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completely unsour but very active starter

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varda's picture
varda

completely unsour but very active starter

Hi, I have been keeping a starter going and baking with it around once a week for around 3 months.   I got it started with flour and water (can't remember exactly what flour or percentages of flour and water) but now it is a white whole wheat starter that I keep very stiff in the refrigerator.   When I am going to bake with it, I do the following:  mix 220 grams starter, 100 g water, 100 g white whole wheat, and let it sit for a few hours.   When it starts looking bubbly, add 50 g water and 50 g white whole wheat, and let sit overnight, and use around half of it for baking (for around 2 lb of bread) the next morning.   Then I stiffen it up with flour, and refrigerate until the next bake.   This is not a very scientific approach, I realize.  What I have noticed, is that while this starter raises the heck out of bread, it does not impart a sour flavor.   I haven't particularly been trying to make sour breads, but I am a bit perplexed by this.   I more or less thought that the longer I kept this starter going the more sour it would get but that simply hasn't been the case.  Am I doing everything exactly wrong to get a sour starter?   Thanks!  Varda

longhorn's picture
longhorn

Hi Varda!


Your starter is still pretty young. My starter changed character periodically for at least a year. A key to the sourness of the bread is the bacteria species that colonize your starter. 


You are using a pretty high amount of starter in your preferment and your description implies to me that the percentage of starter in your final dough might be as high as 20 to 25 percent. (I quadruple my starter in the preferment phase (100 grams starter with 200 grams flour and 200 grams water) and then quadruple again (taking that 500 grams and adding around 1250 grams flour and 750 of water). 


Your higher level of starter should give a stronger sourness. My guess is that you either have a starter that is dominated by a relatively innocuous flora of bacteria or that somehow they haven't gotten going good. I would suggest keeping it out for a week or two and feeding it twice a day (and yes drop the amount of starter carried forward to say 50 grams - and feed it at about 100 grams water and 100 flour or a lower hydration if you want a stiffer starter). This suggestion is to give the yeast and bacteria a good, extended period to reach a happier balance/get some other bacteria into the starter that may give you more sourness. 


You don't describe your process in detail but it also seems you may be refrigerating too soon. The starter should be allowed to sit out an hour or so before being refrigerated so the beasties can get active. Your starter may not be as robust as you think for the low expansion ratios don't demand as much from the yeast or give them as much opportunity to develop flavor as a higher expansion ratio (and therefore longer period for proofing. (But that is more about flavor than  sourness for the starter should be more sour than the bread. Something seems amiss!)


Good luck!


Jay

varda's picture
varda

Jay,  Thanks so much for your thoughtful response.   I think I understand almost everything in your message, and your recommendations for going forward.  The crux of your diagnosis is that my starter's bacteria is boring.   And that I am using more starter as a leavening agent than is customary, which if I had a less boring bacteria would make my bread too sour.   But that said, I don't understand what you mean by expansion ratio.  Sorry if this is defined twenty times on this site.   I wasn't able to find it.  Thanks a lot.  Varda

longhorn's picture
longhorn

Hi Varda!


The concept of expansion ratios is not used consistently across baking and my experience tends to lead me to treat it as though it is a common, well defined term. 


I use expansion ratio to indicate the weight of the additions (flour and water) to the weight of the beginning yeasty material (starter, preferment, etc.) . Others use it as final weight of the expansion (usually ignoring nuts, etc.) divided by the weight of beginning yeasty material. A lot of people don't use the term. 


I like thinking in terms of expansion ratios because it tends to relate to how long the stage needs to proof/ferment before the next phase. Example: my (what I term) 4X exapansion involves adding 400 grams (200 water, 200 flour (white, whole wheat, or rye or in combination) to 100 grams of starter (which in my case is 100 percent hydration or in other words contains 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water). I know that will take about 13 hours to peak at a temp of about 72-74. In the winter at 65 degrees I know it will take forever and that a 3X expansion (add 150 grams of water and 150 of flour to 100 grams of starter) will peak in about 14 hours. So I adjust my expansion ratio to aid in getting my levain to peak activity for making the final dough the next morning. Note: if I do what I term a 1X expansion (add 50 grams water and 50 flour to 100 grams of starter) it will peak in about 8 hours at 72-74. 


