The Fresh Loaf

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Maintaining a 100% Hydration White Flour Starter

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Maintaining a 100% Hydration White Flour Starter

The following is a description of how I maintain my 100% hydration (1:1 flour:water by weight) starter. The term 100% hydration refers to the baker's percentage of water in the starter, i.e. the water in the starter is 100% of the weight of the flour in the starter.

This maintenance regime assumes that your starter is already healthy, fresh, and active. This is not what I would do to "start a starter", but rather it is the maintenance regime I follow to store, revive, and use my starter over time.

The following characteristics are for a 100% hydration starter. The characteristics, signs of health, problems, and readiness for use are different for starters maintained at different hydration levels.

Characteristics of my 100% hydration white flour starter:

  • The weight of flour and water in the starter are equal.
  • The flour is either bread or AP flour with protein content around 11-13%.
  • The water is bottled (Poland Spring).
  • Normally fed at room temperature.
  • Stored in the refrigerator when not being fed.
  • The consistency can be described as a thick, stirrable paste after it is fed.

Characteristics of a recently fed, fresh, active 100% hydration starter:

  • It rises by double in about 4-5 hours at room temperature after a feeding of 1:2:2 (starter:flour:water by weight)
  • It maintains a reasonably thick, elastic consistency after rising by double.
  • It smells very pleasant. The smell could be described as flowery, tangy, and slightly sweet.
  • No liquid layers develop on top or in the middle even hours after rising by double.
  • Hooch (an alcoholic layer of liquid on top) forms eventually when it is stored in the refrigerator for a week or more or left out for a long time at room temperature after doubling.

Characteristics of a 100% hydration starter that is not yet ready or is possibly unhealthy:

  • Unpleasant odors a few hours after feeding.
  • Separated layers of liquid form a few hours after feeding.
  • Takes longer than 4-6 hours to rise by double at room temperature after a 1:2:2 feeding (starter:flour:water by weight).
  • Develops a runny consistency a few hours after feeding.

An Important Note on the Large Effect of Temperature on Rise Times

Before launching into the information below on maintaining starters, it is worthwhile to point out one of the largest points of confusion in sourdough starter maintenance. Temperature has a big effect on the speed of reproduction and the activity of the organisms in a sourdough culture. For example my kitchen may average 76F in the summer and only 69F in the winter. At 76F, my starter may rise by double after a 1:2:2 feeding in 4.2 hours, whereas at 69F it will double in 6.4 hours. At 64F, it would take 9.4 hours. It is not a problem to follow the procedures below in a kitchen with a temperature averaging 64F; but clearly, you need to allow for rise times of roughly double in the various discussions below. So, adjust your expectations and timing accordingly, if your temperatures don't hover fairly close to 74F or so, which is the temperature assumed for the discussions below.

Assuming a healthy, active starter, here is the maintenance regime I follow to feed, store, revive, and use my starter.

Feeding

I almost always feed my starter 1:2:2 (starter:flour:water by weight) and then allow it to rise by double at room temperature, which should take about 4.5 hours when it is fully active and recently fed. Once it has risen by double, it is placed in the refrigerator. The starter can then be used directly from the refrigerator in a recipe for the next 3 days. On the first day, it is almost the same as it was right after it rose by double. On the second day, it has a little more flavor and may be ever so slightly weaker, but it is still at an excellent point to use in a recipe. After 3 days, it can still be used, but it will have stronger, more sour flavors, and it will be noticeably weaker in terms of rising power. If you have a recipe that uses a very small percentage of starter in the dough, it won't matter much if you use old starter. I've used week old starter in recipes where the flour contributed to the dough was only 5% of the total flour weight. If you are using the starter in a recipe that has a high percentage of starter, it may be better to use the starter after 2 days or less in the refrigerator.

Although it may not make much difference, I actually maintain my starter with a 1:2:2.2 feeding ratio, i.e. at a 90% hydration. With the bread flour I use (KA Bread Flour) that results in a consistency of a thick paste that is a little difficult to stir once you mix it up well. The amounts you work with don't matter much, either, other than the amount of flour being thrown out. I typically work with a total culture size of about 80 grams. My scale will measure down to 1 gram of precision. A typical 1:2:2.2 feeding would be (16g:30g:34g) of (old starter:water:flour). Below I am doing 1:10:11 feedings, which are done by feeding (4g:40g:44g) of (old starter:water:flour).

The above method works great, but see in the variation section below for an update on how I am feeding most recently to better accomodate a 12 hour feeding cycle. Also, I now use an even thicker consistency, around 80% hydration. It seems to keep longer this way on the counter or in the refrigerator.

Storage

Once the starter has been in the refrigerator for more than three days, I consider it to be in storage. It can't be used directly in a recipe, but instead will have to be revived. If I plan to store my starter for a period of time longer than 2 weeks, I usually will thicken it up, as it keeps better at a thicker consistency. However, even at 100% hydration, I've had no problems reviving my starter after 2 months. At thicker consistencies, the starter can last for many months in the refrigerator. I believe Glezer says it can last more than a year in a very stiff consistency, like 50% hydration. However, the longest I've gone with my starter is 2 months. I use glass canisters for both feeding and storage. I usually pour the ready to refrigerate starter into a fresh container, so that the sides are clean and the starter is stirred down to take up less volume. The containers have a rubber gasket that seals them from the air in the refrigerator but allows some gas to escape if pressure and gasses build up in the container.

Revival

When the starter has been in the refrigerator for more than a few days, it must be revived first before it can be used in a recipe. I do this by simply feeding it once or twice in the manner described under "Feeding". After being stored for a week or two or more, rising by double after a 1:2:2 feeding may take something like 6-8 hours at room temperature. If it only takes 6 hours, one feeding works fine. However, if it takes more than 6 hours to rise by double at room temperature, I generally feed it one more time. The second feeding usually takes much closer to 4.5 hours, which is an indication it is fully revived. On the occasion where it had been stored for 2 months, it took a third feeding at room temperature before the starter would rise by double in 4.5 hours at room temperature after a 1:2:2 feeding.

One subtle aspect of all this is the question of how long after the starter has doubled should you wait to feed it again. The starter needs to ripen enough to bring the cell counts up to their maximum level. In the period after you feed the starter, the cell counts of yeast and lactobacillus will double every couple of hours or so. Once the starter is ripe enough, the yeast and lactobacillus cell counts will stop increasing. The pH and acid levels get to a point where they attenuate the cell activity, and they can no longer multiply in numbers. So, you want to let the starter mature enough to reach that maximum cell count, and then feed it again or store it. Just based on experience, it seems like my starter does well as long as I let it sit for an hour or two beyond the point it doubles. I usually "stir it down" at the point it doubles, and then let it rise some more. However, I refrigerate it right when it doubles, since it will continue to ripen in the refrigerator. Recently, I was rushing my feeding schedule and slowed my starter down by trying to feed too early, just before it had completely doubled, in fact. The result was that it was taking longer than usual to rise. The solution was to let it sit a while longer for a few feedings in a row. It didn't take long at all for it to bounce back to doubling in 4.5 hours from a 1:2:2 feeding at room temperature.

