Sourdough Starter

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esavitzky's picture
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Sourdough Starter
Well, I finally gave up on my first attempt at a starter today.  Sorry to say that Linda was put to sleep in the disposal.  After following the directions religiously, Linda never quite got started.  I added the 800g of bread flour to 800g of warm water and stuffed it with the peels of two apples.  After a few days it had a dark crust on top and had the consistency of pancake batter.  I fed her after removing about 800g with 400g flour and 400g water.  Next day I put it in the fridge and it never really stiffened up.  Fed her again and the same thing.  Even after leaving it out for a couple of days, a little bubbling on top but still too much like liquid.

Poured her down the drain and started again this evening.  Harry is now resting in a big bowl after mixing the flour and water along with the peels of two apples.  Used my Kitchenaid on number 2 till it was pretty mixed in although it never quite got all the flour mixed in which I took care of with a spatula.  I covered him with plastic wrap this time to try and avoid the crust forming. (Is that a bad thing?)  We will see what happens in a few days.

I am really impressed with the new site Jacob.    Love your podcasts and videos.  I listen to the podcasts walking to and from work everyday.  On my third time around. Pick up some new tips every time.

Best of Luck!

Elliot
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Hey Elliot,

Sorry to hear about Linda. Sometimes it just happens.

Covering your starter with plastic wrap is fine, there's plenty of oxygen to keep the starter alive. I've learned a lot about creating sourdough starters since my last FCS podcast on the subject, which is why I'm going to re-record the series. When I moved from Fredrick's to Stella, which is only 20 miles down the road, my starter that I brought with me died. sad

I know in my original podcast I said not to use rye flour, but I was wrong, pure and simple. Try using rye flour in a mix with bread flour, at 10% of the total weight of the bread flour. After the initial start, simply feed your starter as instructed with 100% regular bread flour and the same amount of water and by the time the starter is ready to use, you'll have diluted the flavor of the rye.

Also, the water that you use is very important. When I was in Incline Village, the water wasn't chlorinated nor did it have fluoride added. In Truckee, the opposite is true, which is bad for the yeast, especially in a new starter. If your water is chlorinated, buy a water filter or use bottled water to feed you starter for at least the first two weeks.

Also, hand mixing your starter WITHOUT washing your hands first is desirable. I know this sounds counter-intuitive, but the natural yeast that is on your hands will inoculate the starter and get things going. The natural bacteria in your starter produces acetic acid, which will kill off any other bacteria present. If it doesn't, you'll know because the starter will smell rank.

Finally, don't refrigerate your starter until it's strong and healthy. The only reason to refrigerate your starter is because it's over active and you don't plan to use it on a daily basis. Instead, keep it at room temperature until its volume doubles within 12-24 hours of feeding.

Hope this helps, and remember, sometimes starters just die. They're the most fragile for the first month, but if you make it past that point, you're usually home free (unless you move to another city; starters are like cats, they hate moving).
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I've been, both, using and abusing sourdough starter for about 20 years.  I don't bake with it as often as I should which results in a lot of the abuse.  In general I've found sourdough starter to be more resilient than I ever imagined.

I've only had to re-make a starter twice... each time the result of my wife throwing out the yucky-looking container that she found in the back of the fridge!

I've tried the rye flour approach and, believe it or not, despite the ravings of many very experienced and trustworthy chefs it has never worked for me.    I've done like Elliott suggests, 50-50, but with 4 or 5 grapes rather than apple peels.  I "crack" the grapes to allow the yeast to feed off of the sugar in the grape guts.  After a week I fish the grapes out and then feed it regularly for another couple of weeks before it is ready for baking.  Over time it gets better and better.

Regarding the consistency, a 50% batter will not stiffen much unless more flour is added.  And it will separate.  Just mix it up each time it is fed.

There are differences, by the way, between the taste of a thin starter and a thick starter.  Each achieves a different balance of wild yeast and bacteria.  Yeast and bacteria give off different by-products and flavors.

I have thrown some out prematurely (I write in hindsight) when starting a new batch.  I suggest not throwing away a new starter until it gets really stinky and you're sure that a mold has totally overwhelmed the yeast.  As the starter gets going it is natural for the yeast and bacteria do a lot of balancing until they can live harmoniously together, and that just takes time, but mold is a bad, bad thing.
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Thanks for the advice Chef Jacob and Brian.  I have since restarted my starter.  Was having similar issues with Harry that I had with Linda, but after feeding Harry once, its bubbled up and over the  bowl although still too much of a liquid state.  I decided to  mix and feed again, this time adding back 100% to Harry and then taking 400 g of Harry and starting up Son of Harry feeding it with a 50% mixure (200 flour  and 100 water).  I think this works out to a total of 75% mixture when added, but the point was to see if I could experiment and get something that looked a bit more like a dough consistency. 