My concern for your starter comes from several directions. Your high starter content should give lots of flavor. That it doesn't suggests the bacteria are as you said "boring" or that the activity/population is low. I am not sure exactly why that should be but could be lots of things and your low expansion ratio (200 grams flour and water (100 each) to 220 grams of starter means it should peak in less than 8 hours (and yes every sourdough starter is different, but...) But it doesn't sound like it has peaked and so I am concerned it is weak which is part of why I suggest keeping it out for a week or two and feeding a lot to really get it robust.


Hope that is useful! (and yes my definition of expansion ratio is abnormal to many)


Jay

varda's picture
varda

All clear now.  I see your point.   If I am throwing in a lot of starter into the dough then that adds up to a lot of yeast, even if the yeast density is low.   I'll see if I can get more sour flavor by feeding up my starter outside of the refrigerator for awhile, and in general reduce the percentage of starter in the preferment.   Thanks for the suggestions.  Varda

Kroha's picture
Kroha

Hi Varda,


I just wanted to let you know that I also live in the Boston area and have the same problem with my starter.  Very active and very bland.  Maybe our local bacteria are just not all that delicious?


Kroha

varda's picture
varda

Kroha,  Let's hope that's not the case.  I'll try to jazz mine up, and if it works, I'll let you know.   Varda

chayarivka's picture
chayarivka

Hi,


I wish I remembered the source for this information but I was told that a warm, quick ferment creates a sourer starter and dough and a cold, slower ferment creates a less sour starter and dough.


The two acids in a starter are acetic and lactic, I believe. If you have more acetic (like vinegar), it is mroe sour. The way to get that is to let your sour stay in a warmer place for a while.


My starters are not so sour in either case though there definitely is a HUGE difference if I leave my starter out on a warm day or near a warm oven. But a natural yeast starter is delicious either way. I personally think it is like chiles--if the chile is too, too hot, the subtle flavors of the individual chile flavors, the personality, is overwhelmed. In my opinion a very sour sour dough overwhelms some of the subtler characteristics of good bread.

Kroha's picture
Kroha

Hi Varda,


I asked the same question about starter on another thread, and got some adivce.  Here is the link:


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/17560/light-white-vs-dark-whole-rye-flours-what-are-differences-aside-nutrition


I would love to know if and how you succeed in "souring" your starter.  Please let me know if you get a chance.


Best wishes,


Kroha


 

varda's picture
varda

Kroha, I have actually been working on this.   I took my white wheat starter out of the refrigerator two days ago and started feeding it with white whole wheat and water a couple times a day.  Just this evening it started getting a pleasant sour smell to it.  I decided to try baking with it, so I took out 100 grams and built it up to 500g re earlier advice to this post on 4 to 1 expansion.   I haven't decided whether to leave it overnight as a levain, or actually add all ingredients late tonight and do it as a no-knead.  Given that this starter has been smelling mostly like paste, and now it has a mildly sour smell, I'm a bit hopeful.   I read the post you referred to.   I also have a rye starter in the refrigerator, which I have used in a Greenstein rye, and more successfully in a no knead recipe.   That one has maintained it's sour flavor all along.   I have used stone ground rye flour (Hodgson Mills) which I think is a medium rye as opposed to white rye or dark rye.  But it seems that if you are not getting a sour enough flavor (or any sour flavor at all) then it does work to take some out and feed it for a few days.   But I'm speaking too soon.   More tomorrow I guess, when I've had a chance to taste the results.  -Varda  

varda's picture
varda

I made some bread with the white wheat starter that I had refreshed for a few days to try to get a detectable sour flavor.   The short answer is it worked.   I made a couple sourdough boules using the completely white whole wheat starter, and King Arthur AP flour for the dough.   I made it using a no-knead approach - that is I mixed everything up at night - 500 grams of the starter (using 100 grams of starter carried forward and the rest built up) and 500 grams of AP flour and water total.   I let it rise overnight and divided and shaped it in the morning, and cooked it a few hours later.   The bread has a nice and very mild sour taste.   That said, not a great bread.  I'm never around at quite the right time to move the bread along to the next step, and so the rise times were off.   But that's beside the point.   The approach suggested by Jay worked.   The starter is very pleasant now, and I just need to do something good with it.   Suggestions welcome!  I will keep it out of the refrigerator and feed it twice daily for awhile longer to try to stabilize it in its new and better state.  Thanks!  -Varda