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How do I improve sourdough flavor and texture?

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Margie's picture
Margie

How do I improve sourdough flavor and texture?

I'm at a loss as to how to improve the flavor and texture of my sourdough bread. I use a purchased culture, no commercial yeast, follow proofing instructions and recipes closely in Ed Wood's 2nd book. The bread rises just fine yet it is lacking in flavor and texture. Any suggestions?

edh's picture
edh

If you do a search under Calvel 100% sourdough on the site, you'll come up with a great thread started by Mariana a few months ago.

I've messed around with the original (I've got a thread posted today whining about my problems with it), but Mariana's instructions are impeccable, and unaltered, it produces a great bread with outstanding, but mild, flavors.

You could also try Crumb Bum's miche for a stronger  but not overwhelming sour taste.

Keep trying!

edh

Margie's picture
Margie

Thanks. I have printed the Mariana post. (I have been trying for years, now!)

Seriously, I have tried everything except what works. I have tried long rises in a cooler box, not as cold as the fridge, all to no avail.

Lately, I am beginning to wonder if my starter contains the bacteria responsible for flavor. Perhaps they have been killed off by chlorine or were never there in the first place.

My next experiment is going to be making a starter with rye flour and distilled water. 

ron45's picture
ron45

Hi Margie, It isn't necessary to use distilled water, just not tap water unless you are on a well. It's the chlorine that's hard on the little beasites. The organic grain is a good bet tho.

Ron

Margie's picture
Margie

 Thanks, Ron. What kind of water do you use?

ron45's picture
ron45

Hi we are on a well.

Ron

stevenkvamme's picture
stevenkvamme
Margie's picture
Margie

Looks like a good book. Pricey, though.

ron45's picture
ron45

You didn't say what's in your bread. Is there something besides highly processed flour in it? If not that could be a place to start. Also, making your own culture is not hard. But it takes organic grain grain to get a culture of the organisms that came with those organic grain berries. It seems tree huggerly perfect that the leavening potential is naturally right there on the grain for you till it's killed off by agribiddness. With orangic grain all it takes is a little water and time. Sourdough home has instructions. You and navigate to them here.

http://www.sourdoughhome.com/

Hope you find someting usefull there. Sorry if you already knew all this.

Ron

Margie's picture
Margie

Thanks.

Nothing in my starter but tap water and San Francisco Sourdough culture from Ed Wood.

I have used just distilled water but did not notice any difference. I can't remember if I used distilled or tap water when activating my culture. I think I used distilled. If I used chlorinated water, might that have killed off the bacteria I want for flavor, never to return? Perhaps I have been feeding dead bacteria all this time. Maybe the bacteria responsible for rising are more hardy that those responsible for flavor?

I'm off to the health food store for organic rye flour a.s.a.p.! Do you use tap water?

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Water is talked about a lot, and while it is important, most people seem to be looking in the wrong directions.

Chlorine, in most water systems, just isn't a problem.  It doesn't stop the critters from growing, it doesn't kill them once they are established.  The exception to this, based on correspondence with some folks, is the water systems that use chloramine, a persistent form of chlorine.  But, in general, if your water tastes OK, it will be OK for sourdough.  However, it is worth noting that the taste of your water has little impact on the taste of bread.  Tasting is just an indicator for the quality of the water.  The water here doesn't taste of chlorine though it has some strange salts in it.  The bread made with it tastes fine.  On the chlorine front, it is worth noting that most home water filters do little with chlorine and even less with chloramine.  Chloramine is resistant to standing and boiling.

 

A more critical issue, I am discovering, is the mineral content of water.  I used to live in an area with very hard water.  I have moved to an area with amazingly soft water.  And now the dough is not as coherent as it used to be.  Before it wasn't as elastic as it could have been, now it's way softer than I am used to.  As someone commented, "the water seems wetter today."

The mineral content is very important, and for that reason, I would suggest avoiding distilled water and other demineralized waters.  Bottled spring water is OK if you hve to avoid local tap water, however, most of us really don't have to avoid tap water.

