The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Liquid levain vs. stiff levain

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Liquid levain vs. stiff levain

Is there a standard hydration level for a liquid levain vs. a stiff levain? I was reading Leader's Local Breads this morning and noticed that his liquid levain has about 130 % hydrated vs. his stiff which has about 50% hydration. I've also been readin Michael Suas's Advanced Bread and Pastry and notice that some of his SD formulas call for a liquid levain while others require a stiff starter.


I realize there is probably not a rigid standard, but perhaps someone has some knowledge what constitutes one vs. the other. I'm also interested in knowing if a book discusses these terms. Oddly enough, Suas' book, which is very comprehensive, doesn't define the differences.


--Pamela

Ford's picture
Ford

I guess I am a maverick with the hydration of starters (levain).  I use a hydration of 188% (equal volume water and flour).  I started this hydration from reading about Nancy Silverton in Julia Child's book "Cooking with the Master Chefs".  She used grapes to get things started.  I now know this is just part of the folk lore that has grown around sourdough and the grapes are totally unnecessary.


From my reading I find that most bakers use a starter that is only 100% hydration or less.  However, I have grown accustomed to using this and I find a couple of advantages.  The starter is so fluid that it does not expand to overflow the container when left in the refrigerator for several weeks.  Contrary to the belief of some bakers, this starter is easily refreshed after a month of hibernation in the refrigerator.  It takes only about one day to regain full activity when brought to room temperature (about 72°F) and fed three times.


(Refresh Routine:  With 18 oz. starter, feed 4.3 oz unbleached flour, in ~6 hours feed 4.3 oz., flour and 8 oz. water, in ~6 hours feed 4.3 oz flour and 8 oz. water in ~6 hours feed 8 oz. water.  Use 36 oz. to start bread recipe and the balance back to the rerefrigerator.)


With this extreemly wet levain I can start a whole wheat bread by adding the the whole wheat flour to the starter, let it ferment for a couple of hours, and go from there.


At one time I used the starter only for the flavor, now I know it is potent enough to be the only leven in the dough.  I also measure by WEIGHT, it is easier and more precise.


Back to your question about which hydration to use.  Use the one you like.  Just get the final hydration the same as the recipe.  I think there is no standard, no "right" way.  BUT, I am an ameteur.


Ford

xaipete's picture
xaipete


I use a hydration of 188% (equal volume water and flour).



Hi Ford. If you are using an equal volume (weight) of water and flour, would that be 100% hydration?


I'm not asking a question about which type of starter to use in a given recipe. I'm trying to find of if there is some kind of a hydration standard that classifies one starter as liquid but another as stiff.


--Pamela

jj1109's picture
jj1109

I read that Ford says he weighs his ingredients, but that statement about the equal volume does confuse - but does work out about right.


eg. if I use generic weights for volumes (australian here, so different to you in the US) 1 cup water = 250g, 1 cup flour = 130g (like i said, generic values) gives hydration of 192%


This suggests (to me) that Ford does use volume rather than weight for the initial starter - and the weights that are added when refreshing the starter come to 186% hydration.

Ford's picture
Ford

I do weigh the major ingredients in making my breads.  I find it easier and certainly more precise.  Though I am a scientist, by training, I do not use the metric system in baking and cooking.  The metric system is not widely used in the USA and very few cookbooks make any attempt to express the amounts in a recipe by weight.  To be understood by the majority I use the Avoirdupois weight measurements, and also give the volume measurement.  I do not weigh minor ingredients, e. g. 1/4 tspn., 1 Tbs., or pinch.  My scale is not that precise.

Sifted, or fluffed flour carefully spooned into a measuring cup and leveled off will weigh 4 1/4 oz., rounded to 4.3 oz., with some variation for the miller and coarseness of the milling.  King Arthur white all-purpose, white bread flour, and whole-wheat flour weigh 4.3 oz./cup (122 g/cup).  (A measuring cup in the US is 8 fluid ounces – confusing.)  However, whole-wheat flour from Arrowhead mills weighs 4.7 oz./cup.  (133 g/cup)  There are variations in rye flours:  Arrowhead Mill pumpernickel flour weighs 4 oz./cup (113 g/cup), and that from Hodgson Mill weighs 4.8 oz./cup (136 g/cup).

With these variations in flour bulk densities, it is certainly safer to express the amounts by weight rather than by volume.

Nancy Silverton expressed her measurements by volume in the production and refreshment of the starter.  I can only assume that she used the conventional method of measuring the volume of flour, i. e. sifting, spooning in, and leveling off the flour in the measuring cup.  I saw a video of the baker at the “Sullivan Street Bakery” demonstrate the “No Knead Bread” preparation.  He just scooped up the flour in the measuring cup and shook off the excess.  I would guess that that flour measured that way weighed 5 oz./cup.  Of course, he was trying to show how easy it is to make ”good” bread, but he did leave a bad impression on the proper way to measure flour.

