A whole passel of sourdough noobie Qs



I am a new sourdough baker and I'm having difficulty producing a sufficiently sour bread.  I know this reads like a police interrogation but that's because much of the information I have found in that regard when searching the Interwebs for answers was incomplete, ambiguous or contradictory.  My apologies in advance if it comes across as brusque but I thought this method was the shortest route to filling in the gaps I already recognize in my knowledge.  As to the starter:1. Does sourness increase if the starter is left to ripen longer after a feeding and before the following feeding (if feeding to increase volume) or before refrigerating it? 2. Is it a better practice to let starter mature after feeding just until vigorous bubbling begins (and it produces that distinct sour mash aroma) or to wait until volume increases by a certain amount?  Or is there a third option I haven't considered? 3. Is there a danger of "damaging" a starter by leaving it to ripen too long after a feeding before proceeding to the next step? (I'm talking a matter of a few hours, not days) 4.a. Does sourness increase if a refrigerated starter is allowed to warm before being used in a recipe?4.b. Does sourness increase if a refrigerated starter is fed and allowed to ripen before being used in a recipe? 5.a. Will using unsweetend pineapple juice as the liquid when feeding the starter increase sourness?5.b. Will adding sugar when feeding the starter increase sourness? 6.a. Does reducing the hydration level of the starter increase sourness?6.b. If not, does increasing the hydration level of the starter increase sourness? 7. Does the type of flour used in feeding the starter (e.g., AP vs WW vs rye) affect the level of sourness?  If yes, please elaborate.  As to the recipe,8.a. Does increasing the amount of starter used increase sourness?8.b. If not, does reducing the amount of starter used increase sourness? 9. Does using milk or buttermilk affect sourness?  If yes, please elaborate.  As to the method,10.a. Does increasing the length of the autolyse period increase sourness?10.b. If yes, what would be the overall impact of extending autolyse to a matter of hours?10.c. If not, does reducing the length of the autolyse period increase sourness? 11. Besides making it stiffer, does increased working of the dough also reduce sourness? 12.a. Does increasing the length of the fermentation period(s) increase sourness?12.b. If not, does reducing the length of the fermentation period(s) increase sourness? 13.a. Does increasing the number of fermentation periods increase sourness?13.b. If not, does reducing the number of fermentation periods increase sourness? 14. If using a cold fermentation stage, should the dough be "worked" (folded, stretched or punched down) just before putting it into the fridge? I know I have completely omitted references to fermentation temperature, but that is because I maintain my house in the upper 70sF (~26°C) in the warmer months so that technique won't be available to me for that part of the year.  In the interest of consistency, I would prefer not to rely on temperature to retard fermentation, even during the colder months. I know some of these question might be irrelevant, but I wouldn't know without asking.  And I appreciate you filling in the blanks wherever you are able.
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shasta's picture
shasta 2013 January 4

At the risk of sounding like I'm evading your questions, I can tell you with certainty that the answers to just about all of your questions will vary from baker to baker. The reason for this is because there is more than one way to reach the goal you're looking for "sourness". 

I can tell you what I have found to work but it may not work for you but here goes.

Starter; I get best results several hours after feeding, up to 12 hours. This varies with the temp. it sets in. Much over 70 F and I can't go 12 hours.

Mixing: I mix until just combined and then autolyse for 30 min. I've gone up 1 hour but didn't see much difference.

1st proofing: I usually go three hours folding every 30 min. I have found that if the water I use in mixing the dough was cold that fermentation can go longer. What I look for in the dough is good structure and signs of gasing (bubbles) in the dough.

Forming: following 1st proofing, I form a ball with the dough and let it rest on my work surface for 20 to 30 min. to relax the dough. Prep. Bannetons. Last I form the loaves for each banneton being used and place the loaves in them. Cover the loaves and let rest 30 min. Then the loaves go in the refridgerator for up to 12 hours.

Final proofing: I pull the loaves and keep covered as they warm and proof. Depending on how cold the loaves are and how warm the room is, this can be 2-4 hours. Usually 3 for me. 

