The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dough hydration

Sid's picture
Sid

Dough hydration

Hi everyone,

I have a question about dough hydration. Or rather an observation, which I'm hoping others have experienced as well, and can shed some light on.

When I make dough using just regular dry yeast and keep the hydration to say 65% with the flour that I'm using, I have a dough consistency that I can knead. It starts out a bit wet and sticky, but then the gluten starts to kick in and I can work the dough on my countertop. However, if I use my sourdough levain (50% whole wheat, 50% water), and adjust everything to the SAME hydration level of 65% (compensating for the flour and water in my levain), my dough becomes too wet to knead (feels like about 75% hydration). Yes, I know it's sourdough, so I then resort to the stretch and fold method to work the dough and get it ready for pre-shaping and shaping, but I was curious as to why this is happening.

A couple of points here. With dry yeast I just use bread flour, which has about 12-13% protein. For sourdough, I end up with about 1/6 whole wheat from the levain (120 g levain added to 300 g flour and 174 g water), so there is a bit of an overall drop in gluten content. There should still be plenty of gluten to hold the dough together, which it does (during the stretch and fold, I can pull the whole of the dough off the bowl and it will hold together). I usually do about 5-6 stretches and folds about 30 minutes apart, then let the dough rise in the bowl until doubled (about 3-5 hours). Then I turn it out onto my countertop for pre-shaping (after which I let it rest for 10-15 minutes) before final shaping and putting it in a proving bowl. This pre-shaping and shaping gets very difficult with the wetness and stickiness of the dough. This does not happen when I use dry yeast. I then let it prove for another 3 hours or so at room temperature before retarding it in the fridge overnight.

Could someone tell me why this apparent increase in hydration is happening? Why is my sourdough starter making the dough wetter and runnier? Is there any way to control for this? I autolyse my dough for at least an hour, often longer, before I add the levain and salt. My levain is on the rise when I add it and is at least doubled from when I inoculated it from my starter.

Thanks in advance for your help and suggestions.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Sid, could it be a result of a highly acidic starter? introducing a starter that is too acidic can have an adverse affect on the gluten of the dough.

What do you think?

Dan

Sid's picture
Sid

Thanks, Dan. I don't know if my starter is too acidic. It smells faintly of apples and a bit yeasty. It raises dough just fine, and the bread has a great crust and chewy crumb with large holes. The flavour is mildly sour, but I let it prove for a really long time to develop the flavour (about 6 hours at room temperature and an overnight retard). So the starter seems to be working as it should. I just don't understand why it's making the dough harder to work with.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Sid,you wrote, “my sourdough levain (50% whole wheat, 50% water), and adjust everything to the SAME hydration level of 65% (compensating for the flour and water in my levain)”. I don’t understand the makeup of your levain. Please explain more. 

Can you provide a link for your formula?

At this time I don’t know what to think. 

Sid's picture
Sid

Hi Dan, the dough was made with 300 g flour, 174 g water, 120 g levain and 7 g salt. The levain was made by adding 70 g water and 70 g whole wheat flour to 30 g starter (which was again made with equal parts water and whole wheat flour). It's possible that my levain might be digesting the gluten in the dough. I'm going to try reducing the total amount of levain to 25-30% of flour. What do you think?

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

A levain, when mature, is going to be well fermented. As it ferments the more hydrated it will feel. So too with the final dough. You also have a high percentage of levain. So it isn't going to feel the same as a straight dough with yeast. If you can handle the dough and the dough can handle the hydration then fine. If not, then lower the hydration. 

Sid's picture
Sid

Thank you, Abe. I was thinking of reducing the amount of levain to about 25-30% of the flour and trying again. If I encounter the same problem, I might have to lower the hydration.

