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nanetteb

Sourdough Starter - Hows, Whys, Whats

332 posts in this topic

Ah, I misunderstood. You wrote "I have less than 25 g refreshed start as leftover. I can . . . stir in a small quantity of water/flour and let the starter slowly refresh in the fridge" -- which I took to mean that you were adding perhaps a smaller amount to the 25 grams. You'd actually be adding something like to 50 grams each of flour and water to this in order to have a 20% inoculum, right?


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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My concern with using that small an amount of starter would be that the lactobacilli wouldn't be able to produce enough acid to make the final loaf sour.  Do you find that that's the case?

Practically speaking, I find that it's sour enough *for me*. But I'm not shooting for an SF-style sourdough bread, just a wild yeast loaf.


Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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My concern with using that small an amount of starter would be that the lactobacilli wouldn't be able to produce enough acid to make the final loaf sour.  Do you find that that's the case?

You can use the "storage starter" to make a larger amount of any kind of starter you want.

Let's say your recipe calls for two cups of starter. That's way more than you have in your "storage starter," right? No problem. Just mix together the amount of flour and water you would need to make two cups of starter (according to the proportions specified in the recipe you are using) and put in a tablespoon of your storage starter. This will inoculate the flour and water mixture with the microflora from your starter culture. Keep in mind that sourdough contains something like 10,000,000 to 1,000,000,000 microorganisms per gram of dough. So that tablespoon contains a lot of your starter macroorganisms. Wait for the flour/water mixture to become nice and bubbly (and you can speed this process up by putting it in the oven with the light turned on) and you now have two cups of active "starter." Now you may proceed as usual.

Personally, I don't often bother with this step. I just make the dough with a very small inoculum, and let it rise for a really long time.

How long would that be? I keep hearing different things about rising time - Rose Levy Beranbaum says something like 9-10 hours in the Bread Bible, others say however long it takes to double, while jackal10 maintains that loaves are often overproofed by the time they've doubled.

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I have adapted my sourdough baking around my work schedule. Most often I make up the dough just before I go to bed, with a very small percentage inoculum (e.g., perhaps 25 grams of 50/50 in a loaf that will eventually have 500 grams of flour and 350 grams of water total). I then let this rise overnight (in the oven with the light on if it's cold weather). It is usually quite well risen by morning. I then shape the loaves, put them into the banneton, inside a plastic bag, and then into the refrigerator. I bake when I get home from work perhaps 9.5 hours later.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Ah, I misunderstood.  You wrote "I have less than 25 g refreshed start as leftover. I can . . .  stir in a small quantity of water/flour and let the starter slowly refresh in the fridge" -- which I took to mean that you were adding perhaps a smaller amount to the 25 grams.  You'd actually be adding something like to 50 grams each of flour and water to this in order to have a 20% inoculum, right?

OK, I can see how my statement might have been construed that way.

In reality, I always end up with less than 25 g left over, probably due to a certain amount of evaporation. Basically a teaspoon or two still clinging to the bowl. I mix that with 50-75 g each of water and flour, then pop it into the fridge as my most recently refreshed storage starter. So yes, less than 20% inoculant.


Edited by sanrensho (log)

Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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Do the same rules apply if one maintains a stiff starter? In other words, keep just the one or two tablespoons of starter in cold storage, inoculate with a small amount each time and wait as long as it takes for it to rise? Is a stiff starter as active as a wet one? Also, is it more difficult to integrate a stiff starter into any old recipe than it is a wet starter? I've done it both ways, but my wet starter experiments from a couple of years ago were not terribly thorough. I can now, more or less, feel my way through the process -- adding more flour or water to achieve the consistency I want -- but wish it were less haphazard, and the results more predictable.

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If you are maintaining a very small "storage starter" it is best at around 50/50 by weight. I don't see any advantages to maintaining a stiff starter in this context, and several disadvantages.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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OK, maybe I should have used the term "excess" instead of "discard" in my query! :biggrin: I've had excess when following recipes that call for fed starter or a "bigas" or a "preferment" etc. I have also discarded some wonderful looking and smelling stuff. Maybe I am overfeeding?

