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Author Topic: Liquid Vs Stiff Starter  (Read 3403 times)

Offline Paul

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Liquid Vs Stiff Starter
« on: February 09, 2011, 07:40:33 PM »
Tomcatsgirl recently asked, over at TheFreshLoaf, what the point was between using stiff and liquid levain in Hamelman's BREAD. I pondered and, in effect, could not come up with a solid answer for myself, primarily because I haven't really dabbled with a stiff starter very much. But still, why DOES Jeffrey ask for a stiff starter here or a liquid (he prefers 125%) there? In other words, what are the benefits of each, in his view?

So I figured I'd go to the source and ask.

Quote from: Paul
Hi Jeffrey,

Someone recently brought up a question I was a little confused about and figured I'd go to the source to see about an explanation.

In the book BREAD, you mention it is possible to switch one type of starter to the other easily enough - and it is. However, I'm unclear as to why one recipe calls for stiff starter and the other liquid and, more specifically, what you expect each to bring (or not bring) to the table. If it's merely a matter of making a starter wetter or dryer just before using it, particularly since you start your levain with such minor amounts (for the home scale, at least) I am not understanding the reasoning for using or keeping two kinds of starter.

Perhaps in a bigger scaled bakery volume it makes more sense.

Can you please shed some light on this issue?
Do you keep both types of starter active at all times?
Do you think a home, weekend baker would see any advantage to keeping both types or is "turning" a starter at the last minute adequate?
What differences do you see a stiff and liquid starter bringing to a sourdough recipe?

Thanks so much for any insight you can share.

Here is Jeffrey's response:

Quote from: Jeffrey Hamelman
Hello Paul,

Thanks for writing and for asking your astute questions. Feel free to quote me on the answers.

I've maintained two starters for a number of years: a firm German-style rye culture (made the third week of August, 1980), and a liquid levain kept at 125% hydration (it's about a dozen years old). We use the rye for all our rye breads, and the liquid is the base levain for all other breads. We convert this one to stiff or to whole grain as needed, but only for the build(s) that will then be used in a final dough mix, not in order to continue perpetuating stiff or whole grain starters. These methods are practical and not terribly labor intensive, and we use them successfully at the King Arthur Bakery every day. By the way, our starters get two meals a day, seven days a week. On Christmas, New Years, Easter, and other holidays when we are closed, they receive one meal, as a baker is in for a short time on the holidays in order to make preferments and do some other things to enable us to open again next day.

Certainly, for the baking of just a couple of loaves or so, there is no reason to keep more than one starter. While it's good (and important in my opinion) for today's ever more skilled bakers to know how to convert a liquid starter to stiff and vice versa, there's no reason to necessarily do that, because as you pointed out, the amount of mother culture going into the builds is very small. Small adjustments in flour or water will compensate at the time of the build so that levain consistency is correct. And if one maintains just a liquid or a firm white culture, he or she can easily give a couple of meals of rye flour in advance of making rye bread--that will suffice; there's no need for occasional rye bakers to perpetuate a rye culture.

Why do some bakers prefer to maintain a liquid levain culture and others a firm levain? On the face of it, I'd say it's mostly about personal preference--some bakers prefer the ease of mixing a firm ball of dough, while others find mixing a batter consistency starter easier. As for all that science about acetic acid developing more favorably in firm environments and lactic acid in looser ones, that's all good and true, but it's ultimately up to the baker to determine the flavor of the bread. For instance, what if I kept only a liquid levain culture and wanted to make a bread on the acetic side, but didn't want to convert to a firm levain? I could do a few things to encourage more sour flavor: I could preferment a higher proportion of the overall flour, I could extend the bulk fermentation somewhat, and of course the easiest way would be to retard the shaped loaves overnight. All of these would encourage more acidity in the final loaves. Treating things in the opposite manner would give milder results. Aren't we lucky that after all we are the ones who determine the bread's outcome by our cumulative series of engagements with the dough?

I hope this answers your questions adequately. And I hope you and your colleagues are continuing to enjoy both the learning and the resulting breads!

My best,
Jeffrey

Aside from the general info he expanded on here, it is good to see a bit of explanation on how to accent the bread's acid content in several different ways in such a concise manner.
Paul
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I used to think I was indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.

Offline Zeb

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Re: Liquid Vs Stiff Starter
« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2011, 07:02:05 AM »
Fascinating!  It's always great when authors reply - what a kind man!

