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Sourdough Bread Troubleshooting (Part 2)


weinoo
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Does anyone have knowledge (scientific or even better anecdotal) about how starters get, maintain and change their characteristics. I have encountered people who think that old starters are robust enough to maintain their microbial profile over time, and other people who think the starter eventually takes on a profile that is defined by the environment (namely the flour and location).

I recently grew 3 starters, started with rye, white, and semolina flour respectively. After they were established I started feeding them all white flour. The Rye and White starters were indistinguisable, while the Semonlina starter had a distinct sourness and a somewhat weaker rise.

One day I let my White starter feed in the oven. I accidentally let it get to about 110*F. I took it out and resuscitated it over the next 24 hours. However since then it has produced bread that tastes very flat (as if it were over proofed), and while it produces big holes, the crumb is very dense overall. What might have changed when it cooked? These experiences have really illuminated just how little I know about sourdough.

Does anyone have experience with starters changing profile over time? Has anyone had success "breeding" starters?

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This is a very interesting question, and one that I have wondered many times myself, namely how the characteristics of a sourdough culture change over time. There is an excellent, albeit slightly longwinded, thread about sourdough baking here at eGullet (click here for that). Then there's also the informative sourdough FAQ (click here for that).

I'm not sure if there is a definitive answer to the question, but I have read about a specific German rye sourdough in which the microflora has been stable for several decades. As any living organism, the culture will adapt to its environment (i.e. your feeding schedule and the pH level in the culture, temperature, flour etc.). If you e.g. increase your level of inoculation, or let more time pass between successive feedings, you're likely to lower the pH level of the culture, and that will favour strains of lactobacilli that better handle acidic conditions. So if you change the environment of the culture (by feeding or ambient temperature for instance) I would say you're likely to shift or alter the microflora of the sourdough.

Based on the observation that the specific German rye sourdough has been stable for so long, I would infer that as long as the culture is healthy and fed according to a strict schedule, changes in flour, water, air etc. is less likely to affect the makeup of your particular culture. The established culture will always have the upper hand during feedings, since it is present in much higher densities than any foreign strains and microorganisms that you introduce whenever you feed your culture. At least that's my reasoning. Actually, I think there is something to the claim that commercially available starters can keep their characteristics for a long time. As long as you stick to the feeding schedule that come with the starter, I don't see why the dominating microflora should change over time. Survival of the fittest, right?

I keep a firm white starter, but I've also experimented with various homemade rye starters to see if there's any significant "tang" or difference in regards to flavour. To be honest, I can't tell any difference. I've never experimented with a semolina starter (I'm not very fond of durum wheat in the first place).

Edited by hansjoakim (log)
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My experience was that after being dissatisfied with the results I got using a sourdough starter I had "caught" and grown at home (in Melbourne Australia), I mail ordered what was claimed to be the famous San Fransisco culture from the US.

I was skeptical about the few flakes that arrived in an envelope, but after faithfully following the instructions I baked successive loaves of wonderful bread.

However over the space of a week or two the quality of the bread seemed to deteriorate and became indistinguishable from the bread my home made starter produced. My theory - unsupported by any expertise on the topic - was that the indigenous yeasts took over my lactobacillus sanfranciscensis starter.

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A lot of this has to do with the way the culture is fed. Most people, unfortunately, feed their starters in the worst possible way: by "low dilution." To explain: The optimum conditions for the growth of sourdough microflora is when the amount of "old starter" is equal to, or less than 20%. This means, for example, that if you have 10 grams or 1 tablespoon of "old starter" you should feed that with 80 grams or 4 tablespoons (or more) of "new food." Most people do exactly the opposite -- they hold back 50 grams or a quarter cup (or more) of "old starter" and feed with 50 grams or a quarter cup (or less) of "new food." This leads to poor vitality and health of the sourdough microflora and creates conditions that make it highly likely that the original culture microorganisms will be replaced by other microorganisms that are better suited to the low dilution environment. Most any culture that is refreshed with 50% or less of "new food" at each feeding will not be able to sustain a population of L. sanfranciscensis[/i[, and will be taken over by a more low-pH-tolerant strain -- which of course will result in a change in the fermentation characteristics of the culture.

--

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I’m only really interested in the practicalities of starters’ i.e. do they work. This is my experience:

At present I have two starters, one plain wheat flour and the other rye.

