A few questions


hi everyone,

I've just started making sourdough (and any kind of breads) recently, and have learnt a lot from this forum and similar resources

I got some starter from Loafer bakery (through a contact) so I am pretty confident that it is good... I haven't seemed to get it hugely active but i'm still working on that, not quite sure why it isn't. I keep it in the fridge but for the first loaves it was fresh and fed daily. Maybe its the weather, or it's not happy to have been taken away from its cushy bakery job!

Anyway, I have made 2 batches of bread so far and both have tasted nice, and have had minor problems which I am getting used to.
So there's some background.
There are a few questions I have wondered about and I can't find specific answers for them, so here goes!

1. I am feeding my starter with 100g of water and 100g of flour, which is what seems to be a good basic thing, but i'm not sure if the consistency is coming out right... when i make a sponge and leave it, i can see that it is active because bubbles are forming, but they are big bubbles (close to 1cm) instead of the tiny frothy ones i have seen in pictures. The sponge also is quite stretchy, not runny at all... I am now trying a sponge with 100g of flour and 1 CUP of water (which is around 200ml i think) and seeing what that will do.
I will attach (hopefully!) an image of my starter consistency tomorrow. I really don't know what it should look like because the photos tend to show runnier, bubblier ones but my bread has *kinda* worked so far (not heaps of rising though i guess).

2. I seem to be getting skins on things that shouldn't have them - When i am proofing my dough it gets quite dry on top which i am a bit concerned might affect the rise potential. I have covered the bowl and put it in a bag as suggested. I saw a picture of a bit of dough in a cup and there's actually condensation inside as it proofs.
Also, I have just noticed that my SPONGE has also formed a skin within 12 hours of being mixed... can't be good, methinks.
I live in melbourne, we have fairly dry heat (and today was pretty warm).

3. I have been using the Pana Francese from sourDom's blog:

180g starter (36%)
320g water (64%)
450g white bakers flour (90%)
50g wholemeal flour (10%)
10g salt (2%)

it involves the method of stirring and leaving, quick knead for 10 sec, repeat a few times...
I was wondering, can this method be interchanged with a normal kneading method where you knead for about 10-15 mins (is that what they call intensive mixing?). I quite enjoy the kneading, and also it is easier for time to do it all at once for me rather than being in and out of the kitchen over the first hour. But i know that it can be hard to knead the wet doughs...
I would assume that to do the regular kneading method i would just knead and then leave it to rise (essentially just skipping all the knead-rest cycles)?

OK i think that will be enough questions for now! I will probably add more as i get more issues

thanks so much for any responses
- stu

194 users have voted.


wadada's picture
wadada 2007 February 15

A couple of thoughts:
Temperature is very important, and it's important not to let your starter over-ferment. Those yeasties like it kind of cool, around 74F degrees (ummm, times 1.something plus 32?). Have you been able to monitor your starter's progress over a day?
Are you sure it isn't rising and deflating in that time? I thinkmost bakeries feed their starters at 12hr intervals, and some at 8. I do 12, and if I leave it in the fridge at all, I give it at least three feedings at room temp before making dough.
100% is okay for a starter, but it can be anywhere from 60-120 and beyond. How much starter are you leaving when you feed it? I usually make the starter 1/3 or less of the final weight.
As for the skins, if you are getting them even proofing in bags, I can only say make sure the bags are seald up, and maybe mist the them before putting dough in. A dry skin on a proofed loaf will definitely affect the finished product. I won't let it spring in the oven, and it will probably burst in funny places.
As for the method you are using: it may work fine, and it's fine to try something different. I mix everything by hand, in a bowl. I mix the flour and water for a couple minutes, until there are no dry lumps. If I'm using a wet levain, I'll add that at this stage so that there is enough h20 to hydrate the flour. If I'm using a stiff levain, I leave it out for now. Let it rest 15-20 minutes. Add levain and salt, and mix/knead/flip/fold/whatever for 8-10 minutes. Then bulk fermentation w/folds.
Oh, and don't be afraid of adding water! The dough should be smooth and tacky. You'll get a feel for (and growto love!) feeling the dough pull cleany away from the bowl and your hands when it's hydrated and mixed well, and you are moving at the right pace. I use water to keep things from sticking instead of adding dry flour while kneading. I sometimes leave a bit of water from the formula out and add it by dipping my hands in it while mixing. Most of my doughs hover around 70%+.
Then there is the whole world of proofing...but I'm already rambling.
I hope that helps, and I'm sure others will chime in! (although this forum seems a bit slow-paced...busy baking?)

iLikePie 2007 February 15

hey, thanks for those comments wadada, some interesting things for me to ponder.

