The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

sour taste + oven rise, how can we have both ?

sallam's picture

sour taste + oven rise, how can we have both ?


I make pizza for my family every week, using my own SD starter. I have one long standing problem that I hope to solve one day, with your help:

No matter how I try, I failed so far to get both an oven rise and a sour taste. It seems as if I must make a choice of one or the other.

If I take measures to get a sour tangy complex taste, like waiting for a levain to start collapsing, and long cold bulk fermenting, the pizza get hardly a minimum oven rise, but it has that heavenly rich tangy taste. On the other hand, if I aim for oven rise, with measures like short cold ferments and allowing only 50% rise of bulk ferment stage, the pizza gets hardly a tangy taste, but it has a perfectly light-crunchy brown bottom and soft airy top.

It seems as if to build sourness, one has to sacrifice the gluten, and lose oven rise!

My question is: how can I get both worlds in my dough? .. a decent oven rise while still getting my pies to have a strong sour complex after-taste? Is it possible to have both advantages ? or must it be one or the other ?

Is there a rule on how you can get a strong sour taste without having to over-proof and lose the gluten?

Could dabrownman's no-muss-no-fuss starter method be the answer? do you get a sour taste using it, even without long cold bulk fermentation? I mean could we depend on an aged seed alone, with a short 24 or so bulk cold ferment, for the sour taste in the final dough?

I appreciate any tips given to solve this continuous drama of my pizzas.

dabrownman's picture

The NMNF starter and bran levain were developed todo 5 things.  Increase the LAB to yeast ratio in the starter, levain and resulting bread.  Improve the flavor of SD bread by promoting both lactic and acetic acid production by the LAB, increase the openness and spring in breads that had whole grains in them and increase the sour to balance the stronger flavors of whole grain breads.  So it should and will do these things for pizza dough and I have made many SD pizzas using NMNF starter where the crust was thin, and crispy on the bottom and it has great spring too.

Whole multi grains added to white dough just makes the resulting bread taste better to me.  In the 15 to 20% range is about right for whole grains that I find best for white breads including pizza. 

The NMNF rye starter increases the LAB to yeast ratio making for a more sour dough and longer fermentation times for the LAB to do their work as the less yeast take longer to proof the dough.  The high and low temperature and hydration of the NMNF process for the NMNF starter and retarded bran levain promotes lactic and acetic acid production just like the Detmolder process does. 

The bran cuts gluten strands making for less rise but it does two other things.  It allows for better flavor in bread and it acts like a buffer that allows the LAB to continue to make acid and reproduce at lower pH's than it normally would making for more sour and more LAB than normal. 

By sifting out the bran and getting it into the starter and levain also allows it to be wet the longest allowing it to soften more and cut less gluten but exposing it to the acid in the starter and levain the longest time possible also breaks down the bran making it less like to cut gluten strands.

The other thing to remember is that this kind of pizza dough will be built at higher temperatures and hydration and retarded at lower temperatures for a long time compared to a normal bread process, you want to use high gluten flour for the 80-85% white portion of the the dough flour since it has the best chance to withstand a longer dough process but still break dough enough to be properly extensible when it is time to shape the dough.

To make great SD pizza, make a NMNF starter process if high and low temperatures and hydration and then retard it for a very long time.  It really gets good over 12 weeks in the fridge.  Use 15-20% whole multi grains in the mix but sift out the bran and use that to make a 10-12% pre-ermented flour bran levain at high temperatures and hydration then stiffen it up for the 3rd stage feeding and when it rises 25-50% retard it for 24-48 hours before using make the dough.  Then make the dough in the 70% hydration range and after gluten formation let it bulk ferment for about an hour on the counter, or it rises 30%, then retard it for 12 hours before using it.

This should give you the best tasting, healthy, most flavorful, crispy pizza crust that also springs well.   But, it also will give you the best SD bread of any kind too if you ask me.



sallam's picture

Allow me to write your instructions in steps as I understood them, so that you correct me if I get something wrong, with a couple of questions along the lines :

  1. make a NMNF starter process in high temperatures (94f ?) and low hydration (66%  or should I go lower?)
  2. retard it for 12 weeks or more in the fridge
  3. make a 10-12% pre-fermented flour bran levain at high temperatures and hydration then stiffen it up for the 3rd stage feeding (10% levain weight compared to final dough weight?)
  4. when it rises 25-50% retard it for 24-48 hours (how about 4 days, to compensate for my young NMNF starter, at least until it reaches 12 weeks old ?)
  5. make the dough in the 70% hydration range
  6. form gluten (by stretch and fold?)
  7. bulk ferment until it rises 30%
  8. retard it for 12 hours before using it.

