Category Archives for "Sourdough Baking"

One Night Sponge San Francisco # 4

Building on yesterday’s post, I made up a sponge last night and this morning I added the rest of the ingredients to make a nice dough. The first bulk ferment took only 3.5 hours. I pushed down the dough and let it raise another 1.5 hours. Then I took half the dough and put it in the refrigerator for 1/2 an hour to slow it down so all of the loaves wouldn’t be ready at the same time to be baked. The other half I shaped into loaves. I am using my nice Marine canvas couche. Gary won one of the other couches in the contest on the forum, I’ll have to see how he likes it once he starts baking up bread again this Fall. Here is the dough 3.5 hours after mixing:

dough ready

I divided the dough into four pieces at 1 lb 4 oz each. This dough is a lower hydration dough so it is not as sticky and is easy to work with. I do prefer the higher hydration dough, I have just gone in the direction of lower hydration dough to work on San Francisco Style loaves. Here are the loaves in their couche, the two on the right were shaped first and the two on the left were refrigerated for a short time to slow them down:

loaves in the couche

I slashed the dough with Bill’s handcrafted lame:


four loaves done

The loaves came out really nice. Because of the shortness of the fermentation, the crust didn’t have the blisters. The first two loaves were slightly underproofed and were a bit denser and didn’t show as pronounced a grigne as the second two. Lower hydration dough is a different beast and I am still getting used to the proofing of it.Here is the crumb which needs to be more open. Try try again!


The flavor of this starter is quite good. I am working on another batch, which will end up being a two day dough. It should be interesting.

San Francisco Starters comparison experiment

I have four different San Francisco Starters. I have finished an experiment designed to show me why they act differently when I use them for baking. SF # 1 was always a dud, bread baked using it was poor. SF # 2 has been a good starter. It has taken a bit longer to ferment, but with long soured dough that is acceptable when the flavor is good.SF # 3 has been a good starter from the start and so has SF # 4. They are both quick to respond and vigorous. The last time I experimented with the potentials of my Alaska starters, I found that one had a proofing time of 21 hours!!! The other peaked at only 3.5 hours and always peaks at that time consistantly. So I just wanted to see the potential for the four SF starters. Here is what I found:

Here are the starters at zero hour:

zero hour

The starters did not move until the third hour so there was no reason to take pics:

hour 3

At four hours:

Notice SF # 1,2 aren’t budging yet.

hour 4

Here they area at hour 5:

hour 5

Here they are at hour 6 which it the time many expect a dough to be finished bulk fermenting.Of course a dough would be at a lower hydration and the rise time would be different. Starter # 4 peaked at 6.5 hours and stayed there for awhile.

hour 6

Here they are at hour 7:

hour 7

Here they are at 8 hours. SF # 3 peaked at 8 hours and fell to the six hour position. It stayed there for a while.

hour 8

 At nine hours SF # 4 had made a recovery and was on its way up again.So was SF # 3 it was sitting between the 6 and 7 hour mark.

hour 9

A peek at SF #1 & 2 inside:

1 & 2 inside

Inside peek at SF # 3 & 4:

3 & 4 inside peek

In this picture you can see that SF# 1 is continuing to rise, SF # 2 peaked at 10 hours and 3 & 4 are still slowly rising more.

hour 10

Here they are at 11 hours:

hour 11

Here is the last picture at 12 hours.

hour 12

Within the next hour Sf # 1 peaked and fell.SF # 2 is on the rise from its fall. SF # 3 looks the most bubbly and is still on the rise. SF # 4 is about the same or falling a bit.

So thats it. My conclusions are that SF # 1 isn’t worth the effort at taking 11 hours to barely double and over 12 hours to peak. There are limits to how long bread should take! SF # 2 doubled at about 8.5 hours and peaked at 10 hours. That is still acceptable to me as long as I know I need a starter with oomph after a long ferment when I would bulk ferment maybe 6 hours and have a long retardation of the dough to develop flavor. I would keep in mind the length needed though as not all recipes or doughs would like such a long time to proof. Ryes and Wheats might get too sour.

SF # 3 & 4 had a similar rise with # 4 being the fastest with the early ferment and # 3 sustaining a longer proof. These two seem the ones to work with as they can do a bulk ferment and sustain for a long proof and have plenty of oomph left to do the job.

I have made some great bread with SF Starters 2,3 & 4. Now that I know what their strengths and weaknesses are, I can better plan which starter to use with what recipe. for instance, I would use # 4 to make a one nigh sour because it is fast in the early stages. I would also use it for a one day bread. I would use # 2 for a long Two Night Super Sour or other breads that would like a slow fermentation and long sustain. SF #3 can be used for medium and longer fermentation but not too well for the one day doughs. Experiment with your starter and see what it can do, you will make better bread!