Ford

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Yes, many cookbooks and recipes still don't express ingredients in terms of weights. It's maddening to me because I'm so converted to using weights, which, as you point out, is esp. important when flour is used, not to mention easier! How often do I just tare out my scale? Many times everyday!


--Pamela

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hi Ford,


I used to work for a bakery whose head baker could use a large metal scoop to measure 5 pounds of flour from his bin, give or take about 2 oz, in just one motion.  It was amazing to see.  Of course, he had been doing it around 40-50 times a day, for more than 20 years already.  He probably could of done it blindfolded, because the muscles and nerves in his arms were so attuned to the measurement that it was like watching a monk recite a mantra.  Except for counting how many scoops he used, he probably never thought about it.


Still, though that 2 oz margin of error per scoop might seem inconsequential, it represented 2.5% of the flour in that formula.  In the context of scaling flour and water and maintaining a certain consistency that's desired, he was actually rolling the dice every time he mixed a dough, and that was reflected in the inconsistent nature of his final product.


Even if he could have magically "nailed" the desired flour weight in every scoop (much like using cups for flour at home), there is no way he could have objectified that process enough to teach it to someone else effectively.  I can pretty much guarantee you that if you and someone else stand at the same bench and use a scoop-and-leveling motion to measure flour, your cup's weight will be different than theirs.  Or anyone else's.  Which means that the appearance, texture and flavor of the bread would vary a lot depending upon who was the baker that day. 


So, you're very right to notice that varying densities in different brands or types of flour dictate that we should weigh them.  But there's also a big human factor that's there, because no two people scoop flour precisely the same way.


In the case of salt and yeast, the effects of errors in scaling can be even more dramatic.  I agree, though, that salt and yeast can be measured more accurately with spoons if the quantity to be weighed is very, very small, or your scale's accuracy with tiny quantities is just not good.  Any time I need more than 2 or 3 grams, though, I'm opting for a digital scale.


Now, home baker's really aren't constrained by production deadlines or customer expectations.  They have more flexibility available to them, even if bread does have to be baked before dinner.  If it comes out differently than what they'd intended, they might be the only ones to notice, and just about nobody complains about home made bread, however it turns out.


So I don't think there's anything inherently wrong with home bakers using volume measurements for making bread, as long as the baker is happy with the results and they have fun doing it.  Any attempt to get analytical about the formula, though, in an attempt to precisely manage the process needs to embrace scaling by weight, just so you know exactly what's in the dough.  Anything else is just guessing.


 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

After reading Ford's volume measurement results, I couldn't resist, so I spooned Arrowhead Mills organic  white flour into a (volume) cup, leveled it off, then weighed it: 4.80 ounces.  Reinhart assigns a weight of 4.5 ounces for bread and whole wheat flours.


Did the same for Arrowhead Mills organic rye:  4.10 ounces 


I have a fluid ounce measuring cup for liquids.  Eight ounces of water poured into that cup was precisely at the one cup level.  When I poured eight ounces of water into one of my Oxo volume cups, it overflowed.  Not all cups are equal.


The beauty of scaling is accuracy.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I noticed the same thing about my Oxo volume cups--my volume measurements of water and milk were way off using them. I was surprised too by just how much they were short.


--Pamela

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Yes -- that's why most professional bakers weigh their liquids as well.


I think Cook's Illustrated tried comparing cups and/or measuring spoon capacities between different brands, and they saw significant differences.

Ford's picture
Ford

Hello Pamela,


 


The baker's percent is always by weight based on the total weight of the flour.  Since a cup of flour weighs 4 1/4 ounces and a cup of water weight 8 ounces, then equal volume of flour and water is 188% hydration or rounded to 190%.  Equal weight flour and water would be 100% hydration.


I would certainly classify my starter (190% hydration) as liquid.  It certainly does separate ahd have a large layer of "hooch" on the top.  I just stir it into the solids that have settled to the bottom and refresh it as needed.


Other people have given you their opinion of what is liquid and what is stiff.   I'll not add to that question.


Happy baking.


Ford

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Thanks, Ford, for clearing this up. If you are using weights, then indeed you do have that level of hydration. I was just confused by the word "volume", but now you have explained.


--Pamela

gaaarp's picture
gaaarp

I used to keep all my starters at 100% hydration.  Then one day, just as an experiment, I converted a bit of starter to 65% hydration, and have kept it there ever since.  I like the lower-hydration starter because it is very active and it's easy to work it into a non-sourdough recipe.  Since it is essentially a chunk of dough, I just work it into the rest of the dough without adjusting the original recipe, other than to reduce or eliminate the yeast.  It increases the overall volume of the recipe nominally (I use about a golfball-size chunk most of the time), but not enough to matter to a rank amateur like me.


