The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Best stage to use the starter

  • Pin It
Nepakshi's picture
Nepakshi

Best stage to use the starter

Hi :-)

My new starter of 15 days seems to be ready. To check, I wish to bake the first loaf. I am looking around for an easy beginners loaf to start with. Meanwhile can anyone please tell me how/when should i use the starter ?

Should I use the starter just after feeding it ? or when it has peaked and ripe after a feed ? or just before when it requires a feed ?

(I am feeding it once a day in the evening around 8:00 pm - 0.5 oz starter + 2 0z water + 2 0z flour - it doubles in about less than 8 hours).

Quite anxious and want things to work. First loaf - want it to be good :-) atleast edible.

 

JessicaT's picture
JessicaT

http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/08/my-new-favorite-sourdough/

I've been using that recipe for the past two years with consistent success. As for when to use the starter itself, I like to feed mine about 12 hours before usage, not so much for flavour, but I will know for sure that my starter is done chowing down and is ready to bake bread. 

Nepakshi's picture
Nepakshi

Thanks Jessica T - will try give it a chance. Since its my first loaf :-) want to keep things as simple as possible.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

Use your starter long after feeding and just before it peaks.  This is when the starter will have its grreatest strength and potency.

Happy Baking,

Jeff

Nepakshi's picture
Nepakshi

Thank you Jeff ! I guess this advice will go a long way with me. I have been reading many of the blogs here since last few months and kind of preparing myself for the bake but its only when you actually start that basic questions as this pop up. Thank you once again.

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Jeff's advice is generally correct, but you can make a less sour bread by using a "young" starter and a more sour bread by using more "mature" starter - when it is beginning to collapse.

David

Nepakshi's picture
Nepakshi

Hi :) dmsnyder !

You answerd one of my question even without asking. Thank you ! I do not like much of the sour tang and do not want my breads to be on the sour side. Will be careful and use the young starter.

My starter tends to start rising in about 2 hrs after its feed and doubles in around 8-12 hours and then rises to a more 1/3rd in another 2 hours and then steadies itself. I maintain it at 100% hydration. One thing is i have never seen my starter fall as of yet. Even after 24 hrs it maintains its level. Only thing is a thick skin starts to form on the top - but it doesn't fall. The bottom will be full of bubbles and large uneven holes.

Is this a concern ? I will try posting the photos for a better understanding.

To conclude - Since i do not want a sour flavor, should I use the starter after about 2-3 hours of feeding it ?

If my starter doesn't fall even after 24 hrs and nor does it develop any hooch as I have been reading about it - it just forms a thick layer on the top - should this be a concern ?

 

 

IndoLee's picture
IndoLee

DMS is right... you actually do NOT need to use your starter just as its "peaked" - i.e. at the point it has risen as far as it will and is ready to collapse (this, assuming you are using a fairly loose/liquid starter - i.e. 100% hydration or higher, in other words, you are adding an equal amount of water and flour by weight each time you "refresh"/feed it).  If you're using a stiffer starter then it will act a bit differently (stiff starters have "peaked" - aka are "ripe" - just at the point they have reached their maximum increase in volume and may not actually collapse the way looser/wetter starters do).

Okay.. so here's what I have learned:

1)  Everyone says "always use starter at the point it peaks" or soon before/after - say within 20-30 minutes or so of peaking - so it will have maximum leavening power.  True, it does have max leavening (rising) power at this point. BUT... remember, your starter is living organism - bacteria and yeast, in simplest terms, are living on (i.e. eating) flour and the byproducts of flour yeilded by the yeasts "digestion" of the flour, and the yeast is giving off CO2 gas which is the actual leavener of your bread.  As long as you don't kill it (i.e. starve the little yeast beasts by not feeding them for too long a period - typically DAYS, not HOURS! - depending on the temperature you keep your starter at), it will continue to grow and will spring back to life when more food (flour) becomes available.

2)  So... why do you NOT have to use at the point its peaked?  Simple, when you add the starter to your bread recipe you are mixing the starter with, uhh... yup... flour.  Thus, it will start to "grow" again the minute you incorporate the starter into your bread mix (as long as you have not killed it by starvation/lack of food for too long!)

