Bread Education: Starter Care and Management

Today we had our first lab at Local: Mission Eatery, and taught about Starter Care and Management. It was Sour Flour’s first public class outside of the Sour Flour Lab, and the largest class yet with over 20 people.

I created a rough plan for the class, but also answered questions and improvised a bit. I had Anh-Thu help teach the class, who brought a nice contrast in perspective to how I approach bread and starters. The class schedule was as follows:

7:00PM: Intro, explain class
7:05PM: Look at starters
7:10PM: Load bread into oven
7:15PM: Feed starters, then analyze
7:30PM: Stiff vs. high hydration
7:45PM: Temperature and time between feedings
8:00PM: Expansion Factor for starter and dough
8:15PM: Analyze Bread
8:25PM: Reanalyze starters, answer questions

The course outline was a good general guide, although we definitely structured the class a bit differently. For one, we didn’t feed the starters in class. It was too short a time period to really see a massive change from fermentation, and so we stayed on other topics. Also, few people brought their own starters to show and compare.

The class had a good mix of skill level, and it was nice that there was a large percentage of people who had never baked before, but were very interested. One thing I realize about the class is that it was fairly theoretical, and a few people might need some extra help and guidance to start their first bread. We did go over some technical aspects with the baking, scoring, steaming, and cooling, but there was no hands on other than with the tasting of the starters.

The main topic of the class was about the things you can adjust in the feeding of your starter. Based on your hydration, temperature, quantity fed, and time between feedings, you will be feeding a starter that is unique to own bread. Here is a summary of these factors:

Hydration: Hydration is the amount of water, relative to the flour, in your starter. At 50% hydration (for example, 100g flour, and 50g water) is fairly stiff, and ferments slower. 100% is fairly hydrated, but moving up to 150% will cause enzymes to break down the starch in the flour even faster, providing the simple sugars for the yeast and bacteria to eat. Any hydration will work, and depending on where you choose to fall in the spectrum, your starter will favor the production of different flavors.

Temperature: The higher the temperature, the faster the yeast and bacteria ferment. Higher temperatures tend to favor yeast production, which are responsible for more of the gas that rises the bread. At room temperature (55F-65F), you might feed once a day, in high temperatures (80F), you might feed up to 4 times a day, in the fridge (40F-50F) you might only feed once a week or less. Lower temperatures allow for buildup of more acid and alcohol, or flavor, but can decrease the production of gas from yeast.

Amount of flour: Depending on how much you feed your starter, it will eat through the flour at different rates. It is helpful to think of feeding in terms of the ratio of starter:flour:water. 1:1:1 would be equal parts starter, flour, and water by weight, and would have a 3X expansion (50g starter would turn into 150g after feeding it 50g flour and 50g water). 1:2:1 would create a starter with 50% hydration (water is half of flour weight), and would be a 4X expansion.

Time between feedings: Based on the three above factors, your starter will take more or less time to eat through its food. You might want to try a 1:1:1 once a day, or a 1:2:1 once every other day. At warmer temperatures, a 1:4:5, twice a day, might get you a good active starter that would be good for baguettes (125% hydration, heavy yeast activity for a fluffier loaf).

There are many more specific formulas and temperature ranges you can follow, but it is important to learn how your starter is reacting, and adjust based on what you would like it to do for your dough and bread.

As you become more comfortable with your starter, you will use it to make bread with the following process:

- Feed Starter
- Mix Dough (just like feeding the starter, but also add salt)
- Ferment and Develop Gluten
- Divide and Shape your Loaves
- Proof your Loaves
- Bake your Loaves

More classes to come, and feel free to ask questions. The Sour Flour hotline is (415) 509 – 3380, or you can ask questions in the comments.

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