Baked Grains - A study in baking with grains

Breads and Sourdough Breads

Author: Mark Gunderman (page 1 of 2)

Gluten Development in bread doughs

Let’s talk about autolyse, gluten development and fermentation in breads. I am going to focus on gluten based flours (wheat flours). Another notably long post.

Some background information – When water is added to flour, there are a couple main things that begin to occur. Two proteins – glutenin and gliadin begin to link together to form gluten. This process will occur naturally without any intervention. Natural enzymes in the flour will be activated. One primary function of the enzymes is that they will begin to convert starches in the flour into sugars. There are very few natural sugars in the flour. This will become important once we add yeast and/or starter. Whole wheat flours are predominantly starch. White flours are almost 100% starch.

The autolyse process was developed by Calvel as a means to shorten the amount of mechanical mixing needed by commercial bakeries – thus reducing dough oxidation. The process, by definition, is only flour and water. It does not include salt or yeast/starter. It’s primary goal is to naturally start gluten development. It is typically 20-30 minutes in length. Today, there are people leveraging extended autolyse periods. This is intended to be a non fermentive process.

Once yeast and/or starter is added, fermentation begins. Fermentation is a yeast / bacterial process. Fruit/flower waters are dominantly yeast based, where SD starters contain a balance of yeast and lactic acid bacteria (LAB). Yeast fermentation differs from bacterial fermentation. Yeasts consume sugars and create two primary byproducts – carbon dioxide (CO2) and ethanol (alcohol). The LAB also consume sugars (different ones from the yeast) and produce lactic and/or acetic acids. Acids are sour to the taste. Lactic acid is yogurty sour and acetic acid is vinegary sour. (Acetic acid is vinegar).

Of all of these, during fermentation, the baker is typically most aware of only one – CO2. The CO2 gets trapped by the gluten in the dough – causing the dough to expand (rise). We make most judgements based on this.

We do need to consider gluten for a moment as it plays the other critical role in this process. Gluten develops naturally over time. Traditional mechanical mixing of a dough somewhat forces the proteins in the flour to link together and will develop the gluten in a short few minute period. Hand kneading or the slap and fold methods are also relatively aggressive methods of developing gluten structure. They are the hand equivalents of machine mixing. Common now is the method of using stretch and folds. This takes advantage of the natural development of gluten over time. The dough is typically mixed until all flour has been incorporated. It is allowed to rest – typically 20-60 minutes. Gluten will form and the dough is then stretched several times to create structure to the gluten and develop strength. It is followed by another rest (more gluten develops) and another series of stretches. Over several repetitions, the gluten will be fully developed. The other end of the spectrum are no knead doughs. In this case, the dough is mixed, with a very very small amount of yeast or starter and simply allowed to rest for a very extended period. This method relies totally on the natural development of gluten. Gluten can be developed quickly (5 minutes) or slowly (10 hours) or anywhere in between. I strongly recommend that every baker should make a no-knead bread at least once – just to gain the understanding of how much bread will make itself.

My personal view is that the autolyse process adds value when using methods that are intended to develop gluten quickly. It adds much less value to a S&F or no knead process. It may help with whole grain flours – even extended times – but perhaps more because it helps soften the bran.

We also need to talk a little about flours. Wheats are categorized into 2 dominant categories – hard and soft wheats. Very simply, hard wheats are generally higher in protein and gluten content, while soft wheats are lower in protein and gluten. There are hundreds of wheat varieties grown in a wide variety of conditions. Each wheat harvest will be different. It is good to note that wheat itself is a large variable in baking. Hard wheats typically become bread/strong flours. Soft wheats become cake/pastry flours. The all purpose flour category was created to provide a medium protein/gluten flour. It is made by blending hard and soft wheats or by using lower protein hard wheats.

So – why is this important? One of our primary goals in dough development is gluten structure and strength. The amount of gluten strength possible is directly determined by our choice in flour. Higher protein/gluten flours simply have more gluten. There are also two main characteristics of doughs – dependent also on the flour choice. They are extensibility – the ability of the dough to stretch and not tear – and elasticity – the ability of the dough to return to it’s original shape. These are also strongly related to flour choice. Different gluten levels will produce different outcomes. A simplistic view – less gluten will produce a softer more tender crumb where more will create chewer textures.

A little about hydration (ratio of liquids to flours by weight) too. No two flours are exactly alike. Two things worth noting – tyically, the higher the gluten content a flour has, the more water it can absorb. Whole grains may absorb more water because of the added bran, but may also absorb less if they are lower in gluten content. There is no absolute rule here. An ancient grain, like einkorn fir example, is higher in protein, but not specifically in gluten. By generic thought, we might consider it a high protein whole grain flour capable of higher absorption. The reality is that it is not. This will also vary from batch to batch.

What this means – a baker trying to follow a recipe that is 80% hydration may have an entirely different experience when using an all purpose flour vs. a high protein hard whole wheat flour or high gluten white flour. It is very relative to your flour choice.

Back to fermentation. As the dough ferments, the yeast will produce CO2. Trapped by the gluten, the dough will begin to expand. How much it can expand will be determined by how elastic and extensible the dough is and by how strong the gluten is. This is all related to the choice of flours.

Enzymes are still working – still converting starches into sugars, they are also changing the gluten structure over time – reducing elasticity and increasing extensibility. Alcohol is being created and in the case of sourdoughs, lactic and/or acetic acids are being produced. Other acids and flavor compounds are being created. It’s a magical process.

Changing fermentation rates.
We can change how fast this process occurs by controlling a few simple things.

First – the amount of yeasts. Pretty simply – more yeasts will consume more sugars in a given period of time and produce more CO2 – the dough will rise more quickly. To slow it down, we simply add less yeast/starter.
Starters add a second dimension – bacterial fermentation- making breads sour. Changing the amount of starter we add also changes the amount of bacteria we add.
This will change the rate at which the dough acidifies. Ironically – shorter fermentations (more starter / more yeast / more bacteria) tend to make less sour breads. How we manage our starter also plays a role – we can make it more yeast active or more bacterial active – but that’s a whole different discussion.

Second – temperature. Temperature has a direct correlation to the rate of fermentation. This is true for the enzyme activity, the yeast activity and the bacteria activity. Cooler = slower and warmer = faster. There is a physical limit to temperature variation. Below freezing – things stop. Over ~140f (60c), the yeasts and bacteria will die. The practical limits are 35-85f (2-29c). Over 85f (29c) will work, but typically non desirable flavors will develop. The optimal fermentation temperature for breads is often viewed as 78f (25c).

Cold retardation is somewhat the slow motion button for fermentation. It simply slows everything down. The bacteria in sour doughs will remain slightly more active than the yeasts. It is a great tool for making doughs match your schedule. Fridge temp will greatly influence what occurs. Warmer fridges will often result in the dough rising where colder ones may seem to stop all rising – it is still fermenting.

We tend to think in terms of two temperature options – room temp or the fridge. There are a wide range of choices in between – be creative. Similar to gluten development, fermentation can be rushed (1.5 hours) or greatly extended (72 hours).

Hydration also plays in here. Higher hydration (wetter) doughs will ferment more quickly and the higher hydration will slightly weaken the gluten

For reference – Salt strengthens gluten and slows fermentation.

Fermentation steps
There are most commonly two steps – the bulk fermentation and the final proof. These are terms somewhat introduced by larger bakeries where dough was mixed in large batches and initially fermented in bulk. It is then divided and shaped and a final proof is done prior to baking. Fermentation is occurring from the time water and yeast/bacteria are added to the flour and does not stop until the dough reaches 140-145f and the yeasts and bacteria die or you exhaust the sugars in the dough (this will not happen in regular bread baking).

