The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

"Adjusting" sourdough starter

davidg618's picture
davidg618

"Adjusting" sourdough starter


Last week's result



Yesterday's result


Using Daniel DiMuzio's guidance, both from his latest book "bread baking, An Artisan's Perspective", and following his posting here on TFL,  I've been working with two different sourdough starters,from different sources. One contributes flavor much to our tastes for sourness, but disappointing in proofing times, and lacking in oven spring, and a second starter that has been phenomenal in yeast activity, i.e., proofing and oven spring, but dissapointing in our preferred sourness. Both starters are maintained in the refrigerator at 100% hydration.


Last week, using Daniel DiMuzio's pain au levain formula with firm levain (480g ripe firm levain, 700g total flour, 68% hydration) I built my firm levain at room temperature (76°F) from the first sourdough starter with three builds, spaced approximately 8 hours apart, gradually increasing the mass three times each build, and, simutaneously, reducing its hydration by one-third each build. DiMuzio's formula calls for a pre-ferment 60% hydration, I chose to match the dough target hydration, 68%, because I wanted to keep the build as wet as possible during its ripening hopefully favoring yeast development. I visually checked its progress and fed it its scheduled builds based on observable peaks; nevertheless, the build interval was nearly eight hours each time.


Expect for using all white flour, I followed Dan DiMuzio's formula exactly. I mixed the dough in my stand mixer for five minutes, allowed it to rest 30 minutes, and bulk fremented it with three stretch and folds spaced at 45 minute intervals. Doubling took approximately, three hours after the final stretch and fold. I shaped two boules (one 1-1/2 lb, one 2 lb); proofing took 2 and 1/2 hour. I baked the loave at 480°F, covered, with steam, for the first ten minutes, reduced the oven temperature to 450°F, uncovered the loaves and baked for another fifteen minutes until internal temperature was 206°-208°F.


The results were very gratifying. The proof times were nominal, compared to most sourdough recipes I've read or tried, and the oven spring was adequate, attested by first photo. I didn't get a photo of the crumb; it was close but light and airy, not dense; and the flavor was delightful to our palletes.


For three days immediately prior to yesterday I've been caring for a firm levain, built from the second starter (great yeast activity, disappointing sourness). Starting with 50g of seed starter, I added sufficient flour to immediately reduce its hydration to 65%, subsequently I fed it, approximately, every eight hours, maintaining its 65% hydration, ending early yeasterday morning with 480g of ripe firm levain. My goal, of course, had been to favor bacterial growth, as Dan suggests, over the extended build period.


I made the dough, shaped and baked the loaves as identically as possible to the first starter test. Proof times were, as expected shorter: 2 hours, and 1 and 1/2 hours respectively.


The results were equally gratifying, The levain retained its previous yeast activity, and the level of sourness we hoped for was achieved. The crumb is nearly identical (perhaps a little more open) compared to the first starter's loaves. The first two loaves are history, so I couldn't do a side by side comparison.


For sourdough, I'm satisfied, for now, with the three step build (increase/decrease by thirds from seed mass and hydration) I'm using, so I don't think I'll do anything with the first starter. On the other hand, I'm considering ways to improve the second starter's bacterial contribution to flavor, but ultimately regain its maintenance hydration, and the ability to build a ripe levain in one day. I suppose the most obvious thing is repeat the three day firm levain build, and then use my twenty-four hour three-build modification back to maintenance hydration. Waiting is...

Comments

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Beautiful loaves.

trailrunner's picture
trailrunner

those look really great. appreciate the thorough explanation. c

Bixmeister's picture
Bixmeister

What did you glaze with?

davidg618's picture
davidg618

Nothing at all, that's just the dough's flour carmelizing, and, with the steam possibly gelatinizing early in the bake.


David G.

cake diva's picture
cake diva

I too made Dan DiMuzio's recipe after a blog last week (was it Susan?) recounting very good results.  I used David G.'s spreadsheets to build my firm starter into a 68% hydration levain.  Recall this was an error unwittingly propagated;  the original recipe calls for a 60% hydration levain.  My build was every 12 hours instead of David G.'s 8 hrs; nevertheless, I found no problem with the bulk fermentation nor the final proof.  Where I diverted was in the final shaping.  I have been itching to make a miche, so I thought I'd do it here.  Well, the dough was so wet I couldn't shape it into a single boule. I then tried to convert into a batard but as you can see, the final shape is more like a giant ciabatta. I think this may qualify as a candidate to our infamous Wall of Disfigured Breads...  I didn't take a picture of the crumb as the bread has been frozen, to be thawed and eaten this weekend.


