The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

What if it doesnt float?

hs4816's picture

What if it doesnt float?

If you're building a leaven (or just using from your existing starter) and you miss the perfect window of opportunity.... what happens if you start the autolyse anyway? If you let bulk ferment and second rise take however long is needed, wont it still work out? The starter is active so if you miss the bubble peak/floating stage, wont the bread recipe still work as long as you make sure things are rising well?

Maverick's picture

Yes. A lot of the reason for using it at that stage has to do with a certain flavor profile as well as more predictable timing.

On a side note, a lot of times if your starter has fallen and you need another couple of hours before using ityou can just give it a stir. This redistributes the food and aerates it a bit.

OldLoaf's picture

The float test can be misleading.  It will tell you that you have gas bubbles trapped in the starter.  But when you are getting your sample to drop in the water you are unintentionally degassing it.  It may sink in the water even though there is plenty of life in it.

Another thing it doesn’t tell you is what your yeast activity is like.  Even a newly made starter (<6 weeks old, with fewer yeast cells) will be creating CO2 and trapping gas.  But will it be strong enough to make a nice loaf???

I like to keep things as simple as possible. So when I see my starter has doubled in ~8-10 hours, I know it’s ready to go.  No float test, no nothing.  Not very scientific, but it works for me.



ifs201's picture

I also don't use the float test. I think I make nice enough breads, but my starter rarely floats when I test before using it even though it easily doubles in a couple of hours. 

BreadLee's picture

I also threw the float test out the window.  My bread turns out great without it.  

Bread Lee

BaniJP's picture

*insert comment about that this person isn't using the float test and produces great bread, too* 

Maverick's picture

Forgot to mention, but I too am in the non-float test camp. I also don't use a "young" levain, so I always considered the test more for that use. I use my starter when it begins to fall and know the timing by now. If I need to extend it an hour or two, I give it a stir and it is still ready to go when I need it.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

visual tests and taste tests to judge starter readiness and maturity.  Float test is not on my list.  But I have often fantasized about floating a fully proofed rye loaf in the Volga before baking it.  Never enough time and instant transport to bring that test to reality.  That might be my first use of a "Beamer" if they ever come into use in my lifetime.  Then my trek quote could be, " beam me up, bake it so"  or just....   "beam and bake it."

    Could you imagine a star ship as a space bakery?  Pretzels looking like little star ships and the sick bay nursing alien starters back to health?  Jettisoned dough being baked in space by locked on laser fire?  

Na ya, old treky can dream, can't she?   Same with the float test, dream on.  

Test best used with low to medium hydration starters or proofed bread dough ( rolls, pretzels, bagels, etc.)

Anne Ng's picture
Anne Ng

I have used plenty not-just-right starters. Mainly because I'm making pan breads instead of a free form one (They say the pan gives them more support to rise and spring upwards). All of them except one (the first one I made) all proofed up very nicely. And they all gained more height in the oven so I'm happy about the results. 

The only thing I've learned from my "freestyle" baking is to never use a starter straight our of the fridge. I have done it once, and the bread went very sour, too sour that my family didn't like it very much. The rise was okay, and the crumb was a bit dense but acceptable. 

I've only done the float test once, about a week since I started it, just to test if it's ready to be used. It passed, but breads that came out of it was not so great, probably because it was too young. 

All in all, throw the float test away. If your starter is too thick or too thin or your flour is too good or not good enough at absorbing water or you scoop it the wrong way or donno how but screw it up somehow the starter won't flow. It is more reliable to judge by the bubbles and the height and the smell and everything. It will become easier overtime :)