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 The Detmold 3-Step Process in 4 Variations, A Comparative Study          

George Mahaffey, July 3, 2022                      

youtube: The Unabaker


The Detmold Process is a precise method for building a sourdough levain in three-stages. It was developed by the Max Rubner-Institut in Detmold, Germany. The process follows very specific stage development parameters for dough hydration, proportions of levain used as inoculant, the fermentation times & temperatures for each stage, as well as, the amount of acidified flour minimally required in the Final Dough formula. In addition, the MRI process includes data for acidity º, and for pH of the sourdough and the Final Dough. 

The basic premise of the method is to fully develop the micro-biome of the sourdough ingredient in the Final Dough by designing each of the preceding stages to emphasize a singular aspect: Stage 1, robust yeast development; Stage 2, Acetic acid profile; and Stage 3, the Lactic acid profile. The three stages have become referred to as Fresh Sour (or Refreshment), Basic Sour, and Full Sour. The process also requires a large portion of the Final Dough Weight be comprised by the Full Sour Stage 3 ingredient; minimally 40% of Total Formula flour is used. In addition, the total acidity [1] and pH level [2] of the both the Sourdough and the Final Dough is targeted. The specified acid profile of the Sourdough used in the T1150 Final Dough formula is 14.5º acidity / 4.0 pH, while the Final Dough is less sour; 11.3º acidity / 4.3 pH. For the Whole Grain Rye formula, the sourdough is the same, the difference is seen for the Final Dough only, 12.3º / 4.2 pH; more sour than for T1150.

Primarily designed to be le methode ne plus ultra for Sourdough Rye Bread production, it is also useful for wheat breads. There are two different “Detmolder” processes, both developed at MRI; Detmold 1-Step, and Detmold 3-Step. There’s also a 2-Step process, which is part of the documentation found, but I cannot say for certain it is a MRI developed variation. 

The 3-step process, owing to its complexity, more exacting and varied processing parameters, and the lengthy fabrication time debt is not used extensively except by larger commercial bread production facilities. The Detmold 1-Step is a condensed technique, used by smaller operators, and home bakers. The main differences are as follows: 

  • Detmold 3-Step process requires three cascading stage preparations, each with specific processing times that total about 26 hours, at ripening temperatures varying between 16ºC to 30ºC depending upon the stage. Properly managed, and with the correct amount of acidified flour used, the result is a Final Dough with the acidity profile described above. To properly control the stage developments a PID controlled fermentation cabinet is useful, if not entirely necessary [3]
  • The Detmold 1 Step process, on the other hand, is a single levain preparation processed at 26ºC for 16 hours, and with properly acidified flour content, yields a Final Dough higher in TTA (18.3º), and lower pH (3.7) compared to the 3-Step. Degrees of acidity is a measure of Total Titratable Acids, which for bread bakers means the proportions of lactic and acetic acid content. A practical result is: as TTA increases (a higher acid content), pH decreases. More about that relationship later.

Having read two popular versions of this process, and noting that they do not agree on several important specific processing conditions, or with respect to the formulations themselves, the goal was to find out what Max Rubner-Institut had to say. To that end, a paper written by two MRI researchers that illustrates the formula was a helpful resource. Follow up “conversations” via email with MRI, as well as, AGF in Detmold, helped also. AGF is abbreviation for Arbeitsgemeinschaft Getreideforschung which studies grain, grain milling standards, and documents the specifics of all types of milled grain flours. One of the co-authors of the MRI paper used in this presentation, Dr. Elizabeth Sciurba, was kind enough to reply to some of my inquiries, as did Dr Norbert Huintjes of the AGF, who helpfully supplied background information, the AGF rendition of the Demold 3-Stage Process in PDF form, and answered numerous questions. 

This article details the Max Rubner-Institut Detmold 3-Step Process, and some of the results of the MRI study. It details five renditions of the Detmold 3-Step process. Two quite similar examples of the process were extracted from the MRI research paper. I consider these two as variations, but mostly the same process. Dr. Huintjes provided the AGF version of the process, and the others came from very well known books written by Jeffrey Hamelman (Bread, 2nd edition), and Stanley Ginsberg (The Rye Baker, 1st edition). This article also provides a critical assessment, and comparative analysis of the formulae. 

All formulae were arranged in a single format useful for bakers. The Unabaker’s Formula Writer was used to “reverse engineer” the formulae, to ascertain/verify ingredient Baker’s Percentages, as well as, other valuable formula data points. Having done that for each formula, the Baker’s Percentages were then transposed to the “forward engineering” template, which then derives the ingredient weights. Both templates matched precisely. Having done this data entry, the Formula Writer derived a host of other formulaic and processing data points which made possible an enlightening comparative analysis.


