The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough disappointment

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amateur's picture
amateur

Sourdough disappointment

I can see that sourdough requires a certain amount of chemistry, which may be why I'm not doing well at it (I've never studied chemistry).

I made another attempt at it. My starter is doing quite well. It's USING the starter that's a problem. I used someone's basic dough recipe off this site and let it rise overnight. When it had risen, it was almost liquid, so I added more flour to it and kneaded it vigorously. It turned into a pretty fair-looking round, which I then left to rise again.

It rose again. It wasn't liquid, but it was far too sticky, or so it seemed. It wasn't a round of dough anymore, but a bowl of rising substance. I added more flour, made a loaf, and baked it.

It barely rose at all. It seems to be done, as far as I can tell, but it's a real disappointment. Is there an idiot-proof recipe out there? I should add that I'm using ONLY wheat flour. I refuse to use rye; I hate the stuff, and I stay as far away from it as I can.

 

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Hi, Amateur

All what you've said above is synonymous to a Weak Starter. Your starter is not fed properly or overfed, both which leads to a weak starter. don't be fooled by the apparent rising activity of your starter, rather, watch the duration of its rising. In other words, your starter should double , say, after 3-4 hours at room temperature. If it rises after 5 hours, all things equal, then you have a weak starter.

A Weak starter contains yeasts, but in dwindling numbers. Lactic Bacteria will thrive in harsh conditions. This is what you have living and thriving in your strarter, which explains the breakdown of your dough after mixing. The breakdown is caused by the action of protease enzymes secreted by those bacterias which will breakdown gluten, and cause a dough to become very sticky.

Here is what you have to do, you'll have to make conditions favorable to your starter's yeasts:

Firstly , you'll have to find a cozy room temperature place where your starter is left to ferment.

Secondly, you'll want to feed your starter , not over feed, nor underfeed. I usually discard 1/2 to 2/3 my starter and fed the rest. Start with discarding 1/2.

Thirdly, stick with one type of flour as a diet to your starter, at least until your starter strengthens back.

Fourthly, leave your just fed starter to ferment for 12 hours before refeeding for the first 2-3 feedings. Doing this will give the time for yeast / bacteria culture to balance out.

Finally, after your second or third 12 hour feedings, watch your starter as it ripens. If it ripens consistently (doubles and begins to recede) in 3-4 hours at rooms temperature, then increase your feedings. NEVER refrigerate until you make sure your starter is on full swing for at least a couple of feedings.

 

FoodFascist's picture
FoodFascist

I found this resource extremely helpful. It's got different recipes for starters (including one
which claims to be very quick - couple of days - and fool proof), general rules
on how to start one which apply to any recipe, info on how to maintain and
revive one. It's a bit wordy but really explains it well.

Hope this helps

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

Also use the search box in uppe left, you will see many posts, worth looking at these posts and you will learn a lot.  In fact just about any question you may have will come up in the search box with lots of good input from many experienced readers... Good luck!!

amateur's picture
amateur

It's certainly sour enough - so, just toss out half of it and start again? What's a good, basic recipe for a newbie to use? And how long should I wait before making another baking attempt?

G-man's picture
G-man

The best basic recipe I've seen for sourdough is Flo Makanai's 1-2-3 recipe. 1 part starter, 2 parts water, 3 parts flour, all by weight. And salt...

 

Here's the link http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/9346/123-easy-formula-sourdough-bread

jcking's picture
jcking

That's what I use for my white and Durum starters. It holds up well in the fridge for up to a week. It works out to approx 66% hydration and is close to most rustic dough formulas.

Jim

moma's picture
moma

I jused a recipe similar to the 1-2-3 to start with. It took a couple of attempts to get the timing and knading (and the strech and folds) in place. Just keep on trying! :)In regards to the SourDough starter I only feed mine whole weat flour.

I prefer my breds with a dollop of sirup or hunny and some sunflower oil.

placebo's picture
placebo

I've found in comparison to doughs using commerial yeast, sourdough doughs tend to be stickier. You need to resist the temptation to keep adding flour until it's no longer sticky lest you end up with a brick. A light dusting so you can work with the dough is okay, but you generally want the dough to be sticky.

