The Fresh Loaf

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SD starter OK but leaven so so....

JeanDo's picture
JeanDo

SD starter OK but leaven so so....

Hi fellow bakers,

I'd like some insights on why a leaven would be weak even though based on a working starter.

I've been baking SD 50/50 WW for a while using a version of Trevor's method. Results are not stellar but quite decent. My starter is 100% Rye.

I recently got the Tartine#1 book  and set out to try the famous country bread recipe. The main change for me was actually the use of the leaven build step  (I usually start directly from the starter, at a young-ish stage ), plus maybe much less autolyse time and foldings . It's been 4 loafs  scrupulously following the steps, Temp and durations and I still have the same problem : Underproofing. It looks like my leaven is too weak to properly ferment the whole dough, all way through, it seems to start allright but then stalls at some point, and extending the bulk doesn't improve anything. I end up shaping after 7/8h with a semi-dead dough barely showing its expected volume rise. But the leaven seems to be as it should be according to Tartine, young, showing a 20% volume increase and passing the floating test. 

So my question is : Why would an OK starter lead to a weak leaven ? Is it because the starter is Rye and the leaven is 50/50 WW ? (But Maurizio does it too) 

Thanks for you insights, 

banana's picture
banana

It might be to cool to properly ferment. I usually proof for anywhere from 70 to 90 degrees. Also, the leaven should be peaked or just starting to fall when you use it (mine usually grows 100-200%, 20% seems pretty low). Hope this helps!

JeanDo's picture
JeanDo

Thanks, I was careful to proof at 90F for these loaves, to closely follow Chad's specs, and the 20% increase in volume+ floating in water are the explicit criteria to start using the leaven and mix it with the dough. Sure 20% is pretty low but from what I understand is that his point is to use a young leaven built from an old starter.

Benito's picture
Benito

In my experience if the levain is weak it is because there was an issue with the starter.  A strong starter will make a strong levain unless you do something totally off like using chlorinated water or super hot was to kill the microbes.

Going from a Rye starter to any other flour levain isn’t an issue, the microbes aren’t picky so long as the food is there they will eat it and multiply.

Give us more details in terms of your starter maintenance and how you’re building and fermenting your levain and at what stage are you using your levain.

if I’m not mistaken I think you said you use the levain after only a 20% rise, is that right?  At that point there isn’t he population of microbes in there to quickly bulk ferment a dough.  Adding a 20% risen levain to a huge volume of flour and water in relative terms will mean it takes much much longer to bulk ferment.  Even at 8 hours it might not be fermented enough and this is what you have shown by your underproofed loaves.

The problem could simply be that you’re using your levain far too early.  I don’t recall Chad saying to use the levain at 20% rise, but I can’t say that I’ve read Tartine recently.  But a young levain at 20% is just not fermented enough yet.  Let it get to peak and when you just see the dome flattening barely, then use it.  It won’t be super acidic if that is your goal.

Benny

JeanDo's picture
JeanDo

Thanks Benny, makes sense,

But for the purpose of this experiment I want to adhere to his exact method using elements that are working otherwise.  The 20% increase in volume + floating in water are the explicit criteria to start using the leaven and mix it with the dough. 20% is low but from what I understand is his point is to use a young leaven built from an old starter.

From the 20% risen leaven he gets a 3/4 h bulk time (!). Even at 90f that's fairly short.

In terms of starter maintenance for this, I use a tiny bit from the fridge and use it after it's a bit more than doubled and bubbly (overnight). I had tried previously with a younger starter.

I will keep trying and might hopefully succeed, but most likely by diverging from the few explicit points mentioned in his method. There is a mystery here :)

Abe's picture
Abe

He uses a sweet levain. It's done in two stages and uses a very strong mature starter to begin with. If you're new to the whole process then go with a mature levain for now and get a good rise out of the loaves then explore the sweet levain method. 

JeanDo's picture
JeanDo

Thanks but I'm referring to his basic country bread method (https://tartinebakery.com/stories/country-bread) I don't see the double-fed sweet levain thing in this.  It goes from starter->levain->dough. 

I usually get loaves with good rise from my starter, and am now trying to add the intermediate levain step following Chad's specs, and it doesn't work that well.  

Abe's picture
Abe

STEP 3 Make the leaven: The night before baking, discard all but 1 tablespoon of the mature starter. Mix the remaining starter with 200 grams of warm water and stir with your hand to disperse. Add 200 grams of the white-wheat flour mix and combine well. Cover with a towel and let rest at room temperature for 12 hours or until aerated and puffed in appearance. To test for readiness, drop a tablespoon of leaven into a bowl of room-temperature water; if it floats it’s ready to use. If it doesn’t, allow more time to ferment.

I don't see where you're getting the 2 hours from. He says 12 hours and if need be allow more time! 

JeanDo's picture
JeanDo

I don't see where I ever mentioned any 2-hour duration.

Anyway I tried the overnight build in cold/warm environment and shorter 5h in warmer environment to get to a floating levain at about 20% volume increase as mentioned in the book and the results were similar.

Abe's picture
Abe

Because you started talking about an "intermediate levain". Wasn't sure what you meant by an intermediate levain and thought you were talking about a sweet levain which he talks about later on in the very same recipe which involves a twice fed levain and the second being a quick build. 

A levain is a levain. He calls for 12 hours through the night. 

Benito's picture
Benito

I'm not sure where you read that the levain is ready for use when it has risen 20%.  There is no mention of that in the Tartine book or in the link that you've posted and that Abe has quoted above.  That is the issue you're running into.  You are using the levain far too early, it isn't ready at only 20% rise.

JeanDo's picture
JeanDo

Here's what on page 47 of my edition of the Tartine book. He says 20 percent, and floating test to be ready to go. 

Abe's picture
Abe

Will not necessarily increase in volume by a lot however the recipe still suggests to leave it overnight! 

That increased by 20% is a bit misleading. Often it will rise more but depending on flour it might rise around that much. The overnight advice is what should be followed. 

Benito's picture
Benito

Regardless of what the book might say, your proof is in your bake.  You’ve already said that your bread has baked up underproofed, FOUR times.  Doesn’t that say something to you?  The 20% rise in the levain that the books states, I bet it is an error not picked up by the editor, 

You asked why an OK starter would lead to a weak levain, your levain is only weak because it wasn’t given enough time to ferment to it full potential.

Abe's picture
Abe

Exactly! And I was also thinking this 'intermediate levain' was the double fed sweet levain he talks about elsewhere that was confusing and why I latched into the two hours when it wasn't actually mentioned. 

So up until now starter was used when it was mature and now they wish to go down the levain route (which is off shoot starter) and should be matured until ready!