The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A Tale of Vanishing Sourness,

davidg618's picture

A Tale of Vanishing Sourness,

or Too Many Changes Addle the Brain

Recently, I made some sourdough levained baguettes, Sourdough in Baguette's clothing and was delighted to find their flavor included a distinct acidic tang (sourness) that I especially like, but my wife usually doesn't. However, with this bake, I caught her returning more than once for another slice of the cut loaf. When I confronted her, she allowed the flavor was "interesting"--and took another bite.

 The baguette dough was similar to the dough I bake weekly in batards: our daily bread. The differences are:

                         Original Formula                                          Baguette Formula

Flour ratio:     45%AP/45%Bread/10%Whole Rye          66%AP/24%Bread/10%Whole Rye

Preferment:    28% (100% Hyd., all Bread Flour)            49% (100% Hyd., all Bread Flour)

Additionally, I routinely build levain from refrigerated seed starter in three progressive steps, feeding 2:1:1 at eight hour intervals. For the baguettes I allowed the third feeding to ferment for 12 hours.

Salt and Hydration was the same for both: 2% and 68% percent respectively, and, except for the loaves' final shape, all the dough handling, fermentation times, fermentation temperatures, and baking temperatures were the same. Batards are generally proofed at 82°F, baguettes at 76°F (RT) because they won't fit into my proofing box.

Over the last two days I built levain, made dough and shaped three batards. The intention was to duplicate the dough I used to make the sourdough baguettes, and experience the same flavor.

However, I have a very strong Imp of the Perverse in my flawed character. I couldn't resist making more changes. Specifically, I built the levain in three progressive stages reducing the hydration of each build by one-third the difference between the seed starter hydration (100%) and the final dough hydration (68%). I let the final build, at 68% Hyd., ferment for 12 hours. Seduced by the sourdough lore that stiffer levain favors bacterial acid production, I reasoned "Hey, it can't hurt!".

Furthermore, I returned to the original flour ratio 45%AP/45%Bread/10% Whole Rye. And, to exacerbate my sins, I put three teaspoons of diastatic malt powder in the final dough. I wanted a darker crust.

I cannot detect any flavor difference in the finished loaves compared to our weekly sourdough bake. The distinct tang has vanished. Of course, with all the changes I've nary a clue why.

But I did get a darker crust.

David G


baybakin's picture

My $0.02: 

A few of the changed factors could cause this, as well as some that weren't mentioned.
- How long did the starter work between each starter build, if one was short-ish, then that will increase yeast growth and stunt bacteria growth.
- If you used the same amount of starter, but it was a different hydration, then there would be more pre-fermented flour in the stiffer starter version, which would favor more yeast (or so I think)
- The stiff starter sourdough lore is a double edged sword.  Drier environments (stiff starter) incourages yeast growth vs bacterial, and lactic acid over acedic acid growth especally at higher temps (such as a italian sweet starter). At lower temps the yeast are encouraged, but more acedic is produced. So it could be temps.  Many "sour" forumlas (such as dsnyder's) use a wet starter, make a stiff starter with it, then retard the stiff starter in the fridge after a bit of fermention to encourage more sour acid growth. There is much contention over what temps/hydrations cause more sour tasting sourdough.
-Amount of oxygen incorporated in the dough during mixing/shaping
-And of course, what sign the sun is in, how many steps you took between the countertop, what side of the bed you woke up on, the average rainfall in the amazon that day, or the total number of stars visible from your patio the previous night. :)

mwilson's picture

And of course, what sign the sun is in, how many steps you took between the countertop, what side of the bed you woke up on, the average rainfall in the amazon that day, or the total number of stars visible from your patio the previous night. :)

Haha. This made me chuckle. Nice one ;)

FlourChild's picture

How interesting :)  I'm struck by the first comparison and the difference in proportion of pre-fermented flour (28% vs. 49%), yet the fermentation times and temps were the same.  How did the flavors differ?

For the second bake, I'm thinking about the diastatic malt and the resulting increase in sugar- if the yeast are boosted by the sugar, they may have done their thing before the acid-producing beasties had a long enough go of it to make the bread sour.  Of course, there's also the fact that sugar "cancels" sour, so there could just be a straight effect from the malt/sugar and I could be overthinking to say that the acid bacteria are left in the lurch- it wouldn't be the first time. 

davidg618's picture

The two breads were similar in overall flavor. However, the 49% levain baguette had a more pronouced sourness. Not in-your-face sour, but more immediately present on the pallette. The 49% batard, made with the stiffer levain, tasted no differenct than our usual sourdough loaves.

When asked what time it is, I often go on to tell the asker how a clock works. So I'll ramble on about what we want to achieve with our home-baked bread. Reading further is optional..

At the beginning of my sourdough journey I had three goals; in order of their priority: flavor, crumb, and eye-appeal. A fourth, mega-goal was consistency. I wanted to be able to produce the same loaves, week after week. We've been doing that for a decade with sandwich breads, using our bread-machine.  After three years I can say I've reached this goal with three breads: sourdough, classic baguettes, and challah.

