Thursday, April 11, 2013

Refined way of building sourdough - attempt #1 (and #2)

Ars Pistorica writes in his blog about a sure-fire way of creating a Lb. san franciscensis-based sourdough starter. Another write-up from the process can be found here.

So as a friend of mine recently asked me to help him with a starter for his restaurant, I thought I might try this method, as it seems faster than others.

It does however depend on some measure of temperature control. So what you'll probably need:

1. Insulated container. Maybe a large insulated cooler. I'm trying my CrockPot instead.
2. Gentle heat source. You can just keep adding hot water to your cooler, but then keep in mind that it's unclear how long it will be able to maintain that temperature. A fishtank thermometer might work, but their thermostats are generally too cool (most don't go above 90F (32C)). I'm trying a cheap CrockPot. I also bought a heating pad, but generally didn't find it warm enough, nor being able to control the temperature with a lot of accuracy.
3. Good instant-read thermometer. I trust my Thermapen more than my Polder.
4. Quart-sized ziploc plastic bags. It should be easiest to submerge the mixture this way.
5. Whole grain rye flour and whole grain wheat flour. For this, I went to my local health-food store today and bought 1lb of organic rye berries, and 1lb of organic hard red winter wheat. I plan to lightly grind them in my spice grinder and/or blender to break up the berries into a somewhat coarse flour. Later I used King Arthur Whole Wheat flour as my substrate.

I'm reposting the original formula, with temps in Fahrenheit because I live in the US.

Initial Build  (start: 4/10/2013, 8:30pm)
20 g flour, rye, whole-grain
240 g water, 77F (25ºC)

Combine ingredients in a large Ziploc bag and seal, removing all excess air. Fill a large, plastic container (such as a cooler) with water that is 98.6F (37 ºC), ensuring the temperature is exact. Drop the bag into the water, placing something heavy atop it to prevent it from floating. Place the container’s lid on, and let the bag sit for 18 – 24h. Check the water’s temperature often, adding more hot water as needed to maintain a constant 98.6F (37 ºC). (From mariana_aga's blog, a range of 95-104F (35-40C) is recommended for this stage).

My notes: used my CrockPot. Added my 98.6F water and then turned it on HIGH for about 10 min while monitoring the temp every 5 minutes or so until the temp stabilized. It ran a little hot initially, to 100-104F. Generally it was reading around 100F. After 1 hour, it was still reading 100F, so I added some ice water until the temp was 98.6F. Covered the glass top of the crock pot with 2 or 3 towels to keep the heat in (you could probably use foil to help with this too. It didn't keep the temperature that stable, although it kept it above 85F. After 12 hours (8am this morning), it was fizzy/bubbly, like in Mariana_aga's photos, with some foam developing on top.

Refreshment #1. (start: 4/11/2013, 6:00pm)
100 g flour, wheat, whole-grain

Remove the Ziploc bag from the water and add all of the whole-wheat flour. Seal, once again removing all excess air. Lay the bag on a flat surface, and, using your palms, squish the bag back and forth in order to create a homogenous liquid. Place back into the plastic container, adding enough hot water to reach 89.6F (32ºC). As before, check the water’s temperature often, adding more hot water as needed to maintain a constant 89.6F (32ºC). Allow to sit for 18 – 24h.

My notes: at refreshment, definitely smelled vomit-like and rotten, as mariana_aga suggested. Still some foam on top, but now water looked tan and murky, with no obvious effervescence. Ground up 100g of organic hard red winter wheat flour in my spice grinder/coffee mill, squished it around, and back into the CrockPot water bath, with adjusted temp around 89F. I remove the CrockPot ceramic water bowl from its heating container, and instead placed it in my oven, on top of a CVS heating pad set to High and the oven light on. I checked back after  about 2 hours, and the temp was slightly too high (between 100-105F), so I adjusted it downward. After about 12 hours, it was producing a lot of gas (really inflating the ziploc bag), which I deflated slightly to help it sink instead of float. Still a pronounced vomit smell, perhaps slightly more acidic. Temp was about 92F when I checked it this morning, so I added water to get the temp down and let it cool. One of the things I've found most difficult about this method in general is good temperature control. Takes a good bit of time and experimentation to find out what works best. A Brød & Taylor proofer would probably take a lot of the guesswork out of the process.

Refreshment #2 (start: 4/12 7:00pm)
100 g flour, wheat, whole-grain
45 g water
30 g starter, from refreshment #1

Combine all three ingredients in a bowl, and then mix thoroughly until a homogenous texture is achieved. Let ferment for 24h at 68F - 86F (20 - 30ºC).
Final dough temperature 86F (30 ºC).