All that said, I am intrigued by Ford's uber-hydrated starter, so I might have to experiment with that, too.


Phyl

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Hi Phyl, That is my current experience. The lower hydration starter appears to be a lot more active. I'm not sure why, though.


I keep just one type at 75% (I actually have two different starters, but both are at the same hydration level.)


--Pamela

Ford's picture
Ford

Hello Phyl,


I have been intrigued by your statement that you might have to experiment with "Ford's uber-hydrated starter."  Do you have any results to report yet?  I truly am interested your comments.  Mike Avery said it was way too hydrated, but I think he had not tried it.


Ford

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hi Pamela,


When I tried to pry some comments about liquid vs. firm levain from a traditional French baker in Vermont named Rubaud, he just gave me a stereotypical look that communicated how tragic my uninformed life must be, and said "there is only one levain."  Oh.   His bread is fabulous, but I know at least 3 accomplished French bakers who'd argue with him about his point of view.


So don't beat yourself up too much over which term has what exact meaning.  There is no absolute convention, but I guess there are some usages more common than others.  Most artisans I know use the term "liquid" levain to refer to any levain maintained at a hydration of 100% or higher.  The point there is to maintain the culture at a liquid consistency -- your preference is technically as good as anyone's -- so if it needs 125 or 137% to seem like it has more liquid qualities than solid ones, go for it.  I'd say most bakers using North American flour from hard winter wheat use a hydration of 110% or more, because American flour is so strong.  Bakers in France who use liquid levain, like Eric Kayser, can keep theirs at 100% and have the same consistency as the Americans, because French flour is so much less absorbent.


Of course, if you want to use other people's formulas,  you'll either have to adopt their convention for hydrating a levain or use baker's math to figure out how to incorporate a differently hydrated levain into the same overall final dough hydration.  Just one more reason why, to master the craft of making good bread, we should master the use of baker's math.


Jeff Hamelman has an excellent section devoted to creating and maintaining liquid AND firm levain in his book (as well as bakers math), and he explains more about why you might want one type over another in certain situations.  It's a good read.


I'll just add a couple of observations here: liquid levain is more yeast-active and more enzyme active than a firm levain, if both have been fed properly.  Liquid levain is usually less sour if it has been maintained at room temperature, but there are other variables that can affect things.  It needs to be fed more often than firm levain to remain healthy, because its liquid nature encourages the yeast and bacteria to consume their food much more rapidly.  And liquid levain is better for use in baguettes, which have to be stretched, because its higher enzyme activity makes it easier to overcome the strengthening that results from moderate acid levels.


Hope that helps.


--Dan DiMuzio

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Thanks, Dan, for addressing my question. I used to think that it probably didn't matter which kind of starter I kept because I could just adjust its hydration depending on my intended target, but now I've changed my mind a bit. (I say, a bit because I can still just keep one starter, but then rebuild part of it when ever I need something adjusted.)


Mostly, I'm just thinking aloud now, but wouldn't the type of starter have a definite affect on the bread? I.e., a liquid starter will have more lactic acid while a stiff starter, more acetic, so wouldn't the difference in type of acid show up in whatever I am making? Well, you have already confirmed this with your baguette example. And what you say about the liquid being more yeast- and enzyme-active makes sense. These are important things that I'll want to consider as I gain experience baking SD breads.


So thanks for answering my question: I'll use a 75-100% hydration measure as a wide demarcation mark--75% and below is definitely stiff and 100% and above is definitely liquid.


***


I rebuilt one of my starters this morning (75% hydration), but took some of the discard and made a 2nd starter (130% hydration). They've been sitting at about 75º all day. The stiff starter is acting perfectly normal--does nothing for 4 hours, then grows to 1 1/2 times at 6 hours and doubles in 8. The surprise has been the liquid starter. It did nothing for 4 hours and now at 6 hours has just grown a bit, maybe 15%. Is this what I should expect?


--Pamela

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

It's hard for me to visualize exactly how you maintain your starter from the question above.  A liquid starter will go through its life cycle more quickly than a firm starter, but they don't grow as much in volume as a similarly fed firm starter.  There's less flour and more water in the liquid starter, so there will be less structure and less visible growth.  It just can't hold as much gas over time.  You feed the liquid starter more often OR with a greater amount of fresh flour and water when you build it because the starter ferments more quickly.


I'll maintain a liquid levain with one part ripe liquid starter, two parts flour, and two parts water to keep it at 100% hydration, but you can use more water as long as you account for it.  The important proportion to determine for your needs is the ripe-starter-to-fresh-flour ratio.  It might not be the same 1 to 2 proportion I use.  That's fine.  I'd feed it my way twice a day, at about 12-hour intervals.  You can feed with less flour and water if you want to 3 or 4 times a day. 