Variations

You can feed at a lower or higher ratio than 1:2:2 in order to adjust the amount of starter you want to build to match a recipe or to better match the times when you can feed the starter conveniently. However, I never feed at a lower ratio than 1:1:1 to avoid any problems with acid building up or the starter becoming too ripe or underfed. Higher ratios can be used to lengthen out the rise time if you know you will not be back within 4-6 hours to store the starter in the refrigerator before it becomes too ripe. At warmer temperatures, the starter will rise by double much more quickly after a 1:2:2 feeding, taking something like 2.5 hours at about 85F, for example. At 85F the timing for rising by double will be very roughly half as long as at room temperature, and at 65F the timing will be very roughly twice as long (very, very roughly).

Recently, I've been experimenting with feeding ratios for a 12 hour room temperature maintenance schedule. I have found that feeding 1:10:11 (for a slightly thicker consistency I'm using 90% hydration), results in a 12 hour cycle. The starter will double 8 hours after the 1:10:11 feeding, and then I stir it down and let it ripen some more. If I feed every 12 hours on this cycle, the starter is at full strength from about 8 to 12 hours after being fed (all this at room temperature). When you feed a starter routinely at higher ratios, like 1:10:11, it will ferment for longer periods of time at higher pH. The result should be that the starter will have relatively more lactobacillus in it compared to a starter maintained with a 1:2:2 feeding ratio, since the lactobacillus thrive in a slightly higher pH environment (around 5 pH).  I can't say what the effect on flavor would be, but it makes sense that the aromatic compounds and acids produced by the lactobacillus would be more evident in the one maintained with the high feeding ratio. Although this is not at all scientific, I do think that the starter I've maintained with a 1:10:11 feeding ratio has a more intense aroma than the one fed with a 1:2:2 ratio.

Even more recently (added 12/14/2007), I've settled on feeding every 12-17 hours using a feeding of 1:4:5 (starter:water:flour by weight). Using this procedure, the starter doubles in volume in about 4.75 hours at 76F or about 7.25 hours at 69F. Even at 69F, the starter has peaked in 12 hours, so it can be fed again. At 76F, it will peak and fall after 12 hours, but it is still at full strength and will rise vigorously when fed. It seems like a good compromise that can be used year-round for a 12 hour cycle. The starter can be maintained on the counter at room temperature indefinitely using this procedure. If I know I won't be baking bread for a while, I thicken up the starter by feeding it 1:4:7 to thicken it up when I feed it next, and put it in the refrigerator immediately after feeding. Then, I take it out a day or two in advance of the next bread-making session and revive by letting it rise by double and feeding 1:4:5 every 12 hours. Although I generally go through the revival procedure, I've found that the starter is at close to full strength even after 7 days in the refrigerator when stored this way. So, it's possible to take the starter out of the refrigerator, let it rise by double, and use most of it in a bread recipe, and take a tiny portion of it to revive for a couple of feeding cycles before returning it again to the refrigerator using the 1:4:7 feeding and refrigerating immediately.

When to Refrigerate

I like flavors to be less sour and more mild in sourdough breads I make. I've found that the right flavors and lower amounts of sour flavor seem to be there when I don't let the starter become overly ripe before using it in a recipe. That's why I tend to refrigerate when the starter has just doubled. You can experiment with feeding schedules that allow the starter to become more ripe before refrigerating. It will change the balance of organisms in the culture and therefore the flavor. Also, when you use a large percentage of starter, the larger amount of accumulated byproducts of fermentation in a more ripe starter will contribute directly to the flavor and texture of the dough, in addition to the contribution made by the subsequent fermentation.

An Additional Tip on Refrigerated Starter Storage

If you are using your starter fairly frequently, like once a week, then just refrigerating it when it doubles will work very well. You can use the starter directly out of the refrigerator for a period of time if stored that way. For storage it works well, as I've had no problem reviving my starter after 2 months when stored just after doubling. However, as Mike Avery commented below, and I've verified as well, feeding a well revived and healthy starter in such a way as to thicken it to a firm consistency and then refrigerating it immediately allows the starter to keep very well for longer periods of time. It can be removed from the refrigerator and allowed to rise by double or a little more and used directly in a recipe, even after a week, I've found. If you use this procedure, the starter should still be "revived" with enough feedings, usually one or two more, at room temperature to verify that the starter is rising at full strength again before it is again stored in the refrigerator.

Converting Starters

I sometimes make a recipe starter for a whole grain bread by feeding some of my starter with spelt or whole wheat. I have never fed a starter with whole grain repeatedly to completely convert it, so I have to accept the flavor as is and a small amount of white flour in my whole grain recipes. I'm sure there are many subtle flavor differences if you feed repeatedly and fully convert a starter from being fed exclusively with white flour to being fed exclusively with a whole grain flour. I've found the feeding and rising process works about the same way with whole grains for a recipe starter, except that the rise times seem a little bit faster with the whole grain flours.

Mistakes

It's pretty hard to kill a healthy starter, but here are a few ways to possibly send yours over the edge.

  • Heat the starter to over 95F and kill the organisms - easier than you might think, for example...
    • Use actual oven heat and get up over 100F very quickly.
    • Place the starter in an oven with the light on - check carefully first - it can be much hotter than you think in there with just the oven light on and the door closed.
    • Use hot water to feed your starter
  • Put acids in the culture
    • The culture doesn't need acid if it's healthy. It generates all the acid it needs on its own.
    • Sometimes a small shot of vinegar or other acid, such as pineapple juice, may help fix a sluggish culture, but if you feed acid repeatedly, you can put too much in and kill the starter.
  • Not feeding the culture for too long at warm temperatures or repeatedly underfeeding over long periods.
    • When out of the refrigerator, the culture will be very active and must be fed to stay healthy.
    • It is especially easy to underfeed a culture when temperatures are warmer.
  • Overfeeding the culture
    • If you feed before the culture has ripened enough repeatedly you can dilute the culture and eventually kill it.
    • More likely to happen at colder temperatures, stiffer consistencies, or higher feeding ratios. Let the culture rise by double, then let it ripen for a number of hours beyond that. A dip should form in the middle when the culture is at its peak. You can let it go for a number of hours beyond the point it dips, but it should be ready to feed at the point it is dipping or collapsing on itself.
    • If you refrigerate the culture for storage, you can let it just rise by double and then refrigerate it. It will continue to ripen in the refrigerator. However, allow it to come to full ripeness at room temperature over a couple of feedings once in a while, normally done when reviving the culture for baking, to avoid any decline similar to overfeeding caused by repeatedly refrigerating when it has just doubled.

Given the above, it makes a lot of sense to keep back a small amount of old starter in the refrigerator, even if just the scrapings from the inside of the container that came out of the refrigerator, until you're sure the feeding went well. It's also not a bad idea to make a small amount of stiff starter and keep as a backup. Some dry their starter and freeze or store it for backup.

Tips on Quantities Used, Mixing Technique, and Volumes (a scale is highly recommended, but to use measuring spoons...)

As I've gained experience, the amounts of starter I work with have dropped. I haven't found any disadvantages to using smaller quantities. For example, my most recent feeding routine (mentioned in the variations section above) is 1:4:5 (starter:water:flour by weight) is done by taking a clean jar, putting it on the scale and adding 5 grams of starter and 20 grams of water. I stir vigorously with a tiny whisk to aerate and thoroughly mix the starter into the water. Then, I add 25g of flour and use a fork to thoroughly mix the flour into water, forming a fairly thick paste - not quite a dough, but very thick. I then take a small spatula and scrape down the sides, put the lid on the jar, and place the jar in a nice unobtrusive spot on my counter where hopefully no one will disturb it.

