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:
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:
Unbelievably, this morning it was still going strong at 18 hours later:
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!
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:
The last two loaves were a bit overproofed:
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!
I am working with the now very nice bubbly, sour, San Francisco 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:
Stage two with more flour added:
This is the dough after being in the mixer for the final stage of adding ingredients:
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:
Here are the three loaves which weighed approximately 1lb 11 oz each:
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:
Delicious bread, and looks wonderful too!
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.
I have company, so needed some fresh bread. I decided to mix some up yesterday so I could have fresh sourdough today. Things did not go the way I had planned. I forgot that I had to run a child to a dental appointment and husband had a job interview and we were going to shop… too late…I had already mixed up the bread! I went ahead with the bulk fermentation (first rise) then I shaped the loaves and just put them into the freezer.
Today I baked up some sourdough basic white using my San Francisco starter # 2. It has improved immensely since I first tried it. It now has a nice tang and robust flavor and….it behaved wonderfully! The dough bulk fermented on schedule… and proofed a bit on the long side, like I would expect a SF starter to do. I am very happy with the results. However, I wanted to experiment with glazes and I found out that they may affect not only the crust but the bread shape as well.
Here is a picture of the San Francisco starter bubbling away:
Here is the dough after bulk fermentation, I tried to catch it just before it was completely proofed:
Here is the dough poured out:
Here is the dough cut into three pieces which weighed just shy of two pounds each:
Shaped and put to rest in the bannetons:
I let them sit out for 30 minutes and then put into the refrigerator overnight.
Next morning at 6:00 am I took the first one out and then staggered the other two.
Proofed and slashed:
I did a different glaze on two loaves and left one of the loaves plain. The loaf on the left was an egg glaze: One egg beaten with 1 Tablespoon of water. The one in the middle was left plain. The one on the right was a cornstarch glaze: 1 teaspoon of cornstarch mixed into 1/2 cup cold water in a small pan and then simmered until thickened.
It hard for you to see in the picture, but both breads that were glazed spread apart more than the plain loaf. The plain loaf had a greater oven spring. The egg glazed loaf spread more than the other two. The cornstarch glaze gave a nice finish and color to the crust.
I glazed the loaf with the egg glaze after it was about halfway finished and then again before it was finished. I glazed the cornstarch glazed loaf before it went into the oven and again halfway through. I think that perhaps the glaze kept the crust moist longer than the plain loaf and allowed the loaf to spread more. The crust with no glaze was able to form a crust that was stiffer and helped it to spring more. These are only speculations. If you have any experience in glazes and have noticed an effect on the crust or dough, I would like to hear it. It never occured to me that a glaze might cause spreading of a loaf. I think maybe glazing at the end of baking would take care of this phenomena.
Here is the crumb of the unglazed loaf:
This is a really good tasting starter at this point. I think it has much promise.
I am sure there will be more San Francisco starter experiments to come…
Today I am working on a soft sourdough bread recipe. I have condensed milk in the dough plus more oil. I wanted a soft, part wheat bread for making sandwiches. I am also going to give a demonstration on slashing. The amount of dough made up three loaves at about 2lbs 5 oz each (they were the same weight within tenths of an oz) and I shaped them into batards. I proofed them in the marine canvas couche I have which I love, it is so terrific! The dough feels soft to work with, and has taken longer to bulk ferment and to proof. Here is the dough after warming up, after being taken from the refrigerator this morning:
Here are the loaves going into their couche bed:
Now I want to share with you what I have learned about basic slashing. Here is a picture showing the different common kinds of slashing and thedirection the dough will spread.
I thought I would go ahead and show you how the slashing affects the baked loaves with today’s bake.
This is the first loaf, I slashed it diagonally:
The loaf got a great oven spring but was smaller than the other loaves because I was pushing to get it into the oven before the other loaves were overproofed. It was underproofed. However you can see how the slashes affect the bread.
When you use a cloche, you have to realize that unless you have an oven big enough to bake three or four loaves at once, you will have to put in the first loaf slightly underproofed in the hopes that the last loaf in won’t be too overproofed.
Here is the second loaf, it was slashed somewhat vertically:
This loaf was proofed just right and the slashes are mostly vertical which make it look more professional. Think vertical, not only do the slashes spread just right, it looks great too.
Here is the third loaf, this loaf had one long vertical cut:
The long vertical slash very often gives a very nice looking loaf and open crumb. Be careful not to slash to deeply though or it will fall apart.
