The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

The last couple of weeks experiments

proth5's picture
proth5

The last couple of weeks experiments

Nature seems to have granted me an abundance of patience and in the past few weeks I have been undertaking experiments that seem destined to use it.

 

I have been wondering why my levain – which given the way I feed it should be dead by now – lives, thrives, and raises bread every week.  I have also been wondering about the results of soaking my home milled overnight prior to a mix and bake.

 

So for the past few weeks I have fed a separate levain at 1:5:5.  What I have noticed is that it seems to be “a little” more lively and certainly is not the soupy pool that my standard levain tends to be.  But otherwise, I can’t honestly say that anything else is different.  I’ve also been trying to be more aware of my feeding routine for my standard levain.  What I find is that (as with so many of us who do things by feel) I really do take a good look at it and make adjustments.  Looking a little listless?  I’ll take out more and feed it more.  “Spring” coming to the Rockies? (Those of you who live in the Rockies know why I put that in quotes.)  Feed it more often or put it in a cool place.  So maybe my routine was not quite so bad after all.

 

Anyway, the proof is in the baking.  Since this week I was soaking my home ground, I varied from my routine and made a stiff levain build with my new levain (60% hydration) and made my usual baguettes, plain whole wheat bread and pizza.  I stayed with my usual methods with the exception of soaking the whole wheat flour with added salt at room temperature overnight, and doing one less series of “strokes” on the whole wheat as I really felt it was coming together.

 

Pizza goes away too quickly for pictures.  But I do have shots of the others experiments (I’m no photographer – but I know y’all like pictures, so I try…) which I have posted here: 

 

http://s264.photobucket.com/albums/ii183/proth5/?action=view&current=Soakedwholewheat.jpg

 

http://s264.photobucket.com/albums/ii183/proth5/?action=view&current=WeeklyBaguette.jpg

 

I will not do a complete critique of the many, many flaws in the baguette - but I did have a small slashing problem with the whole wheat which contributed to it not fully expanding. 

 

Conclusions?  Well, my bread is nothing if not consistent.  This is pretty much what I bake every week.  So, practiced eye or precise feeding ratios – they seem to be the same for me.  Soaking overnight?  Not doing much yet in my hands, but I will probably keep doing it just to see if some small adjustments will make a difference.

 

Meanwhile my patience stands me in good stead as I wait for the lab results on my home ground (I promised that I’d do this someday and my word is my bond.  Sometimes it takes time to get results, but that’s how bonds are…)

 

Happy Baking!

Comments

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi Pat,

Your comments about maintenance are interesting. I was curious to hear if your starter maintained at a low feeding ratio most of the time would like or dislike the higher feeding ratio. Thanks for trying it.

My starter is normally maintained about 1:4:5 every 12-24 hours, depending on the temperature, and I haven't tried switching some of it over to a very low, wetter, more frequent feeding cycle yet. I'll have to get around to it at some point, but I'm somewhere between recovery from my big Inca Trail trip and getting ready for some spring sailing up in Maine. No time for bread lately, it seems.

I still think the fundamental difference between the higher and lower feeding ratios is that there is a much higher average pH for at least a few hours in the high feeding ratio case that can allow for the rapid growth of L. sf bacteria that are otherwise inhibited in growth and activity at pH below about 4. So, I believe the high ratio feeding, particularly with higher ash flour, should favor L. sf or similar that do not tolerate low pH well, while the lower ratio feeding may favor the yeast and maybe more acid tolerant strains of Lactobacillus bacteria.

I suppose the most extreme version of the higher ratio approach would be to use WW or at least Golden Buffalo (higher ash flour that will buffer the pH longer) in a higher ratio feeding to allow for the most extended possible period of pH in the 5.5 to 4 range.

In one of Ganzle's papers there is a graph showing a typical cycle of growth of L. sf (Lactobacillus bacteria), C. milleri (yeast), and the various fermentation products vs. time for a 5% inoculation. At first, L. sf and C. milleri both grow (L. sf a little faster), but after a few hours, the pH drops. The L. sf slows in growth, but the C. milleri continues to grow for quite a while longer, until finally all the population counts and fermentation products reach their maximum values and flatten out. If you feed at a lower ratio, then the L. sf would have a much shorter time to grow, and so would reach a much lower maximum population before its growth is slowed by the pH. Ganzle said this effect is verified in cultures maintained with low feeding ratios that have chronically lower pH levels. He then goes on to say that other more acid tolerant bacteria such as L. pontis may end up dominating those lower pH cultures.


Ganzle's graph mentioned above is based on having L. sf bacteria that is inhibited by low pH paired with C. milleri yeast in the culture. Other strains such as L. pontis apparently tolerate a lower pH, so the graphs in that case would probably show L. pontis and whatever yeast pairs up with it growing together, rather than the lagged cycle of growth shown in Ganzle's paper, where the L. sf grows first while the pH is high, then the C. milleri (the yeast) catches up after the pH drops.

