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Q&A -- Sourdough Bread

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WOW!

I can't wait to get started tomorrow morning! :biggrin:

One question though,

After I take out my one cup of sourdough starter for the bread I will be left with maybe another cup or so (maybe less) how do I keep up my supply?

Can I just add another cup of water and another cup of flour and whizz them together?

And if I wanted to make more starter to give to friends could I increase the amounts of flour and water?

EDIT

sorry that was two questions! :blink:

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Sure, you can increase the starter as much as you like. Just add equal amounts of flour and water.

For the best compromise between increase in volume and ensuring the sourdough culture is the dominant species, the old starter should be about 1/3rd of the volume, that is add equal amonts by volume of flour, water and innoculant (the old starter), then culture for 4 hours or so..

I always end up with much too much. You can safely dispose of excess by diluting it and pouring it down the drain. It is bio-degradable, but if too thick can clog up the pipes. Let me encourage you to give it to your friends and spread the word about good bread. It also acts as a backup in case some disaster happens to yours, like a family member throwing it away while spring-cleaning the fridge...


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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I made my first loaf last weekend with the starter you sent me. No problems with the starter but I think (am pretty sure now having seen your pictures) I had the dough too wet. It was so soft it was difficult to shape and the finished bread was a bit damp although it tasted great. Second attempt this weekend....

One slightly off topic question:

Many years ago I had a recipe for a "friendship" cake based on a starter that you passed around between friends - I remember it as being a moderately sweet batter with dried fruit and nuts. It tasted great and very different from a cake raised with baking powder. I wondered if it would be possible to create something similar based on the sourdough starter and if you had any suggestions about how to go about it?

Thanks very much for a great lesson.

Janice

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Very nice course, Jack!

If I can butt in here with a few comments:

For the best compromise between increase in volume and ensuring the sourdough culture is the dominant species, the old starter should be about 1/3rd of the volume, that is add equal amonts by volume of flour, water and innoculant (the old starter), then culture for 4 hours or so.

Even doing a 33% (one-third) inoculum strikes me as fairly high. I personally don't think that there is too much to fear with respect to preserving the sourdough culture as the dominant species. I often feed my sourdough culture using nothing more than the little bit of starter stuck to the inside of the jar as the inoculum. In the amount of starter I typically keep, this probably represents something closer to a 10% inoculum. Since the starter comes roaring back to full activity within 4-6 hours, it seems pretty clear to me that the original culture remains dominant, as it would take any interlopers much longer to produce that kind of activity. One gram of active sourdough starter comtains between 10,000,000 and 1,000,000,000 sourdough microorganisms, so even a tiny amount of starter has way more yeast and bacteria than an entire sack of flour.

The major limiting factor for sourdough microorganisms is low pH. To make a gross simplification: more acid = lower pH. Since sourdough microorganisms produce acid, the result is that a starter ready to be fed has a relatively low pH because the sourdough microorganisms have been doing their work. If the pH of the starter remains low, the sourdough microorganisms will be inhibited from growing. This is the opposite of what we want. We want the sourdough microorganisms to be happy and grow a lot when we feed the starter or make a sponge or dough. So there are two things we want to do: 1) give the sourdough microorganisms lots of food to eat; and 2) raise the pH so the sourdough microorganisms are not inhibited from growing. As it so hapens, adding new food also raises the pH of the starter. The more food we add, the higher the pH will be (within certain limitations).

Now, as it so happens, the optimum pH for lactobacilli growth is is 5.0 - 5.5. This is the initial pH of a sourdough with a 5 - 20% inoculum. This tells us, then, that the best way to feed our starters for optimum growth is with a 5% - 20% inoculum (source). In other words, the old starter should be around one one-twentieth to one-fifth of the new starter, dough or sponge. So... if you save two teaspoons of starter, mix it with one quarter cup of flour and mix in enough water to form a thick paste (this consistency gives you approximately equal weights of flour and water), you're just about right.

When I make bread tend to use a very small inoculum from my starter jar (maybe a tablspoon or two) and mix that into a sponge (batter consistency) or chef (dough consistency) that contains around one fifth of the flour I will eventually be using to make the finished bread. By the time the sponge/chef reaches full activation, the microorganisms are really humming along with activity because they were never inhibited by a low pH. Starting off with a really small amount of starter also makes it easy to tell how much flour and water you have in your recipe. Of course, prodecures differ from person to person and Jack's method obviously works great for him as the results amply demonstrate.

I made my first loaf last weekend with the starter you sent me. No problems with the starter but I think (am pretty sure now having seen your pictures) I had the dough too wet. It was so soft it was difficult to shape and the finished bread was a bit damp although it tasted great.

