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Frequently Asked Questions

 

Linda: I have ordered your starter, and everything is going GREAT!

But, when I check out the FAQ on your website, I find that almost everyone has named their starter. So, do I need to name every single one of the yeast/bacteria cells (there are billions), or can I just name the whole thing with a single name?

A happy customer.

Q:  I have baked the first two loaves of bread but have a question. What do you do with the "starter" that is left over when you take out enough to bake bread according to your recipe? I had about 2-3 cups of that mixture left and wasn't sure if I could keep it and use it again.

A:  If you’re not going to make more than one batch of bread on a day, you can save the extra starter. Just be sure to feed it well so that it’s really active before you use it. Or, when you take your starter out of the fridge to get ready to bake, you can take out just a half cup or less and you’ll end up with less starter.

Q:  Also, do you really pre-heat your oven for 45-60 minutes (pg 8 of instructions).

A:  Yes, I do. If you preheat for only a few minutes, then the air in the oven is the right temp but all of the surfaces haven’t had time to absorb that temperature. When you open the door to put in the bread and to spray the oven, all the surfaces are cooler so your oven loses more heat and your bread is not baking at the correct temperature.

Q:  Also, I am confused about the 1st paragraph on page 9 of the instructions. You are taking it out of the oven because you let it rise in the oven?

A:  Some people let their bread rise in the oven with the light on when their kitchen is very cold.

This is the first time I will be making bread since the initial time. I took a cup of starter and added the flour and water as instructed. I just added another cup of water and flour (mid-day feeding) and will add the 2-1/2 cups flour and water before I go to bed tonight. Am I
supposed to be throwing all but a cup away every time I feed it or is it OK to just keep all the batter and be able to make more bread???

As long as you feed it enough flour and water to get and keep it really active, you can use it all to make bread. I always make big batches when I bake, so I make a lot of sponge. The
more you feed it, the more sponge you'll have for baking.

Hi. I ordered your sourdough starter in fall '05 and it is now summer '06. I've only done a few batches, and I wanted to let you know that they'v been getting better as I go along. I don't know if this has to do with the practice, the change to bread flour, or maybe the yeast get more active as time goes by. [Linda] Who knows? But it’s good news—and I’m glad.

Also, my latest batch was also my best, and I thought I would tell you that I think it was because it was almost accidental. I really didn't try to get everything perfect, didn't time everything, just basically let it happen, and I got two great loaves of sourdough whole wheat. [Linda] It seems that’s when I get my best results—when I’m just sorta wingin’ it. That’s why it was so hard for me to write specific instructions—because so much of baking is just that!

I bought some whole wheat flour at a local bulk foods/health foods store, and I was trying half regular and half whole wheat with the regular recipe. Aside from writing to tell you that everything has worked perfectly with the recipes in general, I'm also writing to find out if there are any recipes floating around for using something like "King Arthur" whole wheat flour, or so. I've got a batch rising right now, and it is almost all whole wheat flour. [Linda] I’ve been baking bread with only spelt, kamut and semolina (durum wheat that they use for pasta) and it has been turning out great. Have added oat flour and a little tiny bit of all-purpose flour. I'm curious, how does the yeast respond to this? [Linda] Great! You just have to have enough wheat flours to form the gluten so it can rise and to feed the microbes, so that they will reproduce.For instance, I've got some bread rising right now, but for my starter "stash" I only use white bread flour. Will it curb the growth of the starter stash if I start using whole wheat flour to feed it? [Linda] It shouldn’t. I know of at least one breadmaker who keeps two separate stash container—one with white flour and one with rye.

Thanks, and I'll check your website too, because I only briefly glanced at it before writing to you.[Linda] I’m baking more and more with whole grains because that’s what everyone seems to be interested in these days. But I don’t like plain ‘whole wheat’ so I went looking for something I did like and found kamut and spelt and semolina.

Let me hear how your baking goes…I love the great info!

Nick

 

Hello again Linda

Yes I have previously ordered a couple of months ago I believe. Let me tell you that a lot has happened since I received my starter from you. Never before have I given such care and attention to a living thing since my children were born. My starter is an absolute marvel to behold and I usually have two or three different batches going at any given time.

In the beginning, I simply used to toss any extra starter down the drain during feedings but now it has become so precious I can hardly stand to waste it. As a result I believe I may have eaten about 1000 sourdough pancakes as a result. I never even knew sourdough pancakes existed until I started researching recipes. Now it’s very rare for any starter to hit the drain. I have also made several loaves of the most awesome bread in my bread machine (Thanks so very much to Joe Wagner for his great e-mails)!!

