The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Almost unpleasant results.

Cowmando's picture

Almost unpleasant results.

Hello I am new to this site, I have been experimenting with homemade breads for a few years now. Recently I decided to have a go at sourdough, I followed the instructions in Hugh Fearnly Whatsit-whatsit's "River Cottage everyday cookbook". I have made a few loaves and the results have been strange verging on the unpleasant, the bread tastes like I used vinegar instead of water. When I have had shop/baker bought sourdough loaves they have not been like this. I was hoping you could give me a few pointers on how to achieve a less sour sourdough, as I am getting to the point where thinking of chucking the starter and going back to bought yeast. I will give a basic description of process I have used, unfortunately it is in metrics I will try and give approximate imperial measurements as I go but 28g is approximately 1oz and 28ml is approximately 1 fl.oz assuming American ounces are the same as UK ones.

The starter:

To make my starter following the book, I started with 100g (4oz) of wholewheat flour mixed with enough warm water to for the consistency of "thick paint". I attempted to trap as much air in the mixture as possible as instructed by the book. Once the mixture starts producing small bubbles (6 hours-3 days (in my case about 6 hours)) add another 100g (4oz (at some point in the process I worked out that 100g is about a heaped 1/2 cup and used that instead of weighing out flour every time) of flour and enough warm water to bring it back to the consistency of "thick paint". My starter got going quickly and exploded from the confines of it's container on it's first night. I some what attribute this to having and Aga (Rayburn) in the kitchen and thus a warm climate, although the recipe does say to keep it in a warm kitchen or cool airing cupboard. From this point on I discarded half my starter daily, (and continue to do so) added 100g of flour and enough warm water to take it back to the "thick paint" consistency. Recently I have started using white flour instead of wholemeal in order to make a white loaf and see if that would turn out as sour and it did.

The loaf:

After about 9 days of feeding the starter I attempted my first loaf. At feeding time I put half my starter in a bowl instead of throwing it away. I added 250g (9oz) of flour and 275ml (10fl.oz) of warm water, mixed it and left it "overnight" (8-10 hours) to form a "sponge". After that process I added another 300g (11oz) of flour, 1tbs of oil, a good pinch of salt (10g) and kneaded it for about 10 mins until it looked and felt like well kneaded bread dough (based on my experience of making bread with shop bought yeast). It was then left in an oiled bowl to raise "while you are at work" (8-10 hours). Then knock it down and knead for approx 1-2 mins, shape it and leave it to prove (raise) for 1-4 hours (until doubled in size). Then bake in a hot (250°C (480°F)) oven for approximately 45mins with a pot of boiling water until golden brown and makes a hollow sound when tapped on the bottom.

I have attempted this with wholemeal, white and a mixture of flour. The results always come out very very sour I would appreciate any suggestions to achieve a less sour result. I am more looking for the tang of the shop/baker bought sourdough than the outright vinegaryness of the stuff I have made so far.

cranbo's picture

To reduce the sour of your bread:

  1. Feed your starter more than 1x per day. 2x per day is best (morning and evening). For best starter health, it should at least double within a 6 hour window. 
  2. Maintain a less liquid starter; measure the starter ingredients by weight, and shoot for a 100% flour to 60% water ratio by weight (60% hydration). 
  3. Make sure you feed it enough: best is to at least double the amount of starter with flour + water. Example: 50g of starter should be fed at least 100g flour & 60g water.
  4. Use less wholemeal flour in your starter. 50/50 with white flour by weight should help.
clazar123's picture

It may be that the starter is not quite ready to raise bread. The explosive initial rise is not yeasts but the bacteria that are part of a sourdough culture. They don't raise bread well. Keep feeding as advised and soon the yeasts will increase in number and the rise will be slower and more consistent.It will double in about 3 hours. Feed at least twice a day and feed again if the culture shows any sign of hootch(liquid) forming. Hootch(alcohol) means it has finished the food supply and is starving.

Meantime, use a little instant yeast to decrease the rise times, if you want to bake bread before the starter is ready to go solo.  I'm not a purist-I want fresh bread! Eventually, I went starter only.

When you say you dumped in half the starter,how much was that (volume)?  I use about 30-60ml of my starter to 144 g flour and 144 g water to make a preferment.In a 65F kitchen, it sits for 6-12 hours before being added to the final dough. If it is too warm in the kitchen, it will over-ferment.

placebo's picture

The excessive sourness is probably a combination of feeding the starter only once a day and the long rise times in the bread recipe. You should try to use the starter around when it peaks, which typically occurs within 6 to 12 hours after feeding. After that, the yeast activity is on the decline while the bacteria are still pumping out acids, which makes the starter increasingly sour.

On top of this, the relatively long first rise of your dough gives the bacteria even more time to churn out more acid. Try reducing the time you let the dough ferment before shaping.

Cowmando's picture

OK then, I shall start feeding the starter twice a day. Make the starter thicker and throw away more than half each feeding time. I assume the preferment is is the stage the book I was using calls the sponge in which case I was probably adding about 200ml of starter to it which I will try reducing. I shall also attempt to use the starter as it "peaks". I will also try reducing the initial rise time. Thanks for the help I shall aim to let you know how I get on in a few days tim I have had time to impliment these changes and made a loaf.

placebo's picture

Using less starter reduces the amount of yeast you're adding, so the dough requires more time to rise, which in turn allows the bacteria to work longer and make the bread more sour.

You may find this website helpful.

Ruralidle's picture

Hi Cowmando

Welcome to TFL, there are a few of us Brits about :) .  I have to say that whilst I like Hugh F-W for lots of things including his campaigns (that I have fully supported) I am not a great fan of his bread baking.  Looking at your profile you have a very good baker not far away in Bath - Richard Bertinet - and the sourdough methods that he describes in his book "Crust" worked first time for me and my starters are now over 2 years old and going strong.  They have a decent flavour but are not unpleasantly sour but the sourness of the loaves does increase over time after baking.

It sounds to me like your starter is still a bit young and not in the best condition.  Some of the other contributors have made good suggestions to improve it and you could always consider storing it in the fridge if you do not want to keep feeding it twice a day- it all depends on how much you are going to use.