The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Looking for help

Justin's picture
Justin

Looking for help

Hello, there, I'm a new wannabe sourdough baker and a new member as of today. I've looked through several of the posts here, and so far I haven't found any references to the problems I'm having.

First a little history. I started my starter (is that redundant yet?) in April, and it was slow starting. I didn't see any results for about three weeks. Finally, though, she (her name is Karina V. if you want to call her by name) began to look more lively, and is now very active. But--

Now the problems. First off, I live in Mexico, and in searching for bread flour--even at China mart--has turned up more hen's teeth than what I was looking for. Likewise rye flour--visit a bread shop, and they always tell me that that other place probably has it, but that other place sends me to another place, with the same result. I've finally discovered an AP brand name that promises a whole 11% protein level, so I'm sticking with that for now.

Now Karina is very consistent at doubling between feedings--usually about 8-10 hours in, but she has the consistency of a thin pancake batter when I feed at 1:1:1. So I'll feed a bit more flour (like 10:10:11 or 12), getting a thicker consistency, but once she's eaten all the goodness, she returns to the pancake batter stage. I do give her about 25% whole wheat from time to time as a little treat

Float test? Need a life preserver.

What prompted me to search for this site is my umpteenth attempt yesterday. Karina had been resting in the fridge since her last feeding, so I pulled her out a few days ago to fatten her up with a few feedings, and yesterday seemed to be a good day to test her out on yet another "Even if you're a complete idiot, you can be successful with this recipe" video. Followed it to the letter, gram for gram and minute for minute, and was really optimistic even though putting the levain into the water would have required me to call the fire and rescue team to bring her up from the bottom. Then, after the second or third stretch and fold, things began to go south--like all the way to Antarctica. It lost its definition, began to be very sticky and loose, and wouldn't pass a windowpane test, so I gave it one more coil fold. Now, after spending the night in the fridge, that dough is resting in a loaf pan and hopefully rising for a normal boring loaf today.

Sorry for the length of this post, but I wanted to give as much information as possible. I'm sure a lot of experienced bakers out there are rolling their eyes and saying "paaaaah!" but I don't want to give up. 

Thanks for any help anybody can give me!

edit: been reading other threads, and discovered everyone wants to know the ingredient list, so I thought I'd add this: Recipe called "Easy Sourdough Bread Recipe/Tartine Basic Country Bread" from The Regular Chef (here--https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNzJLP61nnQ)

Proof once again that "easy to do" is easy to say.

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Hi, Justin!

 

One of the things that I have noticed about the plethora of videos about how “easy” sourdough is, is that almost all of them fail to mention that every kitchen, every starter,  even every bag of flour, is different.  It’s very common for two bakers, following the exact same schedule with the exact same ingredients to wind up with wildly different results, because in sourdough baking it’s the wild yeast cultures that set the schedule, and yeasts are notoriously bad at reading clocks.

A few questions in regards to Karina:

  1. what kind of ambient temperatures are you working with?
  2. What’s the water quality looking like?  Do you use tap or bottled water?  Is it treated in any way?
  3. how often do you feed her?
  4. how often do you feed her whole wheat, and how does she react when you do?

 

 

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Also:

  5.  What quantity of starter are you keeping?  

Many videos  say to start with a 1/2 cup of flour and go from there.  But that’s a lot of waste, especially when flour is hard to come by!  You’ll get the same starter using 10 grams as you would get using 10 pounds, so it’s best to start starting your starter (lol see what I did there?) with smaller amounts in smaller containers, to cut down on waste.  A small starter can always be scaled up when needed.

Justin's picture
Justin

Hi, Mr. Immortal, thanks for your interest. To answer your questions, 1-When she's not resting in the fridge, she's in my kitchen which stays at 70-80 degrees, with maybe a little more on hotter days. 2-I never give her tapwater--she gets bottled or filtered water (the filtered is reverse osmosis, UV, and several other things, according to the machine where I buy it). 3-Standing out, I feed her daily, with an attempt at discipline to feed her in the morning. 4-I feed her whole wheat about once a week, and I've noticed that she seems a bit slower to rise, with less rise, on those days. And 5-with daily or weekly feedings, I generally keep about 30-40 grams, feeding equivalent amounts (except when I'm trying to build up the consistency, when I give 35 (with 30 grams water)-50 (with 40g water) to match the other ratios. 

Hope this helps, and again thanks!

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

Mr. I is on the right track in terms of questions.   To follow on to those items....

1. Is your white flour bleached or unbleached?  It needs to be unbleached, at least for what is fed to the starter.

2. Is there either "malted barley flour" or "malted wheat flour" or "amaylase" in your white flour?  There needs to be one of those.

--

There is a TFL member in Mexico, or at least was recently, https://www.thefreshloaf.com/user/abelbreadgallery

He might be able to give pointers as to what Mexican brands/types of flour to use, and where to purchase them.

--

Good luck, and buen provecho!

