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Utterly confused

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Lindley's picture
Lindley

Utterly confused

Okay, I'm lost. I've been trying to read forums, google, ask - this only led me to more confusion :( I feel like I'm a total idiot who can't get the basic notions of baking. So I'd GREATLY appreciate if you could answer some of my questions, or point me to a source where I can read about it (online, plz, I don't have access to majority of published books). I know that these questions will sound foolish to most of you, but I'm a total novice.


1. I don't get the starter hydration. If I have traditinal levain (thick), how do I adjust it to different recipes? Some call for 100% hydration, some 70%, some 166%.


2. Keeping the starter. Some say it ought to be fed daily (3 oz flour), some - several times per day (gasp). One person said that it can stay in the fridge, and be fed once-twice per week, a double amount of water and flour per amount of starter. Can it be done? If so, how do I prepare it for being used in a recipe?


3. How much starter should I keep? If I'm not mistaken, I have about 10 oz right now. I'm thinking about baking 2-3 times per week, only one batch of a given recipe.


4. Freezing starter. I've read at Reinhart's book that biga can be frozen. He doesn't say anything about other types of starters. If it is indeed so, do I simply let it sit for about 6 hours at room temp, and use straightaway? Or it needs to be fed? If so, how much and when?


5. Substituting starter. Levain for biga, vice versa, etc? What difference does it make?


6. Can any recipe be changed to no-knead and be made by autolyse? I don't have a kitchenaid-like mixer, so my only options are either autolyse, or kneading by hand. Also, are there different kneading techniques for different types of bread? I've made French bread kneading by hand - slapping the dough onto the table, repeatedly, with rest periods in between.


Well, these are my major "blank points". I'm sure I'll have more questions, so if you're willing to help me out - I'd be forever grateful!

Lindley's picture
Lindley

I've found this comment in one of the threads here:




The loaf I make most often is:


350g 100% hydrated poolish


350g white flour (I've tried both AP and BF)


25g organic rye


232g cold water


16g salt


If I'm doing my math right, that's a 74% hydration loaf.



 


Now, I added up: 175 flour from poolish + all other dry ingredients = 566. Then, add up 175 water from poolish + 232 = 407. By making an equation, (566 as 100%), this results in the loaf being 71% - what am I doing wrong?


 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

That recipe says Poolish which is a combination of flour water and yeast.  You want sourdough recipes.


Don't count the salt.  Water divided by flour.

Lindley's picture
Lindley

I really hope my questions aren't annoying the daylights out of you...From what I understood, if you keep a starter in the fridge, and don't feed it daily, you'll need to feed it and let it double up before using. If you don't feed it before using, it can be used either as flavor agent, or in combination with yeast (poolish, pate fermente, etc?). Right?

Sean McFarlane's picture
Sean McFarlane

do you have access to a public library at all? cause if you do most major publications are there


if you keep your starter in the fridge, you only need to feed it every 3-4 days, or whenever you use it


you can make any bread without kneading, have you checked up on the stretch and fold method?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven


1. I don't get the starter hydration. If I have traditinal levain (thick), how do I adjust it to different recipes? Some call for 100% hydration, some 70%, some 166%. 



Hydration has a formula...water weight divided by flour weight.  If you take a tablespoon of starter that's thick and add 100g water and 100g flour it is very close to 100% hydration.  You want 70%?  Take a blob of starter and blend with 70g water and 100g flour.  For 166%   ... 166g water with 100g flour.


Mix up some amounts.  Take 50g water and 50g flour and stir it up.  Look at the differences in thickness.  If you are mixing 100%, it looks the same at 100g or 300g the trick is the flour and water amounts weigh the same.  Mix up 35g water and 50g flour (70%) and just play in it.  (you can throw it into the starter to feed or whatever but the idea is to see and feel what it looks like.  After a while, you can guess at it without too many problems.  Play with weights for a while and record how much water and flour you use, calculate the hydration and if you use more flour for your starter, then you know if you have to mix it thinner to use in a recipe that calls for less hydration and more if the hydration is higher.



2. Keeping the starter. Some say it ought to be fed daily (3 oz flour), some - several times per day (gasp). One person said that it can stay in the fridge, and be fed once-twice per week, a double amount of water and flour per amount of starter. Can it be done? If so, how do I prepare it for being used in a recipe?