The wheat leaven I started in late 1999 – just a straightforward mix of white bread flour and water. It probably came out of Joe Ortiz Village Baker but it certainly started life as a very stiff dough and I wasn’t happy with it. Some months later I read The Oven Builders and raised the hydration to 100% á la Dan Wing and this seemed to solve my problems. For several years I used the fridge method, storing the starter in the fridge, removing it 24hrs before mixing and refreshing it twice during that time first at a ratio of 1 starter: 2 water: 2 flour, second 1:1:1 (by weight).

Over two years ago I started small scale commercial sourdough baking two days a week from home knocking out anything up to 150 loaves over the two days. Since this time the starter has lived at room temperature without any noticeable change. It’s usually refreshed every 24hrs (12 before baking) but is often neglected. About 200g have been sitting on the counter unrefreshed since Friday (now Sunday a.m.) but I have no doubt that that I can turn this into 6-9K of active leaven when I come to mix on Wednesday evening.

During its life it has been on holiday to France several times, once for as long as two months – seems to like it there (me too).

The rye starter is much older. It came from Andrew Whitley (Village Bakery/Bread Matters) 10 years ago. But he got it from a Russian bakery who were supposed to have been using it for over 100 years. Since I’ve had it it’s experienced the same sort of life as the white starter.

So both starters have been around for some time and have experienced quite big changes in circumstances. I can’t say I have noticed major changes in the way they perform.

People seem to want starters to be shrouded in mystery. But, they are just fermenting mixtures of flour and water, and, if they raise the dough, what more do you want? It would be really good if sourdough stopped being regarded as “difficult” because it’s not. It’s totally straightforward when you have a little confidence. Then, perhaps, a little refinement can be developed.

Mick

Mick Hartley

The PArtisan Baker

bethesdabakers

"I can give you more pep than that store bought yeast" - Evolution Mama (don't you make a monkey out of me)

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  • 8 months later...

Although I'm sure if I trawled through the hours and days and weeks that have already been spent on forums like this one dealing with precisely this topic, I'd find my answers - it seems that this may be speedier. If anyone knows of any archived chats on the subject then direct me please, but for now, here's the problem:

I have a beast of a starter - wild yeast fermented from strong, organic white flour and tepid water. I've even developed the knack of feeding it 6 hours before making bread to get it really bubbling and my loaves are rising well, proving well and getting a good crust (I'm using a tray with water at the bottom of the oven and also spraying the inside when I put the loaves in).

So far so good, but I'm an awful perfectionist! thing is, my loaves all have a dense crumb, even if well risen and quite 'light'. I've even made a loaf that was, in my opinion, too 'light' - bordering on woolly.

What I'm after are those 'holes' which are surely created through some yeasty action once the bread is in the oven, or perhaps from proving? And along with that, a chewier, more 'pain au levain' type of texture.

It could be that I'm just not kneading enough? My dough is too dry? I've tried using different ratios of flours, such as more spelt or wholemeal along with the strong white, but while the loaves may be denser, they're still a fine, dense crumb that isn't chewy enough.

Any help would be greatly appreciated!

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Need more information about what recipe/formula you are using, and your method (machine mixing or stretch and fold)

Texture is very sensitive to the amount of water.

For an open dough you need about 70% hydration (total water/total flour) where total includes the flour and water from the starter/sponge.

Wholemeal will always give a dnser crumb and not support large gas cells, as the bran pierces the cell wall.

You might also try a weaker flour like AP.

NOt all spelt flours are created equal. Brown spelt flour has bran in it - make sure you use white, and of breadmaking quality.

If you are using spelt a pinch of vitamin C will help

Finally are you over-proving? My sourdough, unless retarded takes 4 hours fom mixing to baking at warm room temperature

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My best off the cuff guess would go to hydration, and a good, continued stretch and fold during bulk fermentation. I use KA bread flour, also have a rocking starter (typically fed once a week, then the night before, given a 12 hour head start, and in the morning the poolish is begun). 4 hour poolish ferment, 5 hour bulk ferment with stretch and fold every hour, 12-18 hour retardation, 1 1/2 hr. tempering and final proofing. By my calculations, I am up to low 80's hydration (83%), and do get a very open crumb. Oh, the main dough has about 9% rye flour, and the starter has a variable feed of anywhere from 50% KA white whole wheat to 100% KA bread flour.