I guess now would be a good time for a couple of questions. First, I’m a little curious as to what the proper texture of the starter should be. I consistently use the 1:1 ratio of flour to water and it seems a little thin… about like pancake batter. Also, does it matter what type of flour I use?? I started with Gold Medal all purpose but recently switched to White Lily unbleached bread flour and my starter seems to prefer the White Lily with better feeding action and a better aroma for sure.

Second, I use a large glass Pyrex bowl for my feedings and my question pertains to the plastic wrap. Do you seal the top of the bowl air tight or do you just drape it over?? I have been sealing mine air tight however sometimes I’ll lift an edge of the wrap to let it “burp” a little.

O.K. Now for an observation/tip that may prove useful to us sourdough “newbies”. I discovered that it is far easier to wash the starter off bowls and utensils with cold water first and then follow with hot soapy water. This makes a huge difference in the cleanup process and your drain will thank you for it too!!

Anyway, It’s obvious that sourdough cookery is more than a hobby Linda… it’s an absolutely wonderful addiction!!

Thanks again Linda for your wonderful product and excellent website. I’ll be trying my hand at making loaves by hand soon and I’ll let you know how it goes. O.K. I better get going as I just heard my favorite sound… the bread machine is beeping!! Another loaf is born…

Randy


O.K. Linda

Wow… such great info. I love it!!

It makes sense about using bread flour as opposed to all purpose etc. The main reason I asked is because my starter took on a whole new personality when I switched from all purpose to bread flour…. It became A LOT thicker and more glutenous (is that even a real word?). But of course it makes sense as the bread flour has a higher protein content. Anyway, long story short… my starter is very happy with the bread flour and also my loaves are coming out better for sure!! I just got done snacking on the “end” of a newly hatched loaf (bread machine). It just doesn’t get any better than an “end” covered with real butter while still warm. And the genuine San Francisco sourdough taste… Linda there is no way to explain eating genuine SF sourdough in my Kentucky kitchen… that I made myself!!

I like the tea towel idea also. Plastic wrap just doesn’t look right anyway. Also, I appreciate the tip about a little extra flour for the free form loaves. Can you knead this dough too much?? I get a little concerned about overworking the dough but like everything else… practice makes perfect huh??

And yes… please feel free to use any and/or all of my e-mails on your website. What better way to learn than by the experiences of others huh?? Actually, I can attribute some (most) of my success with the bread machine to Joe Wagner’s e-mails.

Anyway, I believe it’s time to go get another slice of that fresh loaf so I’ll close for now.

Thanks again Linda

Randy


Hi Randy,

Thank you so much for your great feedback. I just love people who are as nuts about sourdough as I am…and it definitely sounds like you’re thoroughly hooked.

May I have your permission to post some or all of your text on the FAQ and Reviews pages of my web site? So much of what you say is not only informative but also encouraging to newbies.

Now for your questions. After you have baked enough with sourdough starter to understand what you’re doing and how it behaves, you can keep your starter at any consistency that you want—from about like pancake batter to very thick, but not quite dough, and it won’t matter to your yeast and lactobacillus babies. The only difference will be that you will adjust your amounts of ingredients as you make your sponge and then your dough.

As for flours, that’s a different story. You will get distinctly different results with dough made from all different types of flours, but all will be acceptable in my opinion. I buy bread flour by the 50 lb. ($9!!!) bag at Costco or Sam’s, so I tend to use it for just about all steps. For free form loaves, bread flour, which is higher in protein, will give you a better, more predictable shape than the all-purpose, which has a lower protein content and doesn’t form gluten that is as strong as that formed by the use of bread flour. That said, use what you like!

I too use a large glass bowl for my feedings and I used to use plastic wrap to cover it. I have now gone back to my grandma’s practice, before plastic wrap existed, and I use a cotton tea towel to keep out bugs and dirt. That’s why I started selling the tea towels on my web site. The cotton towel is sooo much easier to handle than that *#$@$!! plastic wrap and it looks much better too. When my sponge is in my mixer bowl, the towel is large enough to cover the top of the KA mixer and the bowl too! Plus, it’s reusable! With all that, the answer is, leave it loose so it can breathe! ?

Two more comments—one you asked for and one you didn’t. You’re absolutely right about the clean-up of sourdough stuff—I always let everything soak in cold water and then it comes off easily. But it is sticky stuff—much more so than ‘normal’ flour and water. You’re also right that I should warn people about it!

When you make your ‘free form’ loaves, be sure to add a little extra flour for a slightly dryer dough—not sticky—and knead very well. If you don’t, your free-form loaves are likely to ‘rise sideways’—in other words, flatten out, instead of rising up and making a nicely rounded loaf.

Let me hear! And thanks again for the great communication!

Hi Linda,

A suggestion for your proofing box..........I use my infinite adjustment halogen task lamp
that I borrow from my office desk. The infinite adjustments allow me to easily adjust the temperature inside my cooler to my desired temperature.