If you don't have a scale, my first advice is to get one. It makes baking much more reliable, especially when you are trying to reproduce another baker's recipe. A good digital scale costs about $25 and is very much worth the trouble. Still, the procedure in the previous paragraph is easy to do by taking 1 teaspoon of starter, adding 2 tablespoons of water, and stirring vigorously to aerate and completely mix the starter into the water. Then, add 3 tablespoons and possibly another teaspoon or so of flour, and mix thoroughly with a fork. Scrape down the sides of the jar, cover, and place on the counter.

If you are planning to store the starter for a long time in the refrigerator, it helps to carefully drop the recently fed and thickened starter into a clean jar, so that there is no film of flour or paste stuck to the sides at all. Over a longer period, it is possible for mold to grow on a residue of flour paste left on the sides of the jar.

Comments

What I describe above is just one way to do it. I'm sure there are many other ways, but I find this method convenient and robust. It's hard to kill a healthy freshly fed and risen starter that is stored in the refrigerator. It is convenient that the starter remains in a good usable state for several days. Very small amounts can be used when storing it for long periods to avoid large amounts of flour waste. I store something like 100 grams when I'm planning to store the starter for more than a few days, so my revival can be used in a recipe without wasting much if any flour. Maintaining only one starter and converting it for recipes each time is easy and convenient, although by not fully converting the starter to a whole grain flour some flavor or other characteristics may be missed with this approach.

Comments

zolablue's picture
zolablue

In spite of the fact I mixed in flour and water twice after the initial conversion to a bit of my firm starter I ended up with interesting results.  I adjusted the final mix at 9:00 pm and at 11:00 pm it was just under double.  By the time another half hour was up the thing was easily doubled.  So that means even with the way the poor thing was treated last night once it had the right mixture and began it took only 2 1/2 hours to double.  Should I try it again today with the correct mix from the start?

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi ZB,

Well, yes, if you don't mind doing it again, so that it starts out with the right mix from the start, that would be great. Sorry, but otherwise, I think the comparison may not be as meaningful.

Bill

xma's picture
xma

Hi everyone, I had difficulty choosing which thread to post my question.  I thought of Tam's 'starter won't double itself' but I'm afraid of causing offense because my problem seems to be the opposite. 

Anyway, my starter is only about a couple of months old, and after reading Bill's post I realize I have been underfeeding it since it went on maintenance mode.  (No wonder it tasted too strong before...) Not only that, I have been a really bad person by forgetting it in a really warm place for over two days (I thought I refrigerated it), so it was foul smelling by the time I rescued it.  But I think its life is out of danger now. I refresh my starter before going to bed and it has doubled by the time I wake up.  Last night I finally had the guts to taste it after three nights of rescue efforts, and I was surprised that it almost had no sour taste at all! Is this normal?  It smelled ok though, so I was all the more surprised by the neutrality of the taste. 

How do I know when it's ready to be used for bread again?  Is doubling of volume enough of a gauge?

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi xma,

The starter will vary a lot in sour flavor depending on how ripe it is when you taste it. At the point it has just doubled, it won't be very sour. A few hours later it will probably have a fairly sour taste. By the way, I have no idea if it is safe from a health perspective to taste raw starter.

The speed of raising a dough or of doubling after a feeding varies a lot from starter to starter. Also, the same starter will rise very differently depending on feeding ratio, temperature, and consistency. I'm not really sure where mine falls in the overall spectrum. I know that mine rises by double after a 1:2:2 feeding in about 4.5 hours at 72F. Glezer in the ABAA suggests that a firm starter should rise by quadruple in 8 hours after a 1:3:5 feeding, but I'm not sure what temperature she is using. If I convert mine to a firm starter, it will only rise by about 3.5x after 1:3:5 feeding at room temperature.

If your starter takes 12 hours to rise by double, I'd venture to say you need to feed it repeatedly and see if it will speed up. I've had luck speeding mine up by feeding it 1:4:4 or even 1:9:10, letting it rise by double, stir it down, let it rise again for a few hours, then feed it again. When I do a 1:4:4 feeding it usually takes about 6 hours to double, and so I could feed it again in about 9-12 hours. If I feed my starter 1:9:10, it takes about 8 hours to double, and I would feed it again in something like 12 hours. However, if your starter is very slow, you need to feed it and then let it rise by double (if it is rising by double, otherwise let it rise to its maximum, whatever that is), and then let it ripen a few hours after that, then feed it again, even if that is taking longer than typical times for one that's healthy.

Another way to do the above is to feed it and let it rise until it starts to dip in the middle, which may happen typically after a 3x or 4x rise in a healthy starter. However, in one that is not that healthy, it may not even rise by double before it reaches a peak and starts to dip in the middle and fall back. Usually the peak and dip occurs a few hours after the starter has risen by double.

Bill

Susan's picture
Susan

How was your trip, and did you work any baking in?  Or are you still sailing and managed to get an inet connection?

Susan from San Diego

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi Susan,

Escaped Barry and landed in Camden, ME. We got pretty wet, but at least we snuck into a safe place ahead of the predicted 9-14 foot seas. It wasn't the idyllic spring sailing I so often love up there in Maine this particular time of year. I've endured the variable spring weather because there is no more beautiful time to be up there on a boat.

Bill

xma's picture
xma

Hi Bill.  Haha, you probably have a very bad opinion of my sanitation habits, what with the sea water bread and now, tasting raw starters.  Don't worry, it's not a habit and I don't swallow (not that it matters a lot in terms of ingesting bacteria or what-have-you), but I just wanted to see if my starter has become offensive tasting.  And let me reassure you that the kitchen where I work is immaculate, the type friends and family say they could eat off the floor from. (Not that I do that!!!) :) 

I realize from your inputs that I don't know how long it takes exactly for my starter to double, since it rises while I sleep.  But I have been feeding it 1:2:2, and last night it more than doubled in 8 hours at 68F.  Tonight I'll try 1:4:4 and see if it doubles after 8 hours.  If it does, I'll work my way to lower ratios of the starter to find the 8-hour doubling time. By the way, my starter is pure rye at 100% hydration.  I initially started off with two starters, rye and white, but somewhere along the way I decided I didn't like the flavor of breads made with my white starter so I discarded it and just stuck with the rye.

Also, I would like your opinion on "ideal" conditions for starter storage.  I read from Hamelman that the ideal temperature is at 46-50F if storing for up to 48 hours.  He cited someone else who said that below 46F is detrimental to yeast growth. How I wish I have such storage conditions available, but I do have an option of storing it in a chiller which maintains 58F, give or take.  I have not experimented much with the chiller except for buying myself an extra hour or so.  My gut feel is that it's too cold for rising but too warm for storage, so I'd appreciate your opinion.  Thanks!

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi xma,

Don't worry, it sounds like you do a better job keeping your kitchen nice than I do.

I've occasionally tasted my starter trying to get a handle on what's going on with it, but it may be risky from a health perspective.

I've read some posts that say there is nothing wrong with tasting raw starter, and I doubt that's always true. Most of the time, if the starter is healthy, it may well be fine, as the culture naturally rejects unwanted organisms, which is why it works.

However, scientists have studied the organisms that live in a culture as it develops, and at first there are quite a few organisms that get a foothold which you would not want to ingest, such as E. Coli, Salmonella, and so on. I would think that until the culture rejects the unwanted organisms, there is not much difference between ingesting raw starter and ingesting spoiled food.

By the way, I made the seawater bread, and it's blogged.