Key takeaways for me: 1) David G's spreadsheets are nice tools to have for quickly coming up with the formulas for building up any %hydration starter, 2) Dan DiMuzio's recipe is easy to follow and versatile.  Next for me is to make the formula as Dan intended and this time I will stick to 2 boules.


large ciabatta

davidg618's picture
davidg618

I'll bet its going to taste great!


Glad you're getting utility out of the spreadsheets.


Regards,


David G.

cake diva's picture
cake diva

The giant ciabatta was reheated in the oven after being in the freezer for a few days.  OMG if I may say so myself!  The flavor was definitely sourdough yet not too sour, the crumb with a lot of fine holes, and the texture soft yet chewy.  One of my best productions.  I served this with spaghettini with frutta di mare in diavlo sauce, and it made for a very hearty and satisfying dinner.  The guests were using the bread to clean the sauce off their plates... I will definitely try this again at a lower hydration to make the elusive miche. 


Thanks Dan for the recipe!  Say, if you need a pair of hands to make bread for prototyping (or for the bakery if you have one), I'm happy to offer my services free. I'm a formulator (shampoo, though) so no worries about me not knowing how to work in a lab or kitchen :)

TeaIV's picture
TeaIV

your starters sound like total opposites. might I suggest mixing them, or using both in a dough? what about making a new test starter from both? maybe that way you'd get the best of both?


 


loaves still look great!


TeaIV

davidg618's picture
davidg618

TealV,


I thnk merging the two starters would be a crap shoot since I don't have base knowledge of what's in them, i.e., what are the specific dominant strains of yeast and bacteria. I'm going to continue on the paths I've chosen for a while: build pre-ferments that move each toward a balance of adequate yeast activity, and flavor we like, and working to increase the yeast activity in the one seed starter that is sluggish, and the bacterial contribution in the one lacking flavor.


Moreover, I am also interested in the subtle flavor difference I think we're experiencing from the two starters. I feed them both with the same flour and water, and they sit beside each other in the refrigerator. I wonder what each will be like six months or a year from now.


Nonetheless, your suggestion is intriguing, and I may try marrying them in yet another experiment. Hey, that's the fun of baking, along with the eating.


Regards.,


David G.

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Great, great stuff, David.


You're a quick study.


--Dan DiMuzio

marc's picture
marc

I'm trying to refine and improve my Pain au Levain baking and have made two recent attempts with Daniel DiMuzio's formula. The first, due to a highly active starter completely overproofed. The second is currently proofing as baguettes. The dough was quite springy after a 3-hour bulk fermentation, but while forming the baguettes, the dough became very loose and somewhat droopy. Moving them from my cutting board to the parchment lined paddle was a chore. The dough essentially had no resistance to stretching at all. I modified the recipe a bit by reducing the hydration slightly and using only Giusto's Artisan bread flour—no whole wheat. I used Daniel's Improved Mix Method and the dough at the end of mixing was very very wet, but with two stretch-and-folds spaced about 30 to 45 minutes apart, it seemed to develop more strength. Maybe my dough was too wet to begin with? Can anyone with experience making this formula provide me with a hint about how the dough should feel once mixed? i.e. stick to the bottom of the mixer but not the sides, be sticky, not be sticky but tacky, etc. etc. Maybe I just need to do more stretch-and-folds?

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

If you can give me more information, I may be able to help you.


First of all, did you get the formula second hand from someone here or directly from the book?  If it is from the book, you'll notice that there's a liquid levain version and a firm levain version.  Which did you use?


If you have someone else's interpretation of the original formula, I'll need to know exactly what that is -- ingredients, precise mixing procedures and exact fermentation times and temps.


The characteristics of the flour you use means a lot to how the wetness/dryness will turn out.  What flour did you use?  Brand and type, please?


Are you an experienced sourdough baker, or is this a new venture for you?


Would you be able to do photos of your next attempt -- together with a precise description of any changes you make to the formulas or procedures?  Photos of the levain AND the final dough can be helpful.


Lastly -- don't feel obligated to use all the water specified in a formula.  In any formula, the water quoted is an educated estimate.  You can hold back 5% of the water or more and add it if the dough needs it.  Or, if the dough seems dry, you can add a smidge more water.  Just make this decision about dough moisture during the first 1-2 minutes of mixing.


When you see that your flour is consistently producing wet doughs with a certain formula, then use less water the next time and record what the difference is.  That way you won't have to keep encountering the problem.