How to know when a step is complete – this may be one of the most interesting questions a baker needs to answer. Let’s try to put some of the pieces together. First – as a dough ferments it develops flavor. The longer it ferments, the more flavor it has. This is good. Also, for sourdoughs, the more acidic (sour) it may become. This may be viewed as good or bad, depending on your personal preference. Just to note – even regular yeast based doughs that have very extended fermentation times will acidify.

Sugars in the dough are being produced by the enzymes and being consumed by the yeast and bacteria. CO2 is being generated and trapped and our dough is rising. There is a general rule – “until the dough has doubled in volume”. General rules are exactly that – general. The reality – the gluten strength, elasticity (ability to expand) and elasticity (wanting not to change) all determine how much a dough can physically expand. Lower gluten flours may only increase by 75%. Very high gluten flours may triple in volume.

The enzymes are also working to change the gluten – both weakening it and making it less elastic and more extensible. If we are judging solely by volume, we are looking for the point where the dough has reached its maximum expansion.

There is no specific value in this method, other than it is a useful visual way to determine dough readiness. What I mean by this is that fermentation should really be viewed more as a time based process and not a specific increase in dough volume. The same fermentation benefit is achieved if the dough is left to fully rise or if we periodically degas the dough. Time is the critical component. We can actually extend fermentation times by degassing the dough periodically throughout the fermentation.

So – we want the dough extensible so that when it is baked, it will achieve it’s maximum volume. If we wait too long, the gluten will weaken and eventually collapse. This is known as over proofing – we simply fermented too long. Many lower gluten doughs have overproofed while waiting for them to double.

This is where the infamous finger poke test arrives on the scene. Another somewhat general guideline. What it is intended to do. Poke your finger into the dough about 1/2″, remove it and see what happens. Flouring your finger before poking higher hydration doughs will help. We are judging multiple things. Remember, as the dough ferments the gluten becomes weaker, it has expanded under pressure from the CO2 and may be approaching it’s limit, it is becoming more extensible and less elastic. When we poke, we watch the dough response after we remove our finger. If it fills in quickly (returns to it’s original shape) – it is still quite elastic. If it slowly fills in, ideally we have found that sweet spot between elastic and extensible. If it stays, we have lost elasticity. Too long and the gluten may collapse. We must also remember that every flour has somewhat different characteristics and will react differently. Wetter doughs will tend to appear less elastic. This is not a foolproof method. Err on the side of a fermentation that is a little too short rather than a little too long.

I actually have no simple answer here – you really need to consider your flour, the dough hydration and the temperatures to estimate how long it will take. This is a horrible answer for a new baker.

We subsequently divide and shape the dough into loaves. Shaping is also another duscussion. Shaping will, just like the stretch and fold – restrengthen the gluten. However, it remains less elastic and more extensible.

The fermentation continues and we watch the dough rise again. If the temp remains unchanged, It will increase in volume more quickly than during the bulk ferment… Often in about half the time. Again – if it peaked at 75% during the bulk ferment, the same will be true here. It is the best predictor of what to look for here. Try to bake just as it is approaching its peak. Too long and you risk it loosing strength and collapsing. If you’re looking for big oven spring, bake when it has reached 2/3 or 3/4 of it’s peak. Do note that the shape of the container may impact your perception of how much a dough has increased in volume. Again, the final proof is really a function of time. The finger poke works the same here.

Happy baking!

Mark

Managing your bread’s sourness

There are multiple factors that can affect the overall acidity of a bread dough. Acids are sour. There are two dominant acids in SD breads – lactic and acetic acid. Both are sour but with slightly different taste profiles. Lactic acid – think yogurt. Acetic acid is vinegar.

The temperature bands you want to target for sour are 40-68f or 80-85f. Between 40-68f, it will produce more acetic acid and over 80f – more lactic acid. General guidance is to avoid temps over 85f all together for breads. The different temperature bands have very different implications in how fast the dough will ferment.

A starter has both yeast and lactic acid bacteria colonies (LAB). The yeasts function quite the same as commercial yeast – though often not as vigorously. SD bread fermentation is typically longer. More yeasts will speed fermentation. You control this by the % of starter you add to the dough and by how you feed and maintain your starter and when you use it relative to it’s last feeding. For sour breads, you ideally want the starter itself to be acidic and LAB favorable. It is worthy to note that as you change the % of starter you add, along with the yeast, you also change the amount of bacteria you are adding. More bacteria = more acid production.

Thus becomes the baker’s challenge for SD – how to balance all of these to produce the desired outcome. Just as it takes time for the yeasts to produce enough CO2 to inflate a dough, it takes time to produce enough acids to sour a dough. Time is a key component with a general premise that longer ferments produce more sour loaves.

There are multiple approaches to achieving either non-sour or sour breads. For sour, the most common practice is to use a mature starter, reduce the % of starter added to the dough and have a long extended fermentation. This would translate best to a lower hydration starter which was fed 12-24 hours previously. The starter add would be low – maybe 5%. The dough would be fermented around 50-55f for as long as possible.

The general idea is that the starter will be acidic, somewhat LAB favorable and the low % add coupled with the cooler temps will create a long slow fermentation.

For most home bakers, achieving 50-55f is difficult, and more commonly the dough is simply refrigerated. The even colder temps of the fridge (typically 35-40f) will slow fermentation even more. Times will need to be extended further. A temp of 40f will be better than 35f. Even a regular yeasted dough left in the fridge long enough will acidify.

The other schools of thought would be to leverage temps between 80-85f or add a large % of acidic starter – helping to acidify the dough. The thing to consider when adding larger %s of starter is the state of the starter. Remember, the starter is going through the same fermentation process and is subject to all of the same exact considerations. The additional factor when using a mature starter is that the starter has effectively fully over proofed and the gluten structure has fully deteriorated/collapsed. A large add introduces a significant amount of “flour” which may impact overall gluten development.

I have not spent much time with high temperature fermentation as a means to achieve more sour. This method could use a high temp bulk ferment followed by a cold final proof as well.

As to starters, I have become convinced that outside of starter management, different starters can inherently favor yeast while others favor LAB activity. All are not created equal. I have one starter which favors non-sour and it is an effort to coax sour. Another favors sour and is an all out effort to produce non-sour breads. For sour, I would clearly choose to use the latter.

Relative to starter management. Lower hydrations favor acetic acid while higher hydrations favor lactic acid. Logically the same for bread doughs. Smaller %s of old starter (10-20%), frequent feedings (every 4-8 hours), and temps between 68-78f will favor yeast activity (non-sour). Retaining a larger % of old starter (50%), less frequent feedings (once per day) and cooler temps (40-68f) will favor LAB (sour). Using a starter at or near it’s peak will favor yeast while using at 12+ hours will favor LAB.

Some other recent personal experiences seem to contradict some of this conventional thought as low % starter adds coupled with relatively long ferments can still produce non-sour breads. I am using the starter which favors non-sour. I have not tried this yet with the other starter.

There are so many things one can control in SD – there is no magic right or wrong answer. Generally – for the home baker in the quest for sour, some time is spent in the fridge.

Cinnamon Rolls

Cinnamon Rolls

by Mark Gunderman

Sweet Dough

475g Bread Flour

500g AP Flour

264g Water

264g Milk

94g Honey

56g Sugar

123g Butter

19g Salt

8g Yeast

I mix as a straight dough.

