Author Topic: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"  (Read 24973 times)

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Offline Steve

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Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« on: January 25, 2005, 07:30:11 PM »
Jeff got me thinking about his Patsy's poolish that he has been keeping alive for his pizza dough. Jeff also mentioned a website, http://www.sourdo.com, that sells starters. I wrote to Ed Wood (the owner and book author of said website) and he suggested that I try their two Italian sourdough starters for a very tasty pizza crust.

Now, I think I've pretty much tried every technique to get a flavorful crust. I've tried different types/brands of flour, different types of yeast, salt, oils, adding sugar, and several different types of dough conditioners. And, even after a 24/48 hour fermentation using all of these various ingredients, the dough doesn't really have a significant taste improvement. Yes, the fermentation helps, but it's not a dramatic difference.

The only thing that I have not tried is using a sourdough starter. And, from what I can tell, this has the potential to really add some depth and flavor to my pizza dough (and french bread.)

So, with this said, has anyone used a good sourdough culture to create a really flavorful pizza crust? I know that Jeff swears by his Patsy's culture, but I want to know how much of a difference a starter will actually make. If you were to make up two batches of dough, one using regular IDY and the other using a starter culture, let them both rise for 48 hours, then baked them up side-by-side, would the layperson be able to distinguish between the two?

For $17, I think that I am going to bite the bullet and buy the Italian starters from the sourdo site.
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Offline pftaylor

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #1 on: January 25, 2005, 07:41:25 PM »
I have a tangential question on starter dough. Would it be possible to buy raw (uncooked) dough from your favorite pizza shop, refrigerate it until you get home and then stabilize it for long term use?
If someone knows and understands the steps involved in a process like this, I sure would like to know their thoughts. In the absence of buying ones' favorite pizza dough I would go the route Steve is considering.
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Offline Steve

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #2 on: January 25, 2005, 07:46:47 PM »
I have a tangential question on starter dough. Would it be possible to buy raw (uncooked) dough from your favorite pizza shop, refrigerate it until you get home and then stabilize it for long term use?
If someone knows and understands the steps involved in a process like this, I sure would like to know their thoughts. In the absence of buying ones' favorite pizza dough I would go the route Steve is considering.

That's exactly what Jeff did. He purchased some uncooked dough from Patsy's and then used it to start a poolish of his own. And, I too would like to know how it's done. I am planning to purchase the book about the subject at the above mentioned website.
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Offline canadave

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #3 on: January 25, 2005, 08:05:37 PM »
Steve, you beat me to all this.  I've been musing about the very same thing (getting a hold of a good starter and trying to improve dough flavour that way).  I was thisclose to trying my hand at creating my own starter--several websites mention how to do that.  But I think I'm going to try a pre-made starter one of these days.  Again, though, there's the issue for me of getting it here to Canada.  If you manage to have any luck with it, I'm *really* interested in the results you achieve.

Dave

Online Pete-zza

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #4 on: January 25, 2005, 08:46:26 PM »
I have Ed Wood's book on sourdoughs, Classic Sourdoughs. In fact, it was from this book that I got the basic design for the proofing box that I mention so often. I first used it to make the pizza dough recipe contained in Wood's book. I didn't much care for the taste of the crust made from the pizza dough, but I learned how to use the proofing box in a much broader and diversified way to make many different kinds of pizza doughs and breads. For me, it is now a tool.

I found that I much preferred to make a poolish and use that, with periodic replenishment of flour and water, to make pizza doughs. It was based on using a commercial yeast and, sometimes, an addition of a natural sourdough starter that I made using the airborne yeast in Texas. The basic problem with sourdough starters and poolishes that I see is that you basically have to be a monk to be able to have the time and patience to tend to the starter or poolish. If you have a job that takes you away from home for extended periods, or you go on a long vacation, you have to really work at keeping the starter or poolish viable. Once the sugar locked up in the flour is gone, the starter weakens and can die, and trying to revive it takes a lot of work. All that said, some of the finest breads I have ever made were the result of using a natural sourdough starter.