After sitting out overnight, Harry bubbled up again and over and Son of Harry got a little bigger, but not doubling in size.  I fed them both again that same way and Harry is actually getting a bit denser.  Son of Harry stayed thicker so I think I am actually seeing some results.  It will be interesting to see how these two starters differ over time in taste and texture.
 
Now that I think I have some starters to work with, I went back to the video of making the bread, but it  was removed from the site.  I know you were planning on reshooting it so just wondering when you think you might be ready to post the new video.  Although I must have  watched it a few times, I didnt commit it to memory as I thought it would be there later on.

Thanks for all the great advice and hope your having a wonderful Memorial Day weekend.

Elliot


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@ Elliot,

I'll be re-shooting the video in the next couple of weeks. There are a few things that I would do differently know than when I originally shot that video almost two years ago. In the meantime, try this on for size:

  • 300g Father Harry
  • 200g Bread Flour
  • 100g Whole Wheat Flour
  • 165g Water (room temp)
  • 12g Kosher Salt
  • Cast iron dutch oven with lid
  1. Feed Father Harry and get him nice and active. Pull off a small piece of the starter and drop in a bowl of cold water. If it floats, then you're ready to go. If Harry sinks, then he's a witch and must be burned at the stake - (Ok, not really, but if he does sink, it just means that the yeast isn't quite active enough so you need to let them feed for a little longer.).
  2. Disperse 300g of active Harry in 165g of room temp water. Add bread flour and whole wheat flour on top. Mix together by hand until the dough forms a shaggy mass. Cover and let hydrate at room temp for 30 minutes.
  3. After 30 minutes, mix in salt. You can do this by hand or machine mixer, but be careful not to over mix. Allow dough to rest for 20 minutes.
  4. Perform stretch and fold once every 20 minutes for a total of 4 times. At the end of the stretch and fold process, your dough should be beautiful and smooth.
  5. Form into a ball, place into a bowl prepped with pan release spray, cover with plastic and allow to bulk ferment at room temp for 2-4 hours, or until almost doubled in sized.
  6. Degass by turning out onto a lightly floured work surface and pressing down gently. Form into a ball, and allow to rise at room temp (proof) for about 1-2 hours. For best results, proof the dough seem side up in a bowl that's a little smaller then your cast iron dutch oven. Line the bowl with a lint-free kitchen towel that's been thoroughly rubbed down with bread flour. To make this even easier, you can buy some proofing baskets from SFBI at about half the price you can find them anywhere else. I recommend the 10" baskets that are already lined with cloth, and for $10 a pop, you can't beat that price.
  7. During the proofing process, place your cast iron dutch oven in a 500°F oven and allow to preheat for at least 45 minutes.
  8. When your dough has proofed and nearly doubled in size, flip the dough out into the heated dutch oven (now the seam will be on the bottom), cut an X or # into the top of the loaf (about 1/4" deep), place lid on top and bake covered for about 20 minutes.
  9. Reduce heat to 450 and continue to cook UNCOVERED for another 20 minutes, or until the crust is a dark brown.
  10. I know this goes without saying, but everyone's ovens will vary, yada, yada, yada.
  11. Let cool for at least 1.5 hours on a wire rack before slicing.
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OK thanks.  Well between the time I need to  check out if Harry is ready or not I guess I'll have enough time to get the proofing basket and dutch oven.  Any recommendations on the size of the dutch oven?  5qt. 6qt, 7 qt, 8 qt?

From what you have described above, I'm going to need to dedicate most of day to baking the bread between the stretching, proofing and cooking.  gotta go out  and get some whole wheat fluor now.  

I'll start by feeding Harry and seeing if he floats.  Then get the necessary supplies.

Thanks
Wisconsin Limey
The Tramontina 6.5 Qt works well and is very affordable.  You can get one here:


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@ Esavitzky,

Looks like Limey answered one of your questions. I've been testing this method for the upcoming bread series in a cast iron version that we already had at the restaurant, but it's much larger and I'm pretty sure more expensive.

As far as this process taking up the whole day, its somewhat true but the bread really doesn't need to be babysat The first hour and a half or work can be done in the morning. Once it starts to bulk ferment, you can take off for 2-4 hours. If you want a longer break, pop it in you fridge for up to 24 hours.

