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nanetteb

Sourdough Starter - Hows, Whys, Whats

332 posts in this topic

I was curious about how to make a sourdough bread more sour, both from the discussion on this thread and some PM exchange with MikeJ. So I emailed my friend Allen Cohn, my go-to guy for bread questions, and this was Allen's reply:

"This is a very complex question. I've had long email discussions with a biologist about it.

"The best short answer I could get from her was:

"Assuming your starter is in good health, first bulk ferment your dough at a warm temperature to encourage growth of the desired bacteria. Then cool ferment (fridge temp or a bit warmer; either in bulk or shaped) to encourage those bacteria to switch from reproduction to the consumption mode in which they produce the most acid."

As I described upthread to MikeJ (post #268), I once attained a more sour loaf by leaving the dough on the counter for an hour, then sticking it in the fridge for at least overnight (maybe close to 2 days) until I had a chance to bake it. The resultant loaves were significantly more sour than my usual loaves. So I stumbled on Allen's process through accident and neglect. Such is progress. :laugh:


Edited by djyee100 (log)

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I need to apologize for ever doubting the small inoculation method. I tried it again with a longer, warmer fermentation of the starter and an extra warm (32c or so) rise for the dough, and the results were excellent - the best flavour I've achieved so far. Consider me a convert.

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The sourdough culture I had kept going for a few years finally developed a fatal inclusion and had to be discarded a month or so ago.

I decided to order some "new" cultures from Ed Wood's sourdo.com and received them last week.

Australia (Tasmanian Devil, South Africa, Finland and Russia.

gallery_17399_60_67935.jpg

I picked the one with the most interesting name (Tasmanian Devil) for my first efforts and followed the instructions and mixed it with flour and water on 3/6. The instructions advised it could take at least 48 hours to show signs of activation. Not this culture!

After 24 hours (at 85 degrees) it had a 1 1/2 inch foamy layer so I added the required flour and water and divided it into two jars.

gallery_17399_60_53701.jpg

12 hours later it required another feeding and watering session and had to be divided and is now in three containers (with room to expand).

gallery_17399_60_222236.jpg

The following morning (another 12 hours) the stuff in the Cambro container was hitting the top so I took that portion and prepared dough. Unfortunately I forgot to take pictures until the dough was 2 hours into the first rise.

gallery_17399_60_98840.jpg

At the end of three hours I transferred the dough to a board, kneaded it down well to develop a finer crumb, shaped it into a loaf and another piece to store in the freezer to see if it will recover.

After an hour of proofing at room temp it looked like this:

gallery_17399_60_274893.jpg

And another 45 minutes brought it to the point where it could go into the oven:

gallery_17399_60_321274.jpg

I oiled the top and got excellent oven spring (not aiming for a thick chewy crust on this one) in this 10 x 5 in. loaf pan:

gallery_17399_60_84639.jpg

And here it is out of the pan:

gallery_17399_60_24983.jpg

The first slice. I used a combination of 60% A-P flour, 35% whole wheat flour and 5% flax meal.

gallery_17399_60_445057.jpg

It has a very pleasant, slightly sour flavor which blends well with the nutty flavor of the whole wheat and flax.

The next time I will proof it longer at room temp (65-70) instead of 85 degrees, to see how sour it will be.

This is an extremely ACTIVE culture.

It is growing in the fridge. Here it is shown in a 2 qt. Cambro container, I marked the level when it went into the fridge yesterday at 4:00 p.m.

gallery_17399_60_19678.jpg


Edited by andiesenji (log)

"There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty. The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: What's up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don't think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass!" Terry Pratchett

My blog:Books,Cooks,Gadgets&Gardening

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(Host's Note: This discussion was split off from the Will Immersion Blender Hurt My Sourdough Starters? topic)

I have three starters going at once: white, wheat, and rye (all Nancy Silverton's, because they work really well for me).

Problem: It's becoming quite the task to keep up with feeding three at a time, but the only really effort is the stirring flour and water at feeding time.

