5th try lucky!

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summary: recipe for Jane Mason Wild Bread; 5th try at making not-sour bread using the Jane Mason’s liquid levain; trying a different bread recipe, based on one in “Homemade Sourdough” by Jane Mason; using stronger flour; kneading with ‘slap and fold’ and ‘stretch and fold’ techniques; overnight refrigeration of shaped bread;

What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;

sourdough bread Let the bells ring out again! Loud and clear! I’m never making sourdough, ever again!

I avoid referring to my naturally leavened breads as sourdough because too many people associate sourdough with breads that are indeed sour in flavor and sometimes leave a sharp, vinegary aftertaste. In France, sour bread is probably considered a fermentation mistake, while in San Fransisco, it’s a well-appreciated taste […] My preference is for complex flavors from the grain and fermentations that are subtle, in balance, and not sour.
-Ken Forkish, “Understanding Levain”, Flour Water Salt Yeast, p.122

That’s right. I’m not going to call that bubbling sludge in the jar in the fridge a “sourdough starter” any more.

Here are its new names: “Levain”, “Wild yeast”, “Natural starter”, “Sludge” and “Pet”. But never “sourdough”. Ever again. Shakespeare was wrong. That which we called sourdough starter was giving our bread the wrong idea when it heard the word “sour”.

At least, that’s what I’ve come away with after reading the other bread books on our shelf and looking at some of the vast library of information on the internet that deal with sourdough baking, specifically the ones that talk about “levain” (I don’t remember ever having sour-tasting bread in France). And I’m pretty certain that the dough for the 4th try was a little bit over-proofed before shaping, and then really really really over-proofed before baking.

That and the fact that the sourness has to do with temperature. Not a problem with being “too cold” as I had thought the last times that I was experimenting with capturing yeast, but a problem with being “too warm”!!

The sourdough is ready when it’s all bubbly and foamy and when it can pass safely the floating test. […] Do not skip any step in this recipe because I already did. I removed everything that was unnecessary. Just – you know – be square.
– Alex, French Guy Cooking, YouTube: A Non-Baker’s Guide to Making Sourdough Bread
We’re not going to use the traditional kneading process that most people are used to because that would destroy all those beautiful air pockets we love when it comes to fresh bread. We’re going to employ a different technique call the “slap and fold”. […] Now it’s time for another technique that is crucial if you want that beautiful internal airy bread crumb. It’s called a “stretch and fold” […] Do this about four times and then let it sit for 10 minutes. Once you let it sit, you’re going to repeat that process about two to three more times for really good results […] After your last “stretch and fold”, you’re ready to form your loaf.
– Brothers Green Eats, YouTube: How to Make Sourdough Bread by Feel (No Recipe)
We have generally found that the most effective factors for controlling acidity in sourdough are 1) maturity (the degree of ripeness), 2) the choice of temperature (warmer for more acid, cooler for less), and 3) the choice of flours (whiter for less acid, more whole grain, particularly rye, for acidity).
-Brød and Taylor, | Part II — How to Make Sourdough More (or Less) Sour
I’ve found that although my kitchen temperatures are roughly the same year-round, it’s still colder in there in winter. As a result my levain culture isn’t as active in winter and my levain doughs develop a bit more slowly than in the summer. […] In winter, I compensate by putting more levain in the final dough than I do in the summer—somewhere around 50 grams(3 tablespoons) more. […] In the summertime, if the bread is too sour, I sometimes reduce the amount of levain retained in the morning feeding.
-Ken Forkish, Flour Water Salt Yeast, p134
Strongly acidic bread occurs when a high percentage of acidic leaven is used in the dough and/or the rising ties are overly long, either during the bulk fermentation or during the final rise. […] The role of the starter is to develop strength and acidity. In the subsequent leaven building, this strength, but not the acidity, is transferred to the larger mass of dough […] but the amount is small enough that it does not add an intense acid flavor to the dough. […] If the leaven is overly ripe and vinegary when you mix the dough, the acid will overpower the other desirable flavors. You can still make bread with the dough, but quality will be compromised.
-Chad Robertson, Tartine Bread, p72-73
Sourdough bread doesn’t need to taste sour: the longer you take to put your final dough together, the more acidic it will smell and taste. If you like a more acidic taste, select the recipes that take a lot of time to make. If you prefer a less acidic taste, choose recipes that take less time.
-Jane Mason, Homemade Sourdough: Mastering the Art and Science of Baking with Starters and Wild Yeast, p13

Okay. That’s a lot of reading!! :lalala:

But the good news is that I’ve stopped blubbering now about the tragedy of having to toss our sour sour sour bread into the composter.

