The Fresh Loaf

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When does "starter" become "dough"?

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Pablo's picture
Pablo

When does "starter" become "dough"?

Suppose that I was making a dough that required 50 grams of starter for 500 grams of flour at a 75% hydration ratio.  Also that my recipe requires me to add the salt after the first fermentation has doubled the dough.  Couldn't I just change my mind before the salt is added and put the whole thing in the 'fridge and call it "starter"? 

If the above is true, then I don't see the point to using more or less "starter" when creating a dough.  I'm not trying to be controversial, I'm seeking knowledge.  I'm making naturally leavened breads and I want to increase the sour factor.  I've read that one way to do that is to use "more starter".  I don't see that using more starter will make any difference since the whole batch of dough is essentially starter (albiet with salt) once it's ripened.

I have read that using drier mixes creates more sour flavour.  Perhaps I could mix an intermediate dough drier, like a biga...

Just thinking...

:-Paul

edh's picture
edh

Hi Pablo,

I've been enjoying your posts, as we are often on parallel tracks, both in terms of experience and direction we are taking our baking. I just realized the other day, after receiving the first test recipe from Peter Reinhart, that I haven't used anything but sourdough in the last 6 months or so. Well, during colder weather I sometimes use instant yeast to spike the dough as my kitchen temp makes for looong ferments, but in general, everything has natural yeast in it these days.

One big difference, however, is that I'm constantly searching for a not-sour taste in naturally leavened doughs. So I suppose if you do the opposite of what I do it might work?

I switched to a firm starter a year or so ago, because it takes longer for my maintenence starter to become ripe. I was finding that, with the liquid starter, it needed feeding twice daily and without that, got way too sour for my liking. Of course, eventually it died and I had to start over, so you might not want to take that advice too far, but my point there is that letting the starter get really ripe seemed to make it more sour, and that affected the taste of the bread. With the firm starter, even if it's really ripe, it doesn't seem to get that strong sour taste.

I also switched to white flour for the maintenence routine. I bake with a lot of whole grains, but when I'm just feeding the starter I use AP (10g starter:20g water: 40g flour) to convert to whole grains I just do one feeding with WW or Rye or whatever I'm using. I figure 10g of white starter in the whole recipe isn't going to make a big difference. Maintaining the starter with whole grain flour also made it mature faster, so it ended up with more sour.

So, in a nutshell, my suggestions (with the caveat that I don't really know what I'm doing!); try a liquid starter, maintained with whole grain, and a long ferment. As far as different amounts of starter goes; the more starter in the dough, the faster the rise, so you have less time for flavor to develop, but a strong tasting starter will also impart a lot of taste. If you do what you said above, and mix up the entire dough, then stick it in the fridge, you'll just be giving it a nice long, retarded ferment. I would think that would result in lots of flavor.

Good luck!

edh

Pablo's picture
Pablo

Thanks for the info and suggestions.  We are on an even more parallel track in that I, too, am after whole grain, but not too whole.  My dream flour is Giusto's Old Mill - all the germ and 20% of the bran, (12.5% to 13% protein) what I believe is called a "high extraction" flour.  I can't get it here in Canada and just did a trip to California and brought back 100lbs.  woo hoo!  So my dream baguette at this moment is a really sour baguette made with Old Mill flour.  I've only been back a couple of days and I'm just starting to play with this flour.  I'll incorporate your suggestions and post some results in the not too distant future.  Thanks again!

:-Paul

cdnDough's picture
cdnDough

This is probably off-topic, but I've fould small local mills are always keen to hear how you use thier products and what you think of them.  I realize that BC isn't known as a wheat growing province, but there are a few mills around.  Work has forced me to relocate a few times and I've had great success dealing with the following mills:

Oak Manor Farms (http://www.oakmanorfarms.ca) in Ontario

Daybreak Scheresky Mills (http://daybreakschereskymill.com) in Sask

Anita's Organic (http://www.anitasorganicmill.com) in BC

Nunweiler's Flour (http://www.pancakemix.com/trellis/flour) in BC

sphealey's picture
sphealey

If you look at Hamelman's 3-stage rye formulas (some of which actually have 4 stages), you will see that after the builds at various hydrations the end product of the 2nd-to-last step will have the same hydration as the original starter and that the formula calls for removing 0.5% of this build and saving it as tomorrow's starter.  He cautions that in a busy bakery it is easy to forget this step and therefore end the life of a starter, so that bakeries typically put an empty bowl on top of the container that the next-to-last build ferments in to remind them to put some in the bowl. 

