The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter instead of production leaven

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

Starter instead of production leaven

As a beginner, I am experiencing considerable confusion, in spite of a veritable library of breadmaking books! If I have a generous supply of recently-fed active starter in the fridge, can I use this to make the bread dough for bulk fermentation? (As opposed to using only a tablespoon or so of starter added to more flour and water, which is then fermented before using it to make dough? I would be grateful for any assistance. 

Lechem's picture
Lechem

Whether you call it starter or levain all depends on how you keep, maintain and use it.

If you bake often, feed it everyday and use it straight in the dough then you're using starter. 

If you keep a little starter in the fridge, take a little off to build a preferment (an off shoot starter) then you call it a levain.

But technically it's the same thing. Pre fermented flour and water.  

If you have a lot of active starter and it's built to the correct hydration and with the right flour then by all means use it straight in a dough.  

Building a levain allows you to take some starter and turn it onto another one but with another type of flour and to a different hydration. It also means you only need to keep a little at a time.

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

Lechem. Thank you for your wonderfully lucid response to my question. I always seem to have a copious supply of starter, made with equal amounts of flour and water, so it is convenient for me to go down that path. Presumably I would use the same total weight that is used in the levain? Thanks again. you have given me new confidence!

Lechem's picture
Lechem

I too had exactly the same questions but as soon as I heard a levain being called an 'off shoot starter' it all made sense to me. That and trying different methods so I got to see how each one worked. So I guess it's just practice and trying out lots of recipes to get the feel of it. 

If you have enough starter to use instead of the levain then do a straight swap and keep same total weight. Providing your starter is the same flour and hydration.  

Also start thinking about how to maintain your starter that needs minimal fuss and that you don't find you have too much excess starter. Basically your starter should work for you and not vice versa. 

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

Sound advice, Lechem! I can see that maintaining a smaller supply of starter would give me much more flexibility and prevent, or at least minimise, starter angst! Thank you again for your help.

andythebaker's picture
andythebaker

the main point is to use a starter at full strength when you add it to the dough.

the secondary idea that you touched upon is old vs young levain.  the young levain idea, popularized by chad robertson, involves that tablespoon of starter with flour and warm (80 degrees, correct?) water to push a lot of yeast production without a ton of acid building up in the process.  this leads to a sweeter (i.e. less traditionally acidic) bread.

ymmv.

happy leavening.

~andrew

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

 Thank you for your response, Andrew. I am on a steep learning curve, but happily so. I have not heard of Chad Robertson, so that is another avenue of knowledge that I need to wander down. ValerieC

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

Another question from a beginner breadmaker. I have made several loaves, experimenting with different mixtures of flours combined with sourdough starter. I prefer wholemeal flour and the more substantial loaf that it produces. Can I use entirely wholemeal with no added bakers' white flour? I have baked loaves in a preheated dutch oven at 250C , reduced to 230C when the loaves go into the lidded dutch oven. Baked with lid on for 40 mins then lid off for 20-25 mins. Baked loaves test at 100C with digital thermometer upon removal from oven. However, irrespective of flour combinations, every cooled loaf leaves a sticky, gummy residue on the bread knife Which I have to wash after each slice.The bread can be used for toasting but it is still a long way from acceptable. In addition, the base crust is too thick and hard for easy slicing.

.Any suggestions as to where I am going wrong would be gratefully received.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

recipe you are using and more detail on the types of flour and amounts of water in the various doughs.  Also what is the baking set up?  Oven type, which shelf?  

How cool are the loaves when cutting?  Often the moisture evens out after allowing overnight bagging and standing for the crust to soften.  Moisture will move from the middle to the crust with time. You may want to experiment and remove the DO cover sooner with high hydration doughs, giving the loaves a chance to dry more during baking.  How does the crust colour tops compare to the bottoms?

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

Many thanks for your response Mini Oven. I have been using the Breadtopia sourdough no knead recipe. It uses 455g flour to 360g water. When I use 100% wholemeal flour I add an extra 1/4 cup water as the bran seems to make the mixture too dry. Re the flour, I have used 1/2 wholemeal and 1/2 sifted wholemeal ( to remove bran); wholemeal with 1 cup white flour or 100% wholemeal. The end result is the same for each flour combination in terms of gummy centre. My oven is a domestic electric oven. Bread is baked on bottom shelf to allow enough head room for the 4 qt cast iron dutch ovens. Loaves are cooled for a minimum of 2 hrs before slicing. Top crust burns if I remove lids any earlier. Would it be acceptable to place a loose sheet of foil on top? Bottom crust is much thicker and harder than top crust, which is delightfully crisp and crunchy compared with the rock-hard bottom crust.