And I looked in the fridge at the sludge happily bubbling away and decided I was ready to try again {deep breath - deep breath - deep breath} without quite hyperventilating.

page 88 Homemade Sourdough by Jane Mason For this next try, I decided to use a completely different recipe from a different book by Jane Mason, “Homemade Sourdough”. I chose a baguette recipe that I’d shape into a boule. AND I decided to follow the instructions to use bread flour by adding some vital wheat gluten to boost the protein level.

Just as in the previous Jane Mason sourdough bread recipe, an essential detail that appears to be missing from Jane Mason’s recipe is how to tell when it’s time to shape.

In “The Bread Bible”, Rose Levy Beranbaum says to let natural yeast bread doughs “rise until doubled”. But most of the others, including Maggie Glezer, say to let the dough rise until almost double.

      Proper development during the bulk fermentation enables the wet dough to hold its shape as a loaf, and the baker must watch for signs of development and determine when the dough is ready. During the first hour of the bulk fermentation, the dough will feel dense and heavy. Watch how the surface becomes smooth soon after you trun the dough. By the end of the third hour, the dough will feel aerated and softer. A well-developed dough is more cohesive and releases from the sides of the bowl when you do the turns. The ridges left by the turn still hold their shape for a few minutes. You will see a 20 to 30 percent increase in volume. More air bubbles will form along the sides of the container. These are all signs that the dough is ready to be divided and shaped into loaves.
-Chad Robertson, “Basic Country Bread”, Tartine Bread, p55
Let it ferment until it is airy and well expanded but not yet doubled in bulk.
-Maggie Glezer, The Pearl’s Walnut Levain, “Crafting Bread”, Artisan bread Across America, p134
      At what point is it over-proofed? When the physical structure of the gluten breaks down and can no longer hold the gas, that is when it collapses […]
      The timing works this way: mix the dough in the afternoon, do the bulk fermentation at room following the recipe timeing *usually around five hours), and then shape the loafes in the evening. As soon as they’re shaped, wrap them to keep them from drying out, then put them in the refrigerator. The chilled loaves don’t need to be warmed to room temperature before baking them next morning. I bake them straight from the refrigerator.
      It’s also essential to find the perfect proof point. Don’t overproof or underproof your bread. The finger-dent test, described in detail on page 74, is a good indication here. You’ll know the loaves are optimaally proofed if you poke them and the indentation springs back very slowly.
-Ken Forkish, “Eight Details for Great Bread and Pizza”, Flour Water Salt Yeast, p38
To do the test, poke the rising loaf with a floured finger, making an indentation about 1/2 inch deep. If it springs back immediately, the loaf needs more proofing time. If the indentations springs back slowly and incompletely, the loaf is fully proofed and ready to bake. If the indentationn doesn’t spring back at all, the loaf is overproofed.
-Ken Forkish, “Eight Details for Great Bread and Pizza”, Flour Water Salt Yeast, p38
      If mixing the dough by machine, it is best to add the sourdough to the partially kneaded dough for two reasons. One is that the starter has already been kneaded during feeding , so it requires less additional kneading. The other is that the acidity of the starter softens the gluten-forming proteins of the dough, so it’s better to give them a chance to develop first.
      If mixing the dough by hand, it is easiest to add the starter in the beginning to the liquiid in the recipe to break it up. This ensures that it will incorporate it evenly into the dough. […]
      Sourdough is a very sticky dough until the last few minutes of kneading. To prevent sticking, use your fingertips, not the palms of your hands. […]
      Bread flour is used for making sourdough bread because it has a higher gluten-forming protein content than all-purpose flour and will give more structure to the loaf. the acidity of the sourdough starer makes the dough very slack and the extra structure provided by the bread flour helps to counteract this and support the rise. […]
      Allow the shaped dough to proof just long enough so that it almost keep a dent when pressed. Overproofing may cause the dough to collapse and result in a pale crust and limited shelf life. […]
-Rose Levy Berenbaum, “Sourdough”, The Bread Bible, p442
With masking tape, mark the spot on the container where the dough will reach when it has doubled in volume. Cover and leave it to rise at room temperature (70 to 75 degrees) until it inflates into a dome and reaches the masking tape. […] It will feel springy and less sticky.
-Daniel Leader, Pain de Campagne, “Real Parisian Breads, Old and New”, Local Breads, p93

Here’s how things went after all that reading and re-reading:

5th try at making Sourdough Bread using the Jane Mason’s Starter:

28 July 2017, 08:48 levain The starter is bubbling beautifully. And it smells fine too. Not funky. Not sour. Juuuuust right.

I so want this to work!!

The other day, I got “Homemade Sourdough” by Jane Mason out of library. Hmmm. These appear to be recipes for people who already know how to make sourdough….

I chose the French bread recipe. But I can only make half the recipe because that’s all the starter we have. If this works, I’ll take the 5 days to recapture yeast and make more. If it doesn’t, then we won’t be throwing out so much flour and effort.

