Acheiving a perfect white sourdough
I have never been able to acheive consistently that perfect, lovely loaf of white sourdough. I don't think I'm getting the balance of dough strength and proofing time right. I either have a dough that ruptures unevenly in the oven (especially on the lower rack, I don't understand that) or one that is flattish and doesn't rise well. I have used a couple different formulas, so I think the problem is me. As further info, my sourdough starter is very active, I rise my loaves in bannetons always, I've only used formulas that use a liquid starter, and I sometimes spike the dough with a bit of yeast.
Does anyone have a foolproof sourdough formula or an idea of what I'm doing wrong? How do you tell when your dough has reached the right strength and is fully proofed?
Thanks is advance.
Staff of Life,
I know exactly what you mean; I've created so many almosts, it makes me crazy. Everyone has their favorite recipes, but my current fav is the one Mariana posted. I can't remember the thread name, and I still haven't figured out how to do that neat thing everyone else does, that makes a link from one post to the other, but if you search 100% sourdough calvel, you'll get it.
I've been baking that bread, over and over, following the directions exactly, then wandering off and experimenting with this and that, and the results have been hugely satisfying. It is a great recipe, exceedingly well explained, and has been making both me and my family very happy for quite some time! The flavor is mild, in that it's not terribly sour, but also complex and interesting.
If you haven't tried it, I highly recommend it!
Oh, by the way, if you're out there Mariana, THANK YOU! You've changed my baking dramatically, and I haven't taken the time to thank you. I'll do so in the other post, where it belongs...
might be an oxymoron! ;-)
In order to come anywhere close, I think you have to follow edh's cue: make the same formula over and over again, trying minor tweaks and assessing the results.
My own story is one of steady improvement over 2 years, but every loaf so far has been "great, except for ..." something or other. The net forward progress keeps me seeking, and the bread, while not yet perfectly matching my ideal, is getting pretty darned good.
I think I can identify the changes I have made which have resulted in improvements in my personal "average." They include:
1. Using a higher hydration dough.
2. Using autolyse. (Relates to #1)
3. Kneading longer and/or using folding more (developing the gluten a lot more than when I started).
4. Letting the dough have a full bulk fermentation. Not short changing it because I didn't have time to let it rise fully.
5. More gentle handling during dividing and shaping the loaves. Don't deflate all the big bubbles you have so patiently waitied for during fermentation!
6. Using a "real" banneton. Floured linen does something magic.
7. Pre-heat the oven and baking stone thoroughly. Really makes a difference in oven spring.
8. Scoring more reflectively. It's decorative, but it also has an impact on how the loaf behaves in the oven.
Hang in there!
And then went on with a number of things that, while important, don't really tie into consistency.
I get a lot of emails from people who are on the edge of flushing their starters down the commode and never uttering the word "sourdough" again, except as profanity. I heard the same stories from each of them
I learned the same lesson while I was running the bakery. And that is it takes a consistent process to create a consistent product. Sadly, it IS easier to do that when you have a facility that is designed to make it easy to have a consistent process. But, here are some issues that seem to bedevil most bakers who are having trouble with their sourdough. And they can largely be addressed at home.
1. It starts with the starter. If you don't treat it well, and consistently, it will not deliver good and consistent results. It takes time for the starter to recover from refrigeration. In the bakery, I kept a master starter in the fridge. Each day we'd take a few grams of it out and start feeding it. Seven days of 2 feedings a day later and it was vibrantly alive. And very, very consistent from day to day. When I bake at home, I feed the starter for 3 days before I use it. When I was baking for the farmers market this summer, I kept the starter at room temperature and never refrigerated it. It seemed to like that, but it wasn't really essential. A difference, but not a huge difference. I am usually content to track the amount and frequency of the feedings. Many people go far beyond that. What temperature was the starter held at? What flour was used? These things ARE important, just not all that important. Once the other variables get nailed down, you might wnat to revisit the last few items there and decide if they matter to you.
2. Weigh everything. If you want to be consistent, this is the next big step. I won't say more, because too much has been said on this topic already.
3. Track temperatures on everything. Yeah, it matters. What temperature do you want your dough to be? How are you getting it, and keeping it, there?
4. Time everything. Once you have items 1 - 3 under control, your timings will tend to become much more consistent.
5. Oven temperatures - I use a thermometer because I don't trust thermostats. I learned my distrust the hard way.
Once you get these steps under control, you will begin to notice other changes more. When you have a dozen out of control variables, and your bread is different this time than last, why was it different? Was it the flour? Or the starter?
Disclaimer - for some people consistency is not a great goal for them. And that's OK. It's not my big goal at home when I'm not baking for the farmers market or to work on a cookbook. As long as the bread is good, my family and I are happy. We do enjoy talking about the differences between batches of bread. However, if consistency is important to you, as it sometimes is to me, I outlined a road map for you.
I read down your list thinking, yep, yep, I do all those things. I think the one thing I'm having a hard time assessing is when the dough is strong enough. I tried a batch before where the gluten windowpaned, but was a weak dough, and it spread a bunch in the oven. Not good. I think my doughs tend to be too strong, and I'm wondering if the flour is the culprit. I've always used Wheat Montana, which is a high protein (I'm not using high gluten though) bread flour, and the thought just came to me today that maybe it's too strong for a white sourdough. I've got KA Organic Artisan AP, which I found out is 11.7, and I think I might try that for my next batch. RLB recommends using bread flour for sourdoughs, but the French don't have flour that strong, and yet they make sourdoughs....I'll be interested to see.
100% sourdough bread from The Taste of Bread by R. Calvel
I am going to stop using "bread flour," because I don't know what it means anymore. KA bread flour is very high in protein. It has worked well for me in rye breads where the extra strength offsets rye's lack of gluten. Last weekend, I made an all white sourdough, the Vermont Sourdough from Hamelman's "Bread." I used all KA bread flour. The recipe said to use "bread flour." The 800 gm boules were beautiful, and the crumb was amazingly open for a bread with 65% hydration. However, it was too chewy - I would describe it as "tough."
Next time - hopefully this coming weekend - I'm going to make the same bread using KA "Artisan" bread flour or Guisto's "Baker's Choice" flour, both of which have significantly lower protein and make for a much more extensible, less elastic dough. Maybe I'll make a batch with each. Or maybe I'll use KA AP flour, which has a protein content close to what other mills sell as bread flour.
I'll get it "right" yet!
I've recently switched from KA Bread Flour and AP flour to using Giusto's Baker's choice as a Type 55 flour equivalent, and Giusto's Ultimate Performer as a Bread Flour substitute. So far I like the results a lot. The baguette and epi I produced this weekend were 100% baker's choice.
See my My Bread Adventures in pictures
Cool! I admired your epis, in particular.
I can get Guisto's flours in bulk locally at Whole Foods. I sure wish he milled a first clear flour to use in my rye breads.
Unfortunately, this flour, even in bulk, is even more expensive then KA. It appears Heartland Mills is fairly cheap if going for larger bulk quantities, but shipping costs offset that. Darn.
See my My Bread Adventures in pictures
You might check other health food stores.
Many of them can, and are willing to, order Heartland Mills products. And when they order them for you, they don't have to pay shipping and pass that savings on to you. If you order a 50lb sack, they usually give you a great discount.
So, go ask the health food store clerk or owner if you can look at their catalogue. You might be amazed at what they can get for you.