The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Potato Starter Conversion Question

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Marilyn's picture
Marilyn

Potato Starter Conversion Question

I'm fairly new to bread baking and am really excited about he bread that I've been baking using a 20+ year old starter from a friend.  It's fed with 1 cup warm water, 3/4 cup sugar and 3 tbsp. instant potato flakes.  I've been making some really nice sandwich loaves, dinner rolls, and cinnamon rolls using her dough recipe and experimenting with different flours.  The best loaves and dinner rolls so far were made with 50/50 KA Bread Flour and Gold Medal Organic Unbleached AP flour.  However, the dough is a little sweet, and now that I'm fairly comfortable managing the rising times, kneading and baking parts, I'm ready to experiment a bit.  I did try making an all white wheat loaf, and it did not rise well.


This weekend, after reading Mike's sample of his book from sourdoughhome.com, I took 2 cups of the starter, put it in a bowl and fed it with 1 cup KA whole wheat and 2 cups of the Gold Medal Organic AP.  It doubled in size and was really foamy after about 10 hours in the oven with no heat, only the light on to try to achieve 85 deg.  I kept 2 cups of it, and refrigerated it in a mason jar.  I plan to feed it again the same way around Wednesday.  (It really hurt to pour all that extra starter out.)  After reading another thread discussing whole wheat in starters, what should I feed it with?  All white flour, or stay with the blend.  I plan to feed it a few times, then try baking with various flours beginning with white and moving on to rye and whole wheat once I'm sure the starter will work.


Does it sound like I'm on the right track to something that will work? I thought starting with a known working culture and converting it to flour base rather than the potatoe and sugar should work.  Thoughts?

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Hi Marilyn, and welcome to TFL!


I think you're on the right track. You can't go wrong following Mike Avery's methods. And yes, with all the rise you got, I think it's fair to say your starter is active and ready to bake with.


It's not necessary to feed your starter any sugar directly, so I recommend you stick to flour (various kinds) and water when refreshing your starter. Including some or all whole wheat and/or whole rye seems to help in promoting the bacteria that help produce a sour tang in sourdough.


I recommend also that you use the Search feature on TFL. Just try a couple of searches and you will be amazed at all the knowledge that has floated around on this website over the years.


Now about all that starter that went to waste... you'll be glad to know you don't need to toss it. For one thing, you can use your discarded starter in baking a lot of other good things, like pancakes and muffins, or cinnamon rolls! These days I include the relatively small amount of discarded starter I have in the bread I'm about to bake. (It may surprise you, but a small amount adds a lot of flavor.)


Do you bake every day, or only once or twice a week? If every day, you will be feeding and using your starter without much, if any, discard. If only weekly, then you will need to refrigerate your starter and refresh it once or twice before baking.


You will get a better idea of just how much starter you really need to keep after you've been baking sourdough for a while. The answer will depend on how much bread you are baking, and whether your recipe requires putting a lot of starter directly into the dough, or if it calls for building a "final levain" from a small amount of starter before making the dough.


In any case, you're on the right track!


Soundman (David)

Marilyn's picture
Marilyn

Thank you for the information, David.  I try to bake once a week.  I work full time with a 35 minute commute, so weekends is about the only time I've been able to work out baking so far.  Plus we are always dieting here, so can't bake nearly as often or as much as I would like. 


I've always been very interested in breads and wanted to be really good at baking them.  We visited several countries in Europe last year and my family got a kick out of me and the breads.  We'd walk by a bakery and I'd be stuck in front of it checking it out while everyone else was walking on.  At meals I was always enjoying and analysing the different breads.  Much different there than here in the US.  So much variety!!


I'll also try the search feature.  It's always annoying when a newbie joins a forum and asks all the questions again that have been addressed so many times before.  My family has been given a list of the books on baking that I want for Christmas, so hopefully I will get a couple of them.


Thank you, again.  This is becoming a very interesting and addicting adventure, and I love the smell and feel of the dough and the baking process.  It's amazing the differences in results with different combinations of just the white flours at the local grocery.  I had no idea bread was this complex. 


Again, thank you for your comments!!


Marilyn 

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Hi Marilyn,


You sound perfect for TFL! I have the same ability to divert myself looking at bread while everyone has moved on to the main event. I'm also a weekend baker, more or less, with a FT job, so we have the same bread-baking constraints.


So let's talk about your starter: it sounds ready to use to me. It's feeding happily and growing in the process. You didn't start it from scratch, so it's probably got all the microflora you need to make good bread. Using a percentage of whole rye will help give a sour flavor, but AP flour will work fine now that your starter is active.


