The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

"Adjusting" sourdough starter

davidg618's picture

"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...


Floydm's picture

Beautiful loaves.

trailrunner's picture

those look really great. appreciate the thorough explanation. c

Bixmeister's picture

What did you glaze with?

davidg618's picture

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

I'll bet its going to taste great!

Glad you're getting utility out of the spreadsheets.


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

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!


davidg618's picture


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.


David G.

marc's picture

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?

bblearner's picture

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