Whole Wheat Potato Sourdough

I now have four SF starters. So far, this last starter has been very vigorous.  I made up some Whole Wheat Potato Sourdough with it and it came out great. The only problem I have with it, is holding it back. The starter is very full of bubbles and very vigorous. The bulk proofing doesn’t seem to be a problem but after shaping and during the second proof, it is a very fast riser. I am wondering if this dough would freeze successfully and then thaw and bounce back well for frozen doughs. It might be worth a try. Here is the dough at five hours bulk ferment with the salt already added:

bulk ferment

Here is the dough already to go right out of the refrigerator in the morning at 6:00 am:


All three loaves were this way. I put this one back into the refrigerator and turned on the oven, when the oven was halfway heated and needed another half hour, I took out this loaf again and let it warm up for only 1/2 hour.

Here it is baked:

first loaf

Here is the second loaf:

second loaf

Third loaf:

Third  Potato Wheat loaf

All three loaves

side view

Here it the crumb from the loaf slashed down the middle:


Those are the  Potato Wheat Loaves.

San Francisco # 3 again!

I tried doing up a basic white batch of sourdough bread with San Francisco # 3 again. I wanted to try the recipe at a higher hydration. So I made sure the dough was softer and higher hydration than the last time.The dough responded well with a six hour bulk ferment. The shaping went fine. I took the dough out of the refrigerator this morning and it was very proofed already. I have misgivings when it is ready right out of the refrigerator because I know from past experience that it is hard to get the dough to proof right when this happens. The proofing was okay for the first loaf, perfect for the second loaf and overproofed for the third loaf, which sagged and is a sorry sight. I am thinking that this starter may like less starter in the mixing and a lower hydration to be an optimum dough. So I will adjust next time to see if I can achieve a nicer loaf with those changes. The flavor is wonderful and the oven spring is okay, but the wetter dough just wasn’t right and proofed too fast and “felt” wrong for this bread. I am also having problems with my Fibrament stone being too hot still. I have moved it up in the oven, and now I have lined the bottom with aluminum foil. This means I have to heat the oven a lot longer so the stone is hot enough through the foil bottom. Once I do get it hot enough, usually by the second loaf, I seem to get a better oven spring. I will admit that the firebrick I had seemed to be a better stone for bread baking, but I needed a larger stone to fit my bread on. It may be that the size of the stone is such that the heat is directly hitting the bottom too much and not circulating enough. An oven fan would be nice especially a small one while the oven was heating. Anyway, here is the bread I baked today:

SF # 3


two loaves

Ahh… if you must see the well overproofed one:

overproofed loaf

I shall try try again…I am after that perfect loaf!

First Trial with San Francisco starter # 3

I am experimenting with San Francisco starter # 3 today. The starter is only four days old and the bacteria responsible for producing the flavor are not yet mature, however the yeast is doing well, so I started a preferment last night. In the morning the starter looked like this:

San Francisco # 3

It also smelled terrific, nice and pungent and sour, not the dirty sock syndrome!

I put it back into the mixer and did up the One Night Sponge Sour Recipe. Only I used the preferment instead of the motherdough called for in the recipe. The dough did a bulk ferment in five hours and started crawling out of the bowl! I pushed it down and waited another two hours. Then I shaped loaves.The three larger loaves were all 1 lb 12 oz the smaller loaf was 1 lb 2 oz. The loaves were proofing too quickly so I put half of the loaves in the refrigerator and took them out when I had the other two loaves in the oven baking. I miscalled the proofing though. The first two loaves were underproofed. It is funny but sometimes the whitish cast to the baked bread that you can get with overproofed dough also happens with underproofed dough. Here is the proof:

first two loaves

The second two loaves were proofed just right and came out great.

 second two loaves

The loaves are really tasty so far while still warm and I bet the sour will be more pronounced when completely cooled. Here you can see all four loaves. Guess which ones were underproofed?

All four loaves

 I know Nancy Silverton in her book on the Breads of La Brea Bakery talked about perfectly proofed loaves blooming in color and smell etc. If you can catch them at the right moment…there is nothing quite like a sourdough proofed to perfection. Just keep trying. This was a promising firs bake with this starter, I will have another go at it soon.

SF number 3 crumb

YUM,YUM! More Sourdough Biscuits!

I made up some new sourdough biscuits in response to a customer who wanted to bake up some sourdough biscuits. I have the one recipe posted on my sourdough site but some people have trouble following the directions….so…here is another one! This is an easy one and the biscuits come out fluffy and light.

The night before you are planning to bake biscuits for breakfast, add together in a large bowl :

1 cup sourdough starter

2 cups milk (1/2 & 1/2 is best)

1/4 cup melted butter(don’t pour in while still hot) or oil

2 cups all purpose flour

Stir well and cover lightly, leave overnight at room temperature.

