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Starter sourness/ripeness question

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venkitac's picture
venkitac

Starter sourness/ripeness question

I've been going thru a lot of extremely informative old posts on sourdough starters today, and TFL is awesome! One thing is still not clear to me, though: I have read in a couple of books that "if your starter tastes sour, it is past its prime to leaven bread. Refresh the starter, wait till it is just before the point of collapse, and then it is at its prime". I believe I understand the "just before the point of collapse" part, that's the same deal as for a commercial-yeasted poolish. What I don't get is the former part: I have a starter at about 70% hydration. When I refresh this starter say every 8 hours, at 8 hours it doesn't quite look like "just before the point of collapse", it is still happily rising, but it is already plenty sour. So I'm confused: I have a starter that is, according to the book, past its prime to leaven bread, but hey it still isn't at the point of collapse anyway.  (I first thought it must be the low hydration. Then I made a batch of starter at 100% hydration. That too, even after just 4-6 hours after a feed, has developed sourness but it's nowhere near collapse). What should I make out of this?


Thanks!.

bassopotamus's picture
bassopotamus

I'm hesitant to say too much given my own starter experiences the last couple weeks but...


 


I think those instructions seem a little overly fussy. My starter is about the same hydration as yours, and I can't say that I've ever seen it really collapse. It stops rising eventually, but pretty much stays puffed. Mine mostly stays in the fridge, but I've been leaving it out this week and feeding more often to get it more sour, and even at 24 hours between feedings, it has never collapsed (I usually feed more like 12).

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Hi Bassopotamus, isn't it the other way round? If you feed it more often, I believe it becomes less sour. Right?

bassopotamus's picture
bassopotamus

Yes, within reason. What I had been doing is like weekly feeds of a starter that was kept in the fridge and the yeast was going great, but the sour bacteria finally gave out. I switched to storage on the counter and 2x then 1x daily feedings with some organic rye, and it has its mojo back.

flournwater's picture
flournwater

What "sourdough" starter recipe are you using?

venkitac's picture
venkitac

I'm not baking bread at all, just building starter. I followed Debra Winks process with apple cider vinegar, and now I feed to double the weight (always double the weight, regardless of hydration). I'm using bob's red mill bread flour for the feeding. Also, starter was outside all the time, unrefrigerated. Daytime is probably between 70-78 degrees, night is probably 65-70 degrees.

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

What book are you using as a reference?


I'd say that if your starter looks healthy (i.e. it is growing), it has a pleasantly sour flavor, and it makes good bread, you are blessed.  No worries.


Didier Rosada is possibly the most learned baker in North America, and has coached every U.S. baking team sent to Paris for the Coupe du Monde.  He was the head instructor at the National Baking Center about a decade ago when one of the most respected sourdough scientists in the world came to visit the Baking Center, and Didier was very excited to have this one-on-one access to such an honored fermentation expert.


So when Didier, notebook in hand, finally asks him about the complexities of maintaining the best possible sourdough culture, the world-reknowned scientist answered "Well, Didier, if you have found a process that works for you, that is probably what you should do."


I understand your confusion over why books disagree about what's "correct."  I can't be objective about this subject anymore, but I'd suggest that the short explanation is that, like all people, an author doesn't know what they don't know until they find out they don't know it.  So the potential for well-intended misinformation alone is staggering.  Add to that the publications from authors who write well and have big photo budgets -- but aren't really informed and may never be -- and we have what you now see before us.


With simple things, like buttoning your shirt, there's not much room for interpretation or disagreement, but in any more complex activity, this is certainly not the case.  It never has been, really, but the immediate access to information and blogging available with the internet makes the differences more apparent, I think.


--Dan DiMuzio

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Makes sense, thanks Dan. One of the books was Joe Ortiz's Village Baker, I cannot for the life of me find the other book (I've been looking high and low for an hour) - perhaps it was a blog and not a book.


So to sum up, all I need to do is make sure that my starter has the same levels of yeast activity as the starters used in various standards recipes suggested in books etc i.e make sure it's as good as reasonable starters used by others. For judging whether my starter is active and good, I am going to use this table: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/5381/sourdough-rise-time-table. If my starter behaves according to the table, then I have good, active starter, and I'm cool. That will be today's exercise for me.


Thanks!

davidg618's picture
davidg618

I'm willing to concede that most, if not all, of the information available online, especially "how to" information is well intentioned.


And we all know the old saw, "The road to..."