I would think that many people (outside of an expert or professional, of whom we have many) could have come through the learning curve of cultivating and maintaining a starter and had the opportunity to dump out perfectly good goop - and all the while saying to oneself "What a shame."

Even one who is at a level to have purchased a start from King Arthur Flour, and followed these directions: Sourdough starter tips could find themselves in the position of dumping stuff all too often. Beginner stuff, I know and confess, but hey, ya gotta start somewhere!

Nah, mine goes right down the drain.  You can always foist some starter on an

unsuspecting individual.

That market has been saturated.

How long would that be?  I keep hearing different things about rising time - Rose Levy Beranbaum says something like 9-10 hours in the Bread Bible, others say however long it takes to double, while jackal10 maintains that loaves are often overproofed by the time they've doubled.

I've run into this myself.

I bake practically for two people. There are quarterly gatherings and holiday season and such when I am baking like a maniac. Sometimes life gets in the way of an 8 hour rise, and the calendar says two weeks. A dozen muffins? No prob, 45 minutes tops, send the extras out. I also cook and bake other things. I firmly believe that sourdough needs to be in the rotation, but it is a rotation.

I guess I am looking for some way to preserve that wonderful flavor, utilize this wonderful stuff and still keep my pets fat and sassy.

And of course it must be quick and easy! :biggrin: I know, I'm ridiculous!

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Is a stiff starter as active as a wet one?  Also, is it more difficult to integrate a stiff starter into any old recipe than it is a wet starter? 

Those are two very good questions I would like to know the answers to as well. Particularly the "any old recipe" question.

I'm keeping my rye starter stiff, because the bread I am playing with there calls for it - but I am also discarding more than I would like in the processes I am following.

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Anne: When you know you won't be baking for several weeks, just refresh the starter (by high dilution), wait for it to show the beginning signs of activity, and bung it in the refrigerator. You can easily go two weeks between feedings this way.

Also, don't ignore the convenience of using the refrigerator to slow down the rise in order to make things fit your schedule. It's not that hard to come home after work, turn on the oven for 45 minutes and put the shaped dough in there.

Finally, the beauty of using the "storage starter as inoculum" technique/strategy is that you can make any kind of "starter" you want out of it. You want a stiff starter for your rye breads? Fine! Let's say, for the sake of argument, that you want this to be 100 grams of rye flour and 50 grams of water. Okay... take out 20 grams of your storage starter which you are maintaining with equal amounts of flour and water by weight. Mix that together with 90 grams of rye flour and 40 grams of water. Ferment this in a warm place until it is fully active. You now have 150 grams of fully active stiff rye starter. Go forward as usual.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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And of course it must be quick and easy! :biggrin: I know, I'm ridiculous!

Practically speaking, yes you can add starter to many recipes as a sub for x amount of flour/liquid. I should really do more experimenting in this regard, but I almost never have any excess to play with.


Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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My concern with using that small an amount of starter would be that the lactobacilli wouldn't be able to produce enough acid to make the final loaf sour.  Do you find that that's the case?

You can use the "storage starter" to make a larger amount of any kind of starter you want.

Let's say your recipe calls for two cups of starter. That's way more than you have in your "storage starter," right? No problem. Just mix together the amount of flour and water you would need to make two cups of starter (according to the proportions specified in the recipe you are using) and put in a tablespoon of your storage starter. This will inoculate the flour and water mixture with the microflora from your starter culture. Keep in mind that sourdough contains something like 10,000,000 to 1,000,000,000 microorganisms per gram of dough. So that tablespoon contains a lot of your starter macroorganisms. Wait for the flour/water mixture to become nice and bubbly (and you can speed this process up by putting it in the oven with the light turned on) and you now have two cups of active "starter." Now you may proceed as usual.

My problem though is that the bacteria aren't productive enough to use that small of an inoculation - I can follow the steps you outlined and get an active starter, yeast-wise, but not one that's at all sour the way the starter culture in my fridge is.


