The Fresh Loaf

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Starter Survey - Market Researcher Turns Bread Baker

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Starter Survey - Market Researcher Turns Bread Baker

There is a lot of subjectivity and a wide range of information online about what constitutes an "active" starter.

In Trevor J Wilson's Book, Open Crumb Mastery, p. 238, he states that beginners often misjudge their starters to be active. According to Trevor, the rate of rise is the most telling factor. He goes on to describe what he considers workable times and volumes. (Pick up a copy of his e-book at www.breadwerx.com.  It's a fabulous read.)

I've decided to put on my old marketing research hat and create a survey about starters. I think it would be very interesting to survey a large volume of bakers and see how active the yeast is.  Most of us pick up nuggets here and there on the internet or in a book about how much our starters should grow in x amount of time. I know, I know, there are many MANY factors here, everything is relative, and there is only so much we can quantify. However, that never stops us from trying and if we get enough responses to this survey, the data set as a whole can start to give us a broad picture about what active means.

Anybody who takes the survey will have full access to the answers for as long as the survey is up and running.  (I really hope the baking veterans here will participate. We need your responses!)

Here is the link to the survey. (It's a google form so you can feel safe about clicking on it.)

https://goo.gl/forms/J22p8cQYsXX65I133

Be sure to bookmark/save the link with the spreadsheet results after you've taken the survey. That way, you can return to it over and over again and see new responses as they come in.

P.S. I have very specifically asked questions in a certain way and in a certain order. When doing this type of research, we're always striving to balance a lot of things -- succinctness vs. specification, length vs. detail, etc. There are many other areas I could have probed and didn't.  That being said, if you find anything confusing or gaping holes in the questions, do let me know. I have no pride of authorship and surveys are always biased by the survey writer to some extent.

 

Lechem's picture
Lechem

I hope this helps and I'm very much interested in the results. I had a look at the answers do far and I feel most honoured :)

Thank you Amy

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Your contributions are ALWAYS helpful. Thanks so much.

I've added a question about daily refreshments.  I teetered back and forth on that one initially, but your response convinced me.

Lechem's picture
Lechem

And answer the added question?

Cam out of the questionnaire but because there's no log in when I click back on it the questionnaire starts again.

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Yeah, you have to bookmark the link when you see it. You can't get back to it because if then that would require a login to take the survey, which would be a barrier to entry, etc.

I'll send you the link to the results and I'll add a note to the original post telling folks to bookmark the link.

Tell me how often you refresh here, I can edit the resulting spreadsheet.

Lechem's picture
Lechem

I don't have a strict schedule. I keep a starter and build levains. As far as starter refreshments go I aim for at least once a week. But sometimes go for longer.

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Yeah, that was sort of what I thought the answers might be, which is why I didn't originally ask it. I thought the responses might get a little convoluted. That being said, it's a common consideration, so I'll leave it in there and see what happens.

jimbtv's picture
jimbtv

Thanks BB. I added my response to your survey.

For what it's worth, I expand my depleted mother once a week at a 1:2:4 ratio, with 3% of the flour being rye. It builds to peak overnight (about) 12 hours, then into the fridge. I pluck bits from the mother to either build refreshers or levains. Levains are typically 100% hydration with a 12 hour build at around 78 F. Rise and spring has been predictable and impressive.

As the mother ages over a week's time it goes from a fruity smell to a more sour smell. I do not rely on the mother or levain to create a sour taste, but instead build the sourness with cold fermentation and cold proofing.

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Based on your responses, what would you say is your primary goal in maintaining your starter? Schedule convenience? sour flavor or something else? Low waste?

While you do not seem to maintain for maximum yeast activity (and of course there are plenty of good reasons for this), and your starter is more slow compared to others, you still rate your starter's yeast as fairly active. It sounds as if you've achieved a great balance.

jimbtv's picture
jimbtv

Consistency. This is a point I think many people miss, and one taught to me by James MacGuire. He said that, while feeding often versus late will change certain factors in the starter, whatever choice you make stick with it. The starter will adapt and you will likely have success with its performance.

Since I bake relatively often and in larger quantities than the typical home baker, I need to be sure that my ferments and proofs will adhere to a fairly strict schedule. Thus far I have been most pleased with the method Trevor put forth - 1:2:4, let it rise for about 12 hours, refrigerate, sample as needed for refreshers and levains, then rebuild again in about a week.

This is working very nicely for me and the consistency is rock solid.

_vk's picture
_vk

Just answered. 

I had problem to resize the columns so I could read bigger comments. Didn't happen...

 

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Take another look.  You can always place your cursor in the cell and read the complete comment by looking in the upper left window.

Your starter is very intriguing. Seems very VERY active.

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Some interesting results thus far.  A couple people feed their starters before peak.  I'd like to understand the reasons why.

