The Fresh Loaf

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Starter seems to work, but not getting a complete loaf..

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Mike E's picture
Mike E

Starter seems to work, but not getting a complete loaf..

Hello!


I'm fairly new to baking, but have been homebrewing for many years now. I'm no stranger to proper temps and measurments and such, and I can make a regular loaf of white bread with no trouble. In fact, I started baking simply to have fresh white bread for my daily sandwich at work.. nothing more. As a result of my love for sour beers, I got interested in sourdough.. and started a, well, starter, a couple weeks ago. It's a 100% hydration model, and has the ability to easily double and sometimes triple it's volume in the glass jar I keep it in at room temp (now, 63 degrees F upstairs..), usually within 2-3 hours.


My problem comes when I try to make a simple loaf of bread with it. It simply will not rise properly (with one exception, I'll get to that..). I'm looking to make a basic 500 gram loaf, to just fit in a standard 8.5x4.5x3 inch loaf pan. I end up with right around 500 grams of final dough, shape the loaf and the dough will rise to about 1/2 to 3/4 the hight of the pan's verticle wall, and then stop dead.


When I use commercial yeast, I usually let the loaf go up to just about 1/2 inch over the top of the pan, then throw it in the oven and it pops up a bit more, making for perfect sized bread slices.. but my sourdough won't rise that high. I've kept the dough sealed in a plastic bag in the pan for as long as 24 hours, with no success. It rises fine in the jar, just not when turned into a bread recipe. I'm using what I believe is a fairly standard recipe % of about the 1:2:3 range. My last loaf, which I had high hopes for, was 247 grams of KA bread flour, 160 grams of water, 86 grams of active starter (just recently built up from 25 grams over the past two days.. it was at its peak) and 4.5 grams of salt. Mixed in my mixer for 5 minutes, rested for 10, mixed again for 5, kneaded until the 'window pane test' seemed perfect.. the dough was elastic, slightly tacky, but didn't stick to my hands. It rose weakly for about an hour and a half.. seemed puffed up to me, but not quite doubled. I folded it, formed a loaf in a pyrex glass loaf pan and set it in the hearth area of the stove downstairs in the family room with a constant measured temp in this room of 73 degrees F. That was 11am yesterday morning. I watched it periodcally until midnight yesterday, 13 hours later, and saw it had risen only 1/2 up the pan.. early this morning, it was about 2/3ds up the pan, and at 10am this morning, it seems to have just plain stopped right about there, at the 2/3rds mark.


I should say, the first two times I did sourdough, I followed a crazy recipe that used an enormous ammount of starter, about 1/2 starter and 1/2 flour and just a little water, and that loaf rose slowly, but eventually got big enough to bake and it tastes great. But the dough is nearly unworkble by hand, and totally unworkable in the mixer. But that recipe just seems crazy. But, it keeps me on the sourdough hook, because the taste is so good. Where am I going wrong? All I want is a plain old white brad sourdough loaf. I'm not doing anythign crazy here, am I?

Mike E's picture
Mike E

I was waiting for this 2/3rds loaf to cool while I was posting that above post... I just cut it up, and.. well, I wish I could figure out how to post a picture, but essentially, the inside is still *very* moist.. and there's a huge airpocket just under the crust, with about a 1/4 inch air gap you can just about stick your hand into under that crust. Apparently, this bread didn't rise as much as I had though, with the 'fake roof' and all..

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Sounds like it's loosing power.  Tell me how often do you feed it? 


"just recently built up from 25 grams over the past two days.. it was at its peak"  


Please elaborate. 


Meanwhile.... Try doing an overnight (8-12 hours) starter combining 25g with 40 g water and 40g flour and use it in the morning.  If the starter is not ready overnight at 73°F, then it needs some buffering up to work.   The 25 g left over is to feed and keep the starter going.  And when the loaf is mixed up, look for a slightly warmer place to raise it the first 5 hours.  Yeast likes it warm.


The crazy recipe is not so crazy.  Just another method when the starter is going very well.


It is good to mix a starter into dough just before it peaks.


Mini

Mike E's picture
Mike E

OK, elaboration: in the evening I put 25 grams of starter, plus 12g water and 12g flour = 50g total.. 24 hours later,the next evening,  25g flour and 25g water = 100g starter.. we're into the next day now, thus, my two days remark. the next morning, it had doubled up and looked ready to go and so I mixed it into the flour and water and salt combo I mentioned in my previous post and started the first rise. Two hours later-ish, I mixed that somewhat risen mass into a loaf pan and began the 24 hour rise I also described in the original post. I plan to try again in the morning, but I'm just not sure that there's anythign different in this way than in my last couple of failures..

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Thanks for the quick comeback.  There's a need here to understand the starter.  They are alive.  They need food to reproduce and produce gas.  That is why we're growing them.   Now for an explanation...


