The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

San Francisco starter

leemid's picture
leemid

San Francisco starter

Here is my first report on the differences between my starters. First, let me introduce the key players: I have named my old starter Otis, after the Oregon Trail Starter obtained from Friends of Carl. My new starter is the one I was gifted in San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, now named Franco. Franco had been a thriving culture in SF for, oh, many years? before a chunk was ripped from his side (ala Eve from Adam) apparently at full rise, and dropped in a small container to aid in transportation. This happened in the middle of a warm sunny day when I had no chance of chilling him for hours. Later that evening I did refrigerate him over night, then had to again keep him at warm sunny day temps for the whole of the next day, refridge at night, then another half day in a warm car until I got him home. By then he was smellin' ripe! I did the right thing and fed him, the first in at least two days, and he seemed just fine. It was then that I announced on this site that I had him and intended to compare him to Otis. It was a week and a half before I could bake with him.<!--break-->

Last Friday I built up a batch of dough, but my daughter missed the sign saying bread was rising in the oven and turned it on to bake something for herself, turning on the smoke alarms in the house and ending the life of the dough, the newly fed starter and nearly flaming my new wicker banneton. Oh well, I had saved out a small portion of the original starter and so began anew. Yesterday I baked the first loaf of SF sourdough. But I had let it ferment the first time too long and it had nothing to rise the dough with. This was a surprise. BTW, the bread tasted just like SF sourdough, even though it was pretty dense and had no good hole structure. It geletanized well and showed it had fermented sufficiently, in terms of PR's BBA.

So let me talk about the differences already apparent. Otis will rise in starter to 3 or 4 times original size, a dough to at least 3 times original size. I have done a total of 3 ferments in a dough without signs of fatigue. His timing is perfect, I can refresh him for next week when I bake on the weekend, put him in the fridge and forget about him until next week when he will have risen to double and be patiently waiting to make more bread, and all I do is build him to the size I want in one feeding, then make the dough. He makes excellent bread with no particularly interesting tastes to brag about, just clean, clear tasty bread. No complaints, except perhaps that he doesn't lend any real sourness to the bread. There is a mildly sour backtaste, but everyone comments that it's not 'sour' enough.

Then there's Franco. This boy is really different. When I said he was ripe by the time I got home, he smelled just like Boudin's bread on the wharf, and sour. I was so excited. Now, well fed, there is that same smell but not like used gym-socks-pungent (I mean that in a good way). He won't rise in starter form past about 2 - 2.25 times original size, and won't do multiple rises in dough form. He hit right about double in dough form and stopped. That's alright by me, but now I have to adher to a stricter schedule, I can't count on slopping by with an hour over and expect to save the dough. Also, when he goes into the autolyzed flour and water, he looks and acts wetter than Otis would, when making dough. He kneads up fine, but when I add the salt, he goes slack again and won't tighten bach up. I must admit at this point that I did change the salt, so it could be that. I decided to use sea salt instead of Morton's table. Does anybody know if that would make a difference, using the same measure amounts?

Well, right now I have a two loaf batch chilling in the fridge over night to bake up tomorrow so I will see how it goes. But at this point I know this: there is a whole heck of a lot more flavor from Franco than Otis, not that I mind Otis. In fact my wife likes Otis bread better than Franco, but she will eat Franco's. But when I started making sourdough, I too was disappointed in the lack of sour, as some of you have said also. Not when using Franco so far. Tomorrow will give me more data on that, but boy, is Franco's first loaf much more sour!

At this point I expect to keep both boys going, using Franco for sour sourdough, Otis for mild sourdough and rye. I will try Franco in my favorite country sourdough rye but he might be too sour for that. We'll see.

That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it,

Lee

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

Lee commented:

Last Friday I built up a batch of dough, but my daughter missed the sign saying bread was rising in the oven and turned it on to bake something for herself, turning on the smoke alarms in the house and ending the life of the dough, the newly fed starter and nearly flaming my new wicker banneton.