Quantity: Never really more than 2-3 quarts of each.

Question: Will I hurt the starters by using an immersion blender (on low) to incorporate flour and water at feeding time?

Yes, yes, you can go ahead and laugh at my indolence.

I made Nancy Silverton's sourdough starter following instructions published in Washington Post Food section, I believe it was in 1993, when Julia's "Cooking with Master Chefs" came out. I love the bread it produces, people who taste it for the first time inevitably ask me for the name of the bakery I bought it from, they say that this is the best bread they have eaten in the States.

I no longer keep the starter in the fridge, not enough space, and now that the kids are out of the house I don't bake bread as much or as often.

This is what I do: feed the starter as instructed three times, I no longer follow the time schedule, by now I know when it is ready for the next feeding or baking. It no longer takes three days in my kitchen either, it is much faster in the summer and slower in the winter as we tend to keep house temperature on "sweater warm." Starter tells me when it is ready to be used, not the clock.

After I bake the bread, I measure out my leftover starter into 18 oz portions and freeze them either in plastic containers or freezer bags. (Yes, I date them and use older ones first.) Before the next baking I defrost my frozen starter in the fridge and proceed with feedings. I never have leftover starter as I try to use as much as I can, save for the next batch and often share with foodie friends.

I am sooooooo envious that you are able to work all that dough by hand. It must be so rewarding. Good luck with your baking. skipper


Edited by Chris Hennes (log)

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The 10s:50f:50w method is interesting. Mine is more 50s:25f:25w. I'll create one as such and see how it comes out.

On a microbiological basis, we know that your feeding process (1:1 refreshment) is very bad for the health and vitality of the culture, and likely to result in the culture coming to be taken over by less desirable microorganisms. I should hasten to point out that this is not opinion or speculation -- this has been determined by scientific research. For example, in a German study no Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis was found in cultures refreshed at 50%.

Much better for the health and vitality of a culture for the kind of sourdough bread we would like to make is something like 1:5 refreshment. Plenty of people (myself included) simply leave whatever starter remains clinging to the inside of the jar when all the starter is taken out, and fill the rest with new flour and water. This is great for the health, vitality and propagation of the culture.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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fooey, there is no reason whatsoever to keep that much starter.

It's reasonable for me, as I make 10 to 20 loaves some weekends.

I've been following this a bit but am still a little fuzzy about how much starter you keep on hand as a matter of course. Even if you bake 10-20 loaves some weekends, you wouldn't need to keep so much starter all the time. When I'm baking, I bake substantially more than 10-20 loaves during the week, but I keep only a cup of starter (culture) going all the time (feeding once a day). I then build from that starter/culture over the course of three or so days to get the volume/weight I need for any given bake.

But I'm not clear what you mean when you say you keep two to three quarts starter going of each starter. If you're making only 10-20 loaves a week, maintaining 2-3 quarts of starter all the time is a waste of time, flour and water.

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Exactly. The only purpose of the "storage starter" should be to perpetuate and preserve the culture. And there is no reason that maintaining as little as a cup of storage starter should be limiting. You just have to change your paradigm for thinking about how the starter works. Think of the storage starter like a "packet of sourdough yeast" and use it that way. With that understanding, you can see how it is possible to use the storage starter to inoculate larger volumes of dough or batter and "make as much starter as you need" only when you need it.

