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Sourdough Starter


Owtahear
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Hey all, I am sure some of you have made your own starter from scratch.   I don't know if I am over thinking it.    But I have been at it for a month.   I have used some discard already and made some really awesome pizza.  I am now obsessed with home made pizza with home made dough and sauce.  

 

But my starter, does it really have to "float"?   I feed it daily, sometimes twice a day, it is obviously in a warm environment as it is in a sunroom and it has been sunny and 90's here (room temp probably ~76 degrees F) it smells good, I can see bubbles and air accumulate in the starter in the jar.  But it doesn't "float" when I put it in water.

 

I am using mostly organic, local whole wheat flour with occasional organic AP flour along with bottled, distilled water.

 

So.......thoughts???

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There are a number of "tests" in baking that don't actually produce consistent results. Having the starter float is one of those.  It works for some , but not for others.  For one, floating depends on the amount of air trapped in the starter, and I always wondered how that could be an accurate test because when you spoon out some of the starter, you may displace more air one time than the next. In addition, some make their starters at 100% hydration  ( equal weights flour and water ) and others go to 125% - ( more water than flour ) and others use 75% ( more flour than water ), and the ratio of flour to water will impact how much it has to rise before it would float.

 

Generally, once you starter is established you can use it to make bread.  Sometimes I make bread with it a few hours after refreshing, sometimes 8 or 10 hours after refreshing, and sometimes I take it out of the fridge a few days after refreshing and it still works fine .  The amount of time it takes to give you the desired increase in bulk ferment may be impacted by its strength, but I have never had it fail to eventually lift the loaf.  

 

Some suggest that you refresh your starter in a straight sided container, and use it just after it peaks.  Others suggest using it before it peaks to get a sweeter flavor, or well after it crests to get a more sour flavor.  I wouldn't worry about the float test .  

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3 hours ago, curls said:

Seriously! My answer is nothing. Jeesh.

No.  I did make pizza dough, but also used dry yeast in the recipe.   I am just wondering for the overall health of the starter.    Unfortunately with the 95 degree heat here in the northeast, I am in no rush to make bread.

 

But my next two projects are:

 

Sicilian dough style pizza   and.....as we are now reaching tomato season, a really good crusty loaf of bread to make Pan Tomate.   I just don't want to get all excited and ready and then go for it and nothing happens with the rise.   I have been babying the starter between organic, local whole wheat flour organic white AP flour.  Evian water.  I may have had my water not warm enough.   But it is plenty hot here so the starter is seeing consistent 75-80 degree temps.

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Are you keeping track of how much your starter grows? Does it double or triple in volume within a 12 hour window? Have you tried baking bread with it without the addition of commercial yeast? Give us more information about how it behaves and more people will weigh in with their advice. Or perhaps it is doing well now...

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On 7/13/2020 at 12:47 PM, Owtahear said:

I am using mostly organic, local whole wheat flour with occasional organic AP flour along with bottled, distilled water.

 

 

Whole wheat flour contains pieces of bran that act like tiny little knives which cut through the gluten in the dough.  It's essentially a volume killer.  This is why you rarely see 100% whole wheat breads, but, rather, find it as a fraction of a blend.  A little denseness can work in bread, but you really don't want a dense pizza crust.  Generally speaking, whole wheat flour isn't the best choice for pizza dough.  If you're dead set on adding it, both keep it to either 15% or less and combine it with a high gluten flour like Sir Lancelot. Bear in mind, though, every bit you add is volume lost.

 

Another volume/gluten killer is distilled water. It doesn't sound like you're using distilled water for your dough, which is good, but, the distilled water, combined with the whole wheat flour is why your starter isn't floating.

 

Not that ending up with a floating starter is going to solve all your problems.  Much like whole wheat flour is okay for bread but isn't ideal for pizza, sourdough is generally best for bread as well.  Bread is far more forgiving.  A lot of pizza books are, unfortunately, written by bread bakers, so it's fairly common to see home pizza makers treat pizza like bread.  Pizza is not bread.  Sourdough barely exists in the pizza world.  The handful of commercial entities successfully working with natural leavening devote their entire lives to mastering it- not days, not months... years, and, at the end of all that torture, the end result really isn't that different from commercial yeast (perceptible sourness is acid, and excess acid can be damaging to gluten).

