The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

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jimtr6's picture
jimtr6

newbie

Hi, I love good bread, my dad was a baker in Ct for 60 years, I grew up on nice Jewish rye and hard rolls that you cannot get anymore, anyway I want to make rustic bread and bought a cast iron dutch oven and a pizza stone for the bottom (9"), I am flopping bad and cannot make anything worth eating, so I'm at the beginning, should I buy a starter and feed it as so far making my own has been a flop, my starter has just been whole wheat and water and for a while it looked good and had a distinct odor, but the dough and starter turned into a useless paste, any help appreciated.

ericreed's picture
ericreed

Sourdough cultures can sometimes have false starts in the beginning. Usually it resolves fine if you just keep feeding it for a few more days. How old was your starter?

Rather than buy a starter, I would recommend giving Debra Wink's "Pineapple Solution" a try. It's probably the most evidence based system I've seen out there. This link has a detailed rundown.

jimtr6's picture
jimtr6

thanks, I have considered just in one nights of reading posts the pineapple approach, my starter was a week old, my sons boss (a chef) told him that starter gives off waste and it is that waste that is the death of it if it isn't removed, of course my question is, how do you separate the "waste", does it float to the top? so many questions, but I'm resolved to make a real loaf of bread

jimtr6's picture
jimtr6

thanks eric, I like it already and can't wait to get to the store for the juice, quick question, upon adding the flour and water you mix it around....right?

ericreed's picture
ericreed

Yup, mix it together when you feed it. (Yeast reproduces in the presence of oxygen, if the above link didn't mention, it's a good idea to not just mix when you feed, but while developing the culture, a couple of times a day vigorously whisk it to get some more oxygen in there.)

As for waste, yes, the alcohol and carbon dioxide will eventually kill the yeasts. That waste is taken care of during the normal feeding process. The alcohol can separate out and be on the top. It's called hooch. Some recommendations say to pour it out, some say to mix it in, I think it probably doesn't matter which. It does mean your starter should be fed though.

I'm reminded of a quote by the novelist Kurt Vonngegut, "Kilgore Trout once wrote a short story which was a dialogue between two pieces of yeast. They were discussing the possible purposes of life as they ate sugar and suffocated in their own excrement. Because of their limited intelligence, they never came close to guessing that they were making champagne".

jimtr6's picture
jimtr6

that's a great quote, and goes with what I just learned that the waste must be eliminated, I did notice that Debra said put the lids back on, that sounds like denying it oxygen although I didn't get past day three. Maybe to whisk it a couple of times a day will let the CO2 escape and let air in. On Youtube I saw the guy in Sausalito CA, Eduardo Morrel and his operation and bread is beautiful, he did mention much science was involved and scientists did run in his family, what a wonderful combination, great bread and science

ericreed's picture
ericreed

My guess is that lids don't matter because air probably isn't able to penetrate into the dough once mixed. According to Certified Master Baker Jeffrey Hamelman, "Oxygen is obtained mostly by the mixing of the dough, enabling yeast to metabolize nutrients and reproduce." He also notes that the oxygen is used up in a matter of minutes, though presumably that is in a dough with commercial yeast or an active mature culture.

richkaimd's picture
richkaimd

What you need to know doesn't come easy.  It takes the time and energy to build the knowledge that will make you a success.  My suggestion is to start at the beginning and learn from an expert.  In the absence of a personal expert, read a text book of baking from cover to cover.  Develop your knowledge slowly and carefully.  Don't jump around helter skelter.  While it may be fun, it won't get you where you want to go with as much certainty as learning the way professional bakers do it:  they go to school.  At the end of the first year they'll know more than you will in 3 years trying to figure it our on your own.  Sorry but it's true.  And doing it with a textbook won't take away from your fun, either.  The satisfaction is nearly palpable.

So pick a text that suits your style.  (By the way, I am saying textbook, not a bread cookbook; most of the latter do not help you from the bottom up.)  Look at DiMuzio's Bread Baking and Hamelman's Bread.  They're very different.  For a rank beginner, the former may be better.  For a person who likes to live with a lot of detail all along the way, Hamelman's text may be better.  But you choose and stick with it, beginning to end.  Both may be available in your public library.  Certainly both are available online used.  Try Alibris and/or Powells Books.

Do this and quite soon you'll be on your way to a truly knowledgeable life in bread baking.

While you're working through the text book, watch all the videos you can find on this website and elsewhere, and practice alot of recipes.

The worst part of this bread baking stuff is....I actually know nothing about it that's bad except how I never seem to have enough time to do as much as I want to.

 

 

 

 

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

if you like electronic books. It is really good, and I have found it quite full of information.

jimtr6's picture
jimtr6

thanks for all the good advice, I'm definitely understanding it's not easy as though it was mere throwing ingrediants together, as Rich says there needs to be a knowledge, and thankfully though I don't have a handle on that I do find it a science and fascinating so that helps. For now just to understand bacteria, culture, starter, when the bad bacteria dies and the good starts growing etc. is interesting. But as I read and learn I'm going to do the step by step pineapple starter Eric mentioned, it will be good to get into the rhythm of regular feeding. I can see why this attracts some interesting and knowledge hungry people, so what comes after this, a class in masonry so I can build an oven??? 

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Several people here have done it. But most of us get by with a regular kitchen oven, thank goodness. 

Another next step is to grind your own flour. 

jimtr6's picture
jimtr6

I started the pineapple culture today, found an excellent source for all kinds of flours near Burlington VT, got pure pineapple juice and rye flour, now to find the two books mentioned, I'll do a scan a decide which one suits me, I need stuff explained in a basic way. Am I correct in interpreting that the culture has an unfriendly bacteria at first and then the desirable one takes over in a few days? I did read that right now this is a culture and not a starter, it actually becomes a starter in about a week.