Edited by MikeJ (log)

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That doesn't make any sense, Mike. If the yeast are active, then the bacteria are active (provided you are feeding your culture properly).

If the starter itself is sour, this means that it is over-mature and neither the yeast nor bacteria are optimally active and healthy. If you are counting on acid contained in the starter to contribute sourness to your finished loaf, then all that is required is for you to ferment the "new batch of starter" longer (e.g., until it reaches the amount of sourness you want).

I should hasten to point out that the storage starter should never be allowed to become "sour" as a matter of good practice. The optimum pH for lactobacilli is 5.0 - 5.5. This is the initial pH of a dough with a 5% to 20% inoculum. When the pH gets down to 3.8, there is no more growth of lactobacilli. And at 3.6 and below the lactobacilli no longer produce any acid. What this means is that, when a starter is refreshed with a large inoculum (say, 30% or higher) the lactobacilli will start to drop out over time due to this inhibition. This is when the culture is likely to be "infected" and taken over by other, more low pH-tolerant lactobacilli such as L. pontis.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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My concern wasn't about the bacteria being inactive. It was that even at optimal activity, their productivity might not match that of the yeast - that is, that they wouldn't have time to sour the dough before the yeast leavened it. That's why, thus far, I've tried to give the lactobacilli a head start by using an extremely sour starter - which for me is one that's been languishing in the fridge for a week.

What you're saying makes sense, and I've made a loaf using a 5% inoculum, which I'll bake when I get home. I'm also going to try your method of feeding the starter to see if that helps.

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It's not correct to imagine that all the yeast do is leaven and all the lactobacilli do is sour. About 50% of the leavening comes from the lactobacilli. The amount of gas produced by sourdough microflora is roughly proportional to their size. Yeast cells are a lot larger than lactobacillus cells, but there are a lot more lactobacteria than there are yeast cells so it evens out. I do know that people who study this sort of thing have managed to leaven a dough using only lactobacilli and no yeast whatsoever.

All you're doing by using an "extremely sour starter," by the way, is contributing a slug of up-front acid to the dough. All the microflora will be severaly inhibited and populations in decline when the starter is very sour. If you want to use the technique of chucking in a big slug of acid to the dough, it's better to do an extented "over-pre-fermentation" of some percentage of the total dough until it is very sour, then mix that pre-fermented dough into the final dough along with an amount of healthy, active starter.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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All you're doing by using an "extremely sour starter," by the way, is contributing a slug of up-front acid to the dough.

So you said. I wasn't arguing in favour of using an extremely sour starter, just explaining the rationale behind why I had been.

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It can actually be a good technique for getting a very sour final dough, although I find that it's very tricky to do this and not end up with a doorstop. There's a reason the really sour breads tend to be dense with a tight crumb.

The best I've been able to do with the "up-front souring" technique is to use the soured dough (which I mix stiff rather than fermenting in a sponge) together with the balance of the flour and a large proportion of very active fresh starter. Then you have to do your fermentation fast (single rise) and get the dough in the oven before the acid has a chance to do its dirty work on the gluten.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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Anne, It's not clear to me how much of this excess sourdough starter you have lying around. A vat of the stuff, like a professional bakery? (Yikes.) A cup or two? A half-cup? Anyway, the consensus of the board seems to be (and I agree) that the best method is to maintain and store a small amt of starter, then build it up to a congenial amount for the specific thing you wish to bake.

I first learned about sourdough starter methods from the Cheese Board people in Berkeley, in a class, and also from their cookbook, Collective Works. Later I picked up more sourdough how-to's from a local professional baker. Here's how I handle my sourdough starters:

To Maintain Sourdough Starter. I feed my starters only once a month if I am not using them for baking. Really. They have lasted for years in the fridge with this method.