One thing to keep in mind -- not that this is necessarily your issue -- is that acid breaks down gluten. So, the longer the sourdough ferments, the more the gluten will break down, the more the dough will lose its ability to hold together and the more the dough will seem "wet" or "loose."

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I don't know what I'm more impressed with: your text, your oven, or your beautiful loaves. I hope to make an attempt at this sometime in the next few days.

A question about measures: British cups and American cups are different, correct? Which kind of cups did you use for writing the recipes in this course?

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Thanks.

I used US cups.

I think the cups are the same (except that we tend to use weight rather than volume in UK), but pints differ

In general the wetter the dough, the bigger the holes. The extreme case is ciabatta, where the dough is practically a batter and hence its shape.

Dan Lepard has a very interesting technique that he demonstrated during the bread baking day and that will be reported here in due time. During bulk fermentation (his is longer and a little cooler) he turns out the dough onto a lightly floured board, and folds it sides to middle, and then top and bottom to middle, the puts it back in its container and cover it again. This gently stretches the dough, the gluten and the bubbles. He does this every hour for 3 or more hours, and he points out that the dough stiffens up as as the bubbles form. He certainly makes good bread!


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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A question about measures: British cups and American cups are different, correct? Which kind of cups did you use for writing the recipes in this course?

While British Imperial liquid and dry gallons, pints, etc. differ from U.S. liquid and dry gallons, pints, etc. I think that a cup is the same. There is just a different number of cups to a gallon, depending on which system you are using.

Edit: Jack beat me to it.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

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Still waiting for my starter to arrive as I was on vacation and only requested it a few days ago.

Here's my question:

Can you explain more about the vitamin C? What does it do and how much should you add assuming there isn't anything in your flour? My flour says something like "not a significant source of vitamin C" and other stuff?

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It speeds up the yeast action, although I'm not sure why.

You need only add a minute amount - a teaspoon to a bag of flour.

Your starter is on the way...

I forgot to add that retarding the dough overnight in the fridge makes it much stiffer and easier to handle, so it does not spread as much in the oven.


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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I forgot to add that retarding the dough overnight in the fridge makes it much stiffer and easier to handle, so it does not spread as much in the oven.

You turn out the dough and bake it while it is still cold, yes? This can make a big difference when working with a wet dough -- especially with respect to spreading. When baking a cold dough I have found it is is crucial to make sure you have a thick, hot baking stone (or, if you can, an oven like Jack's). With a big hot stone you can get amazing oven spring starting with cold dough.

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Yes, I bake from cold, either in the Aga (which is a big lump of iron) or in the brick bread oven.

Nancy Silverton advises letting the dough return to room temperature, but

I have never seen the advantage of this. Not oly does it take a long time, but the fermentation starts again, and you lose the advantages of handling and the extra oven spring.

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Yea. I have found that to be true as well. Plus, by the time the dough warms up, there is a serious concern about deflating the dough when you make the slashes.

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Yes, I bake from cold, either in the Aga (which is a big lump of iron) or in the brick bread oven.

Nancy Silverton advises letting the dough return to room temperature, but

I have never seen the advantage of this.  Not oly does it take a long time, but the fermentation starts again, and you lose the advantages of handling and the extra oven spring.

I've said this before but this is the single most useful piece of information I learned from Jackal's recipe which was archived a while back and I've been using to make bread ever since. Oven spring is an amazing thing!!! A small unassuming piece of cold dough (never room temp) takes on a life of it's own in the oven, it just never siezes to surprise me. (I have a couple of pics to post to show this).

Jackal et al, this was a great class with fantastic pics. I loved that oven. I do have one question:

Why does the store bought sourdough taste a little "sour"?? Where as mine, while still great tasting, hardly has that sour taste. Is it the type of starter? or is there anything I can do to get a more sour bread?

Thanks

Elie "FM"

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Why does the store bought sourdough taste a little "sour"?? Where as mine, while still great tasting, hardly has that sour taste. Is it the type of starter? or is there anything I can do to get a more sour bread?

The others are more expert than I am, but lots of factors:

a) Ferment out your starter sponge or clef so it is a lot sourer

b) Bulk ferment for longer

c) Ferment the starter and bulk ferment warmer. If you look at the graph in the science bit you will see that the lactobacteria (which contribute to the sourness) peak at a higher temperature than the yeast. Fermenting at 90F rather than 85F makes a big difference. An accurate thermometer really helps.

d) Some starters seem to produce a sourer bread than others.

e) The ash content of the flour is important, as the ash neutralises the acid. Use a lower ash flour.

