The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

July 2009 Rambling

Pablo's picture

July 2009 Rambling

Sourdough is going great right now.  Things have changed a lot.  I had been doing Xtreme low maintenance with my seed culture but ultimately I was disappointed.  Sure it bakes bread and sure it's very low maintenance, but I've been getting more and more suspicious that the oven spring has not be spectacular due to my culture maintenance technique. 

What I was doing:  Mix 200 grams or so of 60% hydration starter, let it sit at room temperature until there is definite movement within the container; the starter starts to grow, visibly.  Then chuck it into the 'fridge.  When I was going to bake I would take 10 grams of that starter, mix it with 20 grams of water and 20 grams of flour and let it double, then mix that with 100 grams of water and 100 grams of flour and let that double and I would have 250 grams of ripe starter to work with in my recipe.  The seed culture would stay, unrefreshed in the 'fridge for 6 - 10 weeks before I got to the bottom and refreshed the initial 200g.

Now: 5g starter, 20g water, 30g flour and leave it at room temperature.  Once it's peaked (3xs, 4xs...) then extract 5g and do it again. It FINALLY penetrated my conciousness that the flour ratio can be manipulated to help control the rate of fermentation.  I had been using temperature (in and out of the 'fridge) and water ratio (drier doesn't ferment as quickly as wetter).  But I can also manipulate the ratio of flour - I had been slavishly following a rule I read: double the weight of the starter as flour, i.e. the paragraph above this one.  But people do all sorts of wild ratios.  I decided on 1:4:6 and I'm happy with that now.  That's 66% hydration.  I may adjust the flour ratio even higher in the future.  I want to get comfortable with this technique for now.

The leftover from the refreshment procedure I dump on the counter and work in a bit of flour so the yeast has food, and the whole lump is then pretty dry, like 50% or so and put it in the 'fridge.  The next refreshment do the same thing.  When I baked today I had 8 or 10 refreshments worth of 50% leftovers that I treated as pate fermentee and mixed into the dough.  Seemed to work great.  The starter also seemed to create a much more active dough.  I haven't cut into them yet, so I don't know about the crumb.  I made boules today, but there's 900g of dough in the 'fridge to make 3 baguettes tomorrow.

The weather has been hot.  My baguette skins were drying out and being hard to slash nicely.  Also proofing has changed.  This new dough, plus the hot weather, has them proofing much quicker even without heating the proofing box.  I've been slashing the proofing time in half, from 90 minutes to 45 minutes.  Still playing with that.  Putting a dampened cloth over the dough while preshaping and while proofing seems to be a good thing.  Maybe I'll keep that up even when it's not so hot.  The dough skin was perfect for slashing.  I did pay attention to getting some good tension during shaping as well.  I'm really curious as to how the baguettes will come out tomorrow.



dmsnyder's picture

Hi, Pablo.

You're baking some very handsome breads these days!


Pablo's picture

I'm totally in a transition mode at the moment.  The crumb turned out to be pretty disappointing.  Rather close and no oven spring.  They looked great on the outside, though.  I gave one to a neighbour and I'm sure they're thrilled.  They're even tasty, we had one with soup at dinner.  But, you know, when you obcess about it as much as we do... anyway, as I said, I'm wildly in transition mode at the moment.  But thanks!  I really enjoy this hobby and the encouragement universally present here on the fresh loaf is so validating.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Call it a trade off with the weather.  In winter the bread is tastier and the butter low key.  In summer the bread a little less flavorful due to the faster rising times but the butter tastes of summer as the cows are put to pasture.  Fresh greens and all.   Nice looking loaves Paul! 


xaipete's picture

Nice boules, Pablo. I've also tried low-maintenance on my starter and had the same experience as you. I really think it is necessary to feed for a couple of days before using (Ugh).


Yippee's picture


They are lovely! Please show us the crumb as well.


davidg618's picture

photograph the crumb? I'd like to see it if you did. Some of us have been talking about SD crumb on another thread, Shiao-Ping's "San Francisco Sourdough" posting. You might want to take a look at her photo's and read the many responses.

I don't agree with you about the oven spring. You may not have gotten as much oven spring as you wanted, but from the open and filled slash marks you got some.

Here's some food for though. You commented you worked especially on the skin tension. Oven spring gas pressure has to work against the skin tension, Slashing relieves that tension, and allows the more extensible interior dough to expand into the the slashes until the dough's stretching balances the gas pressure once again, and your's did. Deeper slashes--up to 1/2 inch--will likely give you greater expansion, i.e. oven spirng, and a more open crumb..

I just made some baguettes over the weekend, and intentionally slashed two loaves twice as deep as two others (1/2 inch vs. 1/4 inch). As I expected, the deeper slashed loaves expanded more than the shallower slashed ones.

David G


Stephanie Brim's picture
Stephanie Brim

I've been complaining about my lack of slashing abiliity since I found this place, but I'm getting better. I like to use a cheap, thin serrated knife that I got with a free set from Sam's Club. It's about the only use for that knife set...

Anyway, I slash differently depending on what I'm going for now. I go anywhere from a 45 degree angle to a 90 degree, and I try to go at least 1/2 inch down. I sprinkle a little flour in between the cuts so that they have less of a chance to close back up. I'm getting better, but I still have some work to do. I don't get near the ear or gringe that most people are getting, but the slashes I'm making are starting to open up a bit more.