Mike

 

rideold's picture
rideold

I'm not familiar with the book you are using so I don't know how long you are letting the dough ferment but the biggest flavor improvements come from long slow fermentation...either by lowering the temp or reducing the leaven or both.  I let my dough ferment for at least 8-10 hours and proof for 2-3.  The few times I have used less leaven and let it go closer to 24 hours total I was even happier with the flavor but I haven't mastered keeping the sourness down to my tastes after that long.  The other thing to try is changing the flour you use.  You might be undercooking as well.

Margie's picture
Margie

Thanks. I have tried long fermentation using a cooling box. I have tried retarding the dough in the fridge. The improvement was negligible for me.

I am beginning to think something is wrong with the starter. It rises great but that's it. Few larger holes, little flavor. I never add commercial yeast.

I have not tried organic flours, just grocery store unbleached white or bread flours. I think I will try making a new starter with organic rye flour and distilled water. I will only use organic flour from now on. I have noticed that when I change flours, the starter "faints" and has to get up to speed all over again.

I once tried the grape starter described in the La Brea Bread book. Didn't work out for me either, though I did see a post on this site from someone who had good success with it.

 

Oh, the book I have been using is Classic Sourdoughs - A Home Baker's Handbook by Ed Wood. He also sells cultures from all over the world. Perhaps others will have better luck than I.

Margie's picture
Margie

I used the starter I made myself, starting with organic rye flour, switching to organic unbleached white flour. I am very happy with the way my bread turned out!

 

Herbertm's picture
Herbertm

I have been using the same recipe with the same outcome. I repeat step two as suggested for extra sour and retard overnight in the fridge. I also feed the starter a couple of days before using hoping to energize the starter.

One way to increase holes is to autolyse for 1/2 hour before kneading.

I'm thinking of adding rye flour to one of the fermentation cycles to see if that would help with sour flavor.

Just tried using unglazed floor tiles instead of pizza stone and covered the dough for the first 20 minutes of bake with a flower pot. Works great. Got the idea from Wild Yeast blog.

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

Try this:

Make the recipe using the stated ingredients, but ...

For texture, don't knead. Instead, mix everything until hydrated and then cover. Then, after one hour, do a stretch and fold. Do two more of these one half hour apart. By the third stretch and fold, your dough should be well developed. I've been told that gently handling the dough like this helps encourage a more open texture.

I'm undecided myself, but it is a cool technique that saves me a lot of time.

As for getting more flavor, I'd recommend going hotter. The bacteria do best at about 80-85 degrees F, so, what I do is, for the final rise, I put the dough on an upturned bowl that's inside a picnic cooler. I then pour 1 cup of boiling water into the bottom, and close it. I refresh with another cup or two every hour. It's an easy, cheap way to keep the temperature at about 85 degrees.

That technique did make a big difference in the taste of my bread.

antonis's picture
antonis

Hi Margie. Your water is not the problem. The problem is Ed Wood's culture. I also have this culture and has nothing to do with San Francisco. Actually I use it to make sweet (not sour) breads for my kids.

There are two possibilities:

Either his culture is not SF as he claims

or

The bacteria that produce acids died when the starter was in the mail. This can happen. These bacteria are much more sensitive than the yeasts.

Somebody must explain to Ed Wood that if he insists that his culture can produce SF bread then in his guarantee he must add a guarantee for the lactobacilli and not only for the rising yeasts as he does. This is a practice that other sources of SF cultures do follow. They will mail you another batch if you report that the dough does not get any acid.

I have been very dissapointed with this culture. Try another one or follow Calvel's instructions for making your own. Ed Wood's culture is very stable and no matter what you do (eg add rye) it will not produce flavorful sour bread. Use it for brioche or get rid of it.

 

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

I've no experience with Ed Woods' cultures, but everyone I know of (including me) raves about Carl Griffith's 1847 Oregon Trail Starter. It may take a while, but you can get it for free from the site I've linked.

On the other hand, if you'll email me your address, I'd be happy to send you a glob of my whole wheat starter, some of Carl's (white) or a rye I've got going. Just remove the obvious:

jfrankmillerDONTSPAMMEBRO@gmail.com

ericdfields's picture
ericdfields

I started my sourdough baby using Carl's Starter (linked above) very recently. I made a batch of biscuits, and they were very tasty, but the sourdough flavor was also lacking a little.

