The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Missing the Zing in my dough

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avidbreadman's picture

Missing the Zing in my dough

I have been making bread weekly for 3 months now and ever since I've began I wanted to get into making my own sourdough. Unfortunately My starters never turn out right. I can get the starter up and working, it rises my bread but the finished product has very little, to no sourdough flavor. I understand that bacteria is responsible for the sour flavor but somehow I do not have enough. How can I get more bacteria into my starter? I've tried leaving them covered, uncovered, starting them with water, or juice for an acidic environment. Should I just keep using and feeding it until the flavor develops? Any help would be appreciated.

Janknitz's picture

What recipe are you using? 

The flavor you are after needs time to develop in the dough.  

Using a small amount of starter (as little as 10 grams), allowing the dough to develop over a long period of time, in a fairly cool environment will yield a lot of flavor.  Conversely, using a lot of starter and baking in a relatively short period of time, and using a warm environment to hurry the dough along, will result in little flavor development.  

It may be as simple as "retarding" your dough by giving it an overnight refrigerator rise, or you may want to look at other formulas to maximize flavor development.

And, of course, the character of your starter  makes a difference, too, but you can coax more flavor out by the way you develop the dough.  Also, the way you feed your starter (time and ratios) can help develop the flavors you seek.  

avidbreadman's picture

I've tried a few different recipes, mainly I used the one for basic sourdough bread in The Bread Baker's Apprentice. The flavor was almost non-existent which is strange because every other recipe I've tried in that book has been spot on. There is something I am doing wrong, does a lower hydration starter yield any better flavor? Or should I just keep the starter around and feed it and use it for a few weeks until the flavor develops?

jrudnik's picture

Well, I just started my starter this summer (100%) and I have been using it quite regularly now and my loaves are quite sour. One thing that I might attribute this to is the fact that I was very busy for about two months and only had the chance to feed my starter once every week. It sat in the fridge for seven (sometimes more) days immediately after being fed. I have heard this is a bad practice, but now I have a sour sourdough. Does anybody have any suggestions for getting a little bit of sweetness out of it?

hanseata's picture

How acidic your starter is depends on the temperatures during its development. Sourdough contains several different bacteria and yeasts, the taste and the consistency are mainly influenced by:

1. Lactobacilli that produce only lactid acid (for example in yogurt and sauerkraut). They are the main agent to metabolize the starch, and grow best at temperatures between 30-35 C (86-95 F). Their presence is necessary for the sourdough yeasts to grow.

2. Lactobacilli that produce lactid acid, acetic acid (as in vinegar) and some CO 2. They are responsible for the good flavor of sourdough breads.They also prevent phytin, a calcium-magnesium salt in grains, from inhibiting the baking process. They like a cooler environment, 20-25 C (68-77 F). Therefore a starter that develops at room temperature contains more acetic acid than one that is kept in a warmer place.

3. A group of different sourdough yeasts (among them brewers' yeast). They produce mainly CO 2 and a little alcohol. Without an acidic environment they cannot grow, therefore the starter must be mature (acidic), before the yeasts are able to leaven the dough sufficiently.

In my opinion the starter with the best flavor (I did a side by side comparison) is developed using the 3-step method (Martin Pöt Stoldt):


Divide the amount of flour you want to use (without mother starter) by 3. Use an equal amount of water for 100% hydration.

1. Step: Mix together 1 third of flour + third of lukewarm water + half or equal amount (to flour) of ripe starter. Let rest 6 - 8 hours at 26-28 C (79-82 F).

2. Step: Mix together all step-1-starter + 1 third of flour + 1 third of lukewarm water. Let rest for 6 - 8 hours at 22-26 C (72-79 F).

3. Step: Mix together all step-2-starter + 1 third of flour + 1 third of lukewarm water. Let rest for 3 - 4 hours at 18-22 C (64-72 F).

The resulting starter is very active and has a wonderful sweet-sour smell.

If you have lower temperatures, the development will be slower, but it functions, as long as the temperatures drop at every step.

Happy baking,