The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Refreshing Sourdough starter- Can you take a short cut?

caryn's picture
caryn

Refreshing Sourdough starter- Can you take a short cut?

In Maggie Glezer's book, Artisan Baking Across America, she instructs that you should refresh the sourdough starter 3 times before baking with it.  If the starter has pretty much quadrupled as she suggests after only 2 feedings, can it be used to start a bread dough, or must you wait and do one more feeding?  I have this situation right now, and would prefer to start a bread dough for tomorrow rather than wait for another feeding. Would this not be a good idea?  Or is her suggestion somewhat random?

caryn's picture
caryn

Actually, I should clarify what I want to do.  I am plannng to make Thom Leonard's country French bread, and I would like to start the levain after 2 refreshments instead of 3.  Will I compromise the rising or flavor if I do this?

bc's picture
bc

caryn, as I understand it, the question is not how often your sourdough starter has been refreshed, but how active is it. If your initial starter is very fresh, that is, if you have been baking with it at least once a week, one or perhaps two refreshments should do. If a starter has been kept in the refrigerator too long, it goes out of balance. At temperatures below 8 - 10 °C part of the "flora" (Professor Calvel does not specify which part) is damaged. The continued refreshments allow the flora to regenerate. If you are following Maggie Glezer's recipes and using her starter, the time it takes for your starter to quadruple in volume is more important than the number of refreshments.

anawim_farm's picture
anawim_farm

 This would be a good experiment to test for flavor, I believe if you have the volume you need (by weight) and the seed is mature you won't sacrifice flavor.  My final refreshment is usually stiff, adding flour and no water and used for the final dough 8 and no later that 10 hours of mix.  If you try it I would like to know the results

breadnerd's picture
breadnerd

I think if your activity is good you won't have a problem.  I used to be a lot less dilligent about refreshing my starter--I would take it out of the fridge, feed it once, make a slightly stiffer levain, and use it to bake--so basically 2 feeds.  More recently I've been feeding it a day or two before using it, and I think it's happier that way, but if your culture is happily bubbling and increasing, it sounds like its' well cared for and ready to go.

caryn's picture
caryn

Ok- I am going to give it a try, will mix up the levain now, and bake tomorrow.  I will let you know how it turns out.

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Caryn - you probably already have your dough proofing by now anyhow, but as the others said, as long as it's very active, you should be fine. I've been making a lot of the Glezer recipes for weeks now but with 100% hydration starter rather than stiff starter, and I usually only refresh it once after taking it out of the frig for the week before building it into the levain in the recipe. That said, I have taken the advice of Jim (jm_chng) on other threads and refreshed my starter at  1:4:4 rather than 1:1:1 and have found that it really likes that extra food and doubles very quickly, and gives a great rise when baked (thanks Jim).

jm_chng's picture
jm_chng

A couple of weeks ago I decide to feed 1:1:1 and leave it over night just for scientific purposes : -) . You know what? It's still sulking, I thought after refreshing a few times last week end it would be back on track but it isn't. I'm going to give it few days on the counter to see if I can't sort it out. 

Jim

caryn's picture
caryn

So my bread baking experience took a not so great turn. The good news is that my starter showed great strength, and the bread rose extremely fast even though I had refreshed it only twice before baking.  I was absolutely amazed how well the bread rose, and all the usual steps went really well.  The bad news is after the bread dough was in its final rising stage as a shaped loaf after having risen for about 2 hours, my plans needed to change.  We were suddenly invited to go out for dinner. and I did not want my bread to be the reason to decline!!  So I moved my bread to the refrigerator for about an hour, then left it out to do its final rise while I was out.  (I set my oven on an automatic timer, so that it would be preheated when I got back.)  Well, we got back an hour later than I had calculated, and the dough was quite over-risen. So I just proceeded to bake it, since I did not know what else to do.  It spread a fair amount, and the result is a somewhat flattened 14" disk, and the middle of the crust is a bit dark.  I think the over-rising prevented it from baking properly.

I think that I did learn from this, though.  If the starter quadruples, it should be fine for bread baking, but one should be careful about how long a bread is left to rise.

Since the bread is still in the cooling stage, I don't know yet how it will taste.  I can report on that tomorrow!! 

My experience has actually encouraged me to try this recipe again, because the dough did seem to rise and behave really well.   I think had I not had to interrupt the process, it might have been one of my best results to date.

I might have left it in the refrigerator over night, but I read that that could cause the dough to become too sour, and it might have over-risen that way as well.

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Caryn - that sounds like a classic case of over-proofed dough. The same thing happened to me the other day with one of my boules, I also had miscalculated my timing for getting it in the oven, and I had to go pick someone up from the airport about 3 hours away, so by the time I got home, the dough was far over-risen.  As soon as the boule hit that hot oven, it went splat (the gluten just breaks down after all that time). It made a nice flat bread though! The family loved it because it was very crusty, it still tasted great and had some nice holes, but it was a good lesson to learn and one I'd prefer not to repeat :-)

 

Sounds like you've got the technique down pretty well and I'm sure your next loaf will be great. In terms of overnight refrigeration, that should not necessarily make your dough more sour - if it ferments for a long time at a very cool temp, I believe that encourages the bacteria that produce the milder lactic acid rather than the more sour acetic acid that gets produced at warmer faster ferments...at least that's what I think I've gleaned form reading all of Jim's graphs on fermenting time on the other threads, and from reading Dan Wing's chapters on fermenting in the "Bread Builders" book. My breads do not taste very sour and I always do overnight ferments in the frig - you can definitely taste the natural leavening but it does not taste sour, it tastes like other things hard to explain.  --Good Luck!

