The Fresh Loaf

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sourdough starter

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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.

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

3/11/08 - 9:30 pm -- My little buckaroo didn't do much after last night's feeding -- he grew a tiny little bit for a little while, then went back to his original size. When I went to feed him tonight, he had a gajillion itty bitty bubbles all through him. The growth and the bubbles were actually more than I expected since I've read that after the early bacterial activity, the starter might go flat and do nothing for a couple of days. So happy to see activity. Stirred him up, dumped all but 1/4 cup, then fed with 1/2 c each of KA AP flour and water.

He smells more starter-like than he did just yesterday. I hope that means there are some yeasties growing.

 

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

3/10/08 - 9:30 pm (at the 48 hour mark) -- Had a little bit of excitement this morning, but I believe my little buckaroo was just having some bacteria activity. At tonight's feeding, he was still bubbly, but had long since fallen back to his original size. No yeasty smell yet. Nor should I expect one yet, it's just too early. So I dumped out all but a quarter of a cup and added another 1/2 cup of rye flour and 5 oz of water. Stirred it up well and will check on it in about an hour as I suspect he'll need more water.

10:30 pm -- Added another ounce of water, for 6oz total. Nice and batter-y. Marked the side of the container, just in case.

Here's to you, my little buckaroo!

 

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

3/10/08 - 8:30 am -- The starter was all bubbly and had puffed up to twice its original size! I'm so glad I marked the container last night. It hasn't even been 48 hours yet, right? Let's see... I started it at 9:30 pm Saturday night (the 8th), and fed it once last night (the 9th) at 9:30 pm. That's 24 hours. Gave it the extra shot of water about 3 hours later, and 8 hours after adding the water, it was doubled in size and all bubbly. That's about 35 hours. Now (2:30 pm, 41 hours into it), it's back down to its original size and covered with a layer of foamy bubbles on top.

Who knew it would work that quickly? I expected to be watching it sit there for days and days before seeing any real activity. Especially considering that we had temps in the 70s and 80s for a good week, if not more, and the day I decide to start, the temps drop into the 30s at night and 50s during the day, and my hacienda is rather on the cool side. I expected some bubbling from the bacteria, but my understanding is, the rising and the foam is yeasties, not bacteria. Or does the bacteria make it rise and foam, too? I gave it the ol' sniff test, but thanks to all the allergens in the air, I can't really smell much right now, which is a real bummer -- I baked two loaves of bread last night (yeasted, not SD), and couldn't smell it baking. I hate it when that happens!

So now... What to do, what to do? Shall I feed it now, or wait until tonight? Guess I'll go read through the discussions again.

 

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

3/9/08 - 9:30 pm

Dumped half, added 1/2 c rye flour and 2/3 c of water, stirred the dickens out of it. Now it's back on top of the fridge with a double layer of cheesecloth over it.

Increased the amount of water because the rye flour really sucks it up and, before dumping half, was more of a gloppy paste than a batter consistency.

EDIT:  About 3 hours later, checked on my little buckaroo and he was all stiff, not batter-y, so I stirred in 3 more ounces of water.  Marked his level on the side of the container.  Probably too early to do that, but oh well.

 

raisdbywolvz's picture
raisdbywolvz

Ok, I give in. Everywhere I turn, I encounter a discussion on how easy it is to make your own sourdough starter, especially using rye flour. I happen to have a new bag of stone ground rye flour. So, with a good rye and some tepid bottled water as the bait, I'm going to cleverly lure the elusive wild South Texas yeasties into my magic bowl and create my very own sourdough starter.

Seeing as how I've successfully reactivated a dried starter sent to me through the mail, made several loaves of bread with it, and am familiar with how it should behave, I'm confident that, as long as I can lure the yeasties in, I can create my own starter.

So here's how the starter is starting:

3/8/2009, 9:30 pm -Mixed 1/2 c rye flour & 1/2 c water in container, stirred it up real good, then put it on top of the fridge. The plan is, every 24 hours dump 1/2 and feed another 1/2 c flour and 1/2 c water until it's frothy. The alarm on my phone has been set.

Here's to frothy wild yeast!

 

 

CountryBoy's picture

Sourdough Starter Barely Starting

March 5, 2008 - 5:26pm -- CountryBoy

I am 15 days into a Hodgson Mills Rye flour starter and I have bubbles but only a 50% expansion of the starter.  The ambiant temp is about 66 degrees.

I am using 1:2:2 (starter. flour, water) but it is looking pretty weak.

Do I try

  1. 1:3:3 or more...
  2. Pineapple juice..a dash
  3. A bit of yeast..a dash
  4. More patience..a lot

Thanks.

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