The Fresh Loaf

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Struggling to get a good loaf

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

Struggling to get a good loaf

I’ve been making Tartine bread for several years now (never really consistently) and I can’t ever seem to get a good bread twice in a row. Something will work once and then not ever again. My current problem is lack of proper fermentation during the bulk fermentation stage and almost no tension development by the end of it. I’ve tried several things and it doesn’t seem anything is working. I feel my starter once a day in the evening, so I create my leaven around 9pm. In the morning, around 8, it passes the float test and has risen about 40-50%. I create my dough and start the fermentation process. It’s about 70F in my house so I use warmer water, around 90F in my dough. I ‘turn’ the bread every 30 minutes. At the end of 4 hours I never see any rise or major aeration. I’ve tried using my oven as a proof box and this helps the rise, but not the aeration. The loaves are tight crumbed with a few major holes and, for the first time, dry and dusty. Any tips or ideas on where I might be going wrong? Thanks! 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Your leaven only rises 40-50%? 

Tell us more about your starter. A brief history, how you maintain it and how you build the leaven. 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

I use 50/50 whole wheat KAF and all-purpose flour from a local mill. I started it myself with water at 80F and that blend until it closely resembles a very thick pancake batter. I’d say about 200g water, 200g flour mixture. Then I fed it once it started to smell like growing yeast (I’m a microbiologist and that smell is very familiar to me). I feed it once daily in the evening by throwing away 80% and keeping 20%. The 20% I feed with equal amounts of flour mixture and water in the evening, usually around 9pm. It doubles and peaks at around 8 am.

To create my leaven I mix 200g 80F water and 200g flour mixture and 1 TBS mature starter around 8pm when I normally. That rises to 40-50% by 9am and passes the float test

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

First of all I hope you aren't keeping up these huge feeds and discarding hundreds of grams every day. FYI you can now keep less and manage it better by keeping it in the fridge until needed. 

How old is your starter? 

...and what is puzzling is that your starter doubled but your Levain doesn't. Since your Levain is an off shoot starter and seems to be fed the very same way as your starter then it should behave the same. 

Starter is fed 9pm and has doubled by 8am. 

Levain is fed 8pm! 

What happens in those 12 hours before the Levain is built? 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

I’m not sure how to keep it in the fridge... and I’ve heard that you should keep containers half full and the smallest container I have requires that amount to be half full.

I always assumed my levain doesn’t double because I only use a very small amount of mature starter (1TBS, around 20g) instead of 20%. 

My starter is several months old. I began it in November

 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

As long as you have the right amount of starter fully mature and bubbly it is fine to use. 

I'm curious about the Levain only rising by 40-50%. Yet it floats which tells me it's ready but doesn't leaven the dough. 

Curious! 

There's a few things you can try. 

1: wait until the leaven peaks! Don't watch the clock. 

2: again with the dough... Wait until you see a puffy and billowy dough however long it takes. Watch the dough and not the clock. 

Try this and see what happens. 

FYI... I keep 50-100g of starter in the fridge. Take a little off to build a levain each time. When it runs low I'll feed it again then return it to the fridge when it's activated but not fully peaked - about 50% risen. It can stay in the fridge for a week before it needs feeding again. When it comes to building a leaven you can take a little off and give it a few feeds to build strength before using in a recipe. 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

So I want the levain to be fully risen and doubled? In Tartine Bread, which is my main source of information, it states that if you use the 1TBS formula it should only rise 20% the next morning and that as soon as it passes the float test it should be used. He bases everything off of young levain 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Yes a young Levain is fine.  It should be built with a recently matured starter though. 

If you feed your starter in the morning and by evening it is fully mature and you build a levain from that then a young Levain is fine. You only feed your starter once a day. It is mature by morning. And then you build a levain in the evening. Perhaps it's losing some strength... and yet it still floats - which is the confusing aspect!

Concentrate on the second suggestion of watching the dough and not the clock. Wait until you see signs of a billowy dough.

If you don't wish to refrigerate just yet then perhaps keep less starter and feed it every morning and evening so it doesn't go for 12 hours after maturing and leaking before the next feed. You could do 10g starter + 50g water + 50g flour as an example. But at some point you need to find a more manageable and efficient way of keeping a starter without all the discard. 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

Thanks so much! I’ll try a lot less in canning jar and see if that helps. And I’ll feed it twice a day, 12 hours apart. If I have a healthier starter there’s a good chance some of my issues will get fixed... will this help gluten development and building tension for a good oven spring?

