Okay...I have a DOUGH-LIKE starter...

allaya's picture
allaya
Hi everyone...

I just found this site and I just wanted to introduce myself and tell you about my strange starter.

I'm not really sure what to say about this.  I followed instructions to make a sourdough starter here:  http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/bread/recipe-sourdough.html, and I have more of a solid starter that kind of puffs up.  In order to use it, I'm told to pinch off a bit of it the size of a tangerine (about enough to fill a 1/2 cup measuring cup), mix it with two cups of warm water and two cups of flour, let it sit until it gets nice and bubbly, and then scoop out cups of starter as needed. 

I went about doing it this way, and it seemed to yield some decent results (I'm still a beginner at this, and my first two or three starters got infested!).  However, after looking around for a while at this and other sites, I notice that NOBODY ELSE DOES IT THIS WAY!  Has anybody heard of doing a starter this way?  Did I do something wrong?

Allaya
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TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2008 August 13
Nothing to be concerned about, yours is a stiff/solid starter. There are as many bakers who use stiff starters as there are who use liquid starters. And, some of us on this board do use it (Jacklang does), just that there are no pictures of it.

You're well on the way into the world of great flavourful sourdough breads.

TP

allaya's picture
allaya 2008 August 13
Well that's a relief!  I was beginning to feel like an odd ball.  :)  Is there anything I need to take into consideration when using my solid starter when I'm trying to use a recipe that was clearly made for a liquid one?  Are there advantages/disadvantages of using one over the other?

Also, I've been reading about %hydration, but I'm not sure what percent my starter is at right now.  How can I calculate that?  Thanks everyone!

Allaya
Panevino 2008 August 13
Hi Allaya, divide the water weight by the weight of the flour and multiply by 100.  That will give you the hydration of your dough/starter.

Tony
TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2008 August 13
A stiff starter has more acetic acidity while a liquid starter more lactic acidity. Therefore, a bread made from a stiff starter tend to have more 'flavour' and also keep longer. Mostly, it's a matter of preference. I'm kinda stuck at liquid.

TP
allaya's picture
allaya 2008 August 14
I'm not exactly sure how much water is in my starter.  :(  I guess I should have taken better notes.  When I feed it, I put in about 1/2 cup of flour and just a spit of water...just enough to incorporate all the flour.  Is that right?  I put in 1/2 a cup because I generally take about that much out to bake with.  Right now, that's about every 2-3 days.  Should I assume maybe 10% hydration?  More?  Less? 

Do you think I ought to feed my starter every day?  If there's one thing I've learned from this site is to fee often!  LOL  I dont' know if I should put it in the fridge...I'd probably have to cover it in plastic, since I don't want it to dry out.  I keep it in a glazed clay pot with a lid right now.  Thanks for being patient everybody!  I'll get the hang of this eventually

Allaya
Panevino 2008 August 14
You could start weighing your flour and water from now on.  It probably doesn't matter if your bread is turing out.  Putting it in the fridge is a good idea if you're not baking everyday. 
rob :o) 2008 August 14
 Hi Allaya, Tony is right, the only way you will gain a true representation of your efforts is to start weighing your ingredients.

I'm not sure if you are aware of a 'Bakers Percentage' and 'Seeding Percentage' but i'll break them down and explain them to you to give an idea :)

A bakers percentage is based on the constant known ingredient, being flour at 100%. All other ingredients are set as a percentage of this foundation.

A seeding percentage refers to the amout of active ferment (starter/leaven) to fresh flour. You can then control how you want your leaven to be with the amout of water/hydration you use. The amount of hydration will determine the flavour, acidity/sharpness, extensibility, texture, amoungst other things of your bread. Water temprature is also used to control the fermentation process as is ambient temprature. 