From what I've read, the flavor comes from the bacteria that piggyback onto the yeast. I prepped it for 48-hours by leaving it in the oven with the light on for general warmth, occasionally turning the oven on for a few minutes.

Of course, one of those few minute sessions turned into too many minutes — maybe 10 or 15. I rescued the starter to notice that the alcohol was still sitting on top, but the mass below it began to cook. It was very coagulated and extra thick, but I was still able to mix it back up. I added more flour and water and was very cautious for the rest of the process. I still have a starter that bubbles and, like i said, i still made biscuits.

Could I have killed the soury bacteria in those brief moments of too much warmth?Or is the lack of a sour flavor the result of it being a new starter, needing a few feeding cycles to enhance itself?

Thanks. Awesome thread! 

-- 

eric 

HogieWan's picture
HogieWan

you would need to get the bacteria over 160 for a few minutes before killing them, and most would survive past 180.

ericdfields's picture
ericdfields

Well the oven was set to 350 at the time :-P

But like i said, it was definitely only 10-15 minutes. 20 at most. So i imagine the mixture itself couldn't have gotten much hotter than 160-180.

After a few more bakes I'll post some updates. I'll try a bread over the weekend and give it at least 24 hours to rise at room temperature. Its been said that should improve the sourness. 

-- 

eric 

HogieWan's picture
HogieWan

extended fermentation will improve sourness:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/5546/inadvertant-sourdough

Elagins's picture
Elagins

Elagins@sbcglobal.net

I've had great success with sourdough, starting with a local wild-yeast starter initially built on rye flour with no help from grapes, plums, or other yeast-magnets, using BBA's variation of Nancy Silverton's technique.

The key is in the bacteria -- both lactobacillus, which produce lactic acid and are happiest at cool temps; and acetobacillus, which produce acetic acid and are happiest at moderate temps.

So here's what I do:

Generally, I use a mixture of 85% unbleached bread flour, 10%WW and 5% medium rye (I like the more complex flavor, plus the fact that rye loves yeast), hydrated to 100%, and about another 10% of 50-50 white starter. I let that ferment overnight in my garage, which stays at around 60 degrees. In the morning, I add enough additional flour (same blend) to bring the hydration down to 65-70%, plus 2% of salt based on total flour weight.

I then let that rise until it doubles (generally 2-4 hours). It goes back into the fridge until the next morning, when I shape my loaves and let them proof, either in linen or in a banneton. I prefer to let them proof longer, rather than shorter, typically 3-4 hours, until I can press my finger into the dough and not have it spring back. I slash the loaves and bake on a stone preheated to 550, dumping 1 cup of water into the oven 2-3 times as I put in the loaves, then turn it down to 450.

Give it 10mins for baguettes and 15 for boules before I turn them for another 8-15 minutes respectively.  I've never had a bad loaf.

Good luck!!!

SourdoughSam's picture
SourdoughSam

Margie,

I had the same problem for months, and did tons of research to figure out what I was doing wrong.  In short, there are three key factors in the development of flavor in sourdough:

1. Ash Content (aka Buffering Capacity) of Flour
2. Fermentation Time
3. Fermentation Temperature

Everything else is either secondary or, in many cases, simply wrong.

The ash content of the flour is a threshold issue.  Studies indicate that an ash content of less than 0.8% WILL NOT ALLOW development of any significant sourdough flavor.  The higher the ash content, the higher the buffering capacity.  The buffering capacity of the flour lowers the acidity of the dough, allowing the bacteria to work longer before they over-acidify their environment and stop producing acids and flavor compounds.  All purpose flour normally does not have an ash content in excess of 0.8%.  High gluten flour (aka bread flour) normally does, and is sufficient.  Whole wheat and rye breads have an even higher ash content, which is why people are often more successful in developing sour flavor in these doughs.

The fermentation time must be LONG, meaning 12 to 20 hours.  The flavor develops in the bread (not in the starter), and it takes the bacteria a long time to do it.  If you ferment your bread for less than about 8 hours, you'll get a very tasty, but non-sour bread.

The fermentation temperature should be between 20C and 30C.  Any less, and you're simply slowing down the bacteria in their quest to eat food and develop flavor.  Any more, and you're overheating them and hindering their growth.  However, anything within the indicated range is just fine.

