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Author Topic: Drawbacks to changing up starter hydration?  (Read 724 times)

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Offline wb54885

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Drawbacks to changing up starter hydration?
« on: January 04, 2021, 04:44:18 PM »
Iíve had a starter going for a couple months now that I keep at room temp (anywhere from 66-72F throughout the day and night) and feed every 24 hrs most days, but a couple days a week Iíve been giving it an extra feeding at night if it feels ďtired.Ē

I havenít measured any feedings except when Iím using the starter to build a levain for bread, but based on past experience and feel Iíd guess most of my hydration levels are between 50% and 90%.

Itís reliably doubling after 3-5 hours every time, and when stiffer it easily triples. The stiffer I make it, the more irregular my bubbling pattern becomes...I think this is supposed to be a sign of health?

This is my first starter so Iím kind of winging it on purpose just to see how it behaves. My guiding thought, though, is that I want to be able to read when itís hungry, when itís peaked, etc. from sight, smell, and feel, and not rely on predetermined timetables that could shift a bit based on unseen factors. Iíve had several successful loaves of bread come out of it so far, so I know itís doing fine as far as leavening power.

Iím wondering if changing the hydration on a day to day basis is doing anything negative to the stability of the culture. I am nowhere near where I want to eventually be when it comes to understanding the biochemical dynamics of the culture as a living ecosystem, and I imagine that Iím messing with certain desirable characteristics of a steadily-hydrated system in undesirable ways by modifying the environment. Is this a reasonable concern? I am happy with the mild, generically sour flavor Iím getting, so should I be fine to continue as Iím doing unless I want to maximize or minimize more specific flavors in my bread?
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Offline HansB

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Re: Drawbacks to changing up starter hydration?
« Reply #1 on: January 04, 2021, 06:19:24 PM »
I find that my starter is very resilient. I feed mine around every twelve hours +/- a couple of hours. But, I do feed exactly the same every time, I discard all but 25g, then feed 25g each water and flour so my hydration is always the same at 100%. Keeping a 100% hydration starter makes it easy to keep consistent hydration in my bread. It would be hard to make adjustments to my formulas if I didn't know the hydration of my starter.

That said, it sounds like you are happy with the bread that it produces so that's all that matters.
« Last Edit: January 05, 2021, 08:52:20 AM by HansB »
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Offline amolapizza

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Re: Drawbacks to changing up starter hydration?
« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2021, 04:15:27 AM »
FWIW, from what I understand changing the environment from wetter/drier and/or warmer/colder changes what bacteria strains (and probably yeast strains) will flourish.  They all have a range where they will be most happy.

Maybe this is just theoretical but I know that many Italian bakers working with stiff sourdough starters place importance on how and at what hydration and temperature they keep and build up their starters.
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Offline punkrockchris

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Re: Drawbacks to changing up starter hydration?
« Reply #3 on: January 05, 2021, 09:01:14 AM »
FWIW, from what I understand changing the environment from wetter/drier and/or warmer/colder changes what bacteria strains (and probably yeast strains) will flourish.  They all have a range where they will be most happy.

Maybe this is just theoretical but I know that many Italian bakers working with stiff sourdough starters place importance on how and at what hydration and temperature they keep and build up their starters.

I don't know but can't wait for feedback, I may posit this question on some of my other yeast/ fermentation sources and report back too.

Offline scott r

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Re: Drawbacks to changing up starter hydration?
« Reply #4 on: January 27, 2021, 10:03:12 AM »
Im posting here in hopes of rekindling any discussion on the matter.   Does anyone out there have any insight on the repercussions of keeping a starter at lower hydrations than typical (50/50).   I ask, because recently during a discussion with a friend that runs a wildly successful sourdough bakery with some of the softest fluffiest texture I have encountered, I was told that she considered the wonderful texture to keeping her starter on the dry side.   I have always heard that it could effect flavor, but now I wonder if there is something to a textural influence from keeping your starter at a dryer, more dough like consistency.  Certainly it effects textural outcome for wild yeast (Biga vs Poolish) as well as flavor.

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Offline wb54885

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Re: Drawbacks to changing up starter hydration?
« Reply #5 on: January 27, 2021, 01:45:42 PM »
Is she using only bread flour by any chance? When I use a drier starter I notice the leavening boost associated with biga, and especially so if I separate the starter into pieces as with a biga. Maybe a powerful ďhungryĒ dry starter acting on strong white flour could produce a soft, fluffy interior (which I associate more with dry yeast than sourdough)? I wish I knew more or had other ideas but Iím looking for others to chime in as well. This is an area where I know a lot more about how to use it than why it works the way it does.
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Offline Cogs

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Re: Drawbacks to changing up starter hydration?
« Reply #6 on: January 27, 2021, 02:46:48 PM »
Give this a read. Basically lower temp and lower hydration keeps lacto acid bacteria in check allowing for natural yeast to do itís job. Panettone is a good example of limiting LAB production in a natural leavin. Desem is another great example

https://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/66840/tfl-index

Offline ccgus

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Re: Drawbacks to changing up starter hydration?
« Reply #7 on: January 27, 2021, 03:34:20 PM »
This is my first starter so Iím kind of winging it on purpose just to see how it behaves.

I have around 5 years of experience with a starter, so while I'm not an expert I do have some experience. With that said, I would purchase a scale with the intent of no longer winging it. I've found that if you're consistent with the starter you're going to be more consistent with your pizzas and bread.

Maybe try a 100% starter hydration for a few months, and see how that works out with with your baking workflow?

I personally do about a ~70% hydration with my starter (~15 gm of water and ~22 gm of flour) and it's been working out great for me. But that was after doing a couple of years of 100% hydration.

I think going for stability in your starter to, ahem, start out with is worth pursuing.

Offline wb54885

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Re: Drawbacks to changing up starter hydration?
« Reply #8 on: January 27, 2021, 05:46:01 PM »
Give this a read. Basically lower temp and lower hydration keeps lacto acid bacteria in check allowing for natural yeast to do itís job. Panettone is a good example of limiting LAB production in a natural leavin. Desem is another great example

https://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/66840/tfl-index

This link is very helpful, thanks!
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Offline scott r

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Re: Drawbacks to changing up starter hydration?
« Reply #9 on: January 27, 2021, 07:51:28 PM »
Is she using only bread flour by any chance? When I use a drier starter I notice the leavening boost associated with biga, and especially so if I separate the starter into pieces as with a biga. Maybe a powerful ďhungryĒ dry starter acting on strong white flour could produce a soft, fluffy interior (which I associate more with dry yeast than sourdough)? I wish I knew more or had other ideas but Iím looking for others to chime in as well. This is an area where I know a lot more about how to use it than why it works the way it does.

its not all bread flour, there is a blend of fresh milled grains as well

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