Bill

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I used to do what Bill does, I'd feed the starter, wait for it to double, and then put it into the fridge.

 

However, reading Dr. Sugihara's articles about freezing starters showed me that a freshly fed starter suffers less in the freezer than a mature/ripe starter. I thought that this might also apply to refrigerated starters, so I played with it a bit.

 

As a result, my current approach to refreshing the starter is to take it out if the fridge and feed it every 12 hours - doubling the amount of starter each time, discarding some so things don't get out of hand - until the starter will double in size after a feeding.

Then I feed it one more time and put it directly into the refrigerator. Thicker starters, around 60% hydration, will double in the fridge. Thinner ones, at 100% hydration, will not. However, I find that the starters put into the fridge fresh from feeding bounce back better.

Another tip - refrigeration can be hard on the balance of the yeast and bacteria. Feedings mostly address the yeast's needs. If your starter is getting too mild, let around 5% of the flour (a tbsp per cup is close) be whole wheat or rye for a couple of feedings. This will give the bacteria something to chew on, as it were, and help restore the balance.

Mike

 

PS - thanks for all the kind words about Sourdoughhome.com I do appreciate them. Mike

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Mike,

Thanks for your advice on this. I agree with your commentary and have a similar method now. I have read in a couple of places, including "The Bread Builders" by Dan Wing and "Artisan Baking" by Glezer that the higher acid of a more ripe starter combined with refrigeration can be especially hard on the yeast in the starter. Therefore, putting the starter in the refrigerator shortly after a feeding when it is lower in acid, as well as making it thicker to buffer the acidity, is a good approach. It bears out in practice for me, too. I generally will feed my starter such that the consistency is very thick before refrigerating these days and put it in the refrigerator shortly afterward.

It is important, regardless of storage method, to be sure to go through a couple of cycles of feedings at room temperature. The starter will fully revive and balance out from the effects of refrigeration if you feed, allow to double, and mature somewhat more than that, maybe a few hours beyond the doubling point, then feed again, repeating this feeding cycle until the starter is consistently rising by double in a reasonable time.

I emphasize the room temperature feeding cycle because I've noticed some cases where people feed and refrigerate immediately, but do not do the feedings at room temperature. If you do that, the starter will never have a chance to fully revive and rebalance, as it would with repeated room temperature feedings, to the state it should be in for bread making.

Mike, I've very much enjoyed your site, your videos, and your commentary on baking on http://www.sourdoughhome.com and also here on TFL, to say nothing of your excellent ebooks. Thanks for taking the time to visit here. Your comments are always very much appreciated.

Bill

summerbaker's picture
summerbaker

Your blog entry couldn't have come at a better time!  I have been reviving my 100% hydration starter over the last couple of days and switched to your 1:2:2 method yesterday.  I had kept the old starter in the back of my refrigerator for about six months without touching it and now it is bubbling along wonderfully.  Thank you so much for the thorough instructions and feeding options for me to consider after I get it totally revived!


Summer

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Bill,


Thanks for sharing this great write up.


I've been maintaining by starter at a much higher hydration (about 178%). Reason for this is because to date, I've been using volume measurements (1 cup flour to 1 cup water).


So it will be interesting for me to try a 100% hydration starter.


That said, I've never had any problems with this starter (built on Nancy Silverton's grape-based recipe). I store it months at a time w/o feeding in the fridge. Sure I think the time has taken a toll on it from storing this way, but with a few regular feedings it always come back really strong, despite being neglected.


I have also started to use a firm starter at ~60% hydration which is very alive and happy on top of my fridge.


Are there any risks/downsides to maintaining such a high-hydration (178%) starter?


 


 

Candygirl's picture
Candygirl

Hi all,


My first rye starter (100% hydration) is just 7 days old.  I live in a tropical country in southeast asia and current ambient temperature averages around 30 degrees celcius (it's summer time).  I'm currently doing a 1:1:1 feeding every 12 hours or less - I see it double after 2-3 hours and by the time I would feed it, it has collapsed.  After reading all your posts, I realize that I should do a different feeding.  Would a 1:4:4 feeding be better for my starter and schedule?  What about feeding it once a day - let it double then put it in the refrigerator until the next feed?  Would be very glad to hear your suggestions.


Thanks,


Candy

VerinaYuan's picture
VerinaYuan

Hi Bill,


How comphrehensive !! i am still a little confused about the hydration % though, like if i feed my start as 1:1:1 or 1:2:2 (old starter:flour:water), I would call both 100% hydration right? Some recipe calls for 100% hydration active starter, which ratio I should acutally use? some recipe just call for starter right out from the fridge and has its own ratio of feeding, does that mean it doesnt matter what hydration% it was, as long as I feed it that way, the bread will turn out correctly?


Cheers,


Verina

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Hi Verina,


Yes, you are correct in both counts.


As long as you're feeding your starter 1:1 flour-to-water by weight, it will be approximately 100% hydration starter. I say "approximately" because the total hydration will also depend on the hydration of the previous starter; if you keep feeding any starter (liquid or firm) a 1:1 flour-to-water ratio by weight, over time it will quickly become 100% hydration. By weight (in oz or grams) is important, because if you measure equal amounts by volume (cups/teaspoons) it won't be 100% hydration.


If a recipe calls for 100% hydration starter, yes, use any starter that has been fed a 1:1 ratio once or twice. 


For example:



  • 20g starter

  • 50g flour

  • 50g water


will yield a 100% hydration starter.


The ratio of the existing starter to flour & water doesn't really matter, as long as the starter is alive and strong. For example:



  • 20g starter

  • 200g flour

  • 200g water


will also yield 100% hydration starter. However, it might take slightly longer (because there's more flour) for the starter yeasts to innoculate the entire starter.


I prefer the smaller quantities because there is less starter waste when feeding, especially when I'm not baking.


Hope this helps! Good luck, and happy baking! :)


 


 

bobkay1022's picture
bobkay1022

Hi I have a starter I have been using for 4-5 months now.  After reading your post below this  I have a question. My starter acts like the way you post.  I get terrific results out of it as a novice


Example if I have 6 ounces of starter I add 6 ounces of water and 6 ounces of flour.


If I was to leave out it would almost double but I put it back in the refrigerato and take out what I need.  If I need a 1/2 cup I take it out and add it to my recipe right away from the refrigerator.  If I see I am to low I weigh and add  the same amount of water and flour to my starter weight.


Now do I have 100% hydration starter?


Thanks


Bob


Here is  Pix of muffins I made with my starter. Put them on my page so that a fellow on here could see them. He seems to say that his 100% starter is unworkable so Maybe I am off in my measurements also but it works.....


http://www.siemann.us/english%20muffins


 


Characteristics of my 100% hydration white flour starter:



  • The weight of flour and water in the starter are equal.

  • The flour is either bread or AP flour with protein content around 11-13%.

  • The water is bottled (Poland Spring).

  • Normally fed at room temperature.

  • Stored in the refrigerator when not being fed.

  • The consistency can be described as a thick, stirrable paste after it is fed.


Characteristics of a recently fed, fresh, active 100% hydration starter:



  • It rises by double in about 4-5 hours at room temperature after a feeding of 1:2:2 (starter:flour:water by weight)

  • It maintains a reasonably thick, elastic consistency after rising by double.

  • It smells very pleasant. The smell could be described as flowery, tangy, and slightly sweet.

  • No liquid layers develop on top or in the middle even hours after rising by double.