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Hi Sid,  How long did you ferment the starter?  Was it runny when you added it?  If it's fermented too long, all the gluten in the starter will be broken down and will be very loose.  I mostly use a rye starter with 1:1:1 feedings. It's ready for use after 4 hours at about 72 °F. (Domed on the top)

Sid's picture
Sid

Hi Steve, my levain wasn't runny when I added it. It was airy and thick, and wouldn't come off the spoon on it's own. I had to use a finger to get it into the dough. It was still on the rise, and approximately doubled in volume from when I fed it. It was about 8 hours. The dough rose well. It's going through an overnight retard right now. I'll bake it in the morning.

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

The only other things I can think of would be the dry yeast or the flour.  For the yeasted bread, where you using active yeast (which you hydrate) or instant yeast.  If it was instant yeast that you just mixed with the flour, then it will absorb some of the hydration itself. How much would depend on how much you used.  Whatever water it absorbed would take some away from the flour and make the dough stiffer.  It doesn't seem like that would be enough to make a big difference. Another possibility could be if you were using a different flour for the sourdough bread.  When I've used various flours, the apparent hydration can seem noticeably different.

Sid's picture
Sid

Thanks, Steve. When I use the dry yeast, I activate it first in about 25 ml warm water plus 1/4 tsp flour. After it's frothy and bubbly, I add it to my dough. The water used for this is taken into account for the final dough hydration. I'm talking about the same flour for both sourdough as well as regular yeast-risen dough (a mix of T55 and T65 bread flour). The only difference is the raising agent and the small amount of fermented whole wheat that goes into the sourdough from the levain. From what everyone is saying and from what I've read, it seems that the sourdough levain (or some acidity it may have) is breaking down some of the gluten and making my dough harder to work with. I'll reduce the levain content in my dough and play around with the overall water content to arrive at a hydration level I'm comfortable with. Thanks for your help.

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)
  • 1 part starter (or levain)
  • 2 parts water
  • 3 parts flour
  • + 2% (of the flour) salt

All by weight! 

A lovely recipe which comes out at 71% hydration if the starter/levain is 100% hydration and 33% starter/levain.

Don't go for anything special like an autolyse for now and don't over ripe the levain. A nice build would be overnight at...

  • 20% starter
  • 100% water
  • 100% flour
Sid's picture
Sid

Thanks, Abe. That's what I'm thinking of doing. Probably even less of the levain (I'm thinking of 25% instead of 33%). I'm a little concerned by the rapid breakdown of the gluten with my levain, so I'd rather start with a lower amount and let it prove a little longer. I was having trouble with the shaping because I was using 40% levain. I don't use anything automated. Everything is done by hand.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Sid, we have a simplified and very basic version of the 123 SD. If this interest you take a look.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/56678/123-sourdough-no-knead-do-nothing-bread

Sid's picture
Sid

Great! Thanks, Dan. I see you didn't even do any stretch and folds. Did you not have any trouble during the shaping? For me the dough started sticking to the countertop (actually a silicone sheet on the countertop). Your bread looks fantastic.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Sid, if you choose the rudimentary 123 SD, S&F are fine. But the bread will bake up excellent as written. The process was written for bakers that are new to SD. Any normal additions will only serve to better the bread. An example would be retardation. 

pmccool's picture
pmccool

Your description is textbook for sourdough fermentation.  One, proteolytic enzymes start to break down a small percentage of the gluten.  Two, acids, which initially help to strengthen gluten bonds, eventually accumulate enough to start damaging the gluten.  

As the dough loosens, which we interpret as wetter, it becomes less elastic and more extensible.  That isn’t necessarily a bad thing unless it goes further than we wish.  

Paul

Sid's picture
Sid

Thank you, Paul. As I mentioned in response to another post here, I was using 40% by weight of levain, which I will drop down to about 25% and try again. I usually do a fairly long first prove (3-5 hours at room temp after the stretch and folds, until doubled), then shape, then another prove for 1-2 hours at room temp followed by an overnight retard. My dough is nice, taut and domed, so I know there's been no over-proofing. I go long to develop as much flavour as possible.