Add all ingredients – mix for one minute on Speed 1 and fuve minutes on Speed 4. (I use a KA). The dough should be smooth and satiny – lightly sticky.

Allow to rise until “double”. This will be a fairly slow rise due to the smaller amount of yeast – a few hours.

Roll out to 26″ x 18″ (I use no flour when rolling)

Filling

165g Soft Butter

250g Sugar

24g Cinnamon mixture

Mix Cinnamon and sugar together – set aside

Spread butter on the 18″ x 26″ dough rectangle – edge to edge

Sprinkle the cinnamon sugar mix on top of butter – evenly distributing across the dough

Roll up from the long side. Keep the roll tight and not loose. Use a dough scraper as needed if dough tries to stick.

At the end – pinch the edge along the length of the roll.

Lightly dust the outside with flour.

Cut ~1″ off each end and discard. (If you don’t want to discard – roll to 24″ x 18″)

For 6 per pan – cut to 2″ widths and place 2×3 in a 9×13″ pan

For 12 per pan – cut to 1″ widths and place 3×4 in a 9×13″ pan

Allow to rise until they have increased by 2/3 volume.

Bake at 350f for ~32 minutes (tops should be lightly browning). If you use a darker pan, reduce time by 4-5 minutes.

Remove to cool.

Frosting

66g Butter

25g Cream Cheese

45g Milk

412g Powdered Sugar

5g Vanilla

Cream butter, cream cheese and 100g of powdered sugar.

Add remaining ingredients and beat until creamy and lightly fluffy.

After the rolls have cooled for 10-15 minutes – frost rolls.

I use a standard kitchen spoon – a rounded scoop per roll – and then spread around the rolls with the back of the spoon. Add more or less as suits your taste.

Fermentation and Overproofing

Thought I would share some general info on yeast fermentation and over proofing. My hope is that it may help someone by better understanding what is happening. This is based on my best current knowledge. It is written towards sourdoughs, but is equally valid for yeasted breads.

There are multiple things that occur during different stages of fermentation for sourdough breads. The actual fermentation process (yeast based) is exactly the same as with a regular yeasted bread. Each starter will vary – as will the specific yeast strains in the starter. They are commonly not as robust as commercial yeast. In any yeasted bread, there are two primary influences of how fast or slow fermentation occurs – the temperature and the amount of yeast added. For a regular yeasted bread – you might vary the amount of yeast from 0.2% to 2.5%. With all else equal, at room temp, this would cause a variation in fermentation time from ~12 hours to ~1 hour. The same is true for a starter. You can vary the amount of starter you add from 5% to 40%. There are other potential issues with a starter as you approach or go over 40%. (The starter is in the middle of it’s own fermentation process). At room temperature, this may cause a variation in fermentation time from ~12 hours to ~2 hours. This is more variable as each starter is different including how it is maintained and when it is used relative to it’s last feeding. Yeasts consume sugars and produce carbon dioxide and ethanol. This is the actual fermentation process. There are few natural sugars in flour and for sourdoughs, sugars are not frequently added to the dough.

The second process is the combining of proteins to form gluten. The dough can be mixed to “force” the proteins to combine or be allowed to develop gluten naturally (the proteins will combine naturally over time). Autolyse, no-knead, stretch and fold, etc. are examples of more natural gluten development. Different flours have varying amounts of gluten resulting in anything from weak to very strong gluten structures in the dough.

The third process occurring is activity from the enzymes naturally found in the flour. They are doing a couple significant things. They are busy converting starches (what flour mostly is) into sugars. This process begins when water is added to the flour(s) and continues throughout the fermentation process. It is also occurring during an autolyse. Different flours have different levels of enzyme activity. Enzyme activity can be increased by sprouting and drying the grain before milling. Commonly, the mill adjusts this by adding malted barley flour (sprouted and dried barley) as needed. The baker can also add diastic malted barley (typically <1%) or use sprouted flours to increase enzyme activity. The second thing happening is the enzymes are changing the gluten structure making the dough less elastic (returning to its original shape) and more extensible (able to be stretched).

The combination of these three processes is common for yeasted breads and sourdoughs. The visible rising of the bread is the result of the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast being trapped by the gluten structure. The bread dough inflates. The dough is also continuing to produce sugars, ethanol and the gluten is changing.

The level of enzyme activity, the strength of the gluten, the amount of yeast/starter added and the temperature all influence this process. A low gluten dough may not have the strength to double in volume. A very high gluten dough may triple. Overly enzymatic dough may overly damage the gluten resulting in a gummy bread. It is totally a balancing act.

The stronger the gluten structure, the longer the “window” is before the dough over proofs.

The poke test is a measure of the gluten state. Gluten has two main properties – elasticity and extensibility. As the dough ferments it fills with gas and stretches the gluten. If the dough is more elastic, when you poke it, it will resist and return to it’s shape (fill back in quickly). As the dough becomes more extensible – it will stretch and the indentation will tend to remain. You are looking for the point where the dough is more extensible but still has some elasticity. If the indent simply remains, you have lost elasticity. Time to move forward in the process. As hydration increases, this test becomes more difficult to use.

The general guidance of doubling is exactly that – general guidance. Some doughs may increase by only 75% while others by 200%.

My opinion is that it is better to err towards the under proofed side vs. over proofed.

If left untouched, the gluten structure will eventually fail and the dough will collapse. This in my view is a non recoverable error – it is simply better to start over. Anyone who keeps a lower hydration starter will observe this very thing. It will overproof, collapse and when stirred the gluten has no structure and the starter has changed consistency.

Degassing dough allows some (or all) of the trapped gases to escape. This allows the gluten to relax and by reshaping you restrengthen the gluten. It will begin to fill with gas again. However, the gluten has already become less elastic and more extensible. The dough will stretch more easily and the dough will “double” much more quickly. This is why a final proof is so much shorter than the bulk ferment.

For those who stretch and fold over a 2-3 hour period, each one partially degasses the dough and strengthens the gluten. You should not expect the dough to increase to the same extent during the bulk ferment as you have successively degassed the dough.

All of this is exactly the same for traditional yeasted doughs and sourdoughs. You have only changed the strain of yeasts doing the fermentation.

The bacteria (LAB) side of the starter also consumes sugars (different than the yeasts) and produces lactic and/or acetic acids. While the yeasts produce some acids, the LAB are much more efficient at it. The primary effect on the fermentation process is that as the dough acidifies, the yeast and LAB activity will slow. They also alter the gluten such that it is easier to digest – but do not seem to significantly impact its ability to retain trapped gas.

Over proofing is mostly an effect of the gluten strength – but also increases the ethanol content which impacts both yeast activity and gluten. It is not that the yeast have run out of food. When you degas and reshape – the enzymes continue to convert starches to sugars, the yeast consume them and produce CO2 and the dough rises again. The enzymes will eventually run out of starches to convert and fermentation will cease. The more yeast, the faster this will occur.

You are trying to find a balance of flavor (long fermentation), gluten extensibility (full lofty loaf) and color (enough sugars left for the crust to caramelize). For sourdoughs, you are also looking to manage how much acid is produced by the LAB – how sour, health benefits of easier digestibility and lower glycemic index and longer shelf life.

This question is one of the most challenging for the baker. When the same recipe is repetitively made using the same flours, the results will become predictable for the baker. Temperature becomes the biggest variable. When trying a new recipe or first learning, it is simply difficult. At some point – you come to understand how the flour will perform, how the hydration will influence things (higher hydrations weaken the gluten) and what to expect based on temperature. When learning – lean towards under proofing slightly. It will have a small impact on flavor and volume – but will produce a much better loaf than one from over proofed dough.