Next morning add together in another bowl :

2 cups all purpose flour

1 Tablespoon sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1 Tablespoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

Stir all of the dry ingredients and add the dry ingredients all at once to the large bowl of starter mixture. Mix together and pour out onto a well floured surface. Knead enough times to make the dough workable and keep the dough ball covered in flour on the outside but don’t knead in so much flour because you want the dough to be still sticky in the middle. Gather up the dough making sure there is enough flour on the top and bottom and roll out 1/2 inch thick dough. Using a 3″ biscuit cutter cut out the biscuits and flatten them slightly when you place them on a greased baking sheet. This makes about 18 large biscuits. Let your pan sit for about 1/2 hour – 1 hour and then pop into a 400F oven (you can pop them in right away if you don’t want to wait ) and bake for 18 minutes, turning the pan halfway. Your biscuits should look like this:


more biscuits

biscuits with butter

If you want your biscuits to sit up higher, knead in a little more flour so they are a little stiffer, and don’t flatten slightly when placed in the pan. What flattening them does is to help them be less dense and more feathery soft inside. You can brush melted butter over the tops if you like and serve hot! 

Experimenting with two Alaskan Starters

I have two Alaskan starters, one is the one I sell and it is a very fast starter taking only about 3 – 3.5 hours to double. The second one is 106 years old and is a different story. I will tell you about it. I wasn’t having the same success with the 106 year old starter as with the first starter so I decided to do an experiment to see why. I made up a batter with 4 oz flour, 4 oz water and 3 oz starter(the starer was at 166% hydration). That came to approximately 114% hydration for the batter(which is a way of saying how thick the batter is). I carefully measured out both starter batters into quart jars and labeled their starting time with a line and their name. Here are the starters at the beginning of the experiment:


Two starters

Alaska # 1 doubled by 3.5 hours and went to 4.5 hours before it finally collapsed back to the third hour mark.


As you have already noticed by now, Alaska starter # 2 did not budge at all ! Shocking! I decided to see if what it liked was a lower hydration. I added approx 2 Tablespoons of flour to the existing batter which was at 114% hydration. That brought it to approx. 109% hydration. What happened is truly amazing. After eight hours it finally looked like this:

Alaska 2

Unbelievably, this morning it was still going strong at 18 hours later:

Alaska 2

It has even grown another 1/4 inch up the jar since I took the picture an hour ago. Which means it is now growing faster. This raises some interesting observations.

It may have seemed as if  Alaska # 2 was a dead starter, but I knew it wasn’t. Doing an experiment like this can let you know what is going on and the potential of the starter. When I tried to make waffle batter with this starter it made a heavier waffle, now I know why. Some of the things I CAN do with this starter is to make biscuits the night before and have them nicely risen the next morning, and I am going to try that! You can have a long fermented bread dough and it should last a very long time. As a matter of fact , if you tried to follow a regular timed recipe with this starter , it wouldn’t do very well. This starter obviously likes a lower hydration dough and not a batter.

Another point I would like to make is that I have had these two starters for some time and they are without a doubt two different starters. They did not become the same starter by feeding with the same flour, as some people believe. That is a fallacy that some people who have not actually experimented with starters believe. I have many different starters and even over a long period of time, as long as I have not cross contaminated them by using the same mixing spoon,etc, they still have their own unique characteristics. I think that there can be organisms in the flour already that can help you get a starter going, however, a batter that is actually innoculated with a particular starter, should have the introduced starter take over and keep out any competition. That would be because the amount of the organisms in the innoculation starter would overwhelm any in the flour. A similar comparison would be a yogurt bacteria. If you innoculate a container of milk with a yogurt bacteria, you would then have that yogurt from then on, and not whatever organism that might have taken over which was already in the milk. If a starter is kept healthy by regular feeding and care, it should be strong enought to keep out any competition. It is when the container gets dirty, the starter is not fed, and the acidity of the starter is compromised that another organisim can take over. Also care is needed in culturing a new starter or rehydrating a new starer until the starter is strong and bubbly, another organism can take over. I know this is a controversial subject in the sourdough world, so any feedback or experience you have will be appreciated.

Thanks to Gary Taylor for help with hydration!

Western Wheat Sourdough Bread

Over the Labor Day weekend I experimented on the Western Wheat Sourdough Bread. I had worked with it before but wanted to fine tune it. The crumb and flavor was excellent on the last batch I made so I thought I would try something interesting with the fermentation. I thought that maybe changing the recipe a little to force the dough to take longer to bulk ferment and to proof would be interesting. If you could get a dough to be slow on purpose, that would give more time for flavor developement before it overfermented.You need a good vigorous starter that will last through a long fermentation, I used NW starter. I added a few ingredients to the dough that are known to inhibit the wild yeast somewhat (cornmeal and malt syrup, wheat germ can also do this). I also added the salt earlier in the recipe because that too helps slow down the yeast. Well I got what I wanted and it really came out super! The bulk fermentation was so slow that it wasn’t even done when I put it to bed in the refrigerator for the evening. Next morning I took out the dough which wasn’t shaped yet and let it warm up a couple of hours.