Play along with me here.  If I had 25 million hungry beasties and I fed them enough food for 12.5 million, what do you think will happen?   Now let's say they fight for food and those sensing famine in the near future decide to turn into protective spores to survive the low food rations.  Now let's give the survivors a little snack just to see who's awake.  They show a little sign of life, but if used in a dough, their numbers just aren't enough to produce gas to raise the dough before the dough gluten breaks down.  Maybe in three days but the dough is ruined....  but all is not lost if you think of the dough as a starter (granted, a big one)...  take some and let it ripen, then incorporate into a dough but as a starter.  Save some to feed to continue the starter. If you do this, the loaf will rise much sooner than the last loaf and you will have jumped a few steps forward.  (crazy as it sounds)


By maintaining and feeding the starter with less than the weight of the starter, you are sending signals to the starter micrö-organisms to go into sleeping mode.  That puts your starter back to square one or like a new starter.   Better to feed them more and let them decide how to use it than to feed them less and starve them into sleeping.  Feed your starter more than the quantity of starter and at least equal weights of flour.  (If you have 25g starter feed at least 25g flour.)  I prefer to feed more.  You may have to wake up some spores now.  Which means, feed it twice flour than starter weight and let it ripen until it rises & falls, then reduce to 25g and feed 50g more flour.  Keep it at 73°F or a little warmer until there is lots of activity.   The water is up to you... you can easily stick to 100% hydration.


Mini

Mike E's picture
Mike E

You know, I've read these forums a hundred times in the past few weeks trying to figure ot my problem, and this is the first time I've seen in words somethign that makes me wanna bang my head into a wall.. that sounds perfectly logical and makes sense. I could swear the other texts I've read say "take your starter, throw away half, then replace the weight of the half you threw away with equal parts water and flour and wait'll it doubles" meaning, if you had 50 grams, throw away 25 and replace it with 12.5 parts each of water and flour, thus maintaining the weight and size of the starter. But that just teaches the bugs to.. well, not get active. Was I comprehending that stuff all wrong all along?


In any case, I just did what you said, and took my 40 grams of starter and added 40 grams of flour and 40 grams of water.. I'll see what she looks like in the morning. Then, I can try to bake with it tomorrow? We'll see..

Mike E's picture
Mike E

Well now, *that's* a bit better! I now have a really good (I think) starter going, taht easily doubles itself in usually 6-9 hours, at a relativly coolish temp of 65 degrees.. and really takes off good if I put it down near the stove. It doubles, and sometimes goes maybe 2.5 times it's original volume, but no more. So, thanks for the help there up above.. that really sorted some things out for me.


Now, the sad part.. I'm still not getting the loaf I want. Still looking for that simple sandwich bread, loaf in a pan. Standard issue stuff. I'm using what appears to be close to the 1:2:3 method here, with 247 grams of flour (200 gms A.P. with 47 gms of Whole Wheat mixed together..), 160 grams of water and 86 grams of active, at it's peak starter.  This dough comes out *very* sticky, and is very hard to work with. I usually get this 500 gram pile of dough down to about 480 grams in no time, after kneading it a while because so much is sticking to my hands. I've tried wetting my hands while working it, and that helps a but, but only for a little while. In any case, after leting it sit in a warm spot, it usually rises a bit in the pan, maybe as much as 3/4's the way up, but never as much as a normal yeast raised loaf. Should I just use more dough mass? Am I expecting too much? Perhaps this sourdough stuff won't quite go that high like I'm expecting, and my, well, expectations are off base??


I've also tried doing a standard round, free form loaf.. but it seems to come out pretty flat. I try nd stretch some surface tension into it, but again, it's so sticky, it's hard to work with. When I use water or flour on my hands to sorta get it into shape, it will just flatten out regardless. I have tried several different types and brands of flours.. Gold, K.A. Bobs, some organic I've forgotten the name of.. bread flours, A.P. flours.. you name it, I've tried it. I think I'm mising somethign basic, but can't figure it out. I also got a book for Christmas, "The Taste of Bread" by R. Calvel.. pretty long headed stuff, but interesting. Took me a week to read it, but I got through most of it now, and it doesn't seem to have answered my problem.. and, is it just me, or are his recipe directions confusing as all get out? some of the numbers/calculations seem off, too... but, hey..

Edith Pilaf's picture
Edith Pilaf

I'm new at this, but I've been getting good and consistent results with my weekly loaves for the past several months.  I make baguettes, but I don't see why this wouldn't work in a loaf pan. It takes at least 24 hours, and I can't begin to explain the why, but at least it works.  It is a pretty stiff dough (about 58% hydration) and uses less than half your percentage of active starter.


First, I refresh my 100% hydration starter per MiniOven's instructions.  About 6 to 9 hours later, when the starter has at least doubled or tripled and is very active, I take 1/2 cup starter (to make two loaves of bread).  To this I add 5 oz KA all purpose flour and 4 oz bottled water.  I cover this and let it ferment at room temp (70 Degrees) for 2 to 3 hours,  or until doubled (it has taken up to 4 hours in my 67 degree kitchen).  Then I use this sponge to make the dough, using 24 oz flour and 12 oz water.  Rest, knead, ferment about another 5 hours with 1 stretch and fold when it's convenient.