Try reading through this thread to get a better understanding of how controlling the fermentation of both the starter and the final dough can affect your results:


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/12629/sourdough-trouble-flat-loaves


--Dan DiMuzio

marc's picture
marc

I think cutting back on the water a bit and not adding all at once is a good idea. I think what I'm needing is a better idea of how the dough should look and feel while and after it's been kneading. More muscular and together. Loose and sticky. Somewhat tacky? Sticks to the bottom of the mixer, but clears the sides? Etc.


In terms of the loaves being flat—They are not completely flat like pita bread. They just mush apart when scored (kind of like scoring pudding), spread considerably on the baking stone, and then don't get the brilliant oven spring that achieves the enhance definition of the scores. When using this dough to form baguettes, the baguettes offer no resistance and are easier stretched than rolled, and end up looking wrinkly on top.


I know some of this is probably a result of over proofing and maybe an overactive levain. 80+ degree weather and high humidity here lately also speeds up the fermentation as well.


I think though it's more of an issue that I am not getting the dough constructed correctly in the beginning.


I'm now using Giusto's Artisan Bread Flour—which I think is more or less the same as KA All-Purpose. Prior to that I was using KA Bread flour, but I think the gluten was too high and the bread too dense, and the crust resembled leather.


I was baking fine with Peter Rinehart's recipe all last year using KA bread flour until I was delinquent with my starter and it died. That's about the extent of my sourdough experience. Peter was very kind to entertain my plethora of pings for advice as I tried for more than 2 months to get a starter going again. Fortunately, I now have a very healthy and active starter that seems as though it might be impossible to kill (knock on wood).


In terms of general life experience with flour: I was a pastry chef at the Metropol Bakery in Eugene Oregon years and years ago and also worked at Boulangerie in Seattle. I only did the forms at Boulangerie though. The doughs were made by the master baker Mr. Xon, so my knowledge of some aspects of the levain are limited. I distinctly remember Mr. Xon cutting off a portion of dough before adding salt. Dough in general was already proofing by the time I arrived for a shift. My main experience was fine pastries, croissants and puff pastry. All from scratch.


In terms of Pain au Levain though, I think it would help if I new what the target dough looked like. When I make brioche dough, I know the consistency—from "experience" of course. I sometime make the bread dough from the Metropol Bakery, and I know how it responds when being kneaded in the machine, and how it feels when I pull it out to place into a proofing bucket.


Pain au Levain? I have no clue. At this point—the more I read and learn about sourdough, the farther away from baking great loaves I feel as though I'm getting.


Then again, maybe it's like what Peter had emailed to me in response to my many inquiries about starters...."You're probably closer than you think."

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr


First of all, did you get the formula second hand from someone here or directly from the book?  If it is from the book, you'll notice that there's a liquid levain version and a firm levain version.  Which did you use?


If you have someone else's interpretation of the original formula, I'll need to know exactly what that is -- ingredients, precise mixing procedures and exact fermentation times and temps. 




Would you be able to do photos of your next attempt -- together with a precise description of any changes you make to the formulas or procedures?  Photos of the levain AND the final dough can be helpful.



 


I can't do much more than wish you luck without answers to the questions I asked above.


Good luck!


--Dan DiMuzio

marc's picture
marc

I didn't realized that the actual author of the book I've been admiring was the person who was responding to my queries. I have to say—so far, it's an excellent book! I just need to find some quiet time to read through the entire book. I have to admit—I'm one of those people who's motto is: If all else fails, read directions.


Anyhow, I got the formula from your book, and am using the firm levain formula. I'm weighing all ingredients—though I wish I had a scale that worked in 1g rather than 5g increments. I'll track progress and provide photos. My hunch is that two things have been occurring. 1. My mixing technique and intitial dough profile need to be improved. Holding back on the water is a good idea. 2. Making a preferment–if that's the correct terminology—with 100% levain may have produced a really strong growth of the levain, and using 68% of that levain in the dough, along with what has been several days of high heat and humidity may have just caught me off guard. It proofed too much too fast, and probably with a very wet dough, was just out of control. I have new dough in bulk fermentation now. It feels pretty good—passed the window pane test—and I've done one stretch-n-fold. I'll take photos and make a follow up posting. Thank you for you interest and rapid response.

marc's picture
marc

 


Yesterday's Pain au Levain was much improved.


I did modify the recipe though and worked with 25% levain. Overall temperature was 76 degrees all day.


Below is a photo of my levain over the course of it's fermentation.


Levain Fermentation


 


I used your "Improved Mix Method" and held back on the water a bit.


