The Fresh Loaf

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Solved my starter issue

gavinc's picture
gavinc

Solved my starter issue

Issue

My liquid white flour starter gets gradually weaker over time, although was created from rye flour. My regimen was to feed my culture a couple of times a week and refrigerate after the starter had ripened on the bench. The culture is 125% hydration and is fed with white bread flour.

The culture was initially strong with good rising power. After about three weeks it becomes weak and has a reduced ability to give a good rise and volume to the loaves. I have to occasionally freshen the starter with stone-ground rye to return its vitality and power.

The problem is that I did not notice the weakened state of my culture until I elaborated the starter to make the levain. The ensuing bake yielded a loaf with poor rise and volume.

Remedy

I stumbled across Jeffrey Hamelman’s ISO videos. In the Vermont sourdough episode, Hamelman revealed that the culture he maintains at home is a stiff rye sourdough. He gave the formula as 10-gram stiff rye sourdough, 20-gram rye flour and 17-gram water. I calculated the baker's percent to be 50% stiff rye sourdough, 100% rye flour and 85% water. He feeds it every morning and has been doing so for 40 years, without alteration.

I was immediately interested in trying out a stiff rye starter in the hope it would solve my issue.

Furthermore, in the Deli Rye Bread episode, Hamelman again used his stiff rye sourdough to make the Deli Rye Bread. He also included some liquid starter. He does not maintain two starters, only the stiff rye sourdough. When he needs a liquid white flour levain, he first converts some stiff sourdough to a liquid starter over two feeds.

I was convinced that this would provide me with a consistently lively starter that I could rely upon.

My experience

I fired up my Excel spreadsheet and made the calculation: Liquid stater to a stiff rye sourdough to match Hamelman's.

The process is in two stages:

1.       Convert the liquid starter to a stiff starter. This is only needed to be performed once. To 56 gram of my 125% hydration liquid starter, I added 68-gram of stone-ground rye flour. Cover and leave on the bench until next morning.

2.       Commence Hamelman's regimen. Mix 10-gram stiff rye culture with 17-gram water. Mix in 20-gram stone-ground rye flour.

I repeat the feeding once a day first thing every morning.

Using the stiff rye starter

Many of the sourdough formulae I bake with requires a liquid levain of 125% hydration.

Again with my spreadsheet, I calculated that I could easily create the liquid levain over two feedings. At the time of feeding the stiff starter in the morning, I use the leftover starter to make a small amount of 125% liquid starter: 37-gram stiff rye starter, 20-gram water and 9-gram bread flour. Then leave on the bench until about 5 pm that day. I then elaborate the starter to make the levain for the next day. The levain requirements for a Vermont sourdough is to pre-ferment 15% of the overall flour. Bread flour 100%, water 125% and mature liquid starter 10%. (I put the levain in a proofing box overnight at 24C). The levain is ripe when needed at 7 am the next morning.

Results

The elaborated levain was very bubbly and appeared lively, more so that I have ever seen.

Dough development

I noticed at the end of the bulk fermentation, that the dough had a nice feel of lightness, and had good structure.

It was easy to pre-shape and shape into an oblong. I placed the dough into a banneton to proof.  After 2 hours I checked the dough and determined it was ready for the oven, half an hour earlier than the usual proofing time.

The dough was easy to score after being inverted onto a wooden peel. It did not flatten out on the peel and held it's structure.

Baking

I baked the loaf on a stone in a pre-steamed oven, and steam for the first 10 minutes after loading. Finished in a drying oven.

The oven spring was much better than before. The ear and gringe opened up nicely.

This will now be my new sourdough starter regimen.

 

 

 

 

Comments

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

The bread looks amazing, and well done sorting out the starter problems!

At the moment I have two starters, one wheat (50/50 bread and WW flour), and one whole rye. And the rye is one definitely much more robust to being put in the fridge, or maintenance at colder temperatures, or just infrequent feeding. In the past couple of months that I've had the rye one, only once recently it failed to double after a feeding, and that was after I moved to a new flat, so who knows why.