It was clear from one responder that the person feeds before peak as part of their storage routine, i.e. feed before peak then place back in cold storage. But I'd still like to understand your reasoning.

Very intriguing.

Lechem's picture
Lechem

So it lasts longer between feeds in the fridge. But not sure why one would feed before peaking for this reason. 

Feeding before peaking (i.e. an active starter but still young) is done to take the tang off before using in a dough. 

I think the question might not be 100% clear. Perhaps if a starter is refrigerated before peaking for the reason I've given and then fed again a week or two later then it might be understood as feeding before peaking. 

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

I could certainly ask it more specifically, i.e. how long before peaking and why...but I start to infringe upon the too much detail/complicated territory. Alternatively, as an open-ended question, the data is less able to be categorized and trended.

Yes, it makes perfect sense if you're parking your starter into cold storage, but I'm just wondering if people have other reasons.

It's curious to me because a) feeding at peak/early recession is still considered pretty young as far as I can tell and will still maximize lift and minimize tang. b) if you feed before it peaks and slightly recesses, you risk misjudging how close the starter is to peak.

I suppose once you've got a starter with which you're intimately familiar and which you find stable, the risk of misjudgment is lower.

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

...perhaps peaking isn't your benchmark, but volume or rise. So many ways to maintain a starter...so little time...

Lechem's picture
Lechem

It might not rise much at all and just froth. I think it would be practically impossible to have a perfect questionnaire. Some use straight from starter into a dough and others just use it as a seed to build preferments. So many possibilities. 

And yes, just because it's peaked it doesn't mean it's overly ripe either. Just means it can't hold the gas anymore. We can say that mature has different stages. Young, Mature and over ripe. How does one judge this? Getting to know your starter helps. A starter which floats (then again not all starter will float but doesn't mean it's not mature). Smell is a good indicator which has helped me get the most from my starter. And tasting ones starter too. 

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Or if the flour has properties that fail to trap air, ie low gluten.  This is precisely why we ask for flour and feeding ratio, why their is an open-ended opportunity for people to share more info, and more importantly, why we view this as a set of data that might point to trends, not a set of instructions.

In fact, I do address those who park their starters in the fridge before peak in a special set of instructions at the beginning. But even so, surveys are never clear and one has to balance clarity with not over-complicating the instructions by asking people to read a short novel.

Lechem's picture
Lechem

And feel free to add this to my answers...

When my levain has peaked it can still smell mild. I wait until I get the lovely aroma that gives me great tasting loaves and then I use it. Might take an extra 30 min - 1hr + but I get great results. 

This really improved my baking. Much more so than just going by peaking. 

Great survey Amy. This is what we need and how we learn to better understand our starters. Shared information. 

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

I'll suggest people use the open-ended question to discuss aroma, etc.  This is so difficult to quantify that it's perfect for that section. But it's also totally fine to have further detailed conversations right here. In fact, I hope we are inspired to ask more questions based on the answers and discuss it further here.

As always, your input is invaluable. Thanks so much for taking an interest in this.

Lechem's picture
Lechem

I shall be following this with great interest. Looking forward to hearing what everyone has to say.

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

You mentioned the unfed start method...nobody has taken the survey who uses that method. That would be revealed in the very first question.

Lechem's picture
Lechem

One can feed a starter, leave it to mature and then refrigerate. Quite ok to use some of this starter in a bread straight from the fridge within a few days. So unfed actually means not recently matured in this case. It's fine to do so and does work. Will get a different flavour profile though. Like retarding a dough one can retard a mature starter before using. 

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Dabrownman and Trevor both have methods like this. Totally worthy of a read if anybody seeing this is interested.

In the special set of instructions that only some people will see based on how they responded to questions, I ask for responses based on how the starter performs before it's refrigerated (and if you were to let it peak before parking it in the fridge). My thinking behind that is the desire to remove the age of the mother starter from the variables. In theory, the longer the mother starter lingers in the fridge before being refreshed, the more it tends to favor sourness over rise. So, I wanted to sidestep that whole area as it would become very complicated and difficult to quantify.

leslieruf's picture
leslieruf

I have to add to this.  My starter is about 66% and lives in the fridge. I will do a build as per NMNF or else as per zolablues method based on Maggie Glezers method 1:2:3.  I allow it to rise about 20-30% then refrigerate. I build from this whenever I need to bake and refresh about once a month.  my survey responses were based on a the responses I get to the first day’s refreshment before I build my required levain.  

looking forward to more comments, such a good idea 

Leslie

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

I can add it if you want it mentioned within the spreadsheet.

leslieruf's picture
leslieruf

can I email the link to myself so I can pick it up on email on my pc as opposed to my ipad?

Leslie

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

keep track of it however you like.