Watch the results from baking. If the dough rises substantially during the bake and tears open, it is likely under proofed somewhat. If you want the dramatic oven spring – under proof. Best wishes.

A Red Fife Sourdough Recipe

A very tasty Sourdough using Red Fife

171g 85% extraction Red Fife

669g Central Milling Artisan Flour

504g water

44g local honey

17g grey salt

168g 100% hydration starter (about 12 hours after feeding)

2 S&F (1 hour) and then 12 hours in the fridge.

Spent 2 hours at 80f

Was divided and shaped and 2 hours at 78f

18 hours in fridge

1 hour at room temp and then baked

Has a great tang combined with a sweetness from the honey and the flavor of the red fife. It’s just an amazing flavor.

Things to consider when feeding your starter

Feeding your starter
There are five main factors that you control in how you maintain your starter.

1. Ratio of starter:flour:water (by weight)
The amount of starter (as a percentage of the new starter weight can vary from 5-50%.
Some examples of feeding regimens for a starter size of ~120g. All assume 100% hydration:
5% feed:
6g starter : 57g flour : 57g water
20% feed:
24g starter : 48g flour : 48g water
33.3% feed
40g starter : 40g flour : 40g water
50% feed:
60g starter : 30g flour: 30g water
The lower the % of starter, the less acidic (sour) the starter will be. Using low %s of starter is also known as “sweetening the starter”.
Since flour is the starter’s food source – it is easy to see that the ratio of flour to starter increases significantly as the starter % decreases.
At 5% the ratio is 9.5 to 1. At 50% the ratio is only 0.5 to 1. The starter will have 10x the food supply with a 5% feeding vs a 50% feeding. It will go much longer between feedings. It will also ferment more slowly as the yeast and bacteria populations are significantly reduced with respect to the overall starter.

2. Hydration level
A starter can vary in hydration between 50-200%. The hydration level will directly affect what you should expect to see after feeding. 100% is likely the most common hydration (equal weights of flour and water). If the starter is at 100% it lower hydration and is being fed with a wheat flour, the starter will have a gluten structure (just like any other bread dough). The starter will go through a lull period and then begin to rise. It will increase in volume until it reaches a peak. The increase in volume is partially based on the starter’s health – but mostly indicates the gluten strength of the flour being used during feeding. It will hold a peak for some time (longer for higher gluten flours) and if left – will eventually collapse. For higher hydrations, the gluten will not be strong enough to trap the gas produced – the starter will not increase in volume – but will have a period of active bubbles rising to the top and popping. This activity will eventually slow.
Higher hydrations will:
Ferment faster
Run out of food sooner
Produce lactic acids rather than acetic acids

3. Temperature
Temperature can be varied from 40f to 85f. It is not advisable to go over 85f. Under 40f – fermentation will almost cease.the most balanced fermentation (yeast and bacteria) will occur in a narrow band of about 74f – 78f. Over 80f, the starter will favor bacterial activity and lactic acid production. Under 70f, it will again favor the bacteria and acetic acid production. Enzyme activity, yeast and bacterial fermentation directly correlate to temp. Warmer = faster / Cooler = slower.
The fridge really just puts everything in Slow motion.

4. Type of flour
Flours will hydrate and ferment differently
Flours in order of starter activity (greatest to least)
While grain Rye
Whole grain Wheat
Unbleached flour
Bleached flour

Just to note – treated municipal water supplies may negatively impact the starter.
Personally, I would avoid bleached flours

5. Frequency of feedings
At room temperature, a starter can be fed from 1-3x a day. The higher the hydration, temperature and flour activity, the more quickly the starter will exhaust it’s food. A 100% or lower hydration fed with 33% starter or less and kept at 70f should easily go 24 hours between feedings.

In the fridge – it should only need to be fed once per week. To maximize time between feedings – change the hydration to 50%, feed with only 10% starter and unbleached flour. Refrigerate after feeding and it will last 2-3 weeks between feedings in the fridge.

A starter can change hydrations at any feeding. It can also change size at each feeding (up or down).

The best size starter you can keep is one that most closely matches how you use it.
Each feeding will require some % of starter to be removed. This is referred to as the discard. Ideally you use it to bake or
make other SD items.

The best time to use a starter:
For less sour breads – as it is peaking or early in the peak
For more sour breads – end of the peak or as starter is collapsing

A really generic feeding is 1:1:1 or equal weights of starter : flour : water.

The most common mistake made is to believe that feeding equal measures of flour and water is a 100% hydration starter.
Since hydration is weight based, you need to consider the different weights of flour and water.
1C of water weighs 236g
1C of flour weighs ~132g
Feeding equal measures results in a hydration of 178.7% (236/132) – not 100%.
It will bubble – not double in size.

Happy feeding.

A SD Starter is REALLY just another bread dough!

One of my wishes would be that every sourdough baker recognize that their starter is really just another form of bread dough.
The only differences are:

We don’t add salt (speeds fermentation)
We often keep it at a higher hydration
We don’t make a strong effort to develop the gluten
We don’t bake it – but feed it to perpetuate it.

The starter is comprised of flour water and yeasts (and bacteria).
When making dough, we add a portion of our starter to the flour and water.
When feeding our starter, we add a portion of our starter to the flour and water.

We have no concern to vary the amount of starter we add to a dough or to try different hydrations or different flours We should recognize that we can do the same things with our starter. Change the hydration – change the ratio of starter to flour to water, change the flour.

As we watch our starter – we can gain great insights into how our dough should perform – does it rise quickly or slowly – does it double
or triple or only increase by 75%? How long does it hold a peak? These help us know the health of our starter – but are also highly correlated to the flour we are using.

Watch how changes in temperature affect your starter… it will be the same with your bread doughs.

Want to better understand what overproofing is – watch your starter – it overproofs and collapses regularly…. the same thing that happens when it’s part of a bread dough.

It’s the ultimate ongoing science experiment- happening right in our kitchens

Learning All About Sourdough Starters

Maybe it’s time to talk about starters. Specifically – traditional flour and water based starters.

Taking the leap and beginning a starter seems a but intimidating – what method to follow – what to expect – to cover or not to cover – how to feed and list goes on. While it may seem complicated – it really is pretty simple.

For anyone who has made bread – you already know more than you realize.

The first thing you should know is that a starter is really just another form of bread dough. It is only missing salt. It actually behaves just like a bread dough.

Some useful things to know.

Despite a lot of folklore, starters do not really trap wild yeasts from the air (ok, maybe some) – but the majority of needed yeasts and bacteria are already contained in the flour. They collected on the wheat while it was growing and are still there after it has been milled into flour. They are just waiting for the right conditions to come to life. I know this is less mysterious than the concept of yeasts arriving via the morning breeze – but it actually means you can easily create a starter with just flour and water… no magic needed.

The second thing to know is it will be happy if you stir in some air, but it really does pretty much everything in the absence of air. Feel free to cover it.

A starter will consist of a variety of yeasts and lactic acid bacteria (LAB) – and while every starter will have a slightly different combination – there are a group of pretty common ones that are found in all starters – all over the world.

Starters, once established are acidic in nature. This is the first hurdle of a new starter. The desired yeasts and LAB will not colonize until the starter is suitably acidic.