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Will both come from the way you handle the dough. If you think the dough needs it then add in some extra folds. Shaping comes with practice. 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

thanks for the suggestions. I’ve started feeding my starter every 12 hours. It’s been a few days now and it doesn’t fall before it’s time to feed it again. It doubles within 6-8 hours and then stays until I feed it again. Will it get to the point where it depletes before I feed it if I keep feeding it like this?

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Tells us a bit about the characteristics of your starter. For now! It's not an overly quick starter for one that is fed twice a day. Should also give you a good guide when it comes to a bulk ferment. When a recipe calls for a similar amount of starter but a relatively short bulk ferment you might need to go for longer. Here's where watching the dough and not the clock comes into it. As it stands you now know what to expect from your starter. Whether with regular feedings it'll quicken up you'll have to wait and see. Keep on feeding it but save up the discard for other recipes such as pancakes and waffles. 

You can either attempt the recipe again and see if your starter responds better and with the knowledge you've gained from the characteristics of your starter - watch the dough and not the clock - or try another recipe with a longer bulk ferment if you are worried about being able to judge when the dough is done. 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

It is still fairly sweet smelling, even at fully doubled. It doesn’t start to taste sour until a few hours after doubled, which, I think, means it favors lactic acid production over acetic. I’m a microbiologist so I’m fairly familiar with yeast and bacteria. But I’m fairly rudememtary when it comes to how that translates to bread baking. When you say ‘fully mature’ starter do you mean after it’s depleted or when it’s doubled?

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I think the tension that you’ve mentioned will come once your fermentation issue is fixed. Without fermentation (gas) there will be no tension. If the gas doesn’t fill the dough, tension is not possible.

Gluten development allows the gas to stay trapped inside the dough. The gas blows up the dough (think ballon), it inflates causing the tension.

I think - Focus on your starter.

Dan

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Hey Teri,

I’ve been following your post. Starters can be tricky, but once established they are amazingly resilient. Your instructions call for a young Levain. If your starter is weak, you may not have enough yeast in a young Levain to facilitate the rise.

In order to build your starter to have a large population of yeast, it is best to have your starter cycle from “feed to recede”. Another words the starter is fed and then it grows, then is stops growing (in height) and starts to recede. The ideal time to fed again is once it starts to recede. It is at this time that the yeast have maximized their population. Extending the fed out longer will cause the LAB to start the process of out populating the yeast by a greater percentage. The increase of LAB is what makes a sour flavored starter. But for now, it would be best to concentrate on a starter with a lot of lifting power. Debra Wink explained to me that a starter can excel either in yeast or it can excel in LAB. It can’t excel in both. For those with matured starters, this balance of yeast to LAB can be adjusted to fit the user’s desire. Since your bread is not proofing well, it seems best to focus on yeast first.

When you say that you feed the starter once a day, I’m inclined to think that the LAB are overtaking the yeast. That may or may not be the case. You mentioned that after the starter recedes you begin to get the acedic smell. That is correct.  The real indicator to feed is the point in the starter’s cycle when it starts to recede. It is at this point where the population of yeast have been maximized.

If you choose the work towards this goal, you can (by trial and error) adjust your mix ratio and possibly your temperature. Temperature makes a huge difference in the speed and vigor in which your starter grows. For instance, I presently mix 1:3:5. 1 part starter + 3 parts water + 5 parts AP flour. I keep a very small starter because of the waste. So for me, it’s 5g starter + 15g water + 25g flour. My starter is kept at 76 degrees. I can set my watch by it. Note - Debra advised me to use AP flour. I was using home ground rye, but was unable to extend the feed to recede out to 12 hours. Whole grains are rocket fuel for starters. Others may report a different experience.

If your starter is weak, you may start out with 1:2:2. See if that cycles feed to recede in 12 hours. If it takes longer you could try 1:1:1 and/or a warmer temperature. Most people that are actively raising a yeast dominant starter feed twice a day as far as I can tell. Twice a day is time consuming enough, 3 times is probably too much.

The GREAT NEWS is that once you get your starter where you want it you can go to the No Mess No Fuss method. 

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/40918/no-muss-no-fuss-starter

With the author’s (dabrownman) method you feed, refrigerate, take what you need for baking for the next several months and then after 12 - 16 weeks or more feed again. Feed your starter every 3 months or longer... Hallelujah!

