I thought this might be a good time to talk a bit about how we make sourdough at Companion Bakery. Partly because after 2 years I am currently quite happy with our sourdough process, and partly because Poh's Kitchen (ABC TV, Australia) are about to broadcast an episode that includes our bakery.
Poh and crew were sensational to work with btw, but I'll leave that to another post.
Where to start...?
With the finished bread of course!!
This post will look at our lightest freeform bread, which we call 'Country Batard'. The 'country' part of the title refers to whatever flour happens to be in the starter...which is always a local (Callington Mill) stoneground wholegrain flour of some description (normally wheat, sometimes spelt).
The remainder of flour in batards is usually Callington Mill light-sifted wheat wheat flour, but at present I am using a South Australian roller milled flour because locally light-sifted flour is temporarily not strong enough to make light batards. This is the only dough we make that requires a high performing baker's flour...all the other doughs are adaptable to seasonal changes and local flour has always been suitable.
My philosophy regarding flour is to use local (Tasmanian) Organic where possible. If local Organic is not available, I will consider local 'Chemical Free'. We are strict on the 'chemical free' claim and send the grain or flour to a lab for a C3 chemical test (I'll post a copy on this blog later). If there is no suitable local flour, we will use Organic flour imported from the mainland.
We don't use any additives, including ascorbic acid or gluten flour.
Part of the reason we moved to Oatlands was because of the impending revival of Callington Mill, which is located opposite Companion Bakery. The mill is now fully operational and where most of our flour is sourced...
process actually varies quite a lot depending on conditions such as flour type, water and air temperature, as well as the way baking shifts are organised.
My preferred schedule is as follows:
0700 - Begin to mix dough (water temp below 15C if possible)
---- see recipe below ----
0710 - Begin to bake dough that was shaped the previous day
1000 - Loaves (shaped previous day) are now baked. Oven Clear
1000 - Scale and ball dough (then 1 hour proof as balls - below 18C)
1100 - 1200 - Shape dough and place in forms (then 3 - 4 hours rising in forms at below 20C)
1500 - 1600 - Place proven loaves (approx 3/4 proven) in low temperature room (below 6C)
- we use a natural cool closet when ambient air temp is low, otherwise a coolroom is o.k - if using a domestic fridge, you may need to only 1/2 proof, not 3/4 proof, loaves - due to decreased cooling ability of domestic fridge (no, or less efficient blower)
0600 - Remove rising loaves from cool space
0700 ---- the cycle begins again.
a number of points...
I have re-trained myself to begin the recipe with the Total Flour Weight (TFW) in the dough, then make a decision on how much of this TFW i wish to remove and acidify (in the starter).
A member of this forum (Danubian) first explained this technique to me, which is very obvious, but can be hard to grasp. It is not the most common way because sourdough bakers have been swayed to think like yeast bakers...with starter as a replacement for yeast.
Our recipe calculator on this site uses the most common way, but before long before we introduce an alternative calculator that begins with TFW rather than calculating it at the end!
....using this recipe as an example, let us decide from the very beginning that all the flour in the recipe will add up to 1000g
1000g Total Flour Weight TFW (this is all the flour in the dough, including the flour in the starter!) --- 10% of the TFW flour (i.e 100g) will be acidified (simply means will originate in the starter) --- Assuming the starter is half flour / half water (i.e 100% hydration), then --- 20% of starter (i.e 200g) will contain 100g of flour
Expressed another way...
1000g TFW is composed of:
900g fresh flour
100g acidified flour - which comes from 200g of starter!! (starter is half flour / half water)
Why calculate recipes like this? Well, it provides certainty about how much flour is in the recipe from the very start, and standardises baker's percentage for sourdough bakers as a percentage of the total flour weight.
The problem with the other method (which i am not going into detail here because that is not the role of this post and it could get confusing) is that bakers frequently calculate starter as a percentage of fresh flour added, and salt as a percentage of total flour added....but some bakers calculate salt as a percentage of fresh flour and simply up the percentage to compensate for the flour in the starter!
sourdough bakers also have a habit of talking about dough hydration but rarely specify whether or not they are talking about the hydration of the fresh flour only, or hydration taking into account fresh flour and the flour (and water) in the starter! Most commonly they mean hydration of fresh flour only....and that is just not right!!
