The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Gluten Destroying Starter

Palindrome's picture
Palindrome

Gluten Destroying Starter

I've been dabbling with sourdough since receiving the Tartine book as a gift. After getting started I failed...a lot. The dough was coming out shaggy, wet, and sticky. It never seemed to hold it' shape during the ferment and stuck to the brotform regardless of the amount of flour I dusted it with. Result: doorstops. My friend in Georgia who also follows the Tartine method could only shrug, it works for him. I was beginning to think the book was worthless (I'm still not really sold on it). I tried many things to fix the problem, using bottled water instead of tap, increasing the flour percentage, adding gluten, but still, my dough was reduced to a tacky dense gloop.

After weeks of frustration my bluetick coonhound, Huckleberry, one afternoon decided to go counter surfing while I was away and ate my damnable starter. Not willing to admit defeat to Huckleberry or Chad Robertson's precious process I began brewing a replacement starter. I acknowledge, doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result is indeed insanity, but in my case, I'd like to think it was anger-fueled righteous obstinance. And it paid off. 

My new golden boy starter was everything that was promised. I became thankful for my ill-mannered coon hound's unsanctioned hunting expedition (though counter surfing is still frowned upon) as now I was cranking out springy towering loaves. 

Until today...my starter has turned on me once again. I think it's the same thing that was wrong with my original starter, same symptoms. Some gluten destroying microbe is my best guess, and it works fast. Within an hour of mixing, my dough which starts out nice and smooth is reduced to some sticky mass somewhere between batter and dough that fails to hold shape. Has anyone else experienced this?

I only bake on the weekends and keep the starter in the fridge during the week before reviving it for the weekend. Could this be part of the issue? Any insight would be greatly appreciated. Thanks.

Edo Bread's picture
Edo Bread

I think you can rule out the refrigerator and timing as the problem. I know a lot of people that use just that schedule and don't have the type of problems you seem to be experiencing.

Joyofgluten's picture
Joyofgluten

It could be that you are  dealing with enzymatic degradation, are you always using the same flour brand and type or does this problem only happen with a specific flour. Too much amylase activity will ripen a dough up way to quickly to allow for the time required for Tartine or any wild yeast process. Did you feed your starter malted flour?

 You also haven't mentioned dough and starter maintenance  temperatures, are you consistent with that?

Are your salt levels in order, or did you forget the salt?

Palindrome's picture
Palindrome

I always use a 50/50 blend of King Arthur white bread flour and whole wheat for the starter and use the same white flour for my bread. I do not use malted or sprouted flour. I suspect protease rather than amylase would be responsible for the gluten destruction I'm seeing. If only to rule out enzymes, I might heat up some flour first to deactivate the enzymes, and then try making a loaf to see what happens.

I'm consistent with temps, 68-70 F ambient in the house while I'm keeping the starter active, and 40 F in the fridge while keeping it dormant.

I have not forgotten the salt. The Tartine method does have a 20 minute autolyse period before adding the salt with a bit more water, but I don't know if that would cause an issue.

hreik's picture
hreik

Bluetick Coonhounds are gorgeous.

Are you sure it's your starter/  Is the starter behaving normally as you feed it?  Or are you assuming this b/c of how the dough is behaving?

Palindrome's picture
Palindrome

Yeah, the starter behaves nicely. Bubbles up reliably and consistently, again I adhere to the basic process in Tartine. 

Before my dog ate the first starter, I was questioning everything but the starter. After following the process to a T for several tries I began testing every variable I could think of...I was checking the pH of my well water, using bottled water, trying machine kneading as opposed to the stretch and fold kneading described in the book, proofing it in a warm place to speed up the process and hopefully outpace whatever was destroying the structure of the dough. Nothing made a difference until I made a brand new starter, and then boom everything was fixed.

Since the new starter I've been consistent in ingredients and executing the process, the only thing that has changed is the performance of the starter. Which is why I'm thinking there might be some microbe floating around my place (or fridge) that loves to degrade gluten.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

those pesky thiol compounds!    Type in the site search box:  wink pesky thiol compounds

or just click here...

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/18144/sourdough-loosing-elasticity-please-help#comment-121566

Palindrome's picture
Palindrome

Thank you, yes this sounds like it is probably the problem. In fact, I might be the source of the problem. I'm a winemaker and am constantly working with and around different bacteria and yeast. I even like selecting yeast for their thiol extracting abilities because I like a lot of the thiol aromatics.