Anyway, it all boils down to the fact that the sourdough culturing process is very forgiving within a wide range of feeding routines. If you feed differently, maybe the balance between yeast and Lactobacillus will be changed or maybe a new, different strain of Lactobacillus or yeast will become established in the culture, depending on the conditions that prevail.

Bill

proth5's picture
proth5

Bill,

Welcome back.  Hope the trip went well.

I was reading a couple of Ganzle's papers.  I haven't geared up on the pH tests for some reason (need to get to that...) but I really did expect to see my culture fumble a bit when I changed the feeding.  But it didn't - not one little blip.

Of course, if you look at the way I use it - I take a very small amount and build it with an overnight fermentationat.  What I'm doing is keeping it with a low feeding ratio when it is on the counter, but giving it a high feeding ratio when I go to bake it.  Perhaps what I have in there (and you must realize that I'm trying to figure out how to get an actual analysis of my levain to see exactly what kind of lactobacillus I've got) is just adapted to a wide range of conditions. I'm going to maintain the two levains for a few more weeks and repeat the test just to see.  They performed identically, though, right down to fermentation and proofing times.   But really, when it comes down to it, I think my feeding regime is based on observing the levain and giving it what it needs to stay healthy.  Isn't that what it is all about in the end?

Also, for grins, I have been working on starting a culture from scratch.  Although the poor thing gets to be "free range" for only about 2.5 days a week and is refrigerated the rest of the time it seems to be perking along.  Of course my entire house may be so well permeated with my current levain that anything new just had to start up and grow.

Tough duty, sailing in Maine, but I suppose someone has to do it...

I'll post the flour test results when they come in.  I only ground enough to do moisture, farinograph and startch damage, but that's something...

Pat

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Pat,

If you take the result of the overnight build and use that as your storage starter, I imagine that overnight high ratio feeding, if done often enough, might be sufficient to bring an acid intolerant strain like L. sf, if it's in your culture, to a much higher population count than would prevail if the culture were always fed at a very low ratio. So, maybe if you are alternating between lower and higher ratios, that allows for L. sf or similar less acid tolerant Lactobacillus strains to continue to thrive in the culture.

I wonder if maintaining a starter at a lower ratio favors making breads with low ratios and multiple builds. I think recipes I do with my starter that involve 10% inoculations work a little better than ones that specify multiple 30% inoculations, for example. Maybe that's because I regularly maintain my starter at feeding ratios around 10 to 1.

In my case, I maintain a small amount of culture - about 50g - which is always fed the same way. I don't usually use my "intermediate builds" for breads in my feeding strategy for the starter, even though it's a very reasonable thing to do. If I did that, I know inevitably I'd make the mental mistake of forgetting to take a small piece from the intermediate build to store away for next time.

Bill

proth5's picture
proth5

Bill, 

Actually, I take a small part of my storage starter and do a build - but feed my starter independently.  I'd forget to take a part away, too.  Although what I do is do one big build for all my breads (usually 3 or 4 different ones each week) and parcel it out.  My spreadsheet does have a field for "extra" so I sometimes just make extra in case I want to do an unplanned batch.  Sometimes I stir the extra into my starter, which is back to my unscientific approach of "looking at the starter and giving it what I think it needs."  Seems like I might be creating the right conditions for either a wide range of beasties or at least ones that thrive with uncertainty.

I generally go for a 25% innoculation in the winter - drawing it down to 12% in the summer.  This, plus prefermenting no more than 12% of my flour seems to be the tipping point between a tight crumb and a more open crumb.  I don't know why (perhaps a smaller amount of acid in the loaf?) but I know (after baking loaf after loaf with varying percents of each) that it works.  Since it may be warm here any day now (or it may snow - who knows?) I'm going to try a 12% innoculation in the next couple of weeks.

The non-rye sourdough formulas in the book "Bread..." describe the technique that I follow, although I vary the percents.  I have time for one intermediate build and then it's on to bread. The author of the "Bread Builders" suggest this whole multiple build up of the starter and, frankly, I don't have the time, although I am sure he bakes wonderful bread. 

But I have to say as free spirited as I am with my starter, I bake consistent bread.  Again, is this a matter of making subtle ajustments (even when I try not to) because after 40 or so years of bread baking, I instinctivly give the bread "what it needs?"  Who can tell?

As I have said before, the more I delve into the science (and I really do love doing it!), the more I appreciate the art. 

Pat

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Pat,

We seem to agree that good results come by using a fermented flour percentage down around 10% in intermediate builds or dough. I think we like to make similar breads, in both flour types and typical recipe, so maybe that isn't so surprising.