The recipe calls for using bread flour. Which we don’t have so I included 10gm vital wheat gluten in the 360gm flour called for and whisked it together. Then I added some of the flour with water to the sludge for the fridge.

16:12 The starter floated!! (no photo, you’ll have to take my word for it)

17:57 sourdough Things are looking up. I just shaped the bread and it didn’t break apart! Whooohooooooo!!

Before shaping, I kneaded by slapping and folding, then stretching and folding three times at 20 minute intervals. I shaped it into a boule and put it into brotform that I covered with a teatowel and surrounded the whole thing in a plastic bag. I left it on the counter and after an hour put it into the fridge.

29 July 2017, 06:01 I couldn’t sleep because I was so excited about looking in the fridge to see what had happened to the bread.

French Bread It had split a little at the sides but otherwise, it looked great. And it smelled sweet! It also looked ready to bake.

I preheated our ancient oven to 425F (we’re worried that if we crank it any higher, we’ll blow a fuse) and sprayed the inside of stainless steel bowl hat. It baked for 20 minutes with the hat at 400F and then 20 minutes more without hat at 375F

7:19 It’s cracking!! It’s cracking!!

sourdough bread

We could not have been more ecstatic!! We were dancing in the kitchen – dancing to the beautiful sounds of the crust crickling and cracking as it cooled.

And then we had to wait until it had cooled completely before we could taste it….

It was worth the wait.

In spite of the fact that there weren’t those lovely uneven holes in the crumb, it was fabulous. Not even a hint of sourness, just the slightest pleasant tang.

This was well worth all the angst! (Remind me to relate the woeful tale of the 2nd Try and what we did to the disaster to turn things around into a success – not exactly a bread success, mind. But a success nonetheless.)

The next step is to make the bread with all-purpose flour (it’s such a drag to have to root around in the freezer for the vital wheat gluten). And get bigger holes in the crumb.

Did I remember to say to let the bells ring out joyfully?

sourdough bread

Jane Mason Wild Bread
based on the recipe for ‘French Bread’ in “Homemade Sourdough” by Jane Mason

makes one round loaf:


  • 150gm water
  • 260gm bubbling wheat starter from the fridge
  • 140gm bread flour (you can use 97% all-purpose flour and 3% vital wheat gluten, or simply measure-for-measure all-purpose flour)


  • all of the above mix
  • 193gm bread flour (you can use 97% all-purpose flour and 3% vital wheat gluten, or simply measure-for-measure all-purpose flour)
  • 6gm salt (1 tsp table salt)
  1. pre-dough: On the day before baking the bread, put the pre-dough ingredients into a largish bowl and using your dough whisk (use a wooden spoon if you don’t have a whisk), mix the pre-dough ingredients until all the flour is incorporated. Cover with a plate and leave on the counter for 8-12 hours until it becomes bubbly and frothy like mousse.
  2. mixing the dough: When a small spoonful of the above floats in a small bowl of room temperature water, you can go ahead and mix the rest of the dough. Put the dough ingredients into the bowl with the now bubbling pre-dough. Mix as well as you can with a wooden spoon.
  3. kneading: Put the dough onto an unfloured board (you don’t want to add more flour at this time) and “slap and fold” it until it forms a smoothish ball. (See Richard Bertinet) Put the dough back into the bowl, cover with a plate and leave to rest for about 20 minutes.
  4. stretching and folding: About 20 minutes after slapping and folding the dough, lightly (very very lightly) dust the board with a tiny amount of flour. Run your hands under water. Lift the dough out of the bowl and place it on the board. Using wet hands, stretch the dough into a longish rectangle, then fold it like a letter, gently patting off any extra flour. Put the dough back in the bowl. Cover with a plate and leave to rest for about 20 minutes. Repeat this step 3 times in all.
  5. shaping: After the final stretch and fold, continue folding until the dough is shaped in a ball. Place it seam side down in a well floured brot-form (if you don’t have one, you can line a bowl with parchment paper. You can also use a liberally floured tea towel (but then you have to deal with a floured tea towel once the bread is baked). Loosely wrap the basket and bread with a clean tea towel and enclose the whole thing inside a plastic bag and leave on the counter for an hour. Then refrigerate it for about 12 hours (or overnight).
  6. baking: First thing the next morning, take it out of the fridge. Unwrap it and gently but firmly press your finger on the side of the shaped bread. If the dough springs back immediately, recover it with the plastic bag and leave it on the counter. If the dough gradually returns back after being pressed, put a stone on the middle shelf of the oven and turn it onto 425F.
  7. About fifteen minutes later, spray the inside of a large stainless steel bowl with water and set aside for a moment. Overturn the shaped bread onto a piece of parchment paper. Using a lame (or scissors, or serrated knife), score the bread. Transfer the bread to the hot stone and immediately put the water sprayed stainless steel bowl overtop like a hat. Turn the oven down to 400. Bake for 20 minutes. Remove the hat, turn the oven down to 375 and bake for a further 20 to 30 minutes until the crust is a nice dark brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
  8. cooling: When the bread is done, allow it to cool on a footed rack before slicing and eating; the bread is still baking internally when first removed from the oven! If you wish to serve warm bread (of course you do), reheat it after it has cooled completely: To reheat any uncut bread, turn the oven to 400F for 5 minutes or so. Turn the oven OFF. Put the bread into the hot oven for about ten minutes. This will rejuvenate the crust and warm the crumb perfectly.


