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nanetteb

Sourdough Starter - Hows, Whys, Whats

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Very informative thread!

The human origin is merely a possibility, but I do find it very interesting that the only place other than in sourdough bread that  L. sanfranciscensis has been found is in humans.

I have never seen this info. before and find it quite interesting, thank you for posting it.

Many cookbooks encourage you to try to maintain absolutely sterile conditions at the beginning of the process.  I'm not saying this advice is correct, but I am saying that I followed it and got a successful starter out of the deal.

As I said before, many (even most) cookbooks writing about sourdough contain tons of bad information when it comes to sourdough. All you're telling me is that you went to lot of unnecessary extra trouble sand ended up inoculating your starter anyway.

I agree. I have worked in both biochemistry and microbiology labs and it is takes a lot of effort to maintain a sterile environment. At the very least, autoclaves (which use both pressure and heat to sterilize equipment), dedicated air handling systems and gloves are required for a somewhat sterile environment (i.e., a certain percentage of contamination will still occur).

However, you can have a "cleaner" environment in your kitchen that will help cut down on the possibility of non-desirable bacteria in a new starter.

The point is the lactobacilli, not the yeast, as the lactobacilli are the organisms that give sourdough its unique flavor, etc.  The yeast are only important insofar as they are able to coexist and form a symbiosis with the lactobacilli.

And the yeast do keep one from baking up brick doorstops. :laugh:

Seriously though, your point is a very good one -- starters contain both organisms that are balanced in their environment and without the lactobacilli it would not be sourdough.

This will largely depend on the methods one uses in maintaining the sourdough culture. 

I feel this an important aspect that is frequently overlooked. By changing variables of how the culture (or even the sponge) is maintained, it can be tipped to favor either the lactobacilli or the yeast. The temperature and percent hydration at which the culture is kept and also the frequency and percent of refreshment can all affect the balance of bacilli and yeast.

My personal philosophy of sourdough: Try anything. If it works for you, do it. And if it doesn't work, all you've lost is some flour, water and time. :smile:

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The point is the lactobacilli, not the yeast, as the lactobacilli are the organisms that give sourdough its unique flavor, etc.  The yeast are only important insofar as they are able to coexist and form a symbiosis with the lactobacilli.

And the yeast do keep one from baking up brick doorstops. :laugh:

It's a common misconception that the lactobacilli only flavor the dough and the yeast does all the leavening. One of the byproducts of fermentation by the lactobacilli is carbon dioxide. In fact, they are likely equally responsible for the leavening. From the same source as above, we have:

460 And to the margin note right next (CONCERNING THE ABILITY OF BACTERIAL

461 FERMENTATION TO RAISE A LOAF OF BREAD, WITHOUT YEAST): We've done the

462 experiments, it works quite well without yeast. The volume is somewhat

463 smaller, though. Markus Brandt has estimated the contribution of yeasts

464 and lactobacilli to gas production in a "normal" sourdough: about 50%

465 comes from lactobacilli and yeasts each. The yeasts are fewer in numbers,

466 but larger in size.

I may have the details slightly wrong, but I believe the production of carbon dioxide is related to the surface area of the microorganism. Yeast cells are much larger than lactobacillus cells and produce much more CO2 per cell, but the lactobacillus cells outnumber the yeast cells by something like 100 to 1. The end result is around a 50/50 contribution to leavening.

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Even where I live, in the desert, there are wild yeasts floating around.

Everywhere you go there are tons of wild yeasts and other microscopic beasties living on just about everything. In reality, I don't think it's necessarily the case that the microorganisms are floating around in the air solo. Rather, they are likely living on the surface of tiny dist particles, etc.

Have you read "The Secret Life of Dust" by Hannah Holmes?

Subtitle: "From the Cosmos to the Kitchen Counter, the Big Consequences of Little Things"

I read it a few months back and believe it or not, I couldn't put the book down.

It opened my eyes to a great many things.

