The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Using starter/preferment - too soon or too late. Does it matter?

Bahram's picture
Bahram

Using starter/preferment - too soon or too late. Does it matter?

 

Hi all

 

I have been baking for over a year, with a fair amount of success – by and large my loaves meet with approval.  But People do remark and I have noticed that they appear more dense and chewy than other sourdough loaves.  That is not seen as a negative , but an observation .  Though they do rise reasonably they are not the sort of large light loaves that you sometimes get.  But they are flavorful and delicious.

 

 The other thing is that sometimes there are darker areas that obviously haven't cooked as much or perhaps they haven't risen as much.  I suspect that perhaps I am using the starter and pre-ferment either sooner or later than the optimal .  So here is a question, if a starter rises and then sinks, has it gone too far?  Is the important thing that it is used at exactly the right moment and that if it rises and then sinks that is not ideal?  I have never managed to pass the float test, but that has not prevented delicious loaves, but perhaps I use the starter/pre-ferment too late?  I have been puzzling over this for a long time .

 

 I’d be very grateful if anyone has any insights.

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

can mean the yeast pop. in the culture needs some help or maybe a simple change in method, longer proofing for example or less water to flour in the recipe.  Most the time the starter needs a little TLC and a few rounds of feeding  at peak just as it starts a first fall when the bacteria levels seem too high.  

More info about the starter is needed to advise about when to use it.  Feeding amounts, temp, storage and how it is used play a big role.  Also if it is more than doubling.  How does it taste when fed and also at peak?  

Bahram's picture
Bahram

Hi mini oven

Thanks so much for your reply.

I do actually give my starter a fair bit of TLC – I do talk to it, for example, and stroke it from time to time. But I have to be careful in case other people are watching and think I’ve lost it. And I always feed it each day for the two days before baking. I feed it half wholemeal and half strong white flour.

As far as amounts are concerned, each time I remove 100 g and add 25 g of white and 25 of wholemeal +50 g of water. And then for the pre-ferment I use 250 g of starter adding that to 70 g of white, 70 g of wholemeal and 110 g of water. I leave that overnight and then the next morning I take 250 g of that (the other 250 g becomes my starter for the next time) and add it to a mix of 400 g of white, 100 g of spelt and 275 g of water. So that seems to be no more than about 60% hydration. Is that right? I leave that to bulk ferment and after about five or six hours I fold and shape it, leave it for a further hour in a banetton (I use the press test but am never quite sure if I am interpreting the results correctly) and then bake it. The loaves do rise and are normally delicious. But I don’t get the light and airy loaves that most people seem to get.

My main concern though is about whether I am using the starter and pre-ferment either too soon or too late. Do you need to watch them very closely all the time? Is it critical?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

room and starter temps?

Bahram's picture
Bahram

Normally about 72-74.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and steadily declining.  The reason?  Not enough flour food when feeding.  

Try recalculating, first starting off gently and then increasing the flour amount with consecutive feeds.  Basically feed the starter at least equal amounts of flour.  So for 100g starter, feed 100g flour and then water for your preferred texture.   Better yet, in this weak condition, start with 20g starter culture and feed 20 g flour and 20g water.  Watch it in a skinny narrow glass with a cover to keep out bugs and dirt and keep in moisture. Mark it.  When it peaks add ...interruption be right back 

...when it peaks, taste it.  Note taste and volume.  (If not risen more than double repeat adding 20g more flour and a tiny bit of water and wait, let it rise more preferably in a warmer spot closer to 25°C then reduce and)

...move to a larger jar.  Add to the active 60g of starter 110g water and 120g total flour to make 290g sourdough culture. Watch the rise and take notes.  Be sure to leave about 4-5 times the starter volume for head space in the jar and/or put a bowl under the starter to catch and save overflow.

When that 290g peaks or levels out before falling, take out 250g and plug into the recipe.  Keep an eye on it for it should bulk faster than previously. Take notes.  The rest can go straight into the refrigerator in a smaller jar and can be used within a week if the fridge is cold enough.  Just build starting with 20g.  20, 20, 20 each s,w,f. About 4-6 hours before a larger feeding.  If the starter responds well to feeding, you can skip the smaller builds and jump to larger ones.  30g starter to 140g water and 150g  flour to rise overnight and ready to use when peaked.

I can't tell you how long the starter takes to ferment and get more active, It sounds like the current yeast levels are very low so play some good dancing music.  With subsequent feeds and larger feeds the fermenting time will shorten and the yeast population will improve.  :)

Bahram's picture
Bahram

OK, Mini Oven thanks.  I await part 2.  But I gather from the last phrase that it is indeed important to catch the starter and preferment before the begin to subside?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

But I might guess that with your starter right now, the peak might be low (not much rise) and dough rise may be due more to bacteria giving off gasses with a slow small population of yeast.    This usually makes a rather strong tasting loaf with little rise and a chewy crumb.

Yeast numbers roughly double in 1.5 hours, then that group doubles, and so on.  If there isn't enough food the population halts and with further low feeds, dwindles.  Bacteria seem to do pretty good on their own as they normally far outnumber the yeast. Basically Flour is food, water provides mobility and some stirring helps.  A strong yeast culture fed one to one (100g starter to 100g flour) should pick up pace rather quickly in an hour or two showing signs of life.  With more water, it can ferment faster and with a little warmth, even more. Trick with sourdoughs is that warmth is two sided... esp. above 27°C warmth favors bacterial growth so it is important not to go too warm when trying to build up the yeast population.  One can play with temperature and flour amounts to speed up the effects of one over the other.  

Bahram's picture
Bahram

That's really informative, Mini Oven, thanks so much.  I will take more notice and care of my starter from now on.

Bahram's picture
Bahram

PS  Your comment about the relatively small rise and strong tasting loaf is spot on.