With all due respect to Jeff and others on this forum, I must admit that I am a bit skeptical about the makeup of Patsy's dough. Patsy's has become a mini-chain and outfits like that usually don't do particularly well in an artisanal environment. Making poolishes or using chefs is a labor-intensive exercise, and you are at the mercy of ambient temperature, time, and the unpredictability of the starter medium itself, all of which can work against achieving consistency of results and introduce a measure of uncertainty that business people are unwilling to accept for long. I think one or two pizza establishments may be able to do it, for the love of the art of pizza making, but beyond that I have my doubts. As best I can tell, there are damn few pizza operators of any size who use a poolish or similar approach. Even in Italy it is fairly uncommon, to the best of my knowledge. If anything, the Italians are trying more and more to emulate American pizza practices.

Peter

Offline varasano

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #5 on: January 25, 2005, 11:09:01 PM »
Hey Pete,

I'm going to get Steve my culture and he will let you guys know if I'm crazy or not and he can mail you guys some too if it works out for him.

The sourdough culture will have the most significant change in flavor you've seen. If you bought 10 brands of yeast, you got the same thing. They are all the same strain. Even the fresh or 'cake' yeast is the same strain as the packets.

The sourdough cultures are an entirely different thing. There are 1000's of kinds of yeast and they are all different. Some will be mild. Some will be totally unique. Think of it like this. If I said I was eating a plant it just wouldn't tell you much. Eating basil is different than eating mint or rosemary or spinach. Think of these sourdough cultures this way. They have that much diversity, unlike the raw ingredients which have nominal differences. Think of cultures as little factories, adding hundreds of ingredients into your dough. They are eating the flour and creating hundreds, maybe thousands of organic chemicals.  No additive can compare.

Even if you try one and hate it, it means nothing, because the next one will be totally different. It will have a different rise time, prefer a different temperature, eat away at the gluten differently. Each one is a new ballgame and you have to start experimenting again.

That said, there are some basics in the book that are essential to know.

Ed Wood gives a procedure for reviving a dormant culture. It works. You should feed it once every two weeks, but going 2-4 months without feeding it will probably not kill it. They go into a semi-dormant state. It's part of their survival mechanism. It may just take 3-5 days of care to revive at that point.

>Patsy's
The Patsy's chain stinks. I'm only talking about the original on 117th street. It's really no trouble for them to keep it up. They probably don't make a poolish. They just mix in part of yesterday's dough into today's dough. I talked to the head baker at the best bakery in town (Atlanta). He was also the head baker at Zabar's in NYC. This guys knows his stuff. He mixes today's dough starting with yesterday's leftovers. This is called a levain, instead of a poolish, but it's the same thing.  I use a poolish simply because I don't mix dough every day so I have to prep a day in advance by bringing the culture up to life. Once Patsy's gets into a routine, the inconsistencies are not a problem. They just do the same thing every day.  In fact, it would be HARD to kill the yeast in Patsy's.  It's a living thing that becomes established and dominant in it's environment and it doesn't want to die. It's not that fragile. They haven't died out in hundreds of millions of years. If Patsy's switched to another culture that they bought from Sourdo.com they might find that in a few weeks it was back to the old culture. Everything from the counter to the skin of the Pizza guy is probably permanently covered in the dominant strain.  Georgia is covered in Kudzu, a weed that grows here. I'm sure that some seeds have made their way to NY, but NY is not covered in Kudzu.  It's a different environment that's prime growing conditions for a different set of species.

I've had Patsy's culture for 2 1/2 years.  My crust smells and tastes like Patsy's, especially recently since my kneading and oven issues have improved.  I had another culture from Johnny's in NY for a while and that dough smelled like Johnny's despite the way I butchered the texture. Only I didn't know what I was doing back then and the Patsy's culture took it over. You could smell it.