  • Hooch (an alcoholic layer of liquid on top) forms eventually when it is stored in the refrigerator for a week or more or left out for a long time at room temperature after doubling

cranbo's picture
cranbo

If you're working with 6oz starter, 6oz water & 6oz flour, then you're still at 100% hydration, especially if you've fed it 5 times.


If you have a lot of starter, it will take more feedings to get the hydration to balance out over time. 


However, the easiest way is just to do this to feed:


For 1 or 2oz starter, feed 6oz flour and 6oz water. After 2 feedings your hydration should be exactly (for practical purposes) 100& hydration. 


One thing people forget is that if you have a very active starter, you only need very little to keep it going. Smaller amounts of starter help minimize waste. I don't know often you bake with your sourdough starter, but just as easy (and more economical) to use a smaller sourdough seed and smaller flour & water quantities. For example, I regularly refresh 1 tbsp of starter with about 1/3c. to 1/2c. of flour (I use firm starters because they keep longer and I like their flavor characteristics); that's usually enough to make 1 loaf of bread, depending on the recipe, and have enough left over to feed and maintain the culture. 

bobkay1022's picture
bobkay1022

Hi Bill Thank you for the quick reply.  My question. Is it a typo or do you use 1 tbls of starter and only flour and no water.  I see where I do have waste my way but try to use it in pancakes muffins or what ever calls for a white sd starter. Now I just put it in the refrigerator after I feed it and use what I need till it gets low in volume. I use right out of the refrigerator. Is that a improper method?   I seem to get results with a good rise over night like with E muffins it doubles and almost triples the dough. Panckes are thick dough  unless I use little more liquid but good taste.


Bob

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Hi Bob,


This isn't Bill replying, but I'm the one that posted about the 1 tbsp of starter to reduce waste. 


To clarify, yes it is 1 tablespoon of starter, and then flour + water in equal (but smaller) quantities. 


For example: 


 



  1. Use 1 tablespoon of starter

  2. Dissolve 1 tablespoon of starter in 50-100 grams of water

  3. To that add 50-100 grams of flour (equal to water by weight)




You can use your starter right out of the fridge, but yeast activity is slower at low temp. If you're happy how it's working for you, then don't change it.  

 


Good luck and happy baking!


--cranbo

samzam's picture
samzam

This is great information, Bill. I've been looking for a method to maintain hydration in my stater and yours is the most easy to follow among all the other methods I've found on the internet. Thanks a lot for posting this!


fat farm

bobkay1022's picture
bobkay1022

Hi C


   Thanks for the quick reply. I am gald that I read your post. I did not want to throw starter away so I used it in what ever requires sd starter.  Mine does work very good right out of the refrigerator.  I do measure what I need. Add room temp water or little cooler, stir tilll it is desolved it now starts to bubble then add the starter as recomended in the recipe. 


When I am in the motor home now I will not store as much as I did as refrigerator space is very limited.  That will be nice. Wish I had searched for this post 2 + years ago.


Thanks again and where ever you are stay warm I winter in Arizona and the weather has been cool. I used to summer on our yacht in New England waters for 15 + years but spouse developed a medical and that put a hold on it so I sold the boat and now do it in a MH. Just as expensive believe me.


Thanks again,


Mr. Bob


www.siemann.us

TheTwistedVegan's picture
TheTwistedVegan

There is really outstanding information on this website.   Thank You!  I'm a new baker and struggling a bit, but I'm getting there!  I live in the Caribbean with daytime highs in the mid to upper 80s (nights in the low to mid 70s).   I'm still struggling with the proof to oven time (pretty sure I've been overproofing, yeast feeding too fast in my warm climate relative to standard recipes, making for dense bread) but learning with each failed attempt!   My starter is a month old, I've been refrigerating it, feeding and using it weekly.    I've been pulling it out of the fridge at 6PM, bringing to room temp, and feeding at 8PM.   I let the amount I need sit overnight, and I re-feed at 8AM using the 100% ratio, and usually this is enough to get the doubling in 2-4 hours.  My starter is happy.  So far the best recipe that's working for me calls for mixing up "fed starter" in a sponge which sits overnight (then proceed with bread the next AM).   Am I waiting too long between an 8AM feeding, starter happy around 10AM and making the sponge at 8PM?   Does starter need to be used exactly when it hits that "doubling" point?    Does it lose it's leavening power the longer it sits un-refridgerated and feasts?

bwraith's picture
bwraith

I think the answer to the title of your post is "you have a lot of flexibility". The starter will go through a "exponential growth" phase when it is rising and then settle in for a period where the growth of organisms may slow down and eventually reverse, as the acid concentrations increase and inhibit the ability of the organisms in the culture to reproduce. The acidity of the starter may contribute to the flavor of the dough, so this is a factor in the final result if the amount of starter (or sponge or levain, etc.,) is some significant proportion of the dough itself. However, the number of organisms you are introducing in a given volume of starter should remain relatively stable for many hours after the starter has risen, even if the temperature is warm (up to a point). After a point, yes, the culture will start to actually die off and decrease in numbers, and the relative proportions of organisms also may change, since the death rates are probably very different for the various organisms, so at that point, the strength and flavors you get from it would be different, but it might still make great bread. In the end, you just have to experiment to find a process you can carry out regularly and conveniently that gives a consistent and favorable result for your preferences.

Your general questions imply many others, and I guess there are many, many factors. I would like to respond with a few thoughts, particularly in view of warm conditions. I also would like to say "welcome", as I always feel a kinship to anyone who wants to enjoy the "magic" of sourdough and bread-making.

I highly recommend taking notes every time you change your process and also try to compare breads from one week to the next and take notes always. Eventually, you may discover a process you prefer. The differences from one process to another may not be that dramatic, so notes can help to memorialize the processes and the flavors that result.

1) Adding some salt in the culture (similar to the amount in bread, say 2% of the flour weight) may be a tool to inhibit the growth rate of your starter in warm temperatures, if you are leaving it out for a longer period of time, which may be a variable to play with. I believe there is a tradition in warmer climates of using salt in starter for this reason. It's all a matter of what works for you, so if you are happy with the flavor of your bread, maybe the refrigeration strategy you are using is just fine. However, you could experiment with taking it out of the refrigerator more often or for longer times to feed it and leaving it out on the counter for a few hours periodically and perhaps adding salt, to give the culture a different environment where it may be active more of the time. In the refrigerator, the culture should go dormant, and the organisms may start to die off slowly, and at different rates for each organism. So, it's possible that you would discover the culture has better flavor or better rising qualities if it is allowed to "live more" during the week. You also might not see any difference at all, so I'm not saying this is better for sure, just saying it's something to try. A week is not a long time in the refrigerator, if you left there the whole week. I've had cultures in the refrigerator for a year or so (at a cabin in the mountains I don't visit often), and the culture recovers and makes good bread within 36 to 48 hours, so who knows what is best. I don't. Also, when you make it harder to maintain by introducing more attention, more minutes feeding, more minutes messing around with it, you may feel it's not worth the effort, especially if the difference is minimal. I encourage respect for time saving processes and letting your routine be what it needs to be. Better to enjoy your sourdough bread making once per week, even if some longer, more involved process gives better results, if you find the "better" procedure is too tedious.

