Sourdough bread-making methods
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Three days from starter to loaves

All of the recipes I have tried so far need three calendar days to make sourdough loaves. To begin, it can take up to thirty-six hours to refresh the starter three times, then at least one long, slow overnight dough-proofing session, leaving the final rise and baking for the third day.

I started out with that plan in mind this time, too, but as you will see, I may be able to knock one full day off the process. Not having discovered the little secret yet, I began last night activating my starter with the first of three feeds, as usual.

Refreshing the starter

Before bed last night, I refreshed the starter. This morning, I woke up to nearly a quart of starter, bubbling away in one of the Fido jars I prefer to use for incubation. When incubating starter, I latch the lid without the rubber ring. That gives just a little room for excess gas to escape.

Less than a cup of fed starter bubbled up to nearly a quart after incubating overnight

Less than a cup of fed starter bubbled up to nearly a quart after incubating overnight

See how spongy the starter is? The airy bubbles permeate all the way to the bottom. I stirred it down to about one cup’s worth, removed all but 100 grams, and fed it with 50 grams each water and stone ground whole wheat flour.

After stirring in the flour and water, I capped the jar, placed it in the oven with the light on, for a bit of warmth, and set the timer for three hours.

Developing a game plan for this batch of loaves

While the starter did it’s thing, I poured over Helen Dickey’s soaked whole wheat sourdough pages to come up with a game plan for this next batch of bread.

In her post titled Starting the sponge the evening before, Dickey uses the following quantities to make her sponge.

1/3 C Starter
2-1/2 C Water
2-1/2 T Raw apple cider vinegar
3 C (“pressed into”) Whole wheat flour

The next morning, with a nice spongy texture in the bowl, she adds these ingredients.

1 “toppy” T Olive oil (What is a toppy, I wonder?)
1 “toppy” t honey
1/2 “toppy” t Salt
Unspecified quantity whole wheat flour

After kneading first with a table knife, then with her hands, she sets the dough to rise. It doubles within four hours.

Shaping the dough into loaves, Dickey rests them in glass loaf pans for two hours and ten minutes, at which time they have risen well over the top of the pans.

She doesn’t mention her oven temperature on this page, but she does show a photograph of the loaves after 20 minutes in the oven. Boy, did they pop! I’m green with envy.

That’s it. That’s my game plan for this batch of loaves.

But hey! In all of Dickey’s pages, I did not see any mention that she refreshes her starter before making bread, let alone feeds it three times.

Does Dickey feed her starter?

On her Starter–How I do it page, Dickey advises us to refresh the starter at least once a week. That’s the only mention I found to refreshing the starter on her site.  Did she omit that step in her review of her process?

More likely, she doesn’t need to refresh it. When she makes her sponge, she adds a small amount of starter to a lot of flour. Perhaps that is all the yeast needs to set them to multiplying. I decided to give this a trial.

Having fed my starter twice, I knew it was plenty active. It bubbled up beautifully this morning. After three hours, the starter was fluffy and twice its size for the second time today. Rather than refresh it a third time, I set it aside until this evening, when it was time to make the sponge.

Following Dickey’s recipe, I made the sponge, packing the flour into the measuring cup hard. My sponge came out plenty thick.

Sponge made with 1/3 cup starter, 1-1/2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar, 2-1/2 cups filtered water, and three packed cups whole wheat flour

Sponge made with 1/3 cup starter, 1-1/2 tablespoons raw apple cider vinegar, 2-1/2 cups filtered water, and three packed cups whole wheat flour

The sponge filled the bottom third of the bowl. We shall see how much it rises overnight and just how spongy it appears in the morning.

If this works, I may be able to give up the 36-hour starter refreshing time and go straight to making the sponge. That would reduce the entire bread-making process from three calendar days to just two.

This is exciting. Tomorrow, we make dough!

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