Bulk fermented 30 minutes. Stretch & fold. Continued bulk ferment 45 minutes. Another stretch & fold. Continued bulk ferment for a combined total of 3.5 hours until the dough had doubled in the container.


Below is a photo of my dough at the 30 minute mark, just prior to the first stretch and fold, and then at the end of bulk fermentation of 3.5 hours.


Pain au Levain Dough


 


 


 


The distinguished characteristic that I think most concerned me, is that while the dough was light, and full of air, it did not have much elasticity, or retraction after being stretched. As I rolled a baguette, there was not any resistance to speak of. I had to be careful, or very quickly I could stretch or roll the baguettes too long.


 


Below is an image of the baguettes right after their formation (notice the blistering?). The middle image is of the baguettes after proofing 1.75 hours an oven with a pan of hot water. Scoring them was tricky—with snagging and wrinkles and the interior tended to mush together after being cut. I used a razor sharp lame. The far right is the finish bread baked at 460 on a stone for 24 minutes with hot water in a small pan, and the oven sprayed with a water bottle after 2 minutes of baking. The score marks are not dramatic at all on the final loaves even though there was good oven spring.


Baguettes


Overall, the interior looks like a nice open crumb. The kitchen filled with that sweet sour smell as the loaves baked. The crumb is not wet, but very soft. The crust did soften after cooling. Not a crunchy tough crust, but firm. I think these may have baked too fast, as then browned up on the outside too fast.


My instinct is that I'm not getting the dough where it needs to be in the beginning as far as either hydration or kneading or maybe both. I'm using Giusto's Artisan Bread Flour. The fact that the dough lacks elasticity I think is the key. But, what can I do to improve.


 


I sincerely appreciated your taking the time to review my notes and photos. Any insight/advice will be greatly appreciated.


 


Best,


 


Marc


 


 

davidg618's picture
davidg618

you're being your own worst critic.


Hi, Marc,


Just back from vacation, minutes ago. After unloading the car I went online and checked email, and TFL: got your second message which prompted me to look at this thread. I thnk your baguettes have to be labeled "success". Your levain build looks as it should, and it probably could have gone for a few more hours before it peaked entirely.


Your proofed, stretched and folded dough looks, to me, that it behaved as it should for dough of this hydration, and two S and F's.


I can't tell if your scoring is done at a shallow angle (relative to the dough's surface) or vertically. If you scored at a shallow angle , the fact the dough filled the scored area, without leaving a gringe may be a sign of underproofing. I test my proofing by poking a floured finger into the dough. If it spring backs quickly leaving a very shallow indentation, or none at all, it's underproofed. If it springs back slowly and incompletely, leaving a pronounced indentation it's ready, If it does not spring back at all it's overproofed. (I just finished a four day artisan bread baking class at King Arthur, and all four of the instructiors--each a long-time artisan baker--test doughs' proofing this way.)


The crumb of the baguettes looks, to me, excellent, their cross-sectional shape as desired, and your description of the crust also. If you want a crisper, dryer crust, once your loaves are baked, turn off the oven, crack the door open and leave the loaves in for 5 to 10 more minutes. If your oven door doesn't have a partially open position, prop it open with a wooden spoon.


David G

marc's picture
marc

I really appreciate your supportive comments, and you are correct—I am definitely my own worst critic. I waiver between describing it a character flaw that gets in the way, or a personality trait that drives me toward perfection.


Your comments on the proofing make total sense. I think I was just a little gun shy with the proofing and was afraid it would go too far.


Leaving the bread in the oven the extra 5 or so minutes is a great idea. I might also do a test staggering the baking temperatures. This particular bake went from golden brown, to pretty dark in a short span of time. I might do a test staggering the temperature—maybe 460 or 475 for the first few minutes, then down to 450 or 440.


My scores were done at 45˚ angles with the lame.


The artisan bread baking class at King Arthur sounds like great fun.


Marc

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

I agree with my friend David there about your dough -- it's probably fine.  Your levain looked quite vigorous, which is also good news.


Let me first say that baguettes made from dough that is solely leavened with levain usually don't get the same upward push from the wild yeast that they would from manufactured yeast.  The wild guys do have accelerated CO2 production during oven kick, just like their manufactured cousins, but it is generally less powerful in it's thrust, or slower, or both.  So you probably won't get the same look with a pure sourdough baguette that you will with a conventional baguette - they tend to spread a bit wider and rise upward a bit less.


Now some of you might be thinking that you get great oven spring from your sourdough boules or batards, and you probably do, but those shapes concentrate the leavening force a bit more upward. 


