The Fresh Loaf

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sourdough...fascinating but confusing

Rene_nl's picture

sourdough...fascinating but confusing

Hello all,

I'm growing my own starter, it's 8 days old now. I'm following a recipe based on 100% hydratation and currently I'm refreshing it on a 2:1:1 basis I believe(75 grams starter, 37.5 grams flour, 37.5 grams water approx). I started on 100% rye and slowly increasing white flour ratio, in a few days I should be on all white flour. Temperatures measured are between 19-21C during daytime(about 68F) and minimum of 15C during nights(59F). Feeding once per 24 hours.

I know these things get asked a lot, but I've been reading so much it's making me confused, so hopefully somebody can help me here.

It seems to be going well, it was very stinky(vomit like) on days 2-3, now it smells fresher(bit like yoghurt/beer, so should be ok but I never smelled sourdough before so I'm not sure) and it doubled plus some more in 4 hours. Does that mean its ready? I've seen pictures of tripling/quadrupling, but mine doesn't do that, it just starts dropping. Is that because of the 2:1:1 ratio? I figured giving it more to eat will give better results. Does it even mean anything if it can triple/quadruple, I mean is that a measure of health?

Also, since the beasties seem to eat quickly, does feeding every 12 hours make sense? I read so many different things on that...

Another question: I want to start with white bread, but I enjoy wholegrain/rye/spelt. Should you convert your starter to the kind of flour you're using, or is it possible to have one "general purpose"?

Also, I think I read some people taste their sourdough to find out what it's doing. I'm willing to do that, but what am I supposed to taste, and what can I learn from it?

Thanks in advance, any help is appreciated!

tchism's picture

I have both a white AP flour and Whole wheat flour starters maintained at 100% hydration. I feed them both every 12 hours while they are on the counter. My home is usually kept around the same temp as yours maybe averaging a bit warmer. I use to feed on a 2:1:1 but have been feeding at 1:1:1 for a long time now. I think the starters do better on that ratio. I keep the starters in the refrigerator taking them out once a week to feed. they get at least two feedings before they are placed back in the fridge. I don't usually taste my starter but I am used to what they smell like.

You don't need to convert a starter but some do if they want say a 100% whole wheat loaf. My white flour starter is my home grown starter. It has always been fed KA AP flour. My whole wheat starter is from Australia. It was originally whole wheat so I have kept it that way. Both starters produce great loaves. The Australian takes a little longer to proof. 

I use the Australian starter if I want a whole grain bread and my white if I want a white loaf. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Try feeding 1:1:1 ratio and see what it does.  If it rises and falls and still smells beery in 12 hrs, feed it 1:2:2 and see how long it takes to peak and fall back.  Don't feed it again until it has started to fall.  It may take a few feedings before it gets back under 12 hrs but give the starter the time to peak and start to fall.  12 hrs is used for comparisons.  Your starter could be faster or slower.  As you feed it, you encourage faster or slower yeast varieties in the culture. Keep track of the beery aroma it should just disappear after feeding only to return with more fermentation. 

You may find that the cooler night time feeds take longer so you could skip or do a smaller feed at night and a !:2:2 feed during the day.  See how it responds.   Your temperatures are rather cool, so be patient with the starter.  

I would suggest that the first sourdough loaf be a white bread just so you have a basis to compare.  When you taste your sourdough, you are looking for sour components, something not unlike yogurt or buttermilk.  I would also recommend a 1 2 3 sourdough.  Look for it in the site search.  it is a recipe that calls for Weights, one part sourdough to two parts water (a little less with the basic white) and three parts flour.  2% salt  

Rene_nl's picture

Thanks for the advices, I switched to 1:1:1 and it seems to like it!
Yesterday I made pancakes with it(let it proof for 4 hours before adding eggs etc) and....the taste was great, best pancakes I ever had!

So that made me confident enough to try my first sourdough bread...but I think I messed up a thing or two. I tried making a more wetter dough, white flour. I followed this recipe (I saw this guys video, it inspired me into making sourdough). First problem I ran into was that I had a too little starter(15g less) so I modified the other amounts...but I might have done a miscalculation there. I also aimed for the wetter side of the range he gave. I also added a tablespoon of sugar.Does adding sugar to sourdough actually make sense?