Once a month, I remove the starter from the fridge and discard all but 1/4 cup of starter. In a nonreactive bowl, I combine the 1/4 cup starter, 1/2 cup water, and 2/3 cup bread flour. I cover it and let stand at room temperature for 48 hours. Then I make the starter mixture again: I discard all but 1/4 cup of starter, then combine 1/4 cup starter with 1/2 cup water and 2/3 cup bread flour. I pour it into a clean nonreactive covered container, such as a glass jar or a plastic container. Then I immediately return the starter to the refrigerator after the second feeding. It's good for another month.

To Prepare Sourdough Starter for Baking: To reinvigorate the starter for baking, I remove it from the refrigerator, and discard all but 1/4 cup of starter. In a nonreactive bowl, I combine the 1/4 cup starter, 1/2 cup water, and 2/3 cup bread flour. I cover it and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Then I discard all but 1/4 cup of the starter, combine the 1/4 cup starter with 1 cup of water and 1 1/3 cups bread flour. I let stand for an additional 12 hours, or up to 24 hours, before baking. Yield: about 1 3/4 cup ready-for-baking starter. Before you begin baking, remember to set aside 1/4 cup of starter to replenish your supply of starter. With this method, I have to reinvigorate the starter 3 days before baking.

For rye or whole wheat starter: For the second feeding, I use 1 cup of water, 1 cup bread flour, and 1/3 cup rye or whole wheat flour.

Anne, I've never mixed leftover sourdough starter into quickbreads, but based on the sourdough pancake principle, why not? As long as you adjust for the flour and liquid in the original recipe. I assume the starter is there for flavor, and you would rely on baking powder or baking soda for leavening.

If you have lots of leftover starter, I also recommend the sourdough pizza dough recipe from the Cheese Board, which is my favorite all-time pizza crust:

http://books.google.com/books?id=W-3C3KeeJ...num=2&ct=result

If you do any quickbread or other recipes with your leftover starter, could you let us know your results?

MikeJ, I once began a batch of sourdough bread in the evening, started to let it rise, then realized I would probably have to bake it off at 2AM. So I stuck it in the fridge. I think it stayed there for a couple days. I was busy. But I baked it off anyway, and the dough was significantly more sour than my usual loaves. If I remember correctly, the rise was OK, though the dough was probably overproofed by then. Perhaps you can experiment with various times for a long slow rise in the fridge, to bring the dough to the sourness you like?

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It can actually be a good technique for getting a very sour final dough, although I find that it's very tricky to do this and not end up with a doorstop.  There's a reason the really sour breads tend to be dense with a tight crumb.

The best I've been able to do with the "up-front souring" technique is to use the soured dough (which I mix stiff rather than fermenting in a sponge) together with the balance of the flour and a large proportion of very active fresh starter.  Then you have to do your fermentation fast (single rise) and get the dough in the oven before the acid has a chance to do its dirty work on the gluten.

I'd like to try this method. Is there a reason you use a stiff dough rather than a sponge? Also, do you think using a high-gluten flour might compensate at all for the degrading effects of the acid?

By the way, I baked the loaf I'd made with the 5% inoculation, and it turned out nicely - a much better oven spring than I've been getting, and a nice open crumb as well. It wasn't especially sour, but I didn't do a preferment or retard it in the fridge. Actually, I've tried sourdough from a couple local bakeries and they weren't sour either, which makes me suspect that the local lactobacilli may be inherently degenerate.

MikeJ, I once began a batch of sourdough bread in the evening, started to let it rise, then realized I would probably have to bake it off at 2AM. So I stuck it in the fridge. I think it stayed there for a couple days. I was busy. But I baked it off anyway, and the dough was significantly more sour than my usual loaves. If I remember correctly, the rise was OK, though the dough was probably overproofed by then. Perhaps you can experiment with various times for a long slow rise in the fridge, to bring the dough to the sourness you like?

That's a good idea, and I think I'll give it a shot. Have you experimented at all with refrigerating the dough immediately after mixing, and then proceeding with bulk fermenting/proofing after a day or two?