King Arthur Flour has a basic recipe for sourdough:

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/extra-tangy-sourdough-bread-recipe

It's a pretty straightforward recipe, so it's a good one to start with.

amateur's picture
amateur

It wasn't just sticky. I could have poured it like batter. And then I added too much flour, and as you pointed out, ended up with a brick. I think that what I really had, was a bowl of starter.

Thanks for the recipe! I bookmarked it. How many days should I wait, feeding twice a day, before I go for it again?

ehanner's picture
ehanner

You haven't said anything about what you used or what recipe you followed. I suggest you buy an inexpensive digital scale so you can measure the ingredients AND, buy an inexpensive quick read thermometer. The escali scale is around $25 and the temp probe is around $10. Baking is much easier when you can measure the exact amount of flour, water, salt and yeast (natural or commercial).

There is no more important need in baking than temperature control. Repeat this a few times.

The amount of starter needed to inoculate a dough can be as little as 1/2 teaspoon or 4 tablespoons. The more starter, the greater the activity level and the faster the dough will ferment. When you go past the point of proper fermentation, the dough breaks down and becomes loose and very sticky. No amount of additional flour or kneading will fix it. Toss it and start over.

You should shoot for a dough temperature of around 68F to 78F. Cooler will slow down the activity and take longer to rise. Over 80F is too hot for most dough. Use water temperature to control dough temperature.

I'm happy to help further if you provide details of what you did.

Eric

 

amateur's picture
amateur

I used the starter recipe posted here, the one in which you can use fruit juice to help things along. It's been sitting on the counter for some time now. I've been feeding it every 12 hours, as recommended.

I imagine I've been using too much starter - one recipe called for one full cup. The recipe I used recently (which I also got from here; the person uses it for pizza dough as well as loaf bread) called for half a cup.

Let's see, what else? The dough was rising for a long time, but something tells me that this wasn't the problem.

 

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Before you can actually bake bread with a new starter, you need yo see that it is performing well enough to rise the dough. The easiest way is to look at the volume just after you feed it and see how that compares to the volume 6 hours and 12 hours later. My starter will triple in volume in about 10 hours at room temperature of around 75F. You should see gas bubbles inside the container, growing with time. If you fed at the ratio of 3:4:5 or 2:4:5 your starter is firm enough to hold the CO2 bubbles and show strength. This means you start with 20 grams of the starter, discarding the rest, adding 40 grams water and 50 grams AP flour. Mix it well and let it set at room temperature covered watching the volume through  the day. When it will doubles in 4 or so hours and triples in 10 hours, you are ready to bake.

The thing you need to understand about using starter and yeast in general is that any amount will do. The amount or percentage of starter compared to the total flour determines how long it will take for the population of yeast cells to grow to an effective concentration. In theory, one could take 1/4 teaspoon of active starter and mix it with the amount of flour and water to make 10 pounds of dough. The process of the yeast multiplying, eating, multiplying etc. would take some time but eventually the dough would rise. In say around 24-48 hours, depending on temperature, your dough would be just fine. On the other hand if you started by using 2 cups of starter, you would be fermented and risen in a much shorter time, say 12 hours (I'm guessing here).

If your starter is doubling after 10 hours as I mentioned above, take a look at this post. The member is a very good baker and has written out her process and recipe very well. She is using AP Bread flour WW and 1 % rye. I read you have some aversion to rye but I suggest you give this a try. The rye adds a nuttiness even in small amounts that most people find delicious. Or replace the rye with a little more WW flour. You can substitute and use regular Whole wheat flour instead of the White WW also. Just stick with the total weights she used.  If you follow Varda's procedure, you should get similar results.

Good luck and please let us know how it works out.

Eric

ehanner's picture
ehanner

The 1-2-3 idea is a good one. Easy to follow and most people seem to have good luck with it.

Eric

amateur's picture
amateur

Okay, I measured all the ingredients at the recommended ratio. I do hate throwing out the rest of the starter each time; I think I'll give some to a friend. We'll see what happens!