This bread smelled so good while baking in the oven! I had to turn the oven down 25 degrees because of the milk in the bread.
This recipe is called Western Wheat Sourdough. It will eventually find it’s way into the Special Recipes folder. The Special Recipes folder is a collection of my recipes which are available for sale on my website at ~( http://www.northwestsourdough.com/specialrecipes.html ). Many of them have been the subjects of this blog. The recipes are ready for printout and the folder is added to when I develop new recipes. Thankyou to all of you who subscribe to this folder. I hope you are enjoying baking as much as I do!
I tried the San Francisco starter number one again, it was the one that tasted great last time but just didn’t have the oomph left after proofing too long (my fault). I waited a couple more days, feeding regularly and fed in the morning before starting the preferment in the evening.Then I proceeded with the Two Night Super Sour recipe. That entails a preferment one evening, and then building up the dough in stages the next day, shaping, putting in the fridge overnight, and then warming up and baking on the third day. The starter performed wonderfully this time with terrific proofing and no slacking. The dough felt silky soft and springy. I am really happy with how it turned out this time. Here is the first loaf:
Oops! A little underproofed! It is hard to slash in this pattern and not have it crack, I am working on it though. Any hints on slashing this pattern are welcome. I don’t slash too deep but just a surface slash because when I slashed deeper the loaf would separate and spread along the slashes. I may be slashing too far across the loaf. Hmmm….
Here is the crumb:
Here is the next loaf:
Here is the third loaf:
Here are the two together, the first one was almost completely devoured when I was taking pictures of these two:
Here is the crumb from loaf two:
Nice soft crumb and tangy taste, a great bake!
I’ve been experimenting with two new starters that were sent to me. Both San Francisco starters. The first starter has a stronger aroma and I tried baking with it first, but I had to leave when it needed to be baked, so I put it back into the fridge and waited until the next day and it was too far gone, no oomph left. It also did not raise too well, so I will feed the starter and wait a bit longer to see if it will come up to snuff. I did bake the bread anyway and even though the flatness and color were disappointing, the flavor was really wow! So since it was my fault that it flopped, I will give it another try.
The second starter I baked with today, this is also a new (to me) starter and I may have to let it ferment a bit longer to develop the flavor. Once sourdough starters are dried, they need a bit of time to recover the bacteria that is responsible for the flavor, the yeast recovers more quickly, which is why you can bake a nice looking loaf, and wonder where the “tang” is. That is what happened to today’s bake. I will show you the steps I went through to produce this San Francisco Bread. I started with a preferment early in the morning. After six hours it looked like this:
I then added the rest of the ingredients, mixed, autolysed, and then processed the dough for three more minutes. I then poured the dough into an upside down cake saver tupperware:
Then the dough bulk fermented for four more hours and looked like this:
I shaped the loaves into boules, they were about 1 lb 13 oz each:
Then into the proofing baskets:
After 2.5 hours, ready to bake:
Turn out the dough and….slash:
(That’s one of Bill’s handcrafted lames, beautiful isn’t it?).
Then first loaf:
I glazed all of the loaves with melted butter. Here are all three:
A finer crumb with lower hydration:
I am going to try these two starters again with the Two night Super Sour Recipe and see how they come out! Keep tuned….
After working on sourdough experiments for a while, I have decided to go back to basics and do up a batch of Basic White Sourdough. This is the sourdough recipe that is on the website at: http://www.northwestsourdough.com/recipes.html I made up a batch in the afternoon and let it preferment for about six hours. I then shaped the loaves and put the dough into the proofing bannetons:
I made two larger loaves at 2+ lbs and 1 smaller loaf at 1.5 lbs. I then let the bannetons sit out for one hour because the dough was slow proofing this time, maybe because it has been around 60 degrees here. Then they were put into the refrigerator for their sleep overnight. I took out the loaves staggered one at a time next morning. It took about 2.5 hours to warm up and proof. I have been having problems with my new stone being too hot so I moved up the stone a bit and turned down the oven a little. The bread came out really well and has a nice sour tang. The crumb is wonderfully soft yet springy.
As you can see the color is wonderful!
Here is the crumb:
As you can see by the pictures which I took outside, I still have an overclouded sky. The picures look a bit greyed out on an overcast day. However, the bread is terrific!
So when you get tired of experimenting and you just want to see some great sourdough…do up the basic…you can’t go wrong!