The Fresh Loaf

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Teaching the sourdough method in a 6 hour workshop

Breadandwine's picture

Teaching the sourdough method in a 6 hour workshop

Hi folks

I'm currently half way through a 12 hour course (2 sessions of 6 hours on consecutive Sundays) in a small village hall in deepest, darkest Somerset (England), with up to 12 very keen students (although 2 have already given their apologies for next Sunday):

As is my usual practice on any course, I plan the first session meticulously, so I know exactly what we're doing, and when. However, for subsequent sessions I want to bake what the students choose - with perhaps a few suggestions from me. But I try and accommodate all requests.

Normally, I'm pretty well on top of my brief, but not this time! 

They all want to make a sourdough loaf next Sunday. I've got a reasonable idea of how I would go about it, but I just wanted to tap all that expertise I know is out there.

I've made many starters in my time - this is perhaps the easiest part of the whole process. I gave them some basic instructions, and I've heard back that one or two have begun the process.

I began making my starter on Monday, by Tuesday evening it was active, and I've been dividing and feeding it ever since.

ATM I've got 1.3ltrs of active starter - which I could easily double by Sunday. I'm not sure, as I write, how many students will turn up with their own starter on Sunday, so mine may have to suffice for all.

My gut feeling is that I should refresh the starter on Saturday evening, then, on the Sunday we should go for a small loaf for each student, comprising 50% starter.

1.32kg of starter (2:1 water to flour), refreshed with 440g of flour and no liquid, would give me 1760g of starter, at a ratio of 1:1, wouldn't you agree?

This amount divided by 10 students = 170g of starter. To make a loaf with a 62.5% hydration (normal 1lb flour to 10fl oz water), we'd need to add 115g flour and 40g water.

It's only a small loaf, I know, but I've only got 1 domestic oven and 5 small (size of a microwave) ovens to work with.

I figure if we make up the sourdough first thing on Sunday morn, then leave it through the day, it may well be ready to bake sometime in the afternoon. If it's not, then the students would have to take it home to bake it.

One further question - between now and Saturday, would you recommend me refreshing the starter (and discarding half?)

What do you guys think?

pmccool's picture

is to build whatever quantity I need for the students' breads, plus for my own demonstration bread, prior to class.  Since my students typically have no prior sourdough experience, I also prepare enough starter (50% hydration) for them to take home and maintain.  The former amount can be quite a lot of material, depending on the formula and the number of students involved.  I think the rye bread class that I posted about back in January required something in the neighborhood of 20kg of starter.  This past Tuesday I took enough starter for the English muffins, which weighed about 12kg at 100% hydration.  The stiff starter for the students to take home is parceled out in 30-50g chunks, so it's a much smaller quantity.

For a 6-hour class, assuming ambient temperatures are somewhere above 70F, the students should be able to mix, ferment, and bake at least one type of bread in class, with another one or two types mixed and retarded to bake at home.  I provide plastic bags for the take-home dough and the stiff starter.

There's no reason to discard half of the starter while you are building it.  Just add a quantity of flour for each successive feed that is at least as much as the beginning weight of the starter that is ready for feeding.  For instance, if you have 600g of starter from the previous feeding, feed it 600g of flour (or more) at this feeding.  Do build more than you expect to use; there is always some loss as you empty the container and it never hurts to have some extra on hand in case there is a spill.  You can always take the excess back home for your own use.  (This from the man who has 40+ English muffins bagged and sitting on his counter as of this writing.  In all fairness to myself, the overage was deliberate in the anticipation of additional students that did not sign up after all.)

You are on the right track to provide for everyone, rather than assuming that all will come equipped.  And your math stacks up, so far as I can see.

Have fun!


Syzygies's picture

I'm no expert, just a home baker, but I've read many books and made 50 or so loaves of sourdough bread. So what follows is simply what I now believe.

Your arithmetic is right. 100% hydration starter favors lactic acid (80% favors acetic acid, 120% favors yeast; the Germans do all three stages). Feeding once a day is what one tells people or they'll never start; twice a day is better before using the starter for bread. One wants to catch the starter on the upswing, at a healthy peak. Too old will give less rise and poorer gluten. While San Francisco is famous for "no doubt" sourdough, the French believe this to be sourdough gone wrong. (i'm reminded of the American obsession with breast size and barbecue smoke; we're afraid of making mistakes.) For French "levain" one teases the starter to not dominate the taste. One can do a few starter refreshes as close together as six hours, three hours before making bread, but this leads to longer bulk and proof times.

A six hour class is very tight for making and baking sourdough bread. Consider adding a bit of diastatic malt powder and a bit of commercial yeast, for shorter rises and better oven spring. Be sure to pick a fairly warm proofing environment. Then, Hamelman is encouraging on the use of short (a couple of hours) bulk and proof times for sourdough breads. One's usual intuitions may lead one astray, to overproofing.

Half starter is a lot! I use 15% to 20% (baker's percentage, by flour weight). More, and one is into a specific bread recipe's preferment stage rather than refreshing the starter.

The risk with sourdough is always that of making flying saucers. 62.5% hydration is much stiffer than my experience (near 72%), so you're probably safe. I knead by hand and fold during bulk, expect a scary bit of slack on the way to the oven which springs back with ample steam.

Breadandwine's picture

Thanks for your responses, guys, much appreciated. I've taken on board some of what you've said, and, with your encouragement, I've given my starter its first outing:

I'm very pleased with what I've produced so far. Hopefully, I can replicate this with my students on the morrow.

I'm presently mulling over whether I should refresh the starter once again tonight, but I don't have a lot of room in the food storer. I'm well aware of the ability of dough to creep up and out of its designated container! Perhaps I'll just add 100g each, flour and water, before I retire tonight. I should be able to get away with that!

I'll let you know tomorrow how it goes. I'm really looking forward to this - once I've planned a session, I can't wait to get stuck in!

Cheers, B&W

Breadandwine's picture

Answered my own question - I realised I only needed 1500g of starter - 100g each for the sourdough the students will make, plus 50g each to take home.

So I added another 200g each flour and water to the starter - left it a couple of hours, when it was in danger of overflowing the container, then took out about 500g, leaving 1500g.

I have to say I'm a huge convert to the 1:1 ratio - it's much more liquid than I thought it would be. 

One further note (since I got up 15 minutes before I needed to, I have a bit of time) - before I amalgamated all my starter I had 3 jars of it. After pouring it all into one I rinsed out the jars with 150g of water, added another 150g of flour - and by yesterday evening that jar was as active as my main starter. It really is a vigorous little beastie!

OK, off to Hornblotton - 30 miles away - where I'll meet my ten new friends, and we'll have a ball!

Tell you all about it later! :D