 

If, after you successfully mastered commercial yeast, you want to go down the sourdough rabbit hole, feel free, but, until then, sticking to commercial yeast (IDY in a glass jar) will guarantee you the most stress-free consistent results possible.

Edited by scott123 (log)
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4 hours ago, scott123 said:

 Much like whole wheat flour is okay for bread but isn't ideal for pizza, sourdough is generally best for bread as well.  Bread is far more forgiving.  A lot of pizza books are, unfortunately, written by bread bakers, so it's fairly common to see home pizza makers treat pizza like bread.  Pizza is not bread.  Sourdough barely exists in the pizza world.  The handful of commercial entities successfully working with natural leavening devote their entire lives to mastering it- not days, not months... years, and, at the end of all that torture, the end result really isn't that different from commercial yeast (perceptible sourness is acid, and excess acid can be damaging to gluten).

 

If, after you successfully mastered commercial yeast, you want to go down the sourdough rabbit hole, feel free, but, until then, sticking to commercial yeast (IDY in a glass jar) will guarantee you the most stress-free consistent results possible.

 

Good explanation here. 

I try to explain to people why great pizza is so hard (certainly for me, and I've eaten some decent "commercial" pizza to compare against) to make at home, but often to no avail.  And it's why I so often simply turn to baking focaccia, a much-more forgiving product for a less-than-even-part-time baker like me.

 

It does seem as if now, much more equipment is available for the amateur pizzaiolo  to try and replicate the taste and texture of great pizza at home, with consistency. Certainly if you have a backyard, and certainly if you're willing to have your kitchen get very warm, especially in summer.

Edited by weinoo (log)
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Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

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5 hours ago, scott123 said:

Another volume/gluten killer is distilled water.

 

Can you (or anyone else) explain this, please? I haven't run across this bit of information before, and I'd like a chemical explanation.

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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2 hours ago, Smithy said:

 

Can you (or anyone else) explain this, please? I haven't run across this bit of information before, and I'd like a chemical explanation.

Yeah, that's a great question.  I have been using bottled water, because I read that regular tap water contains chlorines and they essentially help kill the natural yeasts.  So been using just your Evian water or other purified water.    Also, how important is temperature, I have been storing it at around 75 degrees, but that maybe too cool for the water, and I should warm it up to ~100 degrees?

 

That is interesting about whole wheat, and that the "shards" are prevalent never thinking that they would break glutens but essentially act as little needles that effectively would degas the CO2 building in the starter.  

 

Interesting, thanks for the help.  I am in the Northeast and these 95 degree days (relentless) have not motivated to make bread, but my next venture is to do a Sicilian style sheet pizza.    

Edited by Owtahear
wrong word (log)
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18 hours ago, scott123 said:

Sourdough barely exists in the pizza world.  The handful of commercial entities successfully working with natural leavening devote their entire lives to mastering it- not days, not months... years, and, at the end of all that torture, the end result really isn't that different from commercial yeast (perceptible sourness is acid, and excess acid can be damaging to gluten).

 

 

I think you're overstating your case here. Like Mitch, making great pizza at home has eluded me. But it's because my oven is nowhere near up to the task. The sourdough took just a few months to get right. 

 

For what it's worth, all the great pizzas I've ever had were naturally leavened. Maybe I'm spoiled.

Notes from the underbelly

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17 hours ago, Smithy said:

 

Can you (or anyone else) explain this, please? I haven't run across this bit of information before, and I'd like a chemical explanation.

 

This covers the basics of gluten fairly well:

 

http://www.cookingscienceguy.com/pages/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Explaining-Gluten.pdf

 

It goes into how calcium and magnesium in hard water, along with salt, strengthen gluten.  But it doesn't go into why they strengthen gluten.  This is why:

 

https://modernistcuisine.com/mc/gluten-how-does-it-work/

 

"Salt provides more than flavor—it strengthens gluten bonding. Although the gluten proteins naturally repel one another, the chloride ions in salt help them overcome that repulsion and stick together."  