Because of that recently I tended to use the rye starter more, but incidentally moving to a new flat really boosted the wheat starter to be on par with rye, since here I found a nice warm spot near a tank of hot water with consistent 25-26°C. This seems to help A LOT. So I think I'll be using the wheat starter for wheat breads, but if I am using rye flour in the bread I'll use the rye starter.

gavinc's picture
gavinc

Thank you for your compliment. I think you have found the perfect place in your new flat for proofing and levains. I had to invent a home DIY proofer to get a steady 24-25°C. I will no longer refrigerate my starter, but feed every morning; I think I can withstand the cost of 20 g of rye a day :).  Cheers.

 

Ilya Flyamer's picture
Ilya Flyamer

I am really pleased with this warm spot!

From my experience, the rye starter had no issues at all after in the fridge for 1-2 weeks! My problem with feeding every day is that the good flour, especially rye, is not available in any local shops, so I need to go to a more specialized place to buy some.

gavinc's picture
gavinc

I could not get rye flour reliably either. A couple of years ago, I bought a small stone mill so I could grind rye grain on an "as need" basis. Best investment as I am no longer chasing rye flour. The rye grain is quite cheap, so I get a few kilos of rye and wheat at a time.

 

 

Benito's picture
Benito

Rye seems to be the thing that solves a lot of our starter issues.  I’ve now taking to feeding my starter once per week a day before I do one of my first of two levain builds for the week.  Otherwise it continues to live in the fridge.  I’m now giving my starter a feed of the usual whole red fife along with about 10% rye and I’m keeping it 100% hydration for simplicity’s sake because all of my formulas use a 100% hydration levain.  So far my starter has been really active better than it had been in the past when only fed the red fife alone.  

Good work Gavin the loaf looks amazing and good that you found a solution that works well for you with your starter.

Benito's picture
Benito

Thanks for reminding me of your post Gavin.  Given that this is the second or third time that my starter has become sluggish, I think I may switch gears and just start feeding my starter rye.  What would you say is the advantage of the lower hydration.  Lowering the hydration would buffer the production of acids, but does it make the starter more vigorous or more resistant?

Benny

gavinc's picture
gavinc

I wish I could claim that I revised my culture regimen out of my scientific research review, however, I changed because Jeffrey Hamelman maintains his own home starter like this and has done some for 40 years. If it was good enough for him it must work. I  have since researched and discovered that in fermentation between 10 - 18C, favour heterofermentative bacteria producing mainly acetic acid (sharper) and homofermentative between 21 - 35C favour lactic acid (fairly mild). My kitchen is usually between 17 - 21 C overnight and around 24C during the day.

By maintaining the stiff rye sourdough as per the new regimen, I find that the ensuing liquid levains (125% hydration at 24C in my proofer) built from it are very vigorous and strong.

In short, drier and cooler - heterofermentative,  and wet and warm - homofermentative. The 85% hydration rye sourdough culture does not change much externally over 24 hours, but there must be a lot going on internally as the ensuing levain builds are very vigorous and strong.

Cheers,

Gavin.

 

Benito's picture
Benito

I am switching my starter over to a diet of whole rye now.  I’ll start with 100% hydration for now since that is the easiest to mix and go from there.  Thanks again for reminding me of your post Gavin.

Benny

BXMurphy's picture
BXMurphy

Hi, Benny. Hi, folks.

You might have overlooked the No Muss No Fuss Starter by Dabrownman. In my opinion and that of others, it really is the way to go.

I am able to make my new rye starter behave like a well-trained puppy. Once it matures in another four weeks or so, I'm taking it down to 65% hydration and into the fridge it goes for a nice 12-week nap... only taking off 10g or so to make a weekly loaf.

It is simplicity itself and frees you to only concentrate on your levain, your dough, time, temperature, and process.

Dabrownman doesn't post as much as he used to as he pursues other ventures in retirement. Serious bakers, however, will do well to read and bake every one of his breads.