Back to the Recipe..
(TFW = 1000g = 100%)
900g light sifted or other light wheat (or spelt) flour
200g wholegrain flour starter (contains 100g acidified flour) (note that this is 20% of TFW)
20g salt (2% of TFW - we use a wet salt - if you use dry salt reduce to 1.8% or18g)
500ml water (this is a beginning point only! it is very likely you will need to add around 150ml more water!)
I'll explain more about starters, mixing, proving and baking as the blog continues...
30 August 2011
Thank you for all the nice comments btw.
I basically use two starter methods at Companion Bakery.
The first is the very common single stage method....where a bit of leftover starter from the bake is "fed" with fresh flour and water, and left at room temperature for up to 24 hours (depending on temperature). I very rarely manipulate the water temperature when making this starter.
I also call this method the 'Contimuous Method' (see notes below)
The second method i call the dough ball method. This is a two stage method where a cool, stiff ball of starter is used to inoculate a warmer, wetter mix of flour and water.
The dough ball process evolved partly from experimentation early in 2009, burying stiff doughs in about 1metre of earth, playing with the idea that this might be a good way to get a starter going in a hot climate ( I liked the idea of cutting a 5 day old ball of dough in half and somewhere in that cross-section is the perfect environment for yeast and bacteria to thrive), and partly from a discussion with Kingsley Sullivan.
Those dough ball experiments of a few years back produced some of the most gruesome pieces of dough I have ever seen. Even the balls that were held in containers somehow managed to take on a deep dark smell of red volcanic soil. The uncontained balls, buried without protection, looked unsavoury - but I did manage to rise dough and make bread within a day or two of harvesting the balls (the bread smelt and tasted 'musty' and was not nice to eat).
Thankfully I left those dark experiments in steamy Queensland. I can't even bear to look at the photos any more, but here are some links to pics if you want to be sick:
Note: These photos are of experiments and are not the type of starter ball used at our bakery or in bread recipes on this page! (I'll put some current pics up on this page soon!!)
Kingsley explained that, in his experience, 33.5C was the maximum fermentation temperature, after which activity begins to fall off. He said that at that temperature it was possible to have a starter ready in 2 hours. However Kingsley preferred temps a couple of notches down (I forget the exact temp) that took about 4 hours.
At that time I was shocked and disturbed at the concept of a warm and fast sourdough fermentation. It didn't fit my perception of sourdough as a long process that needed to be long to successfully break down less digestible components in the flour (my view has since changed). Up until then i had only ever made 12 - 20 hour starters.
We moved to the cool climate of Tasmania about 2 years ago, and as soon as we arrived i started working working with cool-fermentation. The dough ball was back, but this time it was held in various vessels in ambient temperatures ranging from 2C - 15C, which is common for the Mount Field area in Winter.
Stiff-cool conditions hold yeast and bacteria in 'stasis' (love that word...hopefully i am not butchering its meaning too much) and generally favour fruity smelling acetic acid production over lactic acid production. In these conditions the starter can be added to dough successfully for at least 24 - 48 hours and leaven / acidify dough in favourable ways...with older starters obviously being well suited to rye bread (3 day old stiff/cool starter is fine in rye).
It was a natural progression to try and 'wake up' the dough ball using one of Kingsley's hot starters. This two-stage method produced a highly active 2nd stage, as provided the chance to combine fruity acids from the dough ball, with warmer (lactic) acids of the 2nd stage.
I would like to note that although there is a lot of talk about the types of conditions that favour acetic and lactic, i don't think that there is extreme clarity when it comes to working with these conditions reliably by small artisan bakers.
We are largely working by feel and intuition...i am the first to admit that sometimes intuition is formed around bogus theory and mis-read observations....but hopefully not too many of those! It is important to continually re-assess process!