Re the bagging that you mention - do you mean to slice bread then put in plastic bags overnight ready for freezing?Should the bags be sealed?As you can see, I have more questions than answers! I hope that experimentation wins the day, as I cannot abide supermarket bread. ValerieC

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

which is rather high and may explain the gummy crumb.  Sticking to grams when playing around will also help out to pinpoint variables as the math is much easier.  For yourself, you might want to list the flour amounts and then the appropriate water % for each and then add them up.  White sifted flour absorbs less water than whole meal flour.  Take 100g of each flour in a small bowl and add enough water (between 50g and 70g  that is 50 to 70% water) to form a nice medium feeling dough.  Weigh to find out the water content.  You should be noticing how each flour behaves.  Knead each little dough ball for at least 5 minutes.  Take notes and play with stretching the dough and noticing the texture.  You should be able to figure out the ideal hydration for each of the pantry flours.  

Cover and let the dough balls sit for half an hour and then play with them again.  Note any differences. (there will be some)  Let the whole flours stand an hour and then check again.  Play around with various amounts of water and compare them.  It's a great learning experience.

 The burning of the loaves when the lid is off is a temperature thing.  Lower the oven temp when removing the lid (this happens when the oven door is opened as well.)  Or after the first 20 minutes in the oven.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I usually bag a crusty loaf after 4 hours of cooling, tuck or twist the bag shut and leave the loaf to sit (tends to be overnight) and cut in the next day.  I always let a large loaf sit a day before slicing and freezing.  

If the loaf is hot and I want to go to bed, I put the warm loaf inside the microwave on a rack and close the door.  It ventilates enough to let steam out and yet retain enough moisture not to dry out the loaf.  Cuts perfectly the morning.

I think your wet gummy centers has more to do with too much water in the dough.  What do you think?

When you want to figure the hydration of a recipe...  take the total water amount and divide by the total flour amount and multiply by 100 to get %.   Example:  360g water / 455g flour  = 0.79   x 100 (move the decimal over) is 79% hydration. T hat figure has not included the flour and water in the levain (starter) which should be included for more accuracy. 

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

Hello Mini. What a wonderfully knowledgable and supportive community this is! I am amazed at the flood of helpful suggestions and advice that people have offered, with absolutely no hint of condescension. One query about the bag - paper or plastic? Obviously, I am not waiting nearly long enough before slicing. I agree with you about the high hydration level, as this seems to be about the only variable not tested. For my next bake I am going to try Gordon's easy sourdough recipe, especially after Hans' recommendation. Thanks, too, for the details re calculating hydration. Bakers' percentages have always been a bit of a mystery to me! ValerieC

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

One step closer to success, Mini. You were right about the cause of the gumminess. At the weekend I tried my hand at Andrew Whitley!s French Cottage Loaf, using 100% wholewheat flour. I followed advice that I read on your site about using an unheated dutch oven. Much easier!  Bread came out mid-afternoon and before bed I put it in a brown paper bag before slicing the next morning. The crumb was attractive (but not too open) and the bread not nearly as stodgy. The flavour was much improved, too.Again, many thanks.  ValerieC

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

:)   You did it, found a way that works for you. Glad I could help you along.  

Arjon's picture
Arjon

before experimenting with different ones. The advantage of "perfecting" a single recipe is that afterwards, you can experiment by changing one thing at a time, and know what led to any change in the end product. 

For instance, once you learn how a particular dough looks and feels when it's ready to bake, it's easier to understand what difference a N% change in hydration makes, or changing (part of) the flour, or various other things. 

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

My present state of complete befuddlement tells me that you are right! Thank you for taking the trouble to share your experience, Arjon. ValerieC

drogon's picture
drogon

See e.g.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/44111/easy-sourdough-part-1

Just made up a triple batch of that tonight too.

-Gordon

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

Gordon, thank you, thank you, thank you for your incredibly helpful and reassuring videos. Their content is exactly the right antidote for a severe case of beginner-baker's angst. This is my second attempt at a response, as my first effort seems to have disappeared into a cyber black hole. I'm afraid that my computer skills are about the same as my breadmaking skills! Anyway, I am grateful for your assistance and will try again tonight to produce a more satisfactory loaf. ValerieC

HansB's picture
HansB

I'll second Gordons Easy SD method. It really makes a nice loaf.

I think two hours is not enough time to cool the loaves before cutting. Try overnight like Mini suggested.

If you remove the loaf from the dutch oven after taking off the lid your bottom may not over bake, it helped mine.

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

Hello Hans. Thanks for this suggestion. I have not yet left a loaf overnight before slicing, so that will be my next step. I also appreciate reading that Gordon's recipe produced a very good loaf for you. Knowing that a recipe is reliable is always a reassuring place to be. ValerieC

Lechem's picture
Lechem

All very good and would like to add another. 

This was my very first successful sourdough and I come back to it every now and again. I happen to be making it over the next two days and have just done a starter build.

http://breadtopia.com/spelt-bread-recipe/

ValerieC's picture
ValerieC

If I do not ultimately turn into a proficient and confident breadmaker, it will not be the fault of the wonderful Fresh Loaf community! I have been blown away by the generosity and the extent of the support and advice that I have received in response to my very elementary questions. The recipe you suggest sounds great and it is one I will be trying as soon as I can get to the health food store to buy some spelt flour. Thanks again, Lechem. ValerieC