If you need to refrigerate it so you can have a life away from baking, that's fine, but try to feed it at least twice a week, and pull it out of the 'fridge and resume twice-a-day feedings at room temperature at least 2-3 days before baking so things can stabilize and get back close to where they were before refrigeration. Can you circumvent the 2 or 3 day resuscitation?  Sure.  I think your bread will be denser and too sour, with less volume, but that's a matter of taste, I guess.  People sometimes like to gamble.


And, in any case, the two different levains will never look alike.  One looks like bubbly pancake batter when it's ready for use, and the other will be clearly domed, or just barely starting to crater.  I tried to paste a photo here for illustration, but I don't know if I did it correctly.  Anyway, if it does appear, there's ripe liquid levain on the lower left, firm levain in the center, and poolish over on the right.  I kept the liquid levain and the poolish both hydrated at 100%, so they could be fairly compared in their appearance, and the firm levain in this photo was at a 60% hydration.  None of those hydrations are written in stone.  Feel free to experiment, but keep a written record of what you do.


Incidentally, despite what others may say, the only way you can make an accurate determination of a dough's or a preferment's hydration is by weighing all ingredients.  You can make doughs and preferments without weighing anything, but you'll never actually know what proportions of water and flour are in there. You'll be guessing.  Why speculate? 


Yes -- any change upwards or downwards in hydration level will affect the starter and what characteristics it will provide to the dough.  Healthy liquid starters are higher in yeast activity like CO2 production and alcohol production.  They are higher in enzymes like amylase and protease, which increases the rate of starch conversion (to sugar) and the extensibility of the dough as you try to shape it.  Ever had a dough that wouldn't extend easily into a long cylinder?  Use a liquid preferment the next time and you'll have less trouble. 


And liquid preferments are generally lower in acid.  That is to say, if one liquid preferment is fed properly at the same temperature as a firm pre-ferment, the liquid one will usually be less sour when they are ready for use.  You may not see the difference in just a day or two when you convert a solid levain to a liquid levain, but after things stabilize for 2 to 3 days, the liquid starter will have more mild homofermentative bacteria (lactic acid producing) and fewer  of the sharper heterofermentative bacteria (produce both acetic and lactic acid.  Sometimes it takes less or more time for the difference to be apparent.


This isn't necessarily complicated when you see it done, but I just don't have enough room here to explain much more.  If anybody needs more clarification about this in the future, just ask another question and I'll try again to explain what I can.


 


 Liquid Levain, Firm Levain, Poolish, all ripe and ready for use

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

xaipete's picture
xaipete


ripe liquid levain on the lower left, firm levain in the center, and poolish over on the right



So the liquid levain on the lower left is ripe because it is caving in, the firm is ripe because it is doming, and the poolish because it is bubbling. Of course all show active bubbling growth.


Thanks again for these pictures; they do help a lot.


--Pamela 

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

You're almost right there -- I worded things confusingly. 


Ideally, almost any pre-ferment is ready for use or for refreshment when (assuming you've left it undisturbed) it just barely begins to show signs of collapsing.  I'd say old dough (pate fermentee) would be an exception to that.  But one thing I failed to make clear is that, ideally, all three of those preferments are judged to be ready for use or for feeding when they barely show signs of collapse (poolish is not intended to be refreshed -- it's designed to be used right away when ready).  All three of the pictured pre-ferments are showing signs of collapsing in the very near future.  You can see the liquid ones drooping a bit from the sides of their containers, and the firm one is starting to crack a bit over the dome.


With poolish, that sign of readiness is critical because it's yeast activity is comparatively high and there's a narrow window for usability -- maybe 30-60 minutes with a 12 hour poolish.  A 5 hour poolish leaves an even narrower window, while 15 hours would provide a somewhat wider window.  That's because a 15 hour poolish uses less yeast to avoid being ready pre-maturely, and the 5 hour poolish uses more yeast to be sure it's ready earlier.  Poolish can be the most challenging preferment to master, because it is comparatively unforgiving.


Liquid levain also features a narrower window for use, probably, than a firm levain, but since wild yeast act so much more slowly than manufactured yeast, you have a little more cushion than you do with a poolish at the same high hydration.  Notice how much bigger the bubbles are in the poolish than in the liquid levain -- there's much more rapid gas production in the poolish.


With a firm sponge or biga, you have a few hours to play with after the dome starts to fall -- maybe an extra 2 to 3 hours, or even more.  Fermentation in firm sponges works more slowly, so you have more leeway for getting great results.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

This is great information, Dan. So yesterday I compared my liquid levain to my stiff levain and determined the liquid was not doing much. It will come as no surprise to you that when I looked at the liquid levain after 12 hours, saw that it had finally doubled, and picked it up to put in the refrigerator overnight, that it completely deflated on its trip to the refrigerator!