Flavor evolved. Prior to baking my own sourdough my only exposure was from loaves purchased at San Francisco markets, or the San Francisco's airport--all white flour, and pronounced sourness. My wife does not like excessive sourness. That's a good thing, because I've had to coax every hint of sourness I've been able to create with careful attention to building levain, and fermenting the final dough. Most of the flavor profile we've come to like comes from good ingredients, long retarded fermentation, and crust.  Every sourdough loaf we bake has a subtle tangy, strongly wheaty flavor, with bursts of lightly charred crust flavor. I believe the tang is produced from combination of the levain's acid and the ten-percent Whole Rye flour in the mix, the wheaty flavor builds from good quality white flours during the long fermentation.

An aside:  I reside in Florida, living on a comfortable but fixed income. I buy flour that is readily available, and reasonably priced. I've tried almost every brand of white flour, whole wheat flour,  rye flours and a few specialty flours available off the shelves of three different supermarket chains. I've found a high degree of variability in the flavors produced by different brands, especially among white flours. I use King Arthur white flours exclusively, and I like King Arthur Whole Wheat flours and Rye flours, but also use Hodgson Mill, and Arrowhead Mill, and Bob's Red Mill. For specialty flours, e.g, semolina, brown rice flour, etc. I use Bob's Red Mill, mainly, because they are readily available. Let me hasten to add I have no financial interests in these companies. I recommend them solely on the acceptable flavors they produce in my breads.

Crumb: I'm not a member of the holey-ier than thou crowd. However, we prefer an open, fully developed chewy crumb. I strive for a translucent crumb, with random holes hopefully no larger than the tip of my little finger. I want a crumb that springs back to its original shape when gently crushed. I've found a 50/50 mix of Bread flour and AP flour, and fairly tight final shaping gives me the crumb I'm seeking. Furthermore, I believe good ovenspring is essential to desired crumb developement.

Eye-appeal: My wife and I argue about this. She lived in France for three years, and Germany for two.  When I criticize the appearance of my loaves, she tells me, every time, about the delicious but ugly baguettes and batards she bought in Europe. Nonetheless, I am a firm believer food appeal begins with the eyes. The best I've achieved is a pleasing rustic look.

David G



PeterS's picture

Please clarify: you cut the amount of your preferment/levain in the final dough from 49% to 28% for which breads?

When you build your starter for baking, do you do it in your proofing box or leave it out? How consistent is the room temperature in your house? This summer in Chicago it has been so hot that the air conditioning has been on 24/7 (not only is it going to be the hottest summer on record, my electric bill will be, too...). And, even though I leave the fan on, the air temp will vary 4-8 degrees in the kitchen as the afternoon sun hits the back side of the house (the thermostat is in the dining room).

Letting the last levain build go for 12 hours will greatly affect the acid content of your starter.

Also, when you scaled your hydration down, did you change the amount of starter that you carried over in each step of the levain build? 

I suggest that you, limit the number of changes that you make any one bake, one is ideal, and taste your preferment/levain at each step.

baybakin: you forgot to mention the phase of the moon, jet stream velocity (and direction) and el nino... :)

davidg618's picture

 I didn't cut the hydration of the final dough in the Baguette Formula. I increased it to 49% from 28% in the Original Formula. This post concerns a second attempt at a sourdough, batard shaped, also with a 49% preferment, wherein I foolishly made too many additional changes, the sought after acidity, witnessed in the Baguette Formula wasn't evident, and because of the too many changes I didn't know why.

My home's Room Temperature, despite Florida's blistering outside summertime temperatures, remains 76°F +/- 1°F constantly. I can adjust the temperature of my proofing box, ; I generally operate it at 82°F (optimum for yeast developement) when I proof shaped dough.

However, I build my levains at Room Temperature: 76°F. At higher temperatures each build peaks--measured by observing the volume begin to collapse--in less than 7 hours, and I presume developing flavor attributes suffer. I cannot defend that last statement.

My only objective for allowing the levain's final build to ferment for 12 hours was to increase its acid content. I guess I should have written that I understood why I was doing it.

To scale the levain's hydration down I use a spread sheet I wrote three years ago. Specifically, beginning with a desired amout of final levain weight, at a desired final hydration, it calculates the required weights of the seed starter--its hydration is also specified as input--and both the required amounts of flour and water to add to the seed starter to create one third of the weight of the desired final levain weight and, simultaneously,  to decrease the intermediate build's hydration by one-third of the difference between the seed starter's original hydration and the desired levain's final hydration. Subsequently, it calculates the required flour and water weights to add to the previous build to further increase the levains weight to two-thirds of the desired levain's final weight and decrease, by another one-third, the difference between the seed starter's hydration and the final levain's hydration; and so forth for the final builds flour and water weights. If you'd like further detail see .

The main point of the original post was to illustrate, with an attempt at light humor, the pitfall of making more than one change to an experiment. I guess I failed.

The moon was full.

David G


PeterS's picture

just add a strategically placed LOL.    lol.  I sensed that you were technical; my apologies if I was trite. Thanks for the link to your starter post.