I think temperature might be a big one... i guess i have to work out how to control the temp as i go, because at the moment i just hope that the day is the right warmth (although if its a cold day i have tried putting it in the OFF oven with a bit of warm water to heat it a little, but not too much.

well my attempt today wasn't so good in the end, very flat, i think really overprooved but i'm not sure - i tried the trick i read about where you put a little dough in a cup so you can see when it's ready for baking (about tripled, it said).... well i did that, and the one in the glass hardly rose at all, definitely didn't even double, and that was after many hours. (by the way, here's the demo i'm talking about : http://forums.egullet.org/index.php?showtopic=82234).
Do i go from the visual cues of the bread or trust the times listed in the recipe? Even after 5+ hours of proofing, the dough hadn't swollen that much, but as soon as i put it on the tray it was flabby and spread... didn't rise well at all.

( i also forgot to put in the salt, haha! thats a mistake i'll only make once ).

Can over-fermenting be a big problem as well as overproofing? I figured that if i do happen to leave it too long before shaping, the proof time will just need to be decreased...

Another random question:
Dan Lepard said this on another forum:
"If I wanted to keep the bulk of the liquid used in the dough is cool (at around 20C/68F) - say if the recipe contained a portion of sourdough starter..."
which sounds to me like he's saying sourdough starter shouldn't be used with warm water at all. Is this right? i have been using warm (about 30degrees) water to feed my starter and also for the bread, because i thought that was the temp at which the growth was best.

ahh so much to learn, my loaves have steadily deproved since my first attempt, but i'll get there!

wadada's picture
wadada 2007 February 16

( i also forgot to put in the salt, haha! thats a mistake i'll only make once ).
How many times have I told myself that?

Pab's picture
Pab 2007 February 16

Hello to you - did you know that salt free bread is common in Italy, particularly Tuscany?

Accompanies salty nibbles very well.

Best wishes


jacklang 2007 February 16

The dough temperature is quite critical - one of the few things that is in sourdough. It needs to between about 85F/30C. Above about 90F the yeast goes dormant and much hotter it starts to die. Much less it slows down - about double the fermentation time for every 10F.

If your piece of test dough is not moving it is likely your starter is not very active for some reason. Too much salt can be one reason, or it might have just got too acid or have too many waste byproducts. Refresh it by taking small amount - say 10g/ a tablespoon and mix with 200g of flour (a cup) and 200g water. Personally I think you get better flavour with a stiffer dough - 300g flour to 100g water (a Biga rather than a poolish) but its much harder to hand mix.

I think your starter was too wet - the consistency is between a batter and a dough. Your dough was also wet if it slumped: aim for 65% hydration (weight of total water to total flour, including the starter. Sourdough will get wetter the more it ferments as the acid attacks the gluten and the starch, which is why I prefer to ferment out the starter sponge fully (say 12 hours at 80F) for flavour, but ferment the dough for only 4 hours from mixing.

SourDom 2007 February 16


welcome to the forum and to the exciting and satisfying world of sourdough baking

1. refreshing your starter with 100g water and 100g flour (100%) is one of many ways of doing things, and is a good place to start.
Watch it and see what happens over time, and you will start to get a feel for its behaviour. You will see a few tiny bubbles below the surface first (use a glass/transparent container so that you can see what is happening below the surface), and then the starter will increase in volume. At its peak there will be lots of bubbles below the surface, and visible from the top, the starter will have a frothy top layer, and it will probably have a fruity, acidic aroma. If you then leave it, the starter will start to 'drop back' in the jar, and there will be less bubbles visible. The 'acidic' smell will become more prominent (it may even have a slight nail varnish smell). If you continue to leave the starter it will drop back to the volume that you started with, and there will be no bubbles visible, but the starter will have a sharp vinegary smell.

The reason for pointing this out, is that when you refresh your starter and then come back after work, or after you wake it can be hard to tell if it is still rising, or has gone past its peak and is coming back down again.
In a Melbourne summer starters will often peak quite quickly (8 hours or less), and it is easy to miss this point.
On the other hand if your starter is still adjusting to its new surroundings (the water and flour that you use are presumably different from Loafer, and starters can be fussy things), it may be that it is still pretty slow. In that case you would do well to continue to refresh the starter at 24 hour intervals for a week or more, until it is definitely active (as in the description above)

2. To avoid getting a skin on the starter cover the jar with plastic wrap. You can do the same with the proving bowl. Even with this starters will tend to develop a skin if they are left in the fridge for a while

3. Yes you certainly can do a single longer knead instead of the shorter repeated kneads, and many bakers would use this method by preference. The obvious advantage of the short kneads (as you point out), is the ease of working with slack doughs.

keep us posted, but you will find that your baking improves very quickly


Post Reply

Already a member? Login