It’ll make the bread dough rise faster, right? Right?

Uh, no. Not necessarily. Uhn uhn.

sourdough sweet buns, dimpled, doughsourdough sweet buns, dimpled, bakedThis all started with my wild yeast (aka sourdough or natural leaven) cinnamon buns. They took forever to rise. Forever being, oh, say, 8-10 hours at 30-35C for a first rise and another 12-14 hours for a second rise. Not all the time – in the beginning, they rose quicker and had a better texture, but my starter was also new and not as active.

When they were shaped into cinnamon buns, they looked fine, but when I shaped them into buns, they were butt ugly. Like fat old woman dimpled cellulite-ridden butt ugly.


But other breads I’ve made rose much faster. As in 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours on average for a first rise. And looked much prettier without that odd uneven texture.

The anadama bread rose in 1 1/2 hours for both first and second rise, while the artos bread doubled for the first ferment in 1 1/2 hours and the second at somewhere between an hour to an hour and a half. Decent rise times. So why the slow rise with those dratted cinnamon buns/sweet buns?

I don’t remember where I got the recipe for those cinnamon buns, unfortunately – I couldn’t remember a week after I started using it and couldn’t find the original, either – and I no longer remember if it was already a sourdough recipe or if I converted a yeast recipe to sourdough, so I can’t say whether the sourdough starter amounts are mine or from the original.

I do remember, though, reading on at least one forum where some have recommended replacing the yeast with 1 or so cups of sourdough starter. Thing is, without knowing how big the batch of dough is or the amount of yeast called for, which the recommender did not know since the askwer didn’t provide that info, how can you possibly recommend an amount like that? Plus is that one cup when it’s all fluffy and full of air bubbles or one cup after it’s been stirred down? Sadly, at the time, these were the only recommendations I found for converting yeast bread recipes to sourdough recipes.

Yeah, no mega-bookstores or libraries here with loads of bread making books. Yep, I have the Internet, but it takes time to find information and, while I have pretty decent Google-fu, it ain’t perfect.

Then, in the last couple of days or so, I found this bit over at Dan Lepard’s forums in answer to someone else’s problems with sourdough bread and fermentation (rising) times):

I think you need to incorporate a smaller percentage of starter in the final sourdough/levain build. I don’t think the amount of starter is that critical as long as it’s much less than the amount of flour being added to. I go for an amount of starter which is 20% of the final flour weight being used in the sourdough/levain so if you are using 100g flour and 100g water you only need about 20g starter. This should stop the bread from being too acidic and possibly not rising.

This had me thinking. I’d already tried eliminating the fat from my last batch of breakfast sourdough buns (lipids can inhibit guten development), so obviously that wasn’t the problem. Maybe it was only a coincidence that my worst performers tended to be rich doughs (doughs with added milk, fat, and sugar). Perhaps it was the proportion of sourdough starter I’ve added to the dough.

Then @breadsecrets tweeted to me:

@LMAshton If you’ve got more than 50% prefermented flour in your final dough, the gluten won’t be strong enough hence less rise/dimples #bba

And then I found this, also on Dan Lepard’s forum:

Q: I have made a sourdough starterwhich is bubbling well and ready for a loaf. I want to make a 500grm. loaf but I don’t know how much starter to use for it. Anybody help ?

A: I use 1/4 of the weight of flour, of starter. The starter is refreshed with 100g water and 125g flours (either rye and wheat, or just wheat) in the morning, grows through the day to about three times the size or more, make into dough in the evening and let it rise overnight, decant into loaves in the morning and let them rise till they get bored – half a day, perhaps. So for 500g flour I’d use 125g starter.

Confirmation that this was a course worth experimenting with. So I did. 🙂

I mixed up a new batch of sourdough breakfast buns – it was time, anyway – and instead of adding the usual 180 grams of sourdough starter (100% hydration) to 250 grams of flour (and milk, oil, sugar, salt), I added 80 grams and upped the flour and water portions by 50 grams each to compensate.

Other than that, everything else I did was exactly the same from ingredients to amount of time kneading and so on.

The result?

sourdough sweet buns, after second rise sourdough sweet buns, after baking on the stove

Fahim singing. "Baby butt, baby butt, baby butt buns, oh gimme my baby butt, baby butt, baby butt buns…"

Because the buns are as smooth as a baby’s butt. C’mon, surely you figured that much out, right? 😉 And they rose much nicer. In fact, those were the fluffiest sweet buns that recipe has ever made.

I should mention at this point that not only was the texture different and it was much smoother than it was before. It also took less flour to become not-sticky. The amount of sourdough starter, then, looks to me to affect how hydrated the dough feels even at the same hydration. If that makes sense to more than just me. 🙂

Now, I don’t know what the exact limits are for the percentage of sourdough starter versus total flour weight. At least, not yet. I’d have to do a whole bunch of math and a lot more experimenting. But I do know that I’m heading in the right direction.

And that, my friends, is happiness. 😀

Meanwhile, all failed/not fully successful sourdough recipes that I’ve made up until now are now subject to scrutiny and experimentation. I’ll need to figure out what my percentage of fermented flour is versus total flour weight along with hydration.

Because geekery is, for me, the key to solving this. 🙂

One thought on “More sourdough starter is a good thing, right?”

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