Anyway -- I think the baguettes you scored above show signs of slight overproofing.  Maybe 5 or 10 minutes -- 15 minutes at most.  They weren't so overproofed as to cause collapse, but there was not enough growth potential left to make the cuts look dramatic as they opened.  See the wrinkling around the cut edges of the dough?  It isn't an assurance of overproofing, but it is one little red flag.


Incidentally, the crumb structure seems closed.  If you'd like it to be more open, I think there are demos on this web site somewhere that can help you shape long, thin loaves without eliminating the large alveoli.


--Dan DiMuzio

marc's picture
marc

This is probably off the track of talking about the pain au levain dough—but maybe not.


Are you including whole wheat flour to compensate for the lower ash content in American flour (i.e. King Arthur All-Purpose)?


My last few bakes have excluded whole wheat flour. My initial loaves, per my wife's feedback, "tastes like who'll wheat....i don't like whole wheat." I have to agree—I don't want to taste the whole wheat flour. However, I'm just asking my question to see if maybe there's more behind the addition of whole wheat than for "color/speckling" and "flavor/sourness". Is the whole wheat being added to make an American all-purpose flour, like King Arthur All-purpose flour work more like a French T55.


If yes—then what about adding semolina instead, or maybe rye. Or is there a general percentage of either whole wheat or rye or semolina that might work without skewing the flavor too much. What about White Whole Wheat from King Arthur? I called the King Arthur hotline about a month ago to get assistance with flour, and they said to purchase their "French Flour". Too expensive though and only available on line. There web site does make mention of the "Higher Ash Content" though.

marc's picture
marc

Thanks to David & I think Dan and Enid for jumping in with advice. Pardon my response if incorrect. I'm not new to reading posts, but definitely new to jumping in and participating.


I think cutting back on the water a bit and not adding all at once is a good idea. I think what I'm needing is a better idea of how the dough should look and feel while and after it's been kneading. More muscular and together. Loose and sticky. Somewhat tacky? Sticks to the bottom of the mixer, but clears the sides? Etc.


In terms of the loaves being flat—They are not completely flat like pita bread. They just mush apart when scored (kind of like scoring pudding), spread considerably on the baking stone, and then don't get the brilliant oven spring that achieves the enhance definition of the scores. When using this dough to form baguettes, the baguettes offer no resistance and are easier stretched than rolled, and end up looking wrinkly on top.


I know some of this is probably a result of over proofing and maybe an overactive levain. 80+ degree weather and high humidity here lately also speeds up the fermentation as well.


I think though it's more of an issue that I am not getting the dough constructed correctly in the beginning.


I'm now using Giusto's Artisan Bread Flour—which I think is more or less the same as KA All-Purpose. Prior to that I was using KA Bread flour, but I think the gluten was too high and the bread too dense, and the crust resembled leather.


I was baking fine with Peter Rinehart's recipe all last year using KA bread flour until I was delinquent with my starter and it died. That's about the extent of my sourdough experience. Peter was very kind to entertain my plethora of pings for advice as I tried for more than 2 months to get a starter going again. Fortunately, I now have a very healthy and active starter that seems as though it might be impossible to kill (knock on wood).


In terms of general life experience with flour: I was a pastry chef at the Metropol Bakery in Eugene Oregon years and years ago and also worked at Boulangerie in Seattle. I only did the forms at Boulangerie though. The doughs were made by the master baker Mr. Xon, so my knowledge of some aspects of the levain are limited. I distinctly remember Mr. Xon cutting off a portion of dough before adding salt. Dough in general was already proofing by the time I arrived for a shift. My main experience was fine pastries, croissants and puff pastry. All from scratch.


In terms of Pain au Levain though, I think it would help if I new what the target dough looked like. When I make brioche dough, I know the consistency—from "experience" of course. I sometime make the bread dough from the Metropol Bakery, and I know how it responds when being kneaded in the machine, and how it feels when I pull it out to place into a proofing bucket.


Pain au Levain? I have no clue. At this point—the more I read and learn about sourdough, the farther away from baking great loaves I feel as though I'm getting.


Then again, maybe it's like what Peter had emailed to me in response to my many inquiries about starters...."You're probably closer than you think."

bblearner's picture
bblearner

Hi Mr DiMuzio


Sorry to cut in here.  The thread you referred Marc to is actually the one I said I couldn't locate to find answers to adjusting sourness in bread.  I have bookmarked it and will be using it for information before my books arrive.  Knowing how some people turn pages made me stay away from library books. 


Regards, Enid

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

I hope you find it useful, Enid.