The Fresh Loaf

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Stiff starter = Stronger dough?

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Stiff starter = Stronger dough?

I have read quite often lately that a stiff starter makes the dough stronger. If this is so, how does that work?

I understand that dry starters rise stronger (as a starter or Levain) because of the gluten. I also get the fact that dry starters makes the food last longer because of the microbes having less contact with the feed as the starter grows.

But how does a stiff starter work to produce a stronger dough, considering the total flour and water (including the Levain) is calculated into the hydration?

Dan

”inquiring minds want to know”

Got-to-Baguette-Up's picture
Got-to-Baguette-Up

According to the dough theory I know, acid load contributes to dough strength, in the sense that it makes the gluten strands tighten.  

Lately, I've been keeping my 100% hydration starter really 'clean', meaning I feed it as soon as it peaks, meaning that it has risen 3X its volume, and can pass a float test.  My starter usually gets there in 6 hours at a 1:3:3 ratio.   And the resultant dough is more extensible as a result.  The resultant bread is more airy.  More than even my starter that I fed every 12 hours instead of 6.  

So I can imagine that a stiff starter, which has more time and fuel to accumulate acid and maybe alcohol could have the effect of tightening the dough, or 'strenghtening' it.  

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Could others address the stiff starter = stronger dough.

leslieruf's picture
leslieruf

but maybe it is a bit like double hydration.  mix low hydration dough to get gluten development going and be strong, then when you add the extra liquid you already have a strong network developed.  

hopefully other far more knowledgeable folks will join in.

Leslie

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I am running at test right now on a SFSD. I made up a 60% Levain instead of my normal 100%. I did incorporate the stiff Levain into the dough water as I always do. It thoroughly mix the Levain into the water until it is broken down and the water turns milky. This mixture is then added to the flour and salt mixture.

For the test, I did calculate the flour and water of the Levain and the flour and water in the final dough to work out to the original Total Dough formula. NOTE - this formula uses only 2% of the Total Flour prefermented, so not a lot of Levain.

I really would like to know the reasoning behind this; stiff starter = stronger dough. I don’t understand how this would work. But there are many things I don’t understand :) ...and I’m excited to learn about all of them.

Dan

mwilson's picture
mwilson

Dan, we kind of did already cover this here. Although that was regarding yeasted pre-ferments the reason is still the same.

On a related note the percentage of levain / starter / pre-ferment used is important. More equals more strength. 

leslieruf's picture
leslieruf

I had read all that before and forgotten.  a follow on question though

 Biga for strength - ok you make a firm dough and ferment it. should it be used as is and worked into the final dough? would dispersing the biga in water before adding to the flour of the final dough alter the way it acts i.e make it more like a poolish?

I keep a firm starter in the fridge. I then usually build 100% levain for my dough.  would I then get better strenth if I made my levain a similar hydration and added the balance of water to my dough? (all other things being equal)

sorry Dan - hope I am not leading this away from your questions

Leslie

mwilson's picture
mwilson

All things being equal, yes. However it is difficult to keep other aspects the same when one is changed. This is because all factors are connected. For instance a firm starter is slower to ferment and will take longer to develop the same acidity.

The question you raise about the incorporation of a firm starter is an interesting one. Ultimately no, it shouldn't make a difference, adding water to dissolve it won't undo its strength giving abilities. However like the double hydration technique you mentioned different methods give different results. 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Thanks for the link. I posted to that link, but never did comprehend the issue. After reading all information again, I may have grasped the concept. I’ll write my understanding in hopes of receiving a confirmation or correction of my current beliefs.

1) The percentage of stiff Levain has a direct correlation to the strength of the dough. So using 2% Levain would have a negligible affect, where as 50% Levain would greatly affect the strength of the dough.

2) Wetter levains and doughs produce more enzymatic action. Activated by water, these enzymes work to breakdown and reduce the strength of a Levain or dough. A stiff Levain contains less water, therefore the action of the enzymes are reduced, resulting in a stronger Levain.

3) When a stiff Levain is incorporated into the dough it brings with it more strength because there was less damage to the Levain dough during the fermentation of the Levain build. The dough is stronger.

Dan

mwilson's picture
mwilson

Dan you've nailed it!. All your summations are accurate.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I am an inquisitive sort. Unfortunately, I don’t always catch on right away.

As always, I appreciate the help!

Could I venture to settle another mid-understanding of mine? During the process of understanding the above, another thought came to light. I consider dough strength in relationship to gluten strands. If the gluten is strong so is the dough. With that in mind it becomes easy to see how Leslie and myself are concerned about fully incorporating the stiff preferment into the dough water. It seems to me that when the stiff preferment is turned into a milky liquid that all gluten strands are destroyed. This thought was bewildering; how could the final dough be stronger when the gluten strands brought in from the preferment cease to exist?

I think and hope I now understand. It’s not the gluten strands that are brought into the final dough from the preferment that produces strength. It is the starches from the preferment that have not degraded near as much as a result of a drier preferment. So the more intact starches from the preferment are combined with the virgin flour in the final mix of the dough to produce a dough of stronger strength than a wetter preferment that had it’s starches degraded to a higher degree. <Sorry about the run on sentences. I’m trying to get this out of my head and into print :( >

Is this correct?

Dan

mwilson's picture
mwilson

Just when I thought you had it...

Why are you suddenly talking about starches? Starches don't possess strength!

Give me some time and I'll come back to you with a thorough reply.

All the best,
Michael

 

mwilson's picture
mwilson

Sourdough fermentation is intricately complex, the processes that apply for sourdough are not quite the same as a yeasted dough but broadly speaking it is still a case of the enzyme activity causing degradation vs the development of acidity which strengthens gluten.

Proteins are a source of nutrition for the microbes just as carbohydrates are.

While starches are relevant their effect is minimal / different. When starches are converted to sugar by amylase the dough becomes stickier and has more flow / extensibility but unless your dealing with very poor wheat quality this shouldn't be an issue / factor.

Gluten governs strength and extensibility and provides the observable viscoelastic properties.

Native grain and LAB enzymes work together to degrade and ultimately allow for the consumption of gluten. In doing so free amino acids are released which are the precursors to flavour compounds.

Gluten is insoluble in, and so isn't destroyed by water. Dispersed is perhaps more accurate. Gluten is reduced and destroyed by enzymes and this happens faster in wetter environments.

To summarise wetter starters contain more degraded and less viable gluten than a firm starter.

Hope this helps,
Michael

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

“Gluten is insoluble in, and so isn't destroyed by water. Dispersed is perhaps more accurate.” Great statement! So the gluten (protein) is dispersed in the water when mixed but still available to provide strength (gluten) to the final dough.

 

“Gluten is reduced and destroyed by enzymes and this happens faster in wetter environments.

To summarise wetter starters contain more degraded and less viable gluten than a firm starter.” 

I appreciate your patience. You have greatly helped me to understand something the I have wondered about for some time.

Dan

There is so much to discover, and... “inquiring minds yearn to learn” :-)