Getting Consistent Results with Sourdough Bread
Posted: 07 September 2011 02:22 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I’m relatively new to baking sourdough bread: only about 20 tries over the last month or so.  One thing I’m starting to wonder is whether it’s possible to get standard results with real sourdough bread.  That is, dough that uses a cultured starter and not baker’s yeast.  My early attempts were bricks.  However, more recently I’ve had intermittent great results.  It occurred to me that the reason for the existence of baker’s yeast is precisely to get consistent results every time.  When I get good results the power of the starter seems to carry through multiple rising periods.  When I get poor results, I get one good rise but no more.  After that, the bread loaf is really flat.  I can’t account for anything that I’m doing differently.  So, I’m currently blaming the culture starter for being unreliable.

So, I have a question: Do I just have to live with no rise about every other time or is there still something in my process that I’m getting wrong about half the time.  If the latter, what might it be?

Thank you.

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Posted: 07 September 2011 02:48 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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cross1242 - 07 September 2011 05:22 PM

Do I just have to live with no rise about every other time or is there still something in my process that I?m getting wrong about half the time.

The latter, probably.  I’m not sure I’ve ever had a no rise, other than my first couple of attempts when I didn’t know what I was looking for.  You really need to be refreshing your starter for several days before baking sourdough bread; the starter will get more vigorous each day and should easily be doubling in the 4 hour range.  If properly maintained, natural leavens are just as reliable as commercial yeast; the industry moved away from sourdough cultures because of the flavor, not the reliability.

You’ll need to supply more detail about your process for any more specific suggestions.  Where do you keep your culture?  What hydration?  How do you go about refreshing the starter?  How long to double?  How many builds to you do before the final dough?  How long are the rises taking?

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Posted: 12 September 2011 06:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I keep my culture in the fridge when it’s not out and being refreshed for baking.  The starter is 100% hydration that is done by gram weight.  The starter seems to double in a few hours and maybe more in another few hours.  The problem comes when I’ve incorporated it into the dough and when I’m trying to make free-form loaves.  Sometimes it goes okay.  But other times it’s wet and sticky and just seems to spread out and not rise at all for the loaf proof.  I do get some rise on the bulk fermentation.  The best results I’ve had are to form the loaf at the end of the bulk fermentation and then just bake it.  Waiting for the loaves to rise a second time or for oven spring doesn’t get me anywhere.

I’ve started blaming my starter for having the power to give the dough one rise but, seemingly, no more.  And, baking after bulk fermentation seems to confirm that.

I hope that helps.

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Posted: 12 September 2011 07:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I don’t think that the idea of a starter “having power” is a valid concept.  The yeast are living creatures and, if you feed them, they will grow.  If they don’t grow, it’s because you starved them.  (or killed them with heat.)

When you’re fermenting the dough, sometimes the yeast run out of food and the loaves will collapse.  Hard to do this with natural yeast, since the loaves ferment so slowly, but I suspect this is what’s happening to you.  Are you degassing the dough thoroughly before forming your loaves?  And are you fermenting at room temperature?

There’s also the possibility of insufficient gluten development, which would mean the loaves wouldn’t hold much gas.  You say “some rise” during bulk fermentation….does the dough double?  Are you able to produce a window pane with the dough when you finish kneading?

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Posted: 12 September 2011 07:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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Deleted duplicate.

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Posted: 12 September 2011 08:05 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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CharlesT - 12 September 2011 10:32 PM

  Are you degassing the dough thoroughly before forming your loaves?  And are you fermenting at room temperature?

There’s also the possibility of insufficient gluten development, which would mean the loaves wouldn’t hold much gas.  You say “some rise” during bulk fermentation….does the dough double?  Are you able to produce a window pane with the dough when you finish kneading?

 

When I’m handling the dough to form a loaf the dough pretty much de-gasses itself without punching it down.  I try to ferment at 80 degrees.  If the counter-top isn’t 80, then I put it in the oven with just the light on.  In both cases, I have a thermometer to be sure that the temp is at or close to 80.

Gluten development may be a problem.  I keep vacillating between whether I’m under-developing or over-developing.  I seem to be unable to do a proper “windowpane” test so I’m never quite sure whether the dough is at exactly the right point of development.  If I stick a finger in it, the hole stays but I can see the bottom of the hole close in ever so little.  I’ve watched videos of people doing windowpane tests and while it looks so easy I still can’t get it right.  About the time that I start thinking a little windowpane is forming, it tears.  I’m getting the same problem whether I hand knead or do it with a KitchenAid.

Any more views would be appreciated.

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Posted: 12 September 2011 08:21 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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Gluten development may be a problem.  I keep vacillating between whether I’m under-developing or over-developing.  I seem to be unable to do a proper “windowpane” test so I’m never quite sure whether the dough is at exactly the right point of development.

It would be impossible to overdevelop the dough by hand, and difficult using home level mixers.  It sounds like your dough is underdeveloped.  Is the dough very wet?  What is the hydration percent?

If I stick a finger in it, the hole stays but I can see the bottom of the hole close in ever so little.

That is likely overproofed.  It’s a better measure to see the hole fill in slowly.  The fact that the dough collapses without punching down is another suspicious item, although this might be normal for a very wet dough.

You might try kneading longer, or incorporating a few stretch & folds at 30-40 minute intervals during bulk fermentation, but get that windowpane.  Form the loaves when a hole made by your finger fills in after about 5 seconds or so.  Do a real degassing before shaping your loaves.

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Posted: 14 September 2011 01:49 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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CharlesT - 12 September 2011 11:21 PM

It sounds like your dough is underdeveloped.  .... That is likely overproofed.


Could you explain that?  It sounds to me like you’re saying, “It might be one or the other.”

In theory, the hydration of my dough should be about 60%.  But, sometimes the dough seems wetter (sticky) and sometimes not (not sticky at all).

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Posted: 14 September 2011 03:01 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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cross1242 - 14 September 2011 04:49 PM

Could you explain that?  It sounds to me like you’re saying, “It might be one or the other.”

No, I was holding out that it might be both.  I would guess that underdeveloped dough is easier to overproof, but I can’t say for certain.

In theory, the hydration of my dough should be about 60%.  But, sometimes the dough seems wetter (sticky) and sometimes not (not sticky at all).

The degree of stickiness will vary with how well the gluten is developed.  60% shouldn’t be very sticky.

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