The yeasts and LAB will live happily together each feeding on different sugars. But where do the sugars come from? Once again, the flour happily provides. All flours are predominantly starch (carbs). There are very few actual sugars (flour is not sweet). The flour has this part covered too. It contains natural enzymes that will convert the starches into sugars. They actually only convert starches that were damaged during the milling process – but that’s another topic. The flour needs only one thing to put all of this into motion – water!

So first things first. how to begin a starter. There are more methods of how to do this than one can possibly imagine. In my view, simpler is better. What you do not need, and in my view, do not want.

No added sugars

No added commercial yeast

No added fruits – except maybe one.

No added flowers

No added anything

Just two (maybe 3 ingredients)…

The 2 you can’t avoid are flour and water

Let’s talk about these a bit. Different flours work better than others when it comes to starters. A simple list – in order based on how well they work:

Whole grain Rye flour

Whole wheat flours

Unbleached white flour

Bleached white flour (I would suggest avoiding this one)

Water also makes a difference – some

municipal water supplies add things to kill microorganisms – the very things we are seeking to cultivate. You can try it – but I would suggest filtered or bottled water – at least while getting the starter established.

So the goal – mix the water and flour together and wait and wait and wait. Ok we have a little more to do.

I would suggest beginning a starter at 100% hydration. This means equal weights of flour and water. One of the most common misunderstandings is thinking that equal measures of flour and water will create a 100% hydration starter.

A quick side note – hydration is nothing more than the weight ratio of the water to the flour. If we have 100g of water and 100g of flour, we simply divide them. 100/100 = 1.0 Multiply by 100 to get a %. In this example, we see that we have a 100% hydration. If we had 125g of water and 100g of flour – it would be 125/100 = 1.25 or 125% hydration.

So why does measuring not create the same result (1c of flour and 1c of water, for example)? Well, it turns out that 1c of water weighs 236g while 1c of flour weighs ~132g. Our 1c + 1c is actually 236/132 = 1.79 or 179% hydration. This is quite a different result.

A starter can be pretty much any hydration- even when beginning one. Keeping the hydration lower makes many things much easier to observe – which will be important. 100% works well for a lot of reasons. I suggest you stick with it.

So the optional 3rd ingredient is pineapple juice. But – why would we want to add it?

Let’s talk about why we might consider this as a possible third wheel.

When we first mix flour and water together, our “starter” will actually be relatively non acidic.

Acidity is measured in pH. Flour typically has a pH of around 5.5 – 6.5 while water typically ranges from 6.5 to 7.5. A pH of 7.0 is considered neutral and the lower the number – the more acidic the item is. Our starter will start out with a pH around 5.5 – 6. When we are done, our starter pH will be around 3.8 – 4.3.

Changing the pH is actually the first phase of a new starter – it must go through a natural acidification process. When conditions are right, this will take around 2 days. Ideally, there should be little to no activity during this period. If your starter bubbles and rises on the first day – you should not be giddy – although it is tempting to want to believe it is that easy. If this happens, some yeasts other than the yeasts we want took hold. They will actually need to die off – add 1 day to the process.

Back to the pineapple juice – it is useful as a starter addition for the first day or two solely because it is acidic in nature with a  pH of 3.2 -4.0. Adding it instead of water simply causes the initial pH of the “starter” to begin already somewhat acidic. Somewhat of a kickstart – subtract 1 day.

For the first 2 days, you don’t really need to do much – an occasional stir is fine and may even be helpful. Mostly – relax and let it transform. What you hope to see during days 1 and 2 – nothing. Absolutely nothing.

The yeasts and LAB that will live in our starter and do all of the bread magic will not colonize until the starter becomes acidic.

Perhaps this is a good time to talk about what happens when we feed a starter – at least from a pH perspective and maybe a

little from a yeast and LAB perspective. Remember, our flour and water have much higher pH levels. Every time we add them to our starter it raises the pH or deacidifies  our starter. For a new starter, this is contrary to what we want. It also introduces a whole new set of yeasts and LAB (also in the new flour) some will be friendly and some not. Adding commercial yeast also just introduces a non desirable

strain that the starter will have to eliminate.

Important to note: The regimen for caring for a new starter is much more specific than all of the options for an established starter. While many will offer sage advice of how they care for their starters, much of it is actually detrimental to a new starter.

Day 3 – we should begin to see activity from the yeasts that are now colonizing in our newly acidic starter. Bubbles or some increase in the volume of the starter would

be common. By now the starter has been consuming the available sugars gladly made by the natural enzymes. It’s time to add food. We want to add food (flour) and more water to maintain the hydration- but we don’t want to raise the pH too much. A good balance is to feed with a ratio of 2:1:1. This means that for every 10g of starter we add 5g of flour and 5g of water. The old starter is one half of the newly fed starter by weight. This ratio should be maintained until the starter is established.

This brings us to that horrible topic – the DISCARD !!! Why oh why must you discard? It’s a basic principle of exponential growth. Since we have established that the starter will double in weight each time we feed it (it’s just how the 2:1:1 ratio works) we can quickly see that if we don’t do anything – it will be 2x as large, then 4x,8x,16x,32x,64x – well – you get the idea. Unless you are a bakery, this is not a good thing. It is FAR FAR less wasteful to just maintain the starter at a constant size. It can be whatever size you like, as long you keep the same ratios.

The second most common mistake is not discarding and not changing how much flour and water are being added. The starter is growing – but the food supply is not! It is not a happy ending!

Let’s say we want to keep a 120g starter.

Each feeding is simply 60g of starter and 30g each of flour and water. The 60g of leftover starter is the discard.

So – Let’s talk about the discard for a minute. It’s not like all the yeasts and LAB recognize that it’s feeding time and all run to the portion of the starter you are keeping. Nope – they are evenly distributed throughout. This means two things – each time you feed 2:1:1 and discard,  you reduce the existing populations of yeast and LAB by half. You raise the pH and toss in some other competing yeasts and LAB. (Be kind and stick with the same flour during the entire

process of establishing the starter). The other thing to note – the discard half is exactly the same as the half you keep – only you haven’t fed it. It still has the same

yeasts and LAB – they are just hungry. They will begin to die off – but there are a lot of them. It will take a while.

More on this later.

So days 4-7 – we just keep discarding and feeding – once per day should be fine.

It should get more and more healthy. It will begin to follow an identifiable pattern.

Let’s talk a little about temperature – all of the key things here – the enzymes, the yeast and the LAB are all incredibly temperature sensitive. When it’s warm they are really active. As it gets cooler, they all slow down. The cooler it gets, the slower they go. Since our goal is to develop active cultures, temperature is critical. Do not even think about the fridge at this point. So what’s best? 70-80f. They will be so happy. Below 70f – add 1-4 days.

Below 60f – add 10 days. Ok – I actually don’t know how many days – but you can extend a 5 day process to 14 or more simply by having a lower temperature. You should also avoid temps over 85f for all things starter and bread related. Off flavors tend to occur. A day or 2 at 85f may help colonize the LAB.

So – it’s day 5-7 – what should we observe. The starter will go through a cycle. The first part is just like every other bread dough.

OK,  almost – it is a little wetter (100% hydration) and doesn’t have any salt and we don’t go out of our way to develop the gluten.

Let’s start from when we feed it. After we feed it, we have raised the pH and reduced the yeast and LAB populations (discarding). The starter will go through a lull period – the same as a bread dough. As things normalize, the yeast will begin to produce carbon dioxide, which trapped by the gluten will cause the starter to rise – exactly the same as any other bread dough. The starter will eventually reach a peak – this is a combination of how much gluten is in the flour, how well you mixed it and it’s access to the remaining food.