I typically use a 100-125% hydration starter (adjusting down if need be) and store it in the fridge. It is never very odiforous (as in acetic acid) but can bite your tongue off at times. I always feed/build them and ferment at room temperature. The more builds I do at RT, the more vinegary it gets. An instructor of mine, has a starter that is incredibly pungent; I can smell from 5 feet away. I don't think she has ever refrigerated it.  I proof at 70-75F because that is what my pantry is at. Have you considered retarding? My breads are nicely tart without being overbearing regardless of which starter I use. 

Your Thyme-Feta Cheese-Toasted Chestnut bread was gorgeous. I have fresh thyme in my garden and some uncommitted feta in my fridge, hmmm....

davidg618's picture

I routinely retard lean doughs, but not those containing sugar, eggs, milk or shortening. I'm fortunate I built a wine closet--it's too small to call a wine cellar. I make between 120 to 150 bottles of wine each year, and need the storage. At 54°F - 55°F, it's also ideal for overnight fermentation.

Here's yet another link to some thoughts I wrote on lessons learned baking baguettes. .

David G

PeterS's picture

I routinely cold retard croissants. 


davidg618's picture

I spoke without thinking of exceptions. I don't make croissants frequently, so I forgot that, like you, I retard their dough. Thanks for reminding me.

David G

Janetcook's picture

Hi David,

I got up early today and had a 15 year old standing at my front door looking for my 15 year old before the sleep was out of my anything written by me is not to be taken seriously :- O

My question to you is:  Why don't your retard doughs with enrichments?  I ask because I didn't use to retard enriched loaves out of concern that the dough would over ferment - especially since I use freshly ground whole grains....Last winter I bit the dust and, due to a hectic schedule, I ended up retarding everything I baked.  The enriched doughs came out amazingly well.  Very luxurious doughs after a long snooze in the refrig.  Very nice and easy to shape in the morning so now it is a regular part of my routine.  

Only thing I have to watch out for is temp. when mixing the doughs in summer heat.  I refrig. everything and keep it cool.  The doughs only get 40 min autolyze time and then 30 minutes after the final mix.  Any longer and the enzymes have a hay-day and I am left with weaker doughs by morning.

Just curious about why you do what you do....?

Sorry this doesn't relate to your quandary about sourness.....that discussion scares me to death due to all the variables involved that can overwhelm my poor brain if not kept in check  =:- O......

Take Care,



davidg618's picture

I'm glad you and Peter have caused me to rethink my comment. A number of years ago, long before TFL--probably before the Internet--a large batch of Portuguese Sweet Bread went sour on me in a very few hours. Since then I've treated sweet doughs carefully, quickly, and haven't explored retarding them. Furthermore, I only bake a few--challah, cinnamon buns, and croissants--and not to any regular schedule, unlike lean doughs. The same is true with savory olive, cheese and/or herb breads. I rarely bake them, although I like them.

I'm also fairly certain I've read, in one or more of the common bread books, enriched doughs don't benefit from retarding, but I can't quote a reference at the moment.

Also, although I've not seen it explained, I think croissant doughs are refrigerated primarily to keep the butter solidified, and the lamination temperature homogeneous.

Perhaps one of our professional bakers, or more experienced amatures can offer more information here.

Thinking even more about this, retarding to me means 54°F, and 15 to 21 hours. I wouldn't consider retarding enriched doughs at that elevated temperature.


David G

nicodvb's picture

David, I regularly retard very rich doughs (panettone, pandoro, colomba etc) for 8-12 hours after a first rise and they DO benefit a lot: the crumb comes out very very soft, unlike what I get without the retardation. Maybe because I always use very strong flours, but I couldn't do otherwise with doughs with those percentages of sugars and fats.

Janetcook's picture


I was like David prior to last winter in how I handled enriched doughs and then it was when txfarmer (I think) posted her panettone bread that I began to re-think how I had been doing things.  I made a panettone loaf, not as elaborate as txfarmer's, and was expecting it to be very sour or way over fermented and, much to my surprise, it was not.  Like you said, the crumb was very soft and the dough was much easier to handle.

 I do use strong spring wheat flours that are freshly ground so maybe that is the difference.  Now I pretty much retard all of my doughs in my regular refrigerator that keeps things at about 40°F/4°C.  Only time I get sour is if I use too much prefermented flour.  (In the winter I use 15% pre-fermented only and the summer it drops down to 11%-12% and I keep my leaven firm -65%HL or lower....another trick I learned here - from txfarmer and Debra Wink....)

David:  Today's loaf just happens to be a challah.....mixed up last night.  It was a sticky and hard to handle dough when it went into the refrigerator after about an hour at room temp. after being mixed.  This morning it is a firm and smooth dough.  Much easier to work with without adding lots of flour to my work table.  I have done it this way before after learning from my panetonne dough and I know this one won't be sour and that it will rise and bake very nicely.  I have given it about 2 hours this morning to warm up before shaping....actually I better get to it now or it else I might be in trouble :- my 15 year old wants to be fed....hurt his foot last night and navigating stairs is hard for  him this morning so I am being called into service :-)

Thanks for your post :-)