If you bake with Natural Yeast, you have had to troubleshoot “white-cap” bread at some point. It just comes with the territory. The good news is, this little hiccup in starter bread making is very easy to fix. Let’s take a moment to go over the symptoms, [probable] causes, and easy solutions for this strange phenomenon.
White-cap Bread Symptoms:
- Baked loaves have a distinct spidery white patch on top.
- Stronger flavor.
- Bread doesn’t rise as high.
- Bread stales more quickly.
While symptom #1 is the most pronounced, the others can manifest in any combination of strengths. Sometimes the bread will have the white patch but none of the other symptoms. Sometimes they are all present, sometimes only two at a time. Symptom #1 is the most telling and easy to spot, and can sometimes be fixed before any of the others show up.
Now lets switch to cause. No, I have not hired a personal bread-specializing microbiologist to test out my theory, but here is what observation has led me to believe.
White-cap Bread Cause:
- Increased Lactobacilli population
- Decreased Yeast population
This is most often due to:
- Delaying feedings several times in a row (which allows acidity to build up).
- Letting liquid sit too long on top of your starter, or forgetting to pour off liquid before feeding.
- The microbiological powers that be have decided your bread has been perfect for too long and want to shake things up a bit.
Lactic acid bacteria love an acidic environment. Bread yeasts like acidity more than most yeasts but only to a point. When your starter gets more acidic for one reason or another, the yeasts begin to die off and the lactobacilli take over. The increased acidity creates the white patch and the stronger flavor. The decrease in yeasts accounts for the less-than-impressive rise. The acidity is also responsible for the faster staling of the bread.
Luckily, while all of this sounds very technical and intimidating/overwhelming, fixing the problem is EASY.
White- cap Cure:
- Reduce your starter to 1/4 or 1/2 cup
- Grow your starter over the next few feedings, without using it.
- FEED IT ON TIME!
Within the week or at the most 9 days, you should be back in business.
If on the odd occasion your starter is still struggling, check out the 3 Critical Keys to Success here on the blog, or the more extensive “5 Critical Keys to Success” in Beyond Basics with Natural Yeast, and “Healing your Starter” in The Art of Baking with Natural Yeast.