Trevor J Wilson's picture
Trevor J Wilson

Very cool and fun! I found it challenging to answer many of the questions because I don't necessarily follow a set routine, but I answered as best I could. What do you plan on doing with all the info once it's built up?

Trevor

p.s. Thank you very much for the kind shout out! I greatly appreciate it!

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Yes, answers are tricky especially for the more advanced bakers who tend to vary their routines based upon circumstances. Such attempts at quantifying living things have inherent disclaimers.

The survey was quite difficult to write (maybe harder than any of the marketing surveys I've written). Since we're dealing with living things and biological processes, answers are rarely simple. (You toe the line beautifully in your book.) Furthermore, asking defined questions that attempt to normalize but still respect the breadth of possible answers is going to result in compromises.

Then there is the matter of perception. One of the questions was directly inspired by your book reference.  On the one hand there is the empirical information about a starter's behavior, on the other is our perception of whether or not the starter is active. So that question about how we would characterize the activity of the yeast is there to investigate that very thing.

I'm not sure what to do with the data. Whether or not we can draw anything more than anecdotal conclusions will depend on how many people answer. It's open to anybody who is interested in compiling it.   Originally, I had visions of throwing it into a pivot table and identifying trends, etc. But in the process of writing the survey, I found myself unable to lock down too many answers in order to allow for someone to the tell the full story of their starter.

I would love for the wise folks of this site to review it as more answers come in and give me their thoughts on what they think we can learn from it.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I hope everyone gets on board. The more data the better. 

I especially like the column with the UserName. I can closely investigate those who consistently bake the loaves I most admire.

Dan

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

A few things inspired the idea for a survey, one was Trevor's book, another was my prior struggles with that mystery starter, and the last was your present experiments on maximizing yeast.

Yes, I hope to get lots of responses. Feel free to share this link as you like, outside this community or whatever.

I also hope beginners feel confident in answering as well. The more the merrier. In fact, if someone is having some issues with their starter, surveying that person with these questions could be an easy way to get a lot of information quickly in order to help them troubleshoot.

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

I've been asked a few questions via private message that I thought I would answer here.

1. Can I be notified/updated when new responses come in? Yes.
a. Sign into a Google account.
b. Using the same browser, visit the spreadsheet link.
c. Go to tools, click on set notification rules.
d. Select your choice as appropriate.

You will receive updates at the email address associated with your google account. Please note that your account username will be shown to other users while you are signed in and viewing the spreadsheet. You can immediately sign out and continue browsing the spreadsheet in order to reclaim your anonymity if you choose.

2. Can I edit the responses after entering them? Yes and no.
You can edit the responses immediately after submitting by clicking the link on the thank you screen. Once you navigate away from that page, however, you can no longer edit them. In my experience, this is actually a good thing. If you spend too long thinking about your submissions, and especially if you have been influenced by reading other people's responses, you may be prone to changing your answers due to outside influences.

Hope that helps.

 

alfanso's picture
alfanso

For example,

  • I maintain multiple starters, but you only provide space for 1.  
  • I'll sometimes use the starter as a levain as I might keep as much as 500g or more of one of them around.  
  • Or change it from a 75% to 100% or 125% or vice versa.  
  • I perform multiple builds, each successive build takes less time than the prior and peaks at differing growth rates.  
  • Some standard levains are not necessarily growth dependent.  I use different flours depending on which is for sale or I have an urge to use (typically standard supermarket available brands).
  • etc.

Sorry, but I have to skip questions which have no answer or multiple answers but the survey won't let me.

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

When one is trying to normalize data, there are definitely some restrictions which lead to compromises on how open-ended questions can be. At the end of the day, a completely open-ended survey would be an essay, which is not what we're going for here. So, there will be cases of individuals who simply are too varied to fit the confines of the survey. C'est la vie.  But that being said, you can approximate.

There are several instructional notes that should help. I'll summarize them here:

- answer for one starter at a time. You can take the survey more than once if you want. It would be far too complex and confusing to answer questions for more than one starter at a time

- the lines can sometimes be blurred between starter and levains. For my own way of thinking, I use Debra Wink's definition. You maintain your starter in order to perpetuate the culture and your maintenance routine and goals for the starter reflect that. The levain has a different goal in that the microbes will end their lives. So the goal for the levain is to maximize the qualities you desire in your final dough and that is a different goal that varies from bake to bake. This survey is concerned about maintenance. So, if possible, approximate by answering for whatever feed you do that is designed to perpetuate the culture.

- If you perform multiple builds, you could approximate for whatever build you think is the first build after the starter has awakened to full activity.

You are an extremely experienced baker. So, knowing that the survey is concerned with the maintenance life of the starter, you could answer questions for whatever build and starter response you think best approximates that. Your expert judgment on that, which far eclipses my own, is more than enough. If it's still just too hard to pin it down, no worries. I'm PMing you the link to the responses right now so you can just browse the results.

alfanso's picture
alfanso

somehow when I went back to edit a response I wound up having three rows.  Can you please eliminate the first two.  thanks,

alan

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

duplicate post

pul's picture
pul

Nice survey!

