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Brick or bread? I can't tell! Please help!

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Chris05's picture
Chris05

Brick or bread? I can't tell! Please help!

Hi guys, first time poster here on the forum looking for some help.


About two weeks ago, I suddenly got the urge to make some sourdough.  Little did I know what I was in for.  Turns out there are about a million ways to make the starter alone --- Pineapple juice, orange juice, plain water, 100% hydration, 67% hydration, rye flour, AP flour, white flour, it was all too much.  Before my head exploded, I finally settled on the starter recipe from the handbook section of the website (http://www.thefreshloaf.com/handbook/sourdough-starters).  I've been feeding this baby for 10 days now.  It now smells nice and sour, and doubles in volume about 12 hours after each feeding.


Confident in my starter, I decided to bake my first bread using the recipe from wild yeast blog (http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/08/my-new-favorite-sourdough/).  However, I had to make some minor adjustments:


1. I reduced everything by one-half


2. From my understanding, the starter I have is a 50% hydration starter.  So, I used 135g starter (12hr after feeding) + 45g water to make the 180g of 100% starter called for in the recipe.


3. Didn't have any rye flour on hand and used wheat+AP instead of rye+AP.


First time through the recipe, I let it proof for 2.5 hours as called for in the recipe.  However, the dough didn't rise a single bit and I got a cinderblock out of the oven.  Second time though, I left it to proof overnight (12 hours) and got a decent but below-expectations bun.  Basically, I can't figure out why my bread isn't rising like it's supposed to and it's killing me.  I try to keep the dough in a warm place (my room) for as long as I can but it's November and I don't have the heat on downstairs where my kitchen is.  Is that what's holding back my starter?  Is it the water that I added to convert my 50% starter to a 100% starter?  Is it the starter itself?  Is it the wheat flour?  I don't even know where to begin to troubleshoot, and any help would be greatly appreciated.  Help!

G-man's picture
G-man

What's the temperature where the dough is rising? Does it fluctuate between warm and cold, or is it stable and at what temp? What type of water are you using? Many municipalities add chlorine to their water supply to kill off bacteria and other things (read: yeast), so using filtered or bottled water is ideal. How often do you feed?


 


Given what you have said and assuming you're using filtered or bottled water, I think that your starter is still too young. In a warm climate with regular and consistent feeding a starter can take off while it's still young. The colder it is, the longer it will take. I would wait another couple weeks at least.


 


 

Chris05's picture
Chris05

The temperature of the dough fluctuates when it's rising --- I have to do all the work in the kitchen where it's cold, then I bring it upstairs where it's warm to ferment / proof.


I live in Lilburn, GA (read: Atlanta), and I have no idea whether or not there's Chlorine in my water.  I'll take your advice and use bottled water next time just to be sure.


I kinda suspected what you said about my starter being too young.  I didn't see how the bread would only take 3 hours to proof when the starter itself takes half a day to double in volume.  I guess I'll just keep feeding the starter and see how it goes.


Thanks for the response.

G-man's picture
G-man

Just remember that you don't need a large amount of starter at all when you're not using it for dough. I keep a really small nugget when I'm not baking with it, and I'll build it up over a day or two when I'm preparing for a bake. That will keep your costs down.


 


Taking a little longer to use your starter will add a LOT to the flavor profile of your final product, so even if the starter is 'ready' at some point in the next couple of weeks, waiting a bit longer will not do any harm. In the meantime if you REALLY want to bake, you can save your discards and make english muffins or use it as the base for a poolish. It's not the same but it does soothe the itch for a little while.

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Hello Chris05


A few more points you asked about.


1. Determining Hydration Level


(Weight of Water ÷ Weight of Flour) x 100 = Hydration %


It is clear that you have a scale, which you use in grams, so I will explain about hydration % using grams. You have indicated that you are following the handbook method for establishing/feeding a starter (¼ cup of starter and then feed it ¼ cup flour and 2 Tbs water)  2 tablespoons of water using a 15ml tablespoon will weigh approx 30 g (or 40 grams if your tablespoon is a 20ml one).  A 1/4 cup of flour will be in the vicinity of 30 - 40 grams, depending on the method of filling the flour into the cup. So the starter you have been making will be in the vicinity of 100%. That means the weight of water used to feed the starter is equal to the weight of flour used to feed it. (If it were a 50% starter, for 30 grams of flour you would add half that weight as water, i.e. 15 grams of water).  From now on you may prefer to weigh the starter, flour and water when you are feeding your starter. 


