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Q&A -- Sourdough Bread

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I am amazed. What a great course. I cannot believe the photos! Congratulations to everyone who is baking sourdough with such success! It is an art that takes time and patients to master. The photos of the bread are very appetizing. I wish my bread at the restaurant always looked that good.

We are using a five-year-old starter (started with the yeast off of fresh grapes from Napa) and the bread is worth the effort. Bakers are worth there weight in gold. I am so pleased when I see the faces of my customers when they first bite into the bread!

Keep up the hard work on this bread project. It is brilliant (it took my professional baker six months to master his starter


Website: Chef Fowke dot com

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So...my bread's done and I have a few photos to post. I also have a few questions about some things that didn't work out quite as expected. Before I post, though, I just wanted to check in and see if there's any problem extending this lesson so far out from the initial date. I know I'm late to the game here.

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MottMott: I'm not sure what is going wrong. No oven spring indicates the dough is overproved - try shortening the proof times, especially the second proof. I doubt if it is the slashing. Spreading sideways seems to indicate the dough is a bit too wet. Again, shortening the proof time will help, as the acid dough gets weter as it proves.

What is the protein content of the flour you are using?

I used King Arthur bread flour. (I think it's 12.7%)

Edited by Mottmott (log)

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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So...my bread's done and I have a few photos to post. I also have a few questions about some things that didn't work out quite as expected. Before I post, though, I just wanted to check in and see if there's any problem extending this lesson so far out from the initial date. I know I'm late to the game here.

Fire away!

12.7% is a bit high. The flour I use is 11.7%.

Also, as noted by kwillets the KA flour has malt in it.

Some bakers like adding malt. No less and authority then Prof Cavel advises its use (and Vitamic C), but he does not add the yeast/sponge until after the amylisation step - the 30 minute rest time after first mixing.

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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Ok...here are some pics of my first attempt.

Just out of the fridge. It didn't rise all that much (was in there for 13 hours - after a 3 hour proof in the oven [off, of course]):


With slashes. One is deeper than the rest, though you can't really see that in this photo. The pattern is from the dish towel I used:


Fresh from the oven. You can see here the rise was a little uneven. It sort of blew out the deeper slash. I'm thinking that if all the slashes were as deep as that one, the rise would have been much more even. Thoughts?


And from another angle:


Here you can see the first slices. I'm not sure if you can tell from here, but the texture inside was rather gummy. Like mottmott, I'm using King Arthur bread flour. Maybe I could have left it in the oven longer, but from the outside it seemed pretty much done. The dough was also pretty wet and loose after the 3 hour proof, so maybe that's a contributing factor?


And a close up of the bread. Notice the uneven holes - bigger towards the bottom. I'm thinking my dough was just too wet from the get go.


That's it. Despite the problems, the bread tasted great. It was a little gummy in texture, but I'm hoping to correct that next time. I'll be baking another loaf this week, incorporating any feedback from here.

Thanks everyone!

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That looks great bread!

The big holes do indicate a wet dough. You might get more even and rounder holes if you turn the dough (turn it out onto a board, flatten gently, and then fold side to side and top to bottom, like making puff pastry) every hour for the 3 hours of bulk fermentation.

Nancy Silverton says that the bread is less likely to blow out of you let it come to room temperature before baking. I'm not sure about this - I think it doesn't rise as much.

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Question - for the banneton, what diameter basket would be best? I have many baskets and some unbleached muslin, and I figure making one up would be pretty simple. I have two baskets that are about the right shape: one is 8.5 inches (about 21.5 cm), the other is 11 inches (28 cm). I'm thinking the smaller one would be about right - what do you think?


Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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May seem obvious, biut it depends what size bread you want to bake.

I've just measured mine, and they are 25cm outside diameter, 22cm inside.

If you can use linen rather than muslin. Muslin is quite a loose weave, and the bread might stick.

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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The big holes do indicate a wet dough. You might get more even and rounder holes if you turn the dough (turn it out onto a board,  flatten gently, and then fold side to side and top to bottom, like making puff pastry) every hour for the 3 hours of bulk fermentation.

Do you think that the fact that the dough might have been a little wet contributed to gumminess of the final product, or would undercooking be a more likely suspect?

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Could the gumminess reflect the bread needing a little more time in the oven? Mine has sometimes been on the verge of gummy when the internal temperature was below 212f. (aT 200)

"Half of cooking is thinking about cooking." ---Michael Roberts

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There's a very nice underlying structure to Iain's first loaf, one that will show itself better with practice, no doubt.