I’ve written a lot. Almost everything I regurgitated comes from what I learned from Debra Wink, our resident starter guru, and others on the TFL. She speaks and we listen...

-disclaimer- I am no authority. I’m in the process of learning myself. What I’ve written are some of things that I learned (I hope correctly) from others. I’m trusting that if I’ve erred or mis-communicated that some kind soul(s) will correct it. The truth will set us free.

I hope some of the above helps and I didn’t run on unnecessarily. 

Dan

 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

And it did NOT work. Made my levain according to the book’s instructions. It took 12+ hours to pass the float test. The bread took 8 hours to bulk ferment to 50%, not even double. I used my oven as a makeshift proof box to maintain 80F temperature. It took 4 hours to double in the banneton. It was completely flat again and had no oven spring. It had a creamy texture but was incredibly sour, almost bitter, and made me need water immediately after trying it...

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

How have you been feeding it? Good feeds, allowing it to peak each time before feeding again and keeping it at around 78F?

I wouldn't start on a Tartine until you get over this issue. 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

My starter has been great for a week and a half. I feed it every 12 hours, usually around 9. It peaks at 7 hours and starts to fall, but only down to 90% height, around 12 hours when I feed it again. It stays around 75F. I’ve been keeping a journal of times and rising percentages. I thought it was alright... how could I tell, outside of trying to bake, that it’s okay to use?  If this isn’t ready what should I be looking for?

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

I would choose another recipe. Lower hydration, larger levain etc. High hydration with longer fermenting time might not be a good combo for now. 

Ok so how about this nice recipe? 

http://www.weekendbakery.com/posts/sourdough-pain-naturel/

 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

So I wanted to let you know I took your advice and tried a different recipe. Used a regular levain (not a young one) by simply feeding my starter and using it when it had doubled. I also switched out bread flour for all-purpose. The crumb, oven spring, and fermentation steps have all been perfect. Lots of rise and gas in the fermentation, perfect oven spring, and large, irregular crumb structure. I think I’ll just ignore the young levain, which I think was my main issue. I’ve never had this kind of bulk fermentation before. This bread is gorgeous and I’ve even been able to tweak it to add some fresh ground whole wheat flour and increased hydration to 80% (that fresh flour is thirsty!). Thank you so much for helping!

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

The feel good factor with a successful bake is great. Glad you've found a method which works and you're producing lovely loaves. Young levains have their place and should you wish to try them again then feel free to seek advice. It's all about toggling flavour where a young levain will be sweeter. 

Enjoy! 

Tstockton's picture
Tstockton

I'd agree, and say try to use a bit less water till you can get a good rise and bake, then add more as you go. 

Another random question, are you using water that is filtered/non-chlorinated? Might be that there are chemicals messing with the overall rise if you are using water straight from the tap in your large mix. 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

ive never really had a problem with tap water before, but I just moved so this new city might be different. 

I took Lechems advice and tried a different recipe. Used a regular levain (not a young one) by simply feeding my starter and using it when it had doubled. I also switched out bread flour for all-purpose. The crumb, oven spring, and fermentation steps have all been perfect. Lots of rise and gas in the fermentation, perfect oven spring, and large, irregular crumb structure. I think I’ll just ignore the young levain, which I think was my main issue. I’ve never had this kind of bulk fermentation before. This bread is gorgeous and I’ve even been able to tweak it to add some fresh ground whole wheat flour and increased hydration to 80% (that fresh flour is thirsty!). Thank you so much for helping!

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

I think Abe is on the right track; it's something to do with your starter. If you can, download Trevor Wilson's book at breadwerx.com, and read the bit about making sure your starter is vigorous enough and not too acid. I gave my old starter a couple of bigger feeds (1:3:3) and it's making much stronger, more supple dough now. It was smelling a little too strongly of acetic acid and I think that was degrading my dough. The float test is useful in that it shows your starter has lots of gas in it, but might be a little misleading as far as the strength of the yeast colonies and/or the balance of acids.

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

Thanks for the book recommendation. I think my starter was definitely a big part of the problem. It already feels and smells differently following Abe’s instructions. I haven’t had a lot of places to turn with questions so this book will be great!

MonkeyDaddy's picture
MonkeyDaddy

the rationale behind how you do your turns: strong (pull more from the mass before folding) vs. light (pull more gently from the mass before folding).  I'm on my third read of the book and I get something more from each reading.

