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OldWoodenSpoon's picture

Twelve days ago I posted this topic about my troubles with an all white flour version of my successful whole wheat and rye starter.  Since then I have been nursing that starter with multiple daily feedings, and keeping it quarantined from my other starter to avoid cross-contamination.  Based on research, and excellent direct advice, the issue was diagnosed by David Snyder and Debra Wink (Thanks to both of you!) as thiol degradation and I proceeded to try to "feed through it".

I started out by stepping up the interval but maintaining the 1:1:1 (s:w:f) ratio I had been using.  That proved too hectic, and I could not count on getting even the brief mid-day work break I needed to stay on schedule.  Even though I work at home, I seemed to end up on the phone for an hour starting just before the starter should be fed.  It felt like I was not going to be able to make it work that way so I increased the food supply by going to a 1:3:3 ratio and reduced the frequency to every 12 hours.  I also reduced the initial inoculation from 30 grams to 10.  I thank Eric Hanner for his valuable input that led me to this action.

I was able to maintain the 12 hour interval successfully, and true to Debra Wink's assurance, on the 10th day things changed.  I did not know what I was looking for, but Debra was right:  when it happened it was obvious.  What I noticed first was a difference in the matured starter when it was time for the next feeding.  The viscosity of the "discard" was lower and it was much less sticky as well.  It dropped off my spatula almost of it's own accord into the discard jar and left the spatuala mostly clean.  Previously I had to scrape and wipe and eventually wash the spatula to get the stuff off.  The other change was the volume in the jar.  While the bad bugs were in charge there was little loft to the mature starter, even after 12 hours of obvious activity.  After the change it started nearly tripling in 12 hours. 

I decided to try some loaves, with high hopes for something better than the results pictured in the original post linked above.  I made another batch of dough by exactly the same formula and approach as outlined in that post.  Because I was not certain where it was going to end up I took pictures at many of the steps, starting with the dough made up, without the salt, and resting for autolyse:

After adding the salt and completing the first set of stretch and folds in the bowl:

I did a total of 3 sets of stretch and folds in the bowl, and here is the dough after the third set:

The original batch of dough that led me here in the first place had broken down almost completely by the time I got this far.  Results this time are obviously worlds better.  I decided to do a stretch and tri-fold on the bench to get a bit more development, (and because I wanted to get my hands on it and in it to reassure myself it was going to hold together!) so I stretched it out:

and then I folded it up:

At this point I knew I had a dough that was holding up well, with a smooth and supple consistency that had me quite excited, shall we say.  I put it into a dough bucket, let it ferment on the bench for about 30 minutes and then put it in the fridge to retard till I could bake it, what turned out to be some 20 hours later.  Here it is just before going in to retardation:

and again after the retardation, some 20 hours or so later:

I let this rest on the bench for an hour to take some of the chill off, then preshaped:

and then (45 minutes later) final shaped and put them to proof:

I failed to take a photo of the proofed loaves before baking them, but once ready I baked them sequentially in my La Cloche ceramic baker, at 525F for 7 minutes under lid, turned down to 475 for 5 minutes under lid, removed the lid and baked for 17-20 minutes more, until done.  Both loaves were baked to internal temperatures of roughly 205F-207F.

So, after all of that, I pulled these out:

and the crumb:

I found that I am so accustomed to my "other" sourdough that includes both a home-ground whole wheat flour component and a dark rye flour component that on first encounter this bread tasted somewhat bland to me.  As we worked our way through that first loaf though I began to detect subtle flavors that brought the bread to life for me.  It is still a much milder flavored bread than "my" sourdough, but it is also a very pleasant flavor that goes well with sandwiches, and as toast or french toast at breakfast.  Also, because it is almost entirely All Purpose flour, I find it almost too soft and fluffy in the crumb.  This also makes the crust somewhat insubstantial, and I will start increasing the bread flour to gradually work up to a crust and bite that is more pleasing to us.

It has been a rewarding journey, and it was nice to "win the battle" with that whatever-it-was nasty that took over my starter.  Interestingly, although I did have to significantly modify how I was feeding my starter in order to get to this point, I did not have to reduce the hydration.  I maintained the original 100% hydration in this starter all the way through, even to now.  Having gotten this far, though, I think I will split the starter into this original and a lower, perhaps about 60%, hydration version so I can experiment with the different flavors they produce.  The mildness of the flavor of this 100% hydration version may make the differences easier for me to pick up on my unsophisticated palatte.