 

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2010/issue79/

 

"Adding a small amount of salt can further strengthen the gluten network; ions from the salt cluster around the charged portions of the glutenin proteins and prevent them from repelling each other, which allows glutenin molecules to cluster more closely together."

 

So, the two major components of wheat protein, glutenin and gliadin, don't, on their own, create the gluten framework- they don't create the structure of bread.  They form the gluten framework by bonding- physically (through kneading and rising, basically molecular abrasion) and chemically. The chemical aspect that encourages bonding is electrical, making any and all ions critical to the process.  This is why both no salt and soft water based breads lack structure.  Distilled water, because the solids have been removed, is the softest water possible.

 

So, without ions, without electrolytes- the sodium and chloride in the salt, and the calcium and magnesium (and other dissolved minerals) in the required hard-ish water, you don't get the necessary gluten strengthening that forms good crumb structure.

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18 hours ago, weinoo said:

It does seem as if now, much more equipment is available for the amateur pizzaiolo  to try and replicate the taste and texture of great pizza at home, with consistency. Certainly if you have a backyard, and certainly if you're willing to have your kitchen get very warm, especially in summer.

 

True.  I spend countless hours trying to get beginning pizza makers to focus on their oven setups, but it's really just a drop in the bucket.  Baking steels continue to grow in popularity, but they aren't for everyone (especially not urban apartment dwellers with broiler drawers) and unscrupulous manufacturers have made tremendous inroads with cheap fake baking steels- thin steel sheets that are actually worse than stones.

 

I can completely understand the home cook who just wants to have fun making pizza and prefers avoiding the hassle of complexity.  But to spend so much time and energy on such a fruitless endeavor- when bake time reduction offers such tangible success... it's soul crushing.

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On 7/21/2020 at 12:36 AM, scott123 said:

 

This covers the basics of gluten fairly well:

 

http://www.cookingscienceguy.com/pages/wp-content/uploads/2012/07/Explaining-Gluten.pdf

 

It goes into how calcium and magnesium in hard water, along with salt, strengthen gluten.  But it doesn't go into why they strengthen gluten.  This is why:

 

https://modernistcuisine.com/mc/gluten-how-does-it-work/

 

"Salt provides more than flavor—it strengthens gluten bonding. Although the gluten proteins naturally repel one another, the chloride ions in salt help them overcome that repulsion and stick together."  

 

http://sitn.hms.harvard.edu/flash/2010/issue79/

 

"Adding a small amount of salt can further strengthen the gluten network; ions from the salt cluster around the charged portions of the glutenin proteins and prevent them from repelling each other, which allows glutenin molecules to cluster more closely together."

 

So, the two major components of wheat protein, glutenin and gliadin, don't, on their own, create the gluten framework- they don't create the structure of bread.  They form the gluten framework by bonding- physically (through kneading and rising, basically molecular abrasion) and chemically. The chemical aspect that encourages bonding is electrical, making any and all ions critical to the process.  This is why both no salt and soft water based breads lack structure.  Distilled water, because the solids have been removed, is the softest water possible.

 

So, without ions, without electrolytes- the sodium and chloride in the salt, and the calcium and magnesium (and other dissolved minerals) in the required hard-ish water, you don't get the necessary gluten strengthening that forms good crumb structure.

 

I thank you, both for the summaries and the links to deeper explanations. I have a couple of observations and questions, after reading and considering this material.

 

1. On the one hand, my bread courses have all said that ideally salt should be added after the flour, water and yeast (or sourdough starter) have been allowed to sit together, because salt interferes with yeast growth and development. Yet these articles say that salt helps with the gluten formation. That seemed contradictory at first, but after some thought I think I've resolved the apparent conflict. Salt is necessary but timing is also important because of two opposing effects on two very different factors: yeast growth and gluten development. Do I understand those two issues correctly?