A member of a mailing list I am in gave us a GREAT suggestion to prevent that. Take the knob off the oven and put it IN the oven with the stuff that's rising. If you have a new all push button/electronic controlled oven this tip may not work. But it's simpler, and harder to miss, than a sign.

Mile

 

edh's picture
edh

I love the idea of removing the knob! I use the sign method, but the sign is on a sticky post-it note, and covers the knob, so you really can't miss it if you're trying to turn on the oven. You can use the same sign quite a few times, it just looks a little funny on the side of the fridge when it's not in use.

When I started up baking bread again this year (thanks largely to all of you), there were happy exclamations from the kitchen one morning; my husband and son had noticed the sign, "We haven't seen that in ages, yay!"

Of course, having become obsessed with sourdough (thanks again to you lot), I've found the oven too warm for rising; it overproofs quickly.

edh

leemid's picture
leemid

I do have the push-button digital type.

Lee

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

go so well together, i'm surprised you haven't tried it sooner. I would give Franco a speedy up (1:1:1) ratio before using so he can lift the rye. Wait to hear your results...Mini Oven

leemid's picture
leemid

I do make a great rye, just haven't tried it with Franco yet.

Lee

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Interesting stuff, thanks Lee. Like Mini Oven, I look forward to hearing about your results as you bake more with each. Even though I have two healthy starters I made myself, I may send away for some Carl's just to try it out and see how it may differ from the two I have.

Susan's picture
Susan

If flour from Montana is used to create two starters, and the "bugs" are in the flour, then why is the starter made in San Francisco not the same as the starter made in Norfolk, if the same technique is used? Same bugs. Different air. Different water.

I'm girded, bring it on!

Susan from San Diego

sphealey's picture
sphealey

Very perceptive question. People have been arguing about it since the microscope was first turned on sourdough culture. Many people claim to have a definitive answer. Unfortunately, for each n people who opine on that question there are n! answers.

[9 people. 9! answers.

9! = 9*8*7*6*5*4*3*2*1

= 362,880 answers]

I suspect that if anyone does actually know "an" answer, it is the bread scientists at Panera and Boudin. But given how complex even yeast-based bread chemistry is, I further suspect that even they know how to achieve certain results but not exactly why those results occur.

I will note that to me the bread in the San Francisco Bay area tastes notably different than elsewhere. Even the cheap sandwich shop in the Oakland airport serves bread with that distinct tang.

sPh

susanfnp's picture
susanfnp

Hi Susan,
This is not a dumb question at all.  I am far from an expert on sourdough microbiology, but my understanding is that the characteristics of the starter have less to do with its geographic location or its primary ingredients, and more to do with how the starter is maintained.  Temperature, feeding schedule, feeding amount, and hydration are a few of the variables, and maybe there are others.  Similarly, two breads made from the same starter (and even the same ingedients in the same ratios) can be quite different depending on the methods used to create the breads.

Lee, it will be interesting to see if Otis and Franco continue to produce really different results once Franco has had a chance to "settle in" a bit longer under your care.  Please keep us posted!

Susanfnp

mse1152's picture
mse1152

Susan,

I've been wondering the same thing myself lately.  If it has to do with how a starter is maintained, as susanfnp says, then there is nothing unique about San Francisco with regards to sourdough flavor.  You could build a starter in Omaha (Hi Trish) that tasted the same.  I would imagine there's more grain grown near Omaha than near San Francisco.

It seems like a circular discussion - if the yeasties are not so much in the air as they are on the grain to begin with, is it the flour that determines which LBs grow best in a starter, resulting in a more or less sour flavor?  It seems the environment in which the starter is grown must have something to do with it, otherwise most starters grown with a given flour would be the same.

My 'ead 'urts.

Sue

 

Susan's picture
Susan

and utterly confounds me (and many, many others). How can it be such a mystery? People prayed that spirits would raise the bread, then it was in the air, then perhaps it was from the baker's skin, now it comes with the grain. Makes no sense at all. We are discerning people, and we wants to know!

