The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough Problems

  • Pin It
Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

Sourdough Problems

Greetings all,

I'm working with a fairly new starter, which I made originally according to the instructions in Reinhart's Artisan Bread Every Day, and have since modified to 100% hydration.  I keep it in the refrigerator, with the plan being to refresh it weekly and bake with it once or twice each week.  There may or may not be some problems with my starter or my bread, and the main problem is that I'm not sure if things are going wrong, or if I'm just not used to wild yeast yet.

My first concern is that this stuff is very slow.  When I refreshed it Thursday, I took the old starter out of the fridge at 9:00 AM, let it warm up for two hours, then took out two ounces and fed it with six ounces each of bread flour and water.  I waited for it to show some bubbles, which happened after about three hours.  I waited for it to grow in its container, but by 10:00 PM it had only grown a very small amount, and was still only somewhat bubbly.  I crossed my fingers and put it back in the fridge.  This was the second time I've refreshed it, and both times it behaved about the same.

The bread I've made with it acts very strange, at least when compared to bread I make with commercial yeast.  I understand that wild yeast is slower, but this is positively glacial.  Not only that, it turns dough into ooze.  The dough has much less strength compared to commercially yeasted dough, and when picked up will try to ooze through my fingers.  It's as dense as any other bread of comparable hydration, but it doesn't want to hold together as well.  It droops.  It will not hold surface tension when I form loaves.  They start out well, but then instead of rising they spread and flatten.

The yeast does wake up in the oven, and grows to a somewhat reasonable height there, though because of the lack of surface tension the bread winds up rather flatter and broader than I'd like.  The crust also behaves strangely.  Instead of taking on a nice, even color, it's patchy.  Some places burn, some look just right, some are too pale.  And the bottom always seems to darken far too much.

I'm following the instructions precisely, but the bread always behaves in this manner.  I've made three recipes, all of which turned out differently enough to be identifiable as different breads, but each of which shared these issues.

Is this normal?  If not, how do I fix it, and if so, how do I adapt?

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Well it sounds like the yeast needs pepping up and it won't happen in the fridge... so...  

I suggest that instead of tucking the starter into the fridge, you keep watching it until it has peaked, reduce and feed it again.  Leave it out at room temp and let it peak before reducing and feeding again.  When this is done for several days, maybe twice a day, with each refreshment the starter should be peaking sooner and higher under 12 hours.  Each time be sure to let it peak (no matter how high) and when it starts to level out and fall back down, reduce and feed.  When it is peaking under 8 hrs, let it stand for the end of 8 hrs and then reduce down to one ounce to feed.  Keep this up until you are satisfied with the rising speed and power.

Tip:  You might want to reduce the starter size feeding only one ounce (to reduce the amount of waste) eventually feeding only 1/2 an oz.   When deciding to chill, refresh and let the starter rise about a third to half peaked before chilling but do give it about a week (at least 3 or 4 days) of yeast pepping.  

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

Thank you very much!  I'll go take it out of the fridge right now.

Will this also take care of the weird behavior of the dough?  Is that down to inactive yeast?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

When the starter has more yeast in it, then the dough will act differently.  The yeast is still active, there just isn't enough of the little beasties to pump out enough gas to raise the dough before the gluten falls apart.  Crazy things happening to the dough often go back to the starter yeast strength.  

The idea is to increase the yeast numbers, they double every 1 to 2 hrs, then use them in a recipe, and save a little starter culture to feed and stay active between bakes.  You want to use the starter into a recipe when the yeast are most active, at peak, either just as they are peaking or a little bit afterward.  

The sourdough starter culture is a cooperative action between various bacteria and yeast, when the bacteria numbers dominate, the yeast numbers tend to drop and dough will often act as you describe.   What I suggest is to give the yeast better conditions to multiply.   Chilling usually favors the bacteria not the yeast.   

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

if the starter is weak what it likes best is 82 F.  I keep 100g of stiff rye starter and keep it in the fridge without feeding for 3 - 4 weeks and bake one loaf of bread out of it a week maybe too some times.  So in 3 weeks it can get a little weak so I take 10g of it and do a 3 stage build of 10 g each flour and water and let it sit 3 hours.  Then without throwing anything away, if feed it  20 g each of flour and water and in 3 more hours I feed it  40 g each of flour and water and let it sit till it doubles.  Seems to do so in about 4 - 6 hours and is ready to go.  If you put it on a heating pad that is at 82 F then it is much faster 2hours 2 hours and 3 hours.

I always feed starter and levain whole grains - they love them and a little whole grain in white bread doesn't hurt anything in my book and makes them taste way better most always.

Happy baking

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

Last night the starter didn't do much, just a bit of foam escaping from a couple of points on the surface.  So I stirred it up and let it sit overnight.  This morning there was a goodly amount of bubbling going on, and the mix was turning gooey, so I refreshed it.  It's still growing. :)  It looks much better now, much healthier.  I'll refresh it again tonight, and keep going as you've suggested.

When I have it going well enough that I can chill it again, how much care and attention will it be likely to need when I want to bake with it?  Will I be able, for instance, to pull some out of the fridge in the evening, add flour and water to make the recommended amount of starter for a given bread recipe, leave it on the counter overnight, and bake with it the next day?  Or does it need more care and preparation than that?

Whichever the case may be, thank you both very much for your excellent advice!

 

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

Mini Oven, thank you again for your advice!  My yeast culture is currently trying to climb out of its bowl and spread across the kitchen counter.  It hasn't just doubled, it's nearly tripled!  You have saved my sourdough. :)

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I love peppy yeastie beasties!  Understanding them is key.  Glad to be of service but I got the easy job, you do all the worry, fussing and feeding and work; I got the recliner.  How long are they taking to reach peak?   :)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

"Will I be able, for instance, to pull some out of the fridge in the evening, add flour and water to make the recommended amount of starter for a given bread recipe, leave it on the counter overnight, and bake with it the next day?"

YUP!  that you can count on...  

The trick is to put it into the fridge while it still has some flour left to feed on.  That keeps it active while it waits for you. (I think I touched on that earlier...  let it rise about a third before tucking into the fridge.) But for now leave it out to keep pepping it.   

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

It's still taking about twelve hours to reach its peak, but now it has a peak, which is a huge improvement.  I'll keep working on it for a few more days to see if I can get it to speed up a little.  But even if it never does, I can work with this schedule. :)

Djehuty's picture
Djehuty

My wild yeast is finally happy. :)  It looked so good that when I refreshed it last night, I set some aside and made a starter for Reinhart's pain au levain.  This morning, the firm starter had doubled, and when I turned it out of its bowl, it acted like dough, not something left over from filming The Blob.  I made up the dough, and after three hours it had nearly doubled, so I formed it into a loaf and stuck it in a brotform to rise.  It made something somewhere between a boule and a miche, quite large and slightly flattened (I hadn't really thought about how much dough it was when I followed the book's suggestion that it could be used for a single loaf).

It baked up beautifully.  It tastes fantastic, a very mild but flavorful sourdough.  Even my father, who dislikes sourdough intensely, loved this bread.

Thank you once again, Mini Oven!

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Don't forget to take pictures!  :)  Congratulations!  and enjoy!