The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

sourdough starter

dmsnyder's picture

Sourdough controversy: Where do the microflora come from? Are they replaced over time?

January 24, 2009 - 4:34pm -- dmsnyder

The question recently posted about Ed Wood's (www.sourdo.com) starters brought to mind one of the great sourdough controversies: Do the original strains of yeast and lactobacilli in a purchased or gifted starter persist, or are they replaced over time by the yeast and lactobacilli strains native to the locality, or are they replaced by the flora on the flours used to feed the starter?

Ed is adamant about the flora in the starters he sells continuing forever. Others insist on one of the other theories.

DerekL's picture
DerekL

 Sourdough starter bubbling away...

yves's picture
yves

Well, I went a little crazy with kitchen equipment over the past couple of weeks. I finally found myself a pizza stone (two actually), as well as proofing baskets, and a mixer! Yes i went crazy! And you have no idea how hard some of it was to find... I ended up getting the pizza stones while I was in Amsterdam on business! At an amazing kitchen store called Duikelman, if you ever visit Amsterdam and want to see a *really* nice kitchen goods store its worth the visit. Right alongside the museums and art galleries and other tourist attractions. ;-) But then I had to lug them on the train back to Germany! I really wasn't able to find a single store in my home town that sold them. Same went with the baskets actually, so i got myself a nice one for proofing boules at Duikelman but then of course once I got it I found a *really* cheap place to buy them close to home. After searching all kinds of place I finally found them in Metro (a wholesaler) of all places. With a bit of linen cloth I MacGyver'ed myself a couple of nice little proofing baskets.

All told this bread thing has set me back some nice dough (heh) in terms of proper equipment, but its fun, and my kitchen is the better off for it. The mixer is actually one of these multipurpose jobos that will come in useful in all sorts of ways. I cant count the number of times Ive skipped a recipe because making it without proper tools would just be too time consuming. Anyway, thats the way I'm justifying the purchase to myself when I start feeling guilty. :-)

The mixer is a big deal for me. Having used it only once, to make Norwich Sourdough, its already pretty clear that it will totally change making bread for me, making it easier to do right with much less mess. The pizza stone seems to have had some effect, but im not sure how much, possibly I havent heated it up long enough first, I want to test more.

Anyway, about Norwich Sourdough.. The Norwich Sourdough I did as my inaugeral attempt with the mixer was easily the nicest sourdough ive managed to do so far. Perfect shape and rise, beautiful crumb and crust, and very easy to follow directions. One of these days Ill get myself set up to post pictures :-)

I would heartily recommend my fellow novice bakers to try the Norwich Sourdough recipe. It worked out great for me! So good im going to try it again after I finish this post. :-) One thing she doesnt include is a formula but instead only the recipe. Of course thats pretty easy to calculate from here recipe. Here it is:

%75 : 900 flour
%10 : 120 rye
%50 : 600 water
%30 : 360 starter 1:1
%1.92 : 23g NaCl

Flour = 900 + 120 + (360/2) = 1200
Water = 600 + (360/2) = 780

Hydration = 780/1200 = %65
Total = Flour + Water + NaCL = 2003g

Do look at the original page tho. The author has some important instructions there that you should read, and frankly the blog is worthy of a bookmark for any baker's browser. The author has lots of nice recipes and good style and touch for explaining a recipe. I think her site is great.

The other interesting thing Ive learned recently regarded diastatic malt. I fed a bit to my starter to give a it a bit of a kick last night when I was doubling it for todays Norwich Sourdough recipe. It went crazy! Instead of just doubling it trippled or more. Just insane. Maybe i used too much. But obviously the sourdough *really* liked it. :-) I think if you think your sourdough is sluggish a little dose of diastatic malt might be the thing to perk it up. So to speak :-)

Actually, since my last blog my starter situation has changed somewhat, and I guess I could stabilized. I got annoyed at maintaining two starters and mixed them together. The result is quite nice, no issues there, and since I dont need to keep two cultures separate anymore I have a free jar, so ive started a process of swapping.