In my desire to learn both the artisnal and scientific sides of sourdough baking, I have encountered, and. in my initial ignorance, been guilty of following misleading advice. Frankly, I've found only a few trustful "advisors" in bakebooks, blogs, forums, and elsewhere online, who only earned my trust after following their advice yielded corresponding results. As ever, it's hard work, to winnow the wheat from the chaff.


David G.


P.S. My lead in statement of tolerence for good intentions does not extend to political blogs!


 


 

Ambimom's picture
Ambimom

 bassopotamus is right!  Sourdough is not that complicated....or shouldn't be.  Remember that the prospectors during the Gold Rush in California are the ones to whom we owe San Francisco sourdough.  They didn't have fancy equipment, know a thing about hydration, or stress about temperatures.  They carried their starters in pouches around their necks.  It's a gift from nature.  There are thousands of videos and photographs on the web that will explain and show how a live starter is supposed to look.  From my experience, once you know what a healthy one looks like, you've got it mastered.  I have worked out a formula for feeding and maintaining that works for me and keeps my starter happy and healthy.  Yes, it took a bit of experimenting and I'm still perfecting it but it requires minutes of my time....Find what works for you!

venkitac's picture
venkitac

Will do, that's what Dan said too. Thanks!


Thinking more about this, I still have a followup question, this is not a technical question, more like what tricks people use to get their sourdough bread (or dough) ready on time. Many sourdough recipes call for using an ounce of ripe starter to produce a levan build, which is further used to raise the final dough. Right now I'm on vacation, and I'm a mother to the dough and the starter and keep checking on everything every 30-60 mins, but it won't work when I'm back at work.


Suppose I bake only once or twice a week (which is usually true for me), and feed refrigerated starter on sundays. If I want to bake on wednesday, I will start the levain build on tuesday evening (say). By tuesday evening, the starter will be a certain ripeness (likely underripe) and thus the levain build will take longer to be at the proper ripeness. But say I bake on saturday - by friday evening the same starter will likely be fully ready and ripe and thus the levain build will be ready earlier in the morning. How do people make sure that the levain build is always ready at the same time in the morning (say 8AM) and you can do what you need to before going to work? Is the trick to dechill the original starter for a longer period of time before starting the levain build on tuesday evening than friday evening, so that on both wednesday and saturday morning , the levain build is ready at the same time in the morning?

bassopotamus's picture
bassopotamus

I do my SD as a low knead style, and you get a ton of flexibility that way. The mother builds a starter (I think your levain here) which sits out about 8 hours, then goes in the fridge, and is usable for a couple days. Then it gets turned into a dough, which sits out about 4 hours, then goes in the fridge and is also good for a couple days. My wife and I bake for a Saturday AM farmer's market and do 16 boules of SD a week (along with 5 other breads. Here is kind of what our schedule looks like. 


 


1. Keep mother happy as needed.


2. Wednesday- mix levain/starter. Leave out 8 hours, stick in fridge


3. Thursday around dinner time- make dough, leave out 4 hours, stick in fridge


4. Friday AM- shape, proof, bake


Any fridge step can be extended out to fit your schedule.


 


good luck

bassopotamus's picture
bassopotamus

Once it is doubling in 8 hours, I'd give it a try for some bread. What I found with mine is that it had the yeast power within a  week or two of starting, but took longer to get a stronger SD flavor. I'd just give it a try if it has the yeast activity and see what you get.


 


I saw a great response on a thread the other day. SOmeone posed a question like "what happens if I do xxxxxx?" and someone replied "you still get bread." I don't think it was meant to be flip. There is just some trial and error involved, and not every loaf is going to be perfect, but learning is half the fun, maybe more. And with my SD, I've never made a loaf that was inedible, just different varieties of tasty...

Alpine's picture
Alpine

"if your starter tastes sour, it is past its prime to leaven bread. Refresh the starter, wait till it is just before the point of collapse, and then it is at its prime"


My sourdough bakery uses around 300 lbs of sourdough starter a week and the above statement is ambiguous at best.


First, making sourdough bread sour is all about the lactobacillus and has nothing to do with the yeast --- leavening the bread is all about the yeast and has nothing to do with the lactobacillus. When working with sourdough cultures, you are creating a balance between two unrelated processes.


Our starter is split into two portions 48 hours in advance (sometimes 72 hours for extra sour bread). The first portion is not fed and allows the slower acting lactobacillus to overwhelm the yeast; the second portion is fed daily and caters to keeping the yeast extremely active.