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From the same source as above, we have:
460 And to the margin note right next (CONCERNING THE ABILITY OF BACTERIAL

461 FERMENTATION TO RAISE A LOAF OF BREAD, WITHOUT YEAST): We've done the

462 experiments, it works quite well without yeast. The volume is somewhat

463 smaller, though. Markus Brandt has estimated the contribution of yeasts

464 and lactobacilli to gas production in a "normal" sourdough: about 50%

465 comes from lactobacilli and yeasts each. The yeasts are fewer in numbers,

466 but larger in size.

I may have the details slightly wrong, but I believe the production of carbon dioxide is related to the surface area of the microorganism. Yeast cells are much larger than lactobacillus cells and produce much more CO2 per cell, but the lactobacillus cells outnumber the yeast cells by something like 100 to 1. The end result is around a 50/50 contribution to leavening.

Wow! I never thought it was that much leavening from the bacilli. Cool. Do you know if the book mentioned in your linked reference was ever published?

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After watching Nancy Silverton on "Master Chefs with Julia Child" last night (thanks, TiVo) I was inspired to make another pass at sourdough starter.

Does someone have the recipe they could send me?

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Hmm. Perhaps in the short term, I'll see if my library has it, then xerox the pages.

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There are a lot easier ways to make sourdough starter than using the Silverton method with grapes. This has been the subject of some heated discussion by the sourdough experts here. I'm pretty sure there's a very effective method in the EGCI courses.

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jgarner53, the general perception of Nancy Silverton among sourdough types can be summed up as: great bread recipes, possibly the worst starter advice of any book in publication.

There are two real problems with Silverton's starter advice:

1. The amounts of material she calls for are ludicrously oversized. If you follow her starter recipe, you will end up with something like seven pounds of starter. Unless you are planning on baking something like 300 pounds of bread, this is way too much.

2. One of her main premises (that the grapes supply beneficial sourdough microorganisms) is incorrect. This was discussed to some length not too long ago. To briefly summarize: there is no reason to use grapes or any other fruit; just use flour and water.

I personally recommend acquiring a stable sourdough culture from a friend, or purchasing one from Sourdoughs International However, some people do enjoy the challenge of creating their own starter. If this is you, I'd recommend the following procedure:

Mix 50 grams of white wheat flour with 50 grams of filtered water using your hands. Place the mixture in a glass jar with a loosely fitting lid. Leave it out on the countertop. Wait 12 hours. Remove the flour and water batter with a soup spoon, leaving a small amount (around 10 grams) stuck to the side of the jar. Don't bother cleaning the spoon, just leave it in the jar. Discard the batter you just removed. Put in another 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of filtered water. Stir it up with the spoon. Continue doing this every 12 hours until you see that bubbles are forming in the batter in between feedings. At this point, decrease the feeding interval to 8 hours. Keep this up for a day or two and you have an active sourdough culture. To store the culture, close the jar tightly and put it in the refrigerator approximately 1 hour after feeding it as described above. To reactivate the stored culture, remove it from the refrigerator, leave it out for an hour or so until it comes up to temperature and shows some signs of activity (usually around an hour). Then feed as outlined above (not forgetting to remove most of the batter first). When the newly fed starter comes up to full activity, it is ready to use. I recommend reactivating and feeding a stored starter at least once a week.

The feeding procedure above has a very good advantage in that it enables you to bake from any sourdough recipe. All sourdough recipe authors keep starters that are slightly different. Some may have more water, some may have less, etc. So, unless you are making their starter recipe, you have no idea what to put in when the recipe only sais "use one cup of starter." Using my method, you are only using the starter to maintain the culture. When you want to make an actual recipe from, say, Nancy Silverton's cookbook, all you have to do is look at her starter recipe to see how much water and flour she uses. Then you can mix up some batter to her starter specifications, "infect" the batter with a tablespoon of your storage culture, wait around 8 hours for the batter fo froth up, and you're off to the races. When you want to make a recipe from someone else's cookbook, repeat the pricess making a batter from their starter formula. The other advantage of keeping a 50 gram starter is that you don't have a big bucket of starter taking up room in your refrigerator.

