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Mike's (more or less) Weekly Baking Tips Logo

We're Back!

And some stuff from the mailbag too!

Taking a break from teaching and the newsletter really helped recharge our batteries!  And, now, we're back! Our new class schedule is online.  Check it out to see what's up.

We're really excited about the home ground whole grain class.  We're finishing up some new recipes and deciding what we'll bake.  One reason we're so excited is because we have a new grain mill in the house, a KoMo Fidibus Classic. In the past we've used the original KitchenAid grain mill attachment and a number of micronizer mills (whispermill and nutrimill come to mind), and we haven't been terribly happy with them.  The KoMo has finally let us see what all the shouting is about - up to now, grinding our own flour seemed like a lot of extra work for not so good results.

We're also going to have our BagelMania class and our Introduction to Sourdough class.  There is a good bit of overlap between the whole grain and Intro to Sourdough classes, so you don't have to attend both, unless you just fall in love with our classes.  Some folks do, and that does thrill us.

We're proud of the fact that the Sourdoughhome web site has been up a long time, since 2001. The down side of this is that most of the recipes have been there, unchanged, since 2002 or 2003.  I do better work now, and take better pictures.  Heck, the camera I used back then is, in itself, an embarrassment!  So, in the past two weeks I've gotten emails from Cindy and Tre' about our Sourdough Ciabatta recipe.  Both basically said, "that can't be right!"  And since I haven't made that bread in a good 12 years, I really can't say a thing about it.  I did look at it again and it isn't what I would do today.  I added a pointer in the recipe to the original recipe I started with and converted to sourdough today.  I didn't understand a biga then, and wouldn't do the conversion the same way now.  In point of fact, we changed the recipe a lot for use in the bakery.  The bakery's Ciabatta rose so much we called it "Big Foot Ciabatta" - the joke being ciabatta is Italian for "slipper" and those were darned large slippers.  According to the label on the bread, "When asked about their size, our baker, Bigfoot, pointed to his feet and smiled".  So, next weekend will be a Ciabatta weekend and the recipe online will no doubt be updated.

This may be a nod to Click and Clack's "Stump the Chumps", but you may remember a while back Rebecca had problems with her sourdough bread tasting musty.  I gave her a scattershot list of things to check since I'd never had that happen.  At the top of the list was the flour.  Check the flour.  Smell it.  Bake something else with it, and see if the musty smell follows the flour.  Rebecca wrote back to let me know, yeah, it was the flour!  It's sad it happened, but I'm glad she wrote back and that the problem got resolved.

Ian shared some stories about various starter woes.  He had his starter in the oven to keep it warm with the oven light and his wife started preheating the oven.  WHOA NELLIE!  That isn't very good for your starter!  As a preventative, if you have an older oven with knobs, take the oven knobs off (they should just slide off) and put them in the oven next to the starter.  If you have a newer all digital touch panel controlled oven, print the word "NO!" on a sheet of paper and tape that over the controls.

Ian was lucky - he'd been saving his starter discards and was able to revive them.  As he said, his fridge saved him.  But this got me thinking about how I suggest handling starter on the Sourdoughhome web page and how I actually handle it.  Sadly, I don't bake as often as I used to.  We're empty nesters so our teenaged son and his friends have flown the coop... and are no longer teenagers.  (I miss those days, even if David was a real teenager some of the time.)

That said, I had to change how I handle my storage starter, and it's been working very well for me.  I feed it at about 67% hydration so it is as thick as a window glazing putty or a heavy dough.  I feed it up from a small amount to 500 grams and immediately after the last feeding I transfer it to a canning jar and put it in the fridge.  It will usually rise to almost double its size in the fridge over the next few days.  A thick starter like this at low temperature is very sluggish, and as a result lasts a long time.  I have never seen it throw off hooch, though the top will turn grayish after a few months.  Yeah, I said a few months.

Three or four days before I want to bake I take a small amount of the very thick starter and start feeding it at 100% hydration.  If the top of the starter has turned grayish, I scrape that off and get to some of the more pleasant looking lower layer.  In 3 days it is lively and frothy.  When I'm teaching a class, it may take 5 or 6 days to get enough starter.

If the storage starter was ugly, slow to start, almost gone, or if it's been three months since the last feedup, I feed some leftover starter from the bake at 66% hydration until I have 500 grams or so of fresh and nice starter.  At that point, I pitch the starter in the fridge and put the new starter in the jar.  You may want to save the previous jar as a fall back in case the new jar just isn't the same.

With this approach there is none of the "discard half" meme that bothers so many people.  And it's really not likely you'll use the last of your starter.  If you bake a lot, chances are you'll go through the storage starter before it gets gross.

Here's the feeding regimen I use to feed up the storage starter, each feeding 12 hours apart, and the starter goes in the fridge immediately after the fifth feeding:
Feeding        Starter    Water    Flour
Feeding 1           4.2         2.5      4.2
Feeding 2          10.9        6.6    10.9
Feeding 3          28.3      17.1    28.3
Feeding 4           74        45      74
Feeding 5         192      116   192
Total starter weight=    500

After the first feeding, the amount of starter in each feeding is the sum of the starter, water and flour in the previous feeding.

Rolf asked about semolina flour a long, long time ago, saying, "Although I have a good sourdough starter made with a San Francisco culture, I wonder if I could use semolina to feed it. Is it possible, is it more ore less equal to rye or all purpose flour?"

Since I haven't used semolina to feed sourdough, though I do make a great semolina bread, this is a guess.  Most of the semolina I've seen is very coarsely ground.  As a result, I'd be reluctant to use that to feed a starter.  With a finer grind, I'd be willing to give it a try.  A fine grind would be more like bread flour in terms of protein with 11.4% protein.  It isn't clear how much of that would form gluten.  If a any readers have tried this I'd love to hear how it worked out.

Until next time, no matter how you treat -and feed - your starter, may your dough always rise,

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