That said, do you think it would help to reduce the first proving? Would that make it any easier to shape?

pmccool's picture
pmccool

If the dough at the end of fermentation is too "wet" to handle for shaping, try backing off the original hydration.  In other words, aim for 60% hydration instead of 65% hydration initially.  See how that responds.  Adjust as necessary in subsequent bakes.

If the dough is tractable at a particular hydration, then start adjusting fermentation times and temperatures to achieve the degree of expansion and the types of flavor you want.  Those parameters are a lot easier to hit by adjusting fermentation whereas the hydration level is much easier to manipulate for a desired dough texture.

All are interrelated, of course.  

Paul

Sid's picture
Sid

That makes good sense, Paul. Thanks. I'll try what you suggest. I'll reduce water to 60% while keeping my levain to about 25% of the weight of flour I add.

Sid's picture
Sid

Hi Paul, so I started on another loaf. I reduced the hydration to 60%, and the flour was autolysed for over 2 hours before addition of levain and salt. The levain was 25% by weight of the amount of flour. I'm still facing the stickiness that was plaguing me earlier. I have reasonably good gluten formation, the dough is stretchy and holds together if I lift it out of the bowl. But it's wet. It doesn't seem to come away from the sides of the bowl during the stretch and folds and leaves wet residue behind. It looks like it's going to be impossible to shape. I'm not sure what to do. Any suggestions?

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

What flour are you using?

Sid's picture
Sid

Hi Abe, I live in India and I use a flour brand you may be unfamiliar with. I have T55 and T65 flour and use a 1:1 mix of both. There's a good explanation of the different flour types here.

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

The way how flour is prepared in India. I'm no mavin on the subject however I did read somewhere that Indian flour is best for traditional flatbreads as the way how flour is ground in India destroys the gluten. It would be the only thing that fits into everything you are experiencing. Have you tried changing the flour?

Sid's picture
Sid

I have used other flours but not for my sourdough starter. I need to point out that I use this flour for all other breads and it works great. It's formulated for rising breads, not flatbreads. The gluten formation is quick and robust. It's just that it behaves differently with my sourdough levain. It's stays wet even though I can see gluten formation. The dough holds together, but because it's wet I have difficulty shaping it into a ball. I'm going to see if a series of stretch and folds over a longer period of time and a longer first prove helps. I might have to reduce the second prove to prevent overproving.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Pictures could be a great help. A video, even better.

I’m sure many of us are curious to know what is causing your problem.

Danny

Sid's picture
Sid

Danny, when you sent your message I had already set it down for a really long first prove. It looks like that is working, so I don't think I can take pictures of it that would explain what I was experiencing. I'll see if this works and post an update.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Paul your explanation was enlightening. I never considered your 2 points, but it is interesting to learn. It makes complete sense. 

One thing that I never have understood is how the SD acids help the gluten by strengthening it but then harms it after time has elapsed. Can you help me with this?

Danny

pmccool's picture
pmccool

to be able to offer an intelligible explanation.  Chemistry was never my strongest subject in high school or college.

 

If you'd like to be baffled, then I'm your man.  If you'd rather be dazzled, well, let's just say you'd do much better with a different teacher.

Paul

David R's picture
David R

I can't tell from what I've read whether it's [the length of time the acid is present] or [the amount of acid used], but in any case, adding acid improves gluten performance up to a point, but makes it perform worse if you overdo it.

Is there perhaps an ideal pH that's more acidic than most untreated dough, but if you go more acidic than the ideal it's detrimental? Or an ideal length of acid-treatment time, but breakdown occurs if you extend it?

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

Have you made a yeasted bread with that batch of flour? Just to make sure it's the starter/levain and not just that batch of flour would be to mix up some of that flour without using a starter/levain, hydrate it, autolyse, etc. and see if it behaves differently than with the starter/levain. 

Sid's picture
Sid

Steve, absolutely. Several times. Works like a dream. I'm convinced it's the levain.

