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Sourdough starter: too much bacteria? (not contaminated)

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cbtj19's picture
cbtj19

Sourdough starter: too much bacteria? (not contaminated)

Hello everyone,  (I'm a newbie.  Please lend me your advice if you have time.)


I've always had trouble with my sourdough starter not producing a nice & airy, light-crumbed bread.  The natural starter keeps making my breads pretty dense--heavy crumbs.  Sometimes I get some good air bubbles & the texture is chewy, but the crumb is still quite heavy. 


I've tried many types of starters (flour & water only; fermented fruit juice; yogurt; grapes, etc...) but the results are the same.  I notice that not everyone has this problem for I've seen many beautiful high-risen, light-crumbed natural starter breads from many of the members here.  My starters were active just fine, bubbling away and everything.  The problem is the gluten in the starter getting weak. 


 The last starter I made was this summer using home-grown grapes.  It was alive and fine and kept its glutenous texture the entire time UNTIL I added the rye flour--in much lesser amounts relative to the main white flour.  Since the introduction of the rye flour, I noticed a very rapid change in the texture of the stater.  It seemed to lose the glutenous quality and became very very sticky w/o the "bounciness" it used to have.  And when I began to put together the final dough, no matter how much flour I put in, the dough was sticky like crazy!  Incredibly difficult to work with!  The dough was somewhat runny regardess of amount of flour used, b/c it sort of lost its gluten "backbone".


I read that this may have been the result of lactobacteria outgrowing the wild yeast too much, therefore producing excessive enzymes that break down the gluten.  How do I avoid this?  I have since given up on using wild yeast, b/c I feel I can't maintain it right.  I remember that I refrigerated it in between feedings & warmed it up to room temp. before & a little after each feeding.  Sorry, I don't have pictures of anything.


Thanks, for your help in advance!


 


~Chau

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, cbtj19.


Welcome to TFL!


It sounds like you have made several starters from scratch and are having similar issues with a dense crumb with all of them. I bet  we can help, but we need a little more information.



  1. How old have your starters been when you used them to make bread?

  2. What is your feeding routine? (starter:water:flour ratio, frequency of feedings, keeping starter at room temperature or in the refrigerator)

  3. What is the bread formula you are using that gives you the dense crumb?

  4. Exactly what was the proportion of rye flour to wheat flour in the feeding that gave you stickiness?


The problem you describe is much more likely to be due to something other than your starter. For example, inadequate mixing of the dough, incomplete or over-fermentation, how you form your loaves, over- or under-proofing. But, since you are focused on your starter, let's get that issue cleared up first.


David

cbtj19's picture
cbtj19

Hi, David.


I don't remember much about the starters that I made too long ago, but the most recent one (with grapes; 5-6 months ago) was developed for approx. 1-2 weeks before I used it.  The starter recipe says to feed 1 cup starter (wet) with 1 cup flour & 1 cup water.  I kept it refrig. and fed it every 2-3 days (brought it to room temp. before feeding).  I seemed fine, nothing weird.


I've used many diff. starters with many diff. bread recipes, but the latest one was a modified version of Craig Ponsford's ciabatta (his uses a pre-ferment w/commercial yeast).  It's a really wet dough w/the stretch & fold method (4cups white flour, 2tbsp ww flour, 2tbsp rye flour, 2 1/4cup water, 2 3/4tsp salt, little more than 1 tsp instant yeast total)  When I used the commercial yeast, the bread came out better & the wet dough wasn't "melty" or sticky as with the starter even though it's slightly wetter than the one w/the starter. 


I used approx. 1 cup starter, 1 cup white flour, 1 cup water, 3 tbsp rye flour to feed right before I noticed the weird stickiness--it's not the normal gluten stickiness, hard to describe. 


By the way, I'm in the process of developing my new green apple starter.  Hopefully, this one's a keeper.  I'm also getting myself a digital scale straight away tomorrow.  Thanks, David.


~Chau

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Chau.


Dough with a lot of rye is sticky, but the amount you added shouldn't have such a dramatic effect. I wonder if you introduced something that degraded the gluten. Maybe try rye flour from another source as a test?


BTW, you shouldn't have to add fruits to make a good starter. Try a method that just uses rye or whole wheat. The "good" yeast and bacteria live on the grains.


David

cbtj19's picture
cbtj19

Great ideas, David.  I will try your suggestions.

leucadian's picture
leucadian

I think your starter is probably OK.


