Author Topic: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation  (Read 15258 times)

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Offline Bill/SFNM

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Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« on: January 11, 2007, 02:49:38 PM »
For those of us who prefer starters, the challenges are many.  Like many, I struggled with contamination during the initial activation. Since then I have spent much time, and experienced more than a few failures figuring out the best way to use the starter as an ingredient - how much to add to the dough, when to add it, how long and at what temps to ferment and proof. I think I have made some good progress, but must admit that I neglected what I am now realizing is a major issue when using a starter: how activated should the starter be before adding it to the dough?

For the most part, I have simply been taking the starter out of the fridge, mixing any hooch back in, whisking in some flour and water, and then allowing it to sit at room temp until it seemed "alive". Not much precision was used nor was much possible since some times I would use the starter every day and other times (e.g. when I left town) it was unused for a month.

I still don't have much of a handle on this, but in an experiment this week, I made a batch of dough following the procedure above. A second batch was made using starter that was doubly activated - that is, after activating as above, I fed it more flour and water and allowed it to sit on the counter for a few more hours. What I can report is that the second batch was noticeably lighter and even more flavorful - a little sweeter, if you will.

I plan to study in a lot more detail to see what results I get with even more activation to see at what point the results are best.

For those of you that use starters, what indicators do you use to determine when your starter is "optimum". Any other thoughts greatly appreciated.

Bill/SFNM


Offline scott r

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #1 on: January 11, 2007, 04:57:42 PM »
Bill, I too have come to the conclusion that when I use my starter has dramatic effects on my final product. I have found that after feeding a starter it sits dormant for a while, it then hits a period where it really grows fast, it then starts to slow it's growth, it then eventually stops it's growth and just sits there, it then falls back.   I like to use the starter is when the fast growth spurt has just stopped, but it is not quite done growing.  I would say that the starter is probably at 95% of its maximum growth potential when I use it.  Any time from this point to the point where the dough stops growing seems to be the best time to use the starter.  If I wait too long, toward the end of the non growth phase, or when it starts to sink back I don't think I have the best product.  Also if it is used too early I don't get as fast of a rise, and it is hard to time when the dough will be done and ready to bake.

I have found that the easiest way to tell where the starter is in it's life cycle is to use a 1 liter plastic sport bottle with a screw on top. It is available at most sporting goods stores in a variety of tinted colors.  This tall and skinny bottle is marked with oz, grams, etc. from top to bottom, and keeping an eye on how fast the dough is moving up the markings can be a really great indicator of when it starts to slow.

Since I have picked up this tall skinny measured bottle the consistency and quality of my pies has jumped dramatically.  Also I can now easily pinpoint when my dough will be done as long as I take measurements of the finished dough temp and my room temp.  I have to give the credit to Marco who's simple but powerful words helped me to come to these methods.  He said,  "you have to be consistent with your own methodology. Once you find a quantity a time that work for you, you have to stick to it"

Offline MWTC

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #2 on: January 11, 2007, 05:15:57 PM »
I just started looking into this topic, and just got the Ed Woods book. The first question that hit me was, what type of flour do you feed the culture? The book says flour, but which one is the best to use, and is it the same flour for all cultures?  :-\

MWTC  :chef:

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #3 on: January 11, 2007, 05:40:06 PM »
"you have to be consistent with your own methodology. Once you find a quantity a time that work for you, you have to stick to it"
Scott,

If there is ever a point where I feel improvements can't be made, then I'll "stick to it". I don't think I'm even close.

Here's where I think I'm departing from your explanation above: I agree that during a feeding, there is a window where the culture is most active. However, after a second feeding, there is another window where the culture is even MORE active. Perhaps a third feeding will give a culture that is even MORE active than that. Whether any of this results in a better final product is something I hope to explore.

Bill/SFNM

Offline David

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #4 on: January 11, 2007, 05:59:02 PM »
I just changed my starter yesterday actually Bill and added a little more flour and water than usual as well as increasing it to be a little stiffer.this seemed to dramatically improve activity.The time frame from feeding to use is about 4hrs for me at present.I used to return it to the fridge after every use,but i've stopped doing that now.
                     David

PS. Here's a picture after 24 hrs. and it had completely dropped.You can see from the bubbles how happy they have been.I'll leave it now and not  feed it again for a few days.
« Last Edit: January 11, 2007, 06:58:25 PM by David »
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Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #5 on: January 11, 2007, 06:04:38 PM »
In the bread making world, preferments like poolish and sponges are deemed to have reached the maturation point when domed on the top and just beginning to recede. Member Dinks, a baker by training, expressed it this way in a post on the forum:

..when ready you will see a zillion bubbles on top. If you see crown top to it, it isn't ready yet. But the moment it begins to recede it's time to use. The yeast is spent & fermentation is completed.

