Question about starters?

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Joined Jan 15, 2001
I'm attempting my first starter and decided to use Peter Reinhart's mild Levain starter. All is going well and I'll be ready to bake by the weekend. This question is to Kyle and others:

I'm confused by the amount of time you should let a starter ripen. Reinhart and Leader mention in their book about 4-5 days whereas Glezer's and Cookwise say 7-14 days. The longer the ripening time the more acidic? And how much should you feed a starter once it's ripe and want to keep it in the fridge(if you're baking bread once a week)? Do you feed it before keeping it or vice versa?

Thanks.
 
1,635
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Joined Aug 14, 2000
All roads lead to Rome :) The end game is the active yeast culture, not the process itself. It doesn't really matter how you get there. You aren't really ripening as much as harvesting the wild yeast. I have done both Reinhart's BBA starter and Silverton's 14 Day Torture Fest. At the end of both I had remarkably similar beasts. I am, by nature, drawn to the path of least resistance.

The acidity of starters is a topic of great debate. I have been lead to believe, and my breads seem to bear out, that the balance of lactic and acetic acids are what determines the flavor of breads. Acetic acids seem to prosper in a wetter starter and lactic acids thrive in drier starters. I keep my starter at 100% Hydration. For every 8 oz of flour, I add 8 oz of water. Not only does this give me a flavor I like, but it saves wear and tear on my addled brain.

I keep 4 oz of starter in my fridge. When I want to bake, I pull it out and let it come to room temp (about an hour). You need to at least double your starter at every feeding. This is why I only store 4 oz. So to my 4 oz of starter I add 2 oz of water and 2 oz of bread flour. I give it a stir and let it sit fo 8-12 hours, until it has peaked. Then I stir it down and add 4 oz of flour and 4 of water and repeat the waiting game. If the starter has only been in the fridge for 3-4 days I will then go ahead and build the dough, saving 4 oz. for the fridge and tossing the rest. If it was in the fridge for more than 4 days I will usually give it at least one more feeding.
 
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Joined Jan 15, 2001
Thanks Kyle, you're a wealth of information and I appreciate it!

So now that my starter is ready---do I need to feed it 3 times a day(or 8-12 hrs.?) until I'm ready to bake on Sunday or can I stick it in the fridge as it is? Also, is the consistency like a very thick pancake batter or looser? The flour I'm using seems to have a high hydration level. I have to say, the process is very interesting and I'm excited about baking my very first loaf of pain au levain.

An interesting observation ---my professional baker friend who makes the most awesome bread has had his starter for years. He does add additional commercial yeast to his bread dough because he says his starter isn't as good(leavening wise) anymore since the water in the area he works is awful. So I guess he just uses it more for flavor.
 
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Joined Aug 14, 2000
Yes, you can stick in the fridge. Mine has been neglected in the fridge for more than 2 months and it comes right back. You will need to take it out a day or two ahead and feed it before you want to bake. The consistency is a personal preference. Mine IS like a very, very thick pancake batter.

Kyle
 
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Joined Feb 21, 2001
Reinhart mentions somewhere that his starter is ready to use in as little as 5 days, but gets better after two weeks. I've woken up a starter after 5 months in the reefer. I typically keep a big bucket of it, but haven't actually made anything from it in a while. All that will change when the **** weather breaks here in N.E. and I can use the brick oven.
 
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I remember him talking about the improvement over time. I think he was talking about the initial creation of the starter. Mine is a youthful 2 years old.

What's it like to have a brick hearth in your back yard?:)
 
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I haven't used it since NYears day because we've had so much snow. We had a pizza party and I made 17 pizzas. It still needs to have an enclosure built around it. Right now it's got the metal studs and concrete board holding in the insulation showing. The snow is slowly melting though, we can finally see the ground in places, but we're expecting more today. This has been incredible compared to last winter.
 
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The anticipation must be killing you:) We are supposed to get 1"-2" more snow today as well. I think we have been spoiled over the last couple of mild winters. My guess is that this one is closer to normal. I have seen the difference my HearthKit insert has made in my breads. I can only imagine what a bona fide brick oven would do. Who cares what it looks like. If the neighbors squawk, just give 'em some bread!
 
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Joined Jan 15, 2001
I have seen a bunch of chefs promoting this Hearth Kit. Does it truly make a difference? It does lessen your oven space, does it not?
 
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Yes. it does take up room in your oven. About 75% of my oven use is bread so it doesn't bother me. I really like what it does to my bread.
 
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Well, I made my first bread with starter and it was a failure. It didn't rise at all. The starter had a texture close to a poolish, and i had made the levain about 6-7 hours before mixing the final dough.It was about 70-75F in the kitchen. I fed the starter last night and it quadrupled in volume when I checked this morning---so I know it's still alive. I will try again today. Just in case I am also making the starter from Artisan Baking.
 
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Joined Jan 15, 2001
Can I add a bit of instant yeast to my levain if its leavening power is weak or is that a big no-no? Can the commercial yeast and wild yeast co-exist in this starter?:confused:
 
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Joined Feb 21, 2001
Yes you can add a little instant yeast. In France I think yeast can be added at the rate of one-tenth of one percent and the bread can still be called levain. Did you perhaps mis-scale the salt? That could stop a dough, and if your starter was active....but maybe a little cool. You could bulk ferment at 85 degrees.
 
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Joined Jan 15, 2001
Salt was at 2.6%, actual recipe said 2.75 %
Final dough temp was about 72F. Bulk fermentation 3 hours, and about 3 hours proof.
I've got another batch fermenting and to this one I did add .04 oz. instant yeast to the starter and proceeded to make final dough. Looks like it's rising fine----but ideally I don't want to "cheat" when making a levain bread.
 
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Personally I think 72 degrees is too cool. Read Ed Wood's stuff on sourdough. He grows his culture at 80 something degrees and I think it's mentioned in Daniel Wing and Alan Scott that these kinds of cultures grow fastest up into the mid 90's.
 
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Joined Jan 15, 2001
My bread came out great. I used Reinhart's Crust and Crumb recipe, with a little addition of honey. Very tasty, good rise and nice big holes in the crumb(I would still like it lighter). There is definitely room for improvement, though. I went into Kyle's website and read through his step-by-step starter commentary. My starter is definitely not as bubbly as his, but then again mine is more of a very thick/gooey(can't pour it) batter rather than the more liquid one he has in his photos.

I also made Cookwise's "light-as-a-dream hot rolls" and they were wonderful. Very light and puffy.
 
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Joined Mar 6, 2001
I've been reading along.......I have read several of the bread books you "bread guys" talk about.....anyway I'm trying to figure out whom your referencing Bighat? I can't place who Ed Wood is, nor Scott and Wing.....would you mind mentioning their books or sites, please?

Also, I've never heard of the hearth kit for a home oven your mentioning, could you tell me abit about it?

I've really wanted to begin my studing on bread.....AH pastries....there's never enough time to learn all there is to learn!

Thanks
 
1,635
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Ed wood is the author of "World Sourdoughs From Antiquity". He is also the proprietor of Sourdoughs International . He is a proponent of warm fermentation, I think around 80º. Wing and Scott are Daniel Wing and Alan Scott. They are the authors of The Bread Builders , a great book on wild yeast bread baking. Scott is also a master brick oven builder.

The HearthKit is a 3 sided stone that slides into home ovens. This page shows how it radiates heat from three sides.
 
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