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This is the base sourdough muffin recipe I use. It is very adaptable for various add-ins, and produces a nice tall muffin. My "go to" muffin recipe.

http://www.sourdoughhome.com/blueberrymuffins.html

The KA sourdough waffles are nice and chewy, but the salt needs to be reduced significantly (3/4 tsp!).

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/shop/RecipeDisplay?RID=93


Baker of "impaired" cakes...

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  Actually, I've tried sourdough from a couple local bakeries and they weren't sour either, which makes me suspect that the local lactobacilli may be inherently degenerate. 

I'm wondering if those really sour breads, from say Boudin in San Francisco, don't have something else added to the dough to up the sour factor.

Checking the Boudin website, it's impossible to find the ingredients to any of their breads; I have an email going out asking them for an ingredient/nutritional listing. As a matter of fact, even their link to nutritional info doesn't give one any info.

And check out King Arthur Instant Sourdough Flavor - 12 oz.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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Anne, It's not clear to me how much of this excess sourdough starter you have lying around. A vat of the stuff, like a professional bakery? (Yikes.) A cup or two? A half-cup? Anyway, the consensus of the board seems to be (and I agree) that the best method is to maintain and store a small amt of starter, then build it up to a congenial amount for the specific thing you wish to bake.

I first learned about sourdough starter methods from the Cheese Board people in Berkeley, in a class, and also from their cookbook, Collective Works. Later I picked up more sourdough how-to's from a local professional baker. Here's how I handle my sourdough starters:

To Maintain Sourdough Starter. I feed my starters only once a month if I am not using them for baking. Really. They have lasted for years in the fridge with this method.

Once a month, I remove the starter from the fridge and discard all but 1/4 cup of starter. In a nonreactive bowl, I combine the 1/4 cup starter, 1/2 cup water, and 2/3 cup bread flour. I cover it and let stand at room temperature for 48 hours. Then I make the starter mixture again: I discard all but 1/4 cup of starter, then combine 1/4 cup starter with 1/2 cup water and 2/3 cup bread flour. I pour it into a clean nonreactive covered container, such as a glass jar or a plastic container.  Then I immediately return the starter to the refrigerator after the second feeding. It's good for another month.

To Prepare Sourdough Starter for Baking: To reinvigorate the starter for baking, I remove it from the refrigerator, and discard all but 1/4 cup of starter. In a nonreactive bowl, I combine the 1/4 cup starter, 1/2 cup water, and 2/3 cup bread flour. I cover it and let stand at room temperature for 24 hours. Then I discard all but 1/4 cup of the starter, combine the 1/4 cup starter with 1 cup of water and 1 1/3 cups bread flour. I let stand for an additional 12 hours, or up to 24 hours, before baking. Yield: about 1 3/4 cup ready-for-baking starter. Before you begin baking, remember to set aside 1/4 cup of starter to replenish your supply of starter. With this method, I have to reinvigorate the starter 3 days before baking.

For rye or whole wheat starter: For the second feeding, I use 1 cup of water, 1 cup bread flour, and 1/3 cup rye or whole wheat flour.

Anne, I've never mixed leftover sourdough starter into quickbreads, but based on the sourdough pancake principle, why not? As long as you adjust for the flour and liquid in the original recipe. I assume the starter is there for flavor, and you would rely on baking powder or baking soda for leavening.

If you have lots of leftover starter, I also recommend the sourdough pizza dough recipe from the Cheese Board, which is my favorite all-time pizza crust:

http://books.google.com/books?id=W-3C3KeeJ...num=2&ct=result

If you do any quickbread or other recipes with your leftover starter, could you let us know your results?

MikeJ, I once began a batch of sourdough bread in the evening, started to let it rise, then realized I would probably have to bake it off at 2AM. So I stuck it in the fridge. I think it stayed there for a couple days. I was busy. But I baked it off anyway, and the dough was significantly more sour than my usual loaves. If I remember correctly, the rise was OK, though the dough was probably overproofed by then. Perhaps you can experiment with various times for a long slow rise in the fridge, to bring the dough to the sourness you like?

