How good is your starter?
We're more than happy to welcome Guy Frenkel as guest contributor to the Quest For Sourdough blog! Guy is a Los Angeles based, amazingly passionate baker. He joined our Quest For Sourdough from the very beginning, in the Center for Bread Flavour in St. Vith. With his sourdough 'Elizabeth', Guy creates the most outstanding, creative breads. Have you ever wondered if your sourdough starter is any good? Keep reading! In his first blog, Guy is shining a light on the evaluation of sourdough starters. Guy, the floor is yours!
Capturing wild yeast and bacteria, and nourishing them into a stable and thriving colony, is one of the most gratifying aspects of sourdough baking. Often, bakers develop a (dare I say emotional?) connection to their doughy pets. Perhaps because just like a Tamagotchi, your starter needs your careful, often daily, attention in order to survive. If you named your starter you understand. The importance of a good starter is often overlooked. The starter will affect the crumb structure and texture, the oven spring, the crust and most importantly the flavor of your finished loaf. The sourdough starter is the soul of your bread, yet all starters are NOT created equal.
With thousands of yeast and bacteria strains and countless combinations of each in starter ecosystems, your options are almost limitless, and it is only logical that some starters are better than others. So for the sake of superior bakes, it is important to keep an objective eye and develop the skills for evaluating a starter’s potential to give you great bread.
But how do we define better? Well, like most things in baking, it depends. There is no one best starter, but rather starters have qualities which you can evaluate and form opinions on, per your preferences and goals.
Time to peak - how long does it take your starter to peak? Is it fast and eager to rise or slower and lazy? Does speed matter to you?
Hight at peak - some starters double in hight before collapsing. Others triple or even quadruple before they fall. Does your starter struggle to double or does it try to escape the jar if you look away?
Time at peak - some starters are quick to collapse and others maintain the peak for a long time before finally giving in to gravity. This quality can prove important, especially for novice bakers. The longer the starter maintains it’s peak, the bigger your window for hitting a good final proof.
Bubbles structure - are the bubbles small and regular or bigger and inconsistent in size? All things being equal, the starter will create a similar hole structure in your crumb. Which do you prefer?
Smell and taste - smell your starter and note the aromas. Is your starter sweet? Sour? Vinegary? Alcoholic? Fruity? Is it pleasant? It really should be. Taste it... Yes I said taste it (It's probiotics - you will be fine). what does it taste like? Do you like it? You will be tasting hints of your starter in the bread you bake with it.
These parameters (you might think of additional ones) will help you evaluate your starters and help you find the right starter for you. To compare starters simply follow an identical feeding procedure (for example 30g starter at peak, 45g water, 60g flour) and note the results. In the next post we will learn how to manipulate and influence some of these parameters like peaks, taste and smell... stay tuned! - Guy Frenkel