I want to thank everyone that contributed advice on this issue.  The expertise shared, and the spirit of generosity with which it is so readily shared, here on The Fresh Loaf is a true blessing.  You are helping to make me a better baker.

Thanks for stopping by

OldWoodenSpoon's picture

This does not quite match the discussions I have read, and I am hoping someone might recognize what is going on here and point me in the right direction.

I recently spun off an all white flour sibling of my 18 month old whole wheat 100% hydration starter. The original starter has been fed 95% home ground hard white whole wheat flour, and 5% BRM Dark Rye flour at 100% hydration (50gm:50gm:50gm s:w:f) with excellent results since this forum rescued me and my starter back when I first joined. The sibling is about 6 weeks old and is fed on Pendleton Mills Mor-Bread (AP flour) at the same 100% hydration (50gm:50gm:50gm s:w:f) as it's older sibling. I have baked with it successfully twice before, both as the foundation for pate fermente, as well as for a poolish, in variants of Peter Reinhart's Pain Ordinaire and French Bread with Pate Fermente (old dough) from “Crust and Crumb”.

This all-white flour starter is a new experience for me, so I do not have reasonable expectations by which to measure it. It seems to me, though, to be a bit “odd”. At feeding time it has a consistency that is very fluffy, rather like well whipped egg white, and yet thick, much like pudding but with lots of gas bubbles in it. It reminds me of mareshmallow crème, and it is, of course, tenaciously sticky, clinging to anything and everything it touches, but it has a very pleasant fruity, healthy aroma. My whole wheat starter is pretty easy to break up and mix into the water at feeding, but this white starter is quite resistant to this action. It takes considerable effort to blend the water and starter at feeding, before adding the flour. It triples in volume easily in 4-5 hours, so the overnight delay befor morning feeding is a stretch at 8-9 hours.

This past Thursday morning I began the elaborations for a sourdough using 5% BRM Dark Rye, 5% Pendleton Mills Power (bread flour) flour and 90% Pendleton Mills Mor-Bread (AP flour), to provide a 30% prefermented flour inoculation to a final dough targeted for 72% hydration. The starter had been in the refrigerator for four days so I pulled it out the night before (Wednesday night), and fed it just before bed. The elaborations began first thing in the morning and I built the final dough that night (late), all from the same composition, ending up with 1500 grams of dough for two 750 gram boules.

For clarity, although it is not my point in all this, here are the essentials:

Total Preferment:

259 gm water

259 gm Flour    composed of the following:

            15 gm BRM Dark Rye flour
            15 gm Pendleton Mills Power flour
          229 gm Pendleton MorBread flour


Final Dough:

363 gm water

604 gm flour  composed of the following

            30 gm BRM Dark Rye
            30 gm Pendleton Mills Power flour
          544 gm Pendleton MorBread flour

15 gm Kosher Sea Salt (Coarse)


For the main build I combined the preferment, flour and water, but withheld the salt, and let it rest (autolyse) for 40 minutes. I added the salt and did two sets of 30 stretch and folds in the bowl at 30 minute intervals. After this second set of s&f's the gluten was beginning to shape up and the dough had come together nicely.

At this point things started to get interesting, but not in any good way.

After another 30 minute rest I came back to do another set of stretch and folds. To my surprise I felt the dough break down right under my hands as I worked on it. It literally fell apart, and the more I tried to stretch and fold it the looser it got. I finished the 30 strokes, gathered it in the bowl to rest, and tried to figure out what to do next.

I sensed that this was not a hydration issue, as the hydration seemed to be about right, but the dough was very stretchy and more sticky than any I have ever worked with. After 30 minutes I pulled the dough out onto my marble work board that I had wet down with cool water. I decided not to try to work in more flour, but this dough was so stretchy and sticky I could not be so stingy with water. Using wet hands and a wet bench scraper and the wet marble I tried to bring the dough together using Bertinet's wet dough technique. It did a little bit of good, but the dough remained essentially like highly congealed cottage cheese, and as sticky as any dough I have ever come up against. It was ugly sticky. I did probably 30 to 40 strokes of slap/stretch/fold/gather/repeat. It was after midnight and Friday was a work day so I had to put it to bed, and me too. I oiled up a dough bucket and managed to get the dough in. It puddled into the bottom of the bucket, and self-leveled. There was little evidence of gas in the dough. I thought it was dead. I put it into the fridge for the night, on the bottom, coldest shelf, cleaned up and went to bed.

