Search the FAQ Archives

3 - A - B - C - D - E - F - G - H - I - J - K - L - M
N - O - P - Q - R - S - T - U - V - W - X - Y - Z
faqs.org - Internet FAQ Archives

rec.food.sourdough FAQ Questions and Answers

( Single Page )
[ Usenet FAQs | Web FAQs | Documents | RFC Index | Business Photos and Profiles ]

See reader questions & answers on this topic! - Help others by sharing your knowledge
Subject: 1. Introduction and Where are the FAQs?

This FAQ is a collection of excerpts from past postings to
rec.food.sourdough. They answer frequently asked questions.

The objective of this FAQ is not to duplicate information that is
easily available in the several excellent FAQs;  Starter Doctor FAQ,
basicbread FAQ, and sourdough Recipes FAQ and other archived
information already in existence at the unc archive site pointed to
and hot linked by URL;

http://www.nyx.net/~dgreenw/sourdoughfaqs.html

This URL also has additional information on starter sources and a
growing number of links to resources other than the archive site.

If you are using an ftp client the ftp archive site only is located at;
'sunSITE.unc.edu' path pub/academic/agriculture/rural-skills/food/sourdou=
gh/.

FTP appears quite limited in number of connections permitted so I
recommend using the http server at unc pointed to by

http://www.nyx.net/~dgreenw/sourdoughfaqs.html if you can.

A hypertext copy of the latest version of this FAQ is at URL;

http://www.nyx.net/~dgreenw/sourdoughqa.html

In addition to being posted in rec.food.sourdough, , and
 monthly this faq, along with the other 3 regularly
posted FAQs, is also archived at rtfm.mit.edu (18.181.0.24) in the
directory

 /pub/usenet/news.answers/food/sourdough/

as 'faq', 'starters', 'basicbread' and 'recipes'. This is useful if
you do not have web access: the rtfm.mit.edu archival site permits
both ftp and email retrieval of these files.

To obtain these faqs, first try ftp to rtfm.mit.edu and look under
that directory.

If ftp does not work from your site, then try the mail server: send
email to mail-server@rtfm.mit.edu with one or more of the following
lines in the body of the message:

send usenet/news.answers/food/sourdough/faq

send usenet/news.answers/food/sourdough/starters

send usenet/news.answers/food/sourdough/basicbread

send usenet/news.answers/food/sourdough/recipes


Contributions to this FAQ gratefully received.

Authors are noted in the last section (99). The authors' first names
are at the end of each of their contributions.

------------------------------

 Subject: 2. Table of Contents

1. Introduction and Where are the FAQs?

2. Table of Contents

3. What is the protein or gluten content of various flours?

4. What are some books on bread?

5. What is gluten and how does kneading develop it?

6. How do wild and commercial yeast differ?

7. Can I make bread without salt?

8. How do I stop my sourdough bread from flattening?

9. Can I use chlorinated water with my starter?

10. Does temperature of the starter have an effect on flavour?

11. What is diastatic malt?

12. What is meant by % hydration of a dough?

13. What is a sponge?

14. What is the difference between 'Classical' and 'Modern' sourdough?

15. How do I make soft buns?

16. How should I feed my starter for best results?

17. Are all starters the same?

18. What about Nancy Silverton's latest book?

19. How do I get that great crust?

20. How much starter do I need?

21. Sourdough Science 101 or How are the sourness and leavening of
starters related?

22. What is the Microbiology of San Francisco Sourdough?

23. What about Ed Wood's latest edition of his book?

24. How can I start a starter from scratch?

25. How do I get holey, sour, moist and long keeping bread?

26. Is slashing of loaves aesthetic or functional?

27. How do lactic bacteria affect sourdough bread?

28. What is hooch? Refrigerator hooch? What do I do with it?

29. How can I determine the proportion of flour and water to use in
my starter and dough?

30. How can I ship my starter to someone else?

31. How do I get that lofty loaf?

32. What is San Francisco Sourdough?

33. What temperature should my starter be for best results?

34. Can I freeze or dry my starter?

35. What happens if I start my starter with commercial yeast?

36. What do all these baker's terms like poolish, biga, chef, mean?

37. What is the relationship between temperature and sourdough activity?

38. Is there a glossary of rec.food.sourdough terms?

39. What factors affect microbial growth in sourdough

40. Should I use an established starter or make my own starter?

41. Can I use metal utensils with sourdough?

42. What is a good source for technical information on sourdough starters=
?

43. How do I convert yeast bread recipes to SD recipes?

44. What is meant by a "fully activated" starter?

45. What about Dan Wing's new book "The Bread Builders"?

46. What's all this about natural leaven and L. sanfranciscensis?

47. How does one measure the ph of sourdough, and what is the effect
of different ph's?

48. Should I use more than one rise for my bread?

49. What is Salt Rising Bread?

99. Authors

------------------------------

 Subject: 3. What is the protein or gluten content of various flours?

Cake flour is typically 7-9% protein; pastry, or cookie, ~9-10%; all
purpose, 10-12%, bread, 12.5-13.5%, clear and high gluten, 14-15%;
gluten "flour" (actually refined gluten), 45%.  The protein consists
of ~80% gluten, and the gluten of cake flour is weakest, and bread
and high gluten flour the strongest, and the intermediate ones
increasingly stronger. Gluten is more of less made up of equal parts
of gliadin and glutenin.

Gluten strength definition and measurement are not entirely well
understood, even by cereal chemists.  Generally, you want the most
protein and strongest gluten for bagels and breads that also use
other poor or non-gluten flours such as rye or oat; moderately strong
for all wheat bread; weaker for pastries and cookies; still weaker
for cakes such as pound cakes; yet still weaker for "high-ratio,"
rich cakes;  and weakest for angel food cakes.  One of the quality
tests for soft wheat flour is the "cookie spread test, which is one
measure of this.  There are also farinographs, elastographs, and
whatnot to further attempt to measure this elusive property.
Fortunately, with most flours, increasing protein content goes along
with increasing gluten strength.

-Jeff

See also:

Flour -- A Treatise: http://www.theartisan.net/Flours_One.htm
Flour Test -- Flours of America: http://www.theartisan.net/flour_test.htm

------------------------------


Subject: 4. What are some books on bread?

I happen to be passionate about bread and own approximately 25 books
on bread and have closely read numerous others.  I will try and give
you a tour of some of the books on bread, one
introductory/intermediate, two current books focussing on "artisan"
type breads and a few in the specialized to advanced category to give
you a flavor of some of the books out there.

The Laurel's Kitchen Bread book - A guide to Whole-Grain bread making
by Laurel Robertson, Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey is perhaps
one of the best introductions to bread making.

The books is aimed at people who want to bake with whole-grains but
there is no reason you cannot use the principles with whatever form
of flour you choose.  She begins with a loaf for learning, thoroughly
explains the principles of what you are trying to achieve (for
example most books say something vague like "knead till elastic"  she
give you an objective end point - when dough is sufficiently kneaded
you should be able to stretch the dough paper thin (insufficiently
kneaded dough will tear or break long before you can stretch it this
thin).  She covers a wide variety of breads and methods, explains the
effects of various ingredients and additives and has some unique
material - for example she extols a Flemish "Desem" starter.  She has
tables to help you find recipes that fit into your schedule and adapt
recipes to any baking schedule you choose.  Everything she says is
accurate (no small feat if you consider some of the stuff below).
From the point of view of sourdough she is not a purist & in the
context of a general book on bread I have no major quibble with that.
The only flaw if you can call it one is there are no glossy pictures
to inspire you.  This is an issue because unfortunately many modern
books have awfully good pictures that illustrate some important
points (e.g. what does an "open" crumb vs fine crumb look like etc).
It is sparsely referenced but has a few very authoritative references
(Pyler "Baking Science and Technology" for example). A must buy for
anyone learning to bake.