I'll have to find a different type of container for it so I can more closely watch what is going on.


Again, thanks for participating in this discussion. I've learned a lot from it--much more than I ever thought I would. I never realized the window was so short on many of these starters.


--Pamela

CarlSF's picture
CarlSF

Dan, why is pate fermentee an exception?  I would think that when a preferment is showing signs of collaspsing, it is ready to use.  How come this rule does not apply to a pate fermentee?

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hi Carl,


Pate fermentee is just a French term for what American bakers call "old dough" or, alternatively, "re-run", and I'm going to use the American term.


Old dough was originally just any baker's attempt to avoid throwing away extra dough by utilizing it as a last-minute addition to some future batch.  It might be left at room temperature and used later after only 2 or 3 hours, or it might be refrigerated and used much later.  It's also worth noting that since it's generally just leftover baguette dough, it has the same salt level as most bread doughs (unlike any other preferment), and a much higher yeast level than most preferments.


Old dough wasn't formally defined as a "preferment," originally, but was probably just a way to save money and avoid waste.  Without meaning to demean its importance, it could be thought of as a "bastard" preferment when compared to others whose creation and maintenance were more formalized.


So, some finished batch of fresh baguette dough might have old dough making up 10% of it one day, or 20%, or whatever.  One pizza joint I worked for used to take any number of "aged" raw pizza shells and just mix them back into a new dough whenever they accumulated too many of them.  No attempt was made to count how many old shells went into making a new batch of dough, so you might imagine how much variation there was in dough flavor.  Some batches of pizza dough received a lot of aged shells, and some got none at all.  That did have some effect on the flavor of the product, as the aged shells made the new dough taste better.  Of course, most new doughs had no older shells mixed into them, so their flavor was noticeably less complex.


Professor Calvel (the guy who trained Julia Child to make bread) encouraged the use of old dough expressly to make better tasting bread.  To get any sort of consistency in their product, though, bakers had to treat the "pate fermentee" with more respect, monitoring its ferementation closely and treating its preparation exactly the same way, every day, as a planned ingredient in the next day's production.  It couldn't just be re-utilized scrap dough that's left sitting around until you remember to re-use it.


I don't know of any general agreement among artisan bakers about how "old dough" should look when it's ready.  Maybe that's because, traditionally, its use was almost an afterthought.  I think that the operators I know who use a lot of it are happy when their bakers just mix it and ferment it exactly the same way every day.


I like bread made with old dough a lot, but keeping large amounts of it around in a professional bakery requires lots of refrigeration, and some operators would be limited by that.  Poolish, sponge, and levain can be fed and maintained at room temperature, so that's less of a logistical hurdle.


BTW, old dough gets a little unpredictable in its effects after a day, in my experience.  You might get it to perform after 36 or even 48 hours under refrigeration, but the bread made with the 24 hour old dough will get better volume, usually.


 


 

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I love pizza made with leftover pate fermentee! In fact, I make pate fermentee for the express purpose of having it in the fridge so I can make pizza whenever I choose to do so, which is at least every other day! I thought I was just being clever, but I guess I'm not the first one.


Anyway, it does make great pizza! Thanks for explaining the history on its usage.


--Pamela

CarlSF's picture
CarlSF

Hi Dan,  thanks for the information.  Now, it all makes sense!!

xaipete's picture
xaipete


A liquid starter will go through its life cycle more quickly than a firm starter, but they don't grow as much in volume as a similarly fed firm starter.



I didn't think about this, which is probably why I thought things were going so slowly. (I always weigh everything, so my hydration calculation is based on weight not volume, but thanks for pointing this out.)



Healthy liquid starters are higher in yeast activity like CO2 production and alcohol production.  They are higher in enzymes like amylase and protease, which increases the rate of starch conversion (to sugar) and the extensibility of the dough as you try to shape it.  Ever had a dough that wouldn't extend easily into a long cylinder?  Use a liquid preferment the next time and you'll have less trouble. 



I'm anxious now to experiment with this so I can see it for myself! So how easily my dough extends upon shaping is partly owing to my preferment. Very interesting.



And liquid preferments are generally lower in acid.  That is to say, if one liquid preferment is fed properly at the same temperature as a firm pre-ferment, the liquid one will usually be less sour when they are ready for use.  You may not see the difference in just a day or two when you convert a solid levain to a liquid levain, but after things stabilize for 2 to 3 days, the liquid starter will have more mild homofermentative bacteria (lactic acid producing) and fewer  of the sharper heterofermentative bacteria (produce both acetic and lactic acid.



