Round Four: Spotty results

Made another batch today, still with the same recipe (except halved, didn’t need to burn FOUR loaves again) and this time set the oven to around 425 – recipe wants 475 then turned down to 450 once the loaves are in.

Well, even at 425 and reducing to 400, I’m getting some spotty burning as you can see here:

Round Four loaves: spotty but improving

I think part of the problem is this rack was set at the 2nd level down so a little too close to the top where it was likely a bit hotter. Next time I’ll put it right smack in the middle slot.

The loaves are at least getting to the golden stage without turning near black like the last batch did. And the burned spots here are also where the bread had big pockets so these areas had a very thin bit of dough. Not sure how to fix that other than possibly finding out how to shape the dough better and try to not trap air pockets near the surface.

Now other than the oven temp yet needing to be confirmed and hopefully adjusted, I am still having issues with shaping/rising and getting the loaves to bulk up instead of out. And trying to proof them in a way that getting them out of [whatever, couche, banneton] and into the oven doesn’t cause major deflating. So rice flour is on the shopping list.

All in all, still a work in progress to get a first non-problematic sourdough loaf out.

Round Three: Oven goes hellish

So I’ve been pondering if my oven temp was WAYYY off what with recent pale loaves and little oven rise.

I at this very moment have THREE temperature gauges on the oven. The oven’s electronic/digital thermostat (who knows how “electronic” the actual switches to turn the heat on and off are) is set to 475ºF and this is what I want; of course once it’s set to that and the readout say it’s been reached, that’s precisely where it stays, even though we all KNOW oven temps go up and down a decent bit as the coil heats and turns off. I don’t particularly trust this temp gauge but it is what’s controlling the heater so I have to live with it.

However, I’ve also got a separate basic (and brand new) cheapy coil-type oven temp gauge hanging inside the oven and it’s telling me the oven is standing at about 435-450ºF. Finally, I have an electronic temp gauge, the type you stick into food, on a cord plugged into a battery powered digital reader, this one says the oven is hovering in the 513 – 526ºF range.

So now I’m wondering which of these temps, each varying from the other by 25 to 75º (cheapo oven thermometer to digital), I should presume is closer to accurate.

How DOES one measure an oven’s temp and be sure that what you’re getting is in fact true? I stuck the digital’s probe into boiling water, switched it to Celsius and it read exactly 100ºC, as expected. Can it be off by a lot when it gets up into the 450+F area or should I assume if it read water correctly, it is equally accurate at higher and lower temps?

I’m tired of making poopy bread loaves. Although the dogs like it plenty, I’d like to know that I’m doing things right and I can’t tell if anything in the bread making process (recipe, handling, proofing, etc.) is working well if my questionable oven temp will botch everything up whether the loaves themselves are fine or not.

Any one have words of guidance on this? How do you know if your thermometer is actually telling you the truth or a barefaced liar bent on watching you char your goods?

How in heck did they make bread before the invention of the oven thermometer?!?! I bet they used magic.

By the way, I made the bread using the Wild Yeast recipe (mentioned elsewhere) which makes 2kg of dough enough for four decent loaves, and decided to assume the temp was somewhere in between the three different reading, so I turned the oven down a few and hoped for the best. Well, it was closer, probably by a lot, to the higher 500+ temp and the bread kinda burnt. So the oven decided to go from a little too cool to a lot too hot. What the hell??!?

Well, the loaves were way over-browned anyway with some major black parts on the bottom that needed scraping/cutting off. So we ate one loaf in the next couple of hours. Gotta get rid of the evidence, right? The inside was quite yummy, the crumb very nice, the crust, well, rather hard and thick and over-toasted tasting. Sorry, dogs, you don’t get all mistake breads.

And sorry, I took no pics of the burnt offerings.

At least I’ve got the starter issue and the recipe issue under control now so that take two variables out of the “what the heck happened” equation. I still have rising issues to contend with, in that I need proper couche and/or baskets so I can avoid the dough sticking to makeshift towels and deflating badly.

But it’s starting to turn into separate, obvious sections that are now working well or causing problems and not whirling into one big giant “bread fail” mess. So things are certainly improving.

I’d still like to get a decent oven that heats at the temp – or even close to the temp – I set it at. No easy fix for that, unfortunately, short of winning even a small lottery.

Round Two: Still flat

Well, I’m not going to fuss over where the First Batch messed up, just put this in the “trial run” pile and not admit to making a “real” loaf yet.

