The Fresh Loaf

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Baking Bread again after a few years hiatus - starter questions

AndyPanda's picture

Baking Bread again after a few years hiatus - starter questions

Hello all!

I stopped baking bread a few years ago and let my terrific San Francisco starter die :(    

When I first got interested in sourdough, I would get really interesting and healthy natural starters going that would raise reliably and make really good bread but that didn't have the tang I was looking for. So I ended up buying a starter from Breadtopia that was the exact tangy flavor I was after.  And what I noticed with that tangy starter was that it would not rise at all (or too slow to notice) in the fridge.   I had to keep it about 85F in order to get it really active -- and then I would do my cool retard at about 55-60F.  That gave me terrific results.  

Now, fast forward to present day -- I asked around my community and got a few starter samples from neighbors.  Starter #1 is so reliable you could set your watch by it.  You feed it and it is ready to go right on time with large bubbles and the bread behaves just the way you want - but there is no sour tang at all to the sourdough.  In fact it seems to make the bread taste sweet - almost like you had put caramel in it.  Great bread but I crave the tang. 

And starter #2 is very tangy smelling - but grows really slowly and makes tiny bubbles.  Much more finicky about temperature.  Seems to like it warm but not too warm --- I almost need to get a PID setup to keep the starter at a very specific temp.  And same when my bread is rising -- just a few degrees too cool and it doesn't rise.   The bread is delicious with the exact flavor I'm after (nice sour, tangy bite to it).  I just find it really impossible to time and I just have to keep checking on it to time everything by how the starter is behaving.  

I'm having the best luck by grinding my wheat and feeding whole wheat flour to the starter.  It seems to behave much better on that than feeding it AP flour.

Well ... that's my long winded story.  I bet some of you will have some great advice for me.  I love how starter #1 is so reliable and predictable - I know exactly what time to start my bread based on when I fed the starter - and I know exactly what time the bread will be ready to go in the oven.   And the flavor is something that I bet many would be really happy with - it is very good - I just have this craving for very sour San Francisco sourdough.

I'm still doing the loaf pan sourdough - one small loaf everyday - where I put an inverted breadpan over the top to steam it for the first half of the bake.  

Thanks in advance for advice on best routine with my starter #2 that is so fussy and hard to time


squattercity's picture

Maybe try using a little less of that super-consistent starter.

Applying the counter-intuitive principle: less sourdough starter, more sour bread; more sourdough starter, less sour bread.


AndyPanda's picture

That's a thought.   My method of feeding is different from the classic "take out half and add flour water to replace the lost half" --- instead I take out about 95% (just leave the scrapings on the side/bottom of the container) and add back the weight I will use on the next bake. 

But for the bread, I still generally use 1-2-3 -- 100g starter, 200g water, 300g flour 7g salt.   

The timing with #1 works out just right (feed in the morning, autolyse late afternoon, stretch and folds thru the evening then cool retard overnight and bake the next day in time for lunch) --- with #2 the starter won't be ready until past my bedtime, I'd need to feed it the night before or something -- it's always different and hard to predict and plan the timing - but the resulting bread is tangy goodness! 

I've only had starters #1 and #2 for a few days --- #1 was taken care of by someone who bakes regularly.  #2 was mistreated by someone who rarely baked and would forget it in the fridge for weeks/months at a time.   I'm guessing #2 will come around after a week or two of consistent feeding cycles.

Petek's picture

My first impression when reading your description of starter #1 is that it might have been made from commercial yeast. Can you check with your neighbor about this possibility?

AndyPanda's picture

It doesn't behave or smell at all like commercial yeast.  It is consistent and predictable but nothing like the rapid rise of commercial yeast. 

The neighbor seems to be pretty experienced sourdough baker - claims it is pure San Francisco starter. But it smells/tastes like when I've let my starter happen naturally with whatever strain occurs naturally in my neighborhood. She baked several times a week and had a consistent/frequent feeding schedule. 

Somewhere I read that starter is a symbiotic relationship between two strains - one mostly responsible for the rise and the other mostly responsible for the taste/smell.  And storing in the fridge causes the rising strain to die off while the smell/taste strain takes over.   Not sure if I have that correct or not but the neighbor I got #2 from stored it in the fridge and rarely baked - and rarely remembered to feed it.  So what I have been doing to "wake it up" again is to keep it out at room temp (which is 55-65F where I live) and feed it fresh ground whole wheat twice a day.  It seems to be perking up.


Phazm's picture

Use number 1. And for 2 - thicken it up and only feed when thin. After a few times (maybe weeks) it'll be a starter. Enjoy!