The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Baking SD the College way!

gravityarcher's picture

Baking SD the College way!

Hi Everyone!

I've meandered around here for some time now and posted a few questions concerning the biological background in sourdough.

Anyway, I've been making sourdough for about 10 months now from a starter I created by capturing wild yeasts at the summit of Mount Lemmon, Arizona.

It's been really tasty bread. Of course, when I was first making it I had no idea what I was doing (I still may not) and there was little consistency.

Since then, I have had much greater consistancy between loafs.


In the past couple of months, however, I've had more and more trouble squeezing sourness from my starter. Although the starter has relaxed mostly consistently, it seems to have a rather subtle sour flavor unless I mass a huge effort to make sure its super sour.

As the Subject suggests, I'm in college. I don't have a lot of time, so honestly, this is how I store, mix, and proof my starter/bread:

-Stored in a clean yogurt container in the fridge

       -At a pancake batter like consitency.

-Remove from fridge, put in large mixing bowl, add distilled water and bread flour to a thick paste

-leave it out to ferment... could be 12 hours, could be 18.... I usually start this ferment 4-5 days before I make my bread.

-Refresh it every day till I have a sizeable amount of... proof is it called?

-About 12 hours before I plan on baking... I add  a little more distilled water (~1/2cup) and then just a bunch of flour till I have a workable dough

-I knead it very little

-Form a loaf on a cookie sheet, coat with a light bit of olive oil, cover with a towel, and let it rise on the counter for ~12 hours.

-Voila! Most of my bread seems to come out rather flat lately. Still has a decent crumb, but kind of flat.



Any one have any suggestions for improvement?




Thanks! You're all awesome!


As a side note: I have made an experiment by combining some of my starter with the liquid that seperates from plain yogurt... seemingly it contains some strains of Lactic acid bacteria that would rejuvenate the sourness in my bread. We'll see what happens. Has a new potent sour aroma to it already.

BvN's picture

Gravityarcher, you have the right attitude! I, personally, dislike sour-dough. What you seek is a reliable source of lactobacillus. I think you might find your answers in the beer department.

Look up Belgium Lambic, Kriek, and Gueuze. Yes, these are beers - same ingredients and similar processes as bread. The commonality is that they use fruit to achieve sour fermentation. There must be some way of transfering the bacteria from the fruit to your starter.

Yeast has been at war with bacteria for eons. Once yeast achieve krauesen, the bacteria are done for. My guess is that the lactobacillus must set up shop before the yeast take over.

Flour is not a great food for yeast. I spend hours (mashing) tranforming malted grain (which I buy whole and mill) into yeast food (malt liquor) each time I brew. Starter should give the bacteria a head start.

PS. I don't know about the usefullness of distilled water, however de-chlorinated water is a must. Just leave it out, uncovered for 12 hours or so.

One of the main functions of beer is the production of potable hydration - especially pilzn's (early lager). Some understanding of zymurgy might help you in your quest.

I try to reproduce early methods (10th century and on) in my brewing and baking. Not a whole lot of luck. It was Pasteure that discovered the role of yeast. In a sense, you are trying to reclaim methods and processes that were commonplace before that discovery. Have fun and keep publishing your journey.

foolishpoolish's picture

It is interesting to compare the roles of yeast in brewing and baking. However, while there are similarities, the goals are different (alcohol production vs. CO2 production)

Unlike yeast such as S. cerevisiae which are quite 'prolific' organisms which given enough substrate and the right conditions will 'dominate' a culture, the yeasts commonly found in sourdough cultures coexist quite happily with lactobacilli and can benefit each other. The acidic products of bacterial fermentation go some way to creating a favourable environment for the yeast. Additionally lb sanfranciscensis, for example, will metabolise maltose and excrete glucose which provides food for strains of yeast unable to metabolise maltose themselves.

In breadmaking, natural amylase converts the flour starches into sugars for yeast. Since amylase exists in significantly smaller proportions than the typical mash, this process takes time but it should be noted that the end goal is not complete saccharification of the grain (making wort) but rather just enough food for yeast to produce enough gas to leaven the dough.



