of not feeding enough and should increase amount or frequency of feeding.  

Ford's picture
Ford

"As it is i've found my starter reduced to a few tablespoons and that panics me b/c i worked so hard to capture it."

As a safeguard against loosing all, if disaster strikes, dry some starter.  Spread a thin layer of refreshed starter on a sheet of parchment paper and let that air dry (no heat) for a couple of days.  Put the flakes in a zippered bag and store it in a cool place.  It will keep indefinitely and you will have starter in a day by mixing 1 tablespoon of the crushed flakes with 1 tablespoon of flour and 1 tablespoon of water.  Let it stand until doubled then refresh as normally done.

Ford

phaz's picture
phaz

 just a note,  this recipe also calls for commercial yeast along with starter. commercial yeast it very fast acting.  you may be able to go overnight by omitting the yeast.  you'll have plenty from the active starter. 

Joe McPlumber's picture
Joe McPlumber

put yeast in with this starter, the thing could get loose and terrorize the neighborhood.

- joe

Joe McPlumber's picture
Joe McPlumber

This was proofed overnight in the fridge then left on the counter for about 2 hours. Its size is almost all from oven spring, it only filled half the tin before i baked it. I didn't leave it rise longer because it was pretty sticky and i'm edgy about over-proofing now.

Also it split open because dough was too wet/sticky to score even with a razor.

Still for all that, this is the best loaf i've made yet. It's got some air in it, and it tastes great.

Thanks all

- joe