The next three books focus on artisan type or regional breads:

Joe Ortiz in the Village Baker says that in a trip to France he got a
recipe  for "pain ordinaire" and thought finally he had the long
sought "secret recipe" only to discover that it was identical to the
one he was already using!  To him the lesson was the  process was the
important part not merely the ingredients and a good loaf was  the
result of successful mastery and manipulation of every step from
choice of ingredients to mixing to baking.  I think this is a good
criterion to use to judge the current crop of  bread books ( as well
as older ones) - does the book give you sufficient information to
understand the process so you can manipulate it to suit your own
needs and tastes.  I think the Ortiz book is very successful in this
regard. It is really a condensation of several French masterpieces
(cited in his bibliography) and is thus is a valuable resource for
someone who is interested in Raymond Calvel or Lionel Poilane
opinions on bread but cannot read the French originals. He explains
the 3 basic kinds of dough (sponge, straight and sourdough).  The
importance of a  number of variables and their effects like water
(how wet the dough is) yeast, mixing conditions, temperature, wheat
and how they end up altering the product.  There is an incredible
amount of information.  Some of the info is laid out directly.
Other parts will need lots of work on your part - he tells you a
certain  manipulation will affect say crumb but doesn't tell you why
or in what direction   - it does serve as a basis for experimentation
however.  I suspect he is not always clear about explaining the whys
because he is an empirical baker. Having read some of the more
Technical books by Pyler, Pomeranz, Stear etc I have come to
understand the reasons why particular manipulations work.  In short
this book  glorifies the method and is invaluable if this is what you
want.

No baker will agree with all his opinions on what a desirable
approach to bread is, for example he recommends building sourdough
starters relatively firm which is unlikely to pack the maximum flavor
one can out of a sourdough (there are several good reasons to have a
firm starter if one is only interested in good leavening).  The other
negative to me is that approximately a third of the book has recipes
scaled  up for the professional. This is an interesting curiosity but
a waste to most  home bakers.  It has a good bibliography with
classic primary sources. One could learn a lot from this over a long
time - every rereading should uncover something new which could serve
as the basis for experimentation. Not all of his opinions are
correct, and there are technical missteps but since I am saving my
venom for Daniel Leader I will pass on to him.

Bread Alone - Daniel Leader and Judith Blahnik.  I am lukewarm about
this book.  It is a very slick presentation that will seduce you with
the romance of bread baking.  It strings together a number of
anecdotes in a racy style that is good entertainment.  You will come
out  longing for a brick oven that he very skillfully mystifies and
glorifies.  It  has pictures of very attractive loaves that are
highly motivating.  It extols the virtues of organic flour (a passion
I share). Many of the recipes are on  the trendy end - Country style
loaf with figs and cognac and hazelnuts.  The  same with cilantro and
cornmeal and coarse pepper etc.  By the way he adds an additive like
cilantro and cornmeal and considers this a new recipe in my book
these should be considered variations.  The book is very heavily
padded with these variations and in actuality is very lean.  I am not
particularly  impressed because only my imagination limits what
concoctions I can come up  with i.e. the hip recipes should not
motivate you to buy this book.  In fact it is the hipness that irks
me.  For example, he uses french terms for commonly  used baking
terms.  Thus a sponge is a poolish, a sourdough is levain and so  on.
In no place does he explain the parallels and studiously avoids the
common english terms.  This is a slick way of packaging old wine in
new bottles.

He is factually wrong in a number of places.  For example, he says
that  sourdough fanatics falsely treasure starters and he will
demystify the process.  He gives directions on starting your own
starter and suggest adding yeast " as  a magnet to attract the wild
yeasts" -pure bull!  Similarly he has a recipe for San Francisco
Sourdough but uses the homemade starter.  San Francisco Sourdough is
not a process but requires  the presence of a true starter with the
characteristic organisms of San Francisco Sourdough - Candida milleri
and  Lactobacillus sanfrancisco.  It is as likely that the ""Hearty
Burgundy" of  Ernest and Julio Gallo resembles the wines of Burgundy
France as a homemade starter will have these particular organisms.
(To be fair to Daniel Leader almost all books on bread commit this
mistake in the obligatory "San Francisco Sourdough" recipe).

On page 42 he says flour is "bromated" with potassium! (For you non
scientists potassium bromate is used - with the bromate doing the
brominating not potassium!  Then on page 50 he has the strangest
definition of first rise and second rise I have ever seen - he claims
the yeast feed on free sugar in the first rise and the yeast release
sugar from starch in the second rise.  In truth there is very little
free sugar in flour and once depleted the yeast are dependant on
release of sugar from starch to continue to do their thing.  When
exactly this happens depends on the dough formulation, fermentation
time and temperature etc etc. In fact in his lean long fermented
poolish the yeast are very definitely living of starch & no rises
have occurred at all!  It is simply stupid to use his definitions.  I
heap so much venom because he is a graduate of the Culinary Institute
of America, professional baker etc. and should have a better command
of the facts. I would not nitpick if I found stuff like this in Marge
Schlee's "Baking with Schmecks appeal !"

Another aspect of the book that I dislike is that he repeats the most
basic  information for each step for every single recipe (many of
which are variations in the form of an addition to a basic dough).
For example he has three  standard paragraphs on baking that tell you
your rack should be in the center  of the oven.  Do not spritz the
electric light bulb etc.  This repetitious  stuff occupies at least
half the printed pages of the book - the book thus has  the mere
appearance of heft but is in fact quite thin.  (Others may like this
because you can start at any recipe in a non linear fashion).  It has
no bibliography and is lean on technique.  To me the book is more
sizzle than steak - it is worth reading but owning?

The Italian Baker - Carol Field.  In the Joe Ortiz vein.  A
masterpiece on Italian Bread.  Carol Field is less authoritative than
Ortiz in some respects - she is a cook book author with 5-6 published
books on the history of Italy and Italian foods.  Her cookbook author
roots show through occasionally.  For example on page 41 talking
about yeast she says: "Bakers, who have noses like doctors or
pharmacists, insist you can cut into the yeast and smell if it's
right.  The really expert say that if you set your ear right next to
it, you can hear the little "tic-tac" of its growing."  While poetic
this is pure nonsense.  Fortunately, there is not much drivel like
this in the book.  The reason I like the book is she tells you what
the character of the dough is like - wet, firm etc.  All too often
this is ignored in most books on bread when in fact it is one of the
major ways of controlling the nature of the loaf you produce.  The
minor negative is she repeats mixing information by hand, mixer and
food processor for each recipe.  This is generally unnecessary except
in some rare cases.

Il Fornio - Author? Light version of Carol Field.  In fact owner of
Il Fornio  chain Carlo Veggetti was the person that arranged the
meetings with regional Italian bakers  for Field's own research.