Mature stage 2 starter, made from dough ball method. Initial temperature was about 30C, dropped to 15C at ambient room temperature over 10 hour period
Below are some points about each starter method, extracted from notes i provide to students at our Sourdough Workshop:
Single Stage / Continuous Method
Keep a small amount of active starter aside, which can be 'fed' to make a fresh starter by adding more flour and water. 100% hydration (same amount of water is there is flour) is very common, though i think there is a trend in Australia to make stiffer starters, such as 50% hydration (half amount of water as there is flour). 75% hydration is a great median!
The starter can be used and fed daily. However if you do not want to make bread every day you still need to feed (refresh) your starter. If the starter is not refreshed regularly it will become unhealthy and eventually expire.
To avoid creating mountains of starter, you can discard (compost or feed to animals) most of the starter and feed as above. This discard / feed process can continue until you are ready to make bread again.
The advantage of the single stage starter is its simplicity....
you have one vessel containing starter, which is fed and fermented until it is 'ripe' and ready to add to your bread dough. Don't use all the starter...leave some starter in the vessel....mix in more flour and water....wait 8 - 24 hours...and make bread again....leave some starter in vessel...mix in flour and water...etc.etc.
The disadvantage of continuous method is:
your starter is 'ripe' but you are not in the mood to make bread! Oh dear....some of the starter needs to be 'discarded' (hopefully composted)...to make room for a 'feed' of fresh flour and water.
if you do not feed your continuous starter regularly...it will go very acid, fermentation will slow down, mould will appear, and it will become 'sick' and eventually give up.
Starters can be rescued within a week or two of loosing activity...providing they are kept cool. A ripe starter will only stay close to its peak for 1 to 4 hours, depending on temperature. Refrigerating a ripe starter can extend its usability out to 8 hours, even further with stiff starters
Mature stage 2 starter - close up
Dough Ball Method (Two Stage Starter)
This method is characterised by a stiff, cool 'seed' starter (called Stage 1), which is used to a activate a wetter starter (Stage 2).
The starter ball is kept stiff and cool in the fridge or cool closet for days, weeks or months until needed.
The baker removes the ball from the cold and adds it to a warmer, generally more fluid mixture of flour and water. This 2nd mixture is called Stage 2.
Their are many advantages to this method.
The starter ball slows down activity of wild yeasts and bacteria. Amazingly, during day 2 and 3 of storage the ball is often active enough to use 'as is' to make bread dough...it is not essential to make a stage 2. However making a stage 2 adds strength, reliability, flexibility, flavour....and is highly recommended!
Stage 2 can be warm, cool, soft, stiff....as you please. At Companion Bakery we often make a very warm stage 2, at around 28C to 33C. At high temperatures like these, stage 2 can be ready to use in bread dough (ripe) in about 4 hours. (Note: Sourdough starter is likely to suffer reduced performance at temperatures above 33.5C).
One feature of warmer, wet fermentation is the creation of a higher amount of lactic acid, compared to acetic acid. This combines well (in my opinion) with the more fruity acetic acids present in the cool, stiff dough ball.
Stage 2 fermentation can occur at lower temperatures too. For example: from 8 hours at around 24C to 16 hours at around 15C. These temperatures are a guide only! One indicator that your starter is ready 'ripe' is when it has reached peak rise and is about to collapse. Personally I like to see a small, natural collapse (rather than knocking the starter vessel to force a collapse).
Making a dough ball is easy:
you simply use flour to thicken up wet starter (such as stage 2 starter) left over from making bread dough. I always use Organic wholegrain flour to make my starters. Starter balls generally have the consistency of plasticine, but consistency can be varied and experimented with.
A good size dough ball for home use is about the size of a golf ball. Store it in a ceramic or glass cup, or a food grade plastic vessel. The lid can be loose fitting (like a saucer) or tight fitting.
Videos above show the action of our spiral mixer, which has been specially modified to provide continuous speed mixing, using a variable speed drive.
Very slow mixing of dough is possible, for instance it takes 1 full hour with the spiral at slowest speed to mix rye/spelt dough (contains approx 50/50 rye/spelt).
This mixer was specifically selected because it does does not have a breaker bar, but rather a smooth conical pillar, which further reduces mixing intensity. Spirals with breaker bars can be low intensity if slow speeds are possible and plenty of dough resting takes place (rather than non-stop mixing).