Susan from San Diego

mse1152's picture
mse1152

...for not cleaning my starter jar!  Don't wanna kill anything good in there!

;) 

bluezebra's picture
bluezebra

come up! :D I don't think it's possible to have a discussion on genetics without it being present!

 

susanfnp's picture
susanfnp

If it has to do with how a starter is maintained, as susanfnp says, then there is nothing unique about San Francisco with regards to sourdough flavor.

Yes, that's pretty much how I understand things. I live in the San Francisco area, and I agree that most sourdough bread around here is pretty sour. But I think that's because that's what consumers, both natives and visitors, expect from "San Francisco Sourdough," so professional bakers in these parts maintain their starters and bake their bread according to the methods that will maximize the sour flavor.

Susanfnp

ShirleyT's picture
ShirleyT

I live about  24 miles east of San Francisco and have been making sourdough bread for the past 12 years using a starter I made from the Goldrush packet. I wasn't aware at the time that this starter had a bad reputation. About three months ago, I ordered a packet of the Oregon Trail Sourdough Starter and have been making side by side loaves of no knead bread using the two starters.

I concur with Leemid's observations. The Oregon Trail Starter seems to be the more active of the two starters. But - it does not produce a sourdough flavored loaf. My old San Francisco sourdough starter, while not as active looking, still produces a similar loaf in the same amount of time with the same amount of lift. But - it does have the sourdough flavor that most people come to expect with sourdough. I will continue to keep both starters going as it breaks my heart even to throw a tiny bit of starter away when I am refreshing them.

Re: removing the oven knob to keep family members from accidently preheating the oven while doughs are inside rising - I have a digital oven so this advice is 'worthless.'

:)

 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

that we compare how we maintain, or how we're instructed to maintain a particular starter? There must be some instructions with the starter when it's purchased.....

But let the experience be the teacher...I am a creature of habits as well, and when I find something that works for me, I repeat the process. With my sensitive nose, I can smell and detect differences in my starter as it ages. When it smells "just right" it gets fed. Now that is a sour detection device just as much as a clock. A new starter baffels me for a while until I get to know it's caracteristics, which can only be aquired (without a laboratory) with experience and constant repetition. Baking the bread for the right "taste" is the ultimate test. If the starter smells right but the loaf doesn't taste good, then adjustments have to be made or my family strikes (with exception to the dogs).

The SF starter is obviously a sour one, and stable where ever it came from originally, but the instructions...? That might be interesting to know what "ideal" should be. Anyone know?

I had a neighbor once, his daughters described his bread as uneatable unless it was fresh out of the oven. The only time he baked it was when they were in a bind, had no money for food and had a large sack of flour. I can almost picture them pack-like pouncing on the loaf before it cooled.  --Mini Oven

leemid's picture
leemid

I spent Monday, last, carefully making a nother batch of Franco bread, baked it late in the night. Tastes like SF sourdough; lousy rise. The loaves spring, but also shrink in circumference. Positively weird!

Good news is I made it to Napa, CA today. Had to go to Petaluma too, so I stopped in to see about the bread at Della Fattoria. Word is they make good bread. It was late in their day, they close at 3 pm and I was free at 3:08, but thought I would at least locate them so I could drive right there at the next opportunity. The door was open so in I walked, introduced myself and had a great conversation. I was offered a loaf of their Rosemary & Meyer Lemon bread, "Compagne with fresh rosemary and Meyer Lemon zest, olive oil, rock salt." Apparently just before the final rise they deflate the dough, fold it over a dollop of rosemary, olive oil, etc. and let it rise. In rising/baking the goods blossom out of the top of the loaf. If I had my digital camera with me I would show you what I mean. But let's get serious, this stuff is goooooood bread. Now personally, I'm a lean bread kind if guy. I can elevate my standards for this stuff. Pardon me while I chew another ear of the crust. There's probably some sheep cheese that would be good on this too, but the paltry 1 1/2 lb. loaf won't last that long. I know that this bakery is well written about in the many good books we enjoy, but if any of you know if this recipe is printed, please let me know.