So now I’m working up a batch of SF Sourdough from Mike’s website now and it’s already much nicer to work with. Sadly, it’s not given in grams, either. But I KNOW what he assumes his cups to be (120g) so that’s a plus.

So I think THIS will be the “official” first run.

(Insert Jeopardy music here…)

Well, the loaves are now out of the oven and here’s the results…

Mike's San Fran sourdough, I kinda botched it.

They are definitely softer (less seriously “chewy” crust, one hopes) and bigger than the previous attempt. Still rather pale and anemic, however.

I had big problems getting them onto the peel (chunk o’ cardboard) as they had stuck quite well to the cotton cloth I had them covered with, even though it was VERY liberally coated in UAP flour. The moisture from the dough obviously got drawn into the cotton and made glue, removing it caused mucho damage to the loaves’ skin and one definitely lost all it’s lovely, long time built inflation. So I have a sort-of good loaf and another flattish loaf.

This time though, I know where the problem originated – the final proofing step – and can remedy that next time by using parchment paper to rise them on and not need to move them off anything. Perhaps put them under an inverted plastic tub instead of laying a cloth on top so there’s plenty of room for them to increase without contacting anything.

The crumb is a lot less dense than the previous loaf, the crust is decidedly less thick and chewy.

There you go, attempt #2 and not exactly awesome. We’ll see what round three does.

My First Batch

After trying multiple times and for long periods to get a starter started, I finally hit on a success. I used SourdoLady’s Pineapple Starter recipe (except I used OJ) and, lo and behold, foaminess overflowing!! Literally. Twice, even. So after cleaning up the goo off the counter for the second time, it was time to bake up my fist loaf of actual sourdough bread. I know, this is a rather immature starter but IT’S ALIVE!!

I had hunted down what looked like probably a good, simple recipe with few ingredients and little chance of messing it up. I used the Sourdough International’s San Fran Sourdough recipe. Pretty simple: 1/2 cup culture (they expect you’re using their San Fran starter) 2 1/2c water, 2 teaspoons salt and 7c flour

After making up the preferment (1 1/2c flour, 1 c water + the 1/2c starter) and letting it proof overnight, you then add the rest of the stuff, holding off 1c flour to knead in. “Mix in and spoon knead remaining flour, one cup at a time, reserving one cup for the floured board. When too stiff to mix by hand, transfer to the floured board and knead in the remaining flour.”

Hmmm… “When too stiff to mix by hand…” Never got to that one. The dough was soppy and runny and gooey. This can’t be right, I thought, but no, follow the instructions, only add the last cup of flour as you knead it. But it was still runny, only a little thicker than thick pancake batter. maybe once it sits for a few hours… Nope, still wet and extremely soft. Then I remembered that Mike, on his site, says several times not to make your dough stiff, it prefers to be wet. Hmmm… This wet? Naw, it is barely handleable. So I did add another cup or two. But still quite soft. Didn’t want to push it any further. So I made my loaves. Soft, squishy loaves. After they’d sat for about an hour, I popped them onto the pre-hearted stone at 375F (again, strange, most recipes say 450 or so).

40 minutes later, this is what I got:


Rather pale crust and not much rise although a fair bit of spread.

However, it’s quite yummy. Yes, I know, you’re supposed to let your hot loaf sit for a while and it’s best a few days later. But come on, first loaf… had to try it!

So next time around, I’m on the hunt for different recipe unless someone has tips. Probably like “Are you SURE you didn’t just add too much water?!?!” Or maybe my “cups” of flour didn’t match theirs; I was going with 120g cups, maybe theirs was closer to 200? It would be nice if all recipes included gram weight.

Also: How do you store your bread? I dread putting it in a plastic bag and losing the crunch of the crust which is quite pronounced. Should I put plastic and a rubber band around just the cut end? What’s the normal way? What did people do 150 years ago when Baggies weren’t as popular?

Anyway, I also wanted to put out a big thanks to MiniOven and Mike Avery for their help while I was getting frusticated trying to get that insanely tricky combination of flour and water to do what it’s supposed to and failing.I can now safely discard the five different attempts at starter and keep the one that’s alive, alive. (I had also decided, a week back, to order Carls which should arrive sometime soon, so I’ll fire that up and then I can do a side by side comparisson test.)

The Saga of Audrey 2, the little starter that wouldn’t.

