Author Topic: Getting Started with Starters  (Read 2401 times)

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Offline MWTC

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Getting Started with Starters
« on: August 27, 2007, 04:09:24 PM »
Peter,

Would you provide a road map to success with starters?

Maybe some logical map to a nice sequencing of some of the best threads on this forum. Logical progression.

If you would, could you provide some reference books to help us on our way. I just used my first 12 hour yeast starter as recommended in the book "CookWise", great book. Have you studied this book?

I am looking to save some time and avoid wasting any time if possible.

Thank-you Peter.

MWTC  :chef: 


Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Getting Started with Starters
« Reply #1 on: August 27, 2007, 06:25:23 PM »
MWTC,

I am flattered that you should think of me to help you with the use of starters but I don't think I am particularly qualified to the task as you generally defined it. I have made and reported on the results of quite a few of the doughs that I have made using starters/preferments but I attribute what success I have had as much to luck or serendipity as anything else. One of the few intelligent things I think I did involving starters/preferments was to come up with the preferment dough calculating tool, and to do that I needed the help of Boy Hits Car (Mike), Bill/SFNM and scott r, all of whom offered helpful suggestions that ended up in the final design of the tool.

About the only book on starters that I have read is Ed Wood's book Classic Sourdoughs. I have also read a ton of articles on the internet on the subject of starters (and preferments), but I usually end up confused because of what appears to be conflicting information or information of questionable correctness. Not being a chemist, I can't resolve those conflicts. There is also a lot of seat of the pants home remedies whose technical underpinnings, even from many professionals, is either absent or suspect. However, one person whose writings I have thoroughly enjoyed is Didier Rosata, who is chief instructor at the San Francisco Baking Institute. His writings helped me better understand the practical aspects of the classic preferments (poolish, sponges, bigas, etc.), which helped me greatly when I wrote the definitions for those preferments for the forum's Pizza Glossary. His articles are available (in pdf form) at the SFBI website.

I had started using natural starters before I became a member of this forum but my use was with respect to breads, not pizza. After becoming a member of the forum, I read everything (in some cases, several times) that members like pizzanapoletana and bakerboy (a professional baker) wrote in posts on the forum. I also read everything that other astute members wrote on the subject, including Bill/SFNM, scott r, and Jeff Varasano, and others who appeared to have credible bread/pizza dough making experience. I looked for basic principles and concepts and cause and effect rather than deep technical explanations. I was also looking for an organizational structure or construct on which to base my efforts using starters/preferments. That is what was ultimately incorporated into the preferment dough calculating tool.

Now, when I want to use, modify or create a dough formulation using starters/preferments, I start with the tool, and that is what I suggest you consider. The tool is agnostic as to the type of flour used but the hydration of the dough must be compatible with the type of flour used. After that, the most important inputs are the amount of starter/preferment used (in relation to the weight of flour, water or total dough weight) and the hydration (percent of water) of the starter/preferment. Even when the inputs are known, the starter has to be a competent one, properly prepared, and properly maintained, with care given to how much water is used in the starter as it is periodically refreshed. Each starter has its own personality, which varies from one starter to another, so comprehending that personality and how to best use it is something that one should attempt to learn.

I now believe that you don't have to be an expert on the biochemical mechanisms of starters to achieve successful results but it certainly helps to know cause and effect principles and how starters and preferments, and especially their quantities, affect the finished results. I tried to explain some of these aspects in the thread opened on the tool in the Forum Info section of the forum. Understanding the effects of temperature on starters is also important, but unless one uses a proofing box (mainly in the winter) or a thermo-cooling unit such as the MR-138, which a few of the members own, some time will have to be spent on learning how temperature affects the starters/preferments in any given situation or application. For specifics on how to create and maintain starters/preferments, I would read the posts of the members of the forum who have achieved the best results using them.

Peter
« Last Edit: August 30, 2007, 01:27:38 PM by Pete-zza »

Offline MWTC

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Re: Getting Started with Starters
« Reply #2 on: August 28, 2007, 10:43:54 AM »
Thanks Peter.  :)

With the experience that you have, has the flavor of the dough improved enough using the starter to warrant its development and use? And if yes, which starter improves it the most?

MWTC  :chef:

Offline Pete-zza

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Re: Getting Started with Starters
« Reply #3 on: August 28, 2007, 01:05:24 PM »
MWTC,

In my experience, the best crust flavors that I achieved using natural starters were those natural starters that were used in relatively small amounts (essentially only for leavening purposes) and at room temperatures for long fermentation periods. My experiments along these lines were chronicled at the thread http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,986.msg8806.html#msg8806 and also at individual posts featuring the Ischia starter at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,2951.msg25809.html#msg25809 (Reply 43) and the Camaldoli starter at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,986.msg25847.html#msg25847 (Reply 95). You will note the small amounts of starter that were used to make most of the doughs--in some cases about a teaspoon for a dough weight of about 12 ounces, or a few percent by weight of flour. Once you get above 20% (by weight of flour), there are other features and attributes of preferments that kick in and influence the final results. Many of those features and attributes are explained in the San Francisco Baking Institute newsletters previously mentioned.

Over time, I used different starter cultures, including a local one and the aforementioned Ischia and Camaldoli starters, and liked them all, although the Camaldoli starter was milder than the others. This squares with what pizzanapoletana (Marco) has reported at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,637.msg15116.html#msg15116 (Reply 45). However, it is possible to adjust the hydration of the starter such that it emphasizes one or the other of the two most common organic acids, acetic or lactic. The preference of the lactic component over the acetic component for pizza has been noted by Marco at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,1298.msg12548.html#msg12548 (Reply 61). Generally speaking, when the starter is liquidy rather than like a dough, the acetic acid component is more pronounced, and vice versa. To give you a simple example of how the literature on this aspect can be confusing, see this article (courtesy of scott r), http://www.artisanbaker.com/ArtisanBaker/article_02.htm, where, under the section Factors Affecting the Culture, it is stated:  Hydration: A stiff culture will have the tendency to develop more acetic acidity, while liquid levain will increase the production of lactic acidity. You will note a similar statement at http://www.sfbi.com/pdfs/NewsS02.pdf, under the section entitled Troubleshooting Your Sourdough, by Jeff Yankellow. In both cases, the statements came from the San Francisco Baking Institute. I will leave to you to determine who is right--Marco or the SFBI (see Marco's Reply 23 at http://www.pizzamaking.com/forum/index.php/topic,3601.msg30641.html#msg30641).

You will have to decide for yourself how far you would like to go with starters. I think it is useful to try natural starters because you will learn a lot from the experience, not to mention the likelihood of getting crusts that are first rate in terms of flavor and texture. Some people like the results so much that they stop using commercial yeast altogether. And you shouldn't think only in terms of using natural starters to make Neapolitan-style doughs. I have used natural starters to make NY style doughs (mainly the Lehmann NY style), thin crust pizza doughs (e.g., the DeLorenzo clone doughs I experimented with recently), and even deep-dish doughs (including one using Caputo flour).

Peter
« Last Edit: August 04, 2008, 02:57:52 PM by Pete-zza »

Offline MWTC

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Re: Getting Started with Starters
« Reply #4 on: August 28, 2007, 02:41:31 PM »
Thank-you again Peter.

That's enough to get me going. I wanted to make sure I'm headed in the right direction. 

I will continue with this direction and report back when I can contribute something that might help others with some of my experiences.

Flavor enhancement is my goal.

MWTC  :chef:

If anyone has something that might help in achieving this goal, please contribute, and know that it is appreciated.  :)