Elizabeth Davids "English Bread and Yeast Cookery".  Available in an
English version with imperial and metric measures and an American
edition with a conversion to volume based measures (cups vs weights).
The books is divided into two parts - "History and Background" and
the second "Recipes".  This is an interesting book to a scholar
because it traces several historical roots of English Bread - it is
not as some people think an encyclopedia on bread in general.  It is
written in a humanistic style & its virtue lies solely in its
research into the historical aspects of English bread and breadmaking
(bibliography of 200+).  This aspect of the book makes a fascinating
read with interesting plates and illustrations.

Its practical utility is a different matter.  For example, she has a
chapter on French Bread, goes on to enumerate the difficulties of
making french bread and the difference between French and English
flour and then throws up her hands and says despite all I've said if
you want to bake French Bread consult Mastering the Art of French
Cooking by Julia Child et al. !  She then goes on to trace the roots
of French Bread in England from 1654 to the twentieth century via
10-12 historical recipes. Clearly this is aimed at a pedant not an
amateur. Most of the recipes are historical in nature and make
interesting reading but it is not a good place to start to learn how
to bake bread. Please note I am not saying there is nothing of
practical utility (there is a lot) it is just buried in a lot of
material.  Despite the praise universally heaped on this book (much
of it is deserved) I feel it has an equal number of deficiencies that
are glaring. For example, she has a section on Malt, declares she
hates the taste of it in bread, goes on to say some bakers like it
for good rises & leaves one thoroughly confused.  She neglects to
mention how and why it works and the distinctions in malt (Malt can
be diastatic or non-diastatic. Non diastatic is simply added as a
sweetener, diastatic malt breaks down the starch in dough to yield
sugars on which the yeast can feed.  Having some around in long
fermented breads is very important).  It seems amazing to me that she
will spend chapters on the "Assize System" & then neglect to tell you
something of great practical importance.  Similarly, her basic recipe
for bread has almost no mention of kneading at all!

The Breads of France - Bernard Clayton.  Bernard Clayton has been
looked upon as the doyen of American Bread for reasons I cannot
fathom.  The material when published was new and novel.
Unfortunately, the book is sort of pointless since there appears to
be no correlation between his description of a bread and the recipe
that follows.  For example, he has a recipe for the famous Poilaine
loaf (actually describing a bread made by the father of the now
equally famous Lionel Poilaine), says it is made from whole wheat and
then uses next to no whole wheat in his recipe! It is therefore
pointless to buy a book of this sort. His complete book  of breads
has a vast array of recipes again in a boring style.  Essentially
both books are recipe repositories & the recipes are of dubious
authenticity. The tedium in the Breads of France is relieved by a few
photographs and vignettes of the bakers or history behind some of the
breads.

Special and Decorative Breads a two volume set by Roland Bilheux,
Alain Escoffier, Daniel Herve and Jean Marie Pouradier (Volume 1) &
Volume II is authored by Alain Couet and Eric Kayser.  There is some
overlap between Vol 1 & II, Vol 1 mainly focuses on traditional
breads while Vol II has Viennese pastries, Croissants Brioches etc.
This is a translation of a French original has much distilled wisdom
and incredible photographs of ornamental and decorative breads. It
has very concise information that is generally very precise - they
define the exact hydration for stiff (58-60%) to soft & sticky
(65-67%) doughs with five intermediate steps. This is useful because
they either explicitly say the dough is mixed at xx hydration or if
they use a word like moderately firm you know precisely what they
mean.    Its negative - very specialized all recipes are scaled for a
professional baker i.e. yield 25-100 lb of dough and major $$ each
volume is about $70.    I am glad I own them but they are so
specialized that they may not be worth the $$ but it is a very good
set of books to thumb through if only to improve your presentation.

World Sourdough from Antiquity: by Ed Wood.  Out of print (new
edition in print now - dg) but may be available in some libraries.  A
very cynical view would suggest this book was probably published as a
marketing vehicle for the starters that he sells through his company
Sourdough International. A more generous view would be that Dr. Wood
genuinely wants to spread the sourdough gospel.  I do not know what
motivates him but in fact I feel that the Woods have provided a
tremendous service to the community by amassing these starters.
Simply being able to buy a "fast" starter vs a "slow" starter allows
you to refute the view of Leader or Joe Ortiz that starters are not
substantially different. The book gives a reasonable explanation of
several aspects of baking with sourdough.  It is probably the best
book on sourdough for a non technical audience.   Treasure trove of
recipes from Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia i.e. the area where all
bread making probably originated (and less interestingly since this
material is almost universally available, The Yukon, France, San
Francisco, Austria, etc).  He uses a number of grains and flours in
his recipes demonstrating his awareness of what a true country bread
is and a certain adventurous spirit with respect to ingredients.  It
has been built up so much on this group that it will probably prove
underwhelming - it is the best non technical book on sourdough but is
not necessarily the best book on bread in general.

-Roland

------------------------------

 Subject: 5. What is gluten and how is it developed?

What people call gluten is the formation of linkages between glutenin
and gliadin.  The "development" of dough consists of the formation of
these bonds.  These proteins have SH groups on them than can be
linked into S-S groups.   Just letting the sponge sit allows the
reaction to proceed which is why the French call this "long kneading"
i.e. you do nothing and the gluten is partially, developed.  This is
why, in a post to Bruce Hudson on sponge type breads I said that
dough could be developed mechanically, (by kneading), chemically (by
mixtures of oxidants and reductants) or fermentatively.  Very few
people realize that you can develop dough in all three ways:  they
learnt kneading was very important and are fixated on it.  In fact
kneading is absolutely essential only for straight dough breads.

Kneading, develops gluten by stretching out the proteins, &
increasing the rate at which, the molecules collide and the reaction
occurs.  Kneading also forms an ordered cohesive mass. The reaction
remains essentially,  a chemical reaction.  The virtue of kneading is
the mass is very uniform and the gluten can be developed very
extensively (homogenous and extensive cross-linking) to give very
strong loaves - which will rise spectacularly and have good
mechanical strength so you can make free form loaves fearlessly.
Most straight dough recipes develop all the gluten by kneading.

Many sponge type breads fall into the category where a lot of the
development is achieved by fermentation which allows less or in
Jeff's case no kneading. Allowing the gluten to develop by
fermentation, simply means that you give the dough sufficient time to
let the chemical reactions occur spontaneously i.e. the linkages will
form slowly over time.  The lattice of cross-linked gluten that forms
is not necessarily, as strong or as fully developed but this is
undoubtedly what Jeff is aiming for: French country bread is
characterized by an uneven crumb - by minimizing mechanical mixing he
keeps the mass non homogenous. The simple actions of the original
mixing, punch downs, shaping etc. also add a dimension of mechanical
development.  Relying solely on fermentative development means the
gluten will not be completely developed, the loaves will be weaker
i.e. you might have a hard time making a large free form loaf with
it.  By combining some fermentative and mechanical development you
can dramatically, alter the range of textures of your bread:  there
is an infinite spectrum of how long you ferment and how long you and
how intensely you knead.  By controlling these two you produce
dramatically, different breads.  This is one of the secrets to the
whole range of  "French" breads.  Jeff is at an extreme when he uses
no mechanical development at all.  Since he seems to make mainly
baguettes this is easy to do - you do not need a very strong dough to
hold its form in a baguette. I would be interested to know if your no
knead doughs allow you to form large free form loaves.

