The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Knowing my Sourdough Options

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sheepshyfter's picture
sheepshyfter

Knowing my Sourdough Options

I am a very new baker, low on experience (or quality baking tools), and perhaps too ambitious for my own good. As I wander the boards, I am faced with such a tremendous amount of information that I am not sure how to proceed.

Without really asking myself why or for what purpose, I decided to create my own sourdough starters, under three different conditions. After a week, despite their differences, they have each reached a smiliar state. They tend to bubble, and though a few days ago they gave off a gorgeous yeast smell, they have since begun to give off the (not necessarily unpleasant) odor of apple juice. And there is a liquid pooling at the tops. Which may not be normal, I don't know. In any case, they don't really rise in any way, and stirring them doesn't do much. But they do bubble, and they don't disgust me.

I am unable to ascertain precise hydration as I lack a scale, though I have been nurturing each colony daily with 1/4 cup of the starter from the day before, 1/4 cup white flour, and 1/4 cup filtered water.

The question then, is how i should treat them now that they have presumably reached some kind of early maturity. I can two things with the starters:

1. Make bread. Duh. But I am a bit aghast at recipes that call for 1 1/4 cup of proofed starter, etc.. At this point my starters are quite liquidy. Shall I just add more flour over the next few days? Less water? How do I get from "watery starter" to "stuff ready to be used in a recipe".

2. Put them in the fridge so I don't have to worry about them. But should I thicken them first? How long can they chill without me tending to them? And if I wish to restart them, what kind of procedure should I follow?

These are rather basic questions, for which I apologize. But the sheer volume of answers on this fine site can be tough to wade through successfully.

rideold's picture
rideold

Ok, so generally speaking you are going to get 4-5 oz of flour per cup (4 if you sprinkle the flour into the cup and level with a knife, 5 if you scoop with the measuring cup).  Of course it varies with the person.  So your 1/4 cup refresh is giving you 2 oz of water (water weighs 1 oz per fluid oz) and 1 to 1.25 oz of flour so your starter is being maintained at a liquid consistency of around 175-200% hydration.  Which is not bad in any way but it is good to know that when you are reading recipes and advice.  At that hydration level you will not see any rise, just bubbles.  It sounds like your starter is doing great.  You can use it as is but I'd lean towards using a recipe that is calling for a liquid levain.  Look in your library for Daniel Leader's new book "Local Breads".  He has a secition on just that kind of bread/starter.  Others here will have good recommendations on other books as well.  Take a look at the book review section here on The Fresh Loaf.

You will want to feed/refresh your starter weekly if you store it in the fridge.  You don't have to thicken it if you don't want to.   There is good info on maintaining starter at http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/3064/maintaining-100-hydration-white-flour-starter.  If you want to convert your starter to 100% hydration then just start refreshing it as though it already was and it will be fine.  Use the 1:2:2 refresh and it will be essentially a 100% starter after a couple of refreshes (unless you are a stickler about math). 

What you will do from here is feed the starter weekly.  When you want to bake you take some starter out, refresh it and then build your dough from there.  I refresh and bake at the same schedule right now so I take my starter out, refresh it, take out of that what I need for that week's baking and put the rest back in the fridge.

Good luck.  Don't worry about it too much.  No sense lying awake worrying about starter.  And if you do, get up and bake something.

Sean (my apologies if I have botched something here...others are way better at giving advice)

 

sheepshyfter's picture
sheepshyfter

Sean,

Your explanation was great, and super clear. I think I may try and take it down to 100% hydration. It is looking, however, that I will need to invest in a scale. I guess if I want to be serious, I need to get me some hardware.

Thanks a ton

rideold's picture
rideold

Yea, a scale makes the learning process much easier.  I know there are those on this site that have a good feel for bread and they don't use a scale but I like it better using one.  Get one that measeures in 1 gram increments.  Polder makes some that are pretty affordable.  If you're tight on money I'd get a scale before getting books especially with all the resources and recipes on this site.  Best of luck :)

holds99's picture
holds99

If you want to be consistent in your baking you'll need to be accurate in your measurements, which means you'll need a scale.  I bought a really good AccuWeigh digital scale at a Restaurant Association show in Chicago many years ago.  Don't know if AccuWeigh is still in business or if they still make scales but mine measures in both ounces and grams.   It was fairly expensive back then but it has been a great investment and has lasted 20 years and is still working fine, it just needs a new battery every year.  I am sure theres lots of good ones on the market and that they have come down in price since I bought mine.  Only drawback to mine is that it only goes up to 2 kilos (approx. 4.4 pounds), I wish it went higher but it's fine for the vast majority of my needs.  Anyway, I use it everytime I bake; for measuring ingredients, and it's essential for dividing dough into equal parts, so your loaves, rolls, etc. are all the same weight/size ensuring they achieve the same doneness in the same amount of time. 

It's for sure you'll never run out of great recipes on this site and sooo many great bakers willing to help. Have fun with your baking and good luck.

holds99