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Thanks Dave, I knew there were a few things I was forgetting to remember.  I haven’t had enough coffee to crank open my good eye yet.  😂

Justin's picture
Justin

And good morning, idaviendy! Oh, my, for your questions I had to break out the bag! Then I realized that the La Perla I (tried to) bake with yesterday wasn't what I've been feeding Karina. That nutrition information, for a brand called Selecta, seems to be a top-secret along the lines of the Manhattan Project. But I did find it a few days ago, which was what sent me on my search for something with more protein. Hodon. There it is--I'll copy the English translation for you: 

Wheat Flour (Wheat Gluten), added with folic acid (vitamin B9), zinć (zinc oxide) and iron (ferrous fumarate), replaced with Vitamin B1 (thiamine mononitrate), Vitamin B2 (riboflavin) and Vitamin B3 ( niacin), benzoyl peroxide, L-ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide and enzymes. THIS PRODUCT CONTAINS GLUTEN

The "benzoyl peroxide" is a bleaching agent, so yes, it is bleached. :-( The other ingredients you asked about don't seem to be listed, so I'ma go with no on that. 

Your reference to abelbreadgallery is very helpful, I'll see if I can get ahold of them and maybe get some tips. It would be double-plus-good if (s)he lived in Monterrey, but what are the chances of that?

Thanks to both of you for your help here! By the way, the first loaf-pan-loaf just came out of the oven, and if it tastes as good as it smells, I'm in for a treat in an hour or two. Still second best, though, since I was really hoping to sink my teeth into a boule today!

 

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

The benzoyl peroxide also helps keep your starter from developing acne.  😂

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

"benzoyl peroxide, L-ascorbic acid, azodicarbonamide and enzymes"

We'll have to invite mwilson over here to coment.

Ascorbic acid is okay, that is Vitamin C.  It serves as an oxidizer/dough conditioner. I sometimes put some in my whole wheat,

"Enzymes" is the amylase, so that's good,

The BP and the Azo are the bleaching agents.  US bread flour usually doesn't have those, at least not the types used by   most artisan and sourdough bakers.

I'm thinking that that is not a good flour for feeding a starter. But I will defer to mwilson's judgement on that.

I am unsure if the BP and Azo are good for the main dough.   

--

I am still a bit unclear... is this flour used for the starter, the main dough, or both?  If not both, what are the ingredients of the other?

Justin's picture
Justin

Appreciate you spending so much time with me on this! The ingredients list I sent you was for the brand name Selecta, which had a protein level of 10%. That flour was, and is, the one I'm using in my starter. 

Once I found that it is in that level of protein, I went searching again, and I found La Perla. Here's the ingredients for that flour:

Wheat flour, ferrous fumarate, zinc oxide, niacin, benzoyl peroxide (as a bleaching agent), ascorbic acid, as an additive, azodicrbonamide, thiamine, riboflavin, and folic acid

And the La Perla is what I used in the dough yesterday, with such abysmal results. (Even the loaf-pan loaf would have been more appropriate as a chew-toy for my neighbor's pitbull. I forced myself to eat some of it, just so I could say I did, but to say the taste was uninspiring would be to take understatement to a new low. The rest of it went into the waste can.)

Again, thanks for spending so much skull-sweat on my newby problems!

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

Looks like Selecta and La Perla have the same ingredients except La Perla does not have enzymes.  

Enzymes (amylase) -or- malted flour (malted barley flour or malted wheat flour) are needed to convert starch to sugar.

So, La Perla is going to need some diastatic malt in order to make yeasted or sourdough baked goods.

Selecta is in the low range of AP flour so, it should not be too bad.

But I don't know what is available in Mexico, so I am unsure what to say.

Have you sent a private measage tp Abelbreadgallery?  www.thefreshloaf.com/user/abelbreadgallery

Justin's picture
Justin

Thanks  for the further information. For me, finding diastatic malt might be something of a challenge. I've talked to several people here, and they've pointed me to a couple of other baking specialty stores, which I'll visit during the week, since the city has been shut back down again for the weekend. 

As far as Abelbreadgallery, I don't think he'd be able to help me on sources--he's actually in Spain, not Mexico. I did try to visit his wordpress site, but it has been closed down.

Somebody around here must have a decent, strong, unbleached flour that can give me success. I'm going to visit the stores mentioned by my neighbors, as well as a couple of the bigger mercados, and see if I can source something. I'll let you know if (no-wait! confidence! WHEN) I have success. 

And in the meanwhile, Karina seems to appreciate the additional food I've given her now for the last couple of days. She thanks everyone, as well!

idaveindy's picture
idaveindy

i realize abel's profile says spain, but some of his comments say Mexico.

so either he did not update his profile, or he is back in spain.

at least he -was- working and baking bread in Mexico recently , and giving helpful advice here about flour and baking in MX.