I was looking up some videos of Chad Robertson, and he uses young levain (just a couple of hours after feeding) that he adds directly to the flour. He autolyses with the levain. The idea is that young levain hasn't had time to build up acidity (which breaks down gluten and makes the dough messy), and while it ferments the dough it continues to build up acidity, but at the same time the dough itself is getting stronger so it all works out quite well. I'll give this method a shot next time.

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

1: "120g levain added to 300g" - 40% levain

2: "I usually do about 5-6 stretches and folds about 30 minutes apart" - i'll assume you mean from when the levain goes in you do the first stretch and fold. If not, and you wait 30 minutes first, then it'll be an even longer ferment. So we are talking about 3 - 3.5 hours. Or longer!

3: "There should still be plenty of gluten to hold the dough together, which it does (during the stretch and fold, I can pull the whole of the dough off the bowl and it will hold together)".

4: "then let the dough rise in the bowl until doubled (about 3-5 hours)" - 3 to 5 MORE! hours.

5: "Then I turn it out onto my countertop for pre-shaping (after which I let it rest for 10-15 minutes) before final shaping and putting it in a proving bowl. This pre-shaping and shaping gets very difficult with the wetness and stickiness of the dough. This does not happen when I use dry yeast. I then let it prove for another 3 hours or so at room temperature before retarding it in the fridge overnight".

...and how hot is it in India at the moment?

Sid's picture
Sid

Abe, yeah, you've summed it up correctly. I'm having to go that long to get the dough to where I can control it. Temperatures in my kitchen are generally in the low 20s C (70s F). I'm thinking of trying a combination of what Trevor Wilson and Chad Robertson do, which is to use less levain (about 12% by weight of flour), young levain (about 2 hours since last feed) and let the first prove go long. It seems to be the acidity in my levain that's causing all the problems. I read that young levain is far less acidic, and as it begins to ferment the dough, it starts to increase the acidity, but at the same time the dough also keeps getting stronger. So I'm hoping that will work.

My bread tastes great. Brilliant sourdough flavour and great crust. It's just that the dough is very difficult to work with and shape, and perhaps that's why the crumb isn't as light and airy as I would like.

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

40% Levain and fermenting for 6 - 8.5 hours is a long time. I'm in the UK and 20% levain at room temperature will be 4-6 hours (estimated time).

I don't think there is anything wrong with your starter. It's all about timing. Why don't you try the 40% levain, do the stretch and folds till the gluten formation is done, and after 3 - 3.5 hours stick the dough in the fridge for 8- 12 hours. So you can prep your starter the night before and build the levain in the morning and use when ready - when peaked. By evening you can have the dough in the fridge to be shaped, final proofed and baked the next day.

Sid's picture
Sid

Ok. Have you found cold dough to be easier to shape than dough at room temperature?

The thing is, Abe, I see this problem from beginning to end. The dough is always too sticky to shape. I mean even early on during and after I'm done with the stretch and folds. I let it go longer simply because I'm unable to work with it. I don't know if I'll be able to shape it the following day after an overnight retard, as you suggest.

I've spent the better part of the last two days reading about this, and the more I read, the more I'm convinced that it's my levain that's affecting the gluten in my dough. The same flour works like a dream when I use regular dry yeast. I'm going to have to test multiple conditions to find that sweet spot - proving times and temperatures, amount and maturity of levain, etc. My starter doesn't smell vinegary or acidic or anything though. I can't measure its pH, but it doesn't smell sour. It smells like apples and yeast, it's nice and active, and doubles in about 8 hours. It does impart a nice chewy sour crumb and a thick singing crust, and it tastes pretty good. If only I could shape it into a nice ball with a taut skin!

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

...one of the benefits of refrigeration. Another would be not to over ferment the dough. Doubling is not always the best way to judge when a dough is ready. You are looking for a dough where the gluten is fully formed and has a good matrix of bubbles. It should feel billowy. I'm convinced you are over fermenting the dough.

"The thing is, Abe, I see this problem from beginning to end. The dough is always too sticky to shape. I mean even early on during and after I'm done with the stretch and folds".

