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ISO a successful sourdough recipe

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So my first attempt at sourdough bread failed miserably. A couple of things that might have caused the final product to resemble a hardened frisbee:
- Starter was not at room temp when utilized.
- Yeast used was actually a fast-acting, ideal for bread machine use (though on the jar they give conversions for using in bread calling for dry yeast).

Everything else I followed to the letter of the recipe.

I don't have the recipe I used, but the basics are as follows:
Created a starter, that sat out for 5 days (recipe says to let it ferment for 3 - 5 days, then refrigerate).
Created the small amount of "old dough", which then gets torn apart and added to the dough mixture.
Kneaded everything as called for, let things rise, proof, etc.

Finished product did not have a good sourdough taste, nor did it seem to rise like some of the nice boules of bread.

Anyone have any tips as to what might have gone wrong? Anyone have a foolproof recipe that yields really good, tasty sourdough???

THANKS!

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  1. i'm not a pro by any means but i've been able to successfully maintain a starter since august of last year. it's still producing excellent sourdough. i used and had great success with pascal rigo's formula in his bay breads cookbook. you might want to check it out on amazon.

    1. The starter should get more sour with use and refreshing. Using milk periodically instead of water will make it more sour as well. I've maintained a starter for more than a year, and the bread is much more sour now than it was at first.

      1. I don't know if there exists such a thing as a fool-proof sourdough bread recipe. Starters can be very different, and your own starter can vary a lot from day to day depending on what you've been doing to it; this all affects the outcome. Commercial yeasts were created in part to deal with this problem; they are much more reliable and consistent, just less interesting flavorwise. I would recommend understanding what affects what and experiment with it-that's a large part of the fun!

        For flavor
        -----------
        You may need to let the microorganisms go a little longer by extending the time you're feeding the starter or proofing the dough. This is because the acid production kicks in at a later stage. One way to extend the time is to proof a few hours, shape, then proof a few more hours.

        Starter hydration (water-to-flour ratio) affects acid production. Higher hydration favor lactic acid over acetic acid. Acetic acid tends to contribute a vinegar-like aroma; lactic acid adds more to the taste. A good starting point is the same amount of flour and water by weight.

        Higher temperatures also favors lactic acid formation. Of course don't go high enough to kill the starter.

        Sometimes I taste the starter just before using to be sure it's where I want it.

        Rise
        -----
        Freshen up the starter before using. Since the microorganisms go pretty quicky once they're in the frig, feed the starter before using, preferably multiple times.

        Knead a little longer for more gluten creation. The gluten provides structure to the dough.

        Don't proof the dough too long, or the gluten strands will break down again and the dough will lose its shape. A lot of water can also make the dough look slack, but doesn't necessary mean the bread won't rise right in oven. The more starter you use, the faster the activity and the shorter the maximum proofing time. I like to let the flavors develop mostly in the starter and don't proof as long. If you overproof, you can re-knead the dough and proof again.

        Shaping the dough is supposed to be very important, but as another poster pointed out a few weeks ago, difficult to master. I confess I don't know anything about it.

        My guess is that your starting temperature per se wasn't responsible; the yeast and bacteria just need enough time at the appropriate temperatures to reproduce, spit out the C02 and acids, etc, and that can take place in both the starter and dough. However, again, it is strongly recommended to feed the starter before using to get it going strong. Also, were you feeding the starter during the five-day ferment? If not, five days is a long time to go- I imagine the yeast would have started starving off already.

        tuskless