Several dough improvers including the so called natural conditioners
like ascorbic acid (Vitamin C, you will see that it is added to
nearly all commercial flour) are oxidants that facilitate the
reaction.  Similarly, the french add fava bean or soy bean flour
which has a lipoxygenase which oxidizes flour i.e. takes SH groups
and make them S-S i.e. forms linkages and also bleaches the
carotenoid pigments for a whiter crumb.  These conditioners have a
dramatic effect on the rate of the reaction and the extent to which
the reaction occurs.  I learnt this very dramatically, when I bought
my grain mill:  Flour that you buy has been aged or brominated (to
oxidize the flour which as explained above forms gluten strengthening
cross links & bleaches the carotenoid pigments).  Freshly  milled
flour does not have the benefit of these "improving" i.e. gluten
strengthening actions.  I noticed that my dough would "fall apart"
when kneading very very quickly.  This was because the flour was not
sufficiently oxidized when freshly milled.  This was fixed by adding
vitamin C and  freshly milled soy bean flour (I simply added back
oxidants! It is still not as strong as the strongest flour I worked
with.  No additions will allow you to turn out a decent loaf too -
you just need to know how to handle it).

In some commercial, operations the dough is developed by a long list
of chemicals (check any supermarket bread label) that are essential
oxidants or reductants and thus facilitate the reaction.  This
combined with a very intensive short 1 min mixing develops the dough
completely!

Just as the cross-links can form so can they break down.  This is
referred to as the dough becoming "slack" - very long fermented
doughs become slack because the cross-linking process reverses
itself.  In addition there are a number of chemicals naturally,
present in dough or from breakdown of yeasts that promote the
breakdown of the cross-links.  This is one of the reasons you cannot
hold the dough infinitely long in a fermentation to improve its
flavor.  In fact the reason why dry yeast should be reconstituted at
104-114 F is because at lower temps the yeast lyse and release
glutathione which affects the oxidation reduction reactions and
reverses them leading to slack or weak doughs.

-Roland

See also

------------------------------

 Subject: 6. How do wild and commercial yeast differ?

The yeasts role in a sourdough starter is to leaven the bread (i.e.
produce gas).  Commercial yeast is very good at this job since that
is all it was selected to do.  Common bakers yeast that most normal
people have access to is slightly acid sensitive and most sourdough
yeasts are moderately acid resistant.  Commercially on a bakery level
you can obtain yeasts that are acid resistant and a host of other
desirable properties (freeze tolerance, sugar tolerance etc.).

In a laboratory environment a common medium for a laboratory form of
bakers yeast is Yeast nitrogen base whose pH is 5.4!  Most sourdoughs
have a pH at the end of the fermentation of around  3.5 - 4.2.  Since
the scale is logarithmic this is  relatively large difference.

The acids produced by lactobacilli definitely slow the yeast down (be
they commercial or sourdough).  The natural yeast are obviously more
tolerant of acid.  You could overcome the acid sensitivity by adding
more yeast or proofing longer.  This is not to say I advocate doing
it - I am merely pointing out it can be done.  You have to be
judicious in how much yeast you add since too much will cause the
bread to be overwhelmingly yeasty in flavour.

Another aspect of  leavening sourdough breads is that the gluten is
attacked under acid conditions through the action of several acid
proteases.  Thus the ability of the individual cells of the gluten
net to hold gas is compromised. If you let your dough develop to such
a point it will obviously rise very feebly no matter what your source
of leavening is - wild or commercial since any gas produced will
simply leak away.

One of the pleasures of sourdough is understanding the rhythms of
both the yeast and lactobacilli and holding them both at just the
right level - optimal acidity, optimal flavour (I suspect when most
people here say they want their bread more sour what they actually
mean to say is more flavour full - a very sour bread can be
excruciatingly unappetizing) and optimal leavening.  This is achieved
by manipulating the starter to maximize the number of organisms,
varying the "wetness" of both starter and dough and controlling time
and temperature of all stages.

I should point out that if you do play with commercial yeast there is
a very good chance that you will pollute your starter and you
obviously do not want to add it to the starter i.e. should you use it
you definitely need to develop a procedure to maintain the starter
uncontaminated.

Commercial bakeries oftentimes use yeast as a leavening in a
sourdough not because they do not know better but because they
require very predictable rises - they may have hundreds of pounds of
different breads developing at different rates and have to hit the
oven in fairly tight windows.  A commercial leavening in this context
can be controlled far easier.  Obviously an equal number of bakeries
develop the bread naturally but this requires more skill, time and
ultimately for the baker $.

To address the original point of this thread though: a starter made
from commercial yeast performing better than an established starter
(I believe Russian from Sourdough International).  If I remember
correctly, the poster mentioned they had obtained the starter second
hand.  Based on my experience with home started vs purchased starters
I suspect that the starter you obtained is probably far from the
original sold by SI.  I have had the most consistent results with
legitimate "established" starters.

I should point out however that I have noticed a deterioration in
some starters over time - I have not figured out the root of the
problem since I was not careful enough to pinpoint exactly when the
change occurred but I have found a starter that I loved evolving into
a dud.  Obviously this means contamination/loss of a favorable
lactobacillus.  I  was originally very careful when I bought the
starter and would boil the water used to feed the starter (and let it
cool!) & once it was established decided it could fend for itself.
In hindsight I think this may have been an error in judgement: the
boiling apart from getting rid of any other unfriendly beasts
probably also got rid of chlorine etc.  I suspect that this could
have been one of the things that did my lactobacilli in.  Flour
obviously has organisms that you cannot get rid of and this is
potentially another source of contamination: lactobacilli have
several bacteriophages and produce bacteriocins that could have
killed my treasured lactobacilli (the reason I think I have lost
lactobacilli complexity is because the bread rises fine but the
flavour is middling). The starters from SI have predictably activity
peaks & the Russian is very fast, you could use this as a test to see
if what you have is still legitimate.  I can vouch for the fact that
the Russian, Austrian and Bahrain rise as described in their
literature.  Also since the Russian rises so fast you may be tempted
to bake the bread before the lactobacilli have had a chance to do
their magic.  Among the above three starters I like the flavours of
the Austrian the best.

-Roland

------------------------------

 Subject: 7. Can I make bread without salt?

Salt is of course very important in a dough.  There are several
proteins in flour that together form gluten during mixing.  Some of
these proteins are more soluble in salt water than fresh water.
Therefore, addition of salt helps to form a stronger gluten network.
Commercial bakeries often add salt at the very end of mixing because
it keeps the dough loose so that it will develop more quickly and
also does not inhibit the yeast during that brief period.  Bread,
however, can be made perfectly well without salt.

-Troy

------------------------------

 Subject: 8. How do I stop my sourdough bread from flattening?

A very important aspect of making sourdough is the amount of starter
used in the recipe and how long it has been since the starter
matured. Typically, about 20-40% of the total flour should come from
the starter. The higher the percentage of starter, the less proofing
time it will stand. In other words, if 40% of the flour comes from
starter, you may only be able to proof 3-4 hours before the loaves
flatten excessively, depending on the starter and degree of maturity.
I've never used Carl's starter, but since people like it I assume it
has fairly low levels of enzymes which make it more tolerant to
various baking procedures.  Different lactobacilli have different
capacities to degrade flour and to make acid and therefore they act
differently in bread.

The standard methods to keep bread from flattening excessively
include reducing water, increasing kneading or adding ascorbic acid
(100-200 mg per 5 pounds of flour), making sure the starter is not
overly mature, and doing some of the fermentation as a "bulk"
fermentation.  Bulk fermentation simply means that after mixing the
dough you let it sit for 2-3 hours at proofing temperature before
shaping the loaves.  That will give the bacteria/yeast time to make
flavor and gas without having to worry about the loaves flattening.
Then the loaves are shaped and a final proof of 3-4 hours results in
a fantastic loaf with a more interesting internal and external
texture.

