Bread Advice

I used to make bread here and there with some pretty good success. Granted, this was in San Francisco and it was never with a starter. I was determined, though, after reading an article in Saveur recently to try a starter once and for all. So I tended it and cared for it for 10 days and today I finally got to make it. While it tastes great, it did not rise as much as I thought it should and was rather dense (here my dad would say, Love to! do you tango?). I am assuming this could have to do with me being in the mile high city, but I am a "cooker" not a "baker" and have exhibited little patience in troubleshooting. Any ideas would be appreciated. Can I keep the starter and adjust the recipe? This is what I used:



Solene January 3, 2017
Hi! :)

I made a tutorial recently to make homemade bread (you can eat it with sweet food as well as any kind of meal), and if you follow my advices your bread should rise:

I hope it can help you! :)
savorthis August 31, 2012
Well I took some of the advice here and let the starter sit out longer and used a mix of bread and whole wheat flours and kneaded the phooey out of it. It was definitely better and tasted very good, but still has a long way to go. You can see by the photo it has grand aspirations....
Sadassa_Ulna August 29, 2012
I have been experimenting with sourdough for the past couple of months, following a book by Dan Leader called Local Breads, and so far I have focused on sourdough types. From what I gather, the liquid sourdough that is used in traditional American breadmaking is different from the stiff 'levain' type used in traditional French breadmaking. Leader recommends exactly what boulangere and AJ have discussed about the rye/whole wheat addition to the bread flour, both for the levain starter and the dough mixture.
I thought the hot Philadelphia July weather would be great for beginning my starter, but I came to realize that the cooler nights were slowing things down too much. So before going to bed I would turn on my oven to the lowest temp, then turn it off and open door; when I could comfortably hold my finger to the wall of the oven I would put my starter in and shut the door until the morning. I do the same thing when I am letting the dough rise. In other words, even though my book says keep starter around 75-85 degrees I am keeping it at the 85 or more end of the spectrum.
I have made several nice-looking batards using my stiff levain and have been stashing bits of it in the freezer in case I don't keep up with the weekly levain feeding schedule. Maybe I can thaw those without having to completely start over. I was really amused when, while researching online, I found recommendations like 'the best way to make a sourdough starter is to use a bit of starter from someone else.' (You don't say?)