G-man's picture
G-man

My recommendation is to save that starter! There are MANY things you can make with discards. I save mine to make waffles and pancakes. I'm sure you can find many ideas here.

amateur's picture
amateur

It looks like it's doing better. If it's on the wet side, it rises much more than if it's a round ball. It certainly has bubbles in it. What do you think? Should I try that recipe from King Arthur Flour? And does it work with whole wheat?

placebo's picture
placebo

If you have a really wet starter, it won't rise simply because the bubbles will rise through the liquid and escape. If you have a relatively dry starter, I imagine it's like a dense, too-dry dough, so it won't rise much. With a hydration somewhere in between, you'll see a nice doubling or tripling after each feeding.

Did you make the 1-2-3 bread? How did that turn out?

 

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Hi, amateur.

Are the rising times consistent? If so, then you have an active starter. To better gauge your starter rise level, as placebo said, thicken up your starter to a loose paste texture (around 70%  hydration). Paste like starters hold more gases than batter like starters, therefore you can clearly see the starter rising , and falling (receding) when it ripens.

When you have a reliable, consistent rising schedule (at a given fixed temperature), then you can starter baking with it. The more vigorous starter you have, the speedier your dough fermentation, hence a more oven spring you'll get. This usually requires 2-3 starter refreshments, prior to your baking schedule .

pls. Note ,though, that liquid starters (batter consistency) are more prone to be overtaken by lactic acid bacteria, if temperatures rise. I found that a stiffer more (paste like) starters are more resilient to temperature fluctuations.

Best of Luck!

 

amateur's picture
amateur

It's definitely not a paste at the moment, but then I haven't fed it since last night. When I do the routine of throwing away most of it and then feeding the rest, sometimes it forms a little ball, and sometimes it sticks to the sides of the dish I'm using. I'm really not sure where to go from here.

placebo's picture
placebo

Both the KAF recipe and the 1-2-3 recipe assume a starter consisting of equal parts of water and flour by weight. You can, of course, compensate for using a starter with different hydration by adjusting the amount of flour and water in the recipe, but that's one more complication you could avoid simply by using a 100%-hydration starter in the first place.

Here are pictures of a 100%-hydration whole wheat starter, so you can get an idea of what you should see:

http://www.sourdoughhome.com/startermywaywpics.html

In any case, if you think your starter is going, give making another loaf a shot.

G-man's picture
G-man

I would probably recommend splitting your starter in half and keeping the main starter (the mother) under the same conditions you always do, while changing the conditions of the one you'll be using to raise dough. That way the balance of life in your mother won't change too much and its characteristics will stay pretty much the same, barring other influences. Doing this also prevents you from using all of your starter in the dough and forgetting to reserve some, which is heartbreaking.

I have found that sometimes a low hydration starter, after being converted to a high hydration one, will change its habits relatively quickly, even over just a few days. If you wind up being pleased with the results of this starter, it would be disappointing to not be able to duplicate those results due to a change in your starter.

amateur's picture
amateur

I tried the King Arthur Flour recipe. Overnight in the fridge, hauled it out, added flour, let it sit ...

Overnight. And it turned into a bowl of starter.

The bowl is now sitting in my fridge, awaiting my decision. Do I try to do something with it, or is it hopeless?

placebo's picture
placebo

Why did you let it sit overnight a second time? After you add the remaining flour, you need to let the dough rise for a few hours and then form loaves. Those loaves take a few hours to rise, and then they go into the oven. Sourdough does tend to become wetter the longer it sits, so leaving it overnight the second time could easily be what went wrong.

Another possibility is that you're simply using too much water relative to the amount of flour. How are you measuring the ingredients? 

The other possibility that comes to mind is that your starter is bad. Near the bottom of this page, there's a description of a condition where the starter has gone bad. I don't think it's the case but figured I'd mention it just so you know.

amateur's picture
amateur

I thought the dough needed to rise longer, and it was so late at night that I just didn't have the time to form loaves, then let them rise.

placebo's picture
placebo

The cooler temperature will slow the fermentation process down, so you can pick up close to where you left off the night before.

I think you've also discovered that making sourdough bread can take a bit of planning if you don't want to end up baking at odd hours of the night. :)