Lower gluten flours may increase by 70-80% while high gluten flours may triple.

The fact that the starter increased in volume and how quickly is an indication of the health of the yeast. How much it rises is really more an indication of your flour strength.

It is likely worthy to mention – for those who did the equal measure feedings (1c +1c) – your starter is quite liquid in nature. As such, it will not have enough gluten strength to increase in volume, you will simply see all of the CO2 gas bubbles

float to the surface and pop. You would assess the health of the yeast by the number and rate of bubbles.

So back to our 100% hydration starter. It will reach a peak in volume and stall.

In a regular bread dough, this peak is our cue to divide and shape into loaves. Not so with our starter. We get to observe what happens to a bread dough when you simply let it continue to ferment. It will hold the peak for some time – how long is again a function of the gluten strength of

your flour. Eventually, the gluten will weaken (courtesy of some other enzymes naturally present in the flour) the available

food supply will diminish and the starter will collapse. All of these indications help us understand the overall health of the yeast and the general characteristics of our flour. Watching this process also shows what happens when a bread dough overproofs.

A brief sideline – starters and bread doughs are all about fermentation.

Yeast fermentation produces several things but the main two are carbon dioxide and ethanol. The CO2, when trapped by the gluten is what causes the starter (and bread doughs) to rise.

Bacterial (LAB) fermentation also produces several things but the main two are lactic and/or acetic acids. Acids are sour. It’s because of the LAB that it’s called sourdough. They bring a lot of benefits with them besides making acids.

Just to note – lactic acids are yogurty sour and acetic acid is vinegar – thus vinegary sour.

Back to our starter – Everything we have observed so far is all about the yeast. So what about the LAB? Well – the LAB have also been busy – producing lactic and/or acetic acids – helping our starter reacidify.  We could measure the pH or taste the starter – the only real ways to determine how healthy the LAB are. A little more about this later.

Back to days 4-7. We should begin to see the starter repeat this cycle after each feeding. If it is warm and healthy – we should begin to see the starter peak around 4-6 hours after feeding. Cooler temps will take longer.

Feed it once a day… It’s OK really. More often keeps reducing the population sizes and deacidifying the starter – neither desirable when trying to get the starter established.

Another thing to note about our yeast and LAB friends. The yeasts will tend to get established more quickly than the LAB. They also recover faster from the rise in pH that occurs when we feed it. A starter is usable for baking when it consistently repeats the rise and fall cycle a few times. This could be as short as 5 days – but typically may be more like 7-10 days. Breads baked with new starters are not likely to be very sour.

Once a starter has shown it is stable for several days – the rules can begin to change. The yeasts and LAB are fairly well established – the pH is being managed and the starter is able to tolerate some variation. I would be as consistent as possible – keep it warm, use the same flour, have regular daily feedings with a 2:1:1 ratio for at least 10-14 days.

If you miss a feeding – just feed as soon as you realize it – it will not be perilous. The yeasts and LAB have two primary goals – survive and reproduce – and they do both quite well. They hung out on the wheat relatively inactive for quite a well waiting for you to provide a happy home.

There are several things that we can change with regard to the ongoing care of our starter. Let’s talk about a few.

Hydration – so far we have kept our starter at 100% – but there is variety in life. A starter can be any hydration – but practically the range is about 45% to 200%. It is hard to physically get below 45% and over 200% it will run out of food very quickly. So what effect does changing the hydration have? Increasing the hydration will speed up fermentation and reduce the available food supply.

Let’s look why the food supply is reduced. Warning: math ahead!

Let’s start with our healthy 120g 100% hydration starter and change it to 200%. We know that at 200% – the water weight will be twice that of the flour.

For our 120g starter, that means it will need to be – 80g of water and 40g of flour. If we start with 60g of our existing starter – it will provide the first 30g of flour and 30g of water. We would add 10g of flour (40g – 30g) and 50g of water (80g – 30g). Since flour is the food supply – we should note that we only fed 10g of new flour.

It will get a little better with the next feeding as now our 60g of starter is already at 200% hydration. It is now 20g of flour and 40g of water. We now feed it with an additional 20g of flour and 40g of water. We doubled the amount of flour – but it is still only 20g.

Remember, the flour component from the existing starter has little food value as it has been previously consumed.

If we compare this to our previous feedings at 100% hydration, we were feeding 60g of starter and 30g each flour and water. At 100% hydration, the starter receives 1.5 times the amount of food it receives when it is maintained at 200% hydration.

So – let’s change it to 50% hydration. At 50% hydration the water weight will be half of the flour weight or the opposite of our 200% starter.

For our 120g starter, that means it will need to be – 40g of water and 80g of flour. If we go back and start with 60g of our existing 200% hydration starter – it will provide the first 30g of flour and 30g of water. We would add 10g of water (40g – 30g) and 50g of flour (80g – 30g). Since flour is the food supply – we should note that we now fed 50g of new flour.

It will be a little less with the next feeding as now our 60g of starter is already at 50% hydration. It is now 40g of flour and 20g of water. We now feed it with an additional 40g of flour and 20g of water.

To summarize – keeping our ratio of 2:1:1

At 200% hydration we are adding 20g of new flour at each feeding.

At 100% hydration we are adding 30g of new flour at each feeding.

At 50% hydration we are adding 40g of new flour at each feeding.

What does this mean? Simply – the higher the hydration – the more quickly the starter will exhaust it’s food supply. It will want to be fed more frequently. A 200% starter will need to be fed twice as often as a 50% starter. We can use this to our advantage.

The next thing we will talk about is feeding ratios. I will reference the ratio as starter:flour:water. (I have seen it as both s:w:f and s:f:w).

If you remember, our initial starter was 2:1:1. In the same spirit of “variety is the spice of life” – we can completely change the ratios of how we feed our starter. In fact, we probably want to!

The truth is – we already talked about the flour and water ratios when we changed hydrations.

At 200% hydration, our feedings were 60g of starter, 40g of water and 20g of flour. The ratio is 3:1:2

At 100% hydration, our feedings were 60g of starter, 30g of water and 30g of flour. The ratio is 2:1:1

At 50% hydration, our feedings were 60g of starter, 20g of water and 40g of flour. The ratio is 3:2:1

The only other thing we can change is how much starter we retain when feeding. It turns out that we can vary the amount from 5-50% of the new starter weight. It becomes a bit impractical to go beyond these limits.

What happens as we vary this %? As the % of existing starter gets smaller and smaller – two major things occur. We already talked about both of them

First, we are introducing a smaller and smaller population of yeasts and LAB into the newly fed starter.

Second, since a larger % of the newly fed starter is fresh flour and water, we dramatically increase the pH and the populations of competing yeasts and bacteria. This is why 5% is somewhat the practical lower limit.

What happens as we lower the % of existing starter. If you remember, the yeasts tend to recover faster than the LAB. So – we significantly de-acidify the starter, we reduce the yeast and LAB populations and we expect the yeast to recover first. This is also known as sweetening the starter or in the Goldrush days – sweeting the pot. This is most commonly how the baker feeds the starter if they want less sour breads. We reduce the starter pH, suppress the LAB (slower recovery) and add the starter to the dough early in its cycle – typically just as it is peaking. All favor less acid. Keep in mind, that as just as adding less yeast/starter to a bread dough will slow the rate of fermentation. The same will happen with your starter – it will take longer to reach it’s peak.

