Sourdough musings

Due to my latest sourdough experiment, I have been reading a bit about maintaining a sourdough starter.
In my original sources it said to keep the starter in the refrigiator and feed it every 3-4 days.

On a work trip to San Fransico my husband recently picked up the book Tartine Bread, which is an amazing book, though I have yet to try any of the recipes in it. I hope to review it a bit later, but he does spend some time discussing his experimentations (over years!) with sourdough starters.

There was a couple of things that stood out to me when reading about his sourdough.
The first thing was having a predictable feeding schedule, and feeding more often. His recommendation was every day, at the same time, with the same amount of flour water. This would lead to predictable yeast activity.
The second thing was discarding 80% of the starter every time it was fed, too keep it young and fresh, this should lead to a less sour sourdough.
Thirdly, he would keep it at 65-75 F. Two types of acids are formed in a sourdough, and the more sour one thrives better a lower temperatures.

I decided I would try modify my own sourdough caretaking based on this, but tweak it so it fit my baking. I don’t plan on baking sourdough that often, and I plan on use it for different things and in varying amounts (for the basic Tartine bread, only one table spoon is used to create a leaven before making the dough, then you use the leftover leaven as your new starter). It needed to work for my Danish Rye bread too, and I didn’t mind it would be a bit more sour maybe.

I will try to a) discard about half of it when feeding. b) Feed it every second day instead of less often, and with different time intervals in between. I can probably not achieve feeding on the same time every day, but I can try. c) Feed it a predictable amount of food, 50g bread flour, 50g rye and 100ml of water. I chose to use whole grain rye, as it fit the types of bread I would like to make, and I think it would give it a unique flavor.

I don’t have anywhere it would always be between 65 and 75 degrees. In the winter our house is usually colder at night, and in the summer hotter in the day. I will keep leaving it out after feeding it, and then store it in the fridge.

After only 2 times doing this, I noticed a lot more yeast activity in the starter. I fed it in the afternoon, and forgot to put it in the fridge by bedtime, and I think that might actually work well me – feed in the evening, leave out overnight.

I also discovered that having a lot more yeast activity does lead to a lot more gas being created – the lid of my patent jar came off with a loud pop! when I opened it. I will probably just cover it with some plastic wrap going forward, even though those jars are pretty solid!

We will see how this will work for the sourdough breads I would like to make. I definitely want to try the Tartine bread too, as well as some other things from his book.

Musings on commercial bread

I recently tried out getting milk and more from Smith Brothers Farms, a local product and delivery service here in the Seattle area. The milk is a little more expensive, and I still need to figure out if I really can taste the difference, but I like the idea of buying locally sourced milk (in addition, if I am wearing my pretentious Pacific Northwest Consumer hat, the organic milk is certified from Oregon Tilth in addition to USDA organic).

Their introductionary offer gave me $10 to spend so I decided to try some of their other products as well, including some bagels from a Seattle bakery.

I was looking over the ingredients list, and here is what is in them

  • high gluten wheat flour
  • water
  • salt
  • wheat gluten
  • brown sugar
  • yeast
  • cornmeal

these are all expected bagel ingredients (most bagels are left to rest on cornmeal covered surfaces, for instance)

  • malt

as far as I know, malt is often used for sweetness and flavor enhancing in breads, so no surprise to see some malt in here, though I haven’t seen it in home bagel recipes.

  • soy flour
  • soy oil

I wonder about these. Is the oil in the poaching liquid, or to add fat to the dough? Why the soy flour, does it help with the texture? There is nothing bad with soy as such, but I am seeing it in a lot of commercially produced goods, and I am wondering if it really is necessary.

  • dextrose
  • calcium propionate
  • guar gum
  • enzymes

so now we have reached the strange stuff. Dextrose is another form of sugar, and I wonder why it is added in addition to the brown sugar and the malt? Calcium propionate is a common preservative. Guar gum I can only assume is added for texture, and who knows what ‘enzymes’ covers? Enzymes is a class of chemical substances used to catalyze chemical processes – you will find it in anything from dairy (rennin, for instance) to washing powder to the rubber industry. Enzymes in baking break down the starch in flour to product sugar for the yeast to interact with. As far as I know you end up with a bunch of naturally occurring ones when you bake, but it looks like they are additionally added?

These are locally produced bagels, so I wonder about the need for the preservatives too – I wouldn’t mind a shorter expiration date and it is not like they are shipping them all over the country. All of this stuff (and more) wouldn’t surprise me in commercial bagels I would pick up in Safeway, for instance, but it is interesting that even local ‘artisan’ bagels had all these additives too.

Another reason to bake yourself :). I have tried making bagels, but they didn’t rise as uniform as I liked, and the poaching liquid had them taste too much like pretzels. I guess I need another try. The texture was good though (no guar gum needed!).

Do you have a great bagel recipe?