It does sound pretty complicated to me at this point, but I'm looking forward to working with a liquid levain so I can learn more. I'll try feeding the one I have created twice a day for the next couple of days before I use it and see what happens. Do you discuss all of this in your new book?


Thanks again for all this very useful information and the pictures too!


--Pamela

SulaBlue's picture
SulaBlue

It's amazing who you run into here. I didn't realize that Dan was /that/ Dan! I just got my Amazon notification that my book is on the way :) I was -hoping- I'd be the lucky one chosen by Wild Yeast at random, but no such luck, and ended up deciding that a technique book was one I really, really needed.

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Check out the advanced topics section, Sula.  We've been chatting with Dan over there, too.

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

I do discuss a lot of this in the book (maybe ad nauseam), but I find that, as a sedative, it can be more effective than Ambien.  That can be a good thing.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I'll definitely order a copy of your book esp. if you discuss all this stuff ad nauseam. That's just my cup of tea!


One more question. How much does the book weigh? Suas' new book has a sedative effect just in terms of it's weight alone!


--Pamela

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Mine's pretty lightweight, though I've never scaled it.  I suppose that for the sake of consistency I should.  Wait a minute . . . I'll head over to the bench . . . it's 1 pound 15 oz.  Less than 300 pages.  So it's light enough to carry, but heavy enough to use as a paperweight.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I placed my order this morning and can't wait to receive it. Also I am pleased that I won't have to buy a 2nd card to wheel it around on! Just kidding, but really Suas' book almost requires a special reading platform on wheels because of its weight.


--Pamela

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Yes, well, I know you're just poking fun, but I have to say that Michel's book is very, very impressive.  A lot of it is dedicated to pastry, so it is, of course, much heavier than mine.  I have a copy, and I like to see what he and his excellent staff have to say sometimes.  I took three classes at SFBI myself over the years.  A great school, and Michel is quite an expert.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I am very much enjoying Michel's book! It is excellent, but I'm not kidding about the weight; I pity the student that has to put that in his or her backpack.


--Pamela

SulaBlue's picture
SulaBlue

Seriously, I've made bread faster than they're processing orders right now! I placed my order on April 17th and I -just today- got the confirmation that it was shipping out today. Which means it'll be another 3 days or so, probably, before I get it. So much for 3-5 days shipping. Ugh! It's basketball season - I could use some reading material! I guess I could go occupy my time with some sourdough English muffins, but I don't think I have enough starter to do the trick for one batch, let alone a double.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I probably placed my order only minutes before you and got the one they had in stock! You'll be getting yours soon enough though. --Pamela

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Hi Dan,


I'd like to join the others in saying welcome to TFL. It's nice when someone of your standing in the bread community shares their time and knowledge so graciously with home bakers. So I hope I'm not speaking out of turn, but this seemed like a golden opportunity to address a fundamental and widespread misconception about sourdough microorganisms and population dynamics. The presumption that liquid (and/or warm) starters have more homofermentative and less heterofermetative bacteria turns out not to be the case. In reality, they're all heterofermentative. Please allow me explain.


Homofermentative lactobacilli populate a type I starter only briefly in the beginning stages, before a new starter becomes established. But they are transient, and soon replaced by the more acid-tolerant heterofermentative organisms. The key thing you need to know is that there are two types of heterofermentative lactobacilli---the obligately heterofermentative, and the facultatively heterofermentative.


Obligate heterofermenters, like Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis, "heteroferment" all the time, because that's all they're equipped to do. But they don't produce very much acetic acid in warm and/or wet conditions. They do grow faster in these conditions, but produce mostly lactic acid and ethanol. In cooler and/or drier conditions, they actually grow slower, but more of what would become ethanol is turned into acetic acid instead.


Facultative heterofermenters are equipped for both homo- and heterofermentation. They tend to rely mostly on homofermentation in warmer and/or wetter conditions, where they too grow the fastest. As hydration and/or temperature are reduced, heterofermentation and acetic acid production increases proportionally, as the overall metabolic rate is decreasing.


In both types, lactic acid production is highest at the warmer/wetter end of the spectrum, because that's where sourdough bacteria grow fastest. Whenever they are fermenting sugar, they are producing lactic acid, but not necessarily acetic. Acetic acid production increases as the temperature and hydration move downward, because the substrates which allow them to produce acetic acid, become more available. But, it's the same [heterofermentative] organisms producing the different acid profiles in the different situations. Homofermentation in this kind of starter is coming from heterofermentative organisms. It's not that the different ends of the spectrum favor different types of LAB, so much as they favor different metabolic pathways.


If a liquid preferment is lower in acid than a firm one, all else being equal, it may be in good part because the liquid preferment is lower in flour (or the flour is more diluted by water, whichever way you want to look at it). It's the flour that provides the buffering capacity and is the limiting factor in how much acid can be produced before the pH drops too low for the bacteria to grow. More flour means more acid can be absorbed. More acid means more sour, because acid concentration (TTA) is what the tongue senses (rather than pH).