I'll have to give the suggested fix a try, but I'm not too optimistic as a lot of the commercial yeast are good at outcompeting native yeast. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The same thought crossed my mind while reading you're a talented wine maker.  The next thought is perhaps overfeeding the starter.  Overfeeding in combination with low temps may lead to opportunists taking advantage when the starter cultures cannot defend themselves fast enough.  Normally a starter is pretty hardy.  An occasional routine that involves letting the starter "peak out"  followed by a pause (second rise and peak) to raise the bacterial count before a feeding helps to keep the starter flora healthy, before fresh flour is reintroduced.

You may end up splitting the starter and trying different feeding amounts and approaches.  (I would also start a new starter.)  Getting the temp up a bit closer to 24°- 26°C while feeding and growing the cultures may help.  

Another thought popped into my head... what about using your dog's nose and taste desires to help you?  If he's also attracted to high thiol levels you may be able to discern less attraction to a normal acting sourdough starter and a preference to a culture that's heading toward higher thiol levels.  ???  

albacore's picture
albacore
  • What temperature do you refresh your starter at?
  • Are you using a young levain to make your dough?
  • Does your levain smell and taste acidic just prior to use?

Lance

Palindrome's picture
Palindrome

Hey Lance,

When refreshing the starter after a rest in the refrigerator, I do it right away, so probably 40 F.

I use the levain once it can float, so it's puffed up but not fallen

It does not smell or taste acidic.

Abe's picture
Abe

Your starter doesn't taste acidic? 

Palindrome's picture
Palindrome

I may have different standards for acidity. Let me see if I can get a pH reading off it.

Abe's picture
Abe

Well it's been a while since I've tasted mine but it tastes like really intense sour sticks. The acidity hits you and has kind of a fizz to it. Like a very sour tangy serbet. If the natural reflex to spit doesn't take over you can get a hint of fruitiness after taste when the initial tang fades. It's difficult to describe but you definitely know it was tangy.

Palindrome's picture
Palindrome

So I went back and tasted the starter again. Yes, it definitely does have a tang. On my first taste, I guess I didn't keep it in my mouth long enough. This time after the raw dough taste faded the sourness came through. I really doesn't smell sour though. Also, pH is somewhere around 3.

albacore's picture
albacore

Well, what I really meant was, when you've added the new flour and water to your starter once it's out of the fridge, what temperature do you ferment it at?

I think it's fine that your levain does not taste or smell overly acidic - mine doesn't, though I would expect some acidity in the taste of the starter when you take it out of the fridge.

Everyone has their own ideas of how to maintain starters and make levains, but, as an example which works for me, what I do is to store my stiff starter (56%) in the fridge and then make my levain in three builds, feeding 1:2:1.12 each time. About 5 hrs per build at 27C or overnight at 24C.

I use 30% wholegrain flour/70% BF, so your 50/50 should be fine. A liquid (100%) starter/levain should also work no problems.

Lance

Palindrome's picture
Palindrome

Okay, I ferment it a bit cooler, about 21C. I only refresh it once a day and do that twice before using it.

During my previous attempts to fix the problem, I had tried shortening the refresh window to a couple of times in a day like you but to no avail.

hreik's picture
hreik

Link.  Sounds just like she says.  Like Exactly.  And a fix is recommended ........ an altered feeding schedule. 
Mini Oven is a gem.

hester

hreik's picture
hreik

by Debra Wink, which I cut and pasted for you

reply

Debra Wink's pictureDebra WinkAug 31 2014 - 10:58am

the dough looks nice after kneading, it becomes extremely loose (sometimes even liquid) during the fermentation. And in times it is possible to handle and somewhat shape, it becomes completely flat during proofing... I did these same recipes with my first starter, following the same method. I used even 25% rye and I never had problem... I use store-bought flours, always the same producers. But with my second starter the problem happens with any flour.

Zdenka,

What you describe sounds very similar to an experience I had last year right after firming up my starter. I was making pain au levain, and my dough actually went flat in the mixing bowl right after adding the levain. So the connection to the levain was fairly clear. My starter had risen well and matured an hour and a half quicker than stated, so I took that as a good sign of vigor and proceeded to mix the flour and water for autolyse. It seemed overly stiff and dry, and so I added about 1/3 cup more water. It was looking just barely wet enough at that point. (side note: I was maintaining the starter at 60%, and barely could get all the flour to incorporate, so I anticipated having to add more water.)

