Active Ralphs!


I know what you’ve all been thinking – “When is Eric going to update us on his baking???”

Well, since my last bread post I made one more whole wheat loaf from home-ground flour.  It turned out about as good as the two previous attempts – strange top crust, dense crumb, nice whole wheat flavor.

Since then I have read a little more and decided to give Ralph a couple of updates.  Who’s Ralph you ask?  Ralph is the name of my sourdough starter, an offspring of Pete and a gift from my friend, Joel.  Ralph has been with me since… at least January 2006.

Here I am baking my first sourdough boule:

That babyface looks so proud of that brick!

Recently I decided to take Ralph out of the fridge.  In the old days they would have no option to keep a sourdough starter in the fridge, and the method of keeping it alive would be frequent feeding (and, obviously, baking).  These days, with modern technology, many people keep the starter in the fridge and retard its growth, feeding it less frequently.  The problem for me was that I wasn’t consistent in feeding Ralph or in baking, and when I decided I wanted to bake I couldn’t be sure that Ralph would be in competitive condition.  I couldn’t be sure, that is, that the starter would be active enough to make my bread rise.
Using some instructions from a good bread site, I decided to keep Ralph on the countertop and feed him every 12 hours.  To keep from wasting lots of flour, I keep the starter very small now (about 45 grams), and store the leftovers in the fridge for non-bread rising purposes, such as sourdough pancakes or sourdough English muffins.

I also did one more change.  I split Ralph into two starters, feeding one with whole wheat flour and the other with all purpose flour.  This is in anticipation of whole wheat sourdough experimentation, as well as a possible preparation for home ground flour revolution:

Since then I made sourdough English muffins once.  They turned out ok…  great flavor but questionable shaping.

I then decided to do some experimentation.  I have two kinds of starter, so I chose to try making basic sourdough bread with each to see what differences there might be.  This will result in one batch of bread containing ~10% whole wheat flour and the other batch containing only all purpose flour.  I began with the whole wheat starter yesterday.

Another point of experimentation is the proofing method.  To this point I have been proofing the loafs on baking sheets under plastic wrap.  Bakers of yore (and many today) proofed sourdough boules in linen-lined baskets, which exposes them to more air.  I never had much success with this method, as the boules did not rise much but developed a thick skin I thought was bad.  With a more active yeast, however, I decided to give it a try.

Yesterday’s bake, then, was two sourdough boules with all purpose flour and whole wheat starters.  One of the boules was proofed in my normal method and the second was proofed in the more traditional method.  Here are the results:

You can see that the boule proofed under plastic wrap had greater volume and crumb holes, even though it had a shorter proofing time and an inferior scoring.  I’m going to try the same experiment tonight with the sourdough based on the all purpose starter.

What you can’t see is that both boules tasted very good, if I can say so with any modesty.  If I chose to only keep one starter, this experiment proves to me that I could in fact keep a whole wheat starter and get great white bread.  It remains to be seen, however, if the (now-active) all purpose starter will produce even greater loaves.  I’m eager to find out!

Happy baking.



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4 Responses to “Active Ralphs!”

  1. Mimi Says:

    Great looking loaves!

    One thing I notice is that the whole wheat starter makes a better flavor in my bread than a white starter. I was feeding mine with whole wheat for awhile and I could definately tell the difference.

    Babyface? You are very cute and funny!!

  2. vagueperson Says:

    After tasting the second batch (post to come), I think I agree about the whole wheat sourdough having a stronger sour flavor. I’ve heard that a rye-fed starter does even better, but I’ve never done anything with rye.

    As for the babyface, I now strongly prefer the forestface look!

    Thanks for reading,

  3. markandclaire Says:

    how is it pronounced? bool, or bool-ay? i asked the lady at the Med bakery the other day, and she refused to tell.


  4. vagueperson Says:

    In French, there are many, many silent letters, of which e is probably the most common. I hardly think the pronunciation of the word “boule” is a baker’s secret! I would expect her to hide where she gets her flour or something like that. Boule sounds like bool.

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