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Experimenting with using less and less yeast or sourdough starter...

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    Experimenting with using less and less yeast or sourdough starter...

    I've been chatting with Jacob at Stellaculinary.com. I told him I wanted to do whatever I had to do to improve my sourdough game and learn to make as good a loaf of sourdough bread I possibly can. His response to me was to quit following all of the recipes you see online. He said most of those recipes are written for beginning bakers that have few skills and even less patience. He said that when he try's to publish a sourdough recipe that will really produce a great loaf of bread... People say oh my, that's to complicated and it takes way to long.

    His contention is that the least amount of starter you use in your dough the better your results will be. He says high volume bakeries use a high % of starter or yeast because they need a quick rise and fast proofing to maximize production. He says the really well informed artisan baker's use as little starter as their schedule will allow to give their customers a quality loaf of bread that they can't get anywhere else.

    My normal sourdough recipe I had been using for years was...
    500 grams of bread flour
    200 grams of starter... Which I keep at 100% hydration,
    300 grams of water
    12 grams of salt
    This recipe is a 66.66% hydration loaf.

    I've used that same recipe to create some awesome loaves... But I wanted to try what he said would give me much better bread. He knows I am a BBQ guy and so is he, at home. He said look... Reducing your starter takes exactly the same amount of hands on labor/time as it does to make a fast rising dough, so you are spending the same amount of labor and getting a lower quality product. Then he said... Low starter content causes a slow rise and a longer proofing time, NO Extra labor! It's a planning to wait step. Then here is what he said to me pushed me to decide I have to try this. He said... Just think of a low starter content with a slow fermentation and a slow proofing process as a low and slow cook of a pork butt. He said there is very little labor to either... You do the prep work and wait a long time. He said a really good loaf of sourdough bread take about the same amount of time as a big pork but... 12 to 16 hours.

    So... I mixed up a batch of dough with just 100 grams of starter. I added 50 grams of bread flour and 50 grams of water to my normal recipe and left the salt at 12 grams. Remember my starter is at 100% hydration so by eliminating that 100 grams of starter I had to add flour and water to keep the recipe the same.

    550g of bread flour
    100g of starter
    350g of water
    12g of salt
    That's the same recipe as the one above but less starter.

    That boule took 15 hours from the time I starter mixing it until it was out of the oven... My BGE. The first rise was 8 hours. Then I added the salt and did 4 stretch and folds 30 minutes apart. Then I did final shaping with a few tension tugs and put it in the banneton. The final rise and proofing took about 4 hours. Baking time about 30 minutes.

    The end result was a profoundly different loaf of bread than I had been baking for years. The crumb was open and much softer than my normal loaves. I liked it.

    So... I decided I was going to reduce my stater again. Last night I mixed a batch of dough that was...
    575g of bread flour
    375g of water
    50g of starter
    12g of salt

    Again I added equal amounts of flour and water I took away from the recipe when I removed that 50 grams of starter. This loaf took a little longer than the 100 grams of starter loaf but not to much. L

    So... For you sourdough baker's out there in BBQ land, that need something to do during your loooong Low and Slow pork butt or Brisket cooks, give it a try. You wil like it.

    Here's a picture of the 100 gram loaf..
    Attached Files
    Last edited by Breadhead; March 12, 2015, 10:25 PM.

    For my own baking, I find that the less sourdough you use, the better the flavor(within reason) . Yes, it takes a bit longer, but the results are more than well worth it. I find similar results with commercial yeasts when I do a poolish and leave the poolish overnight before proceeding with the rest of the process. If one is baking bread with a savory flavor, the poolish method will give a loaf with great complexity and depth of flavor.


    • Breadhead
      Breadhead commented
      Editing a comment
      Strat50... I love reading your posts. I know you are a highly experienced Chef. I on the other hand baked my first loaf of bread about 5 years ago at the age of 58. To me... It's just a hobby, much like smoking ribs, butts and briskest's. I love to figure out the process, techniques and intricacies of creating a great product... As much as I love eating the food. I bake much more bread than I can eat. My friends call me the free bread man because they know I bake bread for a hobby. It's cheaper than a day on the golf course. What I posted is/was elementary to you but for a guy like me that really just grasped the Baker's percentage system of scaling a bread recipe to do what I wanted it to do was a MAJOR game changer in my bread baking hobby. Understanding that the starter/yeast is just a tool and possibly a negative part of a bread recipe to me was mind blowing. Having developed the techniques and understanding the steps of mixing, fermenting, shaping and proofing my dough and understanding the baker's percentage... I'm no longer a slave to other people's recipes. This chart is all I need.
      Last edited by Breadhead; March 13, 2015, 12:33 AM.