Baking: I use something called the "Roasting Pan Method" to bake my loaves. Search Youtube for the method.

Lastly, I have found that my loaves reach a good flavor if allowed to set 12 to 24 hours after baking before cutting. 

That's it! I get the best consistency with this process. 

Flours used and percentages of each can effect the flavors of my loaves such as using a small amount of rye or whole wheat. I can get sour bread with any combination but textures from the mixes are fun to experiment with too. Hydration is also fun to play with. Wetter can mean more holes in the crumb but too much can effect oven spring.

The last thing I can add is that it has taken me time to get the feel for all of this and I'm still learning after 2 years! I like the results I get but like most folks here, I'm always chasing that perfect loaf. It's the challeng that makes it fun!

I hope I helped answer your questions. Good luck.

Fred Rickson 2013 January 4


Try this schedule for sourness....the yeast taste will come along for the ride. First, only you know if you have a good starter with both the needed yeast and bacteria.  If so, do the following. Morning: some starter into a bowl, add bread flour (regular, whole wheat, rye, or mix and match throughout the process) and water, cover with cling-wrap.  Leave out in kitchen for the duration. Night: more flour and water. Do this for 3-4 days ending up with however much dough you want to bake.  Before baking, add salt, oil, or any additions wanted ( if your dough is heavy add a spoon of dry yeast), knead, proof till double, knead a bit, put into whatever form you use, let rise nicely, and bake.   Would really like to hear if this is sour enough for you. Best, Fred
SlackerJohn 2013 January 6

1) use more starter

2) fully activate starter after feeding before use

3) retard dough in fridge for long slow fermentation

4) use 25% rye flour

Or, you could conduct a series of experiments to test all the options?  Just don't add sugar, that won't increase sourness!




farinam's picture
farinam 2013 January 6

Further to some of the points made by SlackerJohn, Fred and shasta.

Sourness comes from the presence of various acids (lactic and acetic mostly) that are produced by the bacteria present in the culture.  They also work on the waste products from the yeasts and thus their peak activity lags behind that of the yeasts.

If the acids are sufficiently concentrated, then the sourness is more noticeable (and vice versa).  Ways to increase the concentration in the finished loaf are using more well matured (time-wise) starter in the recipe and allowing more time for the bacteria to produce more acid.  If you taste a freshly fed mother culture and again after a week in the fridge without feeding, the difference in the taste should be immediately apparent showing the great change in acid concentration that has occurred.

At room temperature the problem with just adding more time is the potential for over-proving and this is where retarding can be beneficial.  Whilst retarding in the fridge slows everything down, as I understand it and I am happy to be corrected, the bacterial activity is less so, allowing acid production to continue relatively faster whilst rising is slower.  This results in a higher acid content than would be the case for a RT similarly proven loaf.

In a similar vein, this could help to explain Fred's progressive build approach giving time for acid production whilst giving enough yeast feed for the final rise.

After the loaf is baked, it continues to lose moisture as it cools and subsequently ages and this is, I think, why , as shasta says, a more noticeable sourness develops as the acids are concentrated in the remaining water in the loaf.  I guess it is also possible that some extremo-phile bacteria survive the baking, or the loaf is re-infected to restart the acid producing activity.

Good luck with your projects.


Fred Rickson 2013 January 6



If you continue to feed a culture, at whatever temperature, you are simply maintaining a continuously growing and dividing set of organisms.  As long as you provide sufficient food (flour) you cannot over-prove your dough.  Over-proving occurs when a culture runs out of food and growth and reproduction stop.  That is why you can keep a starter for "100 years" if you keep it fed and growing. If I feed my dough on a regular basis, I can keep it on the kitchen counter for a week and, in the end, it makes a fine loaf.  The only real problem I can see is excessive acid build up (from the bacteria), a low pH, and yeast growth coming to a halt.  But, that never happens. In fact, I might argue that it is more difficult to develop a great loaf in a 24 hour period because you must insure sufficient yeast to raise the loaf and add taste, and sufficient bacteria for sour and flavor, than it is in a 3-4 day build where you have developed zillions of organisms just on the basis of time. Best, Fred

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