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a) Omit the grapes. Contrary to popular belief they encourage the wrong sort of yeast. Just mix equal amounts by volume of flour and water and keep it at 85F - the temperature is important, and in a few days it will start to ferment. When it starts to bubble, throw half away, and replace with equal amounts of flour and water. Do this every 12 hours for 3 or 4 days, or until its active and smells OK, and ther is your starter.

b) Alternatively PM me with you snail mail address and I'll send you some of mine.

I usually ask that people make a donation to their favourite charity in return, and of course to pass on starter to those who need.

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Alleilieuia (or however it is spelled) to the last two starter recipes you guys posted.

Nancy Silverton's book is lovely and inspiring but bluntly the list of stuff she insists you have in the kitchen before you even approach the task is onerous (I am sure sourdough starters were not originally conceived with this much equipment in mind) and the following directions sort of wore me out before even getting started... :wub:

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Ever notice that if you soak grains overnight, the liquid forms bubbles? I tried the following not long ago as a wild experiment, based on the idea that soluble carbohydrates rapidly ferment in the presence of airborne yeast, while the rest of the flour serves to retard fermentation. I've made naturally leavened bread before, but it took 3-4 days to rise, which doesn't work in the summer, as by that time the exterior is furry and blue. Proper sourdough doesn't work for me, as I rarely bake bread.

I was prepared to chuck it as a failure. I was surprised to see that it worked great.

Starterless sourdough rye bread

Soak 1 cup of whole rye berries in water to cover for 24 hours, longer in the winter. Put water and rye in the blender until smooth. Scrape into a bowl, add 1¼ teaspoons salt, caraway seeds if desired, and enough whole wheat flour to make a bread dough. Knead by hand or in a stand mixer. Put in a greased pan or bowl, cover, and allow to rise 12 hours, or until doubled. Bake.

It rose well, and had a nice sourdough tang.

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Just an incidental, but a nice discussion of this topic is also to be found in "Chez Panisse Cooking," in which they discuss grapes, raisins, potatoes...

Paul

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I tried the grape thing et al. When it comes right down to it, we're trying to ferment the grain in a way that develops the most flavor in the bread. This may sound like heresy but mix your flour and water with a few grains of yeast. thats what your trying to do anyway. when i finally did this, my starters were bubbly, my bread was great. If your adding commercial yeast to your dough, and most big artisan bakeries do, than why fool around with different "races" of yeast. they're unpredictable and i don't believe they bring any difference flavorwise to the table than that which could be acheived with commercial yeast. bottom line, its HOW you handle and ferment your product thats going to dictate the quality.(slow, cold, ovenight fermentation is what we love!!) But hey, don't take my word for it, just try it. Maybe you'll be happily tossing that grape sludge, cheesecloth, and potato water right in the garbage:)

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Just an incidental, but a nice discussion of this topic is also to be found in "Chez Panisse Cooking," in which they discuss grapes, raisins, potatoes...

Hear, hear! It's the best introduction to the topic I've read. And the recepe for levain bread using a grape-based starter comes from Steve Sullivan, who went on to run Acme Bread Company.

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I'm sitting here, reading these discouraging posts, and only five feet away sits my bowl of hopeful starter on Day Six, with a bag of our own grapes submerged under bubbly goop. To be honest, even if the starter is great, I don't think I can promise the Powers That Be that I'll feed it three times a day that Nancy requests.

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To be honest, even if the starter is great, I don't think I can promise the Powers That Be that I'll feed it three times a day that Nancy requests.

I have a plastic container of starter made from Silverton's book sitting on my counter right now. When I first made it up I fed it 2-3 times a day and baked quite a lot. After missing a few feedings here and there, and then a few more and more, I've found that it can limp along fine with a feeding every 36 hours.

If you do that for a few days you will need to go back to feedings separated by 8-12 hours for day before you bake to make sure it's "full power." I know that doesn't make much scientific sense since it should be full power after each feeding, but my casual experience has shown that gives me the best rise if you aren't going to supplement with commercial yeast.

