The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Suddenly No Oven Spring

TastefulLee's picture
TastefulLee

Suddenly No Oven Spring

Hi. I am having a bit of a dilemma and wanted to see if anyone has the same problem or if one of the experienced bakers here that I respect so much might be able to diagnose the difficulty.
I have a sourdough starter that I began about 3 months ago. It is 100% hydration. I have been keeping it refrigerated and feeding about weekly according to the instructions I found here – basically discard all but about ¼ cup, feed 1:2:2, allow to rise and then begin to descend, then feed again and use or just refrigerate after the 1st feeding if no use is intended.
So far I’ve had good success, especially with the 1 – 2 – 3 Sourdough recipe I found at this site, which is basically 1 part starter to 2 parts liquid and 3 parts flour plus a little salt for flavor. The loaves I’ve been making have been very good from the 1st, and my recipe is adding 125 g. mature starter to 250 g. water and adding that to 325 g. bread flour, 27 g. white whole wheat flour, and 28 g. whole rye flour, totaling 355 g. total flour. Per the original recipe, I allow this mixture to rest for 30 minutes, knead in the salt briefly, and allow the dough to rest in a covered bowl, with stretch and folds every 15 minutes until it windowpanes.
I then place the pre-shaped dough in an oiled bowl to either rise for a couple of hours, or put it in the fridge overnight.
I bake this in a crockery insert from my slow cooker covered with my pizza stone, at 450 for 40 minutes, then remove the cover for the last 15 minutes or so, until the internal temp is around 206F and the crust is deeply browned.
My family has absolutely loved this bread, which I have been making for about 8 weeks. I even started using 1 cup of toasted ground old fashioned oats in place of the whole grain flour and proceeding with the rest as usual, and although the loaf came out much denser than before, it still had lovely color and a reasonably pleasant oven spring.
I went happily on with this recipe and my starter until this week – disaster. I baked two of these loaves in succession, the first original recipe (bread flour with the whole wheat and rye) and also one with the ground oats.
The original had a crust which was almost unpenetrable, although it was edible with a strong jaw, which I fortunately have. The taste was very nice, slightly tangy, and sweet, but there were very large, unattractive holes in the crumb and by the 2nd day the crust was a fortress and the middle was stale, even though it was stored cut side down on a board, the way I store it always, and usually get 3 days before it needs to be covered to prevent unappetizing hardening. Normally the bread does not last that long in my house, so this alone is a testament to the inferiority of this particular loaf.
The oat/bread flour loaf was also flat – almost no rise whatsoever in the oven. Surprisingly, however, it had a lovely crust, and even more astounding was that this flat loaf which was no higher than your average cake baked in a 9 inch layer pan, was LESS dense than the loaves I’ve made with this dough that have risen impressively. It also had a very nice texture, was nicely aerated with holes and tasted very good.
I believe that based on the above my starter must have weakened and am seeking advice on how to correct this. However, I realize that I am a novice baker with a penchant for disorganization and so I defer to the wisdom of those who are above such debilitating character flaws and may be able to diagnose the problem and help me take the necessary steps to correct my errors.
My disappointed family will be very grateful for any assistance you can give. Thanks!

TastefulLee's picture
TastefulLee

...sorry...I meant to say the original recipe included 125 g. mature starter added to 250 g. water which is then added to 325 g. bread flour, 27 g. white whole wheat and 28 g. rye flour, totaling 375 g. flour, not 355.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and run thru a few feedings to boost the yeast population.  Try 3 feedings during the day about 8 hours apart letting the starter sit in a warmish spot.  When you decide it's strong enough bake with it and feed a portion for the fridge.  Let it sit out for about two hours before tucking it into the fridge to give the yeast a fair chance before cooling them down.

What I think has happened is that the bacteria have taken the upper hand of the starter and all you need to do is favor the yeast for a little while.    

Oats are very absorbant and you might need to add more water to the dough formula.  

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

You did not say how long you refrigerate your starter before it gets fed and used, and to calcuate what the appropriate refresh ratio should be it is very important to know what your refrigerator temperature is at the location where you store the starter.

There is perhaps some useful information here:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/25663/maintaining-starter

Without knowing more, perhaps the best guidance is to do as Mini suggests and do a series of room temperature refreshes.  I would suggest a refresh ratio of 1:4:4 rather than something less just to make sure you are getting the post-refresh pH above 5 so that you enable healthy LAB growth.  When you go back to refrigerating it between uses, 1:10:10 is appropriate ratio for a 36°F (2°C) refrigerator temperature and a 7 day storage time.   And because (for these conditions) the LAB will grow by a factor of ~10 while the yeast will grown only by a factor of ~2, you will want to let it come up to room temperature and feed it at least once (preferably twice) at 1:4:4 or higher before you use it.  If your refrigerator is at 39°F, you have only between 5 and 6 days in storage before the starter begins to run out of food.  So as you can see it is quite sensitive to storage temperature.  Remember that when you refrigerate your starter the LAB growth rate (while slower than at room temperature) is proportionately faster than that of the yeast, so if you under-feed and over-refrigerate you tend to suppress the yeast population (which I think, without any data, describes your case).

