The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

long time yeast baker about to try my first SourDough - Clueless!

AndyPanda's picture

long time yeast baker about to try my first SourDough - Clueless!

I was visiting my grandchildren in Santa Cruz yesterday.  I have been teaching their parents (my son and his wife) to bake bread and got them a grinder and a Bosch and 50 pounds of Montana Prairie Gold wheat and SAF yeast.  They've been baking a couple times a week and loving it  - and say they all feel healthier too :)   

But yesterday, my son told me he has this ancient sourdough starter that someone gave him - and he needed to get rid of half of it so sent me home with some. He left me with the impression that people have been dividing and feeding this same starter from generation to generation for hundreds of years  :)     

Of course it is the Carl's 1847 which I'd never heard of but spent some time googling.   From what I read - I am under the impression that it is mild and not as sour as other starters. And that it's pretty easy to use and resilient.  And the starter didn't have much of a smell from what I could tell (they had it in the fridge) - and I like my sourdough as sour as I can get it (Google told me King Arthur classic starter might be for me).

I pretty quickly got overwhelmed with information and was getting confused (three step process - what's that?) ... so I decided to just wing it (this is my typical style to learn anything new) .... so I put the starter in a warm place overnight and this morning it was all bubbly.  I fed it warm water and flour and a little sugar (was the sugar a mistake?) and let it continue to bubble for several hours.  Then I split it in half and put half in the fridge and with the other half I made a wet batter with a small potato mashed up and the water I boiled the potato in and some King Arthur bread flour.   I let that sit in a warm place --- and meanwhile I ground some Prairie Gold wheat (very fine) and screened out all the bran.  Then I made a bread dough (everything I normally do except no yeast) with the flour, water, salt, malt, milk powder, brown sugar and a little Bragg's apple cider vinegar.  And kneaded it in the machine and then let it rest. 

Then I took the bubbling sourdough batter and the wheat dough and kneaded them together and did a number of Stretch/Folds and let rest.   (Now I have no idea what I'm doing here - I'm just making this up as I go).  And finally the dough has a really strong smell very much like the sourdough I normally buy at the store (I'm in the SF Bay area and Safeway bakery is pretty decent sourdough - but I'm no connoisseur, haha) .  So I'm starting to get hopeful that this might actually turn out.

I don't know much about the history of the starter (not sure how recently my son had put it in the fridge or when he fed it last etc.) .... but it's been about 24 hours since I first started waking it up in a warm oven (light on) ... and it's been bubbling quite well.   I'm not really set up (yet) to do it free form on a stone --- so I shaped it into a loaf and put it in a loaf pan and it's rising - slower than my yeast bread, but faster than I expected.    (I only made one small loaf - haha - with about a cup of starter, so it's pretty strong on the starter to dough ratio).  

At the rate it's rising, I'm thinking I could heat up the oven and bake it tonight --- or I could put it in the fridge overnight and warm it up tomorrow.  Not really sure what I ought to do at this point.   (note: while I was typing this, it's been rising and it's already doubled in the loaf pan)

I've read a few posts here where people said three day process.  And I've read that rye (don't have any) would help me get a more sour flavor -- but the smell (and my hands still have that smell, long after handling the dough and washing several times) is pretty strong with just the kind of sourdough I was hoping for.   

I'm just rambling now ... sorry ... but any suggestions are welcome.     Even if you just want to laugh at my haphazard experiment, that's OK too!

Thanks in advance!

hreik's picture

you don't need to feed your starter any sugar.  Flour and water are sufficient.

If you want a more sour bread, dump out of rising bowl, let rest, shape into loaf and put in refrigerator overnight... bake tomorrow. 

If you want less sour, bake tonight. 
Good luck


AndyPanda's picture

Thank you Hester!      This is going to open a whole new world I think!

AndyPanda's picture

While I was typing the first post, it double in size (much faster than I expected) ... I decided to go ahead and bake it.   I had put it in a loaf pan and I put an inverted loaf pan on top while it was rising.   I left that pan on top and put it in a 400F oven for 20 minutes (didn't notice, but the pan on top slid off to the side) ... then reduced heat and removed the cover for 20 minutes.   

I learned a lot for next time.  I won't add malt next time (it's very good - but it ain't sourdough).  I will let it rise slowly in the fridge next time.  The dough smelled so much like sourdough I expected the sour flavor but there is hardly any sour to this loaf.   

The crust, however, turned out spectacular.  It has the nicest crunch and crackle to it -- the crust is the best thing I've ever had and I hope I can repeat that next time.  The inside is very consistent and regular without any mouseholes at all - which is perfect for me (I make sandwiches) but doesn't look the least bit like sourdough bread I was expecting. Aren't the big holes something to be desired?  Or am I confused about that?

