Cold weather breadmaking

I made my first sourdough loaf yesterday, from a stiff starter than I began a little over a week ago following a recipe from a cookbook. The bread turned out okay, with a lovely sour tang and a good crust, but quite heavy and chewy. The starter seemed very slow to increase in volume, and I wonder if this may be due to the cold weather. I kept it for 9 days at room temperature, feeding it every couple of days. Room temperature in that time varied from 2 degrees C on cold mornings to 15 C on evenings that we had the heater on (I'm in Canberra and don't like to have the heater on too often or too high, being a bleeding-heart greenie). Am I right in thinking that the temperatures had something to do with the slowness of the starter and the density of my bread? What is the answer? Are wetter starters more active? My recipe was for a stiff, dough-like starter, not the wet starters that I see in pictures on this site. Should I rest it for longer when it is cold? Should I try again straight away with the leftover starter, or should I wait until summer before I try again?

6 comments

Rhyme,

cold weather shouldn't prevent you from making sourdough - though as you have found it does slow things down!

You ask whether a 'liquid starter' would be more active. I find, that particularly when the weather is cold, that a firm starter can indeed be slow to refresh (taking 24 hours or more, where it might take only 12 hours in warm weather). I suspect that this relates to the ease with which the lactobacilli/yeast can get access to sugars in the flour. In a liquid starter I imagine that it is easier for the relatively small number of organisms at the start of a refreshment to spread and multiply.

One trick, to help get things going is to use warm water (not hot) when refreshing the starter. [A simple way of getting your water to the right temperature is to pop a jug of water in the microwave for maybe 20 or 30 seconds. Pop a finger in - it should be lukewarm, not cool, but not uncomfortably warm]. This will give the starter a bit of a 'jump start'. It will take some hours for the starter to cool down - even in a very cold house, and during that time the yeasties will have got a head start.
Do the same thing with the liquids when you are mixing your dough.

Skua and Danubian have offered some hints about where in the house you might find for your starter.
Sometimes I will pop my starter in the oven after it has been warmed up a little (with the oven turned off). I have a couple of stones in my oven, and if the oven has been on (cooking dinner for example), they retain heat for some hours. You do need to be careful however that it is not too hot in your oven.

Finally, you can take advantage of the cold overnight when proving your dough. Usually I let my doughs have a final rise of 3 to 4 hours at room temperature. But when the weather is cool I will sometimes shape my dough before going to bed in the evening, and then leave out in a cold kitchen (or on the balconey), knowing that the temperature will drop overnight. Then I can leave the dough safely for 7 or 8 hours or longer without it becoming overproved, and bake it first thing in the morning.

hope this helps
cheers
Dom


Thanks for the suggestions, Skua and Danubian. I'll try those.

Above the hot water system is usually a warm spot!

The prefered temperature range for starters and doughs is roughly between 24C and 30C. The low temperatures would account for your sluggish activity.
This is not to say that you can't make bread at the lower temps, just be prepared for a long slow process.

Thanks for the quick reply!

Hello rhyme.

Making sourdough at low temperatures could lead to very good results. But... that means not below let's say 15° C. The great french baker and scientist Raymond Calvel gave a warning in his famous book: "the taste of bread". Best temperatures for the sourdough are just those Bill gave you. Usually using natural room temperature is a good baker's practice, and it always was. But don't go to the extremes. If you simply try to conservate a starter for a few days 8-10° C will be best. This temperature you will find in the highest schelf of your fridge's door. At lower temperatures the wild yeasts will become displaced by acidifying "lactobacilli". And they will produce no mild lactic acid but quite strong tasting acitic acid. On the long run the yeasts could become extinct at these temperatures und you could be forced to add baker's yeast. When you are activating and feeding your sourdough to get a full active culture you really need some warmth

:|

Uhm, do you have a real deep knowledge of your room temperatures?

;)

There are different places with various temperatures in every house

;)

A good place can be the top of the fridge (outside!) near the backside, there is alwas a nice warm air flow. Some people I know made a simple isolated box with a hot-water bottle put inside. Some use a real small electric heating actually built for terrariums in a polystyrene box. I'm quite sure you can find a reasonable solution. Even some scientists working on a polar station make a good sourdough. They had contact to Pöt's sourdough forum missing real bread...

Good luck!

Michael