The idea is to pick one pattern out that works for you.  Everyone has a slight variation of the basic; that is; use or discard and feed the starter, don't starve it, it is full of organisms that need care and feeding.  You are keeping a thick starter, how thick?  You will notice that with temperatures changing over the year, you may add more or less flour to get it to preform as you like.  People vary, starters will too.  But better to overfeed a starter and let it get ripe, than to under feed it and wonder what happened to it.


First, keep you starter going, then keep it fed and healthy and see if you like the taste of sourdough.  Then work out how you wish to use it.  If you feed it at 100% and use recipes that are 100% then  there is no conversion.  I honestly don't pay much attention and just mix it thicker or thinner.  I only take a heaping teaspoon  and put it into a big mug or a peanut butter jar and then add some water and flour until I like it, like toothpaste and sometimes add more water if I want it sooner than over night or if I'm going to bed early, I mix it with more flour and thin it in the morning.  I do weigh it when I use in a recipe.   Save a spoonful and feed it water and flour.   The only time you will have problems is when a recipe calls for a thicker starter and yours is thin.  Easy to identify because they ask for rediculously small amounts of starter (like a teaspoon or under 30g.)  Then you would take about half a cup of thin starter and add flour until it is thicker and let it almost ripen.  Then use it.  This all becomes clearer as you work with a starter so just pick a recipe and dive in.


If you are going to bake 3 times a week, you should keep your starter on the counter and feed it every 12 hours or so.  You can keep a small amout (50g total) and then 12 hours before you bake increase the amounts for what you need.  


I keep thick starter too.  I mix a really thick one, about half a cup total, cover & let stand a few hours on the counter and then put it into the warmest part of my refrigerator.  I normally mix my bread in the mornings so I feed the starter the night before...  ONLY I use the jar in the refrigerator as a stock jar.  After it's been in the refigerator a couple of days, then I remove a heaping teaspoon, add it to water and flour and let stand out overnight.  When the stock gets low, in about 2 weeks, I take a teaspoon of the last refreshed starter I used and feed it for the refrigerator stock.  Whatever is left in the old stock jar gets added to the compost or diluted and sent down the pipes.  If I notice my starter getting sluggish, I leave it out for a couple of refreshings before making a stock jar.  If I don't want to use it for weeks, I take a tablespoon of ripe starter and blend with about 2 tablespoons of water and then enough flour to make a crumbly ball, roll it in flour and put it in a jar with lid.  This will keep for months in the refrigerator.


Welcome


Mini

LindyD's picture
LindyD

Information overload can lead to frustration.


1.  Forget about starter hydration for now and concentrate making one recipe over and over again until it comes out perfectly.  Unless, of course, you have a recipe you want to make and need to know how to convert your sourdough culture to whatever hydration the recipe calls for.


Here's a simple recipe from Susan of San Diego.  It uses a firm starter, which I'm guessing you might have.


No mixer needed; actually, there's very little kneading involved.  


2.  Different strokes for different folks.  My own SD culture is moved from the fridge at least two days before I plan to use it and fed every 12 hours.  I wouldn't want to be awakened from a cold hibernation and expected to work hard without any nourishment or warmth, so I don't ask that of my SD culture. 


3.  Keep as much as you think you'll need.  I currently keep 245 grams on hand because sometimes I'll use about 200 grams of it, depending on how much I'm baking.


4.  Freezing a sourdough culture is a form of insurance if you have a disaster and lose your working starter. It's not something I would personally recommend if you plan to use your sourdough culture on a weekly basis.  I keep a firm culture because it is a very easy keeper in the fridge.


5.  A biga is a preferment of flour, water, and commercial yeast.  It is not a sourdough culture, which traditionallly contains wild yeast, not commercial yeast.  


6.  A mixer isn't necessary to make good bread.  If you spend some time reading here, you'll see that many members use the stretch and fold technique.  I believe Mark Sinclair of Back Home Bakery has posted some good videos showing this technique.   See the "video" tab at the top of the page.


I think the best way to understand bread baking is to do it.  If you want to make a particular recipe that calls for you to do something you're not sure of, ask here and you'll get lots of responses.  


I hope this has been of some help.

PeteInAz's picture
PeteInAz

Your math needs work.

