Flat, sour, cakey again.
I have made bread on and off for years using commerical yeast, but never regularly enough to be an expert. My goal is to make four 1 1/2 pound loaves once a week for family home consumption without using commercial yeast. Sometimes to make a light rye, and sometimes wheat. For the bread to be good enough for everyday repetition.
In August I captured a culture and have been using it since September. However, the successes I've had are quite outweighed by the disappointments. Generally speaking, rising is much, much slower than I'm used to with commercial yeast, the bread is sourer (that's ok within limits), the crumb is moist and "cakey", and -- above all -- the loaves are flat producing slices in the shape of biscotti. It seems that my yeast culture produces sour faster than rise, and that the sour slackens the dough too much. I have tried a stiffer mix hoping for more "strength" and vertical rise, but generally they rise even slower and are even sourer and moister. None of this is a surprise from the viewpoint of using commerical yeast, but is disappointing compared to the exuberant experiences described on this forum, and others, and in the books I've consulted.
Here is the method I used this weekend:
1. (Trying to the starter active). Get the cold starter from the 'fridge, about 1/2 cup. Let it warm to room temperature, add 1/2 cup warmish water and 1 cup whole wheat flour. Leave it for an hour. Take a 2tbsp of the result and put the rest back in the fridge. Add to the 2 tbsp a 2 tbsp of warm water and 1/4 cup of flour. Mix. Put it aside to activate.
12 hours later, risen but not doubled. Do the same feeding again with 2 tbsp of the mix (throw away the rest). 12 hours later, same story. feed, throw away excess. 12 hours later, same story. feed, throw away excess. 12 hours later, ... doubled? well, nearly. use all of it (around 1/3 cup) and add 1/3 cup of warmish water and 1 cup of flour in order to get enough starter for recipe.
2. (Making working culture). acc. to recipe: mixed a cup of the above with 2 cups warmish water and 3 cups white flour. [ recipe says to proof at "room temp" for 12 hours or "proofing box" for 6 hours – I can't be on a six hour schedule and my room is too cold (65F) so 12 hours in the electric oven with the light on (80F). ] doubled? probably
3. (Making "fully active culture") acc. to recipe: mix 1/2 cup water and 2 cups flour to above, proof 12 hours again. At this point acc. to the recipe I've added 5 cups of flour and 2 1/2 cups of water. This is about 65% hydration by weight, I think. The mixture is sour, smells sour, is a bit bubbly, but has no way doubled, and doesn't look good. I am disappointed and leave it on the counter for the rest of the day.
in the evening (24 hours after mixing) the last step appears finally to have pretty much doubled, and is bubbly on the top, though not very. Sigh. Finish the recipe anyway.
3. (Making the loaves). Add 2 cups of milk and knead in 5 cups of flour. Let it rest 1/2 hour. Knead again. This is looking and feeling good! Springy, soft, a thin sheet of dough can be pulled out, etc. Divide into 4 1 1/2 pound balls, put into bowls to rise. [ I put a floury cloth in the bowl and cover it. I have had no success at all with free-from rising: pancakes every time! ] Leave in the lit oven to rise.
4. (Baking the loaves). 12 hours later (!!) the loaves seem to have risen, perhaps even doubled. I turn them gently gently out onto a paddle, slash, and bake on a stone at 375F for 45 minutes. Result:
What I am hoping for is higher, lighter, and not as sour.
Any suggestions? Am I right that there is something lazy / lacking about the culture? Or perhaps the way of starting it?