What is the Detmold Process?

The “Detmold Process" is a method for developing a sourdough levain, built in three steps according to quite specific formulations and processing conditions as developed by Max Rubner-Institut in Detmold, Germany. Nevertheless, differing renditions of “Detmolder” processes can be found. In order to make sense of the variety of formulae that are encountered, all purporting to be examples of the Detmold Process, and for the purposes of this project, the following stipulations have been made:

  1. When a sourdough process closely conforms to the MRI specifications for Stages 1, 2 and 3, and with respect to all stage processing conditions, it can be called an accurate description of the Detmold Process for sourdough development. 
  2. When formulaic and processing elements of a formula closely conform to the MRI specifications, and the amount of sourdough used in the Final Dough formula represents about 40% acidified flour [1], it can be described as the Detmold Process applied.
  3. If a formula does not closely conform to the specified elements of the MRI formula and processing conditions, it is more accurately described as a “three-stage levain elaboration”, or if it corresponds to some, not all of the formulaic elements of the Detmold Process, a Detmolder-like method.
  4. In other words, the MRI formula along with the given processing conditions is the Detmold Process. 
  5. Variations upon that are interesting.

Detmold Process stage elaborations uniformly proceed according to specified conditions of formulation and processing, and these elaborations alone are sufficient to describe the Detmold Process for Sourdough development. The Final Dough formulation stands somewhat separate from the Detmold Process itself. Bakers use the process to fabricate many different types of bread. There is no singular Final Dough formula. The Final Dough formula may differ from one day to the next, one baker to the next. As example, Jeffrey Hamelman offers three separate formula in his book, all purport to employ the Detmold Process, yet the final dough formulae differ.

Though it is possible to describe the Detmold Process without reference to a Final Dough formula (as does The Rye Baker), bakers do not make such a complicated levain sans intent to use it to make bread. Therefore, the proviso regarding Percentage of Acidified flour (described below) always applies when so. All of the Stage 3 sourdough is incorporated in the Final Dough save for a small portion held back to be used as inoculant for the next Fresh Sour, i.e. Stage 1. 

Understanding the Detmold Process can be made easier if described and analyzed according to a) its formulaic elements, b) the processing conditions that apply to each stage and final dough formula. It’s a good idea to look at each separately.

Critical Features of Detmold Process Stage and Final Dough Formulae

The most notable features of the formulae include dough hydration, how much of a preceding stage’s total dough weight is used in the following stage, and what baker’s percentage that sourdough represents. 

The proportion of the total Stage 1 sourdough used in Stage 2, and that of Stage 2 used in Stage 3 is a notable point of difference between MRI (the blueprint for Detmold Process), and the AGF, Hamelman and Ginsberg renditions of the process. Obviously, that will have a direct effect on the baker’s percentage it represents in the following stage formula, but as will be seen, upon stage dough hydration % as well.

Here are the MRI standards:

  • A very small starter dosage is used to produce Stage 1 sourdough; about 5% baker’s percentage. Dough hydration is 100%.
  • Only about 10-25% of the weight of the Stage 1 Sourdough is used in the formulation for Stage 2. It will represent about 13%-14% baker’s percentage in the Stage 2 formulation. The amount of Stage 1 sourdough used depends upon flours used. Lower extraction flour requires the greater amount of sourdough, whole grains, or a mix of flours require less. Dough hydration is 60%-65%.
  • Most if not all of Stage 2 sourdough is used in the formulation of Stage 3. It will represent about 75%-85% (baker’s %) in Stage 3 formulation, depending again upon types and proportions of flours used in the Final Dough. The higher ratio if using mostly lower extraction flours, and a declining ratio as the amount of whole grain flour increases. Dough hydration is again 100% if using lower extraction flour, higher if using more whole grain flour, up to about 117% if using all whole grain flour.
  • The weight of the acidified flour component of Stage 3 Sourdough added to the Final Dough must be in the range of 40% of Total Formula Flour weight. [4]  

In practice, that final condition means that all of it is used in the Final Dough, except for a small portion held back necessary to start the next Fresh Sour, aka Stage 1. It also means that the Sourdough ingredient in the Final Dough formula represents a 140% to 165% baker’s percentage in the Final Dough formulation. Less if for whole grain breads, more if for lower extraction flours, somewhere in between for mixed flours. Final Dough hydration will vary accordingly.

By the end of the Stage 3 development the goal will have been to create the ideal sourdough inoculant for Final Dough fabrication; to produce a balance of lactic and acetic acids, a robust yeast development, and a favorable overall organoleptic experience (as Calvel called it The Taste of Bread). To that end, Stage processing conditions determine results.