Each day I feed it in its current jar, and then afterwards pour it into the new jar and put the old jar in the dishwasher for cleaning. That way no splatters or mess gets on the side of the new jar. I then use a piece of tape on the jar to mark how full the jar was post mixing, and then observe over the next 24 hours what happens, marking the highpoint (as shown by streaks on the glass or direct observation) also. Doing this over a few weeks Ive come to know the behaviour of my starter pretty well. It definitely has the capability of doubling or more in under 24 hours (more like 12) and it often appears to more than double. This says to me my starter is alive and well. Yay!

 

yves's picture
yves

Ive been looking into various recipes and explanations of creating a starter, and i thought id put a summary here.

--

Pretty well all of the recipes include a replication step like "divide in two, disposing of one half, and adding back a particular ratio mixture as a replacement". A very few have slightly different steps in the first few days but end up with this process at the end.

Additionally almost all recipes have the same general description for success: a mixture that when replicated displays a leavening effect (rises to about double its size) and a sort of "large bubble" foam on a consistant basis over several days. Notably many authors mention that it is common to see a false leavening effect caused by undesirable bacteria in the early phase of the process that then disappears after several days only to be replaced by the real leavening effect a few days later.

By far the most common recipe comes down to: take a 1:1 by weight mixture of flour and water and replicate every 24 hours until stable. Some recipes suggest 12 hours, and some require specific types of flour, with many recommending wholemeal or rye flour until the mixture is stable and then switching to AP afterwards. Most suggest that the unit be a cup of water. Also a number suggest using a 1:2 mixture (1 cup flour to 1 cup water is about 1:2 flour to water by weight),

Occasionally a few additives are suggested:

Acidic additives: These usually include some kind of acidic juice, with pineapple or orangejuice in the initial steps. The idea is that the juice lowers the ph preventing undesirable bacteria from growing but providing a good environment for wild yeast while at the same time providing sugars for the wild yeast to feed on. Vinegar is also suggested occasionally for similar reasons.

There are a much lower number suggesting using milk products. In this case the intention seems to be to encourage lactobascili, and also possibly the same justification as for the acidic additives.

Diastatic malt is also sometimes recommended with a tiny amount being added in the initial steps, also people that use AP flour will be unknowingly including tiny amounts of this as it usually added by the miller. The intention of this seems to be to provide sugar to the wild yeast, but enzymatically from the starch from the flour. Sometimes sweetener is suggested for similar reasons.

A few sources seem to suggest that you can manufacture wild yeast from commerical yeast, or that commerical bakers yeast will revert to wild.

One or two seem to suggest using things like unmilled rye or barly, or using the skins of wild or field grown grapes.

---

When i decided to make a starter I had access to a commerical starter "Seitenbacher(c) Natur Saurteig" that is widely available in grocery stores where I live in Germany.

Since I thought that was kind of cheating I decided I would make two, one a replication starting from some left over dough from a batch i made with the starter, and one with raw material. Aside from the fact that one included a small part of the dough I did exactly the same thing with both: replicating of a blanced blend of rye and wholemeal flour mixed at 1:1 with water with the base weight being 200 grams. I was very careful not to contaminate the wild one with the commerical, always working with the wild one first. On the third day I added a tiny amount (0.1 of a gram or so) of diastatic malt after I replicated (i didnt have any to add on the first day), And by the 8th day i had stability. The two behave somewhat differently with the wild one being a little slower to rise, but rising further in the oven, and they make a nice loaf mixed together. :-)

My opinion of this is that Im not all that convinced by the additives, with the exception of the diastatic malt. For the juices the reason is that I think its hard to control how acidic the formulation goes, and that citrus frust have their own associated bacteria and yeasts, which are probably not as appropriate as the yeasts we see living naturally on grain. (I will say though that I have seen one particularly cogent argument, incidentally posted here, in favour of using juice.)