If you're interested in reading about the metabolic pathways of lactic acid bacteria in more depth than I have given here, please check out this thread:


Click here: Lactic Acid Fermentation in Sourdough | The Fresh Loaf


Respectfully,
Debra Wink

rainwater's picture
rainwater

I evolved from Reinhart's 100% hydration starter to a 75% hydration starter....very easy to work with.  When I have left over, I use baker's math to determing how much flour and water is in the leftover, and subtract this from a standard recipe....beats throwing it out...it is, after all, only flour and water....with added flavor. 


After purchasing Hammelman's book, I'm learning to work with a 125% hydration liquid starter.  Hammelman's doughs, so far, seem to work differently than Reinhart's.  They use less percentage of starter, don't proof and final rise as much....but make up for it in the home stretch with oven spring.  I'm learning a lot. 


So now, I keep a firm starter (75%), and a liquid starter (125%).  To answer the original question.....I would think you could POUR a liquid starter, and CUT  a firm starter in pieces???????

xaipete's picture
xaipete

I haven't read Hamelman on starters yet, but the thing I am learning is that it is not just the amount of water in the starter--not just simply a matter of making it more liquid--but a change in the proportion of acids, which changes other factors in the loaf.


--Pamela

CarlSF's picture
CarlSF

I don't think there is really a standard hydration level between a stiff starter and a liquid starter.  I have seen stiff starters between 50-60% hydration, and liquid starters between 100-125% hydration.  A stiff starter will have greater acetic acidity which will result in a bread with a more sour taste.  A liquid starter will have more of a lactic acidity which will produce a bread with a mild sour taste.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Thanks, Carl. That is what I now understand.



A stiff starter will have greater acetic acidity which will result in a bread with a more sour taste.  A liquid starter will have more of a lactic acidity which will produce a bread with a mild sour taste.



Well said.


--Pamela

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Speaking purely from my own experience (with starters from anywhere between 50% and 150% hydration refrigerated and room temperature) I can't say I've found a definitive relationship between hydration of starter and sourness. Of course I also realise that sourness rather than acidity is, at least in part, perception. 


For white flours, I personally prefer hydration of 100% or lower as I find the 120+% hydration liquid levain far too temperamental. For rye, I tend to use a hydration of 133-150% which keeps it tremendously active.


In my opinion, the composition and  fermentation of the final dough is far more significant in determining the sourness of the final result than the hydration of the storage starter.


FP


 


 


 



xaipete's picture
xaipete

I can see why you think high hydration levains are tempermental. I'm only on day two and I can see they need a lot of attention and feeding.



In my opinion, the composition and  fermentation of the final dough is far more significant in determining the sourness of the final result than the hydration of the storage starter.



We were talking about how sourness was achieved on another thread. Debbie Wink said:



You're getting some sour from the starter, yes (if your starter is sour), but more importantly, the starter provides thepotential for sour to be further developed in the dough. That potential depends on there being enough souring bacteria present to make the sour. They grow and multiply quicker in warm wet conditions.



They will produce a higher percentage of acetic acid in cool dry conditions. But they can't do very much very fast if they're not there. Strength in numbers. So wouldn't the best strategy for increasing the sour be, to give a period of warm and/or wet in your starter, preferments and/or bulk fermentation (to increase the LAB population) and then cool it down to kick them into acetic acid production?


The problem or advantage, depending on which side of the sour fence you sit, is that continuing to refresh and maintain a starter cool and/or dry, reduces the LAB population, and its sour potential. It won't matter that each organism can produce more acetic acid if there aren't enough organisms to produce it in the given time.


 


Starter and dough require different strategies.



So I don't disagree with you, FP. At this point I'm mainly trying to learn more about sourdoughs and why one tastes a certain way while another tastes differently. Apparently, there are extensibility issues in play too. Different bakers specify different types of levains and I want to know why (understand why they care to specify one vs. another), esp. when I see the same baker using both types, e.g., Leader, Suas, etc..


--Pamela

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

To figure out the hydration of Suas' starters, I think you'll have to take a look at p. 181, where he breaks down the caramelized hazelnut squares in detail. He writes that the starter "is not listed as an ingredient", and that it has the same parts flour and water as the rest of the starter recipe. I believe this means that his stiff white starters are at 50% and his liquid starter is 100% (see e.g. sourdough with liquid levain on p. 202 and sourdough cheese bread on p. 217). It get's a bit confusing if you look at sourdough olive bread on p. 215, where his stiff starter is used in conjuction with 100% hydrated flour/water mix... Not very consistent, if we should believe that his starters are at the same hydration as the other flour/water mix.