 


2. Preparing Levain to use in Norwich Sourdough


Susan doesn't explain how to prepare the "360g of ripe 100% hydration sourdough starter" called for in her formula. 


To make half the quantity of starter  following the method in the book  ('Bread' by Jeffrey Hamelman) from which Susan has adapted her formula and using a 100% starter, 12-16 hours before you plan to mix the dough, you need to take 18 grams of your 100% starter, which has reached 'peak' and mix it with 90g of flour and 90g of water, and leave it covered at 21°C. The first time you make the levain it is a bit hard to decide when it is ready to use (i.e. 'ripe' in Susan's words), keep an eye out for the first signs of the tide going out, you'll also notice a kind of folding, in the centre. Next time you'll have a better idea. Use 180 grams of this mix, called levain, to make the bread. (Hamelman instructs to feed the rest as starter, but I find that I prefer to feed my starter at the same time as I make the levain and keep the starter on its own schedule, inde

pendent of the levain, and with no chance of accidently using it all in breadmaking.) 


You will note that a much bigger quantity of food (flour + water)  is given to a small amount of starter in this method of preparing the Levain, than is given to the starter when feeding it daily.


Other formulae do simply use the  starter  fed as usual, when ripe . You might like to take a look at Flo Makanai's 123 formula:


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/9346/123-easy-formula-sourdough-bread


3. Wheat /Rye Substitution


By substituting wheat for rye, you are no longer making the same bread as in Susan's formula but this combination of grains will make good bread too. Sourdough 'bugs' do thrive when given a little rye, so if  you do buy some rye your sourdough bugs will thank you.


4. Temperature.


Do you have a thermometer ? If you follow Susan's water temperature method



http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/05/water/


 and are able to get the dough mixed to the DDT (desired dough temperature), that will help a lot to keep the sourdough bugs 'happy'. If not, use lukewarm water  (water feels neither hot nor cold when a finger is dipped into it) to prepare the final mix. From the autolyse step onwards place the dough in a warm spot (around 76°F/25°C) when you are not working with it . Paul (Rainbowz) listed a few places with potential in a recent comment:


 


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/20535/starter-issues-bubbles-no-rise#comment-142486


Please make good use of the search function here.  There is a lot of  very useful information in the archives. You might also check out some good books such as Hamelman's "Bread' at your local library. Sourdough is really fun and there is lots  to learn. Your starter is very new and will take time to develop its full potential but having had the patience to wait for 10+ days  before using it, you should be set to do well with it. Patience itself is an important ingredient in sourdough baking! And don't hesitate to ask further questions, if you can't find answers in the archives or get puzzled by information overload.


Robyn


 

Chris05's picture
Chris05

Hi Robyn.  Thank you for that extremely detailed post, it really helped out a lot.


One thing I am still unclear about is this concept of the Levain.  If I am understanding you correctly, when Susan calls for the "180g of ripe 100% hydration starter", she is actually calling for 180g of levain.  Furthermore, I make the levain by feeding a small amount (18g) of peaked starter 10 times its weight in "food", and leaving it for 12-16 hours until the levain itself has peaked.  This peaked levain in turn is what Susan refers to as the "ripe 100% hydration starter".  Is this correct?


 


EDIT: and just for clarification, I am still feeding my starter daily and leaving it in my room to ferment.  i.e., it hasn't gone in the fridge yet and I have a buttload of starter.

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Hi again


Yes, you have understood correctly. I used the term 'levain' to distinguish it from the 'storage starter' you are feeding each day. Susan's formula is based on Vermont Sourdough in the book "bread" and this is the term Hamelman uses. I think it helps to make the distinction. 


The discard from the first 10 days or so are not really worth keeping to use (starter not established), it can go on your compost though. But do not flush it down the sink unless you plan on calling the plumber!


You can use any discard from now on in a range of baked goods, try the search box here for "using discard starter". I like Wildyeast Susan's sourdough starter discard pancake recipe, check on her site. 