3)  Okay.. so why would you not want to use a starter when its at it's peak and thus has maximum leavening power for your bread?  Well, remember, the marvelous thing about SD is that, unlike breads made with "store bought" yeast, its a "slow" process: i.e. the fermentation process (and thus leavening/rising) with"wild" yeasts occurs more slowly - primarily as a result of the lower yeast counts in homemade "wild yeast" starters vs. active/dry commercial yeasts you buy at the store.  The beauty of this slower fermentation is that it allows for much fuller flavors to be developed as a result of the longer fermentation/rising times, during both the first or "bulk" fermentation/rising, and the 2nd or "proof" fermentation/rising - which occurs after the loaves are shaped.  I won't get into the chemistry - suffice it to say that the primary "flavor components" (aside from flours, etc.) of SD bread comes from lactobacilli and acetic acids, which take hours (not minutes) to develop and, generally speaking, develop more fully the longer the fermentation process takes.  Do a search on the TFL site for "retarding" or referigerating" doughs and you will see that many of us referigerate our doughs to lengthen the fermentation times (either at bulk or proof or both) to develop more complex and flavorful breads.

So... long story short, one of the ways you can lengthen fermentation time (aside from adjusting temperature and/or the amount of starter you use in your recipes - and, generally, less starter is better!) is by using yeast that does not have as much leavening power and thus will take longer to get the job done.  FYI if you want sweeter breads, use your starter BEFORE it has peaked; if you want more sour bread, use it after it has peaked.

4)  In my search for truly sour SD (which I love as much as I do a good sweet SD bread) I have learned that using old starter - sometimes even a day or two AFTER it has peaked (and left at room temp for that day or two!) is one of the best ways to achieve sourness - for two reasons:  A)  the starter itself gets more acid and thus more sour the longer you wait (within reason) after it has peaked, and; B) the dough takes longer to ferment as a result of using the less active starter.  Combine an "overripe" starter with refrigerator retardation and you can achieve truly sour SDs.

5)  As far as what recipe to use, I strongly suggest you choose one simple recipe, and make it over and over again until you get the hang of making SD breads.  Write down what you do each time.  Use a timer and a digital scale! Its really hard to understand what is happening and why (i.e. why your bread rises great or poorly, has little of lots of "oven spring", tastes sweet or sour, has an "open crumb" or a closed one, etc,) if you keep changing recipes or flours or methods.  Susan's "Norwhich" SD bread is a good one to start with.  Her recipe can be found at: http://www.wildyeastblog.com/2007/07/08/my-new-favorite-sourdough/.  If you like a bit of whole wheat in your SD as we do in my house, use my "Kuta" SD recipe on this site (search for "Kuta" on the TFL site) or go to:  http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/27567/kuta-sourdough-whole-wheat-tweak-susans-norwich-sd for my tweak of Susan's bread (which is just as easy to make).

6)  Most beginners overproof their breads.  Remember to keep track of the time FROM THE MINUTE YOU ADD THE STARTER to the flour when you are first combining the ingredients for the dough, to the minute you take the bread out of the oven.  You will be amazed at how easy it is to take more time than you realize (we all do when first starting out as we are not yet organized... Where is that pan?  What container should I use to do my bulk fermentation in?  Where's the oil for the containter.  Oh God.. I refrigerated the flour and it's still cold...  better let it come to room temperature first;  where did I put that damn roll of parchment paper [smile].  

7) Also... understand that SD bread making is mostly about fermentation (and temperature).  Get those down and you are 80% to making great loaves.

Good luck and have fun!

Lee

Nepakshi's picture
Nepakshi

:-) Lee, you went in quite a depth with a lot of information. Thank you for this pointers. I think the best way to learn will be to bake more n more often and learning in the process. I will keep asking questions till i get my bread right. 

Thank you all :-)

IndoLee's picture
IndoLee

Hi Nepakshi...

Happy to help - hope it was. 