I’m starting this blog to track the events in the life of little Audrey 2, a reluctant starter that began as a rather wet batter form and, as recommended by Mini, was transformed into a ball of stiff starter. In a forum thread I started at The Fresh Loaf in order to get help figuring out why my then 13 day old starter was doing nothing, Mini’s thought was that possibly I was underfeeding the starter in the wetter form (basically I was doing 50% starter, 25% each water and flour for each feed) which may have been the reason it went all hoochy rather fast: not enough flour to feed the yeasties and the acid bacteria was overtaking – or that was my thought on it anyway.

I’m also doing this as a blog so the forum thread isn’t taken over by too many images and so it’s easier to follow along, should anyone care to.

Since this starter, third time trying over a three month period btw, was pretty much destined for the recycling bin anyway in favour of starting yet again with a recipe Mike has on his site (Professor Calvel’s Starter) as a likely successful candidate for starter if the previous verison failed. Since this was try #3 and I was already on day 13 with no real success, I was game.

So while I was/am waiting to locate a source for just 5g – about a tablespoon – of malt extract (it seems to come in 600g sizes or bigger running at nearly $10 a pop) to follow the Clavel recipe, I got going with the stiff starter. So here’s the saga.

As per Mini’s suggestion, I took 30g of the “going nowhere” batter starter, added 50g of water and “enough flour to make a stiff ball”. Out came the flour and off we went.

Here’s our first image, Audrey 2 after being mixed up. In all, I added about 88g of flour to get to this.

I now think that 88g of flour was too much but that’s where we were then, so on we go. I had followed Mini’s suggestion to drop the ball into the flour and coat it so that any developing cracks would be obvious which is why, even though it’s a ball of wet rye, it looks very pale.

Three hours later:

At this point, there’s either a shrinkage of the surface or it’s expanding a little. Since the surface was still moist-ish to the touch, I’ll say we had expansion.

At the six hour mark:

More activity although the ball is showing no signs of softening and flattening out as Mini suggested it would. I’m starting to think I went too far with the added flour.

At the 10 hour mark:

Definitely some activity and expansion has occurred but now I’m sure the ball was made TOO stiff. Yes, the critters have lots of flour to munch on, but nothing to drink. Because I wasn’t staying up much longer, I decided to do feed #2 at this point so it was time to cut up our ball and see what was going on inside.

Even manhandled like this, the ball is stiff enough to stay in shape. Slicing it open, the texture inside is relatively smooth, if there are any bubbles, they’re hard to see and distinguish from the texture of the rye flour. There’s little sour aroma to this, mostly it smells like wet rye.

Time for feed #2…

So at this point, we’re at the 10 hour mark and it’s getting late so I mix up a fresh ball. I gather grab some of the previous ball’s insides and mix up the following:

30g stiff starter
50g spring water
50g organic rye

Here I cut back from the previous 88 grams of flour which made, in my opinion, too stiff a ball. I’m still just guestimating at this point.

And here is the resulting ball:

Audrey now goes into the proofing box, a cooler with a 15w bulb with the cover open enough to keep the temp inside a reasonably cozy 81F. Tucked in for the night, we’ll return to see how well she slept.

<tick tock tick tock>

<cue SFX of rooster crowing and first few bars of Tchaikovsky’s William Tell Overture>

Good morning! Let’s check how our little dear did overnight…

Well, there’s no question the dough is softer now! Flatness galore and several cracks showing but whether they’re from the flattening and changing shape of from actual expansion, I dunno. So we’ll go from here and assume out next step will be doing the third feed. But first, Audrey goes under the knife again.

(Young children and those who are squeamish may wish to avert their eyes during this procedure.)

Although the very action of slicing into this soft ball caused the exposed surfaces to get somewhat messed up, it seems from the duplicate holes on each side that there was indeed some bubbling going on. Let’s continue with the dissection…

Peeling away the slightly dryer outside skin, we can now see that the insides are full of little bubbles and the texture is decidedly softer than the original 2nd feed ball was, which indicates feeding activity by the little critters. Excellent.

Comment was inserted here by Mini O:

I hope you realize this is active and ready to use in any recipe.  Where ever a firm starter is asked for….

Audrey is ready… go for it!

Mini O

On to Feed Three...

So it’s now 9 a.m. (about) and we’re ready to go with feed number three. We’ve taken apart the previous feed ball and scooop out 30g of that starter from the bubbly center.