For example: Let's say you're making 30 boules in a day, and each boule contains 1 pound of flour. That means you're using 30 pounds of flour. Okay, so let's say that your recipe calls for 20% of the flour to come from the starter. That's 6 pounds of flour. No problem. Mix up 6 pounds of flour with the amount of water you want to use (depending on whether you want to use a sponge or "chef" technique), scoop the 1 cup of starter out of your jar and mix that in. Put more flour and water into the storage jar and mix it together with the little bits of "old starter" stuck to the sides. Not only is this small amount of "old starter" sufficient to perpetuate the culture, but these are optimum growth conditions. So long as the starter is healthy and active, your 6 pounds-of-flour sponge or chef should be fully active within 8 to 12 hours (i.e., overnight). Now you can bake your 30 boules. If you want to get fancy, you could "build" the sponge by mixing the cup of starter first with 2 pounds of flour, letting that come fully active, then mixing in the remaining 4 pounds of flour, letting that come fully active, then making your main dough. I have not found this to be necessary, however. Either way, this is in no way more burdensome than maintaining a quart each of three different starters, and is likely to result in a healthier, more stable and active starter culture.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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But I'm not clear what you mean when you say you keep two to three quarts starter going of each starter. If you're making only 10-20 loaves a week, maintaining 2-3 quarts of starter all the time is a waste of time, flour and water.

Let's take the recipe for Olive Bread, which requires 6.25 oz of white starter per (1lb 14 oz) loaf.

To make 10 loaves, I use 62.5 oz of white starter, or ~2 quarts.

I'm not maintaining that much all the time, but I'm maintaining enough of each such that I grow tired of feeding them all the time.

If I was wasting a lot of it, I would change my method, but I'm not, so I just maintain it as I do.


Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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Exactly.  The only purpose of the "storage starter" should be to perpetuate and preserve the culture.

I understand. It sounds like I'm feeding my starters far too much "food".

Intuitively, I think that if I start with a small ratio of starter:flour, then it'll take that much longer to come to strength.

It's sounds like a few people here are saying that's not the case.

Interesting!


Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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The 10s:50f:50w method is interesting. Mine is more 50s:25f:25w. I'll create one as such and see how it comes out.

On a microbiological basis, we know that your feeding process (1:1 refreshment) is very bad for the health and vitality of the culture, and likely to result in the culture coming to be taken over by less desirable microorganisms. I should hasten to point out that this is not opinion or speculation -- this has been determined by scientific research. For example, in a German study no Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis[i/] was found in cultures refreshed at 50%.

Much better for the health and vitality of a culture for the kind of sourdough bread we would like to make is something like 1:5 refreshment. Plenty of people (myself included) simply leave whatever starter remains clinging to the inside of the jar when all the starter is taken out, and fill the rest with new flour and water. This is great for the health, vitality and propagation of the culture.

Thank you for this. Would you have more information on this study?

I have to say I've been surprised by just how little starter is needed to regenerate volumes.

If a ratio is healthier, that's even more interesting.

If it produces a starter that leavens a loaf in 7-8 hours instead of 3-4, then that will be a problem.

I mean, healthier is great, but how does health of the starter contribute to leavening strength, flavour.

The refreshment I use, again, is Silverton's and it just makes some of the best bread I can turn out.


Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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I made Nancy Silverton's sourdough starter following instructions published in Washington Post Food section, I believe it was in 1993, when  Julia's "Cooking with Master Chefs" came out.  I love the bread it produces, people who taste it for the first time inevitably ask me for the name of the bakery I bought it from, they say that this is the best bread they have eaten in the States.

I no longer keep the starter in the fridge, not enough space, and now that the kids are out of the house I don't bake bread  as much or as often. 

This is what I do:  feed the starter as instructed three times, I no longer follow the time schedule, by now I know when it is ready for the next feeding or baking.  It no longer takes three days in my kitchen either, it is much faster in the summer and slower in the winter as we tend to keep house temperature on "sweater warm."  Starter tells me when it is ready to be used, not the clock.

After I bake the bread, I measure out my leftover starter into 18 oz portions and freeze them either in plastic containers or freezer bags. (Yes, I date them and use older ones first.) Before  the next baking I defrost  my frozen starter in the fridge and proceed with feedings.  I never have leftover starter as I try to use as much as I can, save for the next batch and often share with foodie friends. 

I am sooooooo envious  that you are able to work all that dough by hand.  It must be so rewarding.  Good luck with your baking. skipper

I just bought an industrial mixer. It's just too much effort to do it by hand.

