The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts


KenB's picture


I've been lurking here for several weeks and finally decided to sign up officially. I must say, everyone is so very nice on this site, to judge from the many postings I've read. I look forward to both getting and maybe giving a little advice.

In fact, I may as well start by asking for advice. I've baked yeasted bread off and on for several years, finally settling on poolish-based baguettes and batards just within the last several months as my favorites. I teach at the local community college here in Twin Falls, Idaho, and we're on spring break this week. I left campus last Friday with two sets of essays to read and a desire to try making bread with a wild yeast starter.

I began with Reinhardt's BBA wild yeast starter and got it to the point of mixing up the barm. Thus far, it all looked and smelled and seemed as it should be, according to my reading. I dutifully let the barm sit out, put it in the fridge overnight, and mixed up the firm starter for the Basic Sourdough Bread recipe in BBA. I should note there that whenever I try a recipe for the first time, I follow the book directions to the letter (and numbers, too).

To make a long story short, the final dough never really did rise. Oh, it "grew" a bit, but after five hours I got a little impatient, perhaps, formed a couple of slab-like batards, and set them to rise on a couche. Three hours later they still resembled slabs: firm they were, and imposingly heavy. I mumbled under my breath, slashed them anyway, and brushed them with an egg white mixed with a bit of water (the glaze suggested by Joe Ortiz in The Village Baker).

I put them on a baking stone that had been heating at 500 degrees for 45 minutes before I assaulted them with the lumps of dough. I reduced the heat to 450, and after two minutes, switched on the oven light and peeked at them. They were beginning to brown, but they were still lump-like, very flat. At five minutes, they were browner still but still resembled mausoleum slabs. I decided I couldn't watch any longer and went upstairs for another five minutes.

When I next checked (at about 12 minutes), they had browned beautifully and, strangely enough, risen just as nicely. At 25 minutes, they registered 205 in their centers, so I took them out, cooled them, and tasted them. Nice holes, dense but moist crumb, light sour flavor.

The wife and son loved them, but somehow I think I got more lucky than I probably deserved to. Any thoughts on what the heck is going on? I've never really seen a "real" wild yeast or sourdough starter, so I'm thinking I have it mixed up too densely, even though, as I note above, it looks like the books say it ought to.

Sorry for the long story -- this is supposed to be an introduction. I look forward to a long and fruitful association with the site and its members.



pjaj's picture

I too had no luck with two attempts at Peter Reinhart's starter. It never realy got going.

What I found did work, and looks to me idiot proof (until they make a better idiot!) is the method in Dan Lepard's book The Handmade Loaf. I won't copy his recipe here verbatim as it may infringe his copyright, but he starts out on day one with a mixture of water, rye and strong white flours, dried fruit (currents or rasins) and low-fat live yoghurt. He then feeds it every day for 4 days, strains and discards 3/4 and builds up the remainder to the final leaven.

gaaarp's picture

Ken & pj,

After experiencing the same uncertainty/frustration that many others like you have expressed, I finally hit on a great, almost foolproof method of starting a sourdough starter.  Based on PR's starter in BBA, my sourdough tutorial has helped many would-be sourdough bakers find the courage to stand up to the sourdough beasts.  OK, maybe that's overstating it a bit, but give it a try.  You've got nothing to lose by flour, water, and time.

BTW, I baked my first loaves from this starter using PR's Basic Sourdough Recipe and was very pleased with the results.


KenB's picture

Phyl and pj --

Thanks for the notes and advice. I mixed up another day 1 BBA starter last night and then found your tutorial, Phyl. It looks familiar -- unless I'm mistaken, it's pretty much the BBA starter cut in half? Sorry if I'm oversimplifying, as I just had time to skim it.

Anyway, I think I'll wait out this second attempt, despite pj's description of striking out twice with it. This one looks "looser" somehow, more promising. It already has bubbles, maybe because all the excitement the last several days with other starters and loaves has permeated the air in my kitchen with good organisms (and vibes, we can hope).

In the meantime, I'll cruise over to Barnes & Noble to see if I can find The Handmade Loaf and see what it has to say. And if and when this latest venture falls flat (not to make a pun), I'll try Phyl's tutorial. Practice, as "they" say.

I still don't understand why or how my slabs transformed into decent loaves, but I'm sure that's not the way the bread universe is supposed to spin.

pjaj's picture

Note that this is a book published in the UK and may not be readily available in the USA. From the Amazon UK site (where I bought it):

Product details

* Paperback: 192 pages
* Publisher: Mitchell Beazley (15 Feb 2008)
* Language English
* ISBN-10: 1845333896
* ISBN-13: 978-1845333898


Best of luck.



KenB's picture

pj --

Thanks for the heads-up. I just did a quick search on the B&N site; it offers two used copies. I check B&N first because they're the only "big" bookseller in our small town; Amazon (US site) lists plenty of new copies, so I know where to turn if I go that route.