On a bake day, we are actually using two different starters from one culture; a lactobacillus dominate starter and a yeast dominate starter. We do from 8 to 12 different dough runs depending on the types of breads being produced that day.


Each dough has it's own "old" to "new" starter ratio. Sourdough banana nut bread uses "new" starter only; minimum sour, maximum yeast, and a fast rise. White sourdough uses more "old" starter than "new" starter for maximum sourness and has a slower rise time. Each starter is at it's prime when used, and I have no idea what "collapse" means in reference to starter, but it sounds really bad to me.


here's one more thing worth mentioning, every 4 to 6 months I need to wash the starter to remove contaminates. I take home a half cup and spend a week or two washing and rebuilding the starter until it's perfect again. With contaminated starter, "old" to "new" ratios, rise times, and quality become a crap-shoot. It still amazes employees that the 1/2 ton+ of starter used each month comes from the half full paper cup of starter I take home every so often.

xaipete's picture
xaipete

Our starter is split into two portions 48 hours in advance (sometimes 72 hours for extra sour bread). The first portion is not fed and allows the slower acting lactobacillus to overwhelm the yeast; the second portion is fed daily and caters to keeping the yeast extremely active.

 

On a bake day, we are actually using two different starters from one culture; a lactobacillus dominate starter and a yeast dominate starter. We do from 8 to 12 different dough runs depending on the types of breads being produced that day.

Thanks for posting this very interesting information. I never thought of using two starters for my SD bread, but that makes a lot of sense. I have noticed that if I leave my starter on the counter, it is less sour. But after it sits in the refrigerator for just a few days without getting fed, then it is a lot more sour.

--Pamela

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hi Alpine,


Would you be willing to tell us the name of your bakery, and where it can be found?


--Dan DiMuzio

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Dan, this thread will give you some background.

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Hi Alpine,


I appreciated your mentioning splitting your starter, and feeding one part to build the yeast, and not feeding the other to promote LAB. That's more or less the strategy I started to use about 6 months ago and finally I began to be able to control the sourness in the bread. I say more or less because I feed the LAB side once a day, and the yeast side twice a day. If I want more sour bread, I increase the Lab-side starter, relative to the yeast starter. Works like a charm.


It's a comfort to know that a professional bakery finds this a usable strategy. (I never heard anyone else mention it on TFL before.)


Thanks for posting!


David

hc's picture
hc

Alpine, this is great stuff on how to control the level of sour with 2 starter cultures.


I have two questions. How do you know when it's time to wash the starter - I mean, how does it look and behave differently from what it usually does? And what is getting into it that contaminates it? I'd assume it's not commercial yeast if your bakery is sourdough-only ...

plevee's picture
plevee

And how do you manipulate the rebuilding to 'perfect'?  Patsy

Alpine's picture
Alpine

Basically, you dilute a small amount of starter in tepid (80f or so) water to a watery milk consistancy. Add 8 oz of this diluted starter to an equal weight of flour. Feed normally for a day or two.


If the starter was badly contaminated, this process may need to be repeated two or three times. Contaminates have a hard time surviving in a well established starter to begin with, washing gives the primary microorganisms an opportunity to overwhelm foreign microorganisms.


While the yeast recovers quickly, the lactobacillus takes more time to get to full strength. Usually one or two washings, and a week or two of regular feeding will result in a healthy starter noticably different from the contaminated "parent" starter it came from.


Always keep a frozen sample of the parent starter as back-up until the refreshed starter is working perfectly and in full production. Then back-up the revitalized starter...I usually keep the old parent starter until the next wash cycle, then dump it.

Alpine's picture
Alpine

I own the Alpine Sourdough Bakery in Corvallis Oregon.

I get lots of people asking for advice about making sourdough bread. My first question is: "tell me about your starter" RARELY is anyone actually using a viable sourdough starter.

One of my favorite books is "Bread Alone", it's one of my main reference books. unfortunately, he doesn't know squat about sourdough. (The account paying my rent each month used to be a La Brea account. Humbly, I do MUCH better sourdough.)

As for "how do you manipulate the rebuilding [starter] to 'perfect'?". Unless you already have a good starter, you can't fix it.

Go to www.sourdo.com, buy their duo Italian cultures, propagate the Ischia Island culture; then you will have a culture equal to (or better than) the one I now use commercially.

Unless you have an excellent sourdough culture to begin with (mine is at least 90 years old and may be centuries older), nothing I can tell you about making sourdough bread
will be worth anything.

If your starter has quick rise Bakers Yeast in it...it's trash....Start over.