 

2. I'm surprised at the statement that a pH of 5 - 6 is ideal for gluten development, and this makes me wonder what commercial bakers do, if anything, to compensate. City water is generally controlled to around a pH of 7 (maybe slightly less) and the EPA drinking water standard is a pH range of 6.5 - 8.5. Do bakers simply give the gluten extra time and/or mechanical activity to compensate? Perhaps the optimal gluten development pH isn't that important because there are workarounds. 

 

Further insights would be welcome.

Nancy Smith, aka "Smithy"
HosteG Forumsnsmith@egstaff.org

"Every day should be filled with something delicious, because life is too short not to spoil yourself. " -- Ling (with permission)

"There comes a time in every project when you have to shoot the engineer and start production." -- author unknown

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12 hours ago, Smithy said:

1. On the one hand, my bread courses have all said that ideally salt should be added after the flour, water and yeast (or sourdough starter) have been allowed to sit together, because salt interferes with yeast growth and development. Yet these articles say that salt helps with the gluten formation. That seemed contradictory at first, but after some thought I think I've resolved the apparent conflict. Salt is necessary but timing is also important because of two opposing effects on two very different factors: yeast growth and gluten development. Do I understand those two issues correctly?

 

That is the inescapable conclusion to the late salt adder's logic.  But not everyone's on board the late salt train.  The observational evidence is substantial that, while salt definitely slows yeast activity in dough, adding it earlier in the mix doesn't seem to be detrimental to the yeast in the slightest.  Yes, salt is anti-fungal, so, while I wouldn't personally add salt to the yeast and water (I know many who do), as far as yeast impact goes, I see no difference between fully mixed and proofing dough, and mixing the flour and salt into the water at the same time.

Another aspect to late salt is that, while a 70-80% hydration bread dough can comfortably dissolve salt added after the flour has hydrated a bit, your typical 60%ish pizza dough can have issues.  It's not like a salt covered pretzel. Most people don't enjoy hitting a pocket of undissolved salt in dough.  It can also cause problems with stretching and launching.

 

In a high water preferment where the water activity might accelerate the yeast's anti-fungal properties and where you want fermentation to run wild, sure, no salt there.  But, once you're making the final dough, I think late salt is both unnecessary and a potential can of worms.

 

Now, late oil... if you're working with an exceptionally rich dough... maybe 8% oil or more,  then that can seriously impair gluten development unless added later.

 

12 hours ago, Smithy said:

2. I'm surprised at the statement that a pH of 5 - 6 is ideal for gluten development, and this makes me wonder what commercial bakers do, if anything, to compensate. City water is generally controlled to around a pH of 7 (maybe slightly less) and the EPA drinking water standard is a pH range of 6.5 - 8.5. Do bakers simply give the gluten extra time and/or mechanical activity to compensate? Perhaps the optimal gluten development pH isn't that important because there are workarounds.

 

I was a bit surprised by that 5-6 pH level statement as well so I did some research.

 

https://www.cargill.com/salt-in-perspective/salt-in-bread-dough

"all doughs, not just sourdoughs, contain acidifying bacteria which contribute to the bread¹s flavor"

"A typical dough has a pH low enough (approximately 5) for the gluten protein to carry some positive charge."

 

And

 

https://www.foodelphi.com/bread-making-presentation/

 

"Initially, dough has a pH of about 6.2, and during fermentation, the values are about 5.76 or 5.67"

 

Also

 

http://www.fao.org/3/a-au108e.pdf

 

"Fermenting dough has a pH between 5 and 6"

The second link has no author listed, but, the other information in that presentation seems to reveal a fairly extensive level of technical knowledge.  The third link (FAO/United Nations) seems to be reputable and that doesn't reference sourdough at all.

So... neutral water + slightly acidic flour (6ish) + time = pH between 5 and 6.  In other words, and, if you're not sitting down, you might want to be ;), all bread is technically sourdough, it's just that natural leavening ramps up bacterial activity and combines it with acid friendly strains of wild yeast.

I also believe carbonic acid is a bit player in the pH equation, from the CO2 dissolving in the water fraction of the dough (most likely in small amounts). Dough isn't seltzer (between 3-4 pH), but I think it's a small step in that direction.

Edited by scott123 (log)
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