The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Making leaven vs "pure" starter

eiriee's picture
eiriee

Making leaven vs "pure" starter

On a whim a month or so ago I decided to make a sourdough starter and try to make sourdough bread. 6 loaves later (my avatar) I feel like I'm getting somewhere. 

I've been sticking to the one recipe (https://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-make-sourdough-bread-224367) and altering things like whether to prove in the fridge or not.

Thing is, this recipe, and so many other places it seems, calls for me to take 1 tblsp of my starter and make a leaven from it overnight. But I have so much starter (one in the fridge, one on the counter) that I've just been using the pure starter to make my bread. 

So, I am not making leaven. I am calculating how much leaven the recipe says I would need (I often half the recipe) and just use that much starter. 

Is this ok? Should I be using leaven instead/is using straight starter restricting my bread's potential?

woah, the starter I got from the fridge and fed last night and this morning is almost overflowing it's jar! I'd better make something

tgrayson's picture
tgrayson

I think the various builds are intended to sculpt the flavor profile of the resulting bread; using starter only is likely to be one-dimensional.

eiriee's picture
eiriee

Thanks!

So if you use different flour in making the leaven, it will add another dimension to the flavour? Or is it just that the leaven is a mixture of more mature starter and younger starter, each adding a different flavour profile to the bread?

tgrayson's picture
tgrayson

No, what I meant was that flavor is affected by the hydration level, fermentation temperature, as well as by the feeding schedule of your starter.

eiriee's picture
eiriee

So building a leaven with a different hydration to my starter will alter the flavour of the bread from what it would be if I just used my starter?

tgrayson's picture
tgrayson

Yes, and less acidic, since your starter is being diluted. I maintain my own starter at 100% hydration in the refrigerator. When I make the levain, it ends up being something like 65%. I let it ferment a few hours at room temperature, then put it in the refrigerator overnight. So this is two different hydrations and two different temperature ranges.

I don't agree that the only reason not to use the starter directly is the necessity of getting it to the proper consistency...some sourdough formulas recommend many more builds than necessary to achieve this. Just pulling one book off the shelf, Hammelman says this:

Add more water as needed to obtain  paste of medium looseness. This is a looser build than the preceding one, during which the lactic character of the dough his developed.

So Hammelman is clearly tweaking the dough flavor using hydration.

 

 

eiriee's picture
eiriee

Thanks!

Is less acidic better? I was under the impression the acid was what gives the sourdough it's sourness. Although I suppose the acid is going to kill the yeast a bit.

By building and rebuilding the sourdough do different levels of chemicals get created than just a straight build to the desired hydration? Like, the first build allows it to reach a certain state of maturity for that hydration level, then the next build at a different hydration level uses up some of the product of the last build while adding a different ratio of bacteria to yeast?

I'm still learning how sourdough works

tgrayson's picture
tgrayson

Different people have different preferences for acid, both the quantity and quality. Acid comes in two varieties, acetic and lactic, and different builds encourage one over the other, in addition to the other flavor-changing properties.

Your best bet is to follow a number of recipes and see which flavor profile suits you bet. Personally, I think the San Francisco-type sourdough is horrible.

In the end, if you like the direct inclusion of the starter, who can say you're wrong?

proth5's picture
proth5

why exactly one builds a preferment in the way you describe rather than just using your starter. (I'm going to apologize in advance for my terms. I use standard baking terms as taught my by folks who really care about them and habits are hard to break.)

Anyway, one maintains a sourdough culture with a certain flour at a certain hydration. Not every formula that you will bake will utilize a preferment (that's the thing you are calling a leaven) that is of that specific flour or hydration. You may maintain your starter at 100% hydration (equal weights of flour and water) and the formula calls for a preferment at 60% hydration, you will use a small amount of your starter as seed to create that 60% hydration preferment, This allows you to bake a variety of formulas while only maintaining one starter. This is also true if you are making a preferment with, for example, whole wheat flour rather than the white flour you use to maintain your culture.