You can learn to evaluate the doneness of a loaf by its look, its color, its sound when tapped on the bottom. It's like poking a piece of meat as it cooks.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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OK, continuing to practice with mixed results but I am confident that I will get better with time and repetition.

Today's questions is, how to you dry the starter? Once I've got it good and active, I'd like to get some dried to keep around just in case something happens to the stuff living in my refrigerator or to share with others.

So long and thanks for all the fish.
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I find it easiest to make a sort of very dry lasagne sheet with the starter and some extra flour, roll it out with a pasta machine, and let that dry.

Another way is to spread it out thinly on silicone paper (or even clingfilm) let that dry, and then powder it.

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Or make the driest dough ball you can, chop it into pieces, and whizz the pieces in a blender. Store the result in a tightly sealed jar. I kept one once in a cupboard for over a year, including through a hot summer, and it reactivated just fine.

Who said "There are no three star restaurants, only three star meals"?

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Or make the driest dough ball you can, chop it into pieces, and whizz the pieces in a blender. Store the result in a tightly sealed jar. I kept one once in a cupboard for over a year, including through a hot summer, and it reactivated just fine.

No refrigeration? Really?

So long and thanks for all the fish.
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I can now reveal that the original source of the starter that I distributed was collected by Alan Sims, in a Californian vineyard. Alan is the former librarian (now retired) of Sutter's Fort.

He writes:

"I was delighted to hear that our California starter has risen to such heights world wide!

May I request that you include the name of my good friend Richard Simpson, owner of the Zinfandel grape vineyard?.... As a frequent visitor to his family's ranch for many years, I enjoyed his mother's wonderful sourdough pancakes, biscuits, and cakes. She baked daily on her wood stove. The only other heat source in the old ranch house was the fireplace. Many a cold morning we huddled around her stove!

When I see Richard I will tell him about his now famous starter."

Thanks Alan and Richard! The starter has given pleasure (and good bread) to many!

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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Alan writes further:

Just this afternoon I was finally able to connect with my good friend Richard Simpson to ask further about the starter that he made for me.

First of all he was so pleased to hear that a product from his vineyard - other than fine Zinfandel grapes - has pleased so many - bakers rather than vintners.

He wanted me to assure you that the grape mash was naturally fermented - no yeast added. He simply picked some of his crop, mashed the grapes, placed them in a container covered with cheese cloth, and hung the container in the vineyard and let Mother Nature work her magic. After two days the fermentation had begun. We figured that the starter was created over ten years ago.

I recall that it was purple in color and emitted a rich grape flavor. After being used many times, the dough lost its purple hue, but I still contend it has retained a faint grape flavor. (Probably just my


The name of his ranch is the Simpson Ranch, located in the small community of Meadow Vista, in Nevada County in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. The ranch has been in existence for well over a hundred years in his family's name.

Richard developed his small vineyard many years ago. Its crop was highly sought after by local vintners. I and many of his friends, about twenty of us looked forward each year to picking the grapes, always a grand occasion with great food and ample good wine. Great pits were dug for cooking the great slabs of meat that were wrapped in various herbal leaves from the ranch, then buried in the coals and allowed to bake slowly, while we labored in the vineyard. Richard and his wife Roxanne are superb cooks. Sadly, the vineyard is no longer in production.

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  • 4 months later...

Just wanted to revive this thread and share my recent experiences.

Though I came late to finding this course, Jackal10 was kind enough to continue the sourdough starter offer and it arrived safe and sound this past week. I added about half of what arrived to a batter of equal parts flour and water. It took basically all day to get things bubbling (house was colder than the advised temp) so I fed it once before bed and left it atop the refrigerator.

By morning, I had this.


Quite promising. So, I proceeded to whip up a batch of bread following the instructions in the course materials. Note that I used King Arthur AP flour rather than bread flour. The protein content matched one of the notes in this thread above so I chose not to add any bread flour. I may on the next batch, just for comparison.

A snafu of timing kept me from baking this morning as anticipated so the dough sat in a colander, wrapped in a towel for 26 hours. A bit longer than recommended. I didn't have a suitable basket and thought that the colander might provide a bit more air movement.

This is the bread prior to baking. Note the star on the pre-cut view, that is the pattern of holes from the colander.


My four slashes could have been better placed to provide a larger square so the spring was a bit more even. As it was, the bread appeared to have a rather severe tumor growing out the top. (Also, pardon the hurriedly opened paper from the butter that dominates the background.)


Regardless, the bread baked up nicely. I baked for 40 minutes at 450F with a cheapo stone on the floor of the oven. The bottom was a bit charred.

