Author Topic: Starter Falls Flat  (Read 897 times)

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Offline DanCole42

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Starter Falls Flat
« on: July 12, 2011, 01:33:26 PM »
So about a year ago I made a starter, and it WORKS, but doesn't seem to work as well as I'd like. Especially for pizza. The dough it produces tends to be dense and ponderous rather than light and creamy.

Am I doing something incorrectly? I see starters that look like blob monsters overtaking their containers, but mine just looks like a gently bubbled, wet dough that eventually develops a layer of grey hooch.

I still have a hard time accepting that one sourdough starter might be different from another. It's just a bunch of yeast and bacteria that's naturally present on the flour. It doesn't magically coalesce out of the air, and it seems to me than any "exotic" strains would be overtaken by the local beasties.

So what could I be doing wrong?
-Dan

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MORBO: The challenger's ugly food has shown us that even hideous things can be sweet on the inside.


Offline dellavecchia

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Re: Starter Falls Flat
« Reply #1 on: July 12, 2011, 02:05:14 PM »
So about a year ago I made a starter, and it WORKS, but doesn't seem to work as well as I'd like. Especially for pizza. The dough it produces tends to be dense and ponderous rather than light and creamy.

Am I doing something incorrectly? I see starters that look like blob monsters overtaking their containers, but mine just looks like a gently bubbled, wet dough that eventually develops a layer of grey hooch.

I still have a hard time accepting that one sourdough starter might be different from another. It's just a bunch of yeast and bacteria that's naturally present on the flour. It doesn't magically coalesce out of the air, and it seems to me than any "exotic" strains would be overtaken by the local beasties.

So what could I be doing wrong?

Try this: take one or two tablespoons of your starter, and feed it with 3 heaping tablespoons of room temp water and 4 tablespoons of flour. Mix it vigorously for 30 seconds (to develop some gluten). It should look like smooth paste - if not, adjust the flour/water accordingly. Let it sit at room temp for 8 hours and see if it domes. If it does not, then feed it some more flour and water, preferring more flour than water. Once you get it to dome, wait until it starts to recede, and then discard half and re-feed. It should then shoot up within hours. Now is the time to make pizza.

If your starter is kept more liquid than solid, it will not dome that much at all. And the higher hydration will make the fermentation process go faster. But you should get your starter to a place where the activity is vigorous and then cultivate that large population of yeast.

John

Offline matermark

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Re: Starter Falls Flat
« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2011, 03:05:58 PM »
Did you make your starter with UNBLEACHED all-purpose flour or something else? And did the starter call for yeast, or just flour & water?

Saturday, I started making a biga for Ciabatta bread, followed by making a same day (emergency) pizza crust. The Ciabatta recipe called for 1 packet of ADY, 1 cup water and 1 cup flour to make the biga/starter and to wait 24 hours. I made it in the kitchenaid mixer bowl but decided to pour it into a 1 quart canning jar instead, since the recipe called for a small crock or small glass container, plus I needed to use the kitchenaid again for the pizza.

Anyway, I screwed just the band on the canning jar without the lid, using a double or triple layer of cheesecloth under the band. I didn't think much of it but after a while, I noticed it passed the 2 cup mark on the jar... later it was up to the neck... and after a couple hours ( 2 or 3), it started to come thru the cheesecloth and overflowed!

I surely didn't expect that to happen making a biga for a Ciabatta bread. It said to store around 75F for 24 hrs... it may have been around 80F. I think the higher temps combined with unbleached flour and a whole packet of yeast all contributed to the eruption.

If fresh unbleached flour doesn't kickstart it, try a little yeast.

Offline The Dough Doctor

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Re: Starter Falls Flat
« Reply #3 on: July 12, 2011, 03:34:16 PM »
Dan;
Just about each and every starter is different from any other one. This is why some starters or sours will sell for as much as $20,000.00. Did you know that Panetone (a type of Italian fruit bread) is traditionally made from a sour? And it goes without saying that San Francisco Sourdough bread is also made from a sour, but with a significantly different resulting flavor profile. True, sours and natural starters are made up of a mix of wild yeasts and an assortment of different types of bacteria. It is the specific strain(s) of each, and the mix of them that is responsible for the performance of the sour or starter. In Mexico a starter is commonly used for some types of breads, and the way they make the starter is to save a quantity of dough, to this they add water and flour to feed / propagate it, then they use a portion of this to culture the new dough. Since the original dough is typically made with baker's yeast as the dominant microflora, if it is properly managed, baker's yeast should remain the dominant strain of microflora, and the flavor profile will not change very much, but occasionally, something goes wrong, the starter is left uncovered, or it is allowed to stand at an incorrect temperature (one that is not conducive to the propagation of the baker's yeast) and the starter is lost, meaning that it either doesn't perform as well as it used to, or it imparts a different, and usually undesirable, flavor to the finished product.
Developing and maintaining a sour or starter is a fun undertaking, and also to some extent, an art form where bread flavors are concerned.
Tom Lehmann/The Dough Doctor

Offline pizzablogger

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Re: Starter Falls Flat
« Reply #4 on: July 12, 2011, 04:55:58 PM »
Dan;
Just about each and every starter is different from any other one. This is why some starters or sours will sell for as much as $20,000.00.