Haven't taken pics in a long time, but these are some older boules:

Levain12-5-09CrumbCU.jpg

Levain11-25-09.jpg

I have always been relatively pleased with the texture (chewy, resilient, crackling crust), though, as these show, these earlier crumbs were pretty variably open (the pictured loaves also represent about a 70% hydration, whereas I'm currently into the low 80's, as mentioned....my bread has just gone more and more open over time).

After screwing up my back, I've returned to baking, a first love as a kid...so take everything I've said with a spectacular grain of salt, since if I have been cooking a long time, I feel like a neophyte again when it comes to baking. But I'd shoot for a really wet dough, a decently proteinaceous flour to aid the gluten development sought by the mixing and folding techniques, and a long fermentation/retardation.

Edited by paul o' vendange (log)

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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Good advice guys. I guess I'd had a sneaking suspicion in the back of my mind that after trying a very hydrated dough initially and it having failed to rise - I'd obtained the shape of loaf I wanted by making a less hydrated dough. Therein lies the problem. I need to use more water, more stretch and fold, more rising and proving time, and maybe let it prove twice. Back to the drawing board.

As for recipes, I HAD been using one from Bertinet's book 'Crust' but I abandoned it and have been kind of winging it - which felt good as bread making is such an organic process; influenced by so many environmental factors. His recipe IS for a very wet dough. The problem I had with it was that after I'd kneaded it, it rose, but then after 'knocking back' it didn't rise as much and I had awful problems getting it into the oven. Each time it just flopped down and became a rubbery disc.

BTW Paul - great pics and that's exactly what I'm after - could you share the recipe and technique in more detail?

Edited by Zacky (log)
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Zacky, sure, and thanks for the kind comment - but so much of the credit goes to our very own sourdough clinic, for so much of this. If you haven't come across this, I found it a fantastic resource:

EG Sourdough Clinic

One key thing I learned from the thread is the value of not knocking back the dough during bulk fermentation. The stretching of both glutens and entrapped bubbles was very interesting, to me, and an entirely new technique from all I remembered as a kid. If anything - and I know this is debated - I tend to try for entrapping additional air when folding over - I stretch and then "fwap" the dough a bit, to create a pocket of air, if possible, at each fold. Could be my being a former brewer...with aerobic phase of yeast being the generative phase, before going into anaerobic fermentation. I like a lot of growth in yeast, as opposed to dosing heavier at the start, because it's in growth/yeast budding and daughter cells that so much of the flavor by-products are kicked into the mix. Sorry if this is redundant information.

Anyway, once a week I take a couple of tbsp of my starter, and add enough flour and water to make for a fairly thick, renewed starter (thin for a first feeding, but I toss a final amount of flour and refrigerate whenever I feel the starter is renewed appropriately..the thickness makes it "tough" for yeast, and slows metabolism accordingly...just a hunch, to keep the starter churning slow but steady until my weekly bake). I will repeat this process, if necessary (discarding all but a couple of tbsp., with a small reserve in case my "new" starter gets accidentally killed, toasted, etc.), if I have for whatever reason let the starter autolyze by staying dormant on depleted nutrients too long. To be honest, though, even when gone unfed for 3 weeks, and I detect a strong whiff of acetone and other staling compounds, I still get a renewed starter back pretty easily.

Anyway, I'd encourage you to check out the above thread, if you haven't. I deviate very little from that - the only thing I did do differently is a 1 1/2 hour temper and final proofing, whereas Jack (Jackal10) gets fantastic bread by just dropping in his (I'm salivating) brick oven directly from the cooler. When I do that.....lol...I get what my wife affectionately calls "boob bread." For obvious reasons:

Levain12-5-09.jpg

(Ahem...on the right, compared to the left).

Outside of that, my home oven has brick tiles down on the wire rack, I pull the bread for 1/2 hour, turn the oven to 500F, allow to preheat for 1 hour; bread then gets 1 1/2 hour total final proofing. When ready, I fill a wine bottle with about 1c of hot water - I previously heat the bottle so the water doesn't cool - stroke the tiles with a decent slathering of hot water via kitchen towel; drop the levain on a cardboard - yep, have never gotten around to getting a wooden one - peel, slash, drop in the oven and dump the water onto my now-fried iron crepe pan on a tile on the bottom. Drop immediately to 400, and pretty consistently go to 50 minutes, turning it with 15 minutes to go very quickly, as our apartment oven is crap and this aids an even crust browning.

amount particulars:

poolish: 2 tbsp starter, 1/2c KA bread flour, 3/4c water.

dough: the above, added in toto to 22.5oz KA bread flour, 2.25oz rye, and 13 oz. water. My back is fried, so I am limited in my ability to knead and use a processor for a 25-30s mix, only. Per the thread, rest 1/2 hour, then add 1 1/2tbsp salt, re-mix an additional 25-30 seconds, avoiding warming both times. Toss into oiled bowl, every hour, stretch and "fwap" fold for 5 hours. Drop into floured banneton - mine is some straight canvas lining a wicker basket from a dollar store - retard for 12-18 hours, temper and proceed as above.