This inspires me to actually go ahead with the couple of sourdough experiments I'm wanting to make: a rosemary parmesan and a blue cheese pecan.

Nomadcruiser53's picture

The boules look great to this SD beginner. I should be so lucky. Dave

Pablo's picture

Since you asked, here's the crumb.  This half of a boule has been frozen, that caused it to sag over a bit.  I baked the rest of the dough as baguettes today.  The crumb is too close in general and espeically around the edges it's too condensed.  Does anyone know a general reason for that? -> For the outside being especially close.  They certainly may have been underproofed, although it seems like proofing happens from the outside in; you feel the dough giving way while there's still a hard core in the center, or so it seems.  Anyway, I'm clueless.

The outer skin on the baguettes was a bit dry and I think that contributed to the weird slashes.  I got it in my head early on to have the bottom of the baguette on the couche be the top of the baguette on the stone.  So covering them with a damp towel keeps the one side moist and pliable, but the underside, against the floured couche, still tends to get dried out in this weather.  Maybe my whole dough needs to be wetter...  I don't really use a recipe, (although this turns out to be Pain au Levain de Campagne, i.e. 10% rye SD) but I do shoot for a hydration level, although this time I added a lot of leftover starter that was pretty dry and I didn't really account for that in my calculations...

I do like when the baguette raises itself up off the stone and becomes round:

Not much in the irregular hole department.  Maybe a wetter dough would help.

I was thinking that in a bakery the environment, specifically the temperature and humidity, is controlled and consistent results are maintained.  At home we strive for consistency but are constantly making adjustments for our changing temperature and humidity conditions.  Challenging.  Anyway, it sure is fun!

Thanks everyone for the interest and comments.


Pablo's picture

It's fun to go back and read entries about where I was when I started here at the Fresh Loaf, so I think it will be fun to go back and read these comments in 6 months or so.  It's interesting to review a personal timeline like this.

It seems like each part of the bread process bubbles to the top at some point.  At this point I'm messing a lot with the primary step of starter refreshment.  I decided that I was disappointed with the Xtreme low maintenance as I mentioned above and I am attempting to move to daily feedings.  I've been frightened off the 'fridge by dire warnings here and there about yeast being exposed to temperatures below 50F.  That is even though many, many people use refrigeration in their processes.  I guess I'm fundamentally superstitious.  My plan is to one day replace the 'fridge in the kitchen and use the old one as a 55F holding environment for flour storage and fermenting.  Until then I continue experimenting.

I thought that grossly expanding the ratio of flour to starter would grossly slow the process of the starter's expansion after refreshment.  This doesn't seem to hold experimental water.  I used to refresh at roughly 1:2:2, currently I'm at 1:8:10 and I can't say that there's a tremendous difference in the time it takes to peak.  That's a mystery to me.  At 1:8:10 I'm still refreshing twice a day to keep the starter from collapsing, which I traslate as over-peaking.

Yesterday I rehydrated Carl's Oregon starter that I had in the freezer for several months.  I want to find out if two different starters, used idenitcally, will create different flavour in the bread.  Or different enough that I can taste the difference.  Carl's is being fed straight white flour.  My other starter gets a blend of 85% white, 10% rye and 5% high extraction wheat.  My current starter is a real hodge-podge in origin.  At one point I had 12 starters going, all being fed twice or thrice a day, different hydrations, different flours, Carl's was among them.  There were starters I created with pineapple juice and with straight water and flour.  I ended up mixing them all together and eventually moving to the Xtremem low maintenance method.  Now I'm coming back a bit.  I tend to swing to extremes.

I have a scale that weighs to .00 gram.  I'm feeding my regular starter at 2.5g starter, 20g water and 25g flour mix.  That started today.  I want to minimize the leftover.  I'm mixing the leftover down to 50% hydration or so (not measuring, just working a fair amount of flour into it) and sticking it in the 'fridge.  I then add it to the next dough batch as though it were a pate fermentee.  I didn't allow for the reduced hydration of the preferment in the last dough.  I will be more careful with the calculations next time and see if I get a bit more holes.  I do have Big Irregular Hole Envy, it's true.

Lately I've been wondering about the maximum percentage of starter to dough ratio that I might try.  In a lean dough, it's still weird to me that it's "starter" until you add the salt, at which point it becomes "dough".  Although this doesn't have to be strictly true since you can use a bit of salt to slow the preferment process.  Perhaps it's "dough" when it's had its last additions and is going to be baked without further additions, just some fermenting, shaping, slashing, etc.

Next load of bread: Using my starter; I need to refresh Carl's a few times before it's a fair comparison.  Allow for all the preferment hydration levels in calculating the dough, not just the starter (include the leftover starter 50% hydration stuff).  Hopefully that will create a wetter dough and the baguettes won't skin over as much while proofing.  Perhaps try a boule or two again, they came out beautifully - depends on how much dough I end up with.  Currently 900g dough = 3 baguettes.  The last boules I made were about 550 grams of dough.  I think three was too much to bake anywhere near evenly in my oven, two of them even touched during baking and they should have proofed more and been bigger anyway.

There you have it for now.