However...

"There should still be plenty of gluten to hold the dough together, which it does (during the stretch and fold, I can pull the whole of the dough off the bowl and it will hold together)".

This sounds like a dough that is very shape-able. Nor does it sound like the levain is affecting the gluten. I think it's more about judging the ferment time and practice when it comes to handling the dough.  Trust me... if your levain is affecting the gluten within the dough it'd feel more like soup rather then a dough that, from the sound of things, holds itself together very well.

Cold hands works well too.

Sid's picture
Sid

Abe, Steve, Paul, David and Danny,

Thanks for your patience with my questions and for helping me out here. What a great forum this is. I baked a loaf following your suggestions and using some tips I found on the internet, primarily from the methods of Trevor Wilson and Chad Robertson. As it turns out, the problem indeed seemed to be with both the amount as well as the maturity of the levain I was using. So the key differences from my earlier method are:

  1. Using a younger starter/levain: I replenished my starter more frequently, and fed it before it peaked. Using that (what Chad Robertson calls a young starter), I prepared my levain, that also went into my dough just before it peaked.
  2. Using less levain: Rather than following an approximation of the 1:2:3 formula, I used 10% of levain by weight relative to flour.
  3. Refrigerating my dough after bulk fermentation: Thanks, Abe. I followed your advice here and cooled my dough for a few hours to ease shaping.

The rest of the process is pretty standard. I started with a modified autolyse (I add salt to the flour right at the beginning) for an hour, and then folded and gently kneaded the levain in. I did 6 stretch and folds 30 minutes apart, followed by undisturbed bulk fermentation for another couple of hours until the dough was almost doubled in size. This was required because I started with a small amount of levain. Then, following Abe's advice and that of a few more folks on the web, I refrigerated my dough for 3-4 hours to cool it down. I preshaped the dough on an unfloured surface, allowed it to rest for about 20 minutes, then lightly floured the top and shaped it with a few folds and tucks, followed by some tension pulls to tighten the surface. (This part was impossible before. While I could tell there was good gluten formation and the dough held together in a clump, there was always wetness and shagginess on the surface that stuck to everything. The only way I could bake it was unshaped, in a parchment paper-lined Pyrex dish. Tasted fine but looked horribly amateur). Then, seam up in a floured banneton, where I let it prove on the countertop for a little over an hour before moving it back into the fridge for an overnight retard. I scored the dough and baked it straight out of the fridge the following morning. The first part of the bake, lid on, was at 250 C (480 F) for 25 minutes, followed by about 20 minutes at 230 C (450 F). The result was a singing crust and a moist, chewy, airy crumb.

Throughout the process, my dough felt noticeably different from my earlier attempts (felt more like I was using regular yeast). After the first couple of stretch and folds, the dough tightened up to the point where it stopped sticking to my fingers and the bowl, and was far easier to work with. Using less and younger levain slows down fermentation, but the increased fermentation time enhances flavour.

I have two starters, Sour Joe (whole wheat) and Sour Jane (whole wheat and barley). I read somewhere that starters have a mind of their own and are far happier if you name them. I decided not to challenge that theory. The loaf here was made with Sour Jane. Thanks again for all your help and patience. Photos attached. I wish I could have shared it with you!

Abe's picture
Abe (not verified)

Glad it all worked out in the end. That is a fine looking loaf and looks delicious. When it comes to making bread recipes are guidelines and at the end of the day you do what must be done to get good results. You have found a way which works very well.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

What a great looking bread.

Your loaf confirms our recommendations. (I Think)

You have been feeding your starter way too late. If a starter is allowed to reach maximum rise (height) and then recede for too long, the starter will quite producing CO2 and start producing excess acids. The starter will get very sour and produce less CO2. The excess amounts of acid will make the dough too extensible and lacking elasticity. The dough will turn to slop.

IF this is correct your solution is simple. If you think this is the case, let us know and we can walk you through starter management. You should be able to mix your dough with various amounts of levain. The need to keep the levain percentage small is not normal.