So, in a sense, your using your culture as the preferment is limiting your baking, but not exactly in the way you express. Using a liquid preferment when a firm one is called for will emphasize different qualities in the dough. For example, a 100% hydration will emphasize extensibility in the dough while a firm preferment (60% hydration) will bring more strength. So, using only one style of preferment is a limiting thing.

Another thing that building a preferment does is keep your sourdough culture safe. If you simply scoop out your starter into your dough, you might accidentally bake it all.

However, if your culture is vibrant and healthy and the formula calls for a preferment that is exactly the composition of your culture, there is no reason not to use it. I, personally, never refrigerate my culture for the reason that I don't find that a refrigerated culture is vibrant and healthy enough for my demands, so again, you may be limiting the potential of your bread by using a refrigerated culture as a preferment. My opinion would be that you might want to  do a fresh preferment if you feel that you must refrigerate your culture.What I don't completely understand is why you are maintaining a culture in the refrigerator and on the counter.

If you maintain a starter at room temperature and do not bake every day, at some point you will need to come to terms with the fact that you are creating material that needs to be discarded (or at least re-purposed). I'll ignore the people who tell me that I am a bad, wasteful person because I acknowledge that reality, and also spare you my lecture "What is waste?" In my community I can send the discard to a composting facility and I live free from guilt.

BTW: Don't exactly know why I logged into TFL today. I don't post here much any more. Let the disagreements begin!

eiriee's picture
eiriee

Oh, that makes sense (the hydration thing). The recipe calls for 100% hyrdation leaven (75g flour, 75g water, 1 tblspn starter), so using my starter so far has worked, but it won't when I start using different recipes.

I'm maintaining two starters (fridge+counter) because I was curious about how they behaved differently, if at all, as I grew them. Given everything I've read, I'll probably begin to use up all the counter one (on pancakes or something) and just keep the fridge one as I bake once a week.

Also, I'm glad you said the starter is compostable - I didn't think of that, but that means that I can chuck any discard in my compost bin.

proth5's picture
proth5

you are determined to keep your culture in the refrigerator and only feed it once a week, let me suggest that making a fresh preferment with a small amount of seed and the formula amounts for flour and water will produce better results than just using your culture. Alternately, people who keep their cultures in the refrigerator often take them out one day before they decide to use it, give it a good meal and then use the culture directly.

While it is certainly possible to keep a culture in the refrigerator, and many home bakers do, the optimal way to keep a sourdough culture really vibrant and healthy is to keep it at a moderate room temperature and feed it daily (or even twice a day).

Good luck!

eiriee's picture
eiriee

Thank you!

I will have a think about which culture to keep, although I may go for the fridge one because otherwise I will be going through a lot more flour and make more of a mess regularly (and my partner already jokingly complains about the mess I make during sourdough!). But I'll read more around it. The one on the counter definitely does seem more lively. 

I have been taking it out the fridge the day before-ish I plan to use it and feed it to "wake it up". I baked two loaves with the fridge one specifically yesterday and next weekend will probably use the counter one to see if there's any noticeable difference at my current level of skill. 

MonkeyDaddy's picture
MonkeyDaddy

 I dug back into my old posts and it looks like I joined TFL about 4 1/2 years ago.  Even that far back I can't remember seeing a lot of posts from you.  And you're here even less these days as you mentioned - more's the pity.

But every time you chime in your expertise and clear explanations are like gold to be hoarded and saved.  Thank you so much for the post you put in this thread - it was up to your usual caliber.  

Don't be such a stranger  ;-)

     --Mike

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I second that. Good to hear from you again!

Proth5, I find your comment about using the 100% hydration starter emphasizes extensibility interesting. Is that because of a higher acid content?

Eiriee

If you bake daily, definitely maintain your culture on the counter. Remember, you only have to maintain a few tablespoons-it doesn't have to be a jarful. Especially if you are building preferment for your loaves.

I bake either weekly or every other week so I maintain a refrigerated starter, and build a preferment when I need it.

So many ways to make and maintain a starter. Great people here to help and learn from!