175+350+25=550
the 550 is the "100%" part, all the flour and only the flour.
the water is 74% of that
the salt is 2.9%

I've been baking bread for about a year and a half and been using a starter since last spring. I'm still rather new at this, but I keep my starter in the fridg during the week and use it on the weekends where I refresh it twice a day. It's whatever works for you and your schedule.

flournwater's picture
flournwater

1.  I hope this will help you:


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/15217/bread-dough-formula-math-dilemma-some-help-i-hope


2. When you feed your starter it needs to be fed with a mixture of flour and water, not just flour.  If you make bread several times each week you will want to feed it regularly, if you make bread less often (like I do) you can feed it using a ratio of 1 part starter (by weight) to two parts "food" (my "food" is a hydration ratio identical to the starter I'm feeding) and let it rest at room temperature until it begins to increase in mass, then cover it loosely and put it in the refrigerator for about a week before feeding it again.  When you want to prepare it to use in a formula, take out the amount you want to use in your bread formula, feed it, and let it come to room temperature.  For hydration issues, see #1 above.


3.  You can keep as much starter as you have room to store it.  I often find that my starter supply is growing to the point where I either need to us it or throw some of it away.  I despise wasting anything, so I simply use the excess to make a loaf of bread that I hadn't originally planned to bake.  My neighbors know when I've accumulated an excess of starter because they get a loaf of bread they hadn't expected.


4.  You can freeze your starter, but I don't know why you'd want to or need to.  Just separate and use any excess you accumulate.  A loaf of bread makes more sense (IMO) than throwing food away.


5.  I don't know which of Peter Reinhart's books you're referring to, but Biga and Poolish are simply different names for a preferments that are hydrated at different percentages and contain different amounts of yeast. There certainly are some "technical" 'differences that could be described, but there's really no reason to get caught up in the maze of pre-ferment, sponges, levain, biga, poolish, etc.  In his book, "The Bread Baker's Apprentice", Reinhart says "A poolish and a biga are interchangeable ... However you will have to adjust the water content in the final dough to compensate for the difference in hydration between them."  Why didn't he include Pate Fermentee in that statement?  Probably because Pate Fermentee contains salt while poolish and biga do not.  Unless you seek to become an aficionado on the subject, all you need to understand is that poolish has a higher hydration level than biga.


6. No, you shouldn't (and wouldn't want to) change just any recipe to no-knead and rely on autolyzing.  The ingredients you use in a bread formula, the ratio of ingredients and how you handle them determines the final outcome of your work. If you're looking for a delicate white sandwich loaf you probably would not want to prepare it the same way you would Pain de Campagne.


 

Lindley's picture
Lindley

A HUGE thank you for the comments! They're very helpful. I'm starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel :)


1. Phew, seems like I finally got it. I'm terrible at math...thanks for that link on primer! And I didn't know that you shouldn't add up salt with flour when counting percentage...that's where I was mistaken.


2. Okay. The fog is clearing somewhat. I'm on my last day of preparing starter, and tomorrow it should be ready. Right now the mixture is 200g starter, 200g flour and 110g water. If I'm thinking correctly, that is ~50% hydration starter?



if you make bread less often (like I do) you can feed it using a ratio of 1 part starter (by weight) to two parts "food" (my "food" is a hydration ratio identical to the starter I'm feeding) and let it rest at room temperature until it begins to increase in mass, then cover it loosely and put it in the refrigerator for about a week before feeding it again. When you want to prepare it to use in a formula, take out the amount you want to use in your bread formula, feed it, and let it come to room temperature.



Let me double-check. Say, I've got a fed starter sitting in my fridge, ready to be used straightaway in baking (according to instructions). It's 50% hydrated (unless my math is wrong again). Option 1: use it right now in a recipe that calls for 50% without any changes. Option 2: use it right now in any recipe, adjusting the hydration based on that "primer" formula. Option 3: use it later, in 2-5 days, but first take it out of the fridge, feed accordingly, let sit for ~4-6 hrs until doubled, and put the rest back in to the fridge. Option 4: use it later, in 2-5 days, but first take it out of the fridge, feed accordingly, put back into the fridge overnight where it'll double, and use straightaway from the fridge in the morning. Can I do all of the aforementioned and get a good bread?


4. Got it, no freezing. Guess I'll be seeing lots of English muffins soon :)


5. Okay, so far so good.


6. Lost again. I thought that no-knead method equals autolyse - when you combine stretching and folding, and proofing/retarding the dough. Or not? (by the way, what's the difference btw proofing/retarding? I'm thinking you proof at room temp for short time, but retard in fridge overnight or so. Right?).