My notes: still smelled somewhat vomit-y and gagworthy, although much less so. Starting to detect smells of acid and some creaminess; I can't say like stinky cheese, because although I enjoy pungent cheese (like Stilton, etc) I have never smelled cheese as rotten-acid-like as this. Anways, I ground up 100g of my hard red winter wheat in my spice grinder, and kneaded it together. Based on the dilution, after being mixed in it didn't smell offensive at all. Just for kicks, I saved an additional 30g of the refreshment #1 starter, and mixed it in with 45g water and 100g of 50/50 King Arthur whole wheat and Bob's Red Mill unbleached all purpose flour. (I keep a jar of this 50/50 mix for feeding my Tartine style starter). Both went back in the oven with the oven light on, which is in the low 80s, to ferment for 24 hours.

Refreshment #3 (start: 4/13 6:00pm)
50 g flour, wheat, whole-grain
32.5 g water
4.125 g starter, from refreshment #2 (or the last refreshment)

Combine all three ingredients in a bowl, and then mix thoroughly until a homogenous texture is achieved. Let ferment for 24h at 68F - 86F (20 - 30ºC) in an air-tight, plastic container.
Final dough temperature 86F (30ºC), if day's high temperature is below 84.2F (29ºC), and 68F (20ºC) if day's high-temperature is above 86F (30ºC).

My notes: weird smell is almost all gone. Doesn't appear to be any visible leavening.

Refreshment #4 (start: 4/14 6:30pm) 
Same quantities as Refreshment #3

My notes: weird smell basically gone. Smells clean, perhaps yogurt-like. Tasted a little piece at time of refreshment, was pretty sour-tasting, i.e., tart and acidic. Doesn't appear to be any visible leavening. I mixed up 10g of starter with 100g of flour and 100g of water, to see if I could get strong leavening. After 4 hours, there was no action on this mixture, nor 8 nor 16. For the promise that was shown in the first day or two of developing this starter, there is not much action. Room temp is 74F today.

Refreshment #5 (start: 4/15 6:00pm) 
Same quantities as Refreshment #3

My notes: I fed with a little bit of whole grain fresh rye today, to see if it would help actually get some leavening going. After 12 hours, still nothing visible: no puffiness, no nothing. Room temp is about 72F today. Gotta say that I'm disappointed in the process so far, especially considering the life that the starter showed in the first 48 hours. I'm going to keep the same batch going but I will try again. 

Refreshment #6  (start: 4/16 7:00pm) 

My notes: Not much change since refresh #5 (not a lot of visible fermentation activity, no puffiness, still gloopy), so I only threw out about 1/2 of the starter and then fed it again about 50/50. I decided to stash my refreshment #6 in the oven along with the starter #2...yes, early this morning I started my 2nd attempt with this starter method, to work out the kinks. Instead of the crockpot, I used my CVS heating pad, my oven with the light on, and a smaller quart-sized ziploc. With 4 cups of 98.6F water, on top of the heating pad in the oven it held very stable heat between 98-100F.

Refreshment #7  (start: 4/17 6:30pm)

My notes: Finally saw some leavening in the starter! Not a lot, but definitely presence of gas bubbles. Hooray! However this process has been far from "easy". Might as well go with Debra Wink's process, which I've been successful with, in about the same amount of time. On the upside, this new starter is certainly the most sour one I've ever produced, you can taste the sharpness of the acetic acid, but there's some lactic creaminess as well. I think once I'm finally able to bake with it should have good flavor.

Starter #2 went through the same usual bubbly fizziness (lots of visual activity), but it was not nearly as vomit-smelling as #1. Interesting. I fed it with refreshment #1.

Refreshment #8  (start: 4/18 7pm)

My notes: can't say the starter doubled but clearly some leavening going on. So I took about 20g, mixed it with 100g of white flour and 100g of water, and set it in the oven with the other starters (nice warm 85F+) to ferment and see what happens.

Starter #2 was fed with Refreshment #2. Again, this one doesn't smell quite as vomity/pungent as the previous version, which either means it's not working or it's working as expected. Tastes sour kinda like  Starter #1, I doubt I could tell the difference between the two. No visual leavening of it yet though. I feed this one in the mornings before I go to work.

Refreshment #9  (start: 4/19 7pm)

My notes: 

Starter #2 seems stuck as usual. Just a goopy mess. No leavening visible. Smells fine, taste is sour with a bit of that vomity quality. Fed it refreshment #3. The 100g I mixed up had close to tripled (but no more) in 12 hours or so. That's hardly speedy by any means.

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