:: salt The full French Bread recipe in “Homemade Sourdough” calls for just 1 teaspoon (6gm) of salt. In baker’s percentages, that’s not even 1%. So I upped the amount to a more normal 2%. And when measuring the salt, I highly recommend that you weigh it. (Please see Salt is salt, right?)

:: flour The French Bread recipe in “Homemade Sourdough” calls bread flour. It turns out (I’m jumping ahead by talking about the 6th Try) that the bread comes out just as beautifully when made with all-purpose flour.

:: starter The starter is a 100% hydration, liquid levain. It takes about 5 days to create. (Please see our take on Jane Mason’s Natural Starter made with Wheat Flour.)

Any sourdough-based recipe can be converted into a yeast-based recipe. The bread will not have the complex flavor […] of a true sourdough, but it will still be a very fine loaf.
To convert a recipe from sourdough to commercial yeast, you will just use a small amount of yeast in the levain and omit the sourdough starter. […] Dissolve ¼ teaspoon yeast in ¼ cup warm water and use 2 tablespoons of the yeasted water per cup (150 grams, 5.3 ounces) flour. […] Be sure to reduce the water measure in the levain by the same amount as the added yeasted water.
Let the levain, which is now technically a pre-ferment, ferment for 2 to 3 hours, or until it has risen to about half again its original volume, then refrigerate it overnight until ready to use. Let it come to room temperature before adding it to the final dough. Continue with the recipe as directed – there is no need to add more yeast.
– Maggie Glezer, Unraveling Sourdough, Artisan Baking Across America
I have elected to explain how to substitute a rye sourdough starter for the yeast in any of the recipes in this or any other book. […]
i)Pick the recipe you would like to bake, note the amount of fresh yeast that is called for and double it to get the amount of rye sourdough starter you need. Weigh this out in a bowl.
ii)Take 25% of the flour that is called for in the recipe and put that in the bowl too.
iii)Take half as much water as you took of flour and put that in the bowl. […] Mush it all together with your hands, cover it and leave it overnight or all day on the counter. Write down how much flour and water you used because you will need to subtract that from the total amount called for in the recipe and use the balance the next day.
– Jane Mason, All You Knead is Yeast, p101, 102


High expectations are the key to everything. – Sam Walton

wild bread

Key Factors Influencing Acidity in Sourdough

Less Sour More Sour
Mother culture white flour
mature when fully risen
ferment at 70-76F / 21-24C (when not stored in the refrigerator)
some rye and/or whole wheat flour
mature after fully risen
ferment at 82-85F/ 28-29C (when not stored the refrigerator)
white flour
ripe at or before peak rise
ferment at 70-76F / 21-24C
some rye and/or whole wheat flour
ripe after peak rise
ferment at 82-85F/ 28-29C
Main Dough less whole grain / rye flour
rise to 1½ – 2 times volume
ferment at 70-76F / 21-24C
more whole grain and/or rye flour
rise to 2¼-3 times volume
ferment at 82-85F/ 28-29C
Final Shaped Proof ferment at 70-76F / 21-24C ferment at 82-85F/ 28-29C
retard at 40-50F / 4-10C

– Debra Wink, Michael Gänzle, Brød & Taylor, Part I — How to Make Sourdough More (or Less) Sour



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2 responses to “5th try lucky!

  1. Barbara M

    Hurrah! Congratulations! I was a bit confused with your “never making sourdough again” given the title of “5th try lucky” and the description of how great it is. But as I was writing about my confusion, I got the joke! :-D

    1. Elizabeth Post author

      Thank you!! I’m so excited! I didn’t really believe I’d ever do this again but when I read about Jane Mason’s version that advises NEVER throwing any of the sludge away (unless it has gone bad), I had to give it a shot. And whooohoooooooooo! The resulting bread isn’t sour – it just has a lightly pleasant tang (I can’t stop jumping up and down gleefully).

      Ha. I wondered if “never making sourdough again” would be ambiguous… I guess I have my answer. (I’m glad you caught my drift though.)


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