It is important also to get the yeast into a routine by refreshing/feeding it at the same time each day. This will increase the yeast strands stengh and doughs extesibility as well as a lot of other things.


eg:  Flour 100% = 1000g
      Leaven 10% =  100g
      Water  60% =  600g

    *F.D.W 170% = 1700g    *Final Dough Weight

This will give you a fairly stiff leaven with a high protien flour. The protien level and quality will give variables and can be ajusted with experience. 
once your leaven is healthy and your confidence has grown tou can start to get creative by blending flours and or using meals to give different flavours and textures etc. Keep in mind that this will effect your hydration which can be adjusted accordingly :)

With your new and inproved Leaven you can now produce a beautiful loaf of bread full of all natural goodies using only flour salt and water :)
Here's a basic formulation for you to try:

     Flour   100% =  1000g
     Water   69% =    690g
     Leaven  45% =    450g
     Sea Salt  3% =      30g

    F.D.W. 217% =  2170g

Mix together your flour and water by hand in a large bowl until roughly cleared, this will only take a few minutes. Now cover it with a damp tea-towel and leave is sit for 25-30 minutes. This is known as an autolyse, it is used to hydrate and strenghthen gluten protiens. Now add your leaven and mix through, if the dough becomes to hard to work just leave it to relax for a few minutes covering with the damp towel and then go again. Once the dough is almost cleared turn onto the bench top, add the salt and work until fully developed. Salt can inhibit yeast and gluten development thus by delaying increases their strength.

I hope this is of some help to you Allaya :) We all look forward to seeing some result. Remember that all us artisan bakers are band together as one and are here to help you on you journey to making fine bread.

Good on you for have a go, striving for answers and not giving up :)


                                   Cheers Mate!
                                                Rob Booth
                   
                               flour Bakery GC QLD Australia
allaya's picture
allaya 2008 August 14
Wow!  That was like...an amazing amount of information in such a compact post!  Thank you so much.  It's actually quite helpful.  I've always wanted to learn about this, but haven't been able to find books that really explain it well.  So thanks again.

I really think I need to start over with my starter.  Sometimes it gives okay results, but other times it just doesn't do anything.  It takes a few days for it to rise and puff up at room temp, which is why I'm hesitant on keeping it in the fridge.  That's why I'm thinking this solid starter might work a bit differently.  Either that or the yeast floating around here is crap and I need to try different flour.  :)  I'd be sad to do this because the flavor this starter has is fantastic.  It just doesn't really get that active.

Today I tried breaking off a piece today and hydrating it with water and a combo of regular flour and some whole wheat to see if that would punch activity up a bit.  Usually the starter starts foaming with a vengance once i start mixing everything together.  Today, I barely got a fizzle.  Who knows?  Maybe I'll just keep this starter out until it puffs up before I feed it...It seems to get overwhelmed if I feed it too often...loses the sourness.  Back to the drawing board...

Allaya
Panevino 2008 August 14
Whatever you do, don't throw out your starter and start again.  I say this because you mentioned that you've had some good results.  if the flavour is good then you need to build up the yeast population in your culture.  Maybe move to a more liquid starter by taking a 10 gram piece of your stiff culture and adding 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour.  That will give you 110 grams.  See what happens.  Repeat again after 24 hours.  It should rage within a week.  You can then move back over to your stiffer starter if you want.  That's what I used to do when my starter started slipping away from me.  Speaking from personal experience, the nicer I treat my starter, the nicer it treats me.
allaya's picture
allaya 2008 August 15
What a great idea!  Everybody told me you were the answer people.  :)  I will definitely try that.  So should I feed it the flour and water combination every 24 hours, or just for the first two days?  Should I pour off half the starter when I feed, as I've read in the other tutorials, or should I let it ferment for a few days before I do that?

As for my little starter slurry I created yesterday, I didn't have the heart to throw it away.  Before I went to bed, it had seperated,  and barely any activity at all.  But this morning...WOW!  All of a sudden, something kicked in, and it's bubbling away (lots of tiny bubbles, not the large ones I've seen in other pictures).  I'm going to have to dough it up later and see what happens.  Maybe the addition of the wholemeal yesterday gave it the extra kick it needed?  Who knows.  Have a look...sorry for the bad picture...I only have a cell phone camera.