I might note here that there’s a slight sour smell present although not terribly strong.

In the meantime, Mini has added a post to the original forum thread, saying she’s started up a stiff ball as well so we’ll then be able to track the two stiff starters at the same time to see what happens.

She also makes mention that she’s added 70g of flour to her ball so that’s what we’ll do as well.

So for this third feed we have:

30g starter
50g spring water
70g organic rye flour

And here it is after getting a final dusting:

Off she goes into the proofing box and we’ll check on progress and post any new pics if there’s something noteworthy.

I’ll also update the forum thread itself in case anyone’s interested in following this little saga/experiment.

Part Deux:

So Mini says Audrey’s all growed up and ready to go raise bread of her own. Awww… <sniff..>

They leave the nest so soon…

Anyway, since I didn’t get that message until just a minute or two ago (gasp, I did stuff AWAY from the computer??!?) here’s another update on where Audrey is right now…

So I’ll now start using her and feeding her over to All Purpose then pop her in the fridge after keeping a chunk for some first run test bread.

Weekly feedings, I assume, pulling her out before the weekend to get some bread going.

Now to go hunt up a recipe or two. I suppose I need to also figure out what hydration ratio she actually is in case I need to use her in a normally commercial yeast recipe (no not right now, in the future). I’ll add this to the thread when I get that done so that if anyone else follows along, they’ll have the info. (Is anyone reading this blog besides me?)

So there we go, the Audrey Saga is sort of at an end already. Who’da thunk it would be so quick!

Of course the REAL end will be posting some bread pics. Since it’s Sunday night here, not sure if I’ll get time to make any for a few days… Those who are watching, keep an eye out!

Thanks a BAZILLION to Mini and Mike for their help. You guys are beyond great.

See you all in a couple of days or so with the first batch of Audrey Bread!!

More comments from the original post:

Easy Hydration Math:

If you take some of Audrey and mix her 100g water & 100g flour by weight, that’s 100% hydration (or close enough) and when mature, plugs into many recipes.

If you want to substitute her for instant commercial yeast, then take just some of Audrey and use some water and flour from the recipe to build her up. But remember to give her some time, she will need longer than instant to build her yeasties up and rise for you. Once she has doubled what you mix with her, give her more, that means the rest of the ingredients (and half the instant yeast if you like, don’t have to) if you’re baking a kilo loaf (roughly add up the liquids and flours in the recipe) that works fine. If you’re making more dough, like two kilos, then tripple this 130g sourdough starter by adding more water & flour, say 150g each. Wait till it doubles and add the rest of the recipe. The amounts don’t have to be exact just keep track of them.

Mini O

Just feeling a tad dim…

mini oven wrote:

If you take some of Audrey and mix her 100g water & 100g flour by weight, that’s 100% hydration (or close enough)

(Smacks self on forehead) D’ough!! So obvious.

Thanks again Mini.


Audrey’s first child grows up. Somewhat.

Well, I thought I could sail on through to the actual bread making but it seems not without a slight hitch that needs some sage minds to help out.

Meet Clem.

Clem is Audrey’s first child. He was made of the following:

30g Audrey stiff starter (rye)
100g spring water
100g UAP flour

Clem grew up in a warm, cozy 81F environment and is now 18 hrs old. Soon he’ll be expected to get a job raising bread. But he seems decidedly reluctant. At 18 hrs, he’s barely managed to increase from his original 200ml to 250 ml when we are expecting him to reach 400 within 12 to 24 hrs. Clem is quite bubbly on the surface while rather mild natured but clearly lacks ambition to reach higher goals.

What shall we do about Clem? I’d really like him to move out soon.

There were many comments added to this one. I’ll post the first comment by Mike Avery, pro baker and author of and recommend you hop over to TheFreshLoaf to read the other 20 comments, a lot of them derailing into really interesting discussion on low vs high feed ratio, acid-tolerant bacteria and more help from Mini on getting the starter going.

Mike Avery said:

Discard and feed

I hate to sound like a broken record, but a starter at room temperature and 100% hydration needs to be fed twice a day.

If you need more starter than you have, add about 120 grams each of water and flour.

If you don’t need that much, discard 1/2 and then add 60 grams or so each of water and flour.  Stir.  Wait to see how it rises.  You should be ok in a feeding or two.

Also, the time to use a starter is somewhere between the time it reaches its peak and just after it starts to decline.  After that, things get dicey.