Mike


Hi, Linda. I've begun the sourdough starter process. I'm not much of a baker so I'm having a bit of trouble with the instructions. On page 3 "Feeding Your Starter" is where I get confused. The terminology about critters and metabolism mystify me. So, I'm not sure what I'm looking for. Is there access to directions written a bit more like I'd find in a cookbook? Something like: after 4 hours add 1 cup of flour and 1 cup of water.

Unfortunately, with sourdough baking, you can’t write instructions like a ‘normal’ recipe, because everything depends on everything else. What you’re doing is bringing two different one-celled organisms out of hibernation with the moisture and feeding them with the flour and water so that they can eat and reproduce. Once they start that process, I think you’ll have a better idea of what you’re dealing with and perhaps see why I wrote the instructions the way I did. The one-celled organisms are the ‘critters’ and metabolism is those critters eating and exhaling (which makes bread rise) and reproducing and making more critters so that you’ll eventually have enough yeast and lactobacillus organisms to make your bread rise and make it taste good.

Since I'm not understanding "critters" and the activity I'm supposed to observe, I guess I'm asking for something more traditional. Also on page 3 it indicates that: "at about the peak of activity, stir the mixture well and then pour out all but about a cup of the starter and feed it." I'm sorry to be so dense, but am I throwing away all but a cup?

Yes, that’s exactly what it means. Throw out all but one cup of the starter.

I appreciate your help. Again, my apologies for all my questions. The only time I make bread and rolls from scratch is when I use my bread machine. So, I'm a real novice when it comes to the real deal. Thanks so much

You don’t need to apologize. Tech support—unlimited—is free...and I’m glad that you wrote. I want everyone who has my starter to be successful at baking wonderful sourdough bread in their own kitchen—and you can do it! I promise. Just write any time you have a question.

Hi Linda,
I have been feeding my new pets and am ready to bake my first loaf today but I have a question that I have wondered about for a while. I have been making bread for about 5 years by grinding my wheat fresh and have been quite successful. It really is delicious and very healthy. My question is about the use of a pizza stone. Do you shape the loaf and let it rise on the stone and then put the whole thing in the oven or let the dough rise on a pan and then transfer the loaf and how do you go about doing that without deflating the risen dough. I have a pizza stone but have never really used it much. I can't wait to bake my first loaf. I will let you know how my fresh ground wheat does with the sourdough starter. Thanks for the help.  Connie

I'm glad that you wrote and that you are enjoying your new pets. The easiest way to use the stone is to put it in the oven when you begin to preheat. Then put the pan that your shaped and risen dough is on directly on top of the stone when you put it into the oven.

When you've had a little practice in shaping and rising and know how your dough behaves and exactly the right time to bake it, then you can shape your loaves on a baker's peel that is dusted with cornmeal and, when rising is finished, use the peel to slide the loaves directly on to the hot stone.
For obvious reasons, I don't recommend this at first.

The stone does a lot to stabilize the temperatures inside your oven as well as making the bottom of your bread very crusty, even if it's on a pan and not directly on the stone. Congratulations on grinding your own wheat! I'd love to know how you like using the sourdough starter with it.

I would like your opinion of the use of citric acid with your sourdough. I am looking for the san francisco sour taste. Will your starter produce this with the addition of nothing else or may I have your suggestions.

I use ascorbic acid (Vitamin C) in my breadmaking--sourdough or not--because it prevents a problem from occuring in freshly milled flour that weakens the gluten bond--and gluten is what gives your dough the strength to hold a rise. You never really know if your flour is aged or freshly milled, so I just add the Vitamin C whenever I bake bread. In sourdough it's just more important because the acidity of the sourdough tends to weaken the gluten somewhat anyway. Citric acid is not necessary to get the characteristic San Francisco sour taste--the lactobacillus in the starter takes good care of that.

Since you live in Texas and we all know that there are wild yeasts in the air everywhere, won't your starter change from a San Francisco Sourdough Starter into a Texas (or Oklahoma, or Maine or Virginia or Oregon) starter as I use it where I live?

Good question. If the starter I sell had been 'homemade' here in Texas and I sent it somewhere else, it might eventually take on different characteristics because most sourdough starter recipes you see tell you to just mix up flour and water and let the wild yeasts that are in your local air do their work.

The symbiotic combination of wild yeast and lactobacillus that make up the genuine "San Francisco Sourdough" starter culture is unique and readily excludes other wild yeasts and other friendly bacteria (lactobacilli). There are jillions of 'starters' out there that will leaven bread and even give it a sour taste. But the particular wild yeast, classified as Candida milleri, and the lactobacillus classified as L. sanfrancisco, both of which are contained in the starter I sell, are very special when they are together and they blatantly snub friendly overtures from other wild yeasts and lactobacilli.

