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Survival of the (fittest) pets

January 14, 2010

All the pets survived our three week absence – including the sourdough starter. I had intended to leave it with my neighbour (whose son was looking after the goldfish and the chooks)….but embarrassment about asking her feed and water a container of flour and water made me leave it until the last minute and in the end I forgot. I had made up two containers of the starter, and made one of them very dry as I had read somewhere that it would last longer that way. The dry one grew so much that it popped the lid of the container and flowed over the side. It was rather hard and dry-ish. The other one in the bottle had a thick layer of liquid that was pretty dark in colour and smelled like pure alcohol. I tipped out most of the liquid, fed them both separately and used the second sample (which had the normal flour/water ratio) for my first batch of bread. The first batch of bread worked which made me very happy. Both samples appeared to have survived so I combined the two batches together and popped it back in the fridge.  Last night I made my second batch.

The starter does not seem to have the same texture/consistency as it had before and I wondered if it was still adequately alive. It took a long time to froth up in the bowl after emerging from the fridge, and the dough did not rise much at all while resting. It did rise a lot in the oven though – a lot more than the standard dough does. Is the starter just unhappy with me for abandoning it for so long, much like the dog who has taken a few days to warm back into giving me her usual over-enthusiastic greetings? The fish are as friendly and exhuberant as ever and I think the chooks are pretty forgiving. The dog has been won over but I think the sourdough starter may well be the last of the pets to win over.

Although I think it is unhappy with me it is still making great bread. The bread this morning was terrific but very different to the pre-holiday bread. A soft, moist texture (almost like it has a lot of olive oil in it – which is doesn’t as I am still using the Bourke Street Bakery Bread recipe). I think I prefer this new version. I wonder if it is just the changed starter or if it is something I did differently. I noticed last night when kneading that it was a much drier dough and I kept adding more water to it so I could do the normal wet dough kneading technique. In the end I gave up and just kneaded it like a dry dough. It didn’t rise as much overnight – possibly since the ‘overnight rising’ didn’t start until 1 am and ended at 7am (less than the 8-10 hours it usually gets). It could be that my dodgy Tupperware electronic scales were playing up (did I mention that I hate Tupperware?!). The numbers are partially gone – they display part of the number only so there is a little bit of guess work involved in figuring out exactly what the numbers are. (It has also developed a fondness for negative numbers. Lucky I did a lot of maths and am not too fazed by anti-matter!) So the only variations and possible causes of the new style bread are possible dodgy weighing (leading to less or possibly more water – since I added in a few more handfuls while kneading); the humid weather and the unhappy sourdough starter. I am not complaining, I just want to know what it was so I can do it again!

Do any of you bread bakers out there have any ideas/suggestions about what could have caused such a different dough and bread?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. January 14, 2010 3:17 PM

    Sigh…such is the art of sourdough baking – it’s a bit like trying to predict how a baby’s sleep routine will change. The minute you figure it out, it all changes, and you can’t be sure why! 🙂

    The starter changes a lot due to weather – when it’s warmer, I get lighter fluffier bread, but when it’s colder, I get a more hard crusted elastic crumbed loaf. Also, in Summer, my doughs take about half as long to rise – so I can set it to rise and bake at lunch time, whereas in Winter I usually leave them overnight. My breads are also usually sourer in Summer than Winter.

    A couple more things – the black liquid it threw off is called “hooch”, and if you poured it away, you will have lowered the hydration of your starter a bit. And I personally think the dryer dough could be due to things like humidity, but I’m not sure of the direct correlation. I do know that in certain conditions, the flour absorbs more liquid, so you need to add more to get it to the same consistency, if that makes sense. But hey, PoK are on sale, surely some new scales are in order? 🙂


    • spiceandmore permalink*
      January 14, 2010 3:30 PM

      Thanks for that my sourdough guru (and for not being annoyed by how I have mistreated the sourdough baby you entrusted me with! :)).
      Interesting comment about getting lighter, fluffier bread in summer. Do you think it is because of the yeasts being more active in the warmth?
      That ‘hooch’ really did smell like rather powerful hooch. I normally just stir it back in but that three week old one smelled scary – hence the disposal of most of it.
      This is my second set of electronic scales. The first (very expensive) one didn’t work at all, and since I am crap at returning things, it still lives in my cupboard. I don’t have much faith in them anymore. Think I need one of those huge old fashioned ones. Bit hard when I want to measure 10g though!

  2. January 15, 2010 4:18 PM

    I do think the starter is much more active in the warmer weather – which also explains the sourer bread. Re the scales – my first ones were also stupidly expensive Salter ones, but the second set were much cheaper – about $35 from PoK from memory. They were Tanita ones, and they’ve been great for a couple of years of daily use now. Hey, I have huge old fashioned ones if you want them – but they’ll fill up your whole kitchen! 🙂

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