As a weekend baker, you need to get a feeding routine that works for you. I suspect you will want to refrigerate your starter between bakes. You will need to refresh your starter between 1 time and 3 times to get it active after removing it from the refrigerator in preparation for baking bread with it.


Just as an illustration, I will give you an example of how my routine for a weekend's baking might go.


I find now, after 7 months with my starter(s) that the following routine works for me, which requires 2 refreshments of the starter before building the "final levain" that gets used in the dough to leaven and flavor the bread:


1) Thursday night remove starter from fridge, let it warm up, and refresh it by removing most of the starter and feeding the remainder with flour and water, putting the discards in a container for use later; let the starter feed overnight;


2) Friday morning do the same, letting the starter feed until the evening;


3) Friday night build my final levain and let it feed overnight, meanwhile put the starter back in the fridge till next Thurdsay (thus 2 starter refreshments);


4) Saturday morning mix the dough, without final levain and salt (or the "discarded starter") and let "autolyse" (rest and build gluten) for 30 minutes, then add in final levain, salt, discards, and mix the dough;


5) Fold dough every 90 minutes during bulk fermentation (4 - 6 hours total);


6) Divide dough and shape, then proof for 50 - 60 minutes or so, then bake the bread!


The result of working out this routine was to show me that I only needed to keep a small amount of starter. I build the final levain using, for example, 30 grams of starter, 60 grams of water, and 90 grams of flour. (It helps to have a kitchen scale that does grams, of course.) That's 180 grams of final levain, which typically I'll mix with 360 grams of water and 540 grams of flour (plus the discards) to make 2 loaves at almost 1.25 pounds apiece.


Just an example for you to consider as you work toward a routine that works for you.


Edit: I should point out that not everybody uses the novel approach of including their starter discards in their bread. But I'm finding it adds a lot of flavor and doesn't hurt the rise or the gluten at all, and so gives me a way to keep from wasting precious flour!


Soundman (David)

Marilyn's picture
Marilyn

Thank you so very much for taking the time to post so much good information.  There is a lot more to this method than the watery potato and sugar starter I've been using, but I'm sure the results reflect the extra effort required.  The bread the original starter made was very good, but had really very little if any "sour dough" taste.  It is just good basic white bread.  To use my original starter, you remove it from the fridge on Friday morning and feed it with warm water, sugar and potato flakes & let it work in the mason jar on the counter while you are at work.  Around 9 p.m. on Friday you stir the starter and make the dough using 1 cup of the starter and return the remainder to the refrigerator for the next weekend.  After kneeding the dough, you leave it in an oiled bowl overnight and in the morning, punch down and knead and shape for final rise.  Let rise until doubled, usually a little after lunch and bake.  The loaves are very nice and my family really likes them, but they have no character.  I'm looking for a sour dough with more character.


I will definitely try your method and see what happens.  This weekend, I'm baking fruit cakes, so will feed my starters again and perhaps next week have time to bake bread!!  I'm very anxious to experiment with some rye and other flours as well.  I've only been baking for maybe three months, but really enjoying it so far.   Over the years, I've experimented with making breads using dry yeast, but not been too pleased with the results.  My friends tried and true though basic starter and bread recipe have been so successful coupled with my family's reviews had gotten me really excited about doing more experimentation.  


We're very recent empty nesters and our oldest daughter asked me not long ago if I'm bored or something.  I'm also recently into making soap.  Hubby enjoys the bread much more than the soap, though.   


Again, thank you so much for taking the time to post such detail of your methods!!!


 


Marilyn

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Hi Marilyn,


"The loaves are very nice and my family really likes them, but they have no character.  I'm looking for a sour dough with more character."


Bread should definitely have character, and flavor, best of all!


I'm not a food scientist, far from it, but the inclusion of sugar in your starter makes me wish I were one. Let's pretend I am one for a couple of minutes or so.


The feeding habits of yeast in bread dough and sourdough starter are, I believe, similar if not the same. They like to eat simple sugars, which are available in the flour as a result of starch damage from milling, and also as a result of the work of amylase and maltase enzymes, which break down starch into sugar. The by-products of the feeding of the yeast become food for the bacteria which, in a symbiotic sourdough culture, produce lactic and acetic acids, which give sourdough its sour.


There may be a problem with feeding sugar to your yeast directly, as far as developing the full potential of your starter culture goes, though here I'm not so secure. Most starter recipes get to a point where refreshment = adding flour and water to some existing culture. Added sugar would seem to be either redundant or possibly worse. In any case it is unnecessary.