Ther is some discussion in the literature about the ratio of acetic acid (from the yeast) to lactic acid (from the Lactobacteria), with some claim, the former contributing to a sour taste, and the later contributing to a sour smell. Some also say that a firmer sponge gets sourer, although I've never noticed any difference. The biggest effect, for me, is to ferment the starter for long so it is very sour.

Of course, you can only get that true San Franciso taste in San Franciso.


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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Why does the store bought sourdough taste a little "sour"?? Where as mine, while still great tasting, hardly has that sour taste. Is it the type of starter? or is there anything I can do to get a more sour bread?

The others are more expert than I am, but lots of factors:

a) Ferment out your starter sponge or clef so it is a lot sourer

b) Bulk ferment for longer

c) Ferment the starter and bulk ferment warmer. If you look at the graph in the science bit you will see that the lactobacteria (which contribute to the sourness) peak at a higher temperature than the yeast. Fermenting at 90F rather than 85F makes a big difference. An accurate thermometer really helps.

d) Some starters seem to produce a sourer bread than others.

e) The ash content of the flour is important, as the ash neutralises the acid. Use a lower ash flour.

Ther is some discussion in the literature about the ratio of acetic acid (from the yeast) to lactic acid (from the Lactobacteria), with some claim, the former contributing to a sour taste, and the later contributing to a sour smell. Some also say that a firmer sponge gets sourer, although I've never noticed any difference. The biggest effect, for me, is to ferment the starter for long so it is very sour.

Of course, you can only get that true San Franciso taste in San Franciso.

Thanks for the suggestions. I will try fermenting the portion of starter that I will be using for double the time and at a slightly warmer temp and see if that makes a noticeable difference.

I already tried making a firmer dough per Reinhart's advise in order to get a sourer bread but I did not notice any difference.

FM

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Foodman,

The main variable that will affect the total acid in your sourdough loaf is the buffering power of the dough. A buffer is a substance that maintains the same approximate pH despite the addition of a modest amount of an acid or base by releasing or absorbing H+ ions. Doughs with more buffering power are able to accumulate more acid before the pH drops to levels that inhibit the activity of the lactobacilli. Whole wheat flour has a higher mineral content than white flour and therefore has greater buffering capacity. This is why whole wheat sourdough bread usually tastes more sour than white wheat sourdough bread.

The main reason that storebought "sourdough" bread often tastes so sour is that it is not sourdough. Instead it is bread which is leavened with commercial yeast and flavored with various souring agents.

The main trade-off with sour flavor, as previously mentioned, is that acid degrades gluten. If you let your sourdough ferment a really long time and get really sour, you are likely to end up with a very sour brick because the gluten will be weak and the leavening power of the culture will be inhibited by the low pH. Note that even commercial "sourdough" breads are often quite dense. Boules and other free-formed loaves are generaly out of the question if you desire extra-sour bread. The long fermentation required for such flavor degrades the gluten to the point where the dough is not able to maintain the integrity of its shape without the extra help provided by a loaf pan.

There are several things you can do, however:

1. Use 100% bread flour. This is high in gluten to begin with, so you have a little more of a margin when it comes to gluten degradation. If you can, include plenty of duram wheat flour, which has a particularly strong kind of gluten that seems better able to resist acid degradation.

2. Use whole wheat flour to increase the buffering power of the dough.

3. Do an extra-long fermentation and use loaf pans. Treat these gently as you put them in the oven, as acid-degraded dough is extremely fragile.

4. Dan Wing recommends making a dough with around 20% of your total flour a few days beforehand and fermenting it a long time until it gets really, really sour. You then add the soured dough to the final dough along with a fairly high inoculum of very active starter-sponge. Form into loaves, rise as fast as possible and bake immediately. The soured sough provides a hefty dose of acid while the large inoculum of active starter sponge provides good leavening power. The trick is to get the bread leavened and baked before the acid has a chance to degrade the gluten too much.

5. Use the "Dick Adams Method" as described here and here.

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4. Dan Wing recommends making a dough with around 20% of your total flour a few days beforehand and fermenting it a long time until it gets really, really sour. You then add the soured dough to the final dough along with a fairly high inoculum of very active starter-sponge. Form into loaves, rise as fast as possible and bake immediately. The soured sough provides a hefty dose of acid while the large inoculum of active starter sponge provides good leavening power. The trick is to get the bread leavened and baked before the acid has a chance to degrade the gluten too much.

This does make a lot of sense. I will do my best to give it a try in the next few days.

Thanks again for your detailed responses

Elie "FM"

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I learned the folding-during-fermentation technique from a pizza baker in Rome. It's a good one and it works to increase the extensibility of the dough.