BvN's picture

Yeast and Lb in symbiosis? Never knew that. I made quite a bit of sour-dough in the 60's, but have lost the taste for it. Obviously, the existance of starter indicates the possiblity of a balance between Lb & S cerevisia.

It's nice to find people interested in the microrganism aspects of making bread, be it starter or sponge.

My experiments with feeding S. cerevisea malt extract v/s bread flour pretty much indicate that bread flour is a distant second choice. I've had many more failures with the yeast during the flour feeding cycle. Other postings on this site, indicate the need for regular and careful flour feedings - which don't seem to be critical with malt extract feedings.

So far, the most productive technique, I found, is to do a propagation step with malt extract using all of the dough's water and then set a sponge with the result. All of my dough's yeast comes from the set sponge. It rises well and I like the fuller taste or mouth, that comes from the malt extract (not fully metabolized) rather than what I get from table sugar. This is especially true with my rustic French.

Complete saccharafication of a mash makes a rather dry and uninteresting beer. I do both alpha and beta amylase rests expoiting natural enzymes found in the malted grain. I enjoy extending by brewing experience into the bread making arena. FYI. beer "conditioning" is CO2 centric - ref. the use of "gyle".

I was poking around Lb info. What I am given to understand is that Yogurt always has Lb bulgaricus and Strep therophilus. Non pasturized yogurt also has Lb acidophilus. How does our college student inoculate his starter with more Lb? And, what kinds are best for a sour-dough? Somehow, the name, Lb sanfrancisensis, indicates that it may be a clue.

Found some interesting stuff regards how Lb acidophilus can be used to combat yeast infections - so, if a peace exists, it must be an uneasy one.

BvN's picture

PS. I've started a blog "Poolish Pride" on this site to document my journey in baking with pre-Fleishmann's methods. While you and I are on opposite ends of the lactobacillus spectrum, the compare and contrast might be of some interest.

Everybody on this site knows more about bread than I do; but I know a bit about yeast. I've been brewing off and on for for over 40 years - same with baking bread. But, it's only since I retired 10 years ago, that I have been doing an acceptable job of brewing - and actually learning something. I've been serious about baking bread for a bit under 2 years.

My first encounter with set sponges (poolish) was a few weeks ago. My wife and I were baking bread (different kinds) and she was using a set sponge. At last, a yeast process that didn't submit the yeast to >100 degree temperatures. I had dispared of finding common ground between brewing and baking. Then Eurika!. I found this site and things started to come together. Still having lots of failures; but, beginning to have some successes with my new (but very old) methods.

LindyD's picture

While there's certainly wild yeast in the air, Gravityarcher, there's more in the flour you used to start your sourdough culture.

I think you'll enjoy reading Debra Wink's experiences and the discussions that followed.  There's more than one part to her paper.

pattycakes's picture

Have you tried shaping your bread a little more tightly and then proofing it in a couche or basket? Anything with the shape you want can serve as a nesting basket for your dough to rise in. Add a well-floured piece of linen and cover with plastic. Using a basket for shaping will help with the spread.

Good luck!


BvN's picture

I find the use of a couche almost essential - even though I use sponge rather than starter. A cheap commercial, linen apron, with the ties cut off, is an economical way to make one.

BvN's picture

The link to Debra Wink's "experiences" is a gold mine. While, I view Lactobacillus as "the enemy" and my focus is on sponge and yeast cultures, this is incredibly informative. In my brewing, I raise the pH (burton salts and the like), I did not understand the importance. I'll be adding pH measurements to my sponge experiments ASAP.

Is there an equivalent white paper on sponges?

gravityarcher's picture

I read the whole thing! Excellent information. Thanks very much for posting it. I feel like the most important thing to take away from that is how much the pH level affects what is happening in the dough. And it makes sense... as the pH level lowers, it becomes a lot more inhospitable for bad bacteria.