When I make just a couple of trial loaves, I always do it by hand (did so last night with the Red Pepper Scallion recipe).

There's no match for learning a new dough than the tactile.

Silverton's recipes are spectacular. I never understand why people give her such grief over her techniques when the results are just so astounding.

Her Olive Bread is good enough to make a person cry!

Her Walnut Bread is so extraordinary that I can sell them for $15 a loaf and people come back for more.


Edited by fooey (log)

Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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Silverton's recipes are spectacular. I never understand why people give her such grief over her techniques when the results are just so astounding.

I totally agree. I tried a number of other sourdough recipes, they come out pretty good, but never as good as from my Nancy Silverton's starter. Lately, instead of dividing the dough in half I started baking large loafs, they look cool and disappear with the same speed as the smaller loaves.

Is there any chance of your posting pictures of your bread? skipper

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Is there any chance of your posting pictures of your bread?  skipper

Sure, thanks for asking. These are from my Flickr photostream.

All except the torpedoes are from Nancy Silverton formulas.

Sunflower Bread (Olive Bread derivative)

gallery_25933_6742_40602.jpg

Fig Anise Bread

gallery_25933_6742_315960.jpg

Torpedo Loaves with Biga Naturelle (my recipe, not Nancy's)

gallery_25933_6742_505625.jpg

Sunflower Bread (Olive Bread derivative)

gallery_25933_6742_348761.jpg

Sunflower Bread (Olive Bread derivative)

gallery_25933_6742_11354.jpg

Sunflower Bread (Olive Bread derivative)

gallery_25933_6742_39334.jpg

Sunflower Bread (Olive Bread derivative)

gallery_25933_6742_72703.jpg

Walnut Bread

gallery_25933_6742_815368.jpg

Walnut Bread

gallery_25933_6742_95985.jpg

Collection of "Mission Fig, Almond, Anise" and "Medjool Date, Cashew, Molasses" Breads

gallery_25933_6742_269821.jpg

Making the "Mission Fig, Almond, Anise" and "Medjool Date, Cashew, Molasses" Breads by Hand

gallery_25933_6742_540294.jpg

Fig Anise Bread

gallery_25933_6742_278697.jpg

Walnut Breads

gallery_25933_6742_235027.jpg


Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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fooey, you are making me salivate, I am not allowed to indulge in bread for a while. Really great pictures and interesting selection. May I ask you what kind of oven you have and what method you use for producing steam? There are so many conflicting opinions and directions for steaming the oven... skipper

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The 10s:50f:50w method is interesting. Mine is more 50s:25f:25w. I'll create one as such and see how it comes out.

On a microbiological basis, we know that your feeding process (1:1 refreshment) is very bad for the health and vitality of the culture, and likely to result in the culture coming to be taken over by less desirable microorganisms. I should hasten to point out that this is not opinion or speculation -- this has been determined by scientific research. For example, in a German study no Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis was found in cultures refreshed at 50%.

Much better for the health and vitality of a culture for the kind of sourdough bread we would like to make is something like 1:5 refreshment. Plenty of people (myself included) simply leave whatever starter remains clinging to the inside of the jar when all the starter is taken out, and fill the rest with new flour and water. This is great for the health, vitality and propagation of the culture.

Thank you for this. Would you have more information on this study?

Back in the old Usenet days, in rec.fooc.sourdough we got some good information from a German scientist studying the microbiology and other aspects of sourdoughs. For example, see here for some of this information.

Some pertinent quotes:

"The optimum pH for lactobacilli is 5.0 - 5.5 (which is the initial pH of a sourdough with 5 - 20% inoculum) . . ." ["inoculum" means "the amount of old starter you mix with the new flour"]

This means that you get optimum growth conditions for the lactobacilli if the starter is refreshed with a <20% inoculum. If you keep your starter at equal weights of flour and water, a 5% inoculum would mean keeping 5 grams of "old starter" and mixing that with 50 grams each of water and flour every time you feed.