If your builds have or end up at the same hydration as your starter this process applies to any dough that does not contain amendments.  I don't trust myself not to forget though, and I often add extra stuff to the sour builds (seeds, cracked grains, etc) so I keep my builds and my starter feedings separate.

sPh

Pablo's picture
Pablo

Cool, thanks.  I just picked up his book on the aforementioned trip.  I got great results from his scoring tips, I'll look closely at his sourdough techniques.

:-Paul

leemid's picture
leemid

I have sought the whole time I have used starters to capture the method for getting a good sour taste. By that I mean good flavor and the right amount of sour. By that I mean distinctly sour, but not bitter which I have also done and enjoyed. But that's another story.

The 'accepted truth' on the matter of wet or dry starters and sour is dry makes sourer bread because it has more food for the yeast to make acid from. So I switched my starter to dry (50% hydration) and have had great success since. But it is and always will be the process that makes the bread. If you want sour you need to let acids develop. The longer the fermentation the greater the amount of acid, generally speaking. I enlarge my starter from the little eternal piece to 400g before making dough. Then I ferment the dough over-night in the fridge, and depending on the room temp, the final rise can take from 2 - 6 hours. The taste is perfect.

Alternatives work too. I have tasted da crumb bums miche which is massive, but charged with only 15g of starter and long fermentations which had excellent taste and wasn't overly sour. I have altered my own process to exclude the original enlargement to 400g and just put the 100g that went into that directly into the dough, all recipe measurements being equal, and let it ferment at room temp over-night. That made excellent bread too, and a little more sour. But the one step that boosted the sourness easiest was to add 15g of rye to my normally all white dough. If you want REALLY sour, over-ferment rye starter and dough...

That's my story,

Lee

Pablo's picture
Pablo

Hey Lee,

When you enlarge your initial piece of starter to 400 g is that still at 50% hydration?  If so, do you have any tips/tricks for incorporating super dry preferments into the final dough?  I've done 50% bigas a couple of times and I end up tearing the biga into little bits and working it by hand into the water for a while until I give up and go at it with the immersion blender.

:-Paul

leemid's picture
leemid

I use an entirely senseless method for incorporating my 50% hydration enlargement into the dough. There is no point to this other than I did it one day and have repeated it since. When I begin the dough, I mix my water and flour together and let it sit (autolyze) for about an hour, although Michael Suas says in his book that it only takes 20 minutes. When the flour is incorporated, I take the 400g of starter out of its container and carefully stretch it out to a circle large enough to cover the flour paste and press it down on top before covering the bowl with plastic wrap. Now, before anyone adopts this procedure as the hope of all hopes, the only good it does is to have the two components together in the same location when the autolyze is done. Then after the time has passed, I turn the mess out onto the counter, starter side down, stretch the whole mess out rectangularly and sprinkle the salt thereon. I letter fold that and knead in the salt to blend. Then every half hour to hour for as long as I have, up to 4 hours, I do the french fold thing with a little kneading because l like to knead.

Then its over-night and on to infinity and beyond.

Lee

Pablo's picture
Pablo

Cool Lee.  I like to knead too.  I'm going to try your method for incorporation.  Here's what I've decided to try:  I'm starting with 50g of starter (15 rye 35 w/w - well reduced bran whole wheat) to that I've added 100g water and 100g flour.  I'm going to let that double and then mix it to 500 g at 50%.  I'm not sure what I'm going to do with that.  I think ideally I'd let it sit in about a 50 F environment, but I don't have that.  The idea being a long, cool ferment until it doubles.  Then I'll build it into my final dough, being about 1000g at 80%.  I usually bake 4 250g baguettes.  I'm currently enamoured of the slap-and-fold technique for kneading and I like to keep my dough wet enough to use that.  Throw in some stretch-and-folds as inspiration guides me.  Will it be sour?  Time will tell...

:-Paul

Eli's picture
Eli

I just cut into small pieces and knead and knead and knead. I must like to knead? Hmmm.

Sounds like fun!

Eli

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Paul,

There have been a number of deeply interesting discussions on the topic of sourness in sourdough. A couple links are provided at the bottom of this post.

As to the philosophical question you pose, I turn the Socratic table on you and ask: how would your starter taste if you baked it?

Mine, not so good. The ratio of beasties to neutral flour is definitely different in my starter (higher) and my dough (lower). No doubt the pH of both mixtures is different as well, as would be the relative sweetnesses.