Good point Tom.

When I worked at a bakery in DC back in the early to mid 1990's, there was a good bit of consulting going on with people from outside of the bakery, with Michael London being one baker who was brought in or talked to from time to time to help ensure quality was being maintained and improvements/new ideas were looked at.

Earlier on when I was there I learned of the purchase price for the starters being used...and it shocked me big time...I was obviously much younger and thought they were nuts to pay that much money. Years later I realized that the reliability and predictability (consistency) of a proven starter which also meets a desired flavor profile is very much worth paying for on the commercial side, as can literally be a matter of putting food on the table or not in many cases!

A lot riding on some of those little microscopic trouble makers!
"It's Baltimore, gentlemen, the gods will not save you." --Burrell

Offline yumarama

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Re: Starter Falls Flat
« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2011, 06:02:16 PM »
Dan,

Since Tom has succinctly responded to your question regarding starter genetics, let's look at your issues with the current starter's lack of get-up-and-go. In your description of the starter you did not mention specifics like your feeding ratio, hydration level, type(s) of flour used, temperature you let the starter rise at or the feeding schedule. Any or all of these would help tremendously in diagnosing your starter's issues.

Still, a quick guess based on your comment that you're getting hootch would indicate a strong possibility that your starter isn't being fed enough - hootch generally shows up when a starter has eaten up all it's food and is 'hungry'.

One easy way to prevent that issue is to give even a very active starter enough food to last several hours before hitting its peak and collapsing, at which point it has run out of food. A good typical ratio you might want to try is a ratio of 1:2:2, meaning 1 part starter to 2 parts water (stir to dissolve) plus 2 parts flour. Please note that these amounts are based on weight, not volume. It's not a "godly" ratio, by any means, people use others quite successfully, but it's one that's worked for plenty of proud starter pet owners and can be trusted to give good results. Even with this ratio, you'll want to feed the starter twice daily; "morning" and "early evening" are close enough, you don't need to be terribly exact to 12 hours. This allows most casual/weekend baking people to keep a starter out on the counter and work it into their daily routine simply enough for those two or three feeds before using in dough and returning the starter to the fridge.

There are other possibilities - and cures - that could be looked at but we do need a bit more info on your starter's care and feeding before pinpointing what could be the cause and how to fix it.




Offline DanCole42

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Re: Starter Falls Flat
« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2011, 10:48:27 PM »
Dan,

Since Tom has succinctly responded to your question regarding starter genetics, let's look at your issues with the current starter's lack of get-up-and-go. In your description of the starter you did not mention specifics like your feeding ratio, hydration level, type(s) of flour used, temperature you let the starter rise at or the feeding schedule. Any or all of these would help tremendously in diagnosing your starter's issues.

Despite what Tom said, I still have a hard time buying the idea that what are essentially the same organisms could produce such wildly different starters. Subtleties in flavor? Maybe. But nothing to command thousand of dollars. Seems like a lot of snake oil sales to me! :)

Regardless, this is a 1 to 1 starter done exclusively using organic, unbleached King Arthur bread flour. I started it over a year ago using purple cabbage, and use it pretty regularly at least every month or so. It does develop the hooch after a few weeks in the fridge, but when it comes time to wake it up I'll do it using roughly the 1:2:2 ratio you suggested. It definitely leavens itself, and bread, but the products it makes seem to lack the airiness I get in commercially yeasted dough, with holes in the crumb that are smaller and more even - like you'd see in a lower hydration loaf.

I just don't get it!

PS - God I love this forum.
-Dan

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MORBO: The challenger's ugly food has shown us that even hideous things can be sweet on the inside.

Offline yumarama

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Re: Starter Falls Flat
« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2011, 10:56:41 PM »
When you do refresh it next, try using maybe 1/4 or 1/2 of the flour you feed as rye flour, that usually gives starters a good shot of energy. A little rye flour is sort of like a shot of espresso for white flour starters.

Offline pizzablogger

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Re: Starter Falls Flat
« Reply #8 on: July 14, 2011, 05:24:41 PM »
Despite what Tom said, I still have a hard time buying the idea that what are essentially the same organisms could produce such wildly different starters. Subtleties in flavor? Maybe. But nothing to command thousand of dollars. Seems like a lot of snake oil sales to me! :)

Flavor profiles are one thing....and a flavor profile can indeed be important for a particular establishment.

The other huge factor is reliability. The ability, if taken care of, for a starter to repeatedly (essentially without fail) leaven and impart a desired flavor note on a consistant basis day in and day out.

Many people here have experienced unexplained difficulties with their starters, even when doing everything "right". Granted, we often do not refresh and maintain our starters at nearly the same rate as commercial operations (often weekly for us versus up to multiple times a day at retail/commercial joints), but having a proven, consistently reliable starter that consistently delivers the leavening and flavor profile you desire is vital for a business whose customers expect a consistent product.

Whether or not the cost is worth it or not is definitely one to consider....and also subjective. --K
"It's Baltimore, gentlemen, the gods will not save you." --Burrell


 

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