After autolyse, I added the salt and the levain, and resumed mixing/kneading in the stand mixer. At first, it looked just like I expected---a shaggy dough that at least partly came away from the sides of the bowl. But as it smoothed out, instead of forming into more of a ball, it quickly became more fluid and sticky, settling into the bowl like a puddle of batter. I worried that I had added too much water, but I resisted adding any more flour in the mixer. Instead, I scraped the dough out onto a floured counter to see if I could bring it into a ball, I gave it a few kneads, and it was sticky and slack, but the hydration really seemed about right. It didn't take long for it to slump and flatten out in the bowl.

50 minutes later, I dumped it out for the first s&f. When I pulled the edge closest to me (what turned out to be dangerously close to the edge of the counter), it almost got away from me. Have you ever tried to pick up a slinky by grabbing just one part of it? That's what it was like. Fortunately, I caught it as it tried to sag to the floor. Except it was more like a dive to the floor, it happened so fast. Janij's description of taffy (here) is a good one. It seemed like it could stretch for miles. At the second s&f, it was only slightly better, so I decided it needed at least a third, and more fermentation time. The third time, there was some elasticity, and some puffiness, so after an extra 50 min of fermentation time, I proceeded to dividing and everthing else as given in the procedure.

When I turned the loaves out of their bannetons, they stayed inflated, but started to spread immediately. My shaping must have been okay, because they rose upward in the oven, rather than spreading even more, and they came out looking not great, but better than I expected.

At first, I too wondered if the problem was proteolysis, but it was so different from my previous experience with excessive proteolysis, which looked more like this: 

First rise 

Second rise

Final proof 

Also, because proteolysis is enzyme-driven, it takes time to see the effects, and only gets worse. This weird stretchiness developed immediately after incorporating the levain, and elasticity actually improved a little with extra fermentation.

Others were contacting me around that time with similar problems, and I ended up writing to Michael Gänzle at University of Alberta, to see if he could shed some light on what organism(s) might be doing this.

Based on past work, I have encountered very few sourdough starters that are proteolytic to a point that they would alter dough elasticity, however, most organisms produce thiol compounds which depolymerise gluten and thus alter the dough structure.

If you have read the milk powder thread, then you already know that thiol compounds interfere in the formation of the gluten network by blocking cross-linkage between gluten proteins. Cross-linking is what pulls the gluten together into a strong, elastic mesh. Some sourdough bacteria produce thiol compounds from peptides and amino acids containing sulfur such as glutathione, cystine or cysteine (and may throw off a cheesy or sulfury odor in the process). More people seem to be complaining of these problems lately, with starters in transition (or maybe I'm just more in tune to it now that I've experienced it first-hand). By transition I mean changing hydration, changing flour, etc., as well as new starters that haven't stabilized yet, or even established starters that have gone "off" because of underfeeding or neglect. 

Click here: Problems transitioning from rye/whole wheat to white flour 

Starting over doesn't necessarily help. What I recommend is stepping up your feeding to 3 times a day, if you can, or to a bigger feeding twice/day if you can't. Feed at peak, before it collapses. I did 5:3:5, three times a day, and when I couldn't manage at least two feedings, I parked it in the fridge to slow it down in between. It took 9 to 10 days to rid my starter of the offending organism, but the transformation was dramatic and overnight. It had been in sort of a holding pattern for 9 days, and then changed all at once, indicating to me that a new (more desirable) organism took over. It has behaved beautifully ever since, and my doughs have elasticity again. Give it a try.

-dw

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

.is all so worth reading.  I would also like to know the answers to Lance's questions.

hreik's picture
hreik

that whole thread is fascinating.  And yes, want answers to Lance's questions also.

Abe's picture
Abe

Is already being discussed and handled by the best! You're in good hands. 

As a side experiment...

Can you try this recipe again but turn it into a yeasted bread? 

Keep the total flour, water and salt. So take out the starter but put the flour and water from the starter back into the final dough. Use 2% of the total flour to calculate the dried yeast. And from here on in treat it like any other yeasted dough. Report back. 

P.s. same brand of flour too!

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

I thought of was Mini Oven and then 2nd 'rope'

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Because both rope and thiol problems attract me like a magnet to iron?  

Maybe my legacy.  

If I have the energy to become a super hero, call me "ropethiol lady."

:)

Abe's picture
Abe

keep rope at bay?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

tell when just handling starter and dough.  It usually rears its ugly head when the baked loaf or cake is 3 to 4 days old. 

Abe's picture
Abe

I was looking at photos of rope to entertain this idea and supporting what you have just said there were hardly, if any, anything at the dough stage. All photos and explanations about rope are of the baked bread stage. Since the problem here is most definitely at the dough stage can we assume it's not rope.