Starters: Timing

The 18 hour ferment time for the starters is really proving to be problematic for me scheduling-wise. Does anyone have tips on how to time this?

For context, I make pizzas on Sunday evening (lunches for the first half of the week...), which means that I need to make my dough on Saturday in order to allow it to rise for an adequate amount of time. Consequently, I have to make the starter sometime on Friday. I leave for work at about 8am and don't get back until closer to 6pm (sometimes later).

If I make my starter in the morning before I leave, say at 7am, then I need to use or put it in the fridge at 1am. I'll admit it, I fall asleep and I wake up on Satruday morning with a 24 hour starter. If I wait to make my starter until I get back from work, then it's ready at noon on Saturday. However, I'm often working then as well, so I'm likewise left with (on paper at the least) an overly fermented starter.

Can I put the starter in the fridge earlier, like 10pm, and then get it out the next morning to let it warm and ferment for a couple more hours? What is the harm of using one that sits for too long? How do I know it's fermented for the enough time, but not too long?

Christopher S.
posted almost 4 years ago

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Hey Chris,

Think of the 18-hour timeframe as a guideline. I wouldn't go past 18 hours because that number is on the higher side as far as pre-ferments go. That said, you can try two things:

1. Lower the fermentation time to fit your schedule. I wouldn't go below 12.
2. Use the fridge to retard the fermentation process if there's a gap in your timeline.

Depending upon the temperature of your room, you should adjust the fermentation time of your pre-ferment accordingly. You can tell a pre-ferment is at its peak when it is domed. I'd suggest making one and checking in on it every few hours to see at what point it gets to the point where a dome is formed. An overdeveloped poolish will collapse. You can tell by looking at the height of the preferment. If the mixture sticking to the sides of the container is higher than the mixture itself, it's started collapsing.

For me, the magic number is around 12 hours. The time will vary according to water temp, flour temp, and room temp.

The downside of an overdeveloped pre-ferment is the alcohols will overpower the sweeter flavors of the wheat. You'll notice an aftertaste and the balance, in terms of flavor, won't be optimal.


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Raj Irukulla admin
posted almost 4 years ago

Thanks, Raj, This is very helpful!

- Christopher   almost 4 years ago

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