Tnen I form into loaves, and refrigerate overnight.  Out of the fridge, the loaves rise in a warm place (72 to 80 degrees), for several hours, usually doubling in 4 hours if it's warm enough.


I know this may seem involved, but it works everytime for me.   I think it's from Cook's Illustrated.  No way would I have made up something like this.  Perhaps building the starter, sponge and dough in stages enables the yeasties to gain strength.  BTW, the flavor and texture are fabulous.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Hi, again. 


Sourdoughs do react differently to instant yeasted doughs.  When comparing them one on one.  You will notice that yeasted doughs rise faster and tend to slump less.  A sourdough will get "wetter" just sitting there and needs more help with gluten structure because it is aggressively being deteriorated by the enzymes and sourdough bacteria.  That's where the folding comes in.  It strengthens the structure.  Do it as often as you desire as long as the dough doesn't rip or tear.  Rest dough between folds.  More to be found under "Stretch and Fold."


Another trick (until you get used to sourdough) is to mix sourdough doughs slightly thicker in the beginning because as time goes by, they loosen up.  A little practice will help determine how much flour needs to be worked in, or preferably, how much water to leave out (flours vary slightly.)  Don't forget to let your dough rest 30 minutes (autolyse) after mixing to let the flour absorb the water and give you a gluten developement advantage.  It makes handling the dough so much easier. 


Giving your hands a very light coat of oil before touching the dough helps.  I regularly test handles on rubber and silicone scrapers too... gone thru 3 since Nov.


Mini

Mike E's picture
Mike E

..so, my dough weight isn't off base, I should be able to get a loaf pan sized bread from 500=ish grams of dough? Just mix it a bit thicker until I get the hang of it? I have not been doing stretch and folds.. I'm not that keen on that term, so I'll go research it a bit before I proceed with the next batch. I have been doing the autolyse step, though.. [20 minutes later..]


Ok, just got caught up in videos of this technique... looks easy enough!  The S&F stuff is all during dough development, and then you get to the forming of the loaf and rise. The point of the S&F is to develop the gluten and allow the bread loaf to rise.. so my problem is that the dough seems to digest itself and get slack during the rise step.. so I'm just not getting enough gluten formation earlier in the game to make the loaf rise part able to happen, if I get this right? Let me go mess around with this a bit and see what happens tomorrow.. Thanks for the hints!

Mike E's picture
Mike E

Well, that was the trick! I did four stretch and folds during the the process, and .. the first  time I did was like "Is this gonna work" and the second to "Hey, this might work!" and by the fourth time I folded, I was a believer "Boy, did *that* work great!" There is like, *no* work involved in that process and it works like a charm! I did each at half hour approx. intervals, and was simply amazed!


 


First really successful Boule


So, I clearly could have/should have slashed this a lot deeper, but... well, I've never really gotten this far, so well in the process.. still figuring that part out. 


Same Boule, sliced open..


And here's the interior shot. It's a little dense in a small part in the middle of the bottom of the loaf, and I think I would like to have baked it another 5-ish minutes.. but otherwise, it's not too bad. It tastes good, tho not too much sour flavor came through. I did not refrigerate it overnight, though, like the other ones that *were* very sour. But really, the oven spring was amazing! This thing was, although not flat and discus shaped like my previous efforts, it was probably only about 1/2 the hight of this baked loaf.. maybe 2 inches or so. It's 3.75 inches as it stands right here. Just fantastic! Very encouraging. Thanks so much to everyone who gave me some advice and pointers in this thread, esp. Mini, who I'd hug if she were in reaching distance!


 


 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I'm the bear hugging type.


What a shape! Great upper crust color!  Looking very good indeed!


Now all you have to figure out is how to get more heat under the loaf or how to protect the top while the bottom browns.   Might want to try 5 more minutes (like you suggested) with the loaf upside down in the oven or move the shelf down a notch.


Mini

Mike E's picture
Mike E

Yeah, when I opened that oven to see *that* monster, after putting in a relatively flat looking thing, I almost jumped out of my shorts. I was *very* excited!  


Now, I'm using a really huge pizza stone.. it fills the entire bottom of my oven, and it's really think too.. like, an inch or so. It's the biggest stone that would fit in there. You'd think that wold do the trick for heat on the bottom.. Otherwise, I'd agree on the extra five minutes for overall baking.. I'd never have thought to turn the darn thing upside down, tho.. that's a crazy idea. I like it! Definitely outside of the box thinking.


Also, I have the stone on the lowest notch I can put it at, because I.. well, that's not true. What I did was, I put the short shelf on the lowest rung, then put my cast iron pan on it. Then, I put the tall shelf on, which just barely fit over top of the cast iron pan, and then the baking stone on that. The loaf is about dead center of the oven like this..  so, yeah, I could go lower with it, but then I'd lose my ability to put steam in the oven with the cast iron pan trick. Do you think I should do that? I can't think of another way to steam the thing without the pan in there, or.. can I put the pan over TOP of the loaf? I read it should be on the bottom, no?