We should note that another common practice is to keep something like the 2:1:1 feeding ratio but feed 3 times every 8 hours. The net effect is similar as each feeding reduces the yeast/LAB populations and raised the starter pH.

At 10% starter and 100% hydration, we are feeding our 120g starter 12g of starter and 54g of flour and 54g of water. The ratio is 1:4.5:4.5 or 2:9:9

For more sour breads, the opposite is true. You want to keep the amount of starter added high – at 50%. You want to feed less frequently and you want to use later in the cycle – when the LAB are fully active… At the back end of the peak or even after the starter has collapsed.

The last wildcard is temperature. It is in my view, the unspoken ingredient added in all bread doughs.

78f (25c) should be embedded in the mind of every bread baker. It is the point at which yeast and LAB are somewhat in balance. As you go above or below it, the LAB will gain an advantage.

Just to note – above 80f (27c) and at higher hydrations the LAB will favor lactic acid and below 60f (16c) or at lower hydrations, the LAB will favor acetic acid (tangy sour).

An all purpose somewhat neutral safe happy flexing ratio for an established starter is 1:1:1 – equal weights of everyone.

How often to feed?

The answer really depends on the hydration, the temperature and your goal of sour or non-sour.

As we discovered – a high hydration starter kept at a warm temp will likely want to be fed every 12 hours.

A 100% hydration starter kept around 70f (21c) should be fed once per day.

A 50% hydration even less often.

Remember – as the hydration decreases, the amount of available food increases.

So – what about the fridge?

Good or bad?

I’d say it leans towards the bad side – but it excels at convenience for the baker who wants sourdough breads, bakes once a week or less and doesn’t want to feed daily.

For the ultimate lazy person (me), you can do a couple tricks – change the hydration to 50% before storing (lots of food) and since you know your starter is good – put it in the fridge right after you feed it (lots of food). The longer it stays out – the more active it will be and the more food it wil consume. The goal is for your starter to happily hang out for a week or two while you blissfully neglect it.

A high hydration starter that is fed and allowed to become fully active before refrigerating has already consumed a good portion of its food.

So – what does the fridge do?

The chillingly cool temps will simply slow everything down… the enzymes, the yeasts, the LABs. It is the baker’s slow

motion button. It will take a while for the starter to cool.

Around 35f (2c) – it will almost stop. Fridge temps vary and a 40f (4c) fridge will allow more fermentation activity than a 35f (2c) fridge. Just watch it.

To return a refrigerated starter to use – there are a few options.

Just use it. The yeasts and LABs are still Ll there hanging out. The longer it has been in the fridge – the less viable this option becomes.

Take it out and feed it. If it’s healthy, after a single feeding you should see it repeat it’s familiar pattern of rising. Feed it a couple times if you like. It never minds a warm room and food.

If you just want to extend it’s life in the fridge, take it out, feed it and put it right back. I know this creates anxiety for a lot of people. The starter really doesn’t care. It does not need to warm up or anything. It’s happy just to get fresh food. If you feel better or just don’t trust it , warm it, feed it, watch it rise and peak – then feed it again and put it back.

What if you neglect it a little too long?

Remember – yeast fermentation produces ethanol (alcohol). Left long enough unfed,

the gluten will completely deteriorate, the starter pH will reach a point that halts activity and the starter will separate with the alcohol on the top (occasionally the bottom). It is referred to as hooch. It is typically brown or black. If it is a low hydration – it may turn grayish on top.

What to do?

One of the more controversial topics – you can pour it off or stir it back in. From a pure starter health perspective, it is simply better to pour it off. It is a byproduct and not the starters best friend. For those who want sour or like the flavor, stir it back in.

As a starter remains unfed, the yeast and LAB populations will slowly die off – they will mostly go dormant.

Personally, the regular appearance of hooch means you are not adequately feeding the starter. I do not encourage this.

The last topic for now – discarding! Perhaps a poor choice of terms – the discard can actually be the portion used for baking. To maintain the feeding ratios, you either need to remove some of the existing starter to keep the starter a constant size or recognize that the starter is going to keep getting larger and larger.

You need to keep adjusting the amount of food up as the starter grows.

In a perfect world, you would keep your starter at a size that matches your baking.

You would feed it and use the portion removed for baking. No discard in the sense of throwing part away.

Creating Your Own Recipe

Creating your own recipe.

A quick review:

Flour is always represented as the primary ingredient and always is 100%.

It may be a combination of multiple different flours but the total weight of all the flours will be 100%

All other ingredient’s weights are  expressed as a % of the total flour weight.

Typical ranges for most common ingredients

Water (may include milk and/or

buttermilk : 55-85% (there are recipes as high as 120%)

Salt : 1.5 – 2.2%

Sugars (sugar, honey, maple syrup, agave, molasses, etc.) : 0 – 12%

Fats (oils, butter, lard, etc) 0 – 10%

Starter: 5-40%

Yeast: 0.1 – 2%

Changes in the amounts for either a starter or yeast have a dramatic impact as it will directly change the rate of fermentation. More = a faster rate of fermentation. For sourdoughs – this will most frequently result in less sour breads.

More starter = less sour.

For sour breads, a common add is 5-10%.

For non-sour, a common add is 20-30%.

There are also exceptions to this general guideline.

One thing to note- these are the general

ranges of each of the different ingredients which represents the majority of recipes. There will always be some recipes with 110% hydration, 2.5% salt, 15% sugar, 60% starter, 3% yeast etc. – where the amount exceeds the normal ranges.

Frequently bakers ask for a basic SD recipe. If you think about a recipe in terms of baker percentages and consider the general range of ingredients, creating your own recipe is not that hard.

You might decide, for example, that you want a non-sour loaf made with 20% whole grain flour. You want to bake 2 normal sized loaves and you want them to be moderately high in hydration with slightly lower salt.

We can pick 800g as our total flour weight… a good starting point for 2 loaves. We can adjust up or down depending on our actual results. Lower gluten flours will tend to make slightly smaller denser loaves – so we might want a higher starting weight if using them… but still wanting a larger sized loaf.

Since our goal is a non-sour bread, we will want a shorter fermentation. To shorten times, we simply need to choose a starter(yeast) amount that is a higher %. The general range is 5-40%. In this case, I will pick 25% – a shorter but not overly fast fermentation.

Our recipe might evolve from there to be:

20% WW Flour

80% Bread Flour

75% hydration

25% 100% hydration starter

1.8% salt

By weight , the flour becomes

160g WW flour (0.2×800)

640g bread flour (0.8×800)

We next need to look at the starter – It will be 200g 100% hydration starter (0.25 x 800g = 200g)

Since it is 100% hydration, we know it will be 100g flour and 100g water.

Since our overall dough hydration goal is 75% – we need to now determine how much water we need to add.

So far – our total flour is 900g (160+640+100(starter))

The total water we will need is 900g x 0.75 (75% hydration) = 675g

The first 100g comes from our starter. We will need to add an additional 575g water.

And last – our salt

14.4g salt (0.018 x 800g)

So – to summarize – our recipe is now:

160g WW flour

640g bread flour

575g water

200g 100% hydration starter

14g salt

This is an example of the first step in creating your own bread recipe. Next, you simply have to determine the process that will be used to mix, ferment, shape and bake the dough.

Home Milling – What Is It?

Let’s talk about some of the basics of home milling.

If you are a home baker who regularly uses whole grain flours in your baking, it may be worth considering the purchase of a home mill. As with all things bread, there are many choices and things to consider.