By the way. When you wrote, “10% of levain relative to the flour”, needs some clarification. Let’s say you use 1000 grams of flour. Does that mean your levain is 100g?

There are different ways to calculate levain, but the most common way is as follows. We use “Percentage of Prefermented Flour” or PPF. This way the hydration of the levain makes no difference in the calculation. For example - 150g of starter @ 100% hydration is 75g water and 75g flour. Whereas 150g starter @ 50% hydration is 50g water and 100g flour. With Baker’s Percentages everything is calculated as a percentage of total flour. 

If you use 10% PPF for a kilo of flour, your starter would contain 100g flour regardless of the water in the levain. Since 100g flour was used in the levain the final dough would require 900g flour.

I hope this doesn’t over complicate things, but I thought you might be interested to know.

Danny

Sid's picture
Sid

Thanks, Abe and Danny.

Abe, I agree.

Danny, yes, if I use 1000 g flour, I use 100 g of 100% hydrated levain. That would be 5% PPF. I know this is lower than what most people would use. I'll try increasing the amount of levain slowly, keeping the acidity low. What PPF do you typically use? Do you generally use the 1:2:3 ratio?

One of the starters I use (the one I baked the loaf above with) is a mixture of whole wheat and barley. It ferments more slowly than whole wheat alone. I've had a bit of a harder time working out the optimal feeding schedule.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Sid, my PPF range from 2% up to 33%. Most often I use very small amounts because I like to BF for very long times.

Any whole grains will noticeably speed up fermentation. A healthy starter has no problems what so ever with 33% PPF. Although the fermentation time will be greatly reduced. Your starter should do the same.

If you are interested in refining your starter let us know as much as you can about them. How much feed and water, what is the fermentation temp, how long does it take to reach it’s tallest height, which flours are used, etc..

Sid's picture
Sid

Danny, I have 2 starters. One is whole wheat flour at 100% hydration and other is whole wheat + barley flour, also at 100% hydration. The whole wheat starter takes about 10-12 hours to peak where I keep it (on top of my fridge). The barley starter takes longer. It also absorbs a lot more water, so I'm actually thinking of making it more hydrated, maybe 120%. I would say the temperature in my kitchen is in the low to mid 20s C.

I keep them going at 50 g flour + 50 g water. When I feed them, I take out about 50-70% (it's arbitrary; I just eyeball it without weighing it or anything) of the starter and add 50 g water, mix the old starter in well, then add 50 g of wheat flour to one starter or 25 g of wheat and 25 g barley to the other.

If I don't plan to bake for a few days, I move the starters into the fridge when they're near peaking. When I need to use them again, I bring them to room temperature on the countertop, then feed them. I will feed them at least twice before using them for levain.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Sid, I am not familiar with fermenting starters @ 22C (70F). I like 76-78F. How much does it increase in height when it is maxed out?

Although I have no experience ferment @ 22C, 10-12 hours using whole grains sounds like a long time unless you are using a small amount of starter compared to flour. Hopefully others with a cool ferment like yours will reply with help. Are you sure it is ~22C on top your frig? Check it if you can.

When you refresh your starter with 50 water + 50 flour, how much do you estimate the starter seed weighs? I need to determine the ratio of starter to flour to better understand your situation.

Sid's picture
Sid

Danny, in answer to your questions:

Sid, I am not familiar with fermenting starters @ 22C (70F). I like 76-78F. How much does it increase in height when it is maxed out? The temperature on top of my fridge might well be that much (76-78F). I don't really know. I'll have to keep a bowl of water on top and measure with a thermometer (which I don't have) once the temperature holds steady. The whole wheat starter increases 2.5-3x at peak. The barley starter less so, but as I mentioned before it absorbs more water so it seems drier.

When you refresh your starter with 50 water + 50 flour, how much do you estimate the starter seed weighs? I need to determine the ratio of starter to flour to better understand your situation. I would estimate I'm feeding 30-40 g of seed with 50 g flour and 50 g water.

