The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Questions about making your sourdough starter

ub11's picture

Questions about making your sourdough starter

Hi, I'm doing a school project on sourdough and the optimum conditions to create a sourdough culture. Researching, I can see that there are so many different adaptations possible. What I want to do is make maybe four or five different cultures and find out which one produces the best sourdough bread. However, I'm finding this really difficult as I don't know which variations to choose from - should I add grapes to one, use a different amount of flour in another, keep another at a different temperature? What I would like to know before I start are the key factors that affect the culture, and try different ones out. If anyone had any advice on this, I would be really grateful. Also, I have quite a few recipes for sourdough culture, Richard Bertinet's, the River Cottage Handbook on bread, Bourke Street Bakery's cookbook and also there's Dan Lepard online - are any of these recommended? Thank you very much!

yy's picture

Hi there, ub11

sounds like a great project. First I want to address some of the premises of your proposed experiment. There may be an inherent problem in you searching for the "best sourdough bread," as this is very subjective. For example, some like it mild, while others like a very strong tang. Are you looking for the optimum conditions that will allow you to generate a sourdough culture as fast and reliably as possible?

secondly, you should narrow your experiment down to one independent variable that you can control easily. Hydration of the starter would be an example of something that is easy to manage. I personally would not recommend using temperature, because it seems like a logistical nightmare to maintain a variety of temperature environments.It would be interesting to do some sort of comparison of different methods (grapes vs. rye vs. pure white, for example), however, that lends itself better to qualitative analysis rather than quantitative.

that said, it is already well known how temperature and hydration affect sourdough starters and the resulting breads baked from them. Do some in-depth research to find a novel topic of research that has yet to be touched on.

as for formulas for starting sourdough cultures, I like Peter Reinhart's version in the bread baker's apprentice (the newer version involving pineapple juice), as well as the ones in Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread. Perhaps you could take advantage of google books or amazon's preview function to find the relevant sections if you don't feel like buying new books.