This starter has some superb flavor, that's for sure.  However, like I said, the results were good.  Not as lovely as the loaves and boulles I've seen here though!  I'm going for larger bubbles in the crumb.  Like you said earlier, it's more likely than not a yeast population issue.  On a mission now.  You know, you guys have made me completely fanatical about this.  Thanks for that.  :)

Allaya
allaya's picture
allaya 2008 August 15
I followed the percentage formula for sourdough mentioned earlier in the thread, and I have a very sticky dough.  This is nothing new, because I usually do get a sticky dough.  I also have to say that letting the flour and water sit for ten minutes before adding the leaven makes all the difference with workign with it initially. 

Initially, the dough was okay to work with.  It was sticky, yes, but the gluten was forming quite well and that was keeping it from being pasted to the table.  However, after I shaped it and let it proof, it was so sticky it wouldn't even come out of the floured bowl.  Did I do something wrong?  Do I just need more flour?  I understand that if you keep the dough more hydrated you get a better rise, but at what point is it okay to start or stop adding flour?  Sorry for all the questions...this is so different from any other bread I've worked with.  Here's a picture of how the dough was looking after kneading it for a while.  The gluten development looks pretty good, but I'm sure you can see how sticky it is.



Allaya
Panevino 2008 August 15
Refresh the starter every twenty four hours for a week to be safe.  At 100 % hydration it should be really bubbly, the top will be foamy.  When it's at this state (maybe less than a week, hard to say), then you could change the feeding according to your baking needs.  Once established the starter becomes a little more forgiving (but not too forgiving), but also more demanding.

Tony
TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2008 August 15
on kneading moist dough is where I'd point you to, Allaya. I'm sure it'll help. Clicky. It applies to sourdough or dried yeast-based breadmaking. There are lots of helpful threads on techniques, especially, in the beginners forum.

Best
TP
allaya's picture
allaya 2008 August 22
It's been about a week, and after taking all of your lovely suggestions, I now have a raging starter, part of which I added back in with my other solid starter using a previous suggestion.  It is at about 60% hydration.

I am going to see if I can just keep the more liquidy starter alive (started with a pinch of my old starter and following instructions on the starter tutorial) just for variety.

But here's the question...I have the liquidey starter and the solid one now.  Assuming I want to make something out of the solid starter, say the recipe mentioned above, for instance...I need to hydrate it to the %hydration of the more liquidey starter to begin, right?  Before when I did it, it was pretty unscientific...I'd just break off a piece and add two cups of water and two cups of flour.  In the interest of science though, I am assuming that I will only be adding water this time to hydrate it to an appropriate %.  Please correct me if I'm wrong here.

Now that the starter is in its new solid state, I have to say that it's not smelling as nice and sour as the original mother starter.  I got the mother to acquire this flavor by letting it sit out for two to three days without feeding it, but as far as I've learned, that doesn't make a starter very happy.  The problem is, every time I feed it and take away most of the dough, most of the nice smell (and I'm assuming flavor) goes away with it.  Any suggestions?

Thanks!

Allaya
davo 2008 August 22
Allaya, I'm only recent to this stuff too (a few months and maybe a dozen batches of 3 loaves). So take my advice with a grain of salt.

I wouldn't worry about the starter smelling "as nice and sour" at all times. When you feed it, you dilute it greatly and it smell's like fresh dough with a bit of "fermenty smell", rather fully fermented/ripe starter.

On the smell, I think what we smell is that slight alcohol/beer smell - as you don't actually smell lactic acid (unless I have that wrong). But that doesn't mean there's not acidic sourness in there. If it's gone acetic a tad you will smell a slight vinegary smell, because if I'm right acetic is volatile while lactic is not. (I thought I had major problems when mine went very vinegary, but it's nothing to be worried about if it happens - another story.)

So when you take a bit of starter and make a sourdough/sponge/whatever-you-call-it, it won't smell much initially because it's well diluted. It will ferment up over the next 10-12 hours (for my ratio of starter to fresh dough, hydration and temperatures) though, just fine. Then of course if you're doing the two-stage thing, you mix up the bread dough from that initial sourdough and you are diluting it again. So again it will smell more like fresh dough. The whole bulk ferment and prove is getting sourness/flavour/airiness to be right at the END, not at the start.