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

I think it's a shame that the terminology in bread baking is so ambiguous.  It can lead to a lot of confusion.  With the Bread Baker's Guild of America formulation (BBGA) what is often called the starter, they call the seed or Hamelman calls a mature culture.  In BBGA formulation the makeup of the seed is irrelevant for the flour and water calculations and the baker's percents in the final dough.  It's just a bulk weight percentage of the added flour of the pre-ferment. So if the added flour in the pre-ferment is 100 grams, a 10% seed/starter percentage would be 10 grams irregardless of its makeup and the total weight of the pre-ferment would be 110 grams. So the hydration of the seed is irrelevant for calculations.  In many cases, this omission is not significant, but with some formulas where the seed is a significant part of the pre-ferment, its flour and water can be a factor in the final dough. In Daniel Leader's book "Local Breads" I've seen seed percentages as high a 67% for the pre-ferment with the pre-ferment being 40% of the final dough flour.  

Sid's picture
Sid

Steve, is that what's sometimes referred to as a sponge? Some people make a preferment that's almost like the actual dough in the bake. Then they take that preferment and add more dough to it.

Steve Petermann's picture
Steve Petermann

There are all sorts of terms used for pre-ferments:

  • Sourdough
  • Poolish
  • Biga
  • Levain
  • Stiff-Levain
  • Liquid-Levain
  • Pâte fermentée
  • Mother
  • Sponge
  • Chef
  • Madre Bianca
  • Starter

They all may have certain different characteristics depending on their makeup and preparation.  The common element in them is that they are pre-fermented before being put into the final dough - thus pre-ferment.  In some cases, a seed (inoculation culture) is used while in other cases yeast is used.  However, some terms (like starter and levain) are used synonymously between the seed and the pre-ferment and that can lead to confusion.

David R's picture
David R

Merely amplifying a part of what Steve already said: none of these words has a single clear definition. There are people who claim that one or more of the words does have a single clear definition; they're wrong. However, it very often happens that, within a small group of people, one of the words is used as if it is clear and unambiguous. That's fine until an outsider comes along who hasn't been using it that way, and everyone gets confused. 🙂

Sid's picture
Sid

You all have been doing this a lot longer than I have. I've been baking bread for a few years now, but mostly using regular baker's yeast. It's only this year that I decided to start sourdough. I wasn't even sure if my starters would take well to Indian conditions, and if the flours available here would be ideal for good sourdough loaves, but I've been pleasantly surprised. It's been a steep but enjoyable learning curve for me. I really appreciate the time you all have taken on this thread to educate and help me.

I'm learning as I go along. I think I use the terms starter, levain and seed in the correct context, but I haven't as yet graduated to using poolish, biga and some of the other terminology in my vocabulary. All in good time. Meanwhile, I can't wait to get started on the next loaf!

David R's picture
David R

Make the best bread you can make, and if you can't find the best single word to describe what you did, don't worry about it - just explain. 🙂

Sid's picture
Sid

Today was a high point in my life as an amateur baker. I baked the best sourdough loaf I've made to date, both in taste and texture. I posted an explanation and some pictures further up in this same thread. I love baking bread, I bake more than I can eat myself, so my friends get to share the joy. In the end, I think that's really what it's all about.

auriba's picture
auriba

When I make dough using just regular dry yeast and keep the hydration to say 65% with the flour that I'm using, I have a dough consistency that I can knead. It starts out a bit wet and sticky, but then the gluten starts to kick in and I can work the dough on my countertop. However, if I use my sourdough levain (50% whole wheat, 50% water), and adjust everything to the SAME hydration level of 65% (compensating for the flour and water in my levain), my dough becomes too wet to knead (feels like about 75% hydration). Yes, I know it's sourdough, so I then resort to the stretch and fold method to work the dough and get it ready for pre-shaping and shaping, but I was curious as to why this is happening.