I bought some whole wheat flour today and added a little bit of that to my massive bowls of stewing proof (dinner party this weekend, making a bunch of fresh bread!). I'm hoping that will help add a good twist. In the past, I did use a little bit of it, but I felt it gave the bread a really coarse and dry texture, so I stopped using it. We'll see how this turns out -  I only added about a 10% mixture of it into the whole bowl.

I'll be shaping the loafs on Saturday morning and watching them rise the whole day. I think I'll make an experiment out of it and take a picture every 30 minutes to see of I can find out how long is long enough for my culture!

Also, in rising, I find that the dough becomes sticky again and I have problems transferring it to a cooking surface. Thats why I've been letting it rise on cookie sheets... I can just throw em in the oven.

Given that, is it possible my dough just doesnt have enough flour? that it's too wet? What is a good way to determine how stiff your dough should be?



Davo's picture

Try rising it a little less than all day before you bake... It won't go as sticky, and might spring int he oven a little more. The real test is for spring. Poke a wetted or well floured finger a cm or so into the dough - if it does not come back at all it's been left too long. If it bounces back quickly, it needs more proving. If it rebounds a little bit, but not much get it in the (pre-heated) oven ASAP...

Rising "all day" sounds like a likely overproof to me, unless it's pretty cool/cold...

gravityarcher's picture

Thanks for the advice, I'll definitely try that out. And nope, its actually getting pretty warm here... I'm in Tucson!


On another note, I think I may have found part of the problem I have been having. And that is that I'm essentially making a massive bowl of starter, and then adding flour to it until it becomes a dough. If it were merely a sponge, i wouldnt leave it nearly as long as I do. However, since I leave it so long, all the enzymes really break down the proteins. Sure adding more flour gives the yeast some stuff to chew on to help it rise, but there is so much of the enzymes that I lose the structure in the proofing stage.

I think I'll trying using a cup of my 'sponge' with several cups of flour and some water to make a workable dough... so its more like 25% sponge/75% fresh flour and water rather than the other way around (which is what I have been doing for some time.


Davo's picture

12 hours is an awful long time to prove your final dough - I suspect if you lessen that a fair bit you won't have as flat a loaf. It's probably just overproved.

I read that it's thought that the lactobacilli come from the baker's skin. Whatever, if you have got a SD culture that's 10 months old, you won't need to add LABs, they will already be in there. Adding more won't keep them higher, they will fall back to an equilibrium in your starter anyway.

Commercial yeast is very different from the "average" SD yeast. Commercial yeast eats maltose well, SD yeasts don't. I gather the acidity doesn't favour yeasts, it's the monosacc's that the LAB make out of maltose that helps the yeast. Hence the symbiosis - yeasts get better (for them) food from the LAB-made maltose breakdown products, and LAB get the maltose that the SD yeasts on the whole don't much eat. This is why putting commercial yeast in SD to start with is a BAD idea. It will eat the maltose, and will compete with both the natural (comes-with-the-flour yeasts), AND the LAB.

Beer and SD have less in common than some think.

BvN's picture

Davo's comments seem to be "right on the money". Most aspects of beer making practice are designed to prevent Lactobacillus (Lb) from gaining a foothold. Beer focusses on yeast (zymurgy) and SD focusses on Lb.

My brewing books dissagree that the yeast like mono-saccarides. On the other hand, giving the yeast a headstart (adding commercial yeast) would put the Lb at a competitive disadvantage - hence a BAD idea.

There was a link to very informative, fact based, article on the life cycle of starter. Two key concepts: seccession (evolution through different sets of organisms) and the role of pH. The pH seems have a huge effect on the kind of Lb present. FYI. Fermenting yeast are mildly acidic. If I interpret the article correctly, SD concerns focus on establishing the correct Lb foothold, while mostly ignoring the yeast. Articles on the Belgium beers - Lambic - etc. are similar. The focus is on establishing the correct Lb which, again, is all about pH and succession (each generation lowers the pH furthur).

I found a name for my bread sponge practice - "emptins" on the Wikipeda under "Baker's Yeast", "History". My yeast (raised on maltose in a fermenting vat) sticks up it's nose at bread flour :-) You would not want it in your starter.