". . . in doughs that are continuously operated with a high inoculum (more than about 30%), you'll find more yeasts and fewer lactobacilli. Eventually, the lactobacilli flora may change, with more acid tolerant lactobacilli (e.g. L. pontis) prevailing. . . [in a sourdough culture we studied that] is operated with a 50% inoculum, the pH is never above 4.1 - 4.3, and no L. sanfranciscensis is found in those doughs. . ."

This tells is that it is unadvisable to feed the starter regularly with a >30% inoculum, and very bad to feed the starter regularly with a >50% inoculum.

I have to say I've been surprised by just how little starter is needed to regenerate volumes.

If a ratio is healthier, that's even more interesting.

Keep in mind that one gram of active starter contains between 10,000,000 and 1,000,000,000 sourdough microorganizms -- far more than will be found in 50 or 100 grams of new flour-and-water. So you don't have to worry about the culture being "taken over" by some invading microorganisms by feeding with a very small inoculum. On the contrary, you are creating optimal growth conditions for the culture microorganisms.

If it produces a starter that leavens a loaf in 7-8 hours instead of 3-4, then that will be a problem.

I mean, healthier is great, but how does health of the starter contribute to leavening strength, flavour.

The healthier the starter culture is, the more active the sourdough microorganisms are. More active microorganisms equal faster leavening, faster activity, more souring, etc.

The refreshment I use, again, is Silverton's and it just makes some of the best bread I can turn out.

Silverton's recipes are good (although, as a sourdough purist I wish she didn't have so many "hybrid doughs" that are boosted with commercial yeast). My only criticisms are that she perpetuates mythology about sourdough microorganisms that are known to be untrue, and that her starter feeding instructions and volumes are unduly burdensome for the home baker. Using the "storage culture" technique I outlined above actually offers you much more flexibility. One thing you will note is that different bakers and different recipe writers all seem to have a different starter formula. Some of them call for a stiff "chef" starter, some of them call for a thin "poolish" starter, some of them call for a very large inoculum in the final dough, some of them call for a small inoculum, etc. If you're locked into keeping 3 quarts of "Nancy Silverton Starter" going at all times, then you are effectively prevented from making any sourdough recipe by another writer who uses a different starter formula. Using the "storage starter" technique, not only are you freed from the time-consuming and wasteful practice of keeping 3 quarts of starter going all the time, but you can make up anyone's starter recipe by simply whipping up a batch of their starter sponge, chef, etc.. inoculating it with a bit of your starter culture, and then letting the new batch of "so-and-so's starter" come active.


Edited by slkinsey (log)

Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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fooey, you are making me salivate, I am not allowed to indulge in bread for a while.  Really great pictures and interesting selection.  May I ask you what kind of oven you have and  what method you use for producing steam?  There are so many conflicting opinions and directions for steaming the oven... skipper

Ha ha. Thanks!

For steam, I've used Peter Reinhart's setup from his book, Crust and Crumb, ever since I started baking 8 years ago.

Just scroll to page 25 and read through page 27, starting at subsection "Oven Techniques" on page 25 here.

He uses a bottle sprayer, but I go a bit further and use a pressurized garden sprayer, like so:

gallery_25933_6742_122748.jpg


Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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My only criticisms are that she perpetuates mythology about sourdough microorganisms that are known to be untrue.

I think I'm still missing this: what are the untruths?

I see differences of opinion, but untruths? Mythology?

I defend against this because I have 5 years and 1000 loaves launched by these mythological untruths.

I think this an opinion, and opinions are fine, but they're not fact.

As for burden to home baker, I don't agree.

It's a burden to me because I'm juggling 3 starters in volume. I make volumes of bread and need volumes.

Once Nancy's starters are active, they can be perpetuated as you've said above.

I'm trying your 1:5 now and it's coming along nicely. Is it better? I don't know.

I appreciate the other comments. Do you have a source link to the study or studies that from which you quote? To me, yesterday's science is as valuable as mythology. Who knows when, where, how this study was conducted? Who's to say that a strain of yeast from San Francisco has anything to say about yeasts in Denver, for example?