He seems a friendly guy. so write him a nice PM (private message). can't hurt.

you should see a link for "send this user a private message" on his profile/account page.

you might also look at his "track" page to find comments about Mexican flours, but that could take a while.

and he has commented on Spanish flours too, as he has been a baker in both ES and MX.

 buena suerte, amigo.

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

You mention that Karina doubles in about 8-10 hours. But has she peaked at that point?  Generally speaking, you should be able to tell when your starter has peaked by it’s deflated-looking top, and downward pointing streaks along the side of the container, right above where the top of the starter is.

 

The peak is when Karina is telling you that she’s hungry.  If she’s peaking after 12 hours, but you’re only feeding her once a day, that’s a lot of time for wee yeastie beasties to go without food, and they will become at least partially dormant during that time.

 

 

Yeast cells are immobile, and can only process sugars that are in their immediate vicinity.  After Karina peaks, try giving her a good stir.  This will redistribute the yeast cells and any remaining food source, without diluting the yeast cells with doing a discard.  Adding a stir between feedings has helped my starter (Randolph) to become stronger and faster-acting.

 

As for your ratios, you may want to try moving to 1:2:2. This makes more food source available, and will actually promote reproduction.  And it might be also worth incorporating some whole wheat on a more regular basis, as well.

 

 

Justin's picture
Justin

So I'm neglecting the poor thing am I? Guess I'll have to put on my do-better shoes!

I just liberated her from her cold, dark, dank prison, and I'm going to give her some extra love after she stops shivering. She really hasn't done much since I put her in there last Sunday. No appreciable rise marks on the side of the jar--and she's put off a little bit of hooch so I know she would appreciate some sustenance, even if it is some yucky bleached stuff. I'll give her double rations as you suggested.

I'm going to try to get out to that place that specializes in flour (though they don't have bread flour, rye, or probably any other specialty flours that I might try to find in the future--but they're real proud of that Selecta!), but that U2 song from the 90s is resounding in my head--"I still haven't found what I'm looking for"!

Right now, I'm being as OC as I can with her, so I know just how high she gets even if I'm not there to watch, and double seems to be about it. When she gets fed, I remove her from her jar, mix everything up in a bowl, then return her to her freshly-washed container. This helps me to track her activity without having a bunch of mixing-smutches on the sides 

Are you saying that the Benzoil peroxide is a good thing then? The La Perla flour said that was a "blanqueador" which is whitening agent or, I assume, bleach. But if it's not a problem, I'll take that off my list of baddies.

It's nice to talk with people who know what they're doing. Thank you!

phaz's picture
phaz

To go with a once a day feed schedule, you'll need more like 122, at least as I would think it's on the warm side in Mexico. 111 over a period of time will result in a starter always in a starved state, which will throw it out of balance and make it too acidic, along with an imbalance between the yeast and labs. To acidic and a dough can turn to mush as gluten formation is inhibited (as you've seen - pancake batter when feeding). So, increase feed ratio and/or frequency and give it a little time to get back in shape. And - starters love to be stirred - they like the attention. Enjoy!

Justin's picture
Justin

That is logical, when I think about it. Karina is looking anemic because she is anemic. I'm going to increase her feeding, plus I'll take Mr. Immortal's and your advice about a post-peak stirring. 

I'm wondering, would it be going too far to toss in a little flour/water at 1:1 at the time I stir? As you said, it is hot here, and maybe that's pumping up her metabolism, so maybe a bedtime snack would make her happier too.

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Not sure about the bedtime snack, but now that I think about it, it was when I switched to a 1:2:2 ratio that my starter went from soupy to more of a whipped pudding consistency.  

Justin's picture
Justin

I found a source, mail-order, for just about any kind of flour you might require. Yayyy! So I'll be ordering some in as soon as some of my clients break free with a little dough of a different kind.

I'd like to run a couple things across for opinions. First, the bread flour I've found has the following information:

It's 14% protein, containing folic acid, iron, B1, B2, B3, and Zinc. I didn't find an actual ingredients list, just the nutrition information. Any opinions on this?

Next was rye flour. I found two possibilities. The first has a 14% protein level, but it comes in a five-kilo amount. That seems almost to be like a marriage contract, until death do we part. I would almost expect to be feeding mealy-bugs before I used that up. The second comes in a more reasonable 2 kilo bag, and although the picture is a bit fuzzy, it looks to have an 11 or 12% protein level. Would that be sufficient to keep Karina happy and make a good strong starter? 

Thanks for giving this N00B the guidance he needs!

Mr Immortal's picture
Mr Immortal

Hi, Justin!

 

Glad to see that you’ve found a flour source!  As for the mega-jumbo-rye...  unless you are planning to bake a LOT of rye bread, I would go with the smaller package.  Even still, 2kg is going to be a lot of flour.

 

Most recipes that I’ve seen, even for rye bread, use a much smaller amount of rye flour than other types of flour, so I think that the protein content is likely to be more affected by them than the rye.

 

Rye is excellent for feeding your starter, but even still not all by itself.  Randolph eats 25% rye & 75% Unbleached AP.