The Fresh Loaf

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Starter behavior correlates to starter hyrdation?

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janij's picture
janij

Starter behavior correlates to starter hyrdation?

So this question is based on what I am seeing with my starter. 


I am currently trying to find a daily bread/ basic bread formula that is my own so to speak.  I want the to make just one loaf at a time, by hand.  I want a sourdough.  I want a small percent of whole grain with the option of being 1/2.  I want a little sweet.  I want to be able to add a soaker if I want.  So over the last yr or so I have been trying out recipes and working with my starter to create exactly what I want.  I really like Hamelman's Whole Wheat Multigrain and the Vermont Sourdough with increased whole grains. What I came up with is a hybrid of these formula.


So the problem or question arises with the starter.  Hamelman suggests a 125% hydration 1st build.  I maintain my starter at 100% hydration.  When I tested recipes I had better results using a 100% hydration starter for the 1st build.  When the starter hydration was higher I ended up with a gummy mess for the dough.  The dough would not rise and was stretchy like taffy.  I think this is from the dough becoming to acidic and starting to break down.  Has anyone else seen this with their starter?  I remember reading in DiMuzio's book about how the hydration of the starter or preferment changes how they behave.  I guess I need to look that up again.  But I am wondering if this is my starter that acts like this.  I am going to retry the formula tomorrow and use 100% hydration instead of 125% and see if it turns acidic.  The other probelm could be I didn't refresh the starter enough before making the final build.  Any ideas?


Oh, the formula will look something like this:


1 lb flour


11 oz water


.3 oz salt


.5 oz honey


optional 3 oz mixed grains soaked in 3.5 oz water.  Overall water would increase to 13 oz .


1st build


3 oz flour


3 oz water


1.5 oz starter


Final build


13 oz flour


8 oz water


.5 oz honey


.3 oz salt


I was going to use autolayse method, with some stretch and folds.


The formula is basically 68% water, 2% salt and 3% honey  with the option of 20% whole grains soaked and added.  Nothing too original.

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hello,


The short answer to the heading of your post is that yes, a pre-ferment's behavior is greatly affected by its hydration level.  Wetter pre-ferments will ferment available sugars more quickly, boosting the rate of CO2 production and emphasizing the creation of a milder organic acid (lactic) over the sharper flavored one (acetic). 


By using less water in the pre-ferment, you can more or less reverse these tendencies.  There are, of course, an infinite number of hydration levels that can be selected, too many flours to mention, and variables that can't be predicted because of your particular environment.  So any hydration specified for a particular pre-ferment or bread dough is very tweak-able (if that word is allowable).


Wetter pre-ferments also go through their life cycle more quickly than drier ones, and if the maintenance temperature of the levain isn't controlled effectively, the arrival time (the time when the levain reaches its maturity) can occur either more quickly or less quickly than desired (I'm just guessing here, but if following Jeffrey's recommended hydration for liquid levain didn't work, then your maintenace temperature may need to be addressed).


On top of that, people's tastes in things vary considerably.   And there are an infinite number of "correct" balance points between levels of lactic and acetic acids.


To keep your head from spinning, I'd recommend that you completely familiarize yourself with "Baker's Percentage", and find a format that is useful for concisely recording what changes you're making to an "Overall Formula" to determine what's in its pre-ferment, and how that is subtracted to get the "Final Dough."  This is the only way to impose a meaningful level of control over the process, and to review what has or hasn't worked quickly.  You can ignore all that, of course, and you'll still get bread, but the process will be very inefficient, you'll be making changes blindly, and that will maximize the time necessary to find a winning combination.


I can't speak for Jeffrey, of course, but I can help you arrive at your custom bread formula if you treat the process in a "formulaic" way.  You can bake casually (which is fine), and accept more variation in your results, or you can start mapping everything you do in a universally accepted baker's language and get more technical about it.  This allows other "technical" bakers to look at what you're doing and analyze its effectiveness at obtaining your goal.


Jeffrey uses a very sensible format to express his formulas, and you can enjoy great success by following that.  Since you already own my book, you might try reading Chapters 3 & 10, and Advanced Topic #2 can help you sort things out.  Also, if you go to the Student Companion Website link that's listed in the Preface, you'll find some downloadable formula worksheets that can aid in plotting out your formula.


Getting more technical isn't for everyone, so I don't try to convince all bakers to do that.  On the other hand, if control is what you want, you should design formulas instead of recipes.  That implies abandoning random chance and approaching things more scientifically and mathematically.


--Dan DiMuzio

janij's picture
janij

Thank you for the info.  I have read Chapters 3&10 and I made a sheet to work out the formula for this.  It is 68% water, 2% salt and 3% honey.  I am prefermenting about 20 of the flour.  So I work from 1 lb of flour as 100%.  This isn't really my problem.  I understand the math part, and I am okay with going at things in a more scientific way.  I do make regualr sandwich bread the way of throw in and knead.  But enriched dough is more forgiving.


I think my real probelm is my starter.  I doubles in about 4-6 hrs depending on the temp.  I do think temp could be part of the problem as you suggested since I live in Houston and it is about 30 deg colder than normal this week.  But once I take the first build and make the second, or final build things, go south.  The dough gets stretchy, it doesn't rise well.  It is just weird.  I am thinking I should maybe try using regular yeast on the formula first.  I guess I am just frustrated with my starter and don't understand why it behaves weird.  I am remaking the bread today and it is going better.  I used 100% hydration for the 1st build.  But that doesn't rule out that maybe the starter yesterday was not active enough, it only got one small refreshment before used in the first build, or the temp.