However, what are you referring to when you say you use an inoculation of 25% or 12% depending on summer or winter. Do you mean your starter or a bread recipe or intermediate build? How are you defining "inoculation"?

Also, now I'm not sure I've understood your feeding routine. Could you summarize again, if I'm not driving you nuts, what your starter feeding routine is? I'm curious what is the highest ratio you would normally use as you vary it depending on your observation of the starter's liveliness.

I'll be fascinated to hear if you get an actual organism analysis done on your starter, if I understood you are doing that. How do you go about doing that? I didn't see that as an option at a place like CII Labs.

Bill

 

proth5's picture
proth5

Bill,

No problem. 

My usual feeding routine: 

I keep about 1/2 liter of storage starter.  I take out "some" of it (more or less depending on how it looks) and usually add 2 oz water and 2 oz flour.  I do this once a day on Thur, Fri, Sat, and Sun morning.  Then the levain is stored in a 45F refrigerator from Sun afternoon to Thursday eve.

Sometimes I add more flour and water, sometimes I add the leftovers from a levain build. But I don't ever take out more than half and I don't add any more than 3oz each of flour and water.

Very seldom, I will feed the thing twice a day.  Very seldom.

In terms of what I am doing to use my levain.

Refer to "Bread.."  about page 146 - the "Production notes" section. (See also his words on page 148 - about salting the build...)

I create a 100% hydration build.  I pre ferment 12% of the total flour.  My storage starter is added to flour and water so that about 25% (or 12% as the case may be...)of the total weight of the preferment is composed of storage starter.

The author of "Bread..." gives some ways of calcuating the exact weights.  I, perhaps being better at algebra, decided to create a spreadsheet where I could just plug in 25% and 12% of total flour and the thing tells me the weights.

If I knew how to post a spreadsheet, I would post this one, because it allows one to simultaneously vary desired total hydration, starter hydration, build hydration, use up to 4 different flours and 5 extra ingredients for up to 4 different breads from one build.  It is a lot of fun.  The it produces a worksheet in large type so you can just prep and go. 

I hope this helps.  We all seem to have different terms and habits, but the method in the book cited is the one I use.

Well, I don't know how to get an organism analysis done, but I am going to search for a way of doing it.  I think it would be most interesting to know...

Hope this helps.

 

Pat

 

 

 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Pat,

I think I understand your process. To me your culture is indeed maintained at a chronically very low pH. If the maximum feeding ratio is just a doubling of the culture, the pH will stay low, probably never much above 4, I would think. If the Ganzle data is right, it's hard to see L. sf thriving in those conditions. His discussion of finding L. pontis instead of L. sf in culturing machines that continuously and very slowly add new flour and water seems relevant to your method.

However, I haven't seen any papers that give detailed growth rates as a function of environmental variables for L. pontis, as opposed to L. sf. So, who knows what the relative growth rates of L. pontis and L. sf would be for higher pH. It might take a long time for any noticeable change in your culture maintained at 1:5:5, if L. pontis does OK at higher pH levels. You have me very curious to see if mine would suffer when fed something like 2:1:1. Argh, you realize this is not the time for an obsessive bread excursion? In the fall and winter I have more time for bread experiments.

Oh, I just got a neat little refrigerating incubator to precisely control fermentation temperatures from the lab supply place where I got the burette, magnetic stirrer, clamps, etc., for my little titration experiments, if I ever manage to get to those started before the fall. Spring and summer just aren't great for bread experiments around here.

Bill

 

proth5's picture
proth5

Bill, 

I'm about to call a hiatus on the serious experimenting for most of the rest of the spring/summer.  This is the season where I grow produce and make preserves. 

Of course, the bread production never really stops.  I  mean ya gotta eat... 

But I'll keep up my 1:5:5 culture to see if it starts to suffer and keep you posted.

In the meantime, my "from scratch" starter just passed the threshold of doubling every 12 hours or so.  This is with about 6 total days at room temperature with no muss or fuss.  I am going to tend it for a couple weeks and try a bake to see if it does anything different from my more mature starter...

But I do have incubator envy.  Sounds like fun!

Pat

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Pat,

Right, I guess we both have our reasons for not pursuing a lot of bread experiments over the spring and summer. Fall will hopefully be more productive in the bread lab. Patience...

Nice work starting a new starter. I started some starters accidentally a while ago while conducting my home ash content measurement experiments. It was interesting to realize that 5 grams of flour in 100g of DI water, stirred periodically, would result in a nice low pH and sour smell after 24 hours. I did it quite a few times, and then tried to feed them from there. They worked well and started up very quickly. I did a little blog entry on it. Of course, I also probably have zillions of viable Lactobacillus and yeast organisms contaminating my kitchen, so maybe it's too easy and too good to be true. I'll have to try starting one the same way at my parents' cabin in MT or maybe over the summer when we get out of the swamp (literally the Great Swamp Wildlife Refuge) here in NJ and go to Nantucket, MA for a couple of months.

