Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Starter trials...start of day fifteen

I wasn't going to post about the starter trials again until I'd gone into maintenance mode, but something interesting happened with the starters yesterday morning.  More on that in a minute.

First and foremost, and as I'd mentioned before, some followers on another site were having a bit of fun debunking the pineapple juice starter, as well as some of my own techniques.  This set of trials is for me, and anyone who knows nothing about starter, but wants to dink around with it on a casual level, as I did.  Take it or leave it, but the 'tear down' critiques are really not welcome here, so save them for sites that appreciate that kind of debate.

I realize that pineapple juice was not widely available when bread was made from wild yeast, lo those many years ago.  I sort of look at life this way: many things were not available to us hundreds of years ago, but that doesn't mean we throw them out now because people went without them at one point in time.

A purest will argue that pineapple juice is silly to use in starters.  Well, it may or may not be silly, but in my conditions, it was the first starter to become active, and it's been the most consistently robust of my three starters all along.  Of course, the pineapple juice was only used in that one starter, and only from days 1-4.  I switched over to water (sometimes distilled, sometimes tap), as directed by Debra Wink's process, on day 5.

I also got a little flack for my growing temperature of 65 degrees, which I thought was kind of funny.  I followed Chad Robertson's Tartine Bread process, and he doesn't call for many specifics, not in quantities, and not in temperature, when it comes to starting the starter.  He calls for a "cool, dark location" to begin.  "Cool" is a relative term.  For me, "cool" is probably about 40 degrees this time of year, so 65 didn't seem unreasonable, especially as part of a process for growing starter written by a man who makes a living baking the best bread I've ever tasted, and in a very cool location; San Francisco, CA.

When it comes to starter maintenance, Chad calls for 65 degrees.  So, there you have it.  Chad Robertson, who I consider the God father of bread, called out the much mocked 65 degrees.  Have a problem with my temperature?  Give ol' Chad a call, but before you call him out for using the wrong temperature, I might suggest you try his bread.

Now, onto my yeasty boys...

I'm going to shift my thoughts on the starters, and tell you that I am now down to two, and explain to you why I put one of them to rest.  I'd grown tired of maintaining three starters, and until Friday morning, I'd seen no measurable difference in the three once they'd all started to rise and fall predictably.

We had to go out of town, and I'd really vacillated about taking the yeasty boys along so I could keep feeding them. I knew I wouldn't have time to dedicate to the feedings, and I didn't want to schlep them around, so I chose to leave them at home. I thought, "let's see how well they will perform when starved for two days, and asked to bounce back again." What was the worst thing that could happen? I'd have to start over?  I could live with that.

I fed them Friday morning, at the regular interval.  We left on our trip, and returned Sunday, early evening.  At that point, they'd not been fed for about 60 hours, well beyond the 24 hour feeding schedule I'd been following to that point.  I fed all three.

Yesterday morning I woke up to find the distilled water and pineapple juice batches thriving once again, but the tap water batch was floundering.  It was then I decided I would pare down my three to just two, and I disposed of the tap water batch.  It had been the slowest to come alive in the first place, and it was the least robust of the three after their 'fast', and feeding.  I don't know what's in my tap water, and I'd shown myself I could get a starter going using tap water.  I saw no point in keeping the weakest of the three going along.  Would it soon start performing better than the others?  After two weeks, that batch had had enough time to show it was more robust, in my inexperienced opinion, and I wasn't going to give it more time.  Survival of the fittest.

I have read so much about feeding schedules.  The feeding schedule I'm following is the one detailed by Chad in Tartine Bread.  He suggests feeding just once a day, and that's what I do.

I'm now down to just two starters.  My distilled water batch, and my pineapple batch.  I will continue with these two, until it's time to make bread, and do a side-by-side taste and texture test.  At that point, I will likely choose just one starter to keep going.  Time will tell which will be the winner, but at this point, I'm betting on the pineapple batch.

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