BTW, they said I should come in and watch the bakers some afternoon... can't imagine why I would do that....

That's my story,

Lee

Floydm's picture
Floydm

I should have checked out Della Fattoria. I went through Petaluma 2 or 3 times last week. Oh well, next time I'm down there.

leemid's picture
leemid

Have you taken the long way through Sonoma when passing through Petaluma to stop at Artisan Bakers? They do have some of the best bread I have ever tasted. I have only had two, basic white sourdough and their NY rye, but if that is the only bread I could have, continually of course, for the rest of my life... I would be elated.

Lee

leemid's picture
leemid

Okay. One batch each of Otis and Franco yesterday. To maintain absolute worship of the religion of science, I did everything different this time. I have been struggling with hydration in Franco's dough so I cut it back from 75% to 65% hydration, the rest of the recipe remaining the same. Instead of mixing/kneading in my Kitchenaid, I did it all by hand, including the final knead which felt fabulous. Standard procedure for me is to then chill and retard over-night or at least for 4-6 hours. Allow to warm up, scale and final rise. Included in there before the preferment is a couple tosses and turns ;-). The Franco dough, divided into 3 mini-baguettes and couched in linen (clothed in crinoline of smokey burgundy), refused to rise. I was especially mindful to let the preferment rise only to double to prevent exhaustion of the yeasties so I know there was protential there. But after 5 hours (yes, 5) I finally rolled them onto the peel, slashed and tossed onto the black slab of marble to bake. Wow! what oven spring! They filled in the slashes and pretty nearly doubled in girth!

The Otis loaves, again all done by hand, 75% hydration as usual, usual procedure, did rise in the linen nicely but not stupendously, I suspect the top side crusted over some and limited that. I slashed, peeled and baked. These also filled in their slashes and sprang up nicely as expected.

Color on both is great, but Franco's is slightly prettier, redder. Franco tastes fine but not great as I hoped. It tastes a little dryer, not quite so full and round, not quite as sour as before. I haven't tasted Otis yet but expect it to be as usual. Crust is great as I said, crumb is a little closer that I would prefer but not bad, and better than I expected. Sorry that I don't have pictures of these yet. I am shopping for a digital camera and the one I usually borrow from work is at work so maybe later today I can get it.

These loaves were intended as gifts to the neighbors who rented a lawn plugger last week and did my lawn too as good neighbors sometimes do. They wouldn't take any money so I offered bread. No one refuses bread. "You baked this? It would never turn out like this for me..."

Next time I will try to return to 75% hydration for Franco and see if I can handle it and if the flavor and crumb improve.

That's my story, and I'm stickin' to it

Lee

Juan Fletes's picture
Juan Fletes

 

Hey lee...... I have an idea..... If I were you; I will bake a dough using both starters; Franco and OTIS and see the results..... Even make a new starter from both were you may achieve a new breed of guys...

 

Just an idea; looks like you are having fun

 

Good luck !!!!! 

 

mountaindog's picture
mountaindog

Lee - thanks for the descriptive report and I look forward to seeing pictures if possible. Out of curiosity, I just sent away for some Carl's Oregon Trail starter to see how it compares in flavor to my own homemade starter. I am also toying with the idea of ordering some San Franciso SD starter from SDI to also taste compare, all using the same recipe side-by-side. Heck, while I'm at it I may ask my father-in-law to beg a piece of starter from his favorite neighborhood baker in France to bring to me on their visit here next month - that would be fun to test all of those starters side-by-side.

leemid's picture
leemid

Has anyone on this site ever suggested sharing starters? Either overnight for live starters of drying and regular post? I would be willing to share...

Lee

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

but I don't undertand your 2nd sentence, "Either overnight for live starters of drying and regular post?"

leemid's picture
leemid

What I meant was I can UPS a starter, properly packaged, overnight so as to preserve it's vitality.  Or spread it out on waxed paper and let it dry,  in which case it is likely to live on for a LONG time and can easily be shipped by regular sloooooowwwww post.

Lee