For the milk i think its just generally a bad idea, some of the bascili in milk can kill you and also most milk you can buy is pasteurized anyway, and i think that the bascili we want grow naturally on the grain and on our hands and other places. We dont need it from milk. Sweetener I think is a bad idea. In general they are preservatives,

My feeling is that one wants to encourage the wild stuff on the grain to replicate and that introducing things that are totally foreign wont help. Diastatic malt is an exception because it is a substance that does naturally occur in wheat and other grains and so adding a bit more doesnt drastically change things. Also its effect is slower, something that i think is important, providing a steady supply of sugar over time instead of a huge amount at the start which tapers off over time, something which doesnt seem to me to be inclined to make for a stable environment, and after all one thing we are looking for is a stable environment.

Anyway, Im no expert, form your own opinions. But most importantly try it, it isnt very hard. :-)

 

 

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

I had reported with shock that my tap water had chloramines in it.  The spring water was behaving more like reverse osmosis water, so I'd started using tap water.  Mike Avery's plaint about his overly-soft tap water got me curious and I inquiried of our public works director about our water.  He said that due to the distance it travels from its source (from the Sacramento Delta to Morro Bay, a couple hundred miles at least and not what I'd consider a positive environmental situation), its treatment produces long-lasting chloramines.  Mike asked me to try making a starter with it as an experiment.

I have a variety of things to report, and I'm not sure what to make of all of them.  I tried to make a well-controlled experiment, but the biggest glitch was my inability to get reliable information about my water.  I took it to Culligan to be tested for hardness, and I learned that my water softener wasn't working.  That cost me $85.  I learned that the Arrowhead Mountain Spring Water I'd given up on had a hardness of 124ppm, so I don't know why I was having problems with it.  The reverse osmosis water's hardness was 27.4, quite reasonable.  But I forgot to ask for a chloramine analysis.

After the water softener was fixed, I took some more samples to Culligan to get another test.  A different person - the son of the owner and the heir apparent - did it this time and I liked the first one better.  The first time I got precise numbers in parts per million, but the second one just gave me vague softness declarations based on grains per gallon, their preferred unit.  The multiplication factor is 17.1, but he didn't even give me numbers.  He just declared all of my waters very soft, less than 1gpg or 17ppm.  I have my doubts.  Furthermore, he was unable to detect any chloramines in any of them.  He did complain that the samples were too small.  And he told me that because I'd drawn the samples the day before that the chloramines were probably mostly gone.  About all I got out of that visit was an assurance that my water softener was working and a reminder that my deck and garage front waters were both on the softener and that I had to go to the special line installed in the back yard that bypassed the water softener for the original hard water.  I now have another e-mail in to our public works director about the chloramines.  After all, that's what this experiment was supposed to be about.

Another thing that I learned was that reverse osmosis is an effective remover of chloramines.  And that aquarium owners are also very concerned about chloramines.  I learned that from Google and the Internet.

But back to the experiment.  I'm hoping to have more info later, but here's what I did.

For my starter procedure, I chose Mike Avery's http://www.sourdoughhome.com/startermyway.html. You mix 1/4 cup water with 3/8 cup flour in a quart container, cover, put in 85-degree oven for twelve hours; repeat; then toss half and repeat until there's lots of bubbly.  That's a brief summary.  I chose three waters to experiment with:  Deck tap water (later changed to back yard water when I realized that the deck water was softened like the kitchen water); Kitchen tap water; and Reverse osmosis.  I was fairly methodical and did my best to keep from cross-contamination without being anal.  I started with the purest water starter and rinsed out the implements well between starters.  The oven with the light on has been my incubator, and the temperatures have been ranging from just below 80 to about 87.  And, of course, I keep a fairly detailed log.

I was surprised to see life from the beginning in all three.  I started on Saturday evening, fed Sunday morning (12 hours), Sunday evening (12 hours), then three times Monday (yesterday) because of my schedule.  I've fed it twice today and am wondering if the experiment is ready to be called over.  Maybe I should try baking some bread; but I'm a bit surprised at the result.