The links below discuss many aspects and contradictions and nuances in the formation of sourdough cultures. What appears to be in agreement is that longer ripening, at lower temperatures, promotes a more sour flavor. That happens to be my experience as well. But there are so many variables that it makes sense to try different approaches, systematically, with your starter, and develop the techniques that foster the flavors you like.

Soundman (David)

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/1040

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/3415/not-so-sour-sourdough

Pablo's picture
Pablo

Thanks for the links and info.  So far as your Socratic question goes, I think that if I mixed some salt in, the starter would taste just fine if I baked it.  That was the point that I was getting to.  If I pull my starter out of the 'fidge and feed it, that's the same thing as pulling it out and building it into a dough, sans the salt.  Or so it seems at this point in my development.

:-Paul

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Paul, glad you found the links helpful.

I don't mean to say that I don't see a parallel, I do. But thinking about it, I don't imagine a chemist would find the structure of my starter and the dough I make from it all that similar, though many compounds would be common to both. Put another way, the microflora in my starter are simply much more intense than in my dough.

I'm sure baking my starter would result in an unpalatable end-product. Which isn't to say that I don't sometimes get similar results from my dough. ;-) Also, one of the things I want to emerge from building dough is the release of sugars from the starch in the flour. This isn't a goal I have for my starter.

In the end, it could simply be that your starter has a different composition from mine.

The issue of how to build a more sour starter remains an interesting one for lots of us.

Soundman (David)

Pablo's picture
Pablo

Hey David,

There's something basic I'm still not getting.  Maybe it has to do with how you feed and treat your starter.  I don't bake often enough to keep my starter on the counter.  It irks me to throw any away also so I only feed it once a week.  I keep it in the 'fridge.  Typically, I use 50 g (15 rye 35 white or w/w) as the first portion of building my dough.  With refrigerated starter some people say to feed it and stick it right back in the 'fridge and some say to let it double first (or almost double...) anyway, what I do is generally give it an hour or two to "get on its feet" and then stick it back in the 'fridge.  I feed at a 1:2:2 ratio.  I don't see much difference between that and using the initial 50g of starter and mixing flour and water with it.  I could just as well take a piece of that initial build and stick it back in the 'fridge and call it starter.  

:-Paul

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

Let's take the Hamelman Vermont as an example. It required 30 grams of active starter to 150g bread flour and 188g of water. Ratio is now 1:5:6 (or so). That sits for 12 to 16 hours and pretty much doubles in volume. What you now have is 120% hydration starter in a larger quantity. The instructions even tell you to pull 30g out to keep as your "mother". What's the difference between that and a normal 1:2:2 feed, other than new ratios? None that I can see. It will simply take longer for that initial "old starter" to populate the full mass to the same point as your standard jar full.

Next you add 850g flour (bread and rye) and 462g water to the above large starter (308g) so now your ratio is 1:2.5:1.5 (or so). You now have a large but considerably stiff starter. You could roll this into a ball and have what Mini O has in her fridge, except much bigger - and perhaps slightly different ratio.

Until you add salt after the autolyse then stretch, proof - in oher words, the gluten development - and then bake, it's still starter. I suppose its at these stages you are no longer handing stiff starter but dough; the definition probably switches based on the intent, I guess.

--------
Paul

Pablo's picture
Pablo

Thanks.  That's how it seems to me, as I lay in bed at 3 am, tormented and unable to sleep..."starter/dough what IS the difference?  I know, I'll get up and post!"

:-Paul

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

I like to view my starter as a developing dough.  Using a firm starter kept under refrigeration is a good way to connect the activity of the starter to its future leavening ability in your bread.  Refrigeration reduces the amount of souring and produces a good amount of fermentable sugrars via the breakdown of starch into fermentable sugars by amylitic enzymes.  If a greater sour taste is desired add rye flour to it.  To sweeten add whole wheat instead. 

Incorporating the culture into the dough (innoculation) is done by whisking in the starter portion with water till thouroghly dissovled and foamy (a smell good experience).  Salt is added at this stage.  Changing to the dough hook the flour is added and mixed and kneaded.  A portion of the starter is held back and used to mix up an unsalted dough using the same mixing bowl.  Nothing is discarded.  The only time starter is discarded is when it has gone too long without feeding.  Then a new starter dough is prepared and left to develop under refrigeration till ripe (~3 days).

Wild-Yeast

 

 

Pablo's picture
Pablo

That sounds like a great way to use my starter - the incorporation into water and then remixing of starter as well as dough, one with and one without salt, deleting the extra starter problem.

