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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!

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  1. Mondoman Mondoman
    September 11, 2013    

    (of course that should be Rebekah “Denn”, not “Dunn”!)

  2. Mondoman Mondoman
    September 11, 2013    

    Just found your site via a mention in Rebekah Dunn’s post in the Seattle Times, and it looks great. I’ve already picked up the first 2 of your books in Kindle form (thanks for making them available that way from Amazon!) and I’m looking forward to try some white SF-style sourdough before moving on to try to recreate some family rye bread recipes.

    Regarding this entry: from what little I’ve read, it seems that a “classic” SF sourdough starter contains a yeast strain AND a lactobacillus bacterial strain. Maybe some contain more than one of each??
    Anyway, as a former biologist, I wonder if you’ve ever tried to separate out the different strains from a starter culture, maybe even using classic biology techniques like streaking on growth medium in petri dishes? Just a thought…

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