This time it’s about using more or less starter for more flavour.
No doubt you’ve come across the “sourdough paradox” that for more flavour, in your final loaf, one actually needs less starter/levain and increase of the final dough ferment time for a more flavoursome loaf. Plus one can refrigerate the final proof for an even better flavour.
What say you? What is your experience?
I think a higher starter/levain percentage which has been fermented to a point of maturity where the starter itself is more flavoursome [here is where a levain plays an important part as it’s this stage where one is nurturing the final outcome of the bread, just like a poolish or a biga, and where one can stretch the ferment beyond the boundaries of the final dough] and all done in warm temperatures will make the best bread. The fridge is more about convenience.
You can have a levain build of 1:5:5 and allow it to mature for 12-14 hours. It can triple or more. You can even catch it when it just begins to recede. And I’m also of the opinion you still have more time to use it as this is also “starter convention”.
However if the levain in the final dough is the same percentage one wouldn’t allow it to go that far. Often we stop the bulk ferment at 30-50% and maximum will be doubled but often this will be too much and won’t produce the best loaf. And 20% levain in a loaf will hardly ever be 12-14 hours whereas many recipes with the same percentage of starter in the levain call for a long ferment but then shorten the final dough time.
I think concentrating on the levain for flavour will produce a better bread than simply using less starter in a dough because you aren’t constrained by time as much and working towards a structured dough which will produced a tall loaf with a nice crumb.
A good experiment will be the same dough done in two ways…
- 500g bread flour
- 350g water
- 10g salt
First Way: from the 500g flour and 350g water preferment just 5% of the flour at 100% hydration. 5g starter + 25g water + 25g flour allow to mature for 12-14 hours and use 50g in the final dough adjusting the flour and water accordingly.
Second Way: exactly the same but 15% of the flour. So 15g starter + 75g water + 75g flour and allow to mature for 12-14 hours. Use 150g in the final dough adjusting the flour and water accordingly.
With both allow the dough to bulk ferment till the same extent. Then carry on as normal and bake when ready. All done at room temperature.
To some up simply - I think one can allow a levain to ferment to a stage where enough lactic acid is produced for a more complex flavour but not so in the final loaf. So it doesn’t matter using a small amount of starter/levain in the final dough and increasing the ferment time because you can’t stretch it to the same stage where its produced that lovely flavour. Whereas using more levain and then strengthening it up when adding the rest if the flour, even though this means less ferment time at the final dough stage, will make a better loaf.