I've read in several places that a drier starter and long, slow ferment (refrigeration) produce more sour.

It's all moot at the moment.  I apparently mishandled my starters while I was away by putting them in the freezer for two weeks.  They did not revive.  I've done all the life support procedures I can think of and they sit there, not rising at all.  So I'm at step one today.

:-Paul

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

It's probably the simplest (and cheapest) way* to quickly get back in the game at this point. Unless you want that "I growed this myself!" claim to starting right from scratch.

http://home.att.net/~carlsfriends/ 

* Or someone nearby handing you a bit of their active discard.  

--------
Paul

Pablo's picture
Pablo

Thanks, that looks like fun.  I think I'll do both.  i can't wait that long to start doing SOMETHING about my starter situation.  Also, I just got some rye flour from a local miller and that feels like a good thing to use.   So things are sitting on my counter, hopefully doing their thing.  Meanwhile it's poolish - better than nutin'.

:-Paul

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Sorry to hear of your starter mishap. 

I've read that too on the souring of refrigerated starter .  For some reason I don't share the same experience. I only use an organic flour from Central Milling in Logan, Utah.  It is a high protein bread flour with diastatic malt.  I also use organic whole wheat and white rye flour to direct the taste to sour or sweet if needed.  10% of either will make a decided difference.  It hasn't needed any redirection now for nearly six months so it's in a fairly stable situation (knock head for hollow wood effect).  Another point is that I retard the dough for ~24 hours which adds an additional sweetness to it.  It leavens bread in around 6 hours but needs to be brought to room temperature before forming and proofing.  This is my "pain quotidien" (daily bread).  

Funny thing is that once you get "hooked" on really exceptional bread it becomes difficult to go back to anything of lesser quality or taste.  It's not snobbishness, just the fact that you have discovered the way bread really ought to be.  The new and improved yeast bread was sold as the modern "in" way to behave.  With the economies of scale and time, unit cost became the deciding factor. I suspect it also has something to do with a motive for profit, but that would be assuming too much now, wouldn't it?...,

Ranted out but now feeling better,

Wild-Yeast

 

Pablo's picture
Pablo

"Funny thing is that once you get "hooked" on really exceptional bread it becomes difficult to go back to anything of lesser quality or taste."

I heard that!  I've only been doing this for a couple of months and I can't imagine eating any other bread.  Luckily I have some in the freezer to tide me over.  

So, do you feed your starter a ratio of rye and whole wheat at every feeding?

:-Paul

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Yesireebub!  Don't know where that idiom comes from but it seems about right.

I usually smell and taste the starter at the beginning of the bread build cycle to determine if any corrections to the new starter need to be made.  If all is right no rye nor whole wheat are added.  I haven't added any for over six months now as the starter has been very stable.

If it's decided to bake sour rye, a separate starter with about 10-20% rye flour is prepared and left to develop under refrigeration. This produces a decidedly tangy rye sour bight and makes great Brooklyn, N.Y. Eastern European - Sour Rye.

Wild-Yeast

Sparkie's picture
Sparkie

Hi,

 I did not go to baking school, but have taken my share of cooking classes, with a few baking classes tossed in. I had one good class on Bread, by Chef Peter Munn, (Joy of Pastry). He was the baker who made "david's cookies" breads.

 I came across the Biga  method on my own, that is I noticed I could get exactly 1 good rise on a heavily grained loaf (55 to 60 % whole grain), just one. By that I mean if I let it rise 1 time it was a balloon, , but subsiquent rises were floppos. So I figured out that I needed to make a "sauer", by just letting yeast sit in flour and water(and or milk) and a tad of sugar for overnight , then next day , take the mess and make a Julia Child Pain De Mie recipe w/o 7 hours of rising. you get the dough together, rest say 10-20 mins then good 10 minute knead and shape, you can cold or warm proff it and do not breathe near it, , shove it in an oven.

 Years before when I was younger thinner and had more hair, I almost bought a pizzeria. I worked with the owner for 3 months to help him out. I made dough with him. I never ever realized how importanta the rest in the retarder was. He told me, If we took dough that was made and let rise for a few hours and then made pies with it, it would make a million big bubbles and be unruley and not stretch right. BUT 12 hours or more in a cold dark humid place was perfection. His dough was flour salt yeast water and a rather small amount of sugar .

 I also realised my dough was way way way too dry. I stopped method and made wetter retarded doughs, put in a stone (uneeded actually for siggie pie, and even neopolitans come out nice on a plain steel pan.), and cranked the oven to 550 . WHAM NYC pizza from my oven. dough wetness  and baking temp were the biggest issue next to cold retarding.