One other important reason why sourdough loaves may flatten is that
the starter is not fresh enough.  When you feed your starter use the
smallest amount of old starter that you can while still getting a
very active ferment by the time you need to mix your dough.  If the
old starter is very active I would use only 5-10% by weight as an
innoculum.  Starters that are not fresh produce extremely slack
doughs.  The type of flour you use will help, but will not completely
overcome the problem.  If 20-30% of the flour in your dough comes
from starter you should be able to proof a free standing loaf for
many hours without flattening. I typically mix a dough, let it sit
for 3 hours, shape into loaves, and give up to 5 hours of final proof
with little flattening.

Water content for this type of loaf is 56-60% on flour.

-Troy

While flattening can occur from hydration (particularly with baguettes)
it mainly has to do with the fermentation and proof.  Dough that is
over-proofed will collapse on itself when you try to slash it or, in some
extreme cases, if you even touch it.  The reason for this is because the
gluten has been broken down by the bacteria and yeast that it can no
longer support the structure of the bread.  Bread that is over proofed
will also be really sour.  While some people like sour bread, it will
generally be at a detriment to your big, holey, irregular crumb.  This
can also happen with your starter.  A well proofed starter will have
doubled (atleast) in volume, be full of bubbles and will just be starting
to collapse on itself, but if you reached in a pulled some of it out, it
will still have thick strands of gluten keeping it elastic and
extensible.  If it is proofed for too long, the gluten will break down
and you will eventually have a soupy mass that won't stretch at all
because it will be a liquid.  If a loaf is proofed too long, it will
start to collapse when you try to slash it or when you transfer it to a
peel.
Hydration can be as high as 85% and while you won't be able to shape it,
you will be able to get really big holes without it flattening on you
even though the dough will seem flat before you bake it, it will puff up
in the oven.

-- Connor

------------------------------

 Subject: 9. Can I use chlorinated water with my starter?

No. If you have chlorinated water, dechlorinate it first.  The quick
way is with a carbon filter.  You can also boil it or just let it sit
out uncovered 24 hrs, provided that your water treatment plant
chlorinates with free chlorine (as ~85% do), and not with the stable
form of chlorine, chloroamine.  This cannot be boiled or evaporated
out.

Dechlorinated water is not just some yogurt and granola health food
nut idea, it is very important for the health of your culture and the
success of your sourdough baking.  A microbiologist friend of mine
confirmed this observation with laboratory techniques.

-Jeff

------------------------------

 Subject: 10. Does temperature of the starter have an effect on flavour?

Sourdough cultures from Europe tend to have many strains of
lactobacilli. Temperatures under 86 F favor L. brevis which produces
both lactic acid and acetic acid.  Temperatures above 86 F tend to
favor L. plantarum which is homofermentative and only produces lactic
acid.

Other factors play a role in the acid profile: degree of hydration
(soft doughs favor lactic acid formation while stiff doughs favor
acetic acid).

The way the starter is built up into the final dough will affect the
absolute number and type of organisms and consequently the flavor
profile of the bread. German bakers have very complicated schedules
where they vary both stiffness of the dough and temperatures to build
their starters and thus alter the flavor of the bread.

I have no idea what organisms are present in the original posters
culture but if he is lucky playing with temperature and hydration and
different cultures may allow him to produce the flavor he wants.

-Roland

------------------------------

 Subject: 11. What is diastatic malt?

Malt can be diastatic or non-diastatic. Non-diastatic is simply added
as a sweetener, diastatic malt breaks down the starch in dough to
yield sugars on which the yeast can feed.  Having some around in long
fermented breads is very important.

-Roland

Mills will typically put in 1/10% malted barley flour (barley because
barley malt is cheaper than wheat malt) to provide diastase (enzyme),
which converts the starch in damaged starch granules to sugars that
are utilizable by the yeast over an extended ferment.  The use of
more diastatic malt than this can result in slack, sticky dough, and
will not improve yeast action.  Malt is not made from cooked grain,
but rather sprouted grain.

-Jeff

Diastatic malt powder is powdered malted grain, usually barley, but
wheat, and rice may also be malted.  "Diastatic" refers to the
diastatic enzymes that are created as the grain sprouts.  These
convert starches to sugars, which yeasties eat.  Maltose, a simple
sugar that yeasties love is usually made in abundance by the enzymes.

Diastatic malt powder is available in some health food stores as well
as homebrew supply shops.

You can make your own:  sprout a cup of wheat berries by covering
them with water in a jar for 12 or so hours, dump out the water &
rinse with clean water, and place the jar in a darkish, warmish,
place.  Rinse the berries every day with clean water and return to
their place.

In 2-3 days they will begin to sprout.  When the sprout is as long as
the berries themselves, dump them out on paper towels, dry them off,
and set on a cookie sheet in the sun for a day or so to dry out. Then
put the cookiesheet in a 100F oven for an hour or three.  Do not let
the temp get above 130F or the enzymes will be destroyed.

Then grind the dried malted berries into flour, and use it in your
favorite recipe at a rate of approx. 1t. per loaf.

I did this for the first time last week, and the bread made with is
has a lovely wheaty note that was not produced in the past when I
used brewer's (barley) malt.

-George

------------------------------

 Subject: 12. What is meant by % hydration of a dough

"Bakers Formulae" are based on the weight of flour which is assigned
100%.  Any other material being added is expressed as a percentage of
this.  Thus water may be at 55% to 60 to 65% of the the flour.  If
you think in metric terms it is very easy each 1000 grams (1Kg) of
flour would need 600 grams of water for 60% hydration etc, similarly
salt may be added to 1-2% etc etc.  So a bakers % is actually a very
slippery definition and not "correct" in scientific terms but they
understand each other.

The % hydration matters both when you feed/build your starter and in
the final dough.  Studies show the maximum acid is built at 90%
hydration (during feeding/building).

-Roland

------------------------------

 Subject: 13. What is a sponge?

A batter or soft dough containing all of the water, but only part of
the flour and (usually) none of the salt. The starter (or,
conservatively, part of the starter) is mixed into it, and thereafter
it is incubated (at some temperature between freezing and heat death)
until it gets frothy, at which time the dough is completed with
additional flour, salt, and usually some kneading.

-Dick

------------------------------

 Subject: 14. What is the difference between 'Classical' and 'Modern'
sourdough?

In days of yore, all bread was sourdough.  So, it wasn't called
sourdough unless it was real sour.  The way to make it real sour was
to let a sponge sit for many extra hours, preferably warm.

Many people do that today when making sourdough bread.  You can call
it "souring the sponge".  The process favors the acid forming
bacilli, and lowers yeast activity.  If you goof and the yeast
activity gets too low, you can always throw in some bakers' yeast for
the final rise.  You also can get some rise by blowing the loaves up
on a hot stone, in spite that a real sour sponge may not have much
leavening activity.

Denizens of yore had no access to bakers' yeast, nor did they have
modern bread flours.

Today's bread flours, as well as having uniformly high gluten content
(typically 13%), also contain diastatic enzymes and dough
conditioners.  The enzymes liberate sugars from starch allowing the
rise to go on much longer than otherwise would be expected. Dough
conditioners can have profound effects towards helping the gluten to
hang together long enough to support a phenomenal rise.