You're right about not locking yourself in with this or that process. I've found that once you have a strong starter, you can almost use them interchangeably if you're careful about ratios, math, etc. You can even use it slapdash and, if in enough quantity, successful bread will result, albeit not to the precision intended by the formula writer.

And I dare say that, if my grandmother were alive to read this, she's laugh at our ridiculousness. Her starter lived outside on the porch through every season. It's probably still alive somewhere!

I love Nancy's hybrid doughs, but guess what? I never use the commercial yeast, especially the fresh cake yeast, which is becoming increasingly difficult to find. Do I have to wait longer? Yes, but bread for me is patience, and the results are worth the wait. I have two loaves of her hybrid "Red Pepper Scallion" baking in the oven right now. The smell is intoxicating, the color beautiful, the crumb gorgeous!


Fooey's Flickr Food Fotography

Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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I think I'm still missing this: what are the untruths?

I see differences of opinion, but untruths? Mythology?

I defend against this because I have 5 years and 1000 loaves launched by these mythological untruths.

I think this an opinion, and opinions are fine, but they're not fact.

As for burden to home baker, I don't agree.

It's a burden to me because I'm juggling 3 starters in volume. I make volumes of bread and need volumes.

Again, it seems an essential disagreement is the perception of how much starter you think you need.

In reading through this thread, it appears to me that I make far more bread in a week and maintain far less "starter" or "culture." I suspect my starter is thicker too, but I can't be sure of that.

Anyway, if the method works for you, then no problem. But then again you did initiate the thread (before it was merged into this larger one) asking how you could make your work less burdensome with so much starter. So then one would assume something *isn't* working for you. I understand that from your perspective it's more to do with the manual mixing of the starter, but all sorts of experienced folks here now (including me) are suggesting perhaps there's a whole nother way to approach the problem that would not only save you from what you've characterized as a burdensome issue in your baking, but might also change your approach in other ways.

This probably won't change the quality of your bread, by the way, or at least not in the long run, although if you do change your technique you will invariably have to tinker with your formula a bit to get what you're going after. I use a whole nother method that garners equally rave reviews, and although I started out using Silverton's methods and formulas, I was frankly not pleased with the results I was getting and so after a lot of experimenting, taking a little from here and a little from there, and through a lot of practice and baking and experimenting, I finally came up with my own method which is what moved me beyond following someone else's techniques and formulas and on to developing my own.

I'm not saying Silverton is wrong or bad, but she is only one method among many equally valid (and for me, better) methods.

The Village Bakery


Edited by devlin (log)

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My only criticisms are that she perpetuates mythology about sourdough microorganisms that are known to be untrue.

I think I'm still missing this: what are the untruths?

I see differences of opinion, but untruths? Mythology?

Untruths and mythology such as, for example, the thought that sourdough microorganisms can come from grapes -- which is known to be untrue. You will not find any sourdough microorganisms on a grape.

I defend against this because I have 5 years and 1000 loaves launched by these mythological untruths.

Lots of people throughout history have been able to do great things based on premises that turned out to be untrue. That doesn't make the premise any less untrue.

I think this an opinion, and opinions are fine, but they're not fact.

I'm not sure what you refer to, but it's a fact that sourdough microorganisms don't come from grapes -- not an opinion. Scientists have been looking for these things for a long time, and have looked at countless grapes (among other things) looking for sourdough microorganisms. None have been found, and people who make their careers studying this sort of thing on a scientific basis do not believe that grapes are or can be a source of sourdough microorganisms.

What grapes will do is provide a ready supply of easily fermentable sugars, along with grape microorganisms to eat those sugars, that will provide an apparent early boost of fermentation activity. But none of the microorganisms providing this initial fermentation is capable of surviving in a continually refreshed sourdough, and they all die off within a few generations.

As for burden to home baker, I don't agree.