After the bulk fermentation, you have the option again to go and do something else for an hour or two, or pop it in the fridge for another 12-24 hours. The "retarding" in the fridge if over done can overdevelop the acetic acid production which can weaken your gluten and give you a flatter loaf, but this usually takes at least 48 hours in the fridge before it's really noticeable.

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Thanks Limey and Chef Jacob.

If I understand correctly then, there is no need to coat with clarified butter half way through the  baking process anymore.  Correct?

Elliot
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That is correct. The only reason I did it that way before is because I found other steam injection methods (like spraying the inside of your oven) insufficient. If you want a tender crust with no crunch, then you can still bush with butter. But if you want that beautiful crackly crust that a well produced loaf of sourdough has, then you need steam at the beginning of the cooking process to achieve this.

In the recipe that I gave you, the hydration is at 70% which is more then enough to create steam in a closed environment. At the restaurant, we use the same basic method, but have a hydration point of 75%. This makes the dough a little harder to work with, but pays off in the long run. We bake the bread in our wood fire oven with the door closed. The retained heat in the dutch oven does a good job mimicking a brick oven hearth and the radiant temperature contained within a WFO.
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Two weeks and two feedings later and Harry is still not much more than pancake batter.  I fed him last night and he did get a bit active, but not much thicker and whatever I was able to scoop up certainly didnt float in cold water.

I think I'm ready to start over again, but this time would like your new recipe and give it a try.  Let me know what you think.  I'm also ready to use bottled water just in case good old Boston water is the problem (although it was rated top 4 city water supplies).  Who knows, maybe it has some of the Charles River in it.

Thanks

Elliot
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Re: Boston water.  I remember it being good.  (I grew up in the suburbs of Boston.  At one point we lived right near the banks of the Charles.  It was nasty back then but I understand they have done a lot to clean it up.)  There is a self-proclaimed pizza king here in Los Angeles who thinks Boston water is so good for baking that he "imports" it in bottles for his dough.  I use LA water and get good results.  My belief is that the water of most major metropolitan areas are so well blended, treated, and controlled that they can't be all that bad.
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@ Eliot,

It's not so much how the water tastes but whether or not there is fluoride and chlorine in the water. Some strains of yeast are strong enough to power through the chlorine at the start, but others aren't. For the most part, once the yeast gets going strong, you can feed it with tap water and it will be fine. You might also want to try a simple water filter that screws onto your kitchen tap.
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Thanks.

At this point, I can either totally scratch Harry and start again, or I can try to boost the flour % in my 100% poolish.  Do you think I should give that a try?  Perhaps adding back 100/75 or 100/50 flour/water content on the next feeding?  Or just continue to feed 100% back?  Still looking for something thicker than pancake batter.

Elliot
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@ Elliot,

I would try going 75% hydration and feeding partially whole wheat flour. Also, are you using bread flour or just AP? Bread flour can absorb more liquid, so if you're using AP, that might be what is making your starter so thin. About 10-20% whole wheat flour will help.
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I have been using bread flour so I will go with a 75% feeding with bread flour and whole wheat at 15%
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That sounds like a good place to start. Also, whole wheat flour has a way of super charging your yeast. Give it a few more time. By the way, how often are you feeding your starter and are you leaving it out a room temp or refrigerating?
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I have been fedding. Once or twice a week and have been leaving it out.
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That's you're problem. Your starter is hungry. If you want to leave it out at room temperature, you need to feed at the very least every 24 hours. As the yeast starts to eat up all the available starch, it gives off a good amount of alcohol which is why your starter is so fluid and won't float in cold water. Try feeding it every day for the next couple of days, keeping the hydration at 100% but using the 15% whole wheat flour. I'm certain you'll see a difference.
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Thanks.  Just put Harry to bed after feeding him his bottle of 100% bread flour and whole wheat.  We'll see if he wakes me in  the middle of the night.

Elliot
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@ Chef Jacob,

I fed Harry all week with the 85% BF and 15% WW flour and he continued to be active, bubbling up each time.  Even stiffened up a bit.  Yesterday morning I decided that enough was enough.  Although he didnt float, I decided I had to try and bake some bread.  Followed your recipe using the proofing basket you recommended and the dutch oven (@Wisconsin Limey: thanks for the photo.)

To me, the bread came out really great.  Nice crispy crust and chewy airy crumb.  The toughest part was waiting the 1 1/2 hours to cut into it.

