Will my sourdough sponge wear out before I get to bake with it?
October 4, 2009 6:59 PM   Subscribe

Sourdough baking and time management: Did I start my sponge at the wrong time? I have a nice looking sponge, but I won't be able to bake until after work tomorrow (20 hours or so). What should I do with it, at this point?

So, I have started some sourdough starter about a week and a half ago. It was nice and bubbly and smelling fine, so today, to make a sponge, I mixed it with a cup of bread flour and a cup of water about 8 hours ago, and it's looking pretty good. At this point, you're supposed to mix a portion of your starter with more flour, a bit of water, and oil, and knead it into a nice bread dough. But I need to go to bed soon. Should I put the sponge in the fridge to slow it down, then make the dough before work tomorrow morning, and let it rise until I get home (9 hours or so)?
Or, should I mix up the dough tonight, and let it rise until after work?
Or am I letting my yeast feast and peak too early, and should treat this sponge as a huge starter (going back a step, basically)?
I've read the other AskMes about sourdough but none answered this exact question for me. Obviously, I am very new at sourdough... Thanks for your help!
posted by chowflap to Food & Drink (11 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I've been experimenting with sourdough over the last 6 months or so, it's kind of a mad alchemy which is why it's hard to get cut and dry answers. You'll get into the flow once you realize that sourdough starter is pretty forgiving.

The best option for you depends on the recipe, since kneading the dough has an effect on the time needed for rising.

To keep it simple, I would do a "no-knead" recipe and go with option a: put the sponge in the fridge and then make the dough before work. However this is assuming you are using a no-knead recipe like this.

The reason this should work is because 9 hours is about right to let the yeast do it's thing. A traditional recipe needs a little bit more TLC. Unfortunately, you'll find 9-5 schedules and making sourdough the traditional way aren't a great fit. I end up doing no-knead during the week and traditional on the weekends.
posted by jeremias at 8:07 PM on October 4, 2009

I've never tried sourdough or any starter-breads, but you might have better luck finding answers on the Fresh Loaf forum.
posted by Decimask at 8:10 PM on October 4, 2009

Mix up the dough and put it in the fridge to retard it. A lot of sourdough recipes actually call for this to enhance the flavor.
posted by hindmost at 8:11 PM on October 4, 2009 [2 favorites]

Jeremias, that sounds like a plan -- I have a faux-Creuset (Lodge) dutch oven that I could use with that no-knead recipe. Maybe I'll try that method for my first loaf. Regardless, the sponge is now in the fridge, and I am off to bed. Thanks all!
posted by chowflap at 8:26 PM on October 4, 2009

I personally have let sourdough sit in the fridge for at least 32 hours and baked it to reveal bread (emergency scheduling issues). Slowing a rise in the fridge works for me all the time, an makes my pizza doughs and things better than usual. That 32 hour sourdough wasn't the best ever, but was good, and I don't live in particularly good sourdough country (the air and yeast in it create different flavor profiles. While Philly is great, the amateur sourdough baker is fighting an uphill battle in trying to create that San Fransisco taste). Making a dough in the morning an fridging it will develop flavors more, so I say go for it.
posted by itsonreserve at 9:16 PM on October 4, 2009

Ninety percent of the time I get started too late or want bread (cinnamon rolls) in the morning or pizza on a Friday night & I throw my dough in the fridge all the time. I've actually frozen it as well which works remarkably well, but requires a day or so in the fridge to thaw slowly. I'd have never believed it but it was tasty as if I had done my usual routine.

My mother-in-law & I both keep emergency starters in the freezer as well as occasionally we don't get the bread made weekly (or monthly... or longer) & our starter dies. We bust out the stuff we have frozen and we're rolling again. Just as something else to keep in your back pocket.
posted by susanbeeswax at 9:36 PM on October 4, 2009

Sourdough is actually pretty tough. Throughout the 19th century, America mountain men and frontiersmen carried live starter in tin cans, and baked bread at campfire every 2nd or 3rd day, as time permitted. Sourdough survived tough environmental conditions for them, when other yeast based starters didn't, and the forgiving nature of sourdough made it possible for them to enjoy bread in circumstances a lot more primitive and untimed than your kitchen. You can generally just "punch down" your sponge pretty hard, driving out most of the CO2, and let it rise again, for 2/3 of the time. You'll get a slightly more developed sourdough taste from a second rising, and a thicker crust, but otherwise, about the same result you would have got otherwise.

If you'd done this, in lieu of refrigerating, and gotten up about an hour early to bake, you'd have your bread finished, in the morning.
posted by paulsc at 10:33 PM on October 4, 2009

After I wrote my comment above, I got worried, took the sponge out of the fridge, mixed it up with enough flour (and dash of salt) to make a "ragged" wet dough, and it's been in the oven with the light on (making it probably around 70 degrees -- my house is kept pretty cool) ever since. I had read on one of those "no-knead" recipes that a 12-18 hour rise was no problem, so that's what I'm going for.
I plan on baking it tonight. I'll let you know what happens! Thanks for all of the advice. Next time I'll choose ONE method/recipe and stick to it the whole way through...
posted by chowflap at 12:03 PM on October 5, 2009

Well ,how'd it turn out?
posted by jeremias at 8:08 PM on October 5, 2009

Ok, I did it. My dough that I mixed up last night, and let bubble away all day today, was way too wet to be baked tonight. So, I added more flour until it was more of a shaggy dough. I let it sit for about an hour, then scraped it into a floured dutch oven. Let that sit for about half an hour, then put it into a cold oven, set at 450 degrees, and baked it for an hour. (I was following this general advice, though I just made up the actual recipe.)
Here's how it turned out.
Looks like an actual loaf of bread, right? But no, let me open it up to get the side view. As you can see, it's way too flat. I think I should have let it rise more once I had loaded it up with the extra flour today. It sounds like it wouldn't have hurt to just let it rise another day. But I was impatient! Regardless, it tastes fine (needs more salt), is not too terribly dense, and the crust is impressively crusty. The bottom is nearly burned, though, and I'm not sure what's up with that.
Anyway, I learned a lot. And now I have a small amount of hearty bread to eat!
posted by chowflap at 8:23 PM on October 5, 2009

One hour of rising after you've added more flour (degassing the dough in the process) is probably not long enough, so that may be why your bread turned out denser than expected. I haven't tried a non-knead sourdough myself, but those recipes are usually very wet. Are you sure that you even needed the extra flour?

In general, I think sticking with one recipe (as you suggest) until you get the hang of working with sourdough is probably a good idea. As people have mentioned, sourdough is pretty forgiving once you have a nice healthy culture and have gotten used to working with it.

My standard sourdough is the one from The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which always turns out well for me. But that's not a no-knead recipe, so it may not fit your needs.
posted by klausness at 9:25 AM on October 6, 2009

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