IceDemeter's picture

"wild yeast" (give us time - we'll bring you over to the "dark side" with rye next...)

As Hester mentioned, there is no need to add sugar to your starter, as it will get all of the food that it needs from the flour.  I'd recommend doing a quick search on here for NMNF Starter by dabrownman for an efficient and effective way of maintaining your new starter without any waste and with very little effort.

I'm glad that your inaugural bake turned out so well!  You ended up with a lovely, enriched sandwich loaf just like what you normally make with commercial yeast - with the only difference being that this should stay fresh a little bit longer due to the fermented flour in the starter.  With the additions of potato and sugar and milk powder and what all else - well, it really isn't any surprise that very little sour flavour has come through.  You may find that the flavour is more evident after a day or two, since the flavours in a wild yeast bread will change and mature over time.

For a more traditional "sourdough" loaf, you would need to skip the enrichment and go with just water, flour, salt - and your starter.  These loaves most often use a high percentage of white bread flour (for that stronger chew), have higher hydration (to give the more open crumb), and are baked at higher temps (450 or even 500 deg F) to get that dark crust.  The depth of sour flavour can be adjusted by the choice of flours (percentage of whole grain, and what types), the amount of prefermented flour (the starter - or the "levain" which is an off-shoot built from the main "mother" starter), and how long you let it ferment or proof (less prefermented flour mean less yeast means slower fermentation means more time for acid to build up the sour).

Your long experience with the commercial yeast breads might make you a bit frustrated with your first experiments with sourdough.  The wild beasties aren't very good at keeping to schedules (so really need you to watch the dough, and not the clock), and also add a different feel to the dough during fermentation (the increase in LAB and acids cause the dough to feel softer and less strong than a commercial yeast equivalent).  It won't take you long to get the hang of how your starter works, though, so just be prepared for some surprises!

A video and approach that you might enjoy is here:

And a site with another great approach and a number of super videos and blogs is here:

Looking forward to your next experiment!

AndyPanda's picture

Thank you for those links.  I really enjoyed watching Elly's method - but I gave my dutch oven to my son's family.  Guess it's time for me to go shopping for another dutch oven.  

Meanwhile ... I've split out some starter into a second jar and I've been feeding it the bran and coarse bits I screen off my fresh ground wheat and I'm watching to see if and how the flavor changes with that starter.

IceDemeter's picture

I don't know whether you'll notice much change in the flavour of the starter, but it will surely keep up a good population of yeasts and LAB with that healthy diet!

As for dutch ovens - nah, not really required.  It really is just for keeping in the steam generated by the loaf during the first part of the bake, so can be easily replaced by anything that will give enough room for the loaf and has a lid --- or by a baking steel / stone / pan and some externally generated steam.  Especially if you stay with lower hydration recipes, then there is no reason to not be able to bake the loaf as free-standing, with the steam option that works best for you.

Personally I find that my ancient Granitewear roaster with a lid works just fine and is much lighter and easier to use for my arthritic old hands.  I've also used a thick cookie sheet with a stainless steel bowl over the top, or a baking sheet with a bigger roaster lid over the top, or used the steam generation ideas noted on the site as "Sylvia's Steaming Towels" along with a cup of boiling water tossed in to a pre-heated heavy pan just after loading in the dough.

I thought you'd enjoy seeing Elly's method - since it really seems to be similar to your own approach to the enriched yeasted sandwich breads!  Once you get the feel for the prep and general mix that you like, then I suspect that you'll be just fine in tossing together the sourdough by feel, just as you do the other.

Please let us know how it goes!

AndyPanda's picture

I made a second attempt using a loaf pan and a second loaf pan inverted on top.  Got a more open crumb this time and the best tasting bread.  This time I used only flour, water, salt and starter --- but it is all freshly ground Montana Wheat Prairie Gold.    I screened the flour with a #60 and fed the large bits to the starter.   And I built the starter gradually by letting it bubble for 3-4 hours and then feeding it to double the weight and then doubling the weight again in 3-4 hours. And then my final doubling was feeding it all the super fine flour that went through the screen earlier.     I still have a lot to learn - but the crumb opened up a bit and the flavor is delicious - and the crust was spectacular again.    

I've got plenty of learning to do - but I'm sure enjoying eating my experiments so far :) 


IceDemeter's picture

That's an awesome second sourdough - and I have no doubt that it tasted as good as it looks!  All of your baking experience and skills are really showing here...

It can be tricky getting the really open crumb with all whole wheat, but you are absolutely spot on with the idea of making it high extraction flour and then feeding the branny bits to the starter.  That gives the hard bits a ton more time in the wet to soften up, as well as making the yeasties and LAB really happy with their favourite food supply.

You might find that increasing the hydration is the only thing that would open that crumb up even more, but I would be more than happy to enjoy what you've already created.

Nice job, and thanks for sharing!