As discussed, there are ways of making sour bread. Understanding buffering is important to this. Sour bread is not the goal of many regular sourdough bakers. Sourdough is an unfortunate misnomer in this regard.

Why is the recipe in volume, rather than weight measure, which is so much more convenient for figuring hydration?

When Dick Adams makes it onto this board, you know that sourdough has gone mainstream.

Edited for spelling and clarity.


Edited by Robert Schonfeld (log)

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This may be a really silly question so please bear with me.

In the course description, we are directed to the sourdough bread recipe here:

Recipe

That recipe calls for 2.5 cups of flour and 1.5 cups of water to one cup of starter.

Further on in the course description, the recipe is given as 3 cups of flour and 1 cup of water to one cup of starter.

Does it matter which recipe is used? (I guess this explains why I had to keep adding a lot of flour though. :wacko: )

Thanks.

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I used cups because my impression that is what most of the readers use. I hope I've given conversions.

The problem is that the amont of water you need depends on the flour Different flours can adsorb different amounts of water. It should just form a soft dough.

Also in the recipe I mixed in a food processor; for the unit I hand kneaded.

As Dan points out, it is better to err on the side of making a dough that is a little too stiff and add water. Adding flour means you need to add proportionally more salt etc. Start with the 3 cups of flour: 1 cup of starter to 1 cup water, and if the dough is stiff add more water.

I'd love people to show the loaves they have baked, good or bad. If you don't have the facility to put up pictures, send them to me, with a description, and I will put up a page of EGCI reader's breads. I am reluctant, because of spam to give out my email in an open forum, but you you have some pix PM me, and I will reply with an email address you can use.


Edited by jackal10 (log)

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Hello,

Hope everyone's starter is looking healthy, with a clean & sharp aroma. Just two things, forgive me if they're obvious.

When you are testing a recipe for the first time, do take notes, recording everything you do. My pen gets covered in flour and dough, and the book I write upon often has dough, starter and flour wiped across it. Yet when I come to try the recipe again the next day, it means that I can be reasonably sure what steps I took previously. Don't simply rely on your memory, get into the habit of writing it down. Without a camera, this will provide a snapshot showing how you made the bread that day.

Following that, I use weight measurements on electronic scales to assist me (metric out of preference). Though I absolutely agree with Jack's decision to use a measuring system that the readers feel comfortable with, I find that when I'm initially shaping a recipe, if I need to add additional ingredients (dough too wet/dry/not enough X or Y), then it is easier to zero the scales and quickly weigh whatever I am adding to the bowl, than to guess at a volume measurement in the haste of the moment. In a quieter moment, once I am happy with the recipe, I will translate the measurements into volume (cups and spoons).

I'm really knocked out by the thoroughness, interest and thought in the questions and answers given here. So often I'm told (by editors swept up in a 'quick and easy is best' frenzy) that readers aren't interested in detail, that long recipe are off-putting, and that vague measurements leave more room for adaption. Good to see the enthusiasts right up at the front!

regards

Dan

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None of the bread baking books I have on my shelf approaches the quality of this course. Well done, Jack! My starter is resting quietly in the fridge, awaiting the time when I am more mobile. I cannot wait.

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Sour bread is not the goal of many regular sourdough bakers. Sourdough is an unfortunate misnomer in this regard.

I agree. I think too many new sourdough bakers are frustrated by trying for super-sour bread which is actually the most difficult thing to attain as strong gluten and plentiful acid are to a certain extent mutually exclusive. I have always thought that "naturally leavened" or "wild leaven" would be a better term than "sourdough." But, for better or worse, we're stuck with it.

When Dick Adams makes it onto this board, you know that sourdough has gone mainstream.

Hee hee hee! I'm an old-timer on rec.food.sourdough. Don't post on Usenet much any more, but have learned many things in r.f.s over the years and butted heads with Dick a time or two. He has a unique, gruff posting style that rubs many people the wrong way, and I don't agree with him on some key points regarding sourdough microbiology, but he knows his sourdough. One could certainly do much worse than emulating Dick's methods.

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I have a problem with my starter. I fed it yesterday and while it is slightly active, it has only a few bubbles here and there - nothing like the picture indicates it should be. The ambient temperature is around 71f. Is that the problem? Without a pilot in the oven, I'm considering putting a pot of warm water in the oven to raise the temperature and letting the starter sit there.

Is the room temperature the problem? Or did I wait too long to feed it. (I was out of town when it arrived, so it's lived refrigerated and untouched til now.)

Should I just begin a new starter?

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