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Back-engineering starter fr genuine Neapolitan pizza dough. Next step?

Panettiera's picture
Panettiera

Back-engineering starter fr genuine Neapolitan pizza dough. Next step?

Back-engineering starter fr genuine Neapolitan pizza dough. Next step?

 Dear TFL community, I'm seeking help. I'm hoping to reverse-engineer a culture from fully proofed pizza dough w/ a lineage precious to me: 2 different sources, made with a strain of natural leavening continued day to day for 5 generations in Napoli, where my mother's family is from. I hadn't fed it or done anything with it till today; it's been neglected in fridge for months (pandemic re-prioritizing all else). Good sign: 13.5 hrs after first feed (1:2:2) there are tiny bubbles, size of pin pricks, on bottom; one or 2 slightly smaller than soda straw. Presumably no gas production yet: level hasn't changed perceptibly, and taut rubber-banded plastic wrap over top not stretched. It's extremely stiff. Presumably the dough was ~~75% hydration or less. My 2 feeds have been 100% hydration, but only 1:2:2.   What's my next step?  Besides (1) what ratio to feed, I also need (2) advice re TIMING of feeds.(Well, that's nearly everything.) Feed #2 was 14.5 hrs later (same as #1) The next I can do would be anywhere from 5-9 hrs from feed #2.  I can't make the next feeds at 12 hour intervals, as tonight I hope to be asleep before 5:30 AM/05:30. My schedule is fairly nocturnal due to work across time zones but irregular.I could ask family to do some when they are awake & I'm not. Since I can't expect to hear for a while, I'll probably just keep refeeding as below (1:2:2). Or should I do less, at shorter intervals, to move to a schedule that keeps to 12 hours? Or not feed till more active?
  • Fed 1:2:2 by weight/grams, using 00 Caputo flour and spring water. 
  • Feed #2 same, 14.5 hrs later. 
  • Jar & all utensils cleaned w boiling water just prior. I am working from flat white core.
  • Ambient temp low-mid 70s; varies day/night.
  • Important re original sample: I did not receive a starter, per se. Sample was fully proofed pizza dough, from natural starter. 
  • Italian starters tend to be very stiff.
  • Pizza dough is likely to be 70-75% hydration, if the recipes I've seen here are characteristic, as they claim
  • I have several other samples (clean, flat white from interior) in clean jars in fridge, as backup or to experiment with alternate methods.
I re-read everything I could find in the course of 4 hrs on TFL & a few other sites re reviving neglected starter, which guided me. Thanks to all. However, I'm in an anomalous situation since this was dough, not starter, when I got it.   To make this more of a long shot, these pieces of dough have been neglected in my fridge for many months. I feel bad about that. The pandemic keeps giving me new and urgent responsibilities. I kept thinking that "soon" things would settle down, but I now know it's just going to get worse. So I know this revival project is a long shot, but I'd be grateful for any best guesses about what to try. 
My immediate goal: is just to see if anything I do now can continue the possibility of keeping these organisms alive. ( I do understand that a starter evolves in response to everything in its new environment so I can't truly keep that original starter going.)  I'll be as patient as need be. I don't have any kind of deadline and won't have time to switch over to baking with them for a good while. Many thanks for any help! I refer many people to this site (esp. those asking non-bread-specialists on national newspaper sites) and I always say: TFL is what we had naively hoped the internet would be: people who know what they're talking about, generously sharing info and advice with others, for no personal gain. Be well. Stay safe. Thanks so much, Panettiera   
barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Panettiera,  I hope you will soon hear from those that know what they are talking about  ( I don't fall into that camp, though I do make sourdough pizza every week).  First,  starters are very hard to kill, and though you started with dough, not starter,  I don't see that as a problem.  In terms of timing, I can't give you any firm ideas, you will need to watch it to see how it goes.  I think your first goal is to get it back to consistently rising, then once you have it up and going well, then I would head over to pizzamaking.com forum,  which has a board just on starters and another one just on neopolitan recipes and that should give you more info on how to adapt it to best make your pizza.

In general, yeast will act more quickly as temperature increases ( doubles every increase of 17 F ) and also the higher the hydration.  I think your current objective should be to get it reproducing faster, so I would increase the hydration, and cut back on the food and keep it around 80 F the first few times to get it active.  So I would try 1 starter, 2 water and 1 flour, then wait 4 to 12 hours to see if it increases in size, and once it does, try to repeat that again  , then start increasing the flour to get back to 100% hydration.  If you think it has gone bad, you can try to wash it https://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php?topic=40990.0  

Good luck  .  Barry. 