I remember all the "problems" I had when I first started baking SD years ago - and again, more recently when I moved to Indonesia and was so far out of my comfort zone as EVERYTHING is so different here.  So much to learn, so many different approaches, ideas, information (not a little of it, while well intentioned, is contrary to the research and experience of the "masters").  SD is a living "breathing" thing and I must agree - no substitute for experience (which we ALL are still getting!) - and... is one of the great things about the TFL site.  HappyBaking :-)

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

When dealing with sourdough there are are great many factors and variables to consider.  When dealing with a new baker (new to sourdough) and sourdough, the greatest potential for failure lies with the leavening power of the starter.  An experienced baker can use various starters, at various times, in a variety of conditions to produce very different results.  This comes with experience but as a new baker, the focus and concern will be getting the dough to rise and produce a good finished loaf.  To that end, the starter should be used near its peak.  As time passes and experiences grows, we each decide the best way to utilize sourdough.

Jeff

IndoLee's picture
IndoLee

Hi Jeff,  Gotta most respectfully disagree.  In my experience, the biggest single issue new SD bakers face is understanding and managing fermentation.  Yeah... SD starter strength heavily impacts fermentation, but so do time and temperature (even more, in my humble experience).

I got this (again) in the face after moving here to Indonesia and blithely assuming my past experience would allow me to immediately begin baking great SD.  Was chagrined to discover the primary culprit was simple overproofing - despite bulk and proof times as low as 1/4 (yeah one fourth!) the suggested times for each - in a variety of different SD recipes.  (Simply could not comprehend then that a 35 (+) minute bulk and/or 2nd ferment could overproof a recipe that called for 2 to 2 1/2 hours each - i.e. a total of 4 to 5 hours - not 1 1/2 hours!).   Played with my oven, flour types/brand, starters, mixing techniques and times, shaping techniques, etc. only to dicover (with the help of others at TFL) that,  damned if I wasn't STILL overfermenting!

Just one guy's opinion.

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

This just illustrates how very different our experiences can be.  From my own work and in the course of teaching others, I found that the concern and difficulty was often the exact opposite of what you describe.  That is,  most would under proof their loaves due to impatience or worry that they were letting the process go on to long.  Commercial yeast brings about a certain predictability in proofing times but sourdough can be just about anything dependent on the qualities of any unique starter.  I suspect ambient temperature may play a signficant role,  in our differences, as I usually teach classes in the  cold Winter months and I am guessing that you are dealing with much warmer temperatures.   The concern of most students was  that they did not bake a brick but instead produce a lighter loaf.   This is where the importance of a full strength starter, at its peak, comes in.  For those who might continue baking with sourdough, a complete comprehension of the entire sourdough/fermentation process is the next logical step.  However, a complete understanding of that process,  before a loaf is ever baked,  is too much for most to comprehend without hands on experience simultaneously.  Without the real experience, much of the science simply does not make sense....of course there are exceptions to this as we all learn a bit differently.

In my own baking, I aim for a process from start to finish that takes 16 plus hours.  This means that I carefully control the strength  and amount of the starter, the temperature at mixing and then the cold retardation temperature.

We could easily be talking about drastically different ingredients and recipes and that too would account for the differences we are experiencing.  Most of my bulk fermentation times are in the 2 - 3  1/2 hour range but I do make a Vollkornbrot that has a bulk time fo 20 minutes.  Not all breads are the same.

Finally for a baker new to sourdough,  I stick by my advice of using a starter that is near its peak in order to benefit from the potential rising power of that starter without having to wait for an eternity for that process to take place.  Within that recommendation, there are countless variables.

For Nepakshi, I hope that this exchange proves educational and helpful.

Happy Baking,

Jeff

Nepakshi's picture
Nepakshi

:-) Hey Jeff, I have my head reeling. That is what I have been doing lately, as in reading too much in order to prepare myself. However, I do get the point - of using the starter closer to its peaking time.  This does solve my primary question.    Will update as I gather the courage to actually dive in and bake my first loaf. I have baked many loaves virtually within the realms of my mind - the question is about bread baking in real :-) hope will be able to let down my guard soon.

Thank you for the help !