I do want to stress I'm no baker, though it was my earliest cooking love (we're talking 8-9 years old...a, uh, fairly long time ago), so tap the expertise of Jackal's thread, and others, over yours truly's paltry contributions. I also love The Fresh Loaf - an entire sub-forum on sourdough and starter:

The Fresh Loaf - Sourdough

Have fun!

Paul

Edited by paul o' vendange (log)

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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Zac, glad whatever I could offer was a help - I really do want to thank Jackal here (and the folks over at the Fresh Loaf) for his tremendous thread, really started me on a love of inquiry I haven't had in decades.

Here's to your enjoyment!

Paul

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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  • 2 weeks later...

Success! I've cracked it! Thanks again for your help and the link to the eg sourdough clinic. That reaaaally helped me a lot. I realised I was actually using a biga, rather than a poolish and had been knocking my dough back - so losing all those precious bubbles. This loaf represents my first real success. I stuck with a thicker biga starter (400g) and added some water and 400g strong white bread flour (we don't have the same brands as you guys over there - KA etc. Here it's just 'strong' or not). I went for really hydrated dough. Man, it was like bubble gum by the time I stopped kneading it - popping and super elastic. That's when I knew I had something good. Then after folding, I let it rise ever so slightly before stopping the fermentation in the fridge and allowing it to firm up. I also invested in some fire bricks for the oven shelf and that helped a lot too. Now I've got the open crumb, the chewy bread and the crackling crust.

It's still not quite perfect though - I'm going to try Paul's repeat folding during bulk fermentation next and add some refined white spelt flour for extra flavour, but guys - the smug satisfaction I got from eating this today cannot be matched and it's given me the biggest buzz. My family love it too. Imagine, all this from just flour, water and salt!

Bread.jpg

Edited by Zacky (log)
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That's awesome, Zacky, congrats! Looks wonderful - really chewy, yes?

I found the hours of bulk ferment (with hourly folds - a gentle stretch then fold, two directions, like a puff pastry foldover), coupled with the high hydration, really oxygenates the yeast and so by the anaerobic, fermentative phase it seems the ferment truly is rocking. The only drawback for me is in not getting the prettiest grigne - but I think that might be the tradeoff with a wet dough...just can't hold the "lip" of the slashing, to get that classic toothed edge (I think the top set of photos show it pretty well - not really "ugly" hashmarks, just not that distinctive, cliff's edge lip, if I'm explaining it well enough).

Anyway, glad you're getting what you're looking for. Many happy loaves!

Paul

-Paul

 

Remplis ton verre vuide; Vuide ton verre plein. Je ne puis suffrir dans ta main...un verre ni vuide ni plein. ~ Rabelais

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  • 1 year later...

Resurrecting this lovely thread :)

I haven't baked in over 5 years. A sin! My father wanted sourdough quick, so I experimented with Professor Calvel's starter, with some modifications. I only did half the recommended amounts and since I didn't have malt extract available, used malted milk, 2 gr instead of the 1.5 gr it called for.

Followed the schedule given for that starter, but the 2nd 7hr feeding wasn't very succesful (suspect my father had too much nicotine on his hands), so I left the starter out without food for 6 more hours, than resumed the schedule once things got bubbly again.

A miracle! We got a pretty decent starter after only 3 days (instead of the weeks it took my all natural flour/water). Fed it equal parts in weight of flour and water to try to reach 100% hydration, since the original mixture was way dough-y. Tested the starter with some Sourdough English Muffins and it was ready for use.

I followed jackal10's method, converting the amounts to grams, as follows:

Prefement:

200 gr sourdough starter

150 gr white all purpose flour (only had regular 10% flour, so that's the one I used)

225 gr water

Left for 5 hours on the counter.