 

caryn's picture
caryn

Mountaindog- You are so right.  My loaf suffered from overproofing.  Actually, it had a rather nice texture- the crust was very crusty and the inside was soft and chewy, but the taste was bland, and the crust was really too  dark.  Next time if my baking gets interrupted, I will just put it in the refrigertor overnight.  I have a feeling that I would have gotten much better results. 

I forget whether you have made the Thom Leonard country bread.  If so, when you made the levain, how much of your wet starter did you use in place of the firm starter called for in her recipe?

Also when you ferment the starter and levain and proof the dough, do you keep them in a warm place, or do you keep thm cool?  I have been putting them all in my turned off oven with the light on which keeps the temperature at about 70 or so, but perhaps I would get better flavor if I let everything rise more slowly.  What do you think?

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Caryn - yes, I make the Thom Leonard boule all the time, in fact I have both Columbias and Thom Leonard Boules proofing near my woodstove as I write this. You can see my exact techniques for making my version of the Leonard boule over here at this blog entry (it's the same link as the one if you click the photo of the slice of bread on the top left front page of this site). To substitute wet starter for stiff, I used 45g wet starter, 120g water, 140g flour to make the levain. I alternate between using a rye starter and a white starter depending on my mood and who is more active when I'm ready to use it, if I use the white, I add 30g rye to the total flour in the final dough.

I ferment the levain at about 70F overnight (@ 8-12 hrs) before mixing the final dough. Then I usually ferment the final dough for an hour (folding after 30 and 60 min.) at 70-75F, then I refrigerate overnight or for @ 8-12 hrs, then warm up again in a 70-80F location until nearly doubled, then divide, shape,and proof at about 75-80F for 3-4 hrs. Other times, I have also done the first ferment at 70-75F for about 5-6 hrs without refrigerating and it has still come out very flavorful, but maybe with slightly smaller holes.

caryn's picture
caryn

Mountaindog- I apologize for not realizing that it was from some of your discussions to begin with that inspired me to make some of the Glezer's breads in the first place.  I had read some of your previous entries, and I thank you for all your detail.  I will save your responses for when I do my next "experiment"!

I have had the Glezer book for at least a year or so, and did not have the courage to try her sourdough recipes until I finally had some luck developing a good starter.  I really have been inspired by many of the contributors on this site.  I did not realize that there were so many bread making enthusiasts.  I have been making bread in some form or another probably for at least 30 years. (I guess I am revealing my age!!!)  The sourdough process has been the most interesting- it seems practically impossible that you can get bread to rise without using purchased yeast, but obviously that is how the whole process of bread making began.

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

No problem Caryn...it's hard to follow every thread here and know who's who! I agree about being amazed at the power of sourdough after using yeast for so many years - it's like as a culture we forgot how it was always done before commercial yeast was invented.

tony's picture
tony

Sourdough: Many million mighty multiplying metabolizing microbes.

Tony

cognitivefun's picture
cognitivefun

I've been leaving mine out on the counter and only refreshing it on baking days, which these days is once or twice per week. It seems to do fine this way. I just use it for the baking, and replace what I've removed with flour and water, and leave it out. The next day it's foamed up and overflowed and then I guess it goes dormant and waits for the next time I need it. 

jm_chng's picture
jm_chng

Seems to do fine or really does do fine. There's no point having your starter out on the counter not being fed. It's just accumulating acids which will slow fermentation and degrade your dough, plus you'll get an off taste to the dough. How long have you been doing that? Think about it this way, you keep a hundred chickens and feed them every day. Then you think hang on, I'm wasting money feeding them every day. I'll let them go without food for a few days and feed them just before the weekend. How long are you going to be able to go on like that for?It might takes weeks for the starter to slowly decline then hang on by the skin of it's teeth, all the time you're gradually getting used to how it now looks and forgetting what it's supposed to look like. And because it will take weeks to decline you'll blame the final demise on something else. 

Jim

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Jim - love that chicken example - that's what convinced me to save much less of my starter than before and feed it more, that really improved things.