Slainte's picture
Slainte

It took several attempts before I got a starter that, well, started.  Debra Wink's method was the successful one for me.  I used orange juice, as we have that at home, not pineapple.  I also put my jar with the starter in the furnace room at night, as we keep our house quite cold.  For the flour, a combination of 50% whole wheat bread flour and 50% hard white bread flour worked.  I have since used some of the discard to make a rye starter as well.  Oh -- for my jars, I use the ones made by Weck that are about 5" high. There are no 'shoulders' on these jars, which makes it easier to stir and mix the starter.  They are available at Crate and Barrel for about $4 each.  

Good luck, be patient, and have fun!

jimtr6's picture
jimtr6

one thing I did notice as I have two batches of starter going beside the new batch with pineapple juice, these two batches are now four days old and, the smell they gave off was "chemical" in nature, almost slightly like an airplane glue in essence for three days but now smelling more "food" smell, these batches are equally mixed in that I weigh the culture at 4 oz then add 2 oz water, and 2 oz flour (I'm okay staying with weight than volume...right?), BTW how does that look in the ratio way of saying it 1:1:1? I saw the ratios and not 100% sure I have it down

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

First, weight is the preferred way to measure all of your ingredients, all of the time. Second, your ratio is not 1:1:1 above. It is 2:1:1, because you are using twice as much starter as flour and water. A ratio of 1:1:1 means all three ingredients are the same weight, so if you use 4 oz starter, you would add 4 oz flour and 4 oz water to it. I'm not sure what method you're following with those starters, but until they are well established, you are probably right to feed them less. That way, the yeasts and LABs are not diluted as much at feeding time, and have a better chance to multiply and develop the strong culture you're looking for. Once that is established, you will want to feed them more. How much depends on your starter. Mine is kept in the fridge usually, but occasionally it is kept at room temp, and I feed it 1:2:2 twice a day, in a cool house. That means for every one ounce of starter, I would add two ounces of flour and two ounces of water, and do that every 12 hours. I feed it even more in the summer months, because my house is kept at a warmer temperature.

jimtr6's picture
jimtr6

okay, so the order in the ratio is starter, flour, water...right? It makes sense, I read the interview Floyd did with Dan DiMuzio and your feeding and ratio is more in line with his, when would you advise going to that ratio, today is day four, as I know it takes a good bit of time, I'm currently discarding so as not to make a barrel, say in about a week could I rather than discard, use it in some experimental loaves, another words not nearly prime stuff but good enough to start getting a loaf to rise and hopefully a decent crust and texture, maybe even a hint of flavor, that is one thing I noticed when using store yeast is that the bread is bland and boring

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

If you continue feeding at a ratio of 2:1:1 (yes, it is starter:flour:water), you should at some point be able to observe the starter rising up to its peak height, then begin to fall back down. The rising indicates that the yeast are active and creating their carbon dioxide. The falling indicates that the structure is breaking down. The gluten structure of your mixture becomes unable to support the carbon dioxide gas any longer, so the starter is collapsing in on itself. When you start to see this happening, you know you have a viable culture. At that time, you should begin feeding it every time it reaches its peak and has just begun to fall. You should see that the amount of time it takes for that cycle should decrease daily until it stabilizes. Once that timing has stabilized and is consistently the same amount of time between feedings, you have a starter you can bake with. You also then have the opportunity to change that time schedule to fit your life. You can do this by either changing the ambient temperature, or changing the feeding ratio. I think changing the feeding ratio will be a lot easier to do. Basically, the more food you give it, the longer it takes to eat it all, the longer it will take to peak, so the longer it will be between feedings.

After you have had the starter around a while, and it is stable and strong, try storing some of it in the fridge. Starter that is kept in the fridge can go for days, sometimes weeks between feedings. But, I wouldn't put the whole starter in there at first. I'd split it, put some in the fridge to see if it survives, and keep some out, feeding as needed in case the one in the fridge doesn't do well. Once you've seen that it does okay in the fridge, you don't ever have to keep any out at room temperature again, except when baking. And you won't ever have to discard again, if you calculate the starter amount to feed it enough for baking, and no more.

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

You said "that is one thing I noticed when using store yeast is that the bread is bland and boring" It is not actually just because of using store bought yeast that the flavor isn't there. Good, flavorful bread can be made with commercial yeast. The flavor-inducing part is the long fermentation time. Sourdough basically has that built in, because it is slower rising already. But, there are ways to slow down the fermentation of bread dough made with commercial yeast, and get really good flavor.

jimtr6's picture
jimtr6

I fed last night at the 2:1:1 ratio at 6pm, I decided to do the same ratio (discarding half) again at 10am, I think I'm starting to notice it rising, I'm going to settle into an every twelve hour feeding, and start noticing peak rise then beginning to fall. So are my "by products" CO2 and sugar, am I starting to create the lacto (something) bacteria that is needful yet? What is the approximate time in days it takes to stabilize. Also point me to where I can read something and have a decent yeast bread so I have something to do until the starters are ready, one thing that bothers me is my bread is consistently much too dense, my dad was a baker and the bakery didn't make an Italian bread (they were all Polacks...lol), what they did make was called a Vienna bread which was basically the same, it was light, nice good sized holes, and a wonderful crust that left a mess, if I could just make something like that it would be a blessing! I really appreciate your time, you're very kind!

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

You said "I think I'm starting to notice it rising, I'm going to settle into an every twelve hour feeding, and start noticing peak rise then beginning to fall." I'm not sure that will help you get what you're looking for. If the timing is too short - it should take longer than twelve hours - you will be constantly diluting the culture. If the timing is too long, it will starve and not gain strength. You should watch to see what the timing actually is, then manipulate time or feeding ratios to get the timing to where you want it to be.