    • Strat50
      Strat50 commented
      Editing a comment
      That is what it's all about, my brother. Find YOUR voice and YOUR flavors. You are more on your way than many chefs I have worked with or for.

    Oops... Couldn't get this chart with the post above. Notice they don't even list the yeast. In the baking community they know yeast/starter is just a tool to determine when you are going to bake. With what I've learned over the last 5 years and this chart... I can make every bread on this list without a recipe, this is the recipe to bakers.
    Attached Files
    Last edited by Breadhead; March 13, 2015, 12:44 AM.


      I agree with this thread, like Strat50, I too start with a poolish sponge -- 2 cups water and 2 cups AP and usually about 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of yeast depending on my schedule. Yeast get busy and will multiply and all kinds of good things happen when you let time work on your dough, within reason...

      I also keep it very simple in my tools and technique -- a bowl, a mixing spoon, a cup for scooping flour. In the oven a baking stone and a beat up old aluminum cake pan for generating steam. I don't bother weighing or measuring much beyond the sponge starter, but I also have been baking bread on a near daily basis for more than 10 years. Buy my flour in 50# bags monthly. What I am looking for is a texture in the dough. The environmental variables such as season, humidity, elevation (we are above 6,000 feet) etc. and variables in the ingredients (1 egg is a unit with a variable weight) means weights are a great place to start, but add that last bit of flour a little at a time and bake a simple bread recipe over and over again until you are happy with your technique and the results. Simple recipe; flour, water, salt and yeast. Seems simple but someone just starting or an occasional baker should start with that recipe until they've got their technique down. And it makes a tasty loaf.

      An example of my typical is attached.


        Long slow rises and proofs are key to good sourdough. One day I stalled the rise in the fridge for half a day, let it rise overnight, then made the batard, threw it back in the fridge (couldn't bake until evening), and baked when I got home that night. Bread was soooo good. Overall time was 2 days worth of fermentation. The cold fridge let the lactobacillus keep on working to add flavor but slowed down the yeast.


          Hey BH - some good looking bread, but you need to define what is good/ great for you. Is more sour better, or milder better? There are lots of techniques for changing how sour your bread is. There are a number of different bacteria at work in your starter and the resultant dough. Temperature plays a major roll , (no pun intended), in which bacteria dominates. Time and the type of flour also have a great influence. I have been "blessed" with the bitter gene, so I'm not fond of sour bread or bitter beer. I tried making unsour sourdough, but I could not totally get rid of the unpleasant tang, so I gave up.
          On another note, I have SNS arriving today, and I hope to start baking bread in the Weber very soon...


            MT Mark Ahlborn ...

            Creating steam in your oven or on your grill.

            I've tried many, many ways to create steam on the surface of my loaves for the first half of the baking process. The most effective method for me is using a large stainless steel mixing bowl place over your dough.

            I preheat my baking stone and the SS mixing bowl while I'm final proofing my dough. Once the dough is ready to bake I score it with my lame and then spray the dough with water. Then I remove the SS mixing bowl off of the baking stone and use a peel to load the dough on the stone. Then I put the mixing over the top of the dough to trap the steam from the water I sprayed on to it inside the bowl.

            Keeping the surface soft and pliable during the first half of the baking process allows your dough to achieve maximum oven spring and gives you pretty ears on you loaf.😎
            Attached Files


              In my Akorn, I use a foil pan with about a cup of water in it. It steams, then goes away. Works for me. As I'm usually baking with fresh milled and sifted flour, oven spring is fine already. That grain mill is the best thing to ever happen to my bread.

              Thats a beautiful looking loaf. Baked perfectly.


                RonB ...

                I like different tang/sourness sourdough bread for different things. For breakfast toast and sandwich bread I prefer a less sour bread. For bread to serve with dinner I prefer a more sour loaf.

                Manipulating your starter to make your dough more or less sour is easy once you know how to do it.



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