If you're in doubt, you can always break his formulas down to get the overall formula, ala Hamelman's layout. Then you can see if your guess hydration is making sense.


I'm only keeping a 50% hydrated white starter myself - I've been feeding it twice a day the last couple of weeks on approx. 1:1.5:3 (starter:water:flour). I've had great success in converting recipes calling for liquid levains or even poolishes; the main thing to look out for, is that the overall hydration is correct and that you're prefermenting the correct amount of flour (i.e. you need less stiff starter than you need of a liquid starter).

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Thanks, Hans, I've only gotten through chapter 4. It's taking me longer to read this book because it is so incredibly heavy! (How much does it weight? 15 pound? Maybe even more?)


Yes, you are right. There is a breakdown on pg. 181. I looked for something like that in the indices but didn't see it. Thanks for pointing out the location to me. I'll check out Hamelman too.


So you aren't putting your starter in the refrigerator at all? And, how many days do you wait to use the starter after you have converted it to the correct hydration?


Thanks, --Pamela


 

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

I used to store it in the fridge, but I've kept it on the counter for the last 2-3 weeks. Each feeding only takes about 5 mins., and I've been using it at least twice a week in baking, so I figured I might as well leave it out.


So far I've kept the starter at 50% and rather converted the recipes to fit my starter (instead of changing the hydration of the starter to fit the recipe). This is my kitchen! I'm making the rules here!

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Well that's a smart way to proceed! Yes, it is your kitchen and you are making the rules there!


But what about the idea of some intrinsic difference between liquid and stiff starters? Do you think it has any significant merit?


--Pamela

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

I can't say that I've noticed any difference in the flavour or changes in fermentation/proofing times. A stiff starter should give a bit more sour taste and a bit slower fermentation times, but these are subtle differences that I haven't noticed so far.


What I have noticed, however, is what Dan pointed out above with regards to dough strength and extensibility. To compensate in cases where great extensibility is very important, I've sometimes used a separate poolish or done an extended autolyse on parts of the flour in the dough. Other times I've just skipped the starter all together, and gone with a poolish to achieve the desired extensibility (and many of the other advantages with a liquid levain). Sure, I could branch off a liquid starter from the firm one, and use it after a day or two, but it's less hassle to just mix up a poolish and put that into the dough.


I've come to love the little guy that I'm feeding twice a day (I haven't named him yet... but  I know it's got to be a boy. A girl would smell sweeter and nuttier), so I wouldn't mess with his hydration too much yet. And I'm not ready for more starters than this one yet, I think.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Perhaps the differences in flavor and fermentation/proofing times are subtle enough that they might only be important to bakeries.


If there are significant benefits with regard to dough strength and extensibility as has been suggested now by both you and Dan, then it is worth noting.


How you have compensated to obtain extensibility is extremely interesting and creative. It demonstrates great knowledge, on your part, of what you are doing!


So that may be it for the home baker: the intrinsic value of the type of levain used has to do with dough strength and extensibility, both of which can be accomplished by means other than just the hydration of the levain.


Thanks for participating in this discussion! I have really learned a lot.


--Pamela

hansjoakim's picture
hansjoakim

The choice of preferment (poolish, biga, pate fermentee, starter at given hydration) might have great implications on how the dough behaves. Suas goes into this in great detail in chap. 5 in his book, so you got plenty to look forward to, once you've finished chap. 4! :)


But you make a good point, Pamela - I think bakeries and larger scale operations need to consider this very closely, especially so if they need their doughs to be easily machineable. It's also very interesting to read (as you will in chap. 5) about how different preferments can be used to compensate for flaws in the flour (e.g. if the flour is overtly weak). One of the great things about ABAP in particular, is how the whole baking process, from mixing the preferment to pulling the loaves from the oven, is a single, connected process, with each step depending on the previous ones. Thanks for starting this great thread!

Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

Due to finding out I was pregnant again and the inevitable nausea that came after, I had to restart my starter as per Phyl's recipe.  This time I'm doing a liquid start (same by volume of water and flour) followed by feedings of 1/4 cup flour and 1/8 cup water (which will get me approximately 100% hydration).  I'm on day 3 today and everything is going well. It smells like old socks. Adam's old socks. After a day at the factory. But that's what it smelled like last time, so I just have to keep doing what I did then.


In my opinion the words liquid and stiff can be misleading and therefore shouldn't be used. They don't really describe enough the hydration percentage. I just use a percentage by the amount of starter I'm using in my recipe. 60% is a firm or stiff starter in most of what I make, and 100% is the batter-like starter that's still strong enough to hold its own. I scale the recipe to suit my starters.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Congrats, Stephanie, on your pregnancy. I hope you feel better soon and have good luck with your starter.


--Pamela