 

 

Panettiera's picture
Panettiera

 

Hi Barry, and thank you very much for your thoughtful reply. The reminder about pizzamakingforum is especially helpful. And I appreciate you giving me good guidelines about upcoming phases.

I have 2 questions:

(1) What do you think is the *minimum feed* to keep growth going?

as Phaz reminds me “more activity=more food, less activity=less food”. Mine is barely active. I wouldn’t expect anything else, only 24 hours after months of neglect. Also, I’m not in a rush. 

At present, I know it’s not underfed at the level that produces hooch. The only smell is faint, slightly sweet, and slightly yeasty. 

(2) I have wondered if it needs more water, as you suggest. It’s so dry/stiff that if I turn a spoonful of it upside down, it just stays there. Can you tell me more about your thoughts on this, besides the general fact that more water= faster growth? I think one of the guiding facts with an abused starter is that there is so little left of the original culture that you don't want to further dilute it.  The pizza dough it came from was probably no more than ~~70%; far firmer than the high hydration doughs I’m used to. But it’s likely I’ll want to keep a stiff starter.

(3) During a period when I'm not discarding (as Mini Oven advises) Is there a different convention for describing a feed if there’s no discard? Do I still describe the feed as use the convention of writing 1:x:y ? 

 

 Thanks again, Panettiera

phaz's picture
phaz

I thing the gist of the op is when to feed and how much (sorry but it was a little long to read and I'm very tired) but, you feed when there's activity (bubbles and rising). How much to feed  - you'll have to play around with ratios at this point as it's basically a young starter and as it comes back it'll need more food. A place to start would be 122 (sfw) for once a day feeding. Just remember the rule more activity= more food, less activity = less food.

On another note - what you have now probably won't be what you'll have in a few weeks or months. The local bugs will take over eventually and it'll be different, still a starter, but a little different none the less. Enjoy, and I hope it come back niche and strong!

Panettiera's picture
Panettiera

Hi Phaz, 

Thanks for replying. 

I think you’re probably right that, among all the complex guidelines in cultivating natural leavening, the most relevant to my situation is that less activity=> less food. 

Mini Oven recommends that for revived a starter unfed for months, “it is better to start out small and increase feedings without discarding for a few days.” I have not discarded any. I believe that this advice is because there are few viable microbes left, so initially you want to keep them all. 

  1. Could you be more specific about what is the minimum to feed it? (How small is too small?). 

  2. What’s a reasonable rate to increase feedings? (Remembering that I am not yet discarding.)

  3. What would I observe that tells me I should start following the usual convention and discard?

  4. Separately: how stiff is too stiff? Right now, if I put some on a spoon and turn it upside down, it just hangs there. The dough I originally got was far lower hydration than what I’m used to in baking. What is your thinking on this, remembering that what I have is an abused starter with few viable microbes left, not a healthy starter?

You wrote this to another poster: “Consistency - thicken it up. That thickness can tell you a lot about how a starter is doing. I like them to be thick enough so it doesn't pour (not even close to pouring - that thin is usually a bad sign). ...it should be thick enough where it won't have any kind of flow. I use a butter knife and if I scoop some out with it it just hangs there not even moving. Keep it like that - whatever ratio it takes. You'll also find it rising more and bubbles will be more noticeable.”

And yes, I know it's generally believed (with some notable dissents) that microbial populations inevitably develop new characteristics in new environments. But I'll try to keep what I can of this strain, to whatever extent is possible.

I’m sorry my OP was hard to read; many of my paragraph breaks disappeared when I posted, along with other ways of making something long easier to navigate. Then when I tried to fix that, the Captcha stymied me. 

Thanks again, Panettiera 

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Panettiera, so I am not an expert, but here are my thoughts on both your starter and hydration.  First, while you say you only had dough not starter,  I don't see the difference.  Assume you had 20 grams of starter, and fed it 20 grams water and 20 grams flour and let it develop until it matured - during that time, the yeast would reproduce in several generations, and eventually, they would exhaust the food supply and would decrease in numbers.  That is the common life cycle of what we call starter.  Now, you could have used 20 grams of starter, 400 grams of water and 400 grams of flour -  the same steps would occur, though it would take much longer to peak.  In essence, your dough is more like the second example than the first.  It still has the yeast and the microbes, but to my way of thinking, it would have tolerated a longer time without refreshment than what we typically refer to as starter.