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

Jim - I've done mine both ways - feeding regularly and leaving it out, covered - which resulted in regular dumping of surplus - and also making a stiff starter and leaving it refrigerated. It can go weeks like this - then to use it, I take 30 grams (dormant) starter, add 40 grams water and 40 grams flour. Cover, leave 8 hours. Add 100 grams water, 100 grams flour, mix again, cover and leave for 8 to 12 hours. It is as vigorous and active then as when I used to feed it twice a day and dump loads. It is not over acid and certainly has no "off" tastes. Plus - virtually no waste.
Also - I can't believe, when flour was such a major household expense a couple of hundred years ago (pre commercial yeast) that thrifty housewives or bakers could consider dumping so much valuable food.
Works for me, anyway!
Andrew
Prefer a corn analogy to a chicken one - if you leave corn alone it can last a very long time before you decide to soak it and plant it. And whoosh! Up it comes - another healthy plant. Now - you try doing THAT with a chicken....

jm_chng's picture
jm_chng

So you're 35 Caryn? : -) 

Jim

caryn's picture
caryn

You got it!!!!

jm_chng's picture
jm_chng



Jim

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

"Now - you try doing THAT with a chicken...."Yes, that was my point.
Jim"
But I don't think it's a sound analogy! That's MY point. If you don't feed a chicken - it dies. Lower down the evolutionary tree - a little - when food etc gets scarce and conditions not so good - a frog, for instance, or a tortoise will hibernate and go dormant. Not dead - a few months later, up they pop; a couple of good meals and they are as frisky, if not more so, than when they went dormant.
Get down to simple or single cell organisms, such as the algae, sprirogyra, amoeba etc in shallow ponds - they grow like crazy. The pond dries up - they go dormant. Perhaps for weeks, perhaps for years. Come the rain - the pond fills up and within days - or even hours - they've all come back with a vengeance. 
The same happens with yeasts in the wild - the ones on grapes which make them ferment, the ones on apples that turn them into cider, and the ones on grains which raise a starter. They proliferate in the warm damp autumn when there is plenty of sugar rich food for them. They go dormant in the frost of winter and the baking sun of summer. Come the autumn, warm and moist and loads of sugar rich food - they come back with a bang.I think the yeasts in my starter are more like yeasts than like chickens - and they behave like it. But if you prefer to compare yeasts to warm blooded creatures - an over fed labrador dog is slow, fat and lethargic. An underfed racing greyhound is lean, healthy, hungry - and fast!
My stiff starter really does perform well being kept in the fridge and fed as and when. I'm not saying that my way is the right way - just that it works for me. And it is very convenient...
Andrew

jm_chng's picture
jm_chng

 Hello Andrew,  I really don't think you can get into a debate with any seriousness over whose analogy is better. By the simple fact that it is an analogy you cannot disprove one analogy by using another. I am almost embarrassed to be taking this post seriously enough to reply but since there is so much rubbish written about sourdough and I would like to do something to redress this I will challenge you on this.  If some bacteria are dried out they can survive for years without food. But give them good growing conditions and starve them of food and they don’t do very well. Yeast and lactobacilli will die. Not only will they die in great numbers but the yeast that survive do so by switching to consuming the byproducts of fermentation. The lactobacilli can survive by living on the dead remains of the yeast. Moreover, after  they switch to this ‘starvation mode’ and start to produce ketones like the ones in nail polish remover, something you don’t want to eat, according to Mike Avery, they will ‘learn’ this habit and switch to it very easily when they don’t get the food they want. It’s also worth adding here that Candida milleri does not form spores but can survive to an extent being dried and so will not need food but give it water and the right temperature it will metabolise and that metabolism needs energy, food, there are no miracles here. Life needs food. Some organisms have gained the necessary genes to allow them to survive lean times by doing other things but they cannot survive indefinitely without energy. At room temperature the cells of these organisms are subject to attack from free radicals and if this damage is not repaired the organism won’t have the necessary protein factories to function properly. But in practical terms the enemy of a good rise is all the by products that build up in the starter. Dilution is as important, if not more so than food. Just on a practical note I have noticed over the last few years that my bread is better the more I feed my starter. Just the other weekend I decided to test the 1:1:1 that gets banded about, it was fine for that bake, but I’m still paying for it now.  Analogies are just that Andrew, yeasts are not lactobacilli are not chickens or frogs or seeds. But they do need to eat. Put them in the fridge and their metabolism will slowdown a lot but leave them on the counter and you will get problems. Don’t believe me Andrew leave your starter out on the counter for days without feeding if you like but please don’t tell people it’s good practice.  Jim

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

Jim - as I have mentioned before, my starters are not kept unfed on the counter. They are fed and made into a stiff starter which is kept in the fridge - as I mention in ALL of my posts which are to do with keeping starters.
 This method is not only found to work by me - well respected bakers such as Maggie Gleezer also recommend long term refrigeration as a means of keeping a starter, see her book "A Blessing of Bread" and  Ed Wood, in "Classic Sourdoughs, A Home Baker's Handbook", on  pages 40 and 41 gives a very good description of this method (among others).
 It is when I remove the starter from the fridge that I  take a small amount and feed it  - typically 30 grams starter to 50 flour and 50 water for the first feed. The second feed is the 1:1:1 you mention - and very effective I find it AT THIS STAGE. The original starter is fed, as a stiff starter, covered and put back in the fridge when very active .
On a practical note I have found that my starter too has improved with the passage of time - using the feed / refrigerate method.
As I keep saying, I do not believe that there is  a "right" way - there is the one that works for the individual and fits with his or her life style.
Andrew

sewwhatsports's picture
sewwhatsports

Thank you Floyd.  

Rena in Delaware