>Proofing box,
I have a double oven and I just use the top one for a proofing box. You can use a lightbulb or just heat the oven for 1 minute and let it retain some heat. You only need it to get to 85F.  FYI, you don't always have to use it. Only if the culture is in really bad shape.

Jeff

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #6 on: January 25, 2005, 11:32:31 PM »
Jeff,

Thanks for clarifying things for me. I read recently that a new pizza place in NYC--Una Pizza Napoletana--uses dough from one day to make the dough for the next day. See, for example, http://www.sliceny.com/archives/2004/10/una_pizza_napol.php, and click on the yellow thumbnail photos. Is this what Patsy's and you are doing? If so, how long does it take for your dough to ferment to the usable stage using the old dough or, in your case, the poolish. I assume your poolish is made from old dough so as to retain its character.

As you may know, there has been considerable debate about local natural airborne yeast overtaking other natural yeast strains from other locales. For example, the contention is that taking the famous San Francisco sourdough strain to another location will ultimately result in its being overtaken by the yeast at the other location. I believe Ed Wood disputes this contention. Based on your experience, which side of the argument do you come down on?

Peter

Offline varasano

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #7 on: January 25, 2005, 11:51:41 PM »


>Yeast Wars
My Johnny's culture was taken over by my Patsy's. So was the San Fran I bought from Ed Wood.  But I was a newbie and Ed is not. I could probably keep them all alive now.  He has many cultures and really knows what he is doing.


>What Patsy's does..
Like all of us, I'm guessing somewhat.

>What I do
I have a battery poolish in my fridge in a plastic container. When I want to make a pizza I have to prime it. I take it out and warm it and feed it and put it in the oven with a lightbulb that keeps it to around 87F. I may have to throw half out and add water and flour a few times. I refresh it every few hours.  How many times?  It depends on how long it's been sitting in the fridge. If it's been a week or even 10 days I might just have to do it once. If it's been a month it might be 4 times over 2 days.  But eventually, it comes back to life and starts to bubble up like crazy.  The more active it is, the faster it eats, so as I near the end I have to feed it more frequently. 

I use a battery poolish, rather than a more dough mixture. The only difference is the ratio of water to flour. Those are the only things in the poolish. I never mix in commerial yeast or salt or anything. I put those in the final dough, but never my culture.

The poolish simply revives better than the drier levain, that's why I do it that way. I made the poolish from a patsy's dough, which probably had commercial yeast in it. Commercial yeast does not live that long. It's not a hearty strain. That's why baker's have to buy more every day. They wouldn't bother if it lived long.  They like it because it stores easy and it more predictable to rise. It's a cheat really.

Bottom line though is it does take a few days of prep to make a damn pie. For a Friday party, I really have to start on like Tues. Make the Dough Wed and cook on Fri. 

If I wasn't really obsessed I would use baker's yeast. But look at my pie now... Seriously, I never thought I'd get this close.  I hoped, but I never thought I'd actually overcome all this crap. I'm so damn close.




Offline varasano

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Una Pizza
« Reply #8 on: January 26, 2005, 12:05:32 AM »
My ex-girlfriend just moved from an apt just 3 blocks from una pizza. I wrote her an email and asked if she tried it. She's a pretty good judge. She had one of my pies here in Atlanta just 10 days ago.

Jeff

Offline pftaylor

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #9 on: January 26, 2005, 06:30:15 AM »
Jeff, Steve,
If there is a God, please include me in the distribution chain for Patsy's culture. I will pay for shipping, shipping materials, time, etc.
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Offline canadave

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #10 on: January 26, 2005, 07:16:21 AM »
Yes, same here--maybe once Steve has verified results (no offence Jeff, just want to make sure it works for other people too!), and speaking as an ex-New Yorker dying for some real pizza, I'd love to get a hold of a Patsy's sample.  I wouldn't mind then helping send some to the other Canadian members of this forum who would be interested.