Since chloramines were the issue, I'd thought that the reverse osmosis water would do the best.  But it was consistently the worst.  It's been six hours since the last feeding.  The other two starters (and I've been using the hard water on the one for only the last two feedings) are at double, and the RO starter has hardly budged.

Well, I'm not sure where to go from here.  Whatever I do or learn from the city, I'll report here on the results.  The only reliable lesson here so far is that RO water is not good for starters.

Rosalie

proth5's picture
proth5

Nature seems to have granted me an abundance of patience and in the past few weeks I have been undertaking experiments that seem destined to use it.

 

I have been wondering why my levain – which given the way I feed it should be dead by now – lives, thrives, and raises bread every week.  I have also been wondering about the results of soaking my home milled overnight prior to a mix and bake.

 

So for the past few weeks I have fed a separate levain at 1:5:5.  What I have noticed is that it seems to be “a little” more lively and certainly is not the soupy pool that my standard levain tends to be.  But otherwise, I can’t honestly say that anything else is different.  I’ve also been trying to be more aware of my feeding routine for my standard levain.  What I find is that (as with so many of us who do things by feel) I really do take a good look at it and make adjustments.  Looking a little listless?  I’ll take out more and feed it more.  “Spring” coming to the Rockies? (Those of you who live in the Rockies know why I put that in quotes.)  Feed it more often or put it in a cool place.  So maybe my routine was not quite so bad after all.

 

Anyway, the proof is in the baking.  Since this week I was soaking my home ground, I varied from my routine and made a stiff levain build with my new levain (60% hydration) and made my usual baguettes, plain whole wheat bread and pizza.  I stayed with my usual methods with the exception of soaking the whole wheat flour with added salt at room temperature overnight, and doing one less series of “strokes” on the whole wheat as I really felt it was coming together.

 

Pizza goes away too quickly for pictures.  But I do have shots of the others experiments (I’m no photographer – but I know y’all like pictures, so I try…) which I have posted here: 

 

http://s264.photobucket.com/albums/ii183/proth5/?action=view&current=Soakedwholewheat.jpg

 

http://s264.photobucket.com/albums/ii183/proth5/?action=view&current=WeeklyBaguette.jpg

 

I will not do a complete critique of the many, many flaws in the baguette - but I did have a small slashing problem with the whole wheat which contributed to it not fully expanding. 

 

Conclusions?  Well, my bread is nothing if not consistent.  This is pretty much what I bake every week.  So, practiced eye or precise feeding ratios – they seem to be the same for me.  Soaking overnight?  Not doing much yet in my hands, but I will probably keep doing it just to see if some small adjustments will make a difference.

 

Meanwhile my patience stands me in good stead as I wait for the lab results on my home ground (I promised that I’d do this someday and my word is my bond.  Sometimes it takes time to get results, but that’s how bonds are…)

 

Happy Baking!

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

Well, it's day 6 and I have no idea what's going on with my little buckaroo. I stir it up, dump all but 1/4 cup, add 1/2 cup flour and 1/2 cup water, stir it up again, and all it does is make a layer of hooch after a few hours. I could swear that it grew to about 3 times its size on day 4, but I'm basing that on the residue on the sides of the container. I never actually saw it grow. I've kept a closer eye on it since then, and all it does is bubble some -- not a lot -- and form a layer of hooch. If it grows, it does it in the 10 minutes I'm not looking. I believe it's not growing at all.

I have no idea why it won't show more activity. I started out following S. John Ross' instructions, feeding once a day. On day 4 I switched from rye flour to KA AP flour. That may have been a mistake. I also upped the feeding from once a day to twice a day, and now I just get hooch quicker than I did before.

I'm going to continue journaling about this in just this one blog entry, using the comments below to update it. The performance isn't worth a new blog entry every day.

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