As to hydration, I have no scientific support, but it from the little testing I have done, the stiffer the starter ,the longer it takes for the yeast to multiply and cause it to rise.  I may be wrong, but it is possible that the higher hydration makes it easier for the yeast to find food and reproduce.   Since you are concerned the yeast are dormant, my suggestion is to increase the hydration to get the yeast active.  Personally, I would not refresh a second time with water and flour until I saw some activity,  though some suggest stirring from time to time is helpful.

As to whether there is enough yeast and microbes in your flour to coax a starter back to life, I would think yes.  If you read enough posts here you may have seen posts where someone discovered a starter that had been in the back of a refrigerator for months, and after a refresh or two, it was fine. Also, there are times when I have used all the starter for a loaf, and the container has only a spec or two remaining - far less than a gram, and yet, I have added a few drops of water and a little flour, and a few refreshes later I have a full container of active starter  -  you don't need much to keep it going.     Good luck, I am sure you will be successful if you stay with it.  If you want some dried Ischia starter, let me know and I would be glad to send some to you.  

Panettiera's picture
Panettiera

Hello Barryvabeach,Thanks for your kind reply.First-- oh my yes, I'd LOVE a starter from Ischia. It would mean a great deal to me.To work out logistics,  do I need to email Floyd M directly to turn on PM for my account? 
I couldn't find any other more direct way to do it. Thank you for the encouragement about trying to revive a starter.  I think that some confusion is that there seem to be different strategies recommended for starting a starter from scratch, andfor attempting to revive an abused starter with as much of the original microbial community as possible (albeit change in that community will certainly occur).  For example, I read somewhere on this site (maybe a Mini Oven reply to yet another of us sadsacks with an abused starter) that in creating a new starter, it's useful to add rye flour to kickstart things; however, if trying to revive a starter, you may not want to do this, as it introduces new strains of microbes.  Debra Wink's Pineapple Solution is the only one that has worked for me for creating a new starter. But I don't know how I'd adapt it to a revival project. I've also read that in one of those responses that excess food and especially excess water is not recommended at the very earliest stages. So, since no one can quantify what "excess" is (or can you?), I'm treating this as an empirical experiment with these indicators that I should modify something or continue what I'm doing.  Does this make sense to you? So far, the thing that has generated the most bubbles and true yeasty smell is tiny feedings: 1:0  0.5  0.5 with no discard yet*  Stirring also seems to help. A small increase in hydration without addition flour (an interim measure) caused a great decrease in the size of bubbles.  *Postponing discard when there is only a tiny amount of viable microbial community was another recommendation, but I don't know what the indicators are that it's time to start discarding. Any ideas? The visible outcomes I am looking for are:

  • Smells yeasty
  • some bubbling
  • Increase in size... would be nice but not expected quite yet
  • any others to look for? any disagreements?
The visible outcomes to show me I am on the wrong track or need to modify my procedure
  • Smelling like acetone
  • "foul smell"
  • Hooch (a sign of being underfed)
  • decrease in bubbles and volume
  • reduction in intensity of good smells (yeast, most notably)
  • any other suggestions?
Finally-- do you have some particular connection to Ischia?My friends from Napoli are there right now. I was supposed to be with them right about now, to work on a useful project together in a beautiful setting.  warm regards and thanks again, Panettiera
phaz's picture
phaz

Mini is right, but there's a little more to it. Ahhh the nitty gritty -  a starter is an environment created by bacteria and fungus, a rather specific environment that benefits both. It takes time to create this environment, and by discarding and feeding, we're throwing away exactly what we want to happen in the first place. Besides wasting resources, it makes everything go a lot slower - so why do it? Only time I discard is if im reviving a really bad starter and that's only to remove the smell (it'll dilute out after a bit). Starting, maintaining a starter, never tossed anything (sd pancakes didn't do it for me).

Minimum feed - well, goes like this - I can't and don't really like to give specifics for 2 main reasons. I don't have anything specific ie. I don't weight anything and there really aren't any. You feed when it need it and however much it wants/needs to stay fed till next dinner. I know this for my starter, but your starter isn't my starter. What I can do is what I do best make starters, hit golf balls and explain complex concepts in simple enough terms so anyone can begin to understand the basic workings of things - and help themselves (it's always more fun when you figure it out yourself). All I can really say about min or max feed is feed enough to last till you can get it again. You'll have to play with amounts, observe, adjust. Standard procedure.

Rate to increase feed - depends on how fast it grows, which leads to next question, you look for a consistent rate and amount of activity and adjust food to maintain

Rate in how long it takes to say rise, peak and fall and amount in how high was the peak before it fell.

