The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough beginner help

awesomealex9's picture
awesomealex9

Sourdough beginner help

Hey all! 

Brand new to this forum, sourdough making, and frankly baking as a whole. But I absolutely love sourdough and want to learn! 

It seems like all the different recipes have a million different steps, so I'll post the recipe I'm following.

I've tried this twice and each time I can't seem to get my dough to stand up straight in a nice ball, always oozes back down. On my second try, during step 7 I was sure to knead it for a solid twenty minutes, and I even added some extra flower. It seems like the extra kneading and flour did help some, but it's still not light and fluffly. It's dense. I'll post pictures.

What am I doing wrong? Thanks a lot for your help!

law_and_loaf's picture
law_and_loaf

So I am by no means a pro but in my experience two things immediately jump out at me about this recipe... I'm going to assume that your starter is awake and peaking ...

first, it seems like way too much kneading. to me sourdough is something you develop slowly over time and I tend to use the stretch and fold method which seems to work well with sourdough. you want the crumb to be light and airy and gently working the dough seems to be the way to develop that, and you don't need to do it very much at all (check out all the no knead varieties for pretty good proof of this).  after the  dough is fully mixed I do one stretch/fold every half hour for two hours, and then one more an hour later, then let it sit and ferment as long as it needs to (I have a fairly cool house so 'room temp' might be 60, so it takes longer for my bread to ferment, which is fine with me).  check out Trevor's videos over at breadwerx.com. totally mesmerizing (and maybe a little intimidating at first because he's so effortless) and a very good way to learn how to handle sourdough.

second, i suspect that you are not getting the oven spring you need, which could be a combination of overproofed, and not enough steam. I recommend using a cast iron dutch oven or combo cooker, or something equivalent, which will help with oven spring immensely. there isn't anything in that recipe about preparing your oven to try and simulate steam, which is what a dutch oven will do for you, though if you don't have one you can look up other methods of generating steam in your oven (some water in a pan under the bread works pretty well, as an example). as for the proofing part? that's more trial and error than anything else. the poke test helps but isn't perfect. you want about a 20-30% rise in the proof stage.  if you're dough is overproofed then it won't spring like you want it, and might even collapse.

one other thing, I would stay away from adding flour, it's the water (that turns into steam) that gives sourdough the airy feel, what you want to do is keep the hydration pretty high (this recipe is pretty high), which has a bit of a learning curve all by itself. wetting your hands will help with dough handling, as will good dough scrapers.  and practice.  

remember, bread baking mistakes are still delicious, at least most of the time :D

Abe's picture
Abe

This looks like to me an issue with the ferment. Either the starter isn't firing on all cylinders or the bulk ferment was under done or a combo. So back to the start(er). 

suave's picture
suave

This is a typical look of weak starter and/or insufficient fermentation.

awesomealex9's picture
awesomealex9

thanks so much for the responses! Just to make sure I understand the terminology correctly, the fermentation stage is the 8-12 hours listed in my recipe right?

I made my starter from white and rye flour. I keep it in the fridge and feed it once a week. And before I make bread I feed about 12 hours ahead of time and put it back in the fridge. 

Maybe I should leave it out to grow more? Or leave it out to warm up during that 12 hour period before bread making?

Ireally love the Dutch oven suggestions! Going to look into that. 

Abe's picture
Abe

You feed it and place it back in the fridge? 

There's your answer I think. 

Rule of thumb is to feed your starter and leave it out at room temperature to bubble up and when it has peaked it's time to use.  

Or you can take off a little starter and create an off-shoot starter, aka levain, and use. 

Here is a nice recipe. The poolish is a misnomer. This is a levain. Follow the recipe step by step and see how you go. 

awesomealex9's picture
awesomealex9

Ahhhh. Well that’s super helpful to know! The recipe I was following left a little too much ambiguity. I’ll give your recipe a try. Thank you very much!

Would it also make a difference to keep my starter out of the fridge for a month or so and feed it daily so it’s not as “young? 

Abe's picture
Abe

If your maintenance has been as described then your starter will certainly benefit from some tlc.

Perhaps for a few days keep it at room temperature, give it some healthy feeds allowing it to bubble up and peak each time and when it's strong give it a final feed, allow it to activate and bubble up till doubled then refrigerate. 

Don't build too much. You only need to keep 80-100g at any one time. Once your starter is good and healthy then use it as a seed. So when it comes to baking take a little starter off, build the preferment, allow it to bubble up and peak then use. 

When your starter runs low then take it out of the fridge and give it a feed or two, building it's strength back up and return it to the fridge.  

This way you always have a strong levain going into the dough. 

awesomealex9's picture
awesomealex9

Ohhhh. Building a preferment makes way more sense. Keeping a giant jar of starter in my fridge just didn’t seem optimal.

Since I don’t need that much to keep in the fridge, do I just throw out some of the starter right before the daily feeding, assuming it’s room temperature? 

I really appreciate the great advice!

Abe's picture
Abe

and passed the bad bacteria stage then you can save up the discard to use in other recipes (look up recipes for starter discard) or it can be added to yeasted breads for flavour. Once you've nursed your starter back to health and decided on a good amount to keep in the fridge then with careful maintenance you should have little or no discard. If you're keeping it at room temperature for the next few days then it really should be fed twice a day. What you can do to minimise discard is to feed it, allow it to bubble up overnight and then refrigerate. Come the next evening repeat. You're looking to increase the yeast population by allowing it time to feed at room temperature otherwise keep in the fridge. Doing this over the next few days should make it strong again. Of course if you don't mind feeding it twice a day then fine. How about...

  • 10g starter
  • 50g water
  • 50g flour 

Doing this over the next 3 feeds, allowing each one to peak, should give you 300g starter discard. With this 300g you can use it in pancakes, waffles or even try a bread with it but with a pinch of yeast. Then prep your starter for the fridge by giving it a fourth feed, allowing it to activate and double but catch it before it peaks and begins to fall and refrigerate. This will be your starter with which you build preferments with and it lives in the fridge for a week or two (either it needs topping up or it's producing hooch). When it needs refeeding then take it out, give it some TLC and then return it to the fridge. 

awesomealex9's picture
awesomealex9

Okay!

ill give the starter some TLC following your suggestions for night time room temperature feeding followed by daytime refrigeration. That seems doable. 

I also had no idea you could do other things with starter! So I’ll have to look into that. 

Does it matter what type of flour I feed it? From that same recipe, I’ve been feeding it a mixture of all purpose unbleached bread flour and organic rye. 

Again, I really appreciate the advice. 

Abe's picture
Abe

Here is a nice recipe for sourdough banana bread. The discard will be fine to use. It's adding flavour and used as the catalyst for soda (being acidic) instead of buttermilk.

My pleasure. Just remember that using starter straight in a dough or building a levain then you need to use when active and bubbly. Or at least after having been active a bubbly but refrigerated and used within a few days. But for now the rule is feed and use when peaked.