Didier Rosada, former chief baking instructor at the San Francisco Baking Institute, describes the maturation process for a poolish as follows:

The goal for the baker is to obtain a poolish that is perfectly matured at the time of the final dough mixing. The full maturation of the poolish can be recognized when it has domed slightly on the top and just begun to recede, creating on the surface some areas a little more concave. A poolish that had not matured adequately does not provide the benefit of lower acidity; one that has over-matured can create other types of acidity which might affect the flavor of the final product.

Basically, the same tests are used for a sponge, which is a lower hydration preferment than a poolish (which has 100% hydration), or, as Rosada puts it:

As with the poolish, the surface of the sponge contains vital clues to help the baker determine its readiness. When many bubbles are evident and some of the cracks start to form, creating some collapsing, the sponge is ready for incorporation into the final dough. An under-mature sponge would not be as beneficial because of inadequate acid development; an over-mature sponge could negatively affect the strength of the dough due to an increase in the acidity level, and would affect the flavor of the bread due to the formation of other acids.

Peter

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #6 on: January 11, 2007, 06:17:12 PM »
Peter,

Perhaps it's a little more complex? When the culture begins to recede, presumably it is because the fuel for the yeast has been exhausted and/or metabolic waste products have reached toxic levels. If at that point, I add more flour and water and wait for that to reach it's maximum, do we have the exact same level of activity as we did at the previous maximum point? And is "activity" defined strictly in terms of the concentration of yeast organisms or does this second round also have an effect on the concentration of other organisms and metabolic by products? Things to ponder. More pies to eat!

Bill/SFNM

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #7 on: January 11, 2007, 06:26:25 PM »
Oh, and another thing, is two feedings like I describe any different from a single feeding with twice as much flour and water added and allowed to sit longer (although not twice as long)?

Bill/SFNM

Offline scott r

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #8 on: January 11, 2007, 06:54:26 PM »
Peter, I had read you postings before about how it is best to use the culture just as it starts to recede.  If you are using a really thick culture, almost dough like, it will sit there not growing or receding for a very long time, sometimes hours.  With more liquid (50/50) starters the time is very short, and the "wait until it is just about to recede" method works great.  Unfortunately when I use the really thick starters and wait till they are about to recede my finished crust quality suffers.  I have done a number of tests with control starters to prove this.

Bill, I think that what you may be experiencing is that your culture is a little too acidic when you give it it's first feeding.  By the time you give it the second feeding the ph balance is better and you get a better product.  If I have not used my starter in even a few days I find it necessary to do a multiple feeding to get it to maximum potential.  As a general rule I only do a single feed before use if it has been three days since my last feeding.  Any more than 4 days since a feeding and I do two cycles.   Feeding more flour and water to the culture would have the same effect of re balancing the PH, so giving a bigger feeding once and waiting longer before use will essentially have the effect as multiple feedings.  The only thing I would caution about this method is that it might make the culture more susceptible to contamination from outside organisms.
« Last Edit: January 12, 2007, 01:59:03 AM by scott r »

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #9 on: January 11, 2007, 07:10:05 PM »
I'm glad I started this thread. Seeing how different folks try to get the most out of their starters is fascinating and promises to be a ripe area for experimentation.

I've got a batch of baguettes with the double-fed French starter fermenting as we speak which I'll bake up tomorrow to see how it compares to previous single-fed activations. Looks promising (actually smells promising).

I have always thought my starters were properly activated. I was probably wrong.  :-[

Bill/SFNM



Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #10 on: January 11, 2007, 07:20:39 PM »
scott,

My recollection is that Bill uses a preferment at around 85% hydration (54% flour and 46% water). A poolish by definition is 100% hydration, that is, equal amounts of flour and water by weight. A sponge can actually be quite stiff yet exhibit signs of maturity. The activity is more noticeable in these forms of preferments because they almost always contain commercial yeast, and when the yeast is spent, the event is easily detected. Bigas can be very stiff (50-55% hydration), but bakers learn how to make and integrate them into their bread making routine, for example, by using a fixed amount of yeast, a controlled temperature (around 60 degrees F), and a fixed fermentation time (e.g., 18 hours). With stiff natural preferments, that is harder to do unless you do it all the time under the right conditions.

Peter

Offline scott r

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #11 on: January 11, 2007, 07:26:03 PM »
I had a run of about two months where I threw out my starter and used nothing but IDY.  I was SHOCKED at how much better of a baker I am than I thought I was.  With IDY I was able to consistently make quality pies.  This is what prompted me to get much more serious about how I deal with my culture.  It really pisses me off that even after reading Ed Wood's book Classic Sourdoughs, the Bread Builders, and everything I can find on the internet I still feel like I don't know anywhere near enough about how to best utilize them.  There just is not a definitive source anywhere that spells out everything simply, and certainly not in regard to pizza dough.  I am learning what works and doesn't through trial and error, but I am no biologist.  Thank god we have the little snippits that we do from Marco, or I would really be lost.  I just wish he would get that book published.