Here's another thing I've noticed, on sourness. If I eat some of my sourdough just after it's cooled I don't notice so much sourness. A day later, there's some. Two days after baking I reckon it's more noticeable again. Now I don't believe it's getting more sour, it's just that it seems more noticeable; don't know why!

On hydration, I've got to confess I don't measure what I keep my starter at - it's between batter and dough, slightly more doughy, but I do it "by eye". In any case, I know fairly close what consistency I'll get when I do add that relatively small amount of starter at that approx consistency to a larger quantity of flour/water that IS measured, and even then, I now have enough feel to adjust it for appropriate (for my liking!) softness, stickiness, for my mix of flours. This is no doubt a bit amateur, but that's also my attitude to stir fries. Enough logic/measurement to make sure the overall process is in-control, but a dose of feel/intuition in the fine tuning.

I wonder, if you use a "floured bowl" for proving, whether it's cloth-lined? I had problems with sticking initially but have reduced that by a few things. One I think is making sure the dough is properly kneaded and then stretched and folded through the bulk-ferment. This has given me a more springy and less tacky dough by the end of the process, even if it starts out sticky as fly-paper (I use a good dose of rye in the dough which adds stickiness). Also, I dust the cloth AND lightly dust the shaped boule before putting it in the cloth-lined bowl. I don't use that much dusting flour in total and the loaves are not caked in flour, but they don't stick any more, even though I am increasing the wetness of the dough.
allaya's picture
allaya 2008 August 22
Thanks for the input.  That's exactly it though, my starter smells like beer!  I've been trying to put my finger on it but that's it exactly.  From what I've learned, firm starters have more acetic acid, so thats probably what I've been accustomed to.  Now that I've translated the more liquidey starter to a firm starter again, it might take a little bit before it builds up that acetic acid again. 

I saw a nice tutorial on shaping on another website.  I believe it might have been www.northwestsourdough.com.  The woman in that tutorial used baskets and semolina with no cloth.  I do not have appropriate cloths at the moment nor baskets, so I'm sort of experimenting until I can find something more to my liking.  :)  I've been taking her lead on the semolina, which works quite well and does not incorporate into the dough while proofing. 

I have yet to try the bulk ferment.  I wasn't quite sure when and where to do it, but now I know!  LOL  There was also a nice tutorial showing bulk fermenting on the site I mentioned.  I'm glad to hear that this helps with the stickiness...I'll give it a try.  This round, I was curious about just how active my starter was, so I just let it sit in a bowl.  It proved in less than three hours (in fact, it was on the verge of spilling out of my bowl!).  At the moment, the boulles are sitting and holding their shape quite nicely.  I guess that means I can pop them into their bowls.  :)  I'll post photos as soon as I'm done...this looks like it will be a successful batch.  :)

Allaya
davo 2008 August 22
I don't think there's any magic to the term "bulk ferment". I'm not expert here but as I understand it, it just means the stage of fermenting of the final bread dough in one big lump, after kneading but before you cut it into loaf-sizes, and shape the loaves, after which the further fermenting is "proving". I suppose it's still called "bulk ferment" even if there's only one loaf worth of dough, and still describes that stage prior to the loaf being shaped.

Oh, and when I said it gets less sticky after starting out really sticky, I meant starting out really sticky on mixing but before kneading.

So I didn't mean that I think a few stretch and folds during bulk ferment will take a dough that's gluey at the end of kneading and make it non-sticky at the end of the bulk ferment. I reckon the dough development through kneading seems to make the biggest difference.  But I DO think it (the later stretch and folds during bulk ferment) helps keep it not-so sticky. I reckon you can feel the stretch-and-folds during the bulk ferment putting back a bit of spring and tension into the dough that is otherwise progressively being lost as the dough slightly slackens as it ferments, and I just feel the dough is slightly tighter/springy that way and *maybe* less prone to sticking to stuff. Maybe I'm dreaming this effect, but anyway!