Too stiff - can't see it, can't say for sure, doesn't sound like it's what I would call too stiff, and we're on a roll here, as this leads to next subject. A thin starter is just that - thin. Healthy or not it'll be thin. A healthy thick starter is thick, and an unhealthy thick starter isn't usually due to starvation. It's a good quick visual as to the possible health of the starter. My golf clubs are organized in a way where I can, with just a quick glance, tell if one is missing, a quick peek can avoid possible trouble.

Keeping what's there - you better at least try, you just gotta. I'll get mad if ya don't and I won't let ya pick my brain anymore! That would be a shame to lose. I'll keep an eye on this and look for updates.  have a good night and Enjoy!

Panettiera's picture
Panettiera

Hi Phaz, Thanks. 

Actually, it looks like I succeeded, at least for the initial stage. I got a nice-smelling doubled froth. 

I'm considering what you wrote about not discarding, as it's such ubiquitous advice. 

 

QUESTION 

Since no one can quantify what "excess" is  I'm treating this as an empirical experiment with these indicators that I should modify something or continue what I'm doing.

(1A) I'd like your feedback about the perceptible visible indicators of whether to stay the course or modify: 

  • Smells yeasty
  • some bubbling
  • Increase in size... would be nice but not expected quite yet
  • any others to look for? any disagreements?

(1B)The visible outcomes to show me I am on the wrong track or need to modify my procedure

  • Smelling like acetone
  • "foul smell"
  • Hooch/strong alcohol scent (a sign of being underfed)
  • decrease in bubbles and volume
  • reduction in intensity of good smells (yeast, most notably)
  • any other suggestions?

Thanks, Panettiera

 

 

phaz's picture
phaz

Double froth? You mean it rose twice? That's good.

The excess thing is really simple, look at it like this - let's say you don't want to feed every day, too much trouble, you can deal with feeding every 2 days. Adding more food then it needed for 2 days would be an excess of food. Oh I forgot, an excess of food is usually not an issue needing attention, and being so probably shouldn't be worried about. You want to be on the side of a l little excess anyway, just in case.

1A - all good signs. 

1B - all signs of trouble, add low or loss of viscosity.

On another note, there is a method I use to determine if a feed ratio is adequate to last a certain amount of time. I'm exhausted (too many golf balls - again). If ya search for phaz stirring you may find the posts, they were recent, let couple maybe 3 weeks ago. I'll try to get into it more next time. Enjoy!

 

Panettiera's picture
Panettiera

Apologies for the huge block of text.

I don't quite know why some code on this site seems to remove paragraph breaks and other things that make reading easier. I thought I had thwarted this in Preview mode, but no.

 

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Panettiera,  no connection to Ischia, but on Pizzamaking.com, there are many posters that bought sourdough called Ischia from Ed Wood thinking that would make an authentic pizza dough,  and I did as well.  I don't use it now, but I saved some from the last batch, dried it and refrigerated.  It refreshes very easily, IMO.  

Panettiera's picture
Panettiera

Hi Barry,

I would be delighted to have some. Did I understand correctly that you'd be willing to send me some, dried? If so...

1) Can this be arranged in a way that is least logistical trouble for you?

2) Do I need to contact Floyd to enable PM? (I assume that would be the way I'd send you my address if you agreed to send me a sample.)

3) Can I compensate you in some way?

Apart from paying postage... could I send you a recipe/help you trouble-shoot a recipe (for cooking rather than bread baking!) e.g., home made pasta, anything Italian, or a barely sweet cake that has a lot of substance, which my friends always ask me to bring. 

 

Thanks again, Panettiera

 

 

Panettiera's picture
Panettiera

Hi Barry,

I can now receive PMs. 

If you are still able and willing to send me a sample of the Ischia starter, I'd be grateful.

I have never tried to revive a starter from frozen, so if you send it, I'd be grateful for pointing me to guidance about how to go about this. 

Many thanks, Panettiera

 

barryvabeach's picture
barryvabeach

Panettiera,  here is a link to a description of how to dry and freeze starter.  When you are sure yours is up and running,  I suggest you do it,  then wrap it in plastic, label it and put it in a freezer bag, and if for some reason your current starter dies, you have a backup.  I actually have a few backups, they are so easy to make.    Here is his instruction on reviving -  https://breadtopia.com/starter_instructions/   I use home milled whole wheat, and find I just add water and flour, stir, and it is usually up in running in a refresh or two.  I normally only keep about 15 grams on hand, so I discard with each refresh,  I think the reason they don't is that they are trying to build up volume quickly.