I fed Harry again this morning and will put him in the fridge for now as I have to go out of town for a couple of days.  Not sure why he doesnt float.  How critical is that part of the equation?  In all the videos and articles I have read about making poolish, I have yet to see any other reference to that characteristic.  Does it mean that my starter is too dense?  Not active enough with creating airy bubbles?  I just know you are itching to answer this softball question Mr. Food Science geek wink

Thanks again for all your help!

Elliot
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Bottom line, good bread is good bread. As long as your starter is active with yeast, it will leaven your dough. Since you followed the recipe given and baked in a dutch oven, I'm sure it came out great. The "float test" just shows you how "ripe" your starter is based on the amount of trapped gas in the starter. But as long as your starter is active and has live yeast, it will leaven the bread given enough time.

I WANT TO SEE PHOTOS! Congratulations on the break through and I'm sure Harry is happy that he was spared the garbage disposal!
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Hey Chef Jacob,

Here is a photo of Harry the Sourdough waiting to be cut.  Walked down to the local gourmet shop and got some European butter.  Cant wait.

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Looks awesome!
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BTW, Harry now floats.  Drop some in water tonight after feeding and it sank to the bottom and then after a few seconds rose to the top and floated.  Very impressed.

Elliot
BrewBoy19
I have been dinking around with this and want to know what you guys think. I would like to make a sourdough starter for pizza dough using yeast from my home brew. I would also like to use some of the beer in place of the water in the actual recipe. Any suggestions on how to get this to work, and how much yeast to use without being overkill?
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I'm not quite sure I understand the question, you mean yeast for making a starter, yeast in your dough? The  great thing about yeast is that it's alive, it grows. As long as it has food to eat, it'll multiply. I always err on the side of caution and use as little as possible, and let it ferment and produce a rich complex flavour in my doughs. You can use a ton of yeast and get a risen and proofed dough in under 2 hours, but it'll taste really...uhm... yeasty.
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BrewBoy19
yeast from beer in the starter and then i plan on messing around with beer in the dough in place of some of the water.  Right now I am trying 2 cups pale ale and 2 cups flour with a teaspoon of pale ale yeast.  I place it in the oven and will let it ferment and see what happens from there.  I will update back this weekend and see what happens.  I'm planning on making a pizza dough with it.  I may replace the pale ale with a guiness type stout ones I get a formula down.
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@BrewBoy19,

You can use beer yeast to create a pre-ferment that you can then use for your pizza dough. However, if you kept refreshing your pre-ferment and turned it into a starter, the indigenous yeast to your region would eventually take over the beer yeast which I assume you're importing.

Here's an example recipe:

Pre-ferment:

100g water
100g flour
pinch of beer yeast

Let stand overnight, or 12-18 hours. It should be nice and bubbly and filled with gas. To this, add:

300g flour
102g water
70g beer
10g Salt
12g olive oil

Knead together until a good dough is formed. This recipe will yield you a pizza dough with 68% hydration, 2.5% salt and 3% fat. The fat will help you stretch the pizza and brown in the oven. The olive oil is optional but it will make the dough more forgiving.

This is just a starting point for you to experiment with based on my past experiences and the ratios that I use for various doughs. You'll probably have to fine tune some of the percentages to get it exactly how you want it.
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@ Chef Jacob:

Now that I have been making the sourdough for a while, it might be time to refine some of my techniques.  While the bread comes out with a nice crust and crumb, I don't usually get spring to it when I place it in the dutch oven.  The bread will mostly finish off at the same level as I when I place it in the hot dutch oven.  Also, the bread reaches an internal temp over 195 degrees after 18 minutes at 500 degrees in the oven.  I usually just turn the oven down to 450 and let it brown with the cover off for another 5 minutes or so.

Also, the dough is a consistency that  makes it hard to score with a razor blade.  I can never get nice cuts in the loaf that let it expand like I see on any other sourdough loaf that I see in photos.  The dough is too sticky to put sharp cuts into it even after repeating several times.

Any suggestions?  

Thanks

Elliot
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If the dough is too sticky then the glutten network isn't fully developed. You can also reduce the hydration amount to 65%. If you're not getting any oven spring then it's because your dough is either way under proofed or over proofed. Also, try spraying your razor blade with non-stick spray before docking your bread.

The temperature for your loaf of bread seems a little off; either your oven is running hot or your thermometer needs to be recalibrated. Also, what's the finished weight of your loaf before baking? Did you scale down the recipe?
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