In the meantime, hooray for Pizzamaking.com and lets all try to get this figured out!

Offline shango

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #12 on: January 11, 2007, 08:10:49 PM »
I feed my starter 3 times a day, store it in a temp. controlled room (50-60) and use it when I please.

I find the results more dependent on hydration, salt content and proofing times than feedings of the culture..... ??? (although this mother is always very active) 

also make sourdough loaves with it.....
pizza, pizza, pizza

Offline scott r

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #13 on: January 12, 2007, 02:05:06 AM »
From talking to a commercial baker that is supposedly the best way to go.  Keep the culture active all the time.

Our whole "put it in the fridge for a while" process really makes for a lot of guess work as far as how active or dormant those little buggers are in our culture.  I would assume the best way for us home bakers to really know if we need to do a single or a double feed would be to buy a ph test kit, available at any pet store.  I don't know if it is really this simple, but it just might be.
« Last Edit: January 12, 2007, 02:11:11 AM by scott r »

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #14 on: January 12, 2007, 05:17:00 AM »
I would assume the best way for us home bakers to really know if we need to do a single or a double feed would be to buy a ph test kit, available at any pet store.  I don't know if it is really this simple, but it just might be.

Scott,

I have a pH meter that I use for making cheese. Not sure how useful the data will be, but I'll start collecting readings during activation.

Bill/SFNM

Offline pizzanapoletana

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #15 on: January 12, 2007, 11:54:54 AM »
I think there are two aspects you should consider in your experimentations:

- Leavening strenght
- Acidity/ Sourness

In general terms the two are inversely proportional.... For pizza you need a different balance then for bread making..

Ciao
« Last Edit: January 12, 2007, 11:58:09 AM by pizzanapoletana »

Offline pizzanapoletana

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #16 on: January 12, 2007, 12:00:23 PM »
In the bread making world, preferments like poolish and sponges are deemed to have reached the maturation point when domed on the top and just beginning to recede. Member Dinks, a baker by training, expressed it this way in a post on the forum:

..when ready you will see a zillion bubbles on top. If you see crown top to it, it isn't ready yet. But the moment it begins to recede it's time to use. The yeast is spent & fermentation is completed.

Didier Rosada, former chief baking instructor at the San Francisco Baking Institute, describes the maturation process for a poolish as follows:

The goal for the baker is to obtain a poolish that is perfectly matured at the time of the final dough mixing. The full maturation of the poolish can be recognized when it has domed slightly on the top and just begun to recede, creating on the surface some areas a little more concave. A poolish that had not matured adequately does not provide the benefit of lower acidity; one that has over-matured can create other types of acidity which might affect the flavor of the final product.

Basically, the same tests are used for a sponge, which is a lower hydration preferment than a poolish (which has 100% hydration), or, as Rosada puts it:

As with the poolish, the surface of the sponge contains vital clues to help the baker determine its readiness. When many bubbles are evident and some of the cracks start to form, creating some collapsing, the sponge is ready for incorporation into the final dough. An under-mature sponge would not be as beneficial because of inadequate acid development; an over-mature sponge could negatively affect the strength of the dough due to an increase in the acidity level, and would affect the flavor of the bread due to the formation of other acids.

Peter

Peter,

It is this that will confuse you.... Preferment vs Starters...

Although starters CAN be used also as preferment (dependiong on percentage used), their preparation scope is different and that is where your focus needs to be

Ciao
« Last Edit: January 12, 2007, 02:39:12 PM by pizzanapoletana »

Offline scott r

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #17 on: January 12, 2007, 12:23:31 PM »
cool,  I was expecting you (marco) to come on here and flame me.   This means we might be getting somewhere!

experiments to come for sure.

Offline MWTC

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #18 on: January 12, 2007, 02:11:17 PM »
Again, what type of flour are you using to feed the starters.  ;D

MWTC   :chef:

Offline Bill/SFNM

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Re: Proper Care and Feeding of Starters - Activation
« Reply #19 on: January 12, 2007, 02:19:37 PM »
Again, what type of flour are you using to feed the starters.  ;D

MWTC   :chef:

I feed with the same flour that I will typically use with the dough. Camaldoli is fed Caputo. All the rest get bread flour. And to keep things consistent, I used bottled water for the feedings and doughs since I am on a well; when the water table rises and falls, I've found the taste and pH of it can vary.

Bill/SFNM
« Last Edit: January 12, 2007, 02:22:01 PM by Bill/SFNM »