Good luck with produce growing.

I've always wanted to be able to control my fermentation temperatures more precisely, and the new little incubator (it's like one of those college dorm refrigerators - should easily accomodate my typical baking sessions of 5Kg of flour in dough or loaves or whatever) provides me with 4C-50C (+/- 0.5C), and is just the right size to fit in a nook in my  basement workshop, which has become an experimental mill and chem lab, now that I have my stand, burette, stirrer, pH meter, Meadows stone mill, Meadows sifter, Retsel Mill, and grain moisture meter. The operation is getting a little cramped down there. Obviously there are much cheaper approaches to all this, as we've discussed, but for me this is mainly a fascinating hobby and scientific/engineering diversion. I hope the blog entries are informative, at least, even if the methods aren't very practical for general home use.

One of the things I want to try is to see what the flavor effect is of doing a long fermentation at 65F, as mentioned by Mike Avery and others.

I also want to measure and confirm my temperature vs. activity curves, currently derived from Ganzle's papers and some of my own test fermentations. I think graphing total acid vs. time at various temperatures should allow me to get a measure of activity during the log growth phase of each fermentation at different temperatures. I found the Ganzle activity vs. temperature graphs are amazingly accurate in predicting doubling times for my levains and doughs, if adjusted for salt and hydration in the right way. Now I should be able to verify those curves more accurately, since the TTA is a purely chemical indication of activity that shouldn't be affected that much by dough or levain mechanical factors.

By the way, the Inca Trail was a fascinating adventure - http://www.wraithnj.com/perupics.

Bill

proth5's picture
proth5

Bill,

I need to take some time to really look at them, which I don't have right now.

Just glancing at them jogs my memory about the fabulous Peruvian textiles, though...

Pat

proth5's picture
proth5

Bill, 

Did I mention that my pH test kits are meant for testing the water for my fish?

I just ran a pH test and in case you were wondering, fish cannot live in my levain no matter how I feed it.

I need to get tests that measure a wider range - and then I can get about testing...

D'oh!

Pat

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Pat, 

It's been a while since I did pH testing on the conditions that prevail just after I feed my starter 1:4:5. I think it should be around 5.5 right after feeding, if I remember from way back there somewhere. I'll let you know when I do more testing. I think with low ratios, like 2:1:1, i.e. less than doubling the starter each time, the pH will remain closer to 4 all the time. A very mature starter seems to have a pH around 3.6.

I have a pH meter and use the method mentioned in the sourdough faqs, i.e. 15g of sample dough or starter is diluted in 100g distilled water and then the pH of the solution is measured. I plan to do a round of titrations to measure total acid if I can find the right stretch of time.

Bill

proth5's picture
proth5

Bill,

Well the pH is definitely below 6 - because that's about how low most fish can live. The test is very accurate, but over the narrow range.

Once spring planting is done, I'll get back to this...

Pat

foolishpoolish's picture
foolishpoolish

Wow I am amazed at the soaked whole wheat bread you have there. That looks nothing like any wholewheat bread I have ever made even when I'm using sifted WW. How do you get such an pale and open crumb on a 100% WW? Stunning!

Thanks for posting your Pain de Mie recipe on the thread I started elsewhere. However I do have my concerns. Everytime I've used a (relatively) low percentage innoculation in either intermediate builds or final doughs, I've ended up with horribly sour results with the dough often just giving up and becoming sour soup. I've not had luck with anything under 30% (I lost track of the number of times I've tried, without success, to build from small innoculations)

Ironically, my (white) starter feeding schedule is of a lower percentage - 1:4:4 daily at room temperature (admittedly that does vary). If I read you correctly, if I increase the percentage of old starter when feeding my storage starter then I can use a lower percentage when building up dough for baking?

I'm starting to think I live in a completely different bread paradigm where 'typical' sourdough behaviour just doesn't apply.

Thanks FP

proth5's picture
proth5

FP, 

This is my home milled high extraction (85%) flour.  It is hard white winter wheat which may account for the color.  This is just what I turn out week after week.

I will caution you that my feeding routine works for me - but is not recommended by anyone else who works with sourdough.  In theory my starter should be dead or at least weak which is what we have been going on about in this thread.  Why does it live and thrive given the way I feed it?  I do not recommend that you do anything like what I do - I really don't.  Follow the directions from others, please!

As I said on the other thread, if you would like to try at different levels of preferment or amount of sourdough - I can work up  a formula at those percents if you want.

Pat