-Al

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You have to remember that Silverton came at the subject from the perspective of a professional. She wrote a wonderful book, but her experience was simply not that of a home baker. A professional can easily feed starter three times a day. A professional needs more than seven pounds of starter, and may not see how impractical that is for a home baker.

Moreover, as to all this stuff about using grapes, raisins, commercial yeast, malt, or whatever in order to "jump start" a sourdough starter: there are a lot of superstitions in this bread business, and a lot of these superstitions find their way into very good bread books. I know that flour and water alone are enough to make a wonderful, vigorous starter, because I've done it. And I tend to believe Jack and Sam when they say that other additions are at best benignly unhelpful, and at worst counterproductive, because they've conversed with scientists who know what they're talking about.

Don't be discouraged from using Silverton. If I were to use Silverton's advice to create a sourdough starter from scratch, I'd drop the grapes, but I don't think they really do any harm. And I'd also feed it twice a day for convenience-- it really won't hurt your starter to feed it less frequently; it is more important to be consistant than to feed any set number of times per day. I'd cut the starter by half or two thirds at each feeding, to keep it at a reasonable size. This is only sensible and creates no disadvantage at all; you'll save a lot of money on flour.

Finally, I'd advise that you disregard the schedule given in the book-- or in any similar book. If you are making a starter from scratch, you might not see as much development on day 3 or 4 (or whatever) as the recipe says you will. Carry on. Keep feeding it for several more days, and you very well might get where you want to go.

Once you have a good starter going, you should make all of Silverton's recipes. She has exceptional taste.

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My starter is over 2 years old now. I keep about a cup of it in the fridge and only feed it the night before I need to use it. I makes great bread following Jack's recipe.

Elie

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I made Nancy Silverton's sourdough starter and I have to admit it has made some of the best breads with only one problem. The problem I perceive is that, in her book she says that you will get a sour flavor and that's something I feel is missing from the bread. The crust is crispy and chewey, the bread is light and has the hole texture that I'm looking for, but to me it doesn't have that sour flavor that I'm used to when I buy the commercial sourdough bread--what can I do to rectify the perceived problem.

Polack


Edited by polack (log)

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Ferment the sponge starter stage longer and hotter - 85F for 8 hours say, so that it becomes quite sour. This then flavours the bread, without interfering with the bulk rise

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Ferment the sponge starter stage longer and hotter - 85F for 8 hours say, so that it becomes quite sour. This then flavours the bread, without interfering with the bulk rise

Jackel,

Would you also use a commercial yeast in the recipe? I feed my starter for one day prior to baking and on the second day when I put my dough together I also use two teaspoons of yeast along with two cups of starter and approx. 6cups of flour to make up the recipe. Will the commercial yeast have an effect on the sour flavor?

Polack

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Will the commercial yeast have an effect on the sour flavor?

Polack

Yes. It will make the bread less sour. The faster the bread is leavened (and commercial yeast rises much faster than sourdough yeast) the shorter the time the lactobacilli have to produce acid.

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Aieee!

What you are making is a yeasted bread flavoured with soudough starter.

Sourdough and commercial yeast have different profiles, and are somewhat antagonistic to each other. Its like having a modern racing car and a old but cherished car on the same road. The commercial yeast will grow much faster, and compete for the sugars, squeezing out the sourdough. You are left with a light well risen bread, but any sourdough flavour is what you put in with the starter. This is a perfectly valid route - many make "sourdough" baguettes this way, but you need quite large amounts of sponge starter, maybe 30%, well fermented to give flavour. Its the pate fermentee principle: you let some of dough ferment out completely and go sour to give flavour to the bulk. Some bakers keep a pail of old dough from one baking to the next, and use that.

If you have a mixture of commercial yeast and sourdough, and keep refereshing it, the sourdough will eventually win, and kill the commercial yeast, as it can split sugars from the starch that commercial yeast cannot.

Sourdough is slow - mine takes typically 6 hours from starter to sponge, half an hour amylisation, another six bulk fermentation, and overnight to prove. The flavour comes from the culture type, and the slow fermentation

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