On Friday morning I looked at the dough and it was still just a puddle in the bottom of the bucket. I left it in the fridge till afternoon when I could leave my desk to work on it. I pulled it out early and let it sit on the kitchen counter (between 66F and 68F all day) to warm up, and to see if it would come alive. After 90 minutes or so of letting the chill warm up, I could see at least a few nice gas pockets in the dough, but it still appeared very slack and loose. I heavily floured my bench and poured the dough from the bucket. I had to scrape it out to get it to let go of the oiled bucket, and remnants clung tenaciously to the bucket even then.

Even on a heavily floured board this dough stuck to everything, and by the time I finished my hands, bench scraper, board, apron, everything had dough stuck to it. I divided the dough in half, and succeeded in herding each portion into somewhat of a roundish blob, but it wanted nothing to do with holding any shape at all. I used both well floured hands cup-like to gather the blobs and drop them into heavily floured linens in some small plastic colanders I bought at the Dollar Store for just this purpose. I set them to rise, stuck my La Cloche in the oven and set it to preheat to 525F, to let the oven warm the kitchen up and hopefully prod the “loaves” to rise some.

One loaf actually passed the poke test after 90 minutes or so without clinging permanently to my finger, so I started my baking. The first loaf held some shape, although it did flatten noticeably when I turned it onto parchment on the peel. I should not have slashed it so deeply, and that spoiled what shape it had. It behaved as if over-proofed, but I don't believe that to be true. The second loaf I scored only very lightly and with short cuts that did not go all the way across the top of the loaf. This loaf held shape somewhat better, and exhibited somewhat better spring in the oven, but neither loaf performed even marginally well.

I baked both loaves in succession, with the preheated dome on for 12 minutes, turning the oven down to 475F after 7 minutes and removing the dome at 12 minutes. I baked each for an additional 18-20 minutes after removing the La Cloche dome. Neither crust shows a very markedly bold bake, although both loaves finished with internal temperatures up in the 208F-209F range.

Here is a picture that will help visualizing the results.

The light coloration is, I believe, due to all the flour on the surface.  The crumb has good appearance, and shows some variation of hole size, but if you look closely you will see some darker areas of the crumb.  Those are quite gummy/chewey, and the whole loaf is quite heavy, even after cooling over night.  The loaves, under "normal" circumstances should be nearly twice as tall as this had they taken/held any shape, but they lacked any structural integrity.  Hence the very flattened profile.  The whole loaf on the bottom of the stack is the second loaf, which "sprung" about 1/2 inch higher than the other.

I have read Debra Wink's excellent and informative posts on Thiol degradation here. I have read the thread originated by foolispoolish with contributions by Debra Wink and Eric Hanner and others regarding transition of firm starters to white flour here, and the trials of many with super elastic dough.  My evidence does not seem to fit these cases very well, but I don't have the experience or expertise to judge it myself. It is a transitioned starter (whole wheat and rye to white flour), but not a brand new one. It is performing well between feedings, and appears to have made the adjustment to white flour satisfactorily, in the storage jar at least. It seemed to be okay in the first couple of bakes as mentioned above, and not until now, some 6 weeks or so later, has a dough from it just disintegrated.  I really don't know what is going on here.

So, I'm left trying to determine a course of action without any real knowledge of what I am fighting. Until I get better advice I am going to try Debra's recommendation to “feed through it”, in the hope that it is some kind of contamination or invasion and that in time it will be worked out as hers was.  I've started that regimen by reducing quantites to 10 gm:20 gm:20 gm (s:w:f) and will stay as close to three evenly spaced feedings a day, and see how it goes for 10-12 days.

Has anyone else been through this recently, or have any other thoughts, observations, suggestions, reccomended reading?

Thanks for stopping by


Note: a follow up thread can be found here:  Follow Up to "Never saw a dough break down like this before"


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