It's a burden to me because I'm juggling 3 starters in volume. I make volumes of bread and need volumes.

If you don't think it's burdensome to keep around and continually feed on a daily basis as much as nine quarts of sourdough starter, then we have a difference of opinion as to what constituted "burdensome." It has been quite common since the publication of her book for people to criticize Silverton's starter feeding schedules and amounts for being too burdensome. This will always be a matter of opinion for the individual baker, of course.

All I can say is that I have in the past maintained as many as three separate sourdough cultures which retained identifiably distinct fermentation characteristics. I maintained these at around one cup total of each culture, and on days when I was not baking with those cultures I kept them in the refrigerator and fed them perhaps twice a month. When I planned to bake with one of the cultures, I would let it come up to temperature, inoculate however much "new starter" I needed to use, feed the storage culture via 1:20 dilution and return it to the refrigerator as soon as it started to show the first signs of life. Because my starters were fed for optimal growth conditions (meaning that it had the maximum number of live and healthy sourdough microorganisms per gram) the "new starter" would come up to full activity in a few hours and I could bake with it. This is my idea of "not burdensome."

There is simply no reason, unless you are baking every single day with all three of your cultures, for you to keep so much starter and for you to feed them several times a day. And if you are not feeding your nine quarts of starters every day and are refrigerating them until the day before baking day, then there is just no reason to keep that much in consideration of the fact that you can build any amount of sourdough from as little as a tablespoon of storage culture in 24 hours.

I appreciate the other comments. Do you have a source link to the study or studies that from which you quote? To me, yesterday's science is as valuable as mythology. Who knows when, where, how this study was conducted? Who's to say that a strain of yeast from San Francisco has anything to say about yeasts in Denver, for example?

We can know these things because, while a Denver strain of Lactobacillus sanfransiscensis might be a little different from a San Francisco strain of L. sanfransiscensis, there are generalized things we can say that apply to all strains of L. sanfransiscensis. We're just not going to find, for example, a strain that is not seriously inhibited at a pH of 4.3 or lower. Now... there are other, less desirable lactobacilli that can survive in a low pH, high-inoculum sourdough, but not L. sanfransiscensis. L. sanfransiscensis is the dominant lactobacillus in virtually all of the best sourdough cultures. (See e.g.,Biodiversity of Lactobacillus sanfranciscensis strains isolated from five sourdoughs, M. Kitahara, S. Sakata and Y. Benno, Lett Appl Microbiol. 2005; 40(5):353-357): "strains were L. sanfranciscensis, Lactobacillus plantarum, Lactobacillus paralimentarius, Lactobacillus fermentum, Lactobacillus pontis, Lactobacillus casei, Weisella confusa and Pediococcus pentosaceus. A total of 21 strains were identified as L. sanfranciscensis. . .")

The other thing we can say is that there isn't nearly as wide a variety of yeast as one might think. The most common is familiar old Saccharomyces cerevisiae, followed by Candida milleri, C. humilis, S. exiguus and Issatchenkia orientalis (see, Occurrence and dominance of yeast species in sourdough, Pulvirenti A, Solieri L, Gullo M, De Vero L, Giudici P., Lett Appl Microbiol. 2004;38(2):113-7.)


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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It does sound like quite a few herein maintain minimal amounts of starter and build large amounts with small inoculations. I'll try it; if it works, that's ultimate solution to my starter maintenance problems. I'll have to adjust all of my schedules, etc., but that shouldn't be too much of an issue. I'll keep a close eye on (perceived) leavening strength, as the starters I currently use could leaven concrete (j/k).

As for these untruths, I'd be interested in knowing if they were known untruths at the time of publication. If so, then maybe there's reason to be harsh. I, for one, will always respect her contributions.

This is what she says re:grapes

"Ideally, you will use unsprayed, organically grown grapes; if you leave the grapes unwashed, the culture can take advantage of beneficial wild yeasts that cling to the grape skin's waxy coating. If you can't find organically grown grapes, wash the grapes you buy." (p. 32, ISBN 679-40907-6).