 Then I shaped the loaves and it took six more hours for it to proof. The first two loaves came out great but I didn’t get pictures of loaf number two because it was given away to a friend who showed up. Here is a picture of the first loaf:

First loaf


The last two loaves were a bit overproofed:

Two loaves

This was a very interesting experiment. The flavor was so very good, the aroma filled the room. Toasting the bread is terrific. I would have to say that prolonging the fermentation instead of hurrying it is the way to go. After all if I wanted bread in a hurry, I would sacrifice flavor, and just add commercial yeast. Since I don’t like to sacrifice flavor for time, I am willing for the dough to take as long as it needs to give me a great loaf of bread!

Dry flour and recipe hydration…

I am working with the now very nice bubbly, sour, San Francisco Starter:

San Francisco Sourdough Starter

I am making the Two Night Super Sour recipe which is part of the Special Recipes collection on my web site. This is a nice recipe which builds up the dough in stages to have a long fermentation, oomph, and super sour flavor.

It was several months since I made up this recipe and the Washington coast where I live, has gotten very dry, as we have had very little rain for a while. I believe my flour is much drier than when I last made up the recipe and it has affected hydration of the dough. In the first two stages the dough is like a batter which gets thicker at each stage, but by stage two when you were supposed to stir in more flour with a wooden spoon, I could not use a spoon but had to just about knead the flour into the sponge batter.

Stage one sponge batter:

sponge batter

Stage two with more flour added:

Stage two

This is the dough after being in the mixer for the final stage of adding ingredients:

final stage

 I just wanted to bring this up to show a possible problem with following a recipe literally and not by feel also. I knew the dough was already too thick for what the recipe expected, however, I wanted to follow the recipe to the letter to experiment with the flour being possibly drier and affecting the hydration of the dough. I will state however, that the dough is a lower (drier) dough than what is expected, but it is still within range of being a great dough. What I mean is that it wasn’t so dense and dry with dry lumps that I needed to give in and add extra water. In some lower hydration doughs, I expect that would happen and you just could not follow the recipe but would have to add extra water or you would have dense, bricks for loaves. This is where experience and common sense kick in and you just decide to wing it. With sourdough there is that factor of winging it that will make you a better baker. You cannot always go by the letter of the recipe for sourdoughs. Many times you go by feel. When a recipe comes out wrong the first time you do it and you know everyone else is able to bake up a good loaf using the same recipe, evalutate what you need to change to get the loaves they are getting. It may be warmer in your kitchen, your starter might not be as vigorous one time as another, you may have bought a new brand of flour. If its raining out, it will be more humid and that will affect the rise time. So one thing I would recommend is to keep a journal of your bread baking. I do. I have a tablet that I write down everything I find interesting or helpful. I write down proofing times, weights of common ingredients, changes to a recipe, etc. I can’t tell you how often it has helped me figure out what I needed to change to optimize a certain recipe or what I may have done wrong when a batch flopped.

Here is the dough after the bulk fermentation, ready to be shaped into loaves:

dough ball

Here are the three loaves which weighed approximately 1lb 11 oz each:

final loaves

In the morning the loaves were already well risen in the refrigerator. After I had the first loaf out and warming up for half an hour, I turned on the oven to preheat.

The loaves were taken out at intervals to stagger them for baking. I made up the cornstarch glaze for the loaves because last time when I was experimenting, I liked how the final results looked with the cornstarch glaze.

 Well despite the problems I was having with the hydration being off, some of the nicest looking loaves I’ve ever baked, came out of my oven this morning. The loaves feel light and airy, they have a crackly crisp crust, and the grigne (slashes) came out really nice! These would be considered San Francisco Sourdough Loaves made with the San Francisco starter. I have this recipe included with the starter when the starter is purchased, it is also available in the Special Recipes collection.

Here are the loaves:

San Francisco Sourdough

Two of the loaves

side view of the crust


Delicious bread, and looks wonderful too!

San Francisco Sourdough Starter

I worked with San Francisco # 2 again, and it just keeps getting better. I know that the longer proofs will make a better sour, but I thought I would work on an easy one night dough build and have a great tasting sourdough with a mild tang. Using the basic white recipe will give you a pretty good sour with this starter. I made up a sponge the night before and in the morning I added to the dough. The bread was ready to shape after only five hours.

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