AntoniaJames August 28, 2012
boulangere, upon reading your comment about rye and its fermentation properties, I put rye flour on my Food Mill list and picked some up the last time I was over there. I used 6% rye and 14% King Arthur whole wheat (of total flour weight) using Alexander's recipe for baguettes, but shaped it into a boule, and used the Lahey Dutch oven at 500 degrees method. My son declared it one of my best loaves, ever. I thought it was pretty darn good, too. Thanks for the tip! ;o)
boulangere August 28, 2012
Glad it helped!
AntoniaJames August 28, 2012
Your starter has a much lower percentage of water to flour than mine, which is meticulously maintained at equal parts water and flour. Plus, mine gets a soupy layer of liquid on top between feedings. I do recommend that you use 1/4 teaspoon of active dry yeast per batch of bread that you make, and that you let it ferment for a couple of hours at room temperature and then at least a couple of hours before shaping to prepare for baking. Wish I could be of more help! If you want to try again sometime using a proven formula and method, which has served me very well, I highly recommend William Alexander's "52 Loaves". He's not a professional baker, just a curious and intelligent guy who set out to figure out how to make excellent artisan bread at home. Alexander also has a website where you can ask him questions and get advice if you need help along the way. And his book is a fun read. ;o)
savorthis August 28, 2012
You know, it is a William Alexander recipe! I did really enjoy the article in Saveur about his experiences- it is what made me try this in the first place. I probably should get that book though and try some others along with some high altitude ponderings. I remember helping my dad make french baguettes a lot as a kid and they were good but never quite what he was after....though he was even further off the patience spectrum than I am...
AntoniaJames August 28, 2012
savorthis, you should go to Mr. Alexander's site and post a question on the "Ask the Bread Doctor" page He usually responds promptly and will help whenever he can. (BTW, I don't think that spelt levain recipe is his. The levain certainly is not the one he recommends in his book, which you start by harvesting wild yeast, using a couple of just-off-the-tree hazy apples -- the levain I started and am enjoying tremendously.) ;o)
savorthis August 28, 2012
OK- I am trying again today/tomorrow with two batches. When I fed the started yesterday (it said to do so weekly and store in the fridge) I was surprised at how firm it was. I left it on the counter for a bit to become more maleable. Does this seem right? Then this morning, I did as suggested and left the starter out for a couple hours, then mixed in some regular bread flour and water and tomorrow I will try a couple different flour combinations in each. I have to say the starter didn't seem as "bubbly" as I expected. Can you fix/modify a starter? How do you know what you need to do to fix it? I generally feel confident in knowing what bread dough should feel/sound like, but I did expect a looser starter. I have to say I am only partially confident at my stick-to-it-ness of this project, but we'll see how this batch goes.
AntoniaJames August 23, 2012
When baking bread with my wild yeast levain, I always add 1/4 teaspoon of regular active dry yeast (and don't bother proofing it . . . though I make sure it comes in contact with my starter, which is very wet). I use the method described in William Alexander's "52 Loaves". Alexander recommends that you take feed the levain with 125 grams of water and 125 grams of flour preferably the night before, but in any case, no less than 2 hours before you start your bread making, and the starter should be at room temperature for at least two hours before you start as well. I often get up really early, feed the levain and let it sit on the counter partially covered for 2 - 3 hours, then get to work. I didn't realize that rye ferments really well, so I appreciate boulangere's comment on that! I know that it gives a bit of complexity to the flavor for breads not made with a levain, but this information on fermentation is interesting. Also, when using any recipe with more than 1/2 cup of a non-wheat flour, I always add a teaspoon of vital gluten, which helps keep the loaf from being too dense. Good luck and have fun!! Oh, and you really should read Alexander's book, which sort of Bill Bryson-ish and great fun, without the vulgarity. ;o)
fiveandspice August 23, 2012
Along the lines of what other people have said, I would try making loaves that include more bread flour, perhaps mixed with other flours, to get the gluten because as they've pointed out, spelt is very low gluten, and 100% spelt bread tends to be dense no matter the strength of your starter or yeast. When I first got my starter, my breads didn't rise that vigorously, but I've been baking pretty much weekly with it for the past 6 or so months, and it has become a lot more vigorous. Before baking, I usually take it out of the fridge, discard half, feed it and leave it until it has bubbled up then settled down again, then go through the same drill, but in addition to the regular feeding, add the amount of water and flour I'm planning to take out for the recipe. I let it bubble for about 3-4 hours, then take out the starter I need and start my bread while returning the rest to the fridge. I actually played a bunch with the infamous Lahey no knead bread recipe using my starter for a couple months before moving on to other things, because it's really simple and lets you get to know your starter. Now I use it for anything! I would say you can keep feeding it spelt most of the time if you want, but you may want to feed it white flour, whole wheat flour, or rye now and then. I've heard the yeasts in sourdoughs are particularly fond of rye.
boulangere August 23, 2012
A tablespoon or so of rye is good to add to sourdough starter if it has gone unfed for a while and needs to recover. Rye ferments exceptionally well, so it's good for a kickstart, but too much too often will send the starter's fermentation into overdrive, which will produce excessive amounts of alcohol and actually begin to kill off yeast cells.
petitbleu August 23, 2012
Also--spelt tends to form less gluten than, say, bread flour or even all-purpose. Try making a loaf with mostly bread flour and some whole wheat flour to round it out. Also check out Tartine Bread if you can--it's an amazing book and really changed the way I bake bread. My best advice to you, though, is to keep baking. You'll get the hang of it, and your loaves will improve.
savorthis August 23, 2012
Oh I want a mug of bread pudding and luscious sauce. I will borrow that book from a friend- good idea!
BoulderGalinTokyo August 23, 2012
While it seems useless, it is very important to use high altitude baking where you are. I would find a previous bread you liked and make that with altitude changes (joy of Cooking, or on-line. CU extension courses) When've got the bread the way it used to be, then start making your flour changes.
boulangere August 22, 2012
Your starter is very young. As it matures, it will grow better and better loaves. That said, spelt flour is lower in protein than wheat (bread) flour, so if you're trying to make bread with 100% spelt flour, perhaps consider using 50% bread flour, and knead it long and strong to develop the proteins to support the bread better. Congratulations on your brand new starter! Persevere!
savorthis August 23, 2012
So can I keep the spelt starter and just change the kind of flour I add to it for bread? Should I keep feeding the starter with spelt? I did knead the bejeezus out of it and it rose before I was to slash it with a knife and bake it. It really does taste good....just takes some chewing :)
boulangere August 23, 2012
I'd increase the percentage of wheat flour in your starter as well, for the sake of a higher protein content. When working with sourdough, you're a more acidic environment than that found in conventional bread doughs. Proteins are going to be broken down more quickly as a result.
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