I treat my starter as a place to keep my yeast and bacteria when I'm not baking bread. I try to keep it simple, and only use white flour to refresh the starter, which I may keep refrigerated for weeks or even months between refreshments. But once I take it out for baking, I try to keep in bubbling away, in a rapidly growing mode, which means warmer, oxygenated, and more liquid. I also try to keep the ratio of old flour to new flour about 1:5 or less so I can see activity relatively quickly (4-6 hours to double with my slowpoke yeast).


I suspect that your problem with dense loaves is not the degradation of gluten in the starter, but something else like overproofing or salt, or cold temps or maybe even overdevelopment of gluten. Question: does a straight yeasted dough bread work OK (commercial yeast, white bread flour, no preferment)? If so then take that same recipe, and dedicate a portion of the flour and water to building a very active starter and finish the same recipe.  The proofing time will be longer, but otherwise it should be similar. After you are comfortable with the basic lean dough, then start adding rye or WW, etc. Another experiment to try is to make a starter out of commercial yeast, to get the hang of feeding and storage. This is a valid technique called pate fermentee, fermented dough. It would eliminate the uncertainty you have with wild yeast while developing skill in managing your yeast herd.

cbtj19's picture
cbtj19

Hi, Leucadian.


All of my simple, straight yeasted breads are fine--nice, light & poofy.  Hmm, I like your idea of replacing some of the flour in a simple bread recipe with the starter.  I have tried Craig Ponsford's ciabatta recipe, which calls for a pre-ferment (starts with very very little yeast, fermented 24 hrs).  I was trying out the wet dough w/stretch & fold method b/c I like a chewy, light crumbed, big-holed bread.  I saw Lisa Michele (a member here) did it, and hers came out fabulous!  Mine came out alright, some good holes, texture--quite good, though not great.  But when I used the starter for the same recipe, the bread was a complete failure.  I'm quite positive it has to do with that weird stickiness--not the usual gluten stickiness, I promise.  It kept on wanting to "crawl" and adhere to everything and has a relatively "flat" feel, even though it's still active.  Before I added the rye, it wasn't like that.  But I'll have to try that again to be certain.  I'm in the process of culturing my new green apple starter.  Thanks, for your suggestions!


 


~Chau

leucadian's picture
leucadian

Try it without the rye, if that stickiness is a problem. I think that's the nature of rye: sticky. Try this: just mix up a little of your white bread flour into a 67% dough (2:3::water:flour). Then make another batch, but this time substitute a little rye for some of the wheat flour (no yeast or starter in either one), let them both rest for a few minutes to fully hydrate, and compare the stickiness. I think the issue is the rye, even in what seems like very small quantities, not the yeast, whether commercial or wild.


You can maintain a healthy starter without rye. Rye is often recommended for sourdoughs because it has more nutrients for the yeast than white flour, since it's a whole grain flour. Whole wheat serves the same purpose, which is to get that colony of yeast bodies growing actively, to produce a lot of CO2 in the dough. Many SD recipes call for whole grains because they are starting with very little yeast, and it's a traditional component of pain de campagne, so it's a flavor component. Peter Nury's light rye is an expample. But you don't have to use either one if you don't want it.


I assume you'll let your two dough balls sit as a preferment to your next loaf, just so nothing is wasted.


With all your experiments/experience in making starters, it would be interesting to hear a more detailed account of your successes and failures. Which method was easiest, fastest, most active, sourest?

cbtj19's picture
cbtj19

Thanks, for all the info., Leucadian.  I really would like to post more details of all the starter experiments I'm done, but I've made them long past the time span that my memory allows for decent recollection.  I initially made them just for fun and didn't really keep any detailed notes, which I regret.  So, from now on, I'll be keeping meticulous notes on my current starter and future starter experiments.  By the way, it is such a pain to cultivate starters in the winter!  I'll report back if there's anything interesting.  Happy baking!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Maybe your flour is low gluten?  Do you know what it is?  For straight doughs good enough, but long fermentations lead to gluten breakdown. 


I also don't think your starters are fault.


Mini

cbtj19's picture
cbtj19

Hi, Mini.  Yes, I agree that it must have something to do with gluten degradation.  I think I used KA's AP flour.  I will try using all bread flour next time.  Thanks!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

So we should keep looking... I'd like to see what happens if you run your starter through a fine sieve before you feed it.  Lets just see what kind of gunk comes out.  Then keep just 1/4 cup and then feed it with 1/2 c of water and 3/4c flour.  Keep track of what it does and how long it takes to do it.  And leave it out at room temperature.   Report back.


Mini