My times are like this - initial sourdough mix (a bit less than 1/3 by weight active starter) is fermented 10-12 hours, then I add more flour/water, again so that the fermented sourdough is a tad less than 1/3 the weight of the newly mixed dough. This second mix is the "bread dough", which I knead and then bulk-ferment about 3-4 hours depending on how warm is the house (longer if cold, shorter if really warm). I do about 4 stretch and folds during that bulk ferment at a bit less than hourly intervals.

Then I scale the semi-fermented bread dough (cut into even weights), rest 10-20 mins, then shape the loaves and and prove them for 3-4 hours (longer/shorter on temp) and bake, or shape and put straight into fridge for anything up to 20 hrs, then re-warm at room temp 2-3 hours and bake.

allaya's picture
allaya 2008 August 22
Okay, I've finished baking my boulles.  Pictures and commentary follows...



Here they are after the first shaping.  They held their shape pretty well after the second time.



Fresh out of the oven!  Not as dome-like as I'd like, but it's not flat, so that's good.




Cross section of the crumb...

Observations:

I decided to use the more liquidey starter for this batch since it was bubbling away, and I'd just fed the solid starter and needed to let that sit for 24 hours before using it.  The starter was pretty raging...It doubled in bulk in about two hours!  I think I let the boulles proof long enough, about 1 hour.  I still had a problem with the boulles spreading out.  Maybe, as the previous poster noted, I should try doing the bulk ferment, stretching all the while.  This might strengthen the gluten to hold the shape a little better.

The crumb is surprisingly fine.  From the looks at how the starter was bubbling away, I was fully expecting a mix of large and medium sized holes.  Not sure why it worked like this.  Don't get me wrong, the texture is quite lovely...it has a light, soft, silky...almost buttery texture.  The flavor though is only slightly sour with a slightly bitter aftertaste. 
davo 2008 August 22
Crumb looks great to me. Try leaving some of it a day or two and then see if you notice any change in sourness. I find it also firms up to that slightly rubbery/elastic texture (which I like) and goes a bit "glisteny" in the crumb cells when it's sat for a day or so. Personally I like it best 2 days after baking. I find it a bit too, I don't know - fluffy (?) on the day of baking, even if fully cooled. But many people preferit like that...
Panevino 2008 August 22
Speaking from personal experience, it's better and easier to keep one starter active.  Pick the  preferred hydration of your storage culture and stick to it.  My current favorite is about 77% - 100gr water to 130gr flour.  I keep this ration throughout the build but I then hydrate the final dough to whatever I want.  So if I'm going for a high water dough, I add the water at the dough stage and never earlier.  This way I always know where I'm at.  It simplifies everything, and simple is good.  I don't think that your culture should smell nice and sour.  Keep it sweet and develop the sour taste that you like in your build up.  An hour or two in either direction can make a big difference in your outcome.  Like davo says, the sour will emerge in the bread.  If it's too sour at the beginning of the process you might get in trouble.  Letting your culture sit two or three days on the counter will throw off the balance required between the yeast and bacteria in your culture.  Like I said, keep it smelling semi-edible.

BTW your bread looks mighty fine.  It's takes time to get the exact outcome that you're going for, but as long as you like the bread along the way, then great.  To get the exact outcome each and everytime takes longer still.  Looks like you're on your way.  Good luck.

allaya's picture
allaya 2008 August 23
Thanks everyone for all your help.  It's definitely a work in progress, and I feel like I've accomplished a lot in a short time.  It's very gratifying to be able to make bread from nothing by flour, water, and salt!  :) 

As far as leaving the loaves sit for a couple of days...I don't think that is possible...I peeked in the kitchen this morning, and one loaf was already devoured!  LOL  I'll see if the second loaf survives till tomorrow.  ;)  I like the idea of hydrating prior to mixing though...I'll see how it works out.  I'll be posting trial two shortly in another thread.  Thanks again for your help!

Allaya
TeckPoh's picture
TeckPoh 2008 August 25

Your crumb looks good! Keep baking...there's lots of breads to enjoy. Like FB said to drpete, join the bake-offs and play.

TP

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