I have read and admired many of your posts. You are to be congratulated on your attention to detail and the "science" of sourdough baking.

You win points for technical execution but compared to dabrownman, many bakers fail in natural ability.

This is not a knock, mind you. Sweating the details is a good learning experience . But, in my opinion, you haven't mastered sourdough until you can bake a pairing.

Much like pairing a wine with a meal, you should be able to bake a loaf likewise. You should be able to say, "I'm having smoked brisket... I think this bread will be perfect!"

Dabrownman could do that. Effortlessly and on time.

I think his stuff is required reading. Notice how he doesn't care. Because he always "sticks the landing." It just works. Without a second thought.

Natural ability. Simplicity itself. Beautiful. Just beautiful. You could eat his posts!

In the meantime, may I recommend his starter as I remain,

Yours faithfully,

Murph

Benito's picture
Benito

Thanks for the link to DBM’s thread on the NMNF starter maintenance.  I’ve bookmarked it, if my plan of keeping my starter 100% hydration 100% rye, doesn’t pan out, I may try his method.  I don’t mind feeding my starter once or twice per week as it has become a habit, my assumption is that the use of rye will keep it very very active. 

BXMurphy's picture
BXMurphy

I'm not sure you will get away with a once or twice a week feeding without kneading the mixture after feeding it. You will need more food than I use to get it to last that long.

I feed twice a day using Bob's Red Mill Dark Rye. This all-rye starter doubles and peaks in 12 hours at 73°F (23°C) after feeding 20:30:30. At 15 hours, the starter is collapsing.

At 20:30 it is a chore to mix with a plastic knife in a 10 oz. disposable drinking cup. Very thick. Chunky. I will still have dry bits here and there. A metal knife allows me to sort of smear it around. I might as well knead for all the effort.

The age of my new rye starter is 16 days active. I baked a frisbee-shaped brick at three days active. I didn't know what I was doing at the time but I did it anyway.

You know... like a patient.

Murph

Benito's picture
Benito

Hey Murph, perhaps I wasn’t clear in what I wrote, I mean I’d feed once or twice per week keeping the start in the fridge in between.

Benny

BXMurphy's picture
BXMurphy

Yep. Refrigerator will work no sweat.

In fact, that's a good idea for me, too, while it matures. Why didn't I think of that?

Its fun and amazing to watch the predictability. But enough is enough. I know it works.

Now I have to work on timing a levain and bake while I bone up on baker's math.

I'm still marveling over the importance of time and temperature. And how that is influenced by yeast/LAB ratios to food. The journey is fun. It is no wonder how folks can be fascinated by bread science.

Thank you for being here.

Murph

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I was under the impression that rye (whole rye) was steroids for starters. Is that the case because of the bran (high ash content) and the huge amount of microbes that it introduced to the starter? Or is there something else about rye that makes starters hum?

Tom M's picture
Tom M

I’ve heard that rye has a lot of amylase activity, converting starch to sugars.  Sounds like there’s a lot of food available.  Could the poor gluten quality also help with mixing—self-stirring by bubble action?

 

—Tom

gavinc's picture
gavinc

Yes, I think that is correct. My understanding is that both lactic acid and acetic acid 'turn on' the enzymes. Amalyase breaks down starch into simple sugars (food for yeast), zymes break down sugar into alcohol and CO2, and protease breaks down protein chains. Interestingly, I read that yeast can produce its own zymes. Nature is amazing!

Cheers,

Gavin.

 

gavinc's picture
gavinc

I'm convinced that it's the huge amount of microbes latent in the rye grain that come to the party. I've elaborated a little more in my reply the Benny above.

Cheers.

Muddy Gardener's picture
Muddy Gardener

similar process is working great for me - I am feeding my refrigerated rye starter 1:1:1 overnight in a cool room (after I have taken out what I want for a levain build also overnight) -  after its overnight feed,  I stir it down and add a tidge more flour to give it something to think about slowly until the next time it comes out of the fridge - everything ends up with some rye in it this way but the starter seems really very happy so I'm not motivated to mess around with it (yet)