Thanks!

It is generally a cup or less that I have in excess. I think I may have ended up with a cup and a half a time or two following different recipes and instructions from all over the place - I've kept my plain starter over a year and have kept it wet. My rye starter is only a little over a month old.

I did dump some in a basic muffin recipe yesterday. I was disappointed - the flavor was great, but the muffin was very dry and sort of tough to the tooth. I am going to look for a richer (fatter) muffin recipe, maybe. Or maybe something calling for potato flour or something to keep things softer. I see no reason why it shouldn't work with any recipe calling for baking powder, right? Isn't there an issue with baking soda for leavening and the chemical reaction with sourdough?

I am not quite at the point where I can overcome my nurturing compulsion to let them go a month. :biggrin:

Anyway, hubby took the extra muffins to work, and had no trouble getting rid of them. Some of those folks don't have the opportunity to eat something baked fresh very often, so even my castoffs are good to them.

Thanks.

I've seen that "Instant Sourdough Flavor" as well Mitch, and wondered about it.

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  Actually, I've tried sourdough from a couple local bakeries and they weren't sour either, which makes me suspect that the local lactobacilli may be inherently degenerate.

I'm wondering if those really sour breads, from say Boudin in San Francisco, don't have something else added to the dough to up the sour factor.

Checking the Boudin website, it's impossible to find the ingredients to any of their breads; I have an email going out asking them for an ingredient/nutritional listing. As a matter of fact, even their link to nutritional info doesn't give one any info.

A few things. First of all, "sourdough" is a bit of as misnomer. Sure, the bread is "sour" compared to bread leavened with commercial yeast, but not necessarily the lip-puckering sour that some commercial "sourdough" breads have. What you will find once you get used to eating sourdough bread, is that breads leavened with commercial yeast will start to seem lacking in flavor and complexity.

One thing you will find is that the commercial "super-sour" breads almost always are dense with a tight crumb. My guess is that these are made by blending in a large percentage of mature starter or "old dough" followed by a very brief, warm rise and then right into a steamy deck oven (Acme uses 60 pounds of 12 hour old sponge in each 300 pound batch). The ones at the supermarket are undoubtedly made via some industrial process.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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A few things.  First of all, "sourdough" is a bit of as misnomer.  Sure, the bread is "sour" compared to bread leavened with commercial yeast, but not necessarily the lip-puckering sour that some commercial "sourdough" breads have.  What you will find once you get used to eating sourdough bread, is that breads leavened with commercial yeast will start to seem lacking in flavor and complexity.

One thing you will find is that the commercial "super-sour" breads almost always are dense with a tight crumb.  My guess is that these are made by blending in a large percentage of mature starter or "old dough" followed by a very brief, warm rise and then right into a steamy deck oven (Acme uses 60 pounds of 12 hour old sponge in each 300 pound batch).  The ones at the supermarket are undoubtedly made via some industrial process.

Good points all, slkinsey. From the Boudin Website FAQs...
What makes Boudin Sourdough sour?

The secret is in our starter, or "Mother Dough", which includes micro-organisms that slowly and naturally ferment and raise the bread, producing a deliciously sour flavor. Our starter is proprietary, as it's the original "Mother Dough" from 1849, so we do not share or sell it. We don't make an "Extra Sour" version of our bread, either, as we prefer to use the original Sourdough French Bread recipe.

And yes, from my experience with Boudin, it has few of the holes that we all like to see.


Mitch Weinstein aka "weinoo"

mweinstein@eGstaff.org

Tasty Travails - My Blog

My eGullet FoodBog - A Tale of Two Boroughs

Was it you baby...or just a Brilliant Disguise?

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That part of Boudin's FAQ is a little disingenuous. All sourdough cultures are comprised of "micro-organisms that slowly and naturally ferment and raise the bread" and are capable of "producing a deliciously sour flavor." Some cultures seem to produce more acid than others, it's true, but I still believe that getting a lot of sourness (if that is the goal) is primarily a matter of technique and ingredients.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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