So I ended up with a really wet dough, but nevertheless I let it prove for about 4 hours, it was a little bit more managable, but still felt a bit...soft. So I streched it a few times and shaped it(sort of) into a boule and put it in a dusted bowl  for about 5 hours. It did more than double so the sourdough is definitely working.All proving was done in the oven with the light on, I stuck a thermometer inside. Temperature was 24C/75F.

Then came the moment to put it on the baking plate and my heart just stuck to the bowl but ok, that's not the worst just flattened out on me to about...1-1.5 inch I guess. I didn't dare touching it further so I just scored it(it stuck to the blade). And now it's in the oven...the thing looks like a complete mess,  it's hilarious! So flat, the texture completely messed up because of the sticking. It does seem to have some oven spring, just it was already flat to begin with. The smell is very interesting though!

So now I'm trying to figure out what went wrong, next time I'll do better I hope. Did I make the dough too wet? I had some wet doughs before(yeast based) but they seem to become more consistent after proving. So is it something I did to the sourdough?

Muskie's picture

So there are more than a few people here who only ever keep 10-30g of starter ever. You can, within a few hours, turn your 15g of starter into >150g of "starter" (although I call this levain, and am still wondering if I'm using the right term).

The recipe you linked to missed a to turn your 15g of starter into 265g. They want 250g in the recipe, and you want 15g so you can make another loaf. Here's how I do it.

  • Start with your 15g and I'll assume its 100% hydration (meaning it had as much flour as water)
  • Feed it 8g of flour and 7g of water, let ferment for 2-4 hours @ 72-92F (longer higher temps will result in a more sour taste, IMO) You can do the next feeding if it has doubled, if not, leave it fermenting longer.
  • Feed it again, this time 60g flour, 60g water, let it ferment again...
  • Feed it again, this time 60g flour, 60g water, let it ferment again...

At this point, you can either let it rest for 30 minutes and then use it in the recipe (reserving 20g to put back into the fridge for the next time), or put it in the fridge to retard (which will make it taste more sour) overnight and use it the next day (again, reserving 20g).

Nobody should be keeping 250g of starter hanging around for one recipe. That amount requires you to feed it far too much that you may never use.

The 15-20g starter only needs to be fed like once a month, and then only with 7-8g of flour. If you do it my way, you will build a more sour starter over time.

I'm curious how you managed to alter the other numbers to suit only 15g of starter in that recipe. And why add sugar? What were you hoping for with that? There are a lot of SD recipes that include sugars, but they're usually honey or things that add flavor. Sugar, itself, won't do anything good for an SD loaf that I know of (but I am a definite newb!) As for hydration, I think anything beyond 100% hydration (equal total amounts of water versus everything else) is not such a good idea (unless you're making a Ciabatta).

If you were able to handle it then it really wasn't too wet.

Spray your bowl with a little bit of PAM, or some olive oil on a paper towel, to help prevent it sticking to the bowl. I wet dough will flatten out when taken from one container to another. The container is showing you the rise (like a glass bowl, you can see how much it has risen), but its also holding the shape of the dough. If the dough is very wet, then transferring it will definitely let it flatten. There have only been two ways for me to change that. I either have to decrease the hydration (add more flour), or, "autolyse", meaning retard the dough in the fridge for 12 hours or more.

Question for you, were their holes inside? Were they uniform, larger than the size of peas? Cause if they were, then the only thing wrong is either a bit too much water (reduce hydration) or longer proofing (to get stronger gluten). If the crumb was dense, well, then there's a lot of possible reasons.

Did you knock the dough back per the recipe? I would never do that, fwiw.

Well, that's all I can think of...hope there's something in there that helps. I know I have made like 20+ loaves in the last few weeks trying to learn how to do this properly, and I still haven't made a loaf I would die to repeat...;-]



Xenophon's picture

typically and all other elements being the same (hydration notably) I also have the distinct impression that my 100% sourdough starters result in a looser dough after final proof.  A couple of months ago I had the same issue you describe when I pushed a sourdough 30% whole wheat dough with raisins and nuts to stuck to the -liberally floured- banneton and half collapsed.  I didn't score and thought it would be good for the bin after baking but to my surprise the spring was huge and it actually ended up very nice.  Don't have an explanation for this.