I have done a focaccia and a small piece of dough to see if I can make bread with the same recipe I'm using for the focaccia .

Both dough have almost doubled in size in about 9 hours, and I have used about a 1/3 in sourdough starter and 2/3 in flour ( plus liquids ).

I'm not sure if I should risk spending more hours to try to get more leavening and maybe a more fluffy growth or just be happy with a 2x growth .

There is a rule I can use, maybe related to protein, hours, ingredients, etc etc ... to estimate the right amount of leavening for my recipe ?

  • To me, focaccia is (a type of) bread, so I assume you mean a different shape, or without topping. Do you mean a pan loaf? I suggest to start with this specific case, then generalize for your situation (e.g., all starters are different). Is this a lean dough, or any other ingredients like fats or sugar (or post recipe)? Effective percent hydration (total amount of water relative to flour) is also in play. – hoc_age Oct 16 '14 at 11:27

I think there's lots of things at play in your situation. Bread has many variables ("degrees of freedom"), and this is part of the reason that bread is so fun and so diverse (and so fun)! Experimentation is warranted here, I think. There's many sourdough enthusiasts around here, so you'll probably get many different opinions. Take the suggestions you like and fiddle around with them!

First to your first question about being happy with 2x growth: A volume increase of 1.5x-2x is about all that I would expect/want from any ferment/proof stage of dough. How much are you expecting or wanting? Does that amount of time work well for you? Are you happy with the result from 2x rise after 9 hours? What happens when you ferment for 25% less time? 25% more time? Try it out! Make a big batch and divide into 3 chunks, then ferment/shape/proof and bake them individually, staggered in time: short, medium, long fermentation time. See which you like best!

Nine hours seems like a fairly long fermentation time already, especially with so much starter and a high-hydration bread like focaccia. In my kitchen with my starter, for example, those ingredients would be very sloppy, very sour, and essentially impossible to work after 9 hours. When I'm building my (~100% hydration) pre-ferment from my starter, it will double or triple in 6-9 hours at its point of peak activity; after 9 hours it's starting to peter-out. If I'm using fermentation times in the 9-24 hour range (San Francisco-style or so) I'll use a small amount of starter (~50mL / a few Tablespoons) and perhaps further retard the fermentation in the refrigerator.

Fermenting or proofing for too long could cause your dough to lose it structure -- either before baking or during baking. This could yield uneven crumb and difficulty baking. In the case of focaccia, you might get a big air pocket in the middle or a collapsed bit of dense dough. Sourdough will tend to aggravate this situation, because the acid produced by the bacteria will tend to cause the bread structure to break down over a longer period of time. To me, sourdough is a delicate balance of quantity of starter and time.

Here are "rules of thumb" for fermentation time, hydration, and quantity of starter that I find to be the case; note that all of these are interrelated:

  • More starter will result in faster fermentation (shorter time) since there's more active yeast.
  • For higher hydration breads, use more starter to encourage faster fermentation, and/or stronger (higher-protein) flour, both help to maintain structure.
  • More assertive sour flavor results from longer fermentation time (and you'll need to use less starter).

Other ingredients will impact fermentation. More salt will tend to retard (slow) fermentation. Fat/oils can yield a finer crumb, but can have other effects depending on quantity and other factors. More water (higher hydration) generally yields a chewier (more custardy) and larger crumb and can help the yeast act more quickly. I don't know if protein content impacts fermentation time, but it will change the consistency of gluten development. Whole grain and non-gluten (or less-gluten) flours (e.g., rye) will tend to impede gluten formation.

I don't know how long you've been sourdough'ing, but for anyone reading this who is new to the process, here's a couple of "primer" links. For me, it was helpful to understand a little of the "science" and biochemistry at work while I was exploring the more "artful" topics of actual sourdough baking.

Look through the "Related" articles and in the tag for some other musings on the topic.

I'm interested to hear others' opinions of the nature of the universe, also. Good luck!

  • I would like to ask 2 things about what you wrote here: 1) do you use flour with more starch in it for your focaccia or any other high water recipe, what's the water/flour ratio for your case anyway ? 2) As I understand this you are using a sourdough starter/yeast diluted with a lot of water, how do you prepare it and what are the percentages of the ingredients used to prepare your starter ? – user2485710 Oct 16 '14 at 17:33
  • 1a- I don't understand "flour with more starch in it"; for high hydration breads I use strong (high protein) "bread flour"; no other flour or starch. 1b- my recipe is similar to this one but with my starter built in place of the pre-ferment and no additional yeast. This one is only about 65% hydration. 2a- I am using sourdough starter (no commercial yeast); what are you using? 2b- To build starter I mix 1 part (by weight) existing starter with 1 part water with 1 part flour. This is 100% hydration. Do you have starter? – hoc_age Oct 16 '14 at 21:29
  • my recipe goes for a 50% of water given the quantity of flour; and indeed I now realize that is probably too low for many applications. With high protein flour you mean a flour with 12%-13% of protein ? right ? My problem right now is given by the fact that I was using that 50% of water because I don't think my flour will be able to retain more water, at this point I'll try to reach that 60+%. And yes, I'm using a 2-3 months old homemade sourdough starter, I'll try your mix too, but you mix it with water and flour just right before preparing the dough or 1-2 days before that ? – user2485710 Oct 17 '14 at 9:29
  • @user2485710: 0- Please post your recipe. :) 1- 50% hydration (always discussed by weight as in my prior comment) is very low indeed. (If you were talking volumetric, let's start over.) 2- Yes; range is ~8% on the low end to ~12+% protein on higher end. 3- Flour can't hold more water... ??? What kind of flour are you using? 4- I think you should read the sourdough primer links in my answer. You need to build up the starter before mixing dough; 0 minutes is not enough; 2 days is too much. I use 6-12 hour intervals before mixing final dough. – hoc_age Oct 18 '14 at 13:47

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