Also, what is the formula for your dough?  I've run into problems before with having too great a starter to dough ratio - it almost seems like I'm just making a giant batch of starter and it doesn't rise well at all.  400g seems like a large quantity for levain, unless you're making like a kilo or more of dough.

One other thought:  Your levain is at around 100%; what is the total dough hydration?  50% whole wheat will suck up a lot of water, and a drier dough takes more work to rise in most cases.  (Trevor also addresses hydration vs. rise on breadwerx.com)

     --Mike

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

Will definitely help the problem. My loaves always turn out flat with a fairly dense crumb. I’ve only rarely been able to get the large, open holes you’re supposed to see. 

Only the levain is 50/50. The bread is Tartine Bread’s country loaf with 75% hydration, 90% all-purpose flour, 10% whole wheat, 2% salt, and 20% levain (200g per 1000 g flour). 

 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Teri, take a look at this link, you may find some useable information. http://www.thefreshloaf.com/comment/397971#comment-397971

In the post there is a link to Trevor’s video on Tartine Bread. 

Abe’s (lechem) advice on watching the dough and not the clock can’t be over-stressed. Instructions may have you proof for 2 hours, but it could take 5 hours. Your temperature, the characteristics of your starter, and other variables can have a drastic impact on your results.

I’m not an authority on bulk ferment timings (still working on that), but I let mine go until doubled. It was puffy and airy, it felt relaxed and soft (cloud like) to the touch. BUT, my house was cold and it took about 4 - 5 hours after the final folds to get there. Way longer than the instructions. If it takes a very long time, that’s ok. The longer it ferments (up to a point) the better it will taste.

After the BF it was preshaped and the lightly shaped, the dough was put in a banneton and refrigerated for 12 hours. It was then slashed cold and put into a preheated Dutch oven to bake.

My only other concern would be your starter, but you mentioned that you where getting inconsistent results. If your starter has raised your bread well in some of the recent bakes, all should be good. 

Hope I helped, Dan

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Getting to know your starter helps alot. Is it a quick or slow starter? For instance. 

I'm still getting to know mine. A change in maintenance also changes the starter I have found. It's learning to read your starter that really improves ones baking. 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I’ve been hung up on a very strong starter. Debra was a great help to me, along with you and others.

BUT, I now believe that you don’t need to use a super strong starter to raise dough exceptionally well. It seems an average strength starter will make outstanding bread if you give it time to do so.

My thoughts:   Yeast are hungry creatures that like to eat. If one starter has 1,000,000 yeast cells and another has 500,000 yeast cells, the more densely populated starter will raise a dough more aggressively (faster), but it’s weaker cousin will get there IF you give it time. And if you like sour, the flavors will be much more intense.  - - - What do you think ? - - -

A very strong and starter will lack in Acedic Acids. I likes da sour...

Dan

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Lactic acid producing bacteria outnumber the yeasts by 100:1. 

There's a lot going on under the microscope which others and especially Debra Wink can explain. It is my understanding that a perfect symbiotic relationship is established when making a starter and is very stable. However a change in feeding/maintenance can alter a starter tipping it in favour of other yeasts bacteria. Some starters are more tangy than others but there are things one can do to bring out certain characteristics from the way it's maintained to now it's used. 

Teri Bills's picture
Teri Bills

will, I think, help me figure out some of these issues. I know that the cultivation of certain bacteria over others can be adjusted by changing maintenance. I’d like my bulk fermentation to take place in 6 hours or less, which probably means there’s something not right about the way I use my particular starter with the Tartine recipe. Perhaps I should adjust my percentages a bit. I don’t care about following the ‘exact’ recipe as long as I get a loaf with good, mild flavors and beautiful crumb. 

lesbru's picture
lesbru

I don't know if this is helpful, but I make the tartine lo af most weeks and I follow Chad Robertson's suggestion to keep back some of my levain each time to become my new starter.   This goes into the fridge, just a half jam jar's worth, (with last week's jam jar kept just as a back up) and I don't feed it again until the morning of the day I am to make my new levain in the evening.  So I have two jars in the fridge at all times, the oldest gets washed up when the new one from the current levain arrives.   My kitchen is the same temperature as yours and I find I need about 13 hours for a vigorous levain and 5 to 6 hours for an aerated bulk.   I retard in bannetons in the fridge overnight (with no visible rise at that stage), and bake from cold in a dutch oven the next day.   It's a routine that works well for me.   I do hope you can arrive at a bake you like, it is such a wonderful loaf.