2) The density of the bread could have nothing to do with the starter. For example, if you happen to be using fairly low protein (like 10-11%) fully whole wheat flour, it would be difficult for that flour/dough to come out anything but dense, especially with sourdough culture that would break down the gluten more and have a "chewy" texture. Even higher protein flour that is whole wheat will have a hard time not being somewhat dense without dough enhancements of some kind. If you have the ability to sift out the bran and use it on the crust or make a "soaker" to soften it, you can probably lighten the crumb. However, it's also true that if you have the flavor you want, there's nothing wrong with denser bread, in fact I tend to like a little density and chewiness, but it's all a matter of preferences. And yes, over-risen dough won't "spring" in the oven and may be more dense, or it can even collapse into a mess, if you let it go way too long. The indication of over-risen dough is that it begins to have small hills and valleys in it, rather than being more like a balloon with a smooth curved surface.

3) A lower hydration, stiffer dough can extend the "life" of dough in warmer temperatures. The gluten will hold up longer, the culture can become more acidic, and the dough will be more forgiving of the warm temperatures as a result. I would be considering a drier dough in warm temperatures, especially with sourdough fermentation.

4) Refrigeration of the dough can be a great strategy to slow down the rise and improve the flavor and texture of your dough. If you have a large dough, it can slowly drop in temperature from 80F to 40F, let's say, and then rise from 40F to 80F, even over hours, if the dough is large enough and in a well insulated container, maybe averaging a temperature for the whole bulk fermentation of something 65F. So, you can drastically extend the rise time, by placing the dough in the refrigerator in the evening and then taking it out quite a few hours before baking, since the dough will rise way more slowly at lower temperature of 65F, compared to 80F. Also, at the much lower temperatures, you can tolerate a more hydrated dough, which will be lighter, especially if it is a whole wheat dough. However, it is very difficult to quantify this difference. I have used some spreadsheets to model the sourdough culture growth as a function of temperature to allow me to do fairly reliable 24 hour bulk fermentations, but it really is tricky. If you lose track or mis-estimate the dough temperatures over time, you can have a way over-risen dough or a way under-risen dough and find yourself very annoyed to have to either rush in a panic to the oven or wait into the wee hours for it. So, you have to decide how much experimentation of this sort you really want to engage in. It can be really frustrating to think the dough is nice and cool and that you have plenty of time, and then check the dough and see it is bubbling away and rising much more quickly than you thought.

5) I've found I like to use a very small inoculations (like putting only 1% starter to dough) and having a longer fermentation. The overall result is a mild sourdough, unless you use a very dry dough and let it rise longer. Part of the reason I like this is that it is just so much simpler to mix one dough and then use refrigeration to manage the rise time, from there straight to bake time rather than working with first a sponge, then mixing a big sponge into a dough. However, you can certainly manage the rise of both the sponge and dough with refrigeration, too.

6) You can use lower hydration for the starter, such as 60%, rather than the 100% that I think is mentioned in the write-up I did way back when - thanks for your praise, by the way. For example, these days, I generally use something like 70% hydration, about 10% old starter to new flour and water, and I use a little rye or my home-milled flour, plus some conventional white flour, and then I leave on the counter for 24 hours. In other words, I just feed once per day and leave it on the counter. If I were to use a 100% hydration starter in the summer, this would probably result in a somewhat alcoholic, slightly off-smelling, and soupy mix at the end of 24 hours, but a 70% hydration starter might smell nice and fresh and aromatic after 24 hours, even at 75F in the summer in my kitchen. When it's cold in the winter, I make the culture slightly wetter and leave it next to my coffee-maker, but I still like my once-a-day routine with the starter. Smelling the culture can be a good indication of what is happening. If it smells just a little bready, it is early in the process. When it is more mature, it has an aromatic quality that is fresh and pleasant. Later, it may begin to be a little alcoholic and you may notice "off" smells or sometimes a "petroleum" or "chemical" smell. At that point, I think things are probably headed downhill. I've never gotten to the point where it has weird colors and spoiled, rotten smells, or actual weird dots of stuff are growing, but I'm sure that eventually can happen.

7) Mixing and kneading dough may be way over-rated, in my experience. At least in my experience, what works better for hearth bread-making, in spite of all the discussion of mixing and kneading techniques to be done shortly after mixing the ingredients, is to simply wait. The dough will become "conditioned" all by itself over time, as you let the acids from fermentation build up in the dough, and the hydration works it's magic. A couple of "stretch and folds" later on, when the dough has had time to fully hydrate and acidify, are just as effective as all kinds of kneading and mixing in the early going. In fact, I think it is very possible that virtually no kneading is required for many recipes. Or, don't even do any folding, either. Just the stretching, folding, and shaping process at the point you shape the dough into loaves is effective, as I have found out a couple of times when I just forgot entirely to do anything but mix the dough a bit in a bowl and left in to ferment until time to shape it. It works just fine to do almost no mixing, kneading, or folding - just stretch, fold, and shape the dough one time. I say all this in response again to the "density" issue you mentioned.

In summary, you have tons of flexibility in the sourdough culture strategy and probably in the sponge timing. Lower hydration can be used to extend the life of the culture in warmer temperatures. Refrigeration is a great tool that would allow more hydration in the dough itself if the average rising temperatures are kept down between 60F and 70F (which might lighten it especially if whole wheat). Otherwise, if not refrigerating, longer fermentations at lower hydration might be worth a few experiments.

 

 

 

TheTwistedVegan's picture
TheTwistedVegan

Wow, from the bottom of my heart, thank you so much for this highly detailed reply.   Your points are all understood and very well taken.   I'm getting that sourdough bread making is truly an art form, based on highly variable science and environments!  As I've researched, it's amazing to find so many formulas for the dough, as well as procedures.  

First off, I'm working with a san francisco sourdough starter from Sourdo.com.  When I got the yeast started, after it's first day at tropical room temp where it bubbled like mad, it then spent 2 days in a 68 degree A/Ced bedroom (treated it to the villa suite - even I don't get that sort of luxury LOL!).   My starter smells good, as you mentioned above.   After it's second feeding, instead of just smelling yeasty, it smells almost floral yeasty.  Like a good Chardonnay! 

I'm using Bob's Red Mill Unbleached Organic White Flour (supposedly 11.7%).  It runs $5 for 5lb.  I found King Arthur's flour, but it was $20!!  Too much $$ at this point in my bread making endeavors! 

Question:  Do you ever add vital wheat gluten as a small % in the sourdough to get the gluten structure up?  I saw in comments under the BRM flour on Amazon, some people were adding  1/3 cup of vital wheat gluten to replace 1/3 cup of the organic flour for each loaf of bread.

My first two weekly attempts used a recipe from King Arthurs (in cups, not grams).   The final dough (2 loaves) was very stiff, and simply too much for me to handle.  My husband had to kneed it.  Process was to make a sponge, let sit at room temp for 4 hr, refrig overnight, add in remaining flour, salt & some sugar.   Let rise 2-5 hr.  Shape then rise 2-4 hours.   I simply followed along, and let rise the max time, not following instincts.   Baked it on a baking sheet at 425 with spritz of water (first week spritz into the oven, second week directly on the loaf).  Both weeks, the loaves turned out very dense, and were as pale as can be.   Unappealing.  (More research ... Don't quit!)