For more information on the above, here's an excellent, freely available paper on the subject:
http://ethesis.helsinki.fi/julkaisut/maa/elint/vk/katina/
Katina, Kati, "Sourdough: a tool for the improved flavour, texture and shelf-life of wheat bread"
Academic Dissertation, August 2005.
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Agriculture and Forestry, Department of Food Technology.
ISBN 951-38-6650-5

Here's a VERY SIMPLE procedure for creating a bread with a fully-developed sour flavor with any starter (I've got a collection of three of them, including Carl's 1847 Oregon Trail Starter, and this technique works wonders with all of them):

Step 1 - Make dough
Step 2 - Place in oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let sit at room temperature for 12-15 hours (no need to punch down, worry, fret, or whatever... just let it sit).
Step 3 - Gently remove from bowl and bake.

Yep, that's it.  After months of trying to figure out how to get that sourdough flavor, trying various complicated methods involving refrigeration, letting the starter go sour, multiple starter fermentation stages, etc., I found out that you just make the dough and let it sit on your kitchen counter.  How's that for uncomplicating things?

Hope this clarifies things a bit.  Good luck with your sourdough baking!

SourdoughSam

shakleford's picture
shakleford

I'm new to sourdough baking, but I was wondering what exceptions there might be to your info on fermentation times.  I ask because just last weekend I made the 100% whole wheat sourdough loaf from Sourdough Home (http://www.sourdoughhome.com/100percentwholewheat.html) and I would classify the result as "moderately sour".  Only 5 hours or so elapsed between when I finished kneading and when I started baking.

SourdoughSam's picture
SourdoughSam

Shakleford,

Sure, there are exceptions.  I was primarily trying to provide an easy, proven, repeatable procedure for getting a good, solid sourdough flavor.  From there, you can play with whatever variables you want to adjust fermentation time, texture, flavor, etc., but if you can't figure out how to develop that flavor to begin with (and I struggled with it for a long time), then you'll never have control over the process.

Everything's relative in baking sourdough.  You used a very high ash content flour, which allows sour flavor to develop fully, and I'm guessing you let the dough ferment at a relatively high temperature (say 28C to 30C), which shortens fermentation times considerably, so you got some sour flavor in less than 8 hours.  However, if you were to leave that same dough for 10 to 12 hours, you'd get a real sour kick from it.

SourdoughSam

Margie's picture
Margie

I could kiss you, SourdoughSam! Your method worked! Thank you! ***

Margie's picture
Margie

Thanks, I am looking forward to trying these techniques. 

I tried Carl's starter also. I had some luck with the rye flour starter at first but subsequent loaves lost flavor. I'm going to keep trying. Thanks for the tips, all!

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

Our well water here is very hard. it has objectionable levels of sulfur (phew!) and iron (bleh!) in it. We have a water softener in the basement that takes out a lot of this, but atill drink bottled water. I'm in complete agreement that for many, bottled water isn't a necessity, but for some on well water, it's the only way to go.

So -- when using water in a starter, I have three ways to go. Bottled water, the "softened" water from the tap, and well water from the outside faucet. Actually, I have four, because I could use distilled water, but I think not.

Anyhow -- which would be best for my starter? I have just assumed that the water from the kitchen faucet, softened as it may be, is ok. What do you think?

Mary in Hammondsport

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

If the water from the softener is working, why mess with success?

 

On the other hand, I am curious why you rink bottled water if you have a softener and other water treatment gear in place.  If the water still isn't drinkable, it seems you have paid for something (good water) and not gotten it.

 

I'd probably avoid the straight well water in your case.  If the tap water isn't working, then try bottled.

Mike

 

MaryinHammondsport's picture
MaryinHammondsport

Mike it all boils down to two people, one of whom says the current water-softening system is solving the problem and the other who says the **** water still stinks like rotten eggs and tastes as if one was licking an old metal pipe. But we don't want to go there!!! So I just drink my bottled water and recycle the bottles.

But I do agree, as long as tap water keeping the sourdough happy, I should stick with it. There are enough variables left to bite me in the ankle anytime. If it ain't broke . . .

Mary