Woensdag, 28 September 2016

Sourdough - Using your Starter

If you followed my guide on Making your own Starter it is now necessary to give some guidelines on using the Starter. As usual with me, it will be a naked guide with tons of fables and urban legends stripped off ... only the bare basics.

Measured out for the dough
Man Kos (Dude Food) is on a mission to preserve our traditional way of preparing food and hand in hand with that, I want to see more men baking. Making bread is actually very manly and the perfect way to manage your stress levels in an age where men are far removed from the benefits that hard physical work and brutal fighting brought to our lives. No, now we live in an era where our brains are stretched and mashed and our fights are with economic realities and political madness. So, join me and step into your kitchen. A place where you can satisfy your urges to cut, slice, dice and manhandle things without going to jail.

But don't despair ... I am also well connected with the realities of the female battles and baking bread can bring peace and tranquility to a highly agitated mind.

Making Sourdough bread is such a long lazy process that you can totally relax and build up the anticipation of that marvelous aroma that will fill your kitchen, the crusty cracking as you cut the crust and then that wonderful soft and almost elastic crumb ... smother it in fresh butter and then the feeling of serenity as you bite into that slice ... all things that we desperately need more of.

I am going to assume we will bake a bread that calls for 500gr of flour. It is a manageable size and can feed 4 to 6 people easily.

Float test in cold water
The backbone of sourdough is the long fermentation periods involved ... this is what makes sourdough bread special and makes it miles more healthy than standard fast rise yeast bread. Over time the bacteria breaks the carbohydrates down to get to the sugars locked into it and you end up with a changed carbohydrate that is far less negative than what modern refined carbohydrates are. Side by side to the carbohydrate changes is the change and development of the gluten and the awesome development of flavor and texture. And that is why you must learn to bake sourdough bread. For hundreds of years bread, in a vast variety of shape and form were the staple food of man without almost all of the negative effects of modern bread ... without bread, mankind may have been very different today. There are many reports that indicates that most gluten sensitive people can tolerate sourdough bread without problems.

It is very important to realize that the type of flour used in your starter can have an influence on the performance in your bread and the type of flour used in your bread can also have a big influence on how you use your starter. For this guide I am going to assume we all worked with plain unbleached bread flour.

You also need to make peace with the fact that ...
Sourdough bread making is not an exact science.
There are lots of variables that will affect your dough and you need to be aware of it.

Here are some of the more prominent factors that will affect your dough:
1. The type of flour used in your starter.
2. The type of flour used for your bread.
3. The pH of your water.
4. Your water temperature.
5. Your Kitchen temperature.
6. The humidity in your kitchen.
7. Overall hydration of your dough.

Let's touch on hydration ... this is the percentage of water in your dough when measured against the flour.
1kg Flour and one liter of water (1kg) is a 100% hydration. You will have a very sloppy dough and will need some serious experience with handling dough to get a bread out of this one.
75% Hydration is generally accepted as the upper margin for styles like ciabatta.
63% Hydration is generally accepted for more manageable dough that can be shaped quite easily and can final proof after shaped and give you a decent bread.

Around 80% hydration dough
The higher the hydration, the more prominent the holes will be in your bread but at the same time, the trickier it gets to shape and bake. Such a soft wet dough can become a real nightmare if you are not experienced enough to manage it. I will suggest you start off at around 65% and learn the feel for the dough and then go wetter as you get better with the dough.

Now let's talk about the starter it self. It is early morning and you are all fired up to bake a masterpiece. Here is where the importance of your  feeding program will become really important. I am going to assume you followed my guide and your starter is a 100% hydrated starter. In other words you have equal parts of flour and water in weight in that jar. For my example I will use 200gr starter in my bread. You must understand that the weight of your starter is not really cast in stone, the more you use, the quicker you will see your bread rise but it can and will also affect the taste. 200gr on a 500gr flour bread is more or less generally accepted as a good balance ... actually most recipes will suggest 180gram starter.

Now you know that the 200gr starter is roughly 100gr water and 100gr flour. So if the recipe suggested 65% hydration, you must reduce your flour with 100gr and your water with 100gr. That means 400 gr flour and 225 grams of water should give you a dough that is very close to what the recipe was aiming for.

Now I know there will be many that will see my logic as bush baker logic but that is fine ... the concept is close enough to the detail science to give you a good bread. So your recipe called for 500gr of flour and 325gr of water. You deduct what is in your starter and there you go. Quite simple. This is also a good guideline if you have a bread recipe that was written for instant yeast and you want to turn it into a sourdough bread.

Back to the starter ... I now do a 120 gram flour feeding of my starter and obviously 120gr of water. This is 240gr paste ... I will need 200gr for my recipe and there is some leftover. I wait for the starter to double at least in volume before I scoop out the 200gr. This way you know that you have a good volume of very active bacteria in that leviant. That is right ... Starter, Leviant .... same thing. Generally it is accepted that once you have scooped off your starter that goes into the dough, you will hear it to be referred to as Leviant. Simple semantics.

Another talking point is ...  
"Use your starter when it is at it's maximum rise."

Although this is the ideal, it is not a matter of life and death. The role of the starter is to get the yeast bacteria into your dough. Adding starter to your dough is very much the same as giving your starter a massive feeding. If your starter has already maxed out and on it's way down when you get to it, it is still fine to use it. You will just need a bit of extra time to allow the bacteria volume to build up in your dough.

The float test is there to ensure that you have a lot of activity and that means you have lots of live bacteria.

There are people that publish that they only use very small amounts starter. All this really does is to slow the rise process down and they have to wait longer to get to final shaping. So you can use the volume of starter manage the bulk fermentation period. If you are in a hurry, use more starter and reduce your recipe flour and water accordingly. If you want to bulk ferment overnight for morning baking, reduce your starter.


Be accurate when you weigh out your starter for the dough.

This article is only aimed at the use of the starter and will not cover the actual dough processing ... that is an article on it's own.

In my next story we will make an actual sourdough bread.

Enjoy your baking and cooking till I write another story.

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