Up front disclaimer – If you regularly use white flours, you will most likely need to continue to purchase them – as it is not really possible to make a white flour with a home mill. White flour is commercially produced by removing the germ and bran from the wheat berry and subsequently milling only the endosperm (starchy portion). The best you can do as a home miller is create a high extraction flour. This is done by sieving (sifting) the milled flour to remove the larger particles. There will still be some bran and germ in the flour and likely some amount of endosperm in the portion sieved out.

The extraction rate, which is simply the weight of the sieved flour vs the original flour weight can be varied by changing either how coarse the flour is milled and/or the size of the sieve used. By sieving, you can achieve a flour that will be lighter than the original whole grain flour.

An example: If you start with 100g of wheat berries – you will produce 100g of whole wheat flour. If you sieve out 15g – you will have created an 85% extraction flour (85g remaining).

85g/100g = 0.85 (85%)

Switching from purchasing flour to buying actual grains may save you (up to ~20%) on flour costs. This will vary greatly based on where you source flours/grains.

How much benefit this provides will depend on how much whole grain flour you regularly use for baking.

If you use 5# of whole grain flour per week – your annual consumption is about 250#. If you are paying around $5 for a 5# bag of flour, your annual expense is $250. Your potential annual savings might be as much as $50. If you use 5# a month, then your potential annual savings might be only $12. You should compare grain and flour costs from your supplier/source.

If you are plan to use more expensive grains (einkorn or emmer, for example), your savings may be greater. It is unlikely that you will elect to buy a mill based solely on cost savings.

The cost savings should be considered when deciding to buy a mill. The prices of mills can become quite expensive and it will be some period of time (often several years) before the cost of the mill is “recovered”. Consider your personal needs when selecting a mill.

There are, however, other benefits of home milling flours – the most prevalent being flour freshness. The germ portion of the wheat berry contains oil which is released into the flour when milled. This introduces the risk of rancidity. Vitamin content will also quickly decrease after milling. One of the most common reasons for investing in a mill is the health and flavor benefits of freshly milled whole grain flours.

Whole grains have extremely long shelf lives – especially when contrasted with whole grain flours. Most grains, when stored properly, can be kept for many years.

Since we talked earlier about extraction rates, home milling allows you full control over what extraction rates you choose to use. It should be noted that unless you use the portion sieved out, you do increase the effective cost of your flour.

So we can’t skip a quick discussion about grains – specifically wheat. Wheat can vary widely in protein levels, enzyme levels, flavor, etc – based on where it was grown, the local climate, the variety of wheat, the weather just prior to harvest, etc. Each individual harvest has it’s own characteristics.

There are also hard and soft wheats – start with hard – they are higher in gluten and are what white bread flours are made from.

We have come to expect that flour performs consistently from batch to batch. This is because larger mills test individual lots of wheat and mix lots to produce a consistent product. They also may add malts to insure consistent enzyme performance. The result is that we have consistent results by repurchasing the same brand and type of flour each time we bake.

When the home baker purchases grain, there is a very high likelihood that they are buying grain of a single variety from a specific single harvest. The quality and performance of the wheat and corresponding flour may vary from purchase to purchase… especially if purchased from different sources. The home baker should be prepared for this. Gluten strength may be higher or lower. Corresponding hydration levels will vary. Enzyme levels will vary.

Milling opens the baker to the option to mill a wide variety of grains and easily includes specialty grains and gluten free grains.

One may never fully appreciate a corn bread/muffin until they taste one made with fresh milled whole wheat flour and corn meal.

Flours can be used fresh after milling or can be aged. Allowing the flour to sit will cause it to oxidize. The gluten performance may improve slightly – but the flavor profile will also change some. If you do mill extra, just store it the same way you store any WW flour. It will keep for several weeks. Having done several comparisons, I almost always use fresh milled flours.

So – Let’s talk about some options for mills. Almost all mills leverage some pretty common concepts.

  1. Gravity – most mills use gravity to help feed grain into the milling chamber – very logical since gravity is free.
  2. Centrifugal force – the majority of designs rely on centrifugal force to help drive the grain through the milling environment.
  3. Two surfaces – one stationary and one rotating – often separated by a small gap which is wider where the grain enters and gets narrower towards the exit point. Most milling surfaces are round – often with grooves.
  4. A motor (or occasionally a hand crank) to provide power to turn the rotating surface.

So – most mills fit into a few categories (there will, of course, be exceptions):

Steel Burr / Stone Mills

Conceptually, both steel burr and stone mills function in a similar manner.

They use steel or stone surfaces – one fixed and one rotating. They most often have grooves to allow the grain to enter between the surfaces. The gap between the surfaces is adjustable and is effectively wider where the grain enters and becomes narrower towards the point of exit this is typically the grooves and not the surface itself). They tend to operate at lower rotational speeds. They effectively grind the grain into a flour. The coarseness of the flour is varied by changing the distance between the milling surfaces.

Stone mills historically were based on a pair of horizontal stones where grain falls into the center and is passed outward through centrifugal force and a set of narrowing grooves. Mills today utilize the same concept. Some mills use vertically oriented stones/milling surfaces. They method is still the same.

Examples of steel burr mills:

  • Family Grain Mill (different design)
  • Kitchen Aid Milling attachment
  • Country Living Grain Mill
  • Wonder Jr. Mill

Most hand powered mills are of this type.

Examples of stone mills

  • Komo Mills
  • Nutrimill Harvest Mill
  • Mockmill

High Speed Impact Mills

In a different design model, impact mills rotate at a very high speed. There is a fixed disc and a rotating disc. Both have steel teeth and there is a fixed gap between them (fairly wide).The grain falls into the center and is forced outward by centrifugal force where it impacts the set of fixed and rotating steel teeth. The grain is effectively exploded into flour as it passes through the milling chamber. Coarseness is controlled by varying the flow of grain into the chamber or varying the motor speed. They are great at making fine flours and not so good at coarser flours.

Examples of high speed impact mills:

  • WonderMill
  • Nutrimill Classic
  • Nutrimill Plus

Food Processors – newer food processors may include dry containers specifically intended to be able to mill grains. The blade is typically shaped to push the grain away from the blade. The blade is not sharp and functions more similarly to an impact mill – striking and exploding the grain.

Examples of food processors:

  • Vitamix
  • Blendtec

Each type of mill brings something a bit different to the home Miller.

Steel / Stone mills are typically quite versatile and can mill a wide variety of grains at varying degrees of coarseness/fineness. They will vary in size and speed.

Some steel mills do not produce very fine flours and this can be a drawback.

Some of the stone mills have wooden cabinets and are nice enough to be left on a counter. They are frequently fairly easy to clean. They often are the easiest mills to use and produce great results.

Impact mills excel at speed and the production of finely milled flours. They do not do cracked / coarse flours very well. Because of their high RPM. They have a characteristic whine and it will take about 30 seconds for the mill to “spin down” after the milling is complete. They tend to have quite large footprints and are not typically something you’d be too excited to leave on your counter. Each milling must be followed by a fairly extensive cleaning process.

Food processors will mill grains into flour – it should be with a container made for dry ingredients. They do not produce very fine flours. Unlike most mills, where the grain passes through the milling chamber, the grain is captive and longer times are needed to produce finer flours. They have an inherent risk of creating flour temps that are too high. If you already have one – it may well be worth a try – just watch the flour temp.

I will post a subsequent comparison of some different mills to give a more specific set of information.

Milling can be rewarding and there are rarely similar opportunities to have fresh milled whole grain flours – unless you live near a mill. It is an investment – with most mills lasting for years.

Join the new revolution – Flour Power!!

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