tartine starter instructions
hi everyone, I'm new in here and this is my first post. I have some quesitons about the Tartine book's directions for building a starter.
The tartine book, and a few things I've read online here are my reference points for artisan SD breads. I've baked loaves using commercial yeast, and I've baked a handful of loaves using the Tartine method.
Oddly, my experience seems to be the inverse of what I've read on here. My first Tartine loaf ever came out perfectly. It was remarkable. Everyone that I showed it to was blown away, as was I. Is it really that easy? Each successive loaf has been a little less perfect. Now I'm at the point (maybe 10 tries later) where my dough is the goopy, unmanageable mess that many people describe on this site.
I accept responsibility for the decline in my product quality. Admittedly, I was far more careful and exact the first time round, so I'm almost surely doing some things incorrectly. But my main quesitons have to do with starter maintenence. I feel like I'm proceeding blindly when it comes to keeping the starter hapy, and I also feel that the directions in the Tartine book are vague, at best. Hopefully you all can give me some advice.
my main issue is waste: i only bake once a week at best, so feeding the starter every day is both hard for me to keep up with and hard to justify given the amount of flour i'm feeding. I've tried keeping the starter in the fridge, but then the whole de-hybernation process vexes me. It seems like it takes an unpredictable amount of time to get back into action, perhaps because I'm doing things wrong. Then I end up using it simply because my schedule demands that I start baking, and it probably isn't ready.
the other issue has to do with the specific values for feeding the starter. The tartine book simply says to start with 20% of your existing starter: "Replace the discarded portion with equal amounts of water and the 50/50 flour blend" (46). (but how much is 20% of "it"--the book is so frustratingly vauge here--I've just started out with "handfuls" of flour and a "container" of water), then to feed this with equal parts water and the 50/50 flour mix. But it never says what ratios to keep between 1) the old starter and 2) the new flour & water. am I keeping a tablespoon of the old starter (about 30g) and then a tablespoon of 50/50 flour, and a tablespoon of water? Also, some people on this board seem to favor feeding more flour than water for the "mother" starter (not a term Robertson uses). The Tartine book never specifies if it is equal parts by weight or volume. I had pretty good results for a while keeping 60g of the old starter, then adding 120g water and 120g 50/50 flour (300g total, with 80% getting tossed each feeding). But again, I didn't like how much flour I was burning through every day. Even if you follow the Tartine basic country loaf recipe, you make 400g of leaven but only use 200g of it, which then means 200g to start with. Why so much leftover, if you only really need 60g or so for the next feeding? Seems wasteful.
The other question that I have is what is the difference between starter and leaven? The Tartine book makes it seem like leaven is just starter that you intercept halfway through its cycle, and feed again with larger percentage of flour and water. THe book says to use one tablespoon of starter that is about 12 hours old (I'm assuming, because it is a little vague: it seems like you feed starter in the morning but start the levain at night). My problem is this: my starter seems perfectly alive--if I leave it for a day it gets very puffed up and sour smelling. But when I follow the directions and intercept it in the evening, take a Tbs and add 200g water + 200g 50/50 flour, the next morning it never passes the "float test." I started just using the puffed up starter as my leaven and totally skipping what the Tartine book describes as the leaven stage. However, I get bread that rises during the bulk fermentation, but it often is too wet and doesn't hold its shape when it comes to shaping. I'm guessing that I'm causing the problem by not having my starter/levain cycle dialed in, but could somebody explain to me the rationale behind this?
so what I'm really wondering is how do you know that the starter is at the point that it can be used to make the leaven (and does Tartine describe a 5% innoculation for the leaven? Again he mentions this but it isn't totally clear to me)? And then, what's the most economical quantities to use so that the starter is ready to make a leaven once a week, say, on Friday night? Finally, why does my leaven never pass the float test as quickly as Robertson suggests that it should (e.g. 2 hours after rejuvenating it)?
sorry for the long post! thanks for your thoughts