First 2 attempts at sourdough bread

Hugo's picture

Hi! I’m new here and new to sourdough bread baking. I live in Bromont, Quebec, Canada. We have a very good local bakery and the baker (from Rouen, France) offereed me some advices at bread baking. He also offered me a sourdough starter but I’ve decided to try it myself first.

So I started baking bread again 2 months ago after I’ve decided that no bread at the supermarket was worth its price. I’ve tried baking bread a few years ago but gave up. At the time I was using a very complicated technique I’d found on the Web and it was just not satistactory. So I started again with the basics and developed my own technique/routine) for "commercial yeast" bread. After 2 months of continuous successes I felt ready the the next step, sourdough.

I feel blessed that my sourdough culture worked pretty well at the first attempts. I use a whole grain flour from "La Milanaise". This flour is very heavy and maybe not the best choice for classical, yeast-only bread (it won’t rise much) but as a fuel for sourdough, it was like rocket fuel. I’m proud to say my sourdough culture is super active, works fast, and has a delicate "green apple" smell. I whip it twice a day and feed it every morning. I’ve split it into the "storage" half (in the fridge) and the "active" half (in the pantry). This is winter here and the house is heated at 22C. I’ve also started collecting dried scraps of culture to have a "dried" backup in a ziploc bag in the fridge.

My first attempt at a sourdough bread (started yesterday) ended up in failure. I followed advice calling for a 8-hour proofing of the sponge, but it was already super active after 2 hours, and only added on bitterness for the remaining time. Then I made a mix of 4 different flours, like I would do for regular bread (sifted whole wheat, spelt, kamut) and with the sponge and water, I made a thick, heavy, non-elastic, grainy ball of dough. Stretching didn’t help. After 10 hours it didn’t rise much. I decided to cook it anyway but forgot to slit the dough. Had to do it inside the oven after 5 minutes of cooking -- burned my face due to the "steam rush" opening the oven door. The bread did rise a bit during cooking, but then I overcooked it. Tasted it anyway -- it was SUPER SOUR. Want-to-scrape-your tongue-with-sandpaper sour, 2-hours-long-aftertaste sour. I mean, even pumpernickel has a milder taste.

So I gave it a second try, this time reducing proofing times and relying on observation rather than fixed times. I also used a different flour, "all-purpose wheat flour" from La Milanaise. It’s a bit overexpensive so I’ll look for substitutes. I stretched and worked the dough for a long time. The dough raised quickly and gracefully in the bowl. The cooking went very fine, with a surprising rebound at mid-time (at 20 minutes, total 40 minutes).

I haven’t tasted the bread yet, it’s still cooling down. But I have a question. Is it possible that my sourdough culture has overactive lactobacteria and builds bitterness quite quickly? Even though I work at 22C all the time, it seems that bitterness takes over. Here’s a pic of the final bread:

Sourdough bread, second attempt

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Hugo's picture
Hugo 2013 March 7

Tasted the bread (the one in the picture) yesterday night. The taste is moderately bitter with a complex aroma and even some sweetness. The kids liked it. Texture is still a bit dense (no large alveoles) because the dough collapsed a bit when I scraped it out of its glass bowl, so I’ll try the colander technique next time.

ps: I always bake my bread on a "bed" of corn semolina. I makes it easier to push the bread from the wooden board to the pizza stone in the oven.

Electricboots 2013 March 7

Hi Hugo,

I am wondering if your starter has not been going long enough to have a stable culture and there are some feral bugs still in there giving the bitter taste. How many times did you halve and feed to get to this stage? Sometimes starters seem to be jet propelled in the early stages because of these feral guys that are not the right species. The right species tend to be slower working and follow Sourdom's timetable better.

Why not just do one or 2 trial loaves with the offered starter from your friend to see if that gives a better flavour- it should be a really stable population if he is using it everyday. I have had quite a few starters over the years and it is only the current wholemeal rye one that has survived the compost bin and keeps powering on. It was started with some crust from a true artisan loaf and after it settled down it has been excellent. My previous starters have been captured from the wild and have always developed some very "off" characteristics on the road to the compost bin.

Let us know your starter's name!

Good Luck



Hugo's picture
Hugo 2013 March 7

Thanks for the suggestions Electricboots. Finally the second loaf had a pleasant taste. I think I might have sliced it too early (it was still fairly hot). I’ve brought a slice to my friend’s bakery and he told me he was impressed by the result, considering that fact that my culture is only 10 days old (it’s been fed daily, and I’ve aggressively halved and re-filled the fuel a few times). I’ve also checked with another friend who’s a sourdough baker, but for gluten-free bread (mostly buckwheat and brown rice flour) and she said she really likes the result, and wants me to transfer the culture to a buckwheat base so she gives it a try at her home.

Tonight I’ve halved the culture to 1 cup, and then fed it a cup of flour and a cup of bottled water; the water and the room are at 22°C. The result was quite surprising; just an hour later it’s almost overflowing the jar. It gives off a pleasant and subtle green appel/fenugreek smell. I think I’m starting to like this living thing. I hope I don’t kill it or make it go bad!

I’ll make another attempt friday. I’ll be in Montreal tomorrow and I’ve found a place where they sell banneton baskets.

Electricboots 2013 March 8

Hi Hugo,

Sounds like the starter is settling down at last- it can take a while! It still looks a bit more busy than I would like for myself. Because I live in a hot climate my starter has to live in the fridge between weekly bakes.  I take it out Friday am before work, feed it to make enough for 2 loaves and leave it out until I get home then make the dough that sits in the fridge overnight.  We have fresh bread for Saturday evening. I can't leave dough out during the day unsupervised as it overprooves and goes flat and sticky. Maybe it will be possible to leave it out in the winter.

This is how I transfer to other types of flour- I take 10 g of the amount left in the jar when the amount for the dough has been removed, then feed in a separate jar with equal amounts of the other flour and water. Halve and feed again if not active enough after several hours.  The horrible thing that I and other bakers have found is that household white flour does not contain enough nutrients to keep a white starter going indefinitely and so it goes sloppy and useless- you have to have a proportion of wholemeal to give a balanced diet to the bugs!


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