Dough:

200 gr refreshed sourdough starter

450 gr white all purpose flour (again, regular 10% flour)

225 gr water

9 gr salt (added later)

I roughly mixed the ingredients and left for 15 minutes, then came back and kneaded by hand for 5 minutes. Left for amylisation 30 minutes and then added salt. Kneaded for another 10 minutes. Rested the dough for an hour, then gently folded using Dan Lepard's technique. Repeated the folding operation every hour 3 more times. Shaped the dough into a ball and put it in my makeshift banetton (wicker basket covered with cotton cloth, rubbed generously with rice flour). Left the shaped dough 40 minutes at room temperature, then put it in the fridge to retard overnight (11 hours)

The next morning I preheated the oven to 250 C for one hour. Put some brick tiles in the middle of the oven and a tray in the bottom.

Took the dough out of the fridge and put the dough in the floured peel (rice flour) and slashed it badly. Need more practice in the slashing department:

masa 031012.jpg

Turned down the heat to 230C and slid the dough into the stones with a little too much force (expected it to stick a bit but it didn't), then fiddled with it to try to put it properly on the stones, elongated the shape doing this :(

horno 031012.jpg

Put 3 icecubes in the tray at the bottom and set the timer for 48 minutes. Got a lovely boule with a crisp crust

listo 031012.jpg

Sliced the bread after a 3 hour wait. Yum!

corte 031012.jpg

Crumb holes are ok-ish for a 10% protein flour I guess, but I want a better, bigger-hole crumb. Just got my hands on 12% flour, so next time I will be using that. Flavor is really good for a young starter, I expect it to become more complex with time.

What other tips and tricks do you recommend?

Thanks so much for your feedback!

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  • 3 weeks later...

If you're looking for a more open crumb, I would suggest increading your hydration. From the formula you posted, it looks like a 59 percent hydration. I would go about 70 percent. I am also wondering how long you proofed your boule after taking it out of the fridge and baking it?

Good luck with your efforts!

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  • 1 year later...

So I've been making my sourdough loaf for the last year or so pretty confidently without trouble.

I brought it back to Singapore, fed my starter, and made a loaf. After the final rise with stretch and fold technique, i noticed it loss all structure, meaning it looked as if no gluten was developed at all.

The biggest change is temperature - i cant imagine the local bread flour here is really so different and bakers here can still make bread.

My theory is that because its so hot here (around 30-33C) as ambient temp, the yeast got far too active, produced so much lactic acid that the pH of the entire bread was so high that it denatured the gluten proteins.

Can anyone verify this might be correct?

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did it taste particularly sour? or did you not taste it at all?

What is more likely has happened is you've had high enzyme activity, specifically proteases, which chop up proteins into little pieces - too much of this activity and you can kiss gluten goodbye! I've had that happen in sourdough I've retarded in the fridge for three days - the dough went sticky, smelled a little odd and didn't bake well at all!

Keep refreshing the starter and try again, would be my advice -

oh, and a little aside... acid is low pH, not high! But I totally understood what you meant anyway ;)

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Opps, why did i write high pH...

Yeah, so I think the same thing happened when i let my sourdough once autolyse for over 16 hours out at room temperature. I remembering noticing there was no gluten development.

I added a ton of flour to the dough until it was workable - i kinda forced it and then just baked it.

There was some structure, but it was noticeably flatter than normal. I havent been able to taste it yet though, ill do so soon and report back

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The Bread Builders: Hearth Loaves and Masonry Ovens

This is an amazing book on natural starters and building your own oven. They discuss the differences between all-purpose flours within the United States (in the South it's for biscuits), and worldwide. I'm guessing the flour.

Per la strada incontro un passero che disse "Fratello cane, perche sei cosi triste?"

Ripose il cane: "Ho fame e non ho nulla da mangiare."

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  • 1 month later...

The power went out at my house while I was on vacation and, setting aside the hundreds of dollars in frozen meats, sauces etc that I had to throw out, what about my starter? It was sitting in a lukewarm fridge for about 5 days....is it even worth trying to revive? Or should I just toss the whole thing in favor of a new one?

Thanks!

Edited by ambra (log)
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The power went out at my house while I was on vacation and, setting aside the hundreds of dollars in frozen meats, sauces etc that I had to throw out, what about my starter? It was sitting in a lukewarm fridge for about 5 days....is it even worth trying to revive? Or should I just toss the whole thing in favor of a new one?

Thanks!

I've had the power go out for 6 days twice over the last 2 years and my sourdough starter has been fine after sitting at room temperature during the power outage. I just fed the starter regularly for a couple of days then returned it to the refrigerator.

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