Link to the results please! I forgot to bookmark i! LOL

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Noticed that there's no entry for taste on the questionnaire. I always taste the levain to insure it has the right balance of sour and sweet fermentables important for the taste in the resulting bread. And yes, the levain is slightly over proofed at this point.

Wild-Yeast

jimbtv's picture
jimbtv

I was under the impression we were responding to mother/starter questions. My levain builds are very different than my mother/starter maintenance procedures. Personally I trust my nose and have never ventured into a taste test. I think i will follow your lead and train my taste buds too.

So, this all gets back to definitions. What some call starters I call a mother. If I use an intermediate step from the mother to the levain I call it a refresher. My levain is the last preferment and it is eventually added to the final mix before the bulk ferment.

 

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Yes, that was my intention.  We are concerned here with the maintenance of the starter. We treat our starters with the goal of perpetuating the lives of the microbes (versus a levain which is all about making them tasty in the final bread and where they will meet their end). So, how we refresh and how the starter responds when we refresh it with that intention is the concern here.

Of course, people might taste/smell their starters too in order to determine the proper refreshment point. Abe talks about that very thing in this thread, actually.

Still, lines are blurred in terms of definitions. So, the best advice I have for folks is to share the feed/response process that best approximates your intention of perpetuating the lives of the microbes. That requires some judgment on each baker's part.

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

Taste is hard to pin down, so in the survey, it is suggested that folks use the open-ended section to discuss taste.

If we ever did this again in a few years, I would change a couple of details. Not that many, actually, but a few.  Maybe we'll make this an annual survey. :-)

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

I'm pretty pleased by the response. We have 25 entries.  That's not enough to doing anything mathematical, but it's a lot more information than we had as bakers before.

Participation is slowing down, as can be expected as the thread gets pushed lower. So, it's time to consider if we can glean anything from this. If nothing else, it's an interesting reference.

I'll leave this survey up, so more people can benefit from the information if they happen to find the link and you can continue to use it as a reference.

Maybe we'll do it again in a year. I'll take the lessons from this one and improve the survey for when the time comes.

Thanks for your input and feedback.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I’d like to be able to sort in order to get a better picture. I know, I know. Once someone innovates an idea we come in with loads of “help and ideas” ;-)

I really hope at least 100 people join the survey.

No survey can be perfect with so many variables. But I think you made an excellent start. Normalized data leaves some answers a little vague, but for most fields it makes the very best sense.  

Great work, Amy! Keep using your skills to gather much appreciated information.

Another “helpful” idea. Maybe our ol’ buddy Floyd can promote the survey somehow. I’m sure Floyd would love to hear another “helpful” idea.

Dan

Seriously; ideas and suggestions are great. They can make  really good thing better. ”In the multitude of counsel there is wisdom”

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

It's view only so the data isn't accidentally changed. With so many folks looking at it, this is necessary. But I will absolutely send it to you to play with...will be a few hours as I'm tied up.

I would want to make some updates to the survey before doing any serious promotion.  I did change a few (truly minor) things midway based on feedback, which is a big no no if we're making a very serious study of something.  Additionally, I'd use a much more powerful survey tool, i.e. survey monkey. That tool has more options to allow for better answers that are still normalized and able to be quantified and trended.

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

I wasn't sure if this was possible because it's view only but indeed, it is.  Just go to file, download as and select your format.

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

I have crunched numbers and posted some thoughts and charts here:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/54821/starter-survey-number-crunching-summary

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Just found this and it is over?   Oh well...

Don't forget the members you leave out due to rushing your starter survey.  Patience is important with starters.  :)

Would be interesting to know why others didnt see this post.  I have a slow and sometimes cut connection and as of the first, on iPad trying to figure out how it works with photos and such while baking and feeding starters.  

Mini

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

You can still take it and get the results. The survey isn't closed. But participation was slowing down as the thread got pushed off the front page, so it seemed like a good time to gather the results thus far. You can even download the spreadsheet and crunch your own numbers. You can also share the survey link.  Sky's the limit.

Please do take it and enjoy the spreadsheet. There have been about 5 other entries since I did the summary (probably people saw the conclusions post).  If we get many more over time, we can crunch the numbers again.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Message says server cannot connect due to security reasons.  I can't pull up youtube either or pull up many links. In a few weeks my location will change so I will try again.  

It is still on my front page.  In the results...  How do the various temps pair with the type of flour feeding?  Does 100% rye show up more often than AP outside the norm?

Mini

BreadBabies's picture
BreadBabies

That's weird. No other reports of that sort of error. I'm going to PM you the results link.  See if you can access that.