Hi Paul, how would you describe the difference in taste betwen lactic acid and acetic acid.... I know acetic acid is the vinegary taste... but what is the lactic acid taste/aroma?  Is that the sweetish/fruity one, or the more general sort of savoury, you know it's not  yeast but can't quite say what it is taste.... wow that's helpful of me.. (tying herself up in verbal knots :snicker:

Lactic doesn't mean milky in this context does it? It's called lactic because it's produced by lactic bacteria, which are the ones that work in dairy products, but also work in dough... am I getting warm here?  It confused me a lot to begin with, and every so often I come back to these terms and wonder if I have got it quite right..... I started to read a huge post on The Fresh Loaf by Debra Wink yesterday, with lots of diagrams of molecules. Sometimes I wish I was a better scientist....
Joanna @ Zeb Bakes

Offline Anet

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Re: Liquid Vs Stiff Starter
« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2011, 02:17:59 PM »
Oh, those are great questions (Paul) and answers (J.Hamelman). It seems like I wonder about sourdough and it's chemistry every time I bake, when a new and different loaf emerges.
I recently bought a new book, Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson who goes into sourdough mechanics and chemistry too. His version has helped me understand it just that little bit more. The more I read (and reread) about sourdough in the various resources, the more I understand.
It's nice that we don't need to change between the liquid and stiff starters for Hamelman's recipe build-ups for the levain, it is a small amount, afterall.
I myself prefer a stiff starter.

Offline Paul

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Re: Liquid Vs Stiff Starter
« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2011, 05:22:54 PM »
@ Joanna,

"Is that the sweetish/fruity one, or the more general sort of savoury, you know it's not  yeast but can't quite say what it is taste.... wow that's helpful of me.. (tying herself up in verbal knots )"

Heck I don't know, I haven't played with time/temp variations quite enough to have deliberately aimed for one type of result over the other. I'm just happy when the bread rises as expected... I would want to get some sort of chart together to see what longer, cool vs shorter warm and longer warm vs shorter cool and keeping stiff vs liquid starters on top of these is expected to result in. Then actually have time and be willing to bake that many loaves relatively together to compare all the results.

And none of that is happening in the RV. :(
And of course not having an army to consume endless loaves of bread limits what I can logically pump out.

@ Anet,

"I myself prefer a stiff starter. "

Can you share why you prefer stiff over liquid? Is it the flavours you get or the way it can store or...
Paul
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I used to think I was indecisive, but now I'm not so sure.

Offline Zeb

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Re: Liquid Vs Stiff Starter
« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2011, 03:40:05 AM »
And none of that is happening in the RV. :(

I dunno, there's you in the RV, Sally BR in the nano kitchen in LA - it shouldn't be allowed  rofl


 
Joanna @ Zeb Bakes

Offline Anet

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Re: Liquid Vs Stiff Starter
« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2011, 12:25:28 PM »
Reasons why I like a stiff starter over the liquid? Perhaps mainly for mechanics and clean-up.
Mechanics: 1. The stiff one rises faster (and even more so because mine is mostly made up of whole wheat flour). This rising also seems easier for me to control because I have a cooler environment in my kitchen.
2. The stiff starter deflates more slowly which gives me leeway to have it at the prime level of maturity. I seem to be able to decipher the stiff one's correct time to use better than the loose liquid -- the tiny bubbles and aroma of the liquid's maturity seem to change quicker. More than on one occasion it has deflated before I knew it.
Clean up for a stiff starter is simply: 1. less messy and 2. easier to clean up the bowl as the starter is less sticky, more is in the dough. 3. Simple for my arthritic hands to hold and maneuver a firm dough than slosh around a small (or large) amount of liquid.
Some books say a stiff starter is less sour, but then isn't perception of sour subjective? I like a less sour flavor, but then we can change the timing, temperature, and amounts to get the sourness we want.  Lots of variables and as we all know, these variables can change every day and that's why every one of my sourdough breads come out unlike the previous.

Offline Paul

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Re: Liquid Vs Stiff Starter
« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2011, 07:51:50 PM »
Thanks for the details, Anet. I like the easy clean up and wide "window of opportunity" aspects.
I think a lot of people may find those appealing.
Paul
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Offline Abby

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Re: Liquid Vs Stiff Starter
« Reply #7 on: March 06, 2011, 07:11:31 PM »
Fascinating...not sure how I missed this discussion. Thanks for sending the note to JH and for posting his response...I still get the oh-my-a-celebrity feeling when I see that an author has written to us!  :woot:

Offline cranbo

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Re: Liquid Vs Stiff Starter
« Reply #8 on: September 30, 2011, 12:46:51 AM »
how would you describe the difference in taste betwen lactic acid and acetic acid.... I know acetic acid is the vinegary taste... but what is the lactic acid taste/aroma?  Is that the sweetish/fruity one, or the more general sort of savoury, you know it's not  yeast but can't quite say what it is taste....

Lactic doesn't mean milky in this context does it?

Lactic acid is a common byproduct in winemaking (during malolactic fermentation). Lactic acid lends a buttery, creamy taste, and contributes to richness and softness of a wine. In terms of flavor in bread? Think sour cream: in fact sour cream is made using specific strains of lactic acid bacteria.