The result is that a kind of modern sourdough bread is now possible
that the yore people could not have anticipated.

A long rise allows that sourdough bread may be very light, and may be
baked quite effectively in bread pans in an ordinary oven (without a
stone).  For this bread, a "sweet" (high yeast activity) (sourdough
yeast, that is) sponge is used.  Acidity and flavor which typify
sourdough bread develop during the rise, not primarily in the sponge,
as is the the case in the alternative classical method.  More and
more people are doing it this modern way.

But it is not clear to most people that two strategies are under
discussion here.  People on track B should learn how to avoid advice
from track A people, and conversely.  (Advice givers cannot be
controlled, since a new bunch is born each week.)

How to recognize:

Type A: "Let the sponge proof in a warm place for a long time". "A
sour (tangy) starter is needed." "Use King Arthur (no additives)
flour." "Use all purpose flour." "Punch it down (N) times, let it
double, slash, and toss it on a hot stone." "May be necessary to add
some dry yeast."  (Per most bake books, FAQs here, and sourdough
packet instruction sheets.)

Type B:  Starter is kept frothy, or activated to the frothy stage
before seeding the sponge.  Sponge is developed to the frothy stage,
no longer.  Use bread flour (malted, bromated or whatever).  Bakers'
yeast is never used.  Very little or no punching down.  Slash (coupe)
before the rise.  Volume quadruples, maybe quintuples, before the
bake.  Special attention needed to avoid deflation if transferred to
a hot stone (but easy in tins). Special attention is needed to avoid
drying out during the long rise (which might be 12 hours in a cool
room).

-Dick

------------------------------

 Subject: 15. How do I make soft buns?

The easiest way to get very soft silky buns is to use lots of pastry
flour (half pastry/half all purpose or bread) & plenty of fat in the
form of butter. This produces melt in your mouth types of buns.
People are generally obsessed with gluten content in wheat - if truth
be told you can make bread with pastry flour i.e. a gluten content of
8% or so.  Naturally, the character of the bread is different.  You
generally, want to match the character of the bread with the
character of the flour.  Generally, people are very obsessed with
high gluten flours which do indeed produce lofty loaves but if not
worked properly can also produce rubbery loaves.  Elizabeth David is
one of the few authors on bread, incidentally, who advocates looking
for flavour in flours rather than simply high gluten content - a
lofty loaf is a good loaf only from certain points of view.
Incidentally, buns and the like that I have baked with substantial
amounts of pastry flour have had no problem rising to normal
respectable levels.

One advantage of high amounts of gluten is the concept of
"tolerance". Tolerance means ability to withstand abuse - abuse like
overkneading, overfermenting, overanything.  High gluten flours have
higher tolerance.  This means that you have to be slightly more
skillful in using low gluten flours.  I would recommend using a yeast
dough rather than a sourdough as a starting point if you are going to
try to make buns with large amounts of pastry flour.  The reason is
you have to be very careful not to overferment this sort of dough and
it probably easiest to make a straight dough.  I have used sourdough
and got breads as soft as a kiss.

-Roland

------------------------------

 Subject: 16. How should I feed my starter for best results?

Continuous culture of the sourdough starter vs the stop start
approach of a home baker is really the big difference between a home
baker and a commercial operation and most home bakers do nothing to
compensate.

The continuous approach in a bakery is exemplified by the starter
culture being doubled every 6-8 hours 365 days of the year (almost).
The home bakers approach is to store the culture and use it
intermittently and so it is worth examining what exactly happens
during this storage process.

The notion of the yeast sporulating on storage etc. is virtually
guaranteed to be wrong for almost all starters. No wild strain of
yeast can sporulate as is frequently stated in books on sourdough,
the FAQ etc. wild yeast most commonly are aneuploid or polyploid and
thus they either do not sporulate or spores have very low viability.
Also no spore would germinate in the 8-12 hour proof given to it in a
bread making regimen.  Both the lactobacilli and yeast are simply
dormant in a stored culture and a certain fraction is continuously
dying as elaborated below.

Both the yeast and lactobacilli are inhibited by the acid produced.
As you store a culture the organisms die - lactobacilli at acid pH
die at the rate of 90% a week when stored at room temperature.  At
cooler temperatures the rate is slower (4 weeks needed at 4 degrees
for 90% mortality). Because the starting culture usually has a large
number of organisms (in the order of 10E7 - 10E9
(10000000-1000000000) per gram of dough in an active culture with the
lactobacilli being higher than the yeast) this very high death rate
is not immediately perceived - the culture is progressively
enfeebled.  At neutral pH the death rate is slower (incidentally this
is the logic why you feed and proof your starter for a very short
time before you return it to the fridge - the proteins in flour
neutralize some of the acid improving survivability and all the
nutrients are not depleted so the culture can grown at a slow rate in
the fridge).

If you do not use a culture continuously but store a culture in the
refrigerator over time only 10%, 1% or less of the culture will be
alive depending on how frequently you use it, what the acidity of the
culture was when you stored it etc.    Simply, feeding the culture
with a equal volume of flour water does not bring the number of
lactobacilli up to the maximum number possible - a two fold dilution
does not really relieve the acid inhibition adequately, and instead
of 10000000 organisms/gram you may have only 1000000 or less.  The
culture is thus never really vibrant - it is simply limping along.

What I do therefore is to do a very large dilution when I pull the
starter out of the fridge say 1/2 to 1 tablespoon to 1/2 cup flour
and a similar amount of water.  This dilution relieves the acid
inhibition and allows the culture to actually divide and grow back
towards the maximum possible.  12 hours later I refeed (doubling the
starter) and repeat this until I have the amount of starter I want
built up.  I always try and adjust this so that there are at least a
few doublings of the starter before I actually incorporate it into a
dough.  I have used starters from Sourdough International exclusively
so cannot comment on the success of this approach with
non-traditional starters (i.e. anything that is fed on something
other than flour and water). This regimen gives a starter with
excellent properties, with respect to souring, leavening etc.   This
is slightly more work than most people usually do but you will be
rewarded by an improvement in flavor, dough characteristics, etc.

-Roland

What is good feeding?  I believe that there are two important things:

First, don't starve the culture.  This means that you should feed the
culture once it shows evidence of strong activity (frothing or rising
depending on the thickness of the starter) and not too long after
that. If you feed too infrequently the cell populations in the
starter will begin to decline due to starvation, etc.

Second, feed the starter by quadrupling (or even quintupling).  This
means that you feed the starter three times it's weight each time you
feed it (i.e., if you have 2 oz of starter, feed it 6 oz of new
food). If you don't have a scale you can do the measurements by
volume, but I think weight is better.  I also think that it is best
to keep the starter at a relatively thick consistency.  Both the
dilution at feeding and the thick consistency are designed to
encourage the presence of certain good lactibacilli. FYI, when one
feeds by such extreme dilution, it is not necessary to maintain a
partiularly large amount.  Starting with a tablespoon of old starter
and mixing this with a quarter cup each of flour/water at each
feeding will leave you with a sufficient amount of starter.

-Sam

------------------------------

 Subject: 17. Are all starters the same?