A 550 degree oven bakes a round thin pie in not more then 8 minutes or less, and you spin the pie regardless.

 I took the left over dough a few days later and "dissolved" it in the water for the next batch with some sugar and flour .  Where it crusted over I tossed the ugly parts and kept the dry and spongie stuff.  The pie was too sour, (to me only, others like it), but experimenting led me to the rye breads as wellas white breads. eventually I figured to just make the sour, unless I had left over "pie" dough. Of course if one has a deep fat fryer, there is NEVER left over pizza dough. With Ricotta and ham/provolone and nice garlicy spinaccio or buttered asparagas, one can make deep fried calzones. Pizza sauce is uncooked, so pop that in a pot after pie making so you can do the calzone with dipping sauce. mmmm., but drain the ricotta first, and you can make them things to take to school the next day and then there are the stromboli......

 Yes my cardiologist has banned me from the kitchen.

 sparkie

Pablo's picture
Pablo

Now there's a line of jars on the bathroom counter.  That room stays warm overnight.  Starters are happening.  I'm postulating that some inital mildly unpleasant odors are related to the yeast and bacteria getting themselves squared away, the bad stuff dying off and the good stuff coming to dominate the environment.  In a few days I expect everyone to smell good with the regimen of continued feedings and, essentially, cleaning out the dead stuff.

So I'm thinking... Perhaps this initial stage is where the dominant yeast organisms become dominant.  I mean, if there are different strains associated with rye and whole wheat for instance, then whichever is used to start the starter and therefore to mulitply and essentially determine the environment, then those will dominate in that starter, assuming that they're not overwhelmed by something else along the way somewhere.  

Also I'm thinking that white flour probably doesn't have so many yeasts as whole flours, either rye or whole wheat.  I think the yeast is generally associated with the bran - the outer coating.  So if I started a starter with whole rye or whole wheat and then fed it with white flour, I'm probably feeding the intial yeast that came along on the whole grain in the beginning as opposed to introducing new strains.  If so, then converting my rye starter to white really means keeping the yeast but changing the flour...

And a question.  If desireable wild yeasts are both in the flour and in the air, why do instructions generally have the jars sealed?  It seems like you'd want them open to the air initially to catch any local stuff floating around.

And another question.  If I had a mature starter that was created with, say whole wheat flour and water, nothing else.  And I had an equal amount of the same flour and water, only not fermented, just freshly mixed together.  The difference is...?  I'm thinking the difference is the number of yeast cells and the ph of the environment and perhaps some associated byproducts e.g. alcohol.

I am SO READY to bake once I get a functioning starter again.

:-Paul

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Understand Sourdough?

The subject title is meant as an understatement.  Research on sourdough has yielded the fact that the symbiosis of the lacto and aceto bacters when combined with wild yeasts is still poorly understood.  The food industry has long looked at sourdough as a natural taste enhancer and would like to exploit that character in commercially produced food products.  The problem lies in the additional cost that the process incurs.  Maybe this is a blessing for all the artisan bakers of the World, a barrier to commercial exploitation...,

Retarding Sourdough 

On a more serious note though, I believe Spakie has it right when it comes to retarding pizza dough.  It makes a knockout pie bar none,  also BLTs made from retarded sourdough bread are in a word spectacular.  Same kind of thing as a Siamese cat eating fresh caught Ahi Tuna. 

Rye Flour & Sour

Rye flour always produces a really sour starter, a staple of "Ashkenazi" sour rye breads.  The discovery of whole wheat + retarding the starter to "sweeten" it was something I stumbled on.  One thing that I need to clarify is that a sweet starter is still sour to the taste and has a slightly sweet fragrance with a base support of fresh yogurt.  A sour rye starter has a decidedly acid bite to the fragrance with a base support of fermented pickles.  

La Trepidations de Pablo

The fact that your starters are now going through their adolescent phase is a good sign that you're back on your way Paul.  I've noticed that my starter has an early-on phase in which sulphide like fragrances are present.  I remember something from my beer brewing books in which beer yeast goes through a similar phase.  I believe your thought on it having something to do with the a phase of the yeast growth cylcle is on the right track...,  Keep us posted on the adventures of a Sourdough Restart, or, will bread ever rise again from the freezer burned ashes of Pablo's starter?...,

Wild-Yeast 

Pablo's picture
Pablo

Stay tuned for further developments.  :-)

:-Paul