Yerffej's picture
Yerffej

The refrigerator is not the best possible place to keep starter.  It is the best possible place for many home bakers but it is still less than ideal.  If you have such a spot, a cool spot above 50° and below 65° F is quite nice with regular feedings.  When storing in the refrigerator, I find it best to take the starter out well ahead of dough mixing and give it two or three feedings prior to use each time you use it.   This brings the starter closer to its full potential.

One other thing to think about regarding your dilemma is to examine your routine and make certain that you have not unknowingly made changes to the way you are making the bread.  We can all get careless when performing the same routine over and over again.  This is why airline pilots have check lists and it is also the reason I bake from the written recipe each and every time I bake.

Happy Baking,  Jeff

TastefulLee's picture
TastefulLee

Thank you all for sharing your knowledge and experience. I decided to bring the starter to room temperature, discard all but 60 grams and give it feedings of 1:2:2 at 8 hour intervals. I also cleaned and sterilized the container. Now it gets weirder...since I fed this way twice...discard, feed, wait 8 hours, discard, feed....my once nicely sour starter smells like little more than flour and is almost completely tasteless...what have I done wrong now...any theories?

 

 

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Discard, feed, wait until it doubles.  Eight hrs is only a guideline (and only applies to a 1:2:2 refresh when you have a healthy starter) and run the refreshment at 25°C (77°F). The pertinent question is how much yeast is in your starter and how much LAB is in your starter. 

Did it double in the first 8-hr refreshment? If no, then let it go at room temp until it doubles - volume expansion is the measure of yeast activity. The LAB should stop replicating long before the yeast puff up the starter to double the initial volume.

Was it sour before you fed it the first time? If yes, then you may have to wait for the LAB to grow back to a 100:1 population density relative to the yeast. The best way to do this is to feed it at a higher refresh ratio (1:10:10), and keep it in a warm place for 12 hrs.  Sourness (not pH) is the measure of acid concentration. Too much acid and a 1:2:2 refreshment will not get the pH high enough to allow the LAB population to grow (the LAB does care about pH and stops replicating below pH 3.8; and even below pH~4.3 the LAB growth rate is less than that of the yeast) the yeast doesn't really care what the pH is - and this is true over at least the pH range of ~3 to 7).  There are many posts here and elsewhere claiming that yeast won't grow in acid conditions.  This is BS. and you can prove it to yourself if you want to run the experiment.

In all likelihood you are still OK, but just slow down and wait for the starter to do it's thing.

Maybe Mini will have some advice too. She has good instincts and may see something that I missed.

TastefulLee's picture
TastefulLee

I so appreciate the continued support. I realize that this is a sourdough starter and not one of my children or grandchildren; hence, the possibility of death is not, in fact, the end of civilization as we know it. However, I would like to salvage it if possible. I appreciate the help and hopefully by following the advice of others more experienced than myself I can revive it. :)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

exactly how warm the starter is at this moment.  Room temp I fear is too cold.  As Doc.Dough has written, don't feed the starter when it tastes like wet flour.    See about getting it up to 80°F and wait for signs of life.  Try stirring it about every 4 hours.  Be sure to let the water you're using stand out overnight uncovered (paper towel) before using.  (just want to eliminate the chlorine factor)  If the flavour is still of wet flour after the starter has stood for 24 hours.  Reduce to 40g add 20g water and a mixture of 10g flour and 10g rye flour.  Add more water if needed.  Keep the starter small to save on flour.  Keep in a warm spot and watch until it peaks.   Then go with a 1:1:1 ratio and see if it doubles.  Time it.   Keep feeding a mixture of rye and wheat and water that has aired overnight.  

 

TastefulLee's picture
TastefulLee

ok sorry for the delayed update. I took the starters temperature and found it to be in the low 70s. Although I wanted to be a good girl and follow your advice Mini, esp because I've read a lot of what you have to say here and have seen your incredible breads, I also knew that right now life is just too busy for me to be so meticulous (here's an example phone call I made to my oldest a couple days ago: "Hi honey. Can you please go downstairs and take the bread out of the oven and turn it off before I burn the house down?" With that in mind I knew that this starter was going to have to either sink or swim with minimal help on my part.

I basically just kept discarding (oh how I HATE to discard) and feeding, allowing for doubling until it began to recede in between. I'm happy to report that I once again have an active starter...admittedly this is quite possibly a total accident but who cares...alls well that ends well.

Thanks for all your help in educating me about sourdough. You guys ROCK!

 

julie tabouli's picture
julie tabouli

Hi Tastefulee...I read your post with interest. I have had the same problem. I have been making a great pain au levain, and my starter was working just fine- until lately. Then, the bread became delicious and sour but bricklike and so dense. I added (the shame of it all..) some pineapple juice to the starter and woa...it really perked it up. Now it is doubling and bubbly and really healthy- 2 weeks later. However, I'm still not getting a great oven spring. I have been making a more whole-grained levain with some cracked wheat and oats, as well as about half whole wheat flour and it tastes great, but is still pretty dense. Have you found out any secrets to more succesfull oven spring for your bread lately? I am using some yeast to boost it, and letting it rise in the refrigerator for the second of the 3 risings. I bake it in a dutch oven, just like you are describing, and everything seems like ti's going to be perfect until I lift off that top at 30 minutes and it's a flat cow pie! A delicious cow pie nonetheless, but I would like a bit more respectable rise. thanks so much!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Have you made any feeding adjustments for seasonal changes?  Sounds like the starter needs more food more often to boost yeast numbers.