I'd wager she's right. There are yeasts all around us by the quadrillions, so why wouldn't the waxy coating contain them? She doesn't say they're of any essential variety or even that they're essential to the starter, even if the procedure so implies by their use. I couldn't even find organic grapes last time I built from scratch, so I used organic raisins instead. That starter took off like rocket fuel, but I didn't take a census and don't know who was doing what to whom.


Edited by fooey (log)

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"Ideally, you will use unsprayed, organically grown grapes; if you leave the grapes unwashed, the culture can take advantage of beneficial wild yeasts that cling to the grape skin's waxy coating. If you can't find organically grown grapes, wash the grapes you buy." (p. 32, ISBN 679-40907-6).

Right. This implies that yeast from grape skins can form the basis of a sourdough culture. This is incorrect and was known to be incorrect at the time her work was published. Not that she is unusual in perpetuating myths and misinformation with respect to sourdough microbiology. This sort of thing is the rule rather than the exception. But it's a fact that people read these things and believe they can use apple slices in starting their sourdough culture to "take advantage of beneficial wild yeasts" that live on apples and will end up with a distinctive "apple starter," and can use juniper berries in starting their sourdough culture to "take advantage of beneficial wild yeasts" that live on juniper berries and will end up with a distinctive "juniper starter" and so on. This is not correct.

I should hasten to point out that, while I think its disappointing that Silverton perpetuates this myth and misinformation her her book, I don't think this is a particularly major flaw. The recipes work, after all. It's just too bad. A far greater flaw, in my opinion, is the instruction to keep impractically large amounts of starter. This, too, can be explained by the fact that she is a commercial baker and probably didn't give enough due consideration to the realities of casual home sourdough baking. But, again, while this is a criticism of the book, it's still a good book. The recipes work well and they are very good. But we do find that people who use Silverton's starter techniques and have an understanding of how starters work based on her books do tend to run into trouble with certain things because they don't have a particularly good understanding of how starter cultures and sourdoughs in general work.


Samuel Lloyd Kinsey

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This implies that yeast from grape skins can form the basis of a sourdough culture.  This is incorrect and was known to be incorrect at the time her work was published. 

She says the starter can take advantage of them. Where does she say they're essential? Where does she imply that this is necessary, fundamental, basic to the equation? I don't see it, either expressed or implied.

Correction: OK, I guess I do see how it's implied...


Edited by fooey (log)

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Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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But we do find that people who use Silverton's starter techniques and have an understanding of how starters work based on her books do tend to run into trouble with certain things because they don't have a particularly good understanding of how starter cultures and sourdoughs in general work.

I can see that. In fact, more:

That it takes so long to build the starter as instructed is probably the main reason I'm afraid to whittle the volume down as much as you all suggest.


Edited by fooey (log)

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Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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But it's a fact that people read these things and believe they can use apple slices in starting their sourdough culture to "take advantage of beneficial wild yeasts" that live on apples and will end up with a distinctive "apple starter," and can use juniper berries in starting their sourdough culture to "take advantage of beneficial wild yeasts" that live on juniper berries and will end up with a distinctive "juniper starter" and so on. This is not correct.

Yes, it's like people who buy commercial sourdough starters from San Francisco and are convinced that their starter is creating true San Francisco sourdough bread.

I forget where I read the article, but the gist was that a starter created from a San Franscisco seeder culture, but maintained in New York, was about as San Fransiscan as Yankees, or not San Franciscan at all. The author said local yeast would quickly overtake whatever yeast were in the original seeder culture.

He actually slammed San Francisco sourdough as being an bad example of artisan bread: the acidity conflicts with just about any meal its served with, the method used to maintain the acidity as perfect example of a unbalanced starter, etc.


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Brünnhilde, so help me, if you don't get out of the oven and empty the dishwasher, you won't be allowed anywhere near the table when we're flambeéing the Cherries Jubilee.

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