Tartine Bread, Day 11: Need to formalize starter proportions for Cavanagh

For the Tartine Bread starter (which I’ve named Francis*), I’ve been roughly following the original amounts and proportions that Chad Robertson lays out in his book Tartine Bread. As I’ve said in earlier notes, for daily feedings he has you discard all but 20% of the starter and then add to the remaining blorb an equal mixture of flour and water. I believe he says something like “amount doesn’t matter.” But I’ve been adding back the same weight of stuff I’ve discarded. Which, yes, as my friend John Wozniak points out, is pretty wasteful of flour. (In fact, I’m now more than halfway through my two 5-pound bags of white and whole-wheat flours just on growing the starter alone). Flour is relatively inexpensive, and I anticipate I’ll modify the feeding once I make the recipe exactly according to the book.

The reason I’ve been doing this is that Robertson describes wanting to use a “young” starter as the leaven for the bread — this is to catch the starter right as A) it’s vital enough to leaven the bread and B) at the point where it’s sweet and not yet sour and acidic (as it would be in its “mature” state). He describes a “young” starter as occurring at either:

  • 2 to 4 hours after feeding where the total inoculating amount is 20 percent
  • 4 or more hours after feeding where the inoculating amount is 5 percent starter

Because he places a strong emphasis on getting to know how your starter’s life cycle, I’ve been trying to be careful about amounts and doing the same thing each time. Hence the 20 percent inoculant etc.

If I’ve lost you, oh well, I’m mainly keeping these notes for myself. It makes sense in my own head right now.

With Cavanagh I’ve been a little more lax. My primary concern early on was bringing it back to life. To watch for signs of life, I made sure to feed Cavanagh with a flour-water mixture that was heavier on water — so I could better see bubbles, etc.

I’m now feeding Cavanagh with a 100% hydration feed (equal parts flour-water) but I’ve been using a varying proportion of inoculating starter each morning. This morning I think I used too much of all components, because Cavanagh overflowed its modest jar. Lucky I placed it on a towel in anticipation of this. (The fact that I placed the towel there, I think, shows that I truly am getting to know Cavanagh’s life cycle.)

Anyway, all this is to say that A) I need to start using a larger container for Cavanagh and B) I need to formalize its proportions.

I’ve been growing Francis in Gladware plastic bowls, pouring 20 percent into a clean bowl and mixing in the feed. With Cavanagh, I’ve been using a small glass bowl in conjunction with an IKEA glass crock jar. I might move Cavanagh over to the Gladware method, just so everything’s on the same page. Though for aesthetic reasons I do prefer the glass.

Anyway, that’s my blab for today. Not much else going on. Cavanagh continues to thrive like a mofo. Francis is coming along and probably ready to use in a leaven now.

* At the suggestion of my wife, whose reasoning was, “It’s based on a recipe from a place based in San Francisco.” I’m still not sure if it’s the masculine or feminine version of the name, and I’m happy for that ambiguity to remain.