My ultimate goal is to bake one loaf of weekly bread which looks exactly like the one on your site here "Baking in Cast Iron".  :)

This week, I halved a recipe from The River Cottage Bread Handbook (113g starter, 550g flour, 310g water, 12g salt).  And I also tried out one from YouTube from Hobbs House Bakery (300g starter, 460g flour, 230g water, 10g salt).   Such a difference in how much starter is used!   Between the two, Hobbs Bakery was too wet.   The Cottage River dough felt good to the touch, was still quite sticky at first as I've seen in many videos, but pulled together in 5 minutes or so.  Here is where I think I failed:   The book says to let dough rise an hour in a bowl, deflate & do this 4 times.   By the time I put it into my proofing basket for the final rise, it was "done".  Just as you described:  "The indication of over-risen dough is that it begins to have small hills and valleys in it, rather than being more like a balloon with a smooth curved surface."  I'm going to try again, as the dough was very springy on the 2nd (not 4th) folding.   Your comment is well taken - less kneading worked much better than that awful stiff 1st dough with 10 minutes of torture!   I think I'll move the Cottage River dough to it's final shaping proof on hour 2.

I also experimented with shaping in a wicker basket (baked on pizza stone), and shaping on grandmother's cast iron skillet, baked directly on that.   I also covered the cast iron skillet (spritzed the dough directly), and that one did turn a beautiful brown, if not so happily risen.

I'm also going to try the recipe on Bob's Red Mill.  It uses a tsp of dry yeast.  Right now, I don't care so much about naturally leavened bread, as I do getting a good holey sprung loaf ... 

Needless to say, I think I'm developing a sourdough obsession!!   I appreciate your feedback and support, and will continue to keep notes & photos, and experiment with refrigeration, until I get it right (or shall we say, until I get what works for me!)   Happiest of holidays to you :).     

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

It all sounds good to me. Your comments do motivate me to just add a few more thoughts.

1) To get lighter bread with holes, if that is the objective, I think having a wetter dough may help a lot. However, then it will be less forgiving in warm conditions. So, since you are using the refrigerator for your starter, I would suggest also using it for your dough. You can then use a wetter dough, but still have the timing be more forgiving at the low temperatures. Basically, you'll have a longer window during which the conditions for baking are good, if you are working with a cooler dough, rather than having it go from not risen enough to over-risen before you know it.

2) The pale result may well be over-risen dough. The sugars are all eaten away by the culture at some point, so they aren't available to brown the crust in the oven. Another thing you can do is add a little (1% maybe) barley malt syrup. I don't know why, although maybe the sugar is particularly well suited to a bread culture coming from a grain, but it seems like a magic sugar for bread. This may result in a darker loaf, since there is a little more sugar available for browning that will be left over at the point the dough has risen enough to put in the oven. However, adding sugar or oil has to be done sparingly, or you'll have to use a much lower oven temperature to compensate, though that isn't necessarily a big deal. If you have a little too much sugar or oil in the dough, a too hot oven can cause the loaf's crust to become charred before you can do anything about it.

3) Adding some rye (say 5% or 10%) seems to add good flavor and character to bread, just my feeling about that. Another one is spelt, or use a little of both. They can be whole wheat or lightly sifted, if you don't want the large bran pieces in your crumb from whole wheat rye or spelt flours. Also, similar percentages of a whole wheat flour might add a little character to the all-white flour recipe, but thiese are all just things to play with. A really nice plain white sourdough can be wonderful, especially if it what you prefer.

4) Although there is a tremendous amount of opinion on this topic, I really think it is doubtful that it matters what culture you started with after a reasonable period of time. As you re-inoculate your culture at each feeding, mainly from the organisms in the flour you use, but also from whatever manages to sneak in from your air, utensils, hands, etc.,, will probably change the nature of the culture. Basically, I think that the local conditions, ingredients, and process you impose will result in a set of organisms that are being both re-inoculated regular, and also are well adapted to the environment and procedures, and so that is what will end up being stable. Of course, cultures can persist for long periods of time if they happen to adapt well and can dominate over the organisms that are being introduced regularly by your ingredients and procedures, but I really think it is most likely that your culture will always eventually be defined by the ingredients, process, and environment in your kitchen. I can't prove this and don't want to debate it at all, I just think that's how it probably works, so I don't worry too much about "where I got the culture". I just try to use a consistent process and ingredients, once the culture that results makes good-tasting bread.

5) If you aren't weighing your flour, I would highly recommend that you do that. I don't know if you can get one of those electronic scales, but I find them incredibly helpful. Flour and water by weight will result in a much more predictable hydration ratio.

6) Even if you weigh everything, remember that the amount of water a given flour absorbs can be very different for different flours, even ones that are "the same thing" like "all purpose" or "bread flour". There are a number of details for any given flour that affect how much water it will absorb, and you just can't know without trying. A few rules of thumb, might be that higher protein flours absorb more water, whole wheat flours absorb more water, higher ash content flours absorb more water, spelt needs less water, rye needs more water, especially whole rye flour. So, what can you do? First weigh the flours and waters and keep notes. Second, use your feel for the dough. It is very important, because no recipe can account for the particular qualities of the exact flour you are using. You just have to realize this and know that the water is a variable you have to adjust for by personally testing it, a little like salt would be in cooking. All the focus on mixing and kneading can cause one to add too much flour, especially if you dust with flour. I prefer to do any mixing and kneading in a bowl, or on a counter with water as the "non-stick" ingredient, so you don't dry out the dough with too much dusting flour. Try to get clues from the recipe "words" about texture, rather than focus on the exact amounts of flour and water. If it talks of a "shaggy mass" or talks of a satiny, soft dough, or one that tends to spread when dumped on the counter, these are all clues to the texture, which is what they really want you to adjust the water to flour ratio to obtain.

7) I suppose if you are stuck with a very low protein local flour source, and you want to make hearth breads, then it might make sense to get "vital wheat gluten" or use other enhancers. Effectively, I think this is just increasing the protein content of the flour, but it's hard to say how close it is to just using a higher protein flour. If you have 11.5% flour Bob's Red Mill, I would think that should work fine without any enhancement, once you figure out the right combination or refrigeration, timing, hydration, and maybe sugar that gives you a manageable rise, good oven spring, and good browning of the crust. If you want something a little higher protein, I might have agreed that the King Arthur products tend to be a little higher protein, but I understand the cost issue. I also am a fan (for a medium-high protein white flour) of the white flour from "Wheat Montana". It seems to work really well in sourdough and seems to more widely available recently, including on Amazon. However, I don't remember the cost or if it can even be obtained as a practical alternative where you live or not. Just tossing out ideas.

8) Try to get a handle on the "feel" of the fermentation process, too. If you have one of those probe thermometers, take it's temperature every once in a while. You may be surprised by the temperatures you get, especially when you start using the refrigerator. I like to fold the dough and then take the temperature, so it has mixed up a little by the folding, so that the outside and inside temperatures are a little more uniform. The things you might look for, is whether that floral aroma is there. If so, the fermentation is progressing along. If the dough feels softer, a little puffy, and smoother, then it is probably getting close to shaping time. If you are pressing it down, I would think this is because it is too bubbly? If so, you can't let that go on forever, since that also means the fermentation may progress to the point that the gluten begins to deteriorate, at which point you won't get a good final rise after shaping - and then you'll see those hills and valleys, and the baked dough may be kind of pale and chalky looking instead that beautiful golden brown or brown headed toward black, if you want that slightly more charred look some bakers prefer.