As for books, I live outside the States, and we have a very poor public library system. Therefore, I'm relying mostly on internet sources.


Thanks again!!

noonesperfect's picture
noonesperfect

Autolyse involves only flour and water - the no-knead method includes all the ingredients, including yeast and salt.  The autolyse is meant to allow the flour to absorb as much water as possible, while fermentation includes yeast activity.


You are correct about proofing versus retarding.  Retarding is a way to extend fermentation/proofing time by keeping everything at a lower temperature than normal.  The longer the proofing time, the more enzyme activity you get, and the more flavor you squeeze from the flour.


 


brad

will slick's picture
will slick

When I do my Autolyse, I add the yeast also. It has been working fine I do it to give the yeast a head start before I add the salt/ other ingredients. Should I wait to add the yeast? Also I Mix the flour, water & yeast into a shaggy dough less than 3min. I would say. I worry that the other dry ingredients will not get incorporated evenly.


Thanks for any help


Will

DownStateBaker's picture
DownStateBaker

While you're not supposed to add the yeast I used to have the same worries at work when I was mixing. What I learned after a while is that while the worry is a valid one a nice slow addition of the other dry ingredients is the best way to go. This is because you want the flour to absorb as much of the water as possible beginning the formation of your gluten network. The addition of yeast and their fermentation byproducts will be counter productive. Same with the addition of other ingredients that do not contribute to gluten formation. 


How I used to do it was as follows.



  • Mix flour and water until combined let rest 20-30 minutes depending on how my work day was already progressing

  • Add yeast slowly, and I too wanted to give the yeast some time to get started before the salt went in. So I would give it another 15-20 minutes again depending on how much time I had.

  • Then I would add the other dry ingredients (minus salt I'll explain) slowly. If the gluten network seems tight give it a rest 10-15 minutes.

  • Then I added the salt. The salt came last if there were other dry ingredients going in because the addition of salt tightens the gluten network making it more difficult for other ingredients to be mixed in.


Hope that helped


Tom Georgalas

will slick's picture
will slick

for your detailed explanation, I will try your method next time I bake a loaf

Lindley's picture
Lindley

Thanks for the comments! I'd still like to hear flournwater's comment on my rambling about using the starter....


I've got another question:



The ingredients you use in a bread formula, the ratio of ingredients and how you handle them determines the final outcome of your work. If you're looking for a delicate white sandwich loaf you probably would not want to prepare it the same way you would Pain de Campagne.



Where can I read more about this? I honestly confess that right now I haven't the slightest idea about why you'd bake these breads differently :)


Also, how can you tell when the recipe should be followed strictly, and when it can be altered? Say, how can you tell whether you can use stretch and fold instead of machine mixing? And how would you adjust the recipe to fit your method of kneading/fermenting?

flournwater's picture
flournwater

First, remember that any time you "alter" a bread making process from it's original instructions the result will not be the same as it would have been if you had followed the "recipe" precisely.  For example, stretch and fold doesn't heat the dough as much or as quickly as kneading.  A 500 degree oven start with a reduction in temperature to 425 degrees will not produce the same loaf that a 425 degree start to finish oven will.  A loaf loaded into the oven and baked "naked" will not come out the same as the identical loaf that is covered when loaded into the  oven and a loaf baked in an oven with copious amounts of steam will be different than the same loaf baked in an oven without steam.  A sandwich loaf, which involves flattening the dough stretching and rolling it in stages while progressively sealing the edges of the seams that develop in the process, will not be identical to the loaf that you might expect if you simply stretched and folded the dough (Ciabatta style) prior to final proofing.  If you choose to "adjust" a "recipe" to fit your method for kneading/fermenting, you will produce a bread that has a texture and/or flavor that differs from the bread the person who developed the formula intended.  You'll still have bread, it just won't be the same.


I don't' believe that everything that has ever been learned about bread making can be found written in one place.  No expert (DiMuzio, Reinhart, Glezer, Hensperger, Hamelman, et al) has been able to put all the know into one book.  That's why they have published and continue to publish new material all the time.  The best way to read more about this is by reading through several of the books these people publish.  Just remember to be selective and choose the books that explain the how and why rather than simply offer formulas for different types of bread.


Get a notebook and a camera, collect step-by-step data on what you bake and write down your impression of the results.  Then, prepare that same bread again but make one well thought out change (but only one) and do the same thing.  Note the differences.  It's not an overnight process so be patient; you will learn.