Dave

Offline Steve

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #11 on: January 26, 2005, 07:46:49 AM »
No problem, guys!  :)
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Offline canadave

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #12 on: January 26, 2005, 07:51:12 AM »
*dropping to my knees and hugging Steve's legs in abject gratitude* Thank you!!!!

Offline pftaylor

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #13 on: January 26, 2005, 08:18:06 AM »
Steve/Jeff,
If you have a PayPal account I can reimburse shipping costs that way. 
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Offline Pizzaholic

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #14 on: January 26, 2005, 09:51:09 AM »
 ;D ;D ;D ;D
I have done the sourdough starters. Two different ones. the first was from a book that James Beard wrote. This used flour and water and yeast. You let it sit around for a time to get ripe and put it in the fridge and feed it every now and then. I use this one with my doughs about a Tbls or two with the pizza dough. Tastes great, and yes there is a difference. You can make a dough in the morning and use it the same day and it tastes like a dough that has rested in the fridge for 24 hours. I have to say that with this starter I use the recipes as they normally are and just add the starter as boost. I posted earlier that I thought that I was "cheating" by doing this. The dough you make will taste better, in my opinion, if you let it ferment for a day or two.
Just keep feeding the starter.

Second, I tried Peter Rs sourdough starter from his Bread Bakers Apprentice.
This is interesting because he uses pineapple juice to get things going. This was a technique that he found from some other source actually, (I think the good people at King Aurther Flour).
This makes one awsome poolish, or starter. 
It was very nerve wrecking the first time I made a pizza with this because I didnt thind it would rise in the oven because there is NO yeast in it. The yeast is naturally in the flour.

I spoke with my brother, a chef, He told me that there is a technique of getting yeast off of grapes and using it to make a starter. The light colored dust that is on grapes is a form of yeast, or something like that.

;D highly  ;D recommend  ;D that  ;D you  ;D take  ;D the  ;D time  ;D to  ;D make ;D your  ;D own  ;D starter ;D

Do you think I like this stuff???????
I also use it in bread making. Traditional old-world style!
Pizzaholic
If you want  I can post the techniques

Offline canadave

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #15 on: January 26, 2005, 09:54:41 AM »
Quote
I   highly   recommend   that   you   take   the   time   to   make  your   own   starter

hehe...I'd love to, but from the very little I've read so far, it sounds like that's a pretty hit-or-miss proposition--people I've read say that making your own starter can turn out very good--or very bad.  Am I incorrect in that?

Offline varasano

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #16 on: January 26, 2005, 10:02:33 AM »
Don't make your own starter. Get a proven one.

Offline Pizzaholic

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #17 on: January 26, 2005, 10:05:29 AM »
The starter taste depends on where you live. Different strands of yeast in different regions of the world. ie San Francisco vs Pensacola.
This is so simple to do.
How do you think they made breads prior to packaged yeast??
Yeast is everywhere, believe it or not.
You only have to loose some flour, water and time.
Dave
Up in Canada in the spring I bet you could make one heck of a starter.
Just go outside a with the container that you make the starter in when it is time to stir it each day when you are developing it.
This doesnt mean that you have to wait until spring to do it!
Pizzaholic

Offline Pizzaholic

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #18 on: January 26, 2005, 10:12:07 AM »
I think that you foodies out there can get the "proven" one and compare it with your own.
I have news for you.
Spend what you want, get your San Fran starter or whatever sent to you in your region of the world. The minute you open it, your regional yeast will get in it and start its magic, very soon taking over the "proven" yeast more and more each time you open the container. You will end up eventually with a starter that will taste like one you made yourself in your own home. This is why the starters are so "hit and miss"
Pizzaholic

Offline pftaylor

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Re: Sourdough Cultures or "Starters"
« Reply #19 on: January 26, 2005, 10:51:28 AM »
Pizzaholic,
So walk me through the steps to create your own...
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