There is a nutrient found in wheat flour called maltose. Candida milleri yeast is unable to use maltose. Funniest thing--the lactobacillus L. sanfrancisco loves to eat maltose and actually finds it essential for survival--it can't live without it. So the wild yeast and its partner lactobacillus don't compete for nutrients when they're hanging out in a delicious nutritious flour and water mixture--they actually help each other thrive. (Regular commercially available baker's yeast loves maltose and would eat it all up so the bacteria would die!) In addition, this particular lactobacillus produces an antibiotic that actually protects the culture from contamination.

Both this yeast and lactobacillus also grow best in an acid environment--like a sourdough culture. But an acid environment actually inhibits the growth of most other yeasts, especially commercially available yeast. Most other lactobacilli really hate an acid environment too. So, now you know why a San Francisco Sourdough Starter can survive in Texas and stay pure. It is very difficult to contaminate it with the randomly available wild yeasts that are all over everybody's air. It keeps itself pure.

I didn't make this starter. I got it from someone who got it from a baker in San Francisco.


I am not sure what I am doing wrong, but my loaves tend to be very flat and dense.  I let the dough rise for two or three hours, form the loaf and let it rise again for another couple of hours. I suspect that I am not adding enough flour to the sponge when I make the dough.  The first loaf I made did not have much of a sour taste at all, but the second and third were progressively more sour.  Is this normal?   Does it have some-thing to do with the "hooch" that forms on the top of the stash? Thanks for your help.   Michael

First for flat loaves--they are common for 'freeform' bread--and especially sourdough. And you're right, adding more flour will give you more structure and, therefore, height.  Another thing to do is to knead more.  Kneading strengthens the gluten and the stronger the gluten, the more your bread will rise up.You can also buy all sorts of forms--baskets, metal baguette forms, all the way to a canvas baker's couche, but if you'll add flour and knead more and shape your free-form loaves by moving them in circles on the countertop to tighten the 'skin' (a la Alton Brown) you'll make beautiful round loaves that make you proud--without any form at all.  It just takes some practice.

Second, for dense loaves...sourdough tends to be dense and heavy all by itself. But if you want it lighter and less dense than it is, then use starter that is more 'active'--that is, starter that has been fed really heavy feedings for 24 hours or more--and then use it at its most active and don't add any other liquid. Be sure that, no matter how long it takes, that you see your dough and your loaves almost double in bulk--at least increase by 1 1/2 times. 

Your bread got more sour as the starter 'matured' and that is normal.

The 'hooch' is just the liquid byproduct of metabolism of the organisms and when it accumulates, you know that soon you need to get your little critters out and feed them. But it doesn't have anything to do with the sourness of your finished loaf of bread.

Keep the faith, Michael. This sourdough baking is fun and challenging because there are so many variables. When I was first learning, I got in the habit of jotting down ingredient proportions, just in case something turned out really well. I still do it when I try something new.

One more thing....what temperature is your oven when you put the bread in? Do you have a thermometer? If it's hot enough, you should be getting some good oven spring.

Bread is too flat:  Flatness instead of height is always a problem with sourdough. Try adding more flour to the dough, to make it stiffer, for free form loaves. Also try making smaller loaves. I have started making 9-ounce loaves which turn out perfect for dinner for four! I make them free-form and just slightly oval. They are really cute and the slices are a good size for serving, cut off the long side. I also have some bread forms (not loaf pans) that I use for pretty baguettes and fatter Italian-shaped loaves. One is an unglazed clay with a lid in a long but fat loaf shape that I really love. They are pricey....retail for about $50, but it's like baking bread in a brick oven. The others are about $20 each and are made of metal with tiny holes all over it and made by Chicago Metallic. You can find both on the King Arthur Flour site. I bought my Chicago Metallic ones at a local kitchen store (and one at a garage sale!!). You can also get basket-like things that you coat with flour for the last rise and then you turn the risen loaf out on a sheet pan or on a peel to transfer to a baking stone. Commercial sourdough bakers use forms of one type or another--some use floured fabric that is suspended on wooden forms. The point is, you are not alone and you don't have to feel like you're not a good baker if you don't get mile-high loaves like you can get with commercial yeast.


Bread is fragile after rise and will fall easily: I think you're probably letting it rise too much...either too long or at too warm a temp. for the timing. You should be able to slash it without deflating it, but do try a single-edged razor blade instead of a knife. And dip it in water before each slash.

Bread isn't browning: Mix one egg with 1 T water and 'paint' on loaf just before baking. Or leave it in the oven longer. Check the temp of your oven. Keep the oven at 400 degrees the whole time instead of turning it down.

Bread doesn't rise properly: Use a higher proportion of active starter so that you'll have more yeast organisms. Be sure that starter is at its peak of activity when you use it.