Bran levain is a new term for me. I do have a bag of wheat bran. How much bran should I add to white flour in the levain?

As for the starter, is it ok to use white flour?, There is no rye at my end. Or can I perhaps substitute rye with barley?

dabrownman's picture


You can use NMNF starter every week but it gets really sour at 12- 24 weeks

10-12% is the weight of the pre-fermented flour.  if there is 500 g of total flour in the dough then the levain would have had 50 g of it at 10% pre-fermented flour.  All baking percentages are based on total flour weight which is always 100%.

48 hours of levain retard is fine - 4 days is also fine but it might be a bit slower.

At more than 70% hydration the dough gets sticky and hard to form into pies but I heve made plenty at 72% too - just use mire bench flour

Since time and water is all you need to form gluten and there is a lot of time and water in this process, stretch and folds work well.  But so dies a machine for larger amounts as in a pizza parlor, or old fashioned kneading, slap and folds or no knead.

Since the dough is going to be chilling n the fridge for 12  - 24 hours,  30% bulk is fine but 50% is OK too.  Pizza isn't that specific and neither is bread.for that matter.  It is very forgiving.

Happy Pizza Making 


AndyPanda's picture

I have been getting some very nice tangy sourness and plenty of rise and oven spring in my SD breads lately.  But when I made some pizza with the same starter, I found I didn't care for the sourness in my pizza (just personal taste) and I went back to my standard pizza dough (no SD, just a tiny bit of commercial yeast and 3 days in the fridge).   

But if I were in your shoes and wanted a very sour SD pizza, I'd just do what you do that gives the sour you want (but without the rise) and add a little commercial yeast - let the SD give it the sour tang and the commercial yeast do the rising.

With my SD bread I get a lot of oven spring - but I'm shaping before the cool retard and then straight into the hot oven with cold dough. And I suspect that's why it springs so much.   Not sure if that would work for pizza or not - but you might experiment with a cool rise and into the oven without warming up first (for me, the fridge is too cold - I have to use a cool box just for the retard)

DanAyo's picture

what are you using for a cool box?

AndyPanda's picture

Depending on how cold my kitchen is overnight (I'm near San Francisco - it's been 45-60F in my kitchen at night) I may just set a cold pack (like you use for muscle aches) next to my dough on the counter and place a cardboard box upside down over it.  Or I may set it in a camping ice chest with the cold pack or a few ice cubes in a baggie.

When summer gets here and it's warm at night (or if I'm proofing during the day instead of overnight) then I'd use the ice chest  (my counter would be too warm).    If I were baking more than just for myself, I'd probably use a second fridge set at 55F (about - depends on your particular starter, mine doesn't like cold).


sallam's picture

I found an intersting post made by Alpine (Steve, owner of Alpine Sourdough Bakery in Corvallis Oregon), where he uses 2 levains built from the same starter, one left unfed for 48~72 hours for sourness, and the other fed daily for yeast power.


Our starter is split into two portions 48 hours in advance (sometimes 72 hours for extra sour bread). The first portion is not fed and allows the slower acting lactobacillus to overwhelm the yeast; the second portion is fed daily and caters to keeping the yeast extremely active.

On a bake day, we are actually using two different starters from one culture; a lactobacillus dominate starter and a yeast dominate starter. We do from 8 to 12 different dough runs depending on the types of breads being produced that day.

Each dough has it's own "old" to "new" starter ratio. Sourdough banana nut bread uses "new" starter only; minimum sour, maximum yeast, and a fast rise. White sourdough uses more "old" starter than "new" starter for maximum sourness and has a slower rise time. Each starter is at it's prime when used..

He mentioned here that he uses 25% starter (100% hydration) in his recipes. Half the starter weight goes to the flour side of the recipe, the other half goes to the water side of the recipe.

Soundman also reported that this technique works like a charm here:

What do you think of that technique?

sallam's picture

I was hoping to ask Alpine and Soundman about this interesting technique, but unfortunately they don't seem to have visited the forum for some 8 years now, and there is no message button in their profiles either.

Is there any TFL'er who does that 2-levain method ?