No. I think starters are different, a good starter should be
treasured.  Fortunately, the very valuable work of Ed Wood makes it
most simple to prove.  All you have to do is to try the Russian or
another "fast" starter from Sourdough International vs a slow starter
from them.  The behavior of these starters is very very different
with respect to rate of leavening, and ultimate levels of acidity
produced and anybody willing to spend a few $$ can verify this.  I
also think that starters are discernibly different with respect to
flavor.  In fact the classical San Francisco sourdough does have a
signature flavor that no other sourdough I have tasted resembles (I
do not have the SI San Francisco culture so do not know how their
version of it behaves with respect to the signature flavor).

I am also skeptical of grape based starters, etc.  I know Nancy
Silverton and other celebrated bakers advocate this but I can see no
logic in it.  Grapes indeed have yeast and lactobacilli on them.  The
problem is these particular varieties of yeast and lactobacilli have
never been recovered in any sourdough starter that has been examined
from any place in the world.  These organisms are undoubtedly
specific to grapes as certain other lactobacilli are specific to
yogurt.  There are hundreds of strains of yeasts and equally large
numbers of lactobacilli. These organisms develop niches where they
thrive.  To transplant an organism from one natural environment to
another is not a formula for success.  It is like taking a polar bear
and putting it in the desert.  There are hundreds of cheeses made
based on very small differences in starter cultures and processing.
These people are undoubtedly celebrated bakers but to them a yeast is
yeast and a yeast on a grape is a "wild yeast" and they have no
understanding of any of the nuances.  I do not claim to know what
exactly is resident in their starters and whether any organisms they
introduce from the grape actually survive and are viable over time
(years as opposed to weeks).

-Roland

------------------------------

 Subject: 18. What about Nancy Silverton's latest book?

or 'Stalking the Wild Yeast'

Ringo is, I think, a fine drummer, my household plumbing is a
masterpiece, and all those ice-skaters on TV twirl great. The less
you know about some craft, the less critical you are about its
practice.

Of course, the more you know, the more judgmental you are. I've been
working at sourdough bread baking for a decade; and it has taken me
that long to fight through the misleading sourdough lore. Separating
useful techniques from superstitious ritual has been tough. Standard
bread books are either full of falsehoods ('Beard on Bread' is a
particularly bad example) or misleading and hazy.

So I finally get it right, right enough to be able to teach others,
and what happens? Nancy Silverton publishes 'Breads from the La Brea
Bakery', (Villard, 260 pages, $30), a book that really gets it right,
is clearly written and has an abundance of clever recipes that I
wouldn't have come up with in another 10 years.

Her sourdough creations cover an enormous range: Country White,
Challah, Walnut Bread, Olive Bread, Chocolate-Sour Cherry, Pretzels,
Raisin Brioche, Focaccia, Normandy Rye, Izzy's New York Rye,
Whole-Wheat Boule, Potato-Dill and on and on. This is not just a
great book on sourdough, it is the only book -- an artisanal well of
information and guidance in the craft of great bread baking. When
much store-bought bread is factory whipped wheat candy, when bread
machines are a commodity item, when real bakers are only just
beginning to make a comeback in some urban areas (and even in
Carrboro), it is solace to possess such a valuable 'vade mecum'.

It is sad though that we need such a book. In a well-ordered world,
good bread is no further away than the nearest baker. Only in recent
years have we in Triangle had good bread available at all. Even in
Paris, where bread and pastry is traditionally left to the
professional, a glossy magazine recently lamented the decline of
decent bread and the rise, so to speak, of factory breads sold in
"bakeries"; more astoundingly, it heretically offered instruction on
how to make good bread in the Parisian home.

Although Silverton's directions are clear and superbly organized, the
multi-step, 2-3 day procedures may at first look overwhelming. (See
page 58 for Silverton's hints on time-efficient ways to make bread.)
After a few practice loaves things will get simpler, and you be
rewarded with great bread. Leavened bread is a simple food that has
been around since at least Egyptian times, and its basics are simple.
That's what makes the achievement of great bread such a fascinating
exercise. Flour, water, salt, beasts (bacilli+yeast) and time are
bread's basic ingredients.

Salt is crucial for both taste and texture. Good quality sea salt is
a nice luxury. High quality flour makes a surprising difference. For
basic bread baking (sourdough or otherwise), a good all-purpose,
unbleached, unadulterated flour is called for. In the Triangle area,
the most easily available high-quality flours are King Arthur
(Hannaford's has it at a reasonable price) and Lindley Mills flour, a
local product carried by both Wellspring and Weaver Street.

Beasts. I say beasts because the defining characteristic of a
sourdough bread is that its leavening is a symbiotic culture of
lactobacilli and wild yeast. "Wild yeast bread" might be a better
name, since "sourdough" has led some to think that the sourer the
better; like those who rank peppers or Indian restaurants by how hot
they are. Bread made from a flour, water and commercial yeast slurry,
let to mature for two hours to a day, is not sourdough. That
technique and its variants is called in France 'poolish', in Italy
'biga', and, in American, 'the sponge method'. It is a very very good
way to make bread. It is not sourdough.

Sourdough cultures contain wild yeasts and certain friendly, i.e.,
symbiotic, lactobacilli. The symbiosis is manifold and complicated:
the bacilli produce lactic acid (a 3.5-4.2 pH environment) that its
companion yeast can thrive in, but in which commercial yeast dies;
produce antibiotic agents that are hostile to other organisms; and
metabolize maltose, which wild yeast cannot. The biochemistry is
quite complicated and a far cry from the oversimplified picture of
yeast as a mere belcher of gases. If that's all yeast, or sourdough
cultures did, then there would be a lot more good bread around than
there is!

It is possible to make your own sourdough culture. The underlying
idea is to start with flour and water and, one way or another, let it
sit until a stable culture develops and then feed it into health. The
Silverton book has good, though intimidatingly long, instructions. It
is much simpler and surer to buy a culture from a reputable source;
it is fortunate that there is one. An obsessive guy named Ed Wood
travelled the world collecting old sourdough cultures from
multi-generational bakeries and worked out a way of drying them for
resuscitation. Sourdoughs International (PO Box 670, Cascade, Idaho
83611, (208)382-4828, fax: (208)382-3129])carries cultures from
France, Austria, Bahrain, Russia, San Francisco, Egypt, Saudi Arabia
and Yukon.

SIDEBAR

The basic bread process

Preparation, Mixing, Kneading, Fermentation part one (first rise),
Fermentation part 2 (proofing), Baking, Letting Cool.

The above sequence is, of course, a standard bread making sequence.
The sourdough part is buried in "Preparation". Sourdough starters are
built up in stages. For home baking, where the culture may go a week
or two between uses, this is particularly important. (In traditional
bakeries the 'chef', a lump of dough from the day's bake, starts the
next day's starter.).

The stored 'chef' is taken out of the refrigerator and coaxed back
into life with a series of additions of water and flour, roughly
doubling the amount each time. The staged feeding keeps the increase
in yeast and bacilli in correct proportion. Then the dough is made
from a portion of now vigorous starter.

One item that people used to commercial yeast might overlook is
temperature control. The starter and dough are best at under 80
degrees F. Your flour will be at room temperature and kneading will
add about 10 degrees. There is also about twice as much flour as
water, so your cold (dechlorinated) tap water will almost never be
too cold! And in the summer, you will need ice cubes.

Kneading develops the gluten (gluten is a protein in the endosperm of
wheat which, given the right conditions, forms itself into long
elastic strands that give bread its cellular structure -- the
"pockets" that hold the gases that give baking bread its loft) and
introduces the necessary oxygen. After rising in baskets, free-form
loaves are turned onto peels and slid onto hot stones in the oven.
All breads need to rest, uncut, after coming out of the oven. There
is still stuff happening in there.