Now, the character of the bread. Interestingly, your method involves a long fermentation and retardation (refrigeration) and still you are not getting much character, i.e. flavor. Long fermentation is good for flavor, as is retardation. That aspect of your method sounds excellent.


That leaves me with 3 possible causes for bread without character: 1) the starter doesn't have its full complement of microflora; 2) the sugar added to the starter goes into the bread and alters the process by which enzymes break sugar out from the starch in the dough flour; 3) your flour is just kind of blah. Or some combination of these, of course.


OK, you know what I'm about to say... leave the sugar out of the refreshment of your starter. Use some whole grain flour mixed with AP flour when refreshing your starter, 50-50 should be fine and easy to calculate. Your starter should have a sweetly pungent smell if the bacteria are happy in the culture. Once it's bubbly and pungent, feed it AP flour with a smaller percentage of whole grain flour.


Then, use some other flour besides bread flour or AP flour in making your dough. Just using 10% or 20% whole wheat or whole rye, or spelt, or semolina, or your favorite whole grain, will add a lot of flavor. Rye is especially flavorful, and will add sour to your starter as well. And, of course, make sure you are using high quality and fresh bread flour.


Be brave. You have nothing to lose and bread with character to gain!


Soundman (David)

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Marilyn,


In addition to the long-winded earlier response, two things occurred to me to mention. First, if you do use whole grain flour in your starter refreshment, you will probably want to increase the amount of water you use. Whole grain flour, with its bran and germ, soaks up more water than refined flour. That is particularly true for rye!


Second, if you are still creating a lot of starter, don't even worry about including your refreshment discards in your dough. I do this because I have less than 100 grams of discard when I'm done refreshing my starter, and this small amount only enhances the flavor. A larger quantity might not be so advantageous for the development of the gluten.


Soundman (David)

Marilyn's picture
Marilyn

Thank you again for all the great observations and suggestions.  The new variation of the starter that I'm developing is being fed with no sugar.  I'm just using flours and water. 


I am maintaining my friends original starter with the potato flakes and sugar just as she does because it is tried and true, and is very good for a sweeter white flour dough for things like cinnamon rolls.  It has plenty of character for that & is an easy way to make a basic sandwich bread.


The new variant that I am working on currently has organic white and whole wheat flour in it and that and water are all I'm adding for now.  As soon as I can, I'm going to try baking and see what results.  I'm very anxious to see and may try to squeeze it into this weekend's schedule.  I may not get to do all the folding during the initial rise that you do, but hopefully my result will be something edible and different.  I should get rise and spring based on the foaming and doubling that the starter is doing.  I meant to feed it this morning before leaving for work, but got pressed for time, so tonight will feed again and see what happens. 

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Marilyn,


Sounds like you know exactly where you're going. Good idea to keep the original starter for sweet things. The inclusion of organic white and whole wheat is another great idea. Organic flour is likely to have no compromising issues, as far as getting wild yeasts to grow in your culture. I use a lot of organic flour, whenever it isn't too expensive.


Folding: Jeffrey Hamelman's Bread, my favorite bread book, says that it is a good idea to fold (degas) any dough after 90 minutes of fermentation. Not everybody follows this or agrees with it. The idea is that too much CO2 built up in the dough can actually hurt the yeast and their fermenting the dough. As I say, lots of good bakers don't follow this. What folding does besides remove some of the CO2 is to help build gluten, gently. You can usually tell by feel if your dough has a strong enough gluten structure. If it feels slack, a fold will build strength in, gently.


Good luck, and please show us some pix of your results!


Soundman (David)

Oldcampcook's picture
Oldcampcook

I have a potato flake based starter which is also fed with potato flakes, sugar and water.  I keep this for one particular recipe which I use for sweeter "fancy" breads to which I add different dried fruits (raisins, cranberries, cherries, etc) and nuts (pecans or walnuts).  I usually roll this dough out and sprinkle it fairly heavily with cinnamon, toss on the fruits and nuts and roll it up.  Makes a nice swirled bread.  This particular recipe has a full cup of sugar as my "guinea pigs" like the sweet bread.


I have other flour based starters that I use regularly also.  And these are fed nothing but flour and water.


I usually pull my starters out of the fridge on Thursday evening and feed them.  Feed again on Friday morning and Friday evening and make up my doughs Friday night.  They are normally refrigerated until Saturday morning when I take them out and shape the loaves.  The schedule works for me.


Bob