The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

firm starter losing it's firm

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Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

firm starter losing it's firm

I have an odd problem which doesn't seem to affect bread quality, but it's something that i'm curious about.

I have a mother starter from Reinhart's WGB that claims to be firm...well, it's thicker than my liquid levain from Silverton.

My question is this: I remove a portion of the firm starter to feed it in advance of baking...I've been working my way thru Local Breads...and I feed it according to directions and get a nice little lump of firm dough.  so I sit it in my little container on the counter and next morning, voila!

I no longer have a lump of dough...I have a thick batter that has risen and definitely shows yeast activity.  And it raises the bread, just as it should.

What I'm puzzling about is why this firm starter changes texture so much, and is it supposed to?  I guess this is more chemistry and less artisinal baking...

Maybe i should just stop complaining and eat the bread?!

 

Windi

Philadelphia PA

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Windi.

It sounds to me like your starter is behaving just like it should. The fermentation process generates water and carbon dioxide (and alcohol) from the sugars in the flour. The firm starter gets aerated and looser as it ferments.

After an 8-12 hour fermentation of a firm starter at room temperature, what you want is a starter that is domed on top, full of bubbles held by stretchy strands of gluten. It should smell yeasty and fruity and, maybe a bit alcoholic. It should be at least double the volume you started with. As long as it hasn't expanded and then collapsed, or generated free liquid floating on top (hooch), either of which would indicate over-fermentation, I think it is in good shape. (Liquid starters behave a bit differently.)

Artisinal baking is a lot about chemistry. Fortunately, you don't have to know much about the chemistry to bake good bread. On the other hand, understanding the basics of bread chemistry doesn't hurt.


David

SteveB's picture
SteveB

Another thing to consider, especially in this hotter weather (hotter at least here in New England), is the activity of proteases in the dough.  Once a firm starter is fed, fermentation proceeds and, as David said, leads to an expanded dough ball, full of bubbles.  However, if the fully fermented doughball is allowed to sit too long without another feeding, proteases will begin their work, degrading the gluten and ultimately turning your nice, puffy doughball into a sticky, gloppy mess, reminiscent of chewing gum on a hot sidewalk.  This enzyme activity is noticeably more rapid at the higher temperatures of summer.  Overfermented firm starters, at least in my hands, do not produce a noticeable "hooch" like overfermented 100% hydration starters do. 

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Firm starter will eventually form a hooch. It just takes a lot longer. They have more to feed on before they exhaust their nutrients, which is when hooch forms, as I understand it.

I've had hooch form on a firm starter that was refrigerated for several weeks without being fed. By then, the starter is no longer "a sticky, gloppy mess." It's the consistency of potato soup.


David

Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

Your comments are helpful!  I'm not getting hooch on my refreshed starter...I usually feed when I go to bed and bake the next morning, so it's within the 8-12 hr window.  I am not getting "doming" per se...but then again, the container I'm using is short and squat, so what I look for the next morning is obvious growth of the dough mass and the appearance of bubbles/air pockets where the dough touches the base and sides.

I'm also hoping that by refreshing overnight I reduce the heat index on my starter; SteveB, it can get pretty impressive (oops, I mean oppressive) temp-wise here in Philly too.  But I'm sure it's a factor.  The hot days mean that the official rise and proof of my breads happens faster than most recipes call for, and the humidity can make kneading interesting too.  But it's worth it; my kids are raving about the hamburger and hotdog rolls I've been making based on Leader's Local Breads.  Italian sausage on rosemary filone buns was wonderful!

We have an old brick grill in our backyard; maybe I can get the hubby to transform it into an oven?  ;-)

 

Paula F

Philadelphia PA

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Windi.

It sounds like you are doing great things with your bread. Having an enthusiastic customer base (kids) makes all the work a pleasure.

I've used demi-baguettes for rolls with sausages, but the rosemary filone would be wonderful - in my imagination. I need to make some on your recommendation.


David

Soundman's picture
Soundman

With my limited experience with sourdough (2 months) I can't offer expertise like David S. and SteveB, but I do have a suggestion. It's based on the assumption that unless you are baking sourdough every day, you are refreshing your starter after removing it from the refrigerator. In that case it helps, in two ways, to refresh the starter a couple of times before baking.

So here's my suggestion: try refreshing your starter EARLY the day before baking as well as at night, before bed. By early I just mean 8 to 12 hours before your night-time feeding. The reason is it will allow you to observe your starter's feeding cycle. Every couple of hours or so, if possible, take a peek at your mysterious micro-friends. It really helps to watch the starter slowly begin to increase in size, form small bubbles, and then take off, in order to find out how long at your current seasonal temperature, it takes your starter to peak.

This will get you the benefit of strengthening your starter and its leavening potential, as well as showing you how much time you really have after feeding before your starter peaks, which should dictate or at least influence when you mix your dough.

How about some pix?

Soundman (David)

Windischgirl's picture
Windischgirl

David, what I've ended up doing for the roll/bun thing is following any of the recipes that make two loaves, shaping half the dough into a loaf or boule, and forming the other half into rolls of some sort.  I make my rolls about 3 oz apiece--a little smaller than commercial rolls--and my family seems to think it provides a better bread:filling ratio (whenever I would buy bakery rolls for meals they'd never finish the whole roll and complain it was "too much bread").

The shaping is easy: I simply pat the dough into a square (for hamburger buns)or a rectangle (for sausage/dogs) and cut into squares or strips...I do only minimal shaping.  I actually like the square buns as having a corner makes it easier to split a crusty roll evenly.  I also like the rustic look.

Bon appetit!

Windi

Philadelphia PA

dmsnyder's picture
dmsnyder

Hi, Windi.

In the instructional tapes of Prof. Calvel from CIA, he says his favorite bread is rolls made just as you describe making yours - just cutting squares from pain rustique dough and baking them without any shaping at all.


David