A well made sourdough will keep from 4 days to a week on the counter,
wrapped in a towel or in a paper bag. Refrigerator temperatures
hasten staling, and plastic promotes mold and destroys crust.

-David

------------------------------

 Subject: 19. How do I get that great crust?

It is difficult to reproduce the effects of a commercial hearth oven
at home. The properties of a good oven include thick baking stones on
the bottom preferably heated with gas fire for more even heat
distribution than electric coils.  The oven should have heating
elements at the top of the oven and controls for setting the heat
intensity in all areas of the oven.

The most important difference between baking bread in a commercial
hearth oven and at home, is that the commercial oven has steam tubes
which deliver large amounts of steam at a reasonable pressure.  Steam
gelatinizes the starch and protein on the exterior of the loaves
without forming a hard shell.  After the steam is removed, the
gelatinized layer dries out forming a thick crunchy crust.  With no
steam, it is more difficult to keep the exterior of the bread from
forming a paper thin shell.

Another important difference is that the commercial deck oven is not
very tall from top to bottom which makes the heat more intense than
in a home oven.  The thickness of the baking stones also acts as a
heat sink to deliver maximum heat to the bread before the crust
begins to form resulting in better volume.  In a home oven, a thin
layer of steam surrounds the bread and prevents efficient transfer of
heat to the bread.  Convection ovens work better.

A few things can be done at home to better simulate a true deck oven.
Get a good thick baking stone and of course put it in the oven long
before you intend to put bread on it.  Put the stone as close to the
top of the oven as you can still leaving room for the bread to rise.
That will give more intense heat.  To simulate quality steam, spray
the bread well with water just before baking.  I use another strange
gadget that works very well.  I take aluminum muffin tins and poke
tiny holes in the bottom of each well.  I fill the tins with boiling
water and place them on the bottom rung of the oven about a minute
before putting the bread in to develop initial steam.  The water will
drip onto the bottom of the oven and create steam.  Remove the tins
after the first 5-10 minutes or the bread will develop an undesirable
crust.  Also, I heat my oven about 50 F higher than i need because
the water evaporation cools the oven.  Depending on the oven this
method works pretty well.

-Troy

------------------------------

 Subject: 20. How much starter do I need to keep?

I think the important point in the Silverton procedure is to
frequently feed the starter so that it as active as humanly possible.
I think she committed a major screw up by stressing the volumes so
much.  Thus it would be perfectly OK to start with 1/2 a teaspoon of
starter and add 1/2 teaspoon water and flour and on the next feeding
double this to one teaspoon, then two teaspoons, 1/4 cup, 1/2 cup etc
until you have the amount of starter that you need for your recipe
and a little extra to store.  The doubling procedure is standard
practice in most sourdough recipes but there is no law saying you
have to double.  In fact, some German recipes start with a massive
dilution (one in 100) for the first feeding and then use the normal
doubling until the required amount of starter is built up.

A single teaspoon of active starter (or starter stored for a few
weeks at most in the fridge) will have tens of millions of
yeast/lactobacilli.  It is thus not difficult to rebuild the starter
from seemingly vanishingly small amounts. A thick head of bubbles
will tell you that you starter is chugging along.  Of course this
assumes you have a good starter to begin with - if you do not have a
decent starter then the frequent feeding regimen recommended by
Silverton will rapidly lead to death of your starter(?) because there
simply were not enough organisms to double at the same rate at which
you feed them.

The important point if you start with small volumes is that the
starter can dry out relatively easily - you have only 1/2 teaspoon or
one teaspoon of water to evaporate in the early steps.  Thus you
should take steps to ensure that the starter does not dry out - make
it a bit more wet than normal, for the first few feedings cover it
with a wet towel or place it in a glass which in turn is placed in a
rubbermaid container filled with a little water.  In the cold weather
I use small coolers that I fill with water at the right temperature
(85F) and then float my starter on rubbermaid boats in there - this
serves as an incubator and also keeps it relatively humid.

I am astounded that a celebrated chef like Silverton could suggest a
recipe that would end up with 7 pounds of starter that you have no
use for!  This convinces me that all cook book authors seldom
actually test their recipes or check for appropriateness for their
audience - Silverton's recipe would be fine for a bakery but
ridiculous for the average Joe or Jane that the book was written for.

-Roland

------------------------------

 Subject: 21. Sourdough Science 101 or How are the sourness and
leavening of starters related?

Don't let the subject scare you off. My kids tease me that since I
left teaching (biology among other subjects), I have to find other
people to listen to me.  They are the usual targets.  I'll try to be
gentle - and practical.

There have been several posts over the last little while asking the
same question in different ways - how are the sourness and leavening
of starters related?  Some starters seem too sour, or not sour
enough, or have lost their sourness, or are sluggish or too active
(not a problem for most) and folks want to know how to manipulate
this.  It also has been pointed out that lactobacilli are anaerobes,
but this needs expansion. Here are some thoughts on this.

I am a homebrewer, and have read a good bit about yeast growth.
Baking and brewing yeast are just different strains of the same
species, but wild yeasts are different species, and some are even
different genera, so this may not apply to all, but I suspect it does.

Cultured yeast needs oxygen to reproduce, so once it has depleted the
oxygen in a starter/sponge/dough, it has pretty much reached the
population it's going to have.  After this, it shifts its metabolism
to anaerobic.   Assuming that wild yeast are much the same, this
means that letting a starter or sponge sit longer is not going to
result in much more yeast, and therefore will not increase its
leavening power.  It will become more sour (see below).

Lactobacilli are facultative anaerobes (as opposed to obligatory
anaerobes), so they will continue to metabolize and reproduce *either
with or without oxygen*.  However, they only produce lactic acid once
the oxygen is depleted, resulting in a more sour starter/sponge/dough
the longer you let it sit.  I don't think you need to worry about
excluding air - the surface above the sponge or whatever is full of
CO2 from the yeast, so very little oxygen is going to diffuse into
the sponge, especially if you have it covered, and this will keep it
from drying out, too.   Of course, during this time, the gluten will
deteriorate the longer you let it sit.

What does this all mean?  If you want a maximally active culture,
whip all the air you can into it each time you build it.  I add the
water first and whip this thin batter to a froth with an electric
mixer, then mix in the flour.  This results in maximum yeast
reproduction.  Then, as soon as it has used up all this oxygen, I
build it again.  Of course, it's hard to tell just when this is, but
I generally let a sponge go until it just begins to fall.  If you
want a more sour bread, let either the starter/sponge/dough go
longer.  I find that with high protein flour such as bread or hard
whole wheat, the dough can withstand two full rises before shaping
into loaves, resulting in more flavor (not just more sourness, but
that, too).

I hope this little science lesson has practical benefits to your
bread baking.  If anyone knows more details about how wild yeasts and
lactobacilli interact, I'd welcome hearing it, especially if I'm
wrong.  I suspect the symbiosis of some cultures may change things,
but this works with my Poilane (originally) starter.

-Jeff

User Contributions:

Comment about this article, ask questions, or add new information about this topic:

CAPTCHA



Section Contents



Single Page

[ Usenet FAQs | Web FAQs | Documents | RFC Index ]

Send corrections/additions to the FAQ Maintainer:
darrell.faq@telus.invalid (replace .invalid with .net)





Last Update March 27 2014 @ 02:11 PM