Does using more starter help?  Say I made the first build 50% of the final dough flour at 100% hydration instead of 20%, would that make it rise faster?  Like if you added more yeast to a dough.  I just wonder if the gluten is breaking down. 


Thank you for taking the time to help me on this.

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Temperature is critical to getting anything like predictable results.


Jeffrey suggests 12-16 hours for the "first build" you are referring to, I think.  He also stipulates that the levain should be held at 70 degrees F in a covered container during that period.  Even a one- or two-degree variation from 70 degrees will cause a noticeable change in the time of optimal development.  So anything higher than 70 degrees will probably cause premature ripening, just as anything cooler than 70 would likely slow the process down.  Also -- and this is important -- you should mix the ingredients for that "first build" to come out to be 70 degrees right at the start of the 12 to 16 hour period.  If the levain starts out at 80 degrees, it won't take 12 hours to ripen in a 70 degree environment.  It might ripen in 6 or 8 hours.


I'd take his figure of 70 degrees seriously and try my darndest to find a spot that's 70 degrees.  Maybe near the floor of your apartment or home, maybe near the ceiling -- maybe in the basement.  There's more variation in the temperature of any given point in a room than most folks realize.  Leave a digital thermometer (turned off) in a spot you think might work for ten or fifteen minutes, and then retrieve it and turn it on right away.  You'll have an answer.  The warmest parts of a room are near the ceiling, around heat registers, or near the path of your refrigerator's cooling fan -- on top of the appliance.  Cooler temps are generally found near the floor in any room, and in the basement of any house.


If, despite your precautions, the levain shows signs of being ripe well before the anticipated time, then by all means go ahead and mix the final dough now, and make changes to your levain maintenance for next time.  It is always the condition of what you see before you that should govern your final dough mixing decisions -- not a theoretical set of times or hydration levels from a test bake that occured 2000 miles or more from where you live, possibly using a different flour, around 3 or 4 years ago.


You can use a 100% hydration level for your levain and use that instead of the one Jeffrey specifies in his formula, but you will have to re-figure the flour and water quantities present in the "Final Dough" to keep the hydration level specified for the Final Dough in his formula (this is where the mastery of baker's percentage comes in).


And even with the same ingredient percentages being used for his final dough and your final dough, the fact that you've tweaked the levain by using a drier one than he did will cause at least subtle changes in the flavor profile or leavening characteristics.  This doesn't mean the bread won't be as good.  It will just be a bit different from what you read in his formula, and there's really nothing wrong with that in any qualitative sense.  A somewhat drier "liquid levain" would likely be a bit more acidic than a wetter one (assuming both are healthy and compared at their optimal level of fermentation.


Ripe Liquid Levain


 When your levain has risen to its maximum potential, and has just barely started to recede, it should look like the one pictured above.  That's when you use it to bake or feed it for future use.  That's true whatever the planned-for time of arrival may have been.


Hope that helps.


--Dan DiMuzio


 

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Your stated concern is that,


"The dough would not rise and was stretchy like taffy"


I am not in your kitchen and consequently am guessing here but I wonder if the problem has more to do with dough handling than with the sourdough.  I have made sourdoughs that would fit your description were it not for a series of stretch and folds followed by careful handling and shaping.  In the past I had sourdoughs that fit your description that baked flat due to my lack of dough shaping experience or just plain carelessness on my part....Now I am more careful.


Just a thought and it could easily be way off track,


Jeff

janij's picture
janij

It is flat.  I am not sure if that is shaping like you said Jeff, probably.  The feel or sourdough is different and I guess I am not as comfortable with it.  I am going to try this formula again, but with maybe a 65% hydration and use instant yeast to spike the dough in the final build.


That and temp.  I am going to go around with the thermometer and try and find someplace where the temp stays the same over night. Or even in a cooler.   Then I can adjust from there.  I am trying to find a formula and mixing style that will fit into my daily routine.  Bed by 10, back from the gym and able to mix by 10am, and in and out a little during the mid day or not, and bake early afternoon.  But I want it where I know for sure.  With just some feel adjustments to the dough.


I also used spelt flour for the 3 oz in the 1st build.  That could make this wetter since splet does not absorb as well.  Maybe that could contribute to the slackness and lack in height.  I did get decent oven spring though.


the 2 loaves- as you can see they are very flat



This is the multigrain crumb



This is the regular crumb



 

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

I continue to think that it is largely a matter of dough handling and shaping.  Also your pictured scoring would also lead to a flat loaf.  Diagonal scoring would help the loaf hold together and rise a bit higher.


Sourdough is indeed a bit tricky compared to yeasted dough and is largely a matter of experience and feel.  Your crumb looks good so I suspect that you have a pretty darn good command of the actual sourdough.  Look into improving your whole approach to stretch & folding and the subsequent shaping and finally the scoring.  Remember that every little thing you do affects the final product, from the moment you begin mixing flour and water until the loaf is cool.  You are real close to wonderful success and just need to fine tune some of the details.


Jeff

janij's picture
janij

So more stretch and folds during th feremntation?  I only did 2.  I mixed my hand after a 30 min autolayse.  I normally do the 3 diagonal slashes but I wanted to try and get a smile ( see TFL blogs recent.  They have some cool smile faces on their bread.)  I knew when I slashed them that it was not helping my situation.  And I slit really deep.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

I would think that three folds about 30 minutes apart towards the end of the fermentation should do it.  Designate a "top" to the dough ball and maintain that top throughout folding and subsequent shaping so that you are always giving the most stretch to the same portion of the dough.  That "top" portion of the dough will ultimately become the top of the loaf and handle gently so as to not de-gas excessively.


Jeff