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What's the least and most amount of time required for a sponge (or starter)?

Theresse's picture

What's the least and most amount of time required for a sponge (or starter)?

Hi -

New to this of course.  A youtube video by Dave of Dave's Killer Bread showed that he let his sponge or starter (can't remember which he called it and don't know if there's a difference) sit on his counter for about an hour before continuing to add flour and mix more/knead.

Some googling (haven't yet read my bread books!) showed lots of comments about people letting their starters sit for several hours.

Last week I made Dave's recipe and let it sit for only an hour and it came out fine.  Tonight I'm doing a different version (an imitation recipe I found online of his more seedy breads which he doesn't share recipe-wise) and I'm making 4 loaves instead of 2.  Any reason I should let it sit for longer than an hour before continuing to mix and adding the rest of the flour, etc?


BreadBro's picture

The time depends on the amount of yeast you use. Some recipies put all the yeast into a sponge to kickstart the yeast into activity (like Brioche, for example). This often only takes 30-45 minutes.

Peter Reinhart is a big fan of cold retarding his preferments (ie Bigas, Poolishes) by putting them in the fridge overnight. These often use a very small amount of yeast. Cold fermentation will slow down yeast activity and promote enzyme activity which creates greater depth of flavor.

In short, longer fermentation will improve the flavor of your bread. If  you're using a highly enriched bread (where the flavoring is coming mostly from fats or sugars) it's not as important.

Theresse's picture

Very helpful - thank you!

I was making 4 loaves of sprouted whole wheat bread using 4 T. of dry active yeast (?  the kind the you keep in the fridge but it's not the fresh cake kind) and I also used vital wheat gluten and lots and lots of other things e.g: oat bran, steel cut oats, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds, chia seeds, flax seeds, honey, molasses, and maybe a few other things I'm forgetting right now...

I used a borrowed Magic Mill 9000 mixer which was a great experience (loved it!) and wow did that dough rise like crazy after the first rise in the mixer bowl!  I'm going to start another thread in a while here showing some pics.  This is ridiculously fun and my kids love punching it down too.  I'm not wanting a open crumb type of bread - just a sandwich loaf with tight crumb if that's the right term.  So I figure a couple of rises and punching down and extra kneading is called for (and again, fun)! ;)

We made 2 large dough balls to rise a second time and what do you suggest I do with one of them since it won't be baked into bread tonight?  Do I punch it down then put it in fridge (and how store it in there?  Will it rise at all in the fridge - should I be worried about space in the gallon ziplock bag which I thought I'd store it in)?

Thanks again!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

And there are several kinds of starters.  

  • One is a sponge with instant yeast (what I think you are familiar with)  used to test the yeast for activity;
  • another is one made from natural yeasts that exist in the environment most often in the flour, home grown yeast that has to be maintained for good yeast growth, it's like a pet and is a sourdough culture starter, shortened to just "starter;"
  • a food eaten before a main meal like an appetiser is also a starter and I'm sure there are other definitions of a "starter." 

I think your Question refers to the instant yeast sponge (or whatever kind of commercially available yeast) because it stands for about an hour or less.  A most typical way of activating Active Dry Yeast in particular. 

A sourdough culture starter (sd starter or sourdough culture) may stand much longer before use.  It also sounds like your recipe is for commercial yeast.   So unless you are using the old fashioned Active Dry Yeast, I would use the yeast right away into the recipe.  Look carefully as to what type of yeast you are using.  There is a variety out there.

As the yeast has proven itself to be good (baked with recently) I would skip the sponge making part and just add it into the ingredients.   It used to be that Active Dry Yeast would need special care to dissolve the gelatine coating surrounding the yeast.  This has led to the habit of making a sponge first as this special gel softening required very warm temperatures.  Many recipes are passed on or copied without noting the hystorical changes in yeast.  If you happen to be using the large pearls of Active dry yeast, and special directions are mentioned on the package, follow them or you could be waiting hours for it to dissolve.  I've been there.  No fun unless you plan for the delay.

The time you let yeast "sponge" has a lot to do with what type of yeast stands in front of you.  Read the direction on the yeast package and note the age of your bread recipe.  A good recipe will note the type of yeast.    

Theresse's picture

Very helpful, thank you!  Yes I was using dry active yeast and the recipe is from Dave of Dave's Killer Bread and it was a youtube video.  Well the original recipe was his actually - the one I did last night which I'm referring to was a recipe aiming to end up like one of his more famous breads for which he doesn't share the recipe.  But anyway in Dave's video he made a sponge for whatever reason.  I'd like to get the cake yeast at some point but I suppose that will entail going to a bakery and begging for some.  Looking forward to trying it out the natural way.

dabrownman's picture

SD or Y starters and levains.  Most bread by far is made with commercial yeast of some kind fresh, instant and active dry.  In a sponge part of the dough flour and water ( some liquid) is used to make a sponge ahead of time to get the yeast active, reproducing rapidly and to improve the flavor of the bread by letting the yeast sponge 'age' and develop more flavor. 

A poolish and biga are sponges, one more liquid and at  higher hydration than the other, that are activated with just a 'pinch' of yeast. depending on what the pinch is, 1/64 to 1/8 tsp of yeast, the time it will take to ripen and be properly active and fermented may be 8-24 hours.  A sponge with a whole packet of yeast in it my be ready to go in 1-2 hours depending on how much flour and water went in with it. there are all kinds of recipes for all of these methods to make a good loaf of bread - but you won't get any sour out of it.

Sourdough starters on the other hand, are made with captured wild yeast and LAB that ride into the part on the grains used to make the starter.  There are many different ways to make a natural yeast starter.  Some take 3-4 days like Joe Ortiz's milk, WW and cumin method and others can take 10 days to 2 weeks to be ready like Debra Winks, Pineapple juice method,.  Some take less time others more.

The SD starters are slower to work than commercial yeast and due to the LAB in the culture, also make for a sour taste in bread since the LAB make both lactic and acetic acid.   It can take 12 hours in the winter time to get my 10 g of my seed starter from 2 weeks of fridge storage to 150 g of SD levain ready to rise a loaf of bread and make it sour.  Other SD starters, stored on the counter at room temperature and feed 2 times a day, to keep them peaked, may be ready to go to work immediately or in an hour to raise a loaf of bread and make it sour.

So a starter or a sponge could have  been used after an hour the only difference is that SD will take may take longer to proof a loaf of bread than a sponge with a lot of yest used to get it going.  Small amounts of poolish or biga if young, will also take longer because of their size and relative small yeast inoculation to begin with.

then there is the other natural yeast called yeast ater, that is cultivated buit does not ahve the LAB componet of SD and is used to make bread with levain too.  It is slowere than SD but had no slur cmpnent to the taste.

Hope this helps.

Theresse's picture

Yes that helped very much, thank you!  That's what I suspsected - that there would be the sour flavor.  I would want that when making more of an artisan type bread or free form or whatever you call it.  For now I'm trying to find the perfect sandwich bread for the family, which I want to be very seedy, dense and moist.

Thanks again!  I'll probably read that over a couple of times to help it sink in!  There's so much to learn on this forum - I love it!