Using sourdough starter without refreshing
I have been making sourdough bread for a little over a year now, and I bake 1 or 2 loaves every week. My routine has always been taking the starter out of the fridge the night before using it, and refreshing it twice: once at night and once in the morning before leaving for work, then using it when I come back at night. Over the last couple of months due to time constraints, I have often moved to taking the starter out of the fridge in the morning and feeding it only once, without noticing any difference in its leavening power. So far so good, but for the past two weeks I decided to get even more radical: I've used the starter straight out of the fridge, without feeding it (I do feed it before storing it back in the fridge, of course). Now comes the funny part: again, didn't notice much of a change in its leavening power (still using the same amount of starter for my recipes), but, more interestingly, I think the bread tasted better! There was a bit more sourness, but also more flavour. No hooch is formed, but the one-week-old starter develops a very alcoholic smell, which I think might be part of the reason for the "improved" taste. I guess other organic by-products also build up during the period and they may play a role too.
I have one fresh loaf made this way just waiting to cool down to be sliced, but it looks great and yummy, and smells good too!
So, what do you think of this? Am I getting mad? Does anyone else here ever do this on purpose, or just out of laziness, and like the result?
First off, if the bread tastes better to you, you do not have a problem.
My own routine is much like what you describe - generally an activation feed then another feeding that gets used in making bread. Now, if I want to increase sourness, one way is to feed a firm starter and refrigerate it for up to 3 days.
Your "guess" is correct. A more mature starter will have a greater concentration of the metabolic byproducts of both fermentation and bacterial metabolism. Now, some of these add to the bread's flavor in good ways. Other's may introduce "off" flavor tones. Taste being variable and subjective to degree, no one can argue with your taste preferences. The risk is that, while you might really like the flavor, another taster might complain of a "metallic aftertaste," for example.
I can't recall ever using a starter that hadn't been fed in a week, except in making pancakes.
Give your bread made with "old" starter a critical tasting and let us know what you think. And BTW, you may be "getting mad," but this is a worthwhile learning experience, IMO.
I want to learn more about what these might be, eg. a chemical and biological analysis of the typical starter composition (I know generally there's the lactobacili and yeast, and those produce acids and alcohol). Do you happen to have any links? The bread tasted great by the way. We ate it last night with pea soup, and neither I nor my wife found anything metallic about the taste. Rise was normal, and the proofing time may have been just a tad longer than usual - hard to say as I never really time it very accurately, just wait until I feel the dough is ready for baking. I'll definitely have to try that a few more times and compare the result with that of the regular activation routine, but at least I'm now confident that if I forget to activate my starter, I can still make my bread, and it may even add some interesting flavour variation.
You could start with "Advanced Bread and Pastry" by Michel Suas. For more detailed information, you need to go to scientific journals or text books to which I do not have immediate access. Suas' text book does have some charts of metabolic pathways which may be of interest to you.
Have looked it up on Amazon and it can get quite expensive, especially considering the shipping to Brazil. For the time being I think I'll try to quench my curiosity with what I can find on the internet. :)
Is to ensure its health. One doesn't wish to make a dough only to find the starter is playing up. At that stage it'd be a big waste. But using your starter how you have described can be done as you know. I have done so myself. I wouldn't push my starter too much and go experiment mad but as long as I have enough, it's matured in my fridge within a week and it's built to the requirements of the recipe then why not? You will have to go more by feel as timings may be different! I do keep and use my starter differently though. I only keep a small amount in the fridge and take some off each time to build preferments. This allows me to control it more and never find myself with too much starter. This also allows me to build starters to go into a recipe with different flours and hydration all the while keeping the mother starter according to how I like it. When it runs low I'll top it up, allow it to bubble up by a half then return it to the fridge.
You make a good point also. I don't think the starter will go bad after just a week in the fridge, and I still keep the usual weekly feeding, only I don't activate it prior to using it. I like the fact that I can save some flour by feeding the starter only once a week, without the activation. The way you do it (using just a little to make preferment) seems to be economical as well - I will have to try that too!
David's right: if YOU like it, it's good.
Older, weaker, unfed starter still has yeast in it and it will still levain your bread. It might take a little longer to get a proper rise but it will still work. In fact, it may work in your favor if the timing fits your bake schedule better.
My question would be is the yeast count in unfed starter lower or are there the same number but just dormant due to refrigeration. I suppose it would just be a guess because, after all, who can count that high. :)
You got me curious: after a week in the fridge, I suppose part of the yeast may have gone dormant. How long does it take for the yeast/bacteria to consume all the flour? And yes, I do like the result, and that's one good reason to be making my own bread, of course! Also, it's fun experimenting with the ingredients and methods. I'm a curious person by nature, and every bread I make comes out a little different, because I always like to change something just to see how it turns out in the end. Fortunately, the times of mass brick production seem over for me - now at least the resulting bread is always edible, something that I couldn't say of my first 20 or so "experiments" ;)
Very similar to what I'd do if only making one (or 2) loaves.
Thanks for directing me to your post. It's great to know that I'm not doing anything "wrong", maybe just a bit different from most people. Of course, the rules are there for good reasons, consistency probably being the most important, but there's always some leeway and exploring the possibilities can be both fun and educative!
Not sure it makes any difference, but my starter is fed with whole wheat flour only, at 100% hydration. I had a previous one that gave me good rise but developed too little of the flavour I was after. The one I have now is rather acidic and alcoholic. Curiously, both started from the same original culture which I captured more than a year ago, but were fed different flours for several months: one 100% white four, the other 100% whole wheat. I noticed some difference in flavour, and just out of curiosity started feeding them both with the same whole wheat flour (almost never make all white bread anyway), but they kept their differences! I ditched the one I didn't like and kept the other.
Here's the loaf I made yesterday. 500g total flour, being 2/3 white type "00" Italian flour, 1/3 whole wheat. 100g "off the fridge" starter, 1/2 table spoon olive oil.