The flavor was quite nice. Hint of sour, nice sort of toasted nut flavors. The texture was chewy and the crust had a great tooth. I wanted a bit more open texture. Perhaps a longer proof pre-refrigeration or less time in the refrigerator?

In all, well worth the effort and I will continue to work the recipe, especially now that I have a jar of starter available.

Stephen Bunge

St Paul, MN

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A starter from Cambridge (UK) to Milwauke? I'm very impressed. Hope you've also read Dan Lepard's bread making course notes here.

Dan was quite insistant that open texture is a bit of a fashion and that traditionaly the bakers objective was for an even, close textured crumb, so as long as the loaf tasted great you have nothing to worry about, and it certainly looks great. In terms of what you need to do to achieve a more open texture, I wouldn't like to say, but maybe Jack or Dan have some comments.

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Glad it worked! Surprises me how easy it is, even these days, to send biologically active materials about the world. The package had a clear customs declaration of "Sourdough Starter"

You are now one of the guardians of the starter, with an obligation to spread the word, and the starter to those in need...

For bigger holes:

- Make the dough wetter

- Dan Lepard has an excellent technique . Durng the bulk fermentation (first rise) he folds to dough sides to middle and then top to bottom, like a "turn" when you make flaky pastry, streching the dough slightly as he does so, He says this stretches the holes. He does this every hour for four hours. I also find oiling the dough, putting a tablespoon of oil in the bowl) helps stop it sticking.

The bread looks great, and is stll better than anything you can buy!

The actual protein content of the flour is not that important. High protein flours can adsorb more water and stay workable. KA bread flours have flour improvers (vitamin C, diastic malt) added to them. You might find adding a generous pinch of Vitamin C powder will help.

Good Luck!

Edited by jackal10 (log)
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  • 6 months later...

Behind the curve, but sourdough is timeless.

Baked my first sourdough loaves yesterday ... thrilling! They did not embody ultimate perfection, but they looked quite passable, and the assembled eaters gave full and a bit astounded approval, and I can see full success on the horizon!

Thanks Jackal for the starter and all the info. All the bread baking I've done over the years I'd never ventured into sourdough. But I think there's another bread-baking lifetime ahead of me!


Writer, cook, & c. ● #TacoFriday observant ●  Twitter    Instagram


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  • 4 weeks later...


I don’t know if I can still ask questions here, but I’ll try.

I made my first sourdough bread today. I followed the procedure Jack described, the only difference being that I used organic rye flour to make the starter (white bread flour to make the final dough).

The starter seems fine, active, and smells fine, slightly sour.

While making the final dough, I did find that I needed much more flour than stated in the recipe to make the dough workable. It was very wet. I think I ended up adding at least 1 1/2 cup of extra flour and even more while kneading.

The problems I have were with the baking. I preheated my fan oven to 260 C for one hour. I slashed the dough with a razor, but I was unsure as to how deep the slashes were supposed to be. Put the loaf in the oven. After 15 minutes, it smelled a bit burned and when I looked, the bottom was already charred. On top, one of the slashes had sort of burst, with dough bulging out.

I took the bread out after 20 minutes otherwise the bottom would have been charcoal. I waited a couple of hours to slice into it. Now the inside looked very funny: a combination of very dense, compact, wettish dough and HUGE holes. At some spots the crust (very thin) was separated from the actual bread by a large hole. The whole thing was inedible and I had to throw it out.

What went wrong?

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Thanks for bumping this topic up on the list, I'm on my second pass at Sourdough for this season now that the temperature has fallen to acceptable levels to allow the oven to be on for hours at a time.

I'm a bit embarrassed by my poor treatment of the starter I had at the end of the spring when I last made bread. I traveled with me in the car when we moved half-way across country and it was not fed for about six months. Though there was quite a bit of liquid separation and a disconcerting color to the starter when I pulled it from the fridge two weeks ago I decided to start a feeding schedule and see if I could get it back to health. Lo and behold it worked. My first loaf with the newly energized starter was a success (success in my terms means edible though weirdly shaped). Thanks again Jack for the starter.

As far as Chufi's comment is concerned, it seems like your oven is too hot. There are lots of folks who have more experience than I, but I use a standard US consumer-grade oven (no fan) with a baking stone on the floor and the bread directly on the stone. I shoot for 450 F (232 C). That seems to be the best temperature for my loaves to allow for good crust development, some spring to stretch the slashes that I make in the loaf, and a fully baked interior after 35 to 40 minutes. I usually move the loaf from the stone to an rack in the oven for the last 15 or 20 minutes of baking to keep the bottom from getting over done.

Stephen Bunge

St Paul, MN

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