9) Yeah, all the mixing, pressing down, folding, etc., amounts to about the same thing. You want to get uniform sized bubbles, some stretching of the gluten that's forming, and breaking up of very large bubbles if that is happening in a very active fermentation. Again, using your own feel for it will help. The recipes are trying to describe a very dynamic and variable process that involves a living culture in flours that may not be the same, different mineral content, slightly different ratios of salt (which should also be weighed, because salt by volume can vary over a wide factor in true concentration of the sodium chloride, since some salt has air in the crystals, and some less so, for example). So, you have to use your senses and your thermometer and your scale and so on to try to adjust for these differences, which will in the end affect the timing of when to fold, when to shape, when to put in the oven. So ask yourself, does it need pressing down? Are there enormous bubbles that need to be broken up? Is it fermenting really fast? Not fermenting fast enough? Is the gluten formed? Is the texture as expected? And so on. 

I hope you thoroughly enjoy it. Good luck with it.

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Bill, so good to see you here at TFL again!  It feels like forever since I last saw a post from you.  I hope that all is well with you and that you can be more active here again. 

Paul

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi Paul,

Yes I'm doing great, but the bread activity is not nearly what it was when I made more posts a few years ago. I still do my own crazy milling and sifting to make a flour that is fairly high ash content but not whole wheat that way, then use the bran for dusting and sometimes other purposes. I still have my brick oven and periodically make a huge batch of sourdough loaves with 6Kg of my home made flour. Very fun to do once in a while. I still make focaccias once in a while with the brick oven with live embers to the side to give them a nice smokey flavor. However, I've really settled on a few recipes like that done in bulk, and I just freeze and use for a month or two. I do some wood fired brick oven cooking these days, such as roast turkeys and a great stuffing recipe all done with fire.

Regards, Bill

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

that your milling and oven are still put to good use.  Pat (proth5) has done a lot of the heavy lifting in responding to folks with questions about home milling and often points them to your posts on the subject.  

Six kg of flour you've milled in a single batch of bread?!  Wow!  It make sense, though, to do a big batch with the brick oven, both for using the heat effectively and for putting enough moisture into the baking chamber.  With what you described about the evolution (devolution?) of your mixing and kneading practices, you probably haven't plumped for a big spiral mixer.

It's even better to hear that you are doing well.  Sometimes people disappear from the site and you never know what happened to them, sometimes (as with Eric Hanner, sadly) people die, and every now and then someone pops back up after having been away for a stretch.  It's good to see you back.  Your posts were very helpful to me in improving my baking skills and I thank you for that.

Paul

bwraith's picture
bwraith

I have a 20qt Fleetwood mixer I found at a used restaurant supply place in my basement (finding it was quite an adventure, but that's a whole other story), to match the Meadows 8" mill and a Meadows sifter. I have a 5 day process that involves tempering the wheat berries with a few 100g of water for a couple of days to bring up the moisture content, then a multi-pass milling/sifting that captures bran flakes at the beginning and flour of various levels of ash content over the various successively finer passes through the mill and sifter. The flour that comes out for my big loaves seems to work well to make big sourdough loaves that I maintain around 60F for 24 hours, and the flavors seem to be good from this process, although my audience of tasters is highly biased, lol. More importantly, it keeps me off the streets.

I'm glad to hear Pat is still around. We had some great conversations when I was experimenting with my own milling and sifting.

I knew about Eric, who I had some extensive and very fun discussions with. 

Many thanks for the kind words. I had a good time when I was making all these posts. This site was a very good way for me to increase my skills, too. Putting some of that work on the site helped me learn a lot, because I had to be very precise and try to boil things down to the most important summary of a process that behind the scenes might have been slightly more chaotic. There were some great well-meaning critics and some tutors who filled me in on all kinds of subtle and valuable tips. I now go back and use those recipes I wrote like an amnesiac, looking at them as if written by someone else and consider them quite appealing for matching up with my style, lol.

TheTwistedVegan's picture
TheTwistedVegan

For all you other newbees out there:   As you too come across this post & may be struggling with your 1st loafs of bread, discarded unfed starter makes amazing sourdough pretzels (traditional, nuggets & rolls for sandwiches).   I'm using King Arthur's recipe (simply eliminated the dry milk to make them vegan for me, and brush with soy milk on topping).  They are so good, I should be selling them!  Just be sure to use the boil in baking soda method (10c water to 3/4c b.soda) for 1 min prior to baking.  I tried baking without the boil as the recipe directs, and that didn't turn out very well.  

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Another great use of sourdough starter that you amass from feedings is pancakes. A little mashed banana or apple sauce, and some added flour and water, plus a dash of baking soda to get them bubbling fast works great. I'm sure there are recipes all over for them, but you can make them whimsically. It's to go wrong with a little syrup on top and some fruit in them.

TheTwistedVegan's picture
TheTwistedVegan

Yea!!!   I had beautiful success today.   Since this thread is about the starter, I'd like to note that I took mine out of the fridge at 6PM on the 1st day, and fed it at 8PM (remove half, refeed with 1:1:1 ratio by weight).   On this first feeding my yeast did double, but falls back very quickly.  I don't think this is ready yet to be considered truly "fed".   The next morning, I fed my yeast again at 8AM.   This feeding was much frothier, probably 3x and stayed inflated throughout the day.   I took this as a very good sign.   By 8PM, when I was going to make my sponge (which I now take it is kinda like a next feeding), the starter had just begun to decline from it's 3x volume.   I made a sponge, which I did let sit out at tropic room temp (mid 70s) overnight.   At 8AM, I added in more flour, gave it a minimal knead, and let it rise in a covered oiled bowl only for about an hour, until it was almost double.   I then gave it a fold, and put it in a proofing basket.   Let rise another hour.   (as opposed to yesterday, when I was following instructions and let it rise until the point of overproofing 8AM to 1PM or so).   I placed it in a 500 degree oven on a preheated pizza stone.   I spritzed the dough with water and covered it with a dutch oven for 20 min.   I also placed a pan of boiling water in the bottom of the stove.  When I removed the dutch oven, I knew I had success as the dough had sprung to almost fill the cover pan!   I baked uncovered for another 30 minutes.   My final loaf is beautifully brown, airy, and I'm a happy baker.    If only I could post photos of yesterday vs. today!!!   Now, to replicate the process, and begin working with some of your most appreciated suggestions.   Thanks too Bill for the tip on the pancakes ... YUM!!!

- Victoria

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Wow, great to hear of a successful bake. That's exciting. So, I see you are using a 1:1:1 ratio, but I think that may result in very ripe starter if left at warm temperatures for many hours. You might want to try a much smaller inoculation of the starter and make it a little stiffer - more like dough. It's hard to say what overall effect it would have, positive or negative, and you've got something working that I don't necessarily want to ruin. However, just an example of a different feeding procedure you could try would be something like: add a teaspoon (about 5 grams) of starter to 2 tablespoons water (say 25 grams), stir to mix and dissolve the starter well, then add 3-4 tablespoons of flour (about 30-40 grams) such that when mixed it creates a doughy ball. This should take longer (several hours?) to rise and have a nice texture and aroma for longer (maybe 24 hours, if it isn't too warm). It's just another approach. I feed using this approach once per day and usually feed it for a few days before baking, with one of those tablespoons of flour being some freshly milled whole wheat or rye flour (which may be way too much of a hassle to come by, if you aren't into doing home milling). However, if there are small, reasonably fresh bags of whole grain flour available locally, maybe that would be a good substitute.

All of this may or may not improve the convenience or flavor over what you are doing, but if the 1:1:1 is rising and falling very quickly in warm temperatures and doesn't seem to be active after that, a lower inoculation and stiffer dough might be helpful.

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