You might find it useful to read Debra Wink's recent comments about starter maintenace on her P-J 2 thread (the whole thread is worth reading!) starting here:



http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10901/pineapple-juice-solution-part-2#comment-140505


Cheers, Robyn


 

Mira's picture
Mira

I, too, have been baking Susan's Norwich sourdough bread recipe faithfully since creating my sourdough starter in the summer.  New to breadmaking, I haven't veered from this recipe because I'm still practicing with hydration levels to see how that affects tang...and now I learn from Robyn that my interpretation of the recipe is incorrect?!  For I've been using 180 grams of my ripe 100% hydration starter....instead of building a levain...mmmm looking forward to making this change this weekend...


Thanks Robyn and thanks to Chris for posting the question!


Mira

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Hi Mira


I hasten to assure you that having followed Susan's directions you have made no mistake. There are many routes to making great bread. 


Here's a link to Susan's maintenance info, but note she stresses that it's her way of doing things (we all develop a method of looking after our starters depending on our conditions and baking schedules. I have learned depending on the season to alter things a bit, feeding more when it's very hot, finding a cosier spot when it's cold etc)


http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/09/29/maintain-starter/


I keep a rather small starter and so using some of it to prepare a levain the night before I want to make bread suits me. I do this at the time I feed the starter. Having found Hamelman's method suited me I decided to share it with  Chris, as he seemed to be a little unsure about hydration and so on. The levain too has a hydration of 100%. 


It'll be interesting to hear what difference you perceive in your bread, using a slightly different method. It is a very good idea to work with a single formula as you learn about various techniques and so on. Making one change at a time is a great way to learn


Cheers, Robyn


 

Mira's picture
Mira

Hi Robyn,


I'm so glad you responded because I have another question for you! (Sorry, Chris, I didn't mean to hijack your post, I just thought our questions were on the same wavelength...)


I, too, halve Susan's recipe so last night I took 18 grams of my 100% hydration starter, fed it 90 grams of bottled water and 90 grams of AP flour.  (Fed my other starter and refrigerated it). I left this levain out on my counter overnight (steady house temp of 22 degrees Celsius).


(BTW, why did you use 18 g of starter?  Why not use 50 grams and feed it with 65 grams water and 65 grams flour for a total of 180 grams?  Did you use 18 grams of starter because it's important to feed it by a factor of 10?)


Twelve hours later, my "levain" was...not doing anything.  Looked creamy, no bubbles...Now it's been 18 hours later and it's finally starting to bubble.  Is it good to use now? Not sure what you mean about looking for folding in the middle...


Thank you in advance!


Mira

RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Goodmorning Mira


It's more than two hours since you wrote your comment.....I wonder what you decided to do..... hopefully by now you will see plenty of bubbles and feel confident to go ahead and use it.


The first time it is a bit hard to read and in fact once the 'tide' starts going out, it has gone beyond peak, but knowing what it looks like before this happens , next time you'll be able to use it at peak. The folding I mentioned is very small, just in the middle, kind of like a fold in some cloth, but again this happens after peak, so in future you don't want to wait until you actually see that. If you do see it, you know you need to get on promptly and use the levain. 


If you prepare your levain in a clear sided container, you can see the bubble development throughout the body of the mix too, that can be reassuring.


 You ask why I said 18g of starter for a half mix of Susan's formula. It was a simplification of Hamelman's method to get round numbers easy for Chris to understand. In fact Hamelman uses his 125% liquid starter in his Vermont Sourdough, (Susan adapted her Norwich Sourdough formula for a 100% starter). Using baker's percent Hamelman uses 20% of the weight of the levain flour as the weight of mature starter. So I just used this factor, 20% of 90 grams of flour is 18g. Strictly the amount of starter used should be slightly less to replicate Hamelman's ratios for a 100% levain but as Susan says in her starter maintenance post (linked to above) this is bread, not birth control. So a simple 1:5:5 ratio. 


Why not 50:65:65 (1:1.3:1.3)? Checking through Hamelman's book there is no clear explanation of why he uses the 1:5:5 ratio for his levain, it will be his experience that under the conditions stated a healthy levain will be ready to use and produce good bread. That has been my experience too.


Debra Wink has written a good deal on this topic on this site. Her simple explanation would no doubt be that with that amount of time and food, through several generations, a healthy stable bug population is achieved. If you are keen to read more take a look at her P-J 2 thread linked to above and also the 'very liquid sourdough' thread in which she talks about the bug population


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14913/very-liquid-sourdough


So what has been your experience, I wonder? Did you go ahead and use the levain? I hope it helps make a beautiful Toronto Sourdough for you!


Cheers, Robyn