Critical Features of Sourdough Stage Processing

Proper ratio of ingredients is only half the picture. Processing is quite specific. Each stage is critical because each has a specific focus. Stage 1 is designed to robustly develop yeast; Stage 2, to develop the Acetic acid profile; Stage 3, the Lactic. Each stage depends on the previous stage having been formulated properly, and processed accordingly. In this respect, all stages are equally important. Nevertheless, because of the time debt incurred for Stage 2, getting that correct is crucial.

The MRI Standards:

  • Stages 1 & 2 proceed at the same temperature, 26ºC, but for different durations; Stage 1 for 7 hours, Stage 2 for 16.
  • Stage 3 is carried out at a higher temperature, 30ºC, for a short period, 3 hours.
  • The Final Dough formulation as has been noted, is flexible, except for the percentage of acidified flour, but the processing conditions for Final Dough are not. 24ºC for 15 minutes, then proving at 32ºC for 40 minutes. 

[The MRI research paper actually states “room conditions”, not 24º. 24º is used as a middle ground, and simply to add a data point to that field in the Formula Writer. Because it’s such a short resting period, whether the room conditions are 1º or 2ºC more or less seems not significant.] 

  • Relative humidity for proving is 80%. 

[It’s assumed that this data point is flexible to some extent, but the paper had to report precisely what those conditions actually were for their tests, not necessarily what they must be. But, that’s an assumption which may or may not be true.] 

Note that the Max Rubner-Institut has also a formula for the production of Wheat breads using the Detmold Process. It seems that it is not strictly a rye bread process.  

The “Detmold Process” Formulae Described

Reader’s are advised to look at the Comparative Analysis Tables below to note how the four different source versions of the Detmold Process are presented in this article, and how they compare, then to refer to that table as necessary when reading the notes starting immediately below. Click each of the formula tabs on the accompanying worksheet for a more finely detailed look at the construction of each formula. All the important data points, processing parameters, sourdough compositions, baker’s percentages, dough yield numbers, and more can be found, along with comments, observations, and foot notes to the formulae appended.

About the Max Rubner-Institut formulae

The two MRI formulae exhibited in this article come from the research institute that developed the Detmold Process, Max Rubner-Institut in Detmold, Germany. The raison d’être for that institution is to study and document food substances, their components, nutritional benefits, and other effects on the health of consumers. In its own words: 

“Can functional food fulfill the expectations we associate with it? Are fish and meat more contaminated than they used to be, or less? And how can we improve and secure the quality of meat, fish, milk, fats and oils, cereals, potatoes, fruit and vegetables in the long term? Currently, about 200 scientists are investigating these and many other issues relating to nutrition and food at four locations belonging to the Max Rubner-Institut”. 

The research paper referenced herein presents two versions of the process. Each is constructed using one of two different types of rye flours, a Whole Grain Rye flour, milled in house at MRI, and another with lower extraction, in this case, German T1150 Rye flour. This does not suggest that there are two different processes. It’s merely part of the study design, and reflects the purpose of that study. MRI researchers sought to determine the effects that different flour types, different durations for fermentation times, and/or the use of a sourdough levain would have on the FODMAP contents of the resulting breads, and what the implications would be for IBS sufferers.[5]  For a concise overview of the research paper please click the link.

To follow up on what prior research had indicated regarding the suspected effects, MRI researchers designed tests to determine what effect 1) a longer fermentation period, 2) the addition of sourdough levain to bread formulae, and 3) the type of flour used would have. They did so by setting up separate bake tests for each of four flour types, wheat flour, whole grain wheat flour, rye flour, and whole grain rye flour. Tests were conducted using three different sourdough processes; Berlin short-term fermentation, Detmold one-step fermentation (middle term), and Detmold three-step fermentation (long-term). Each test had a specific production plan, i.e formulation and processing parameters. Does one or the other flour type, or the fermentation time, or the addition of sourdough have a mitigating (or exacerbating) effect on IBS symptoms, or not? The paper was mainly concerned to study the Detmold one-step and Detmold three-step processes. This article focuses solely upon the Detmold three-step process for Rye flour formulations, and bake tests, while alluding in some respects to how results varied by comparison to the Detmold one-step process.

More to the point of the present article, one of the co-authors of the paper, Dr. Elizabeth Sciurba, confirmed that the formulae presented follow precisely the Detmold Process which MRI developed. In her words, “in the publication the recipes, fermentation times, and baking conditions are described exactly…all breads were made according to typical recipes from the European region.” 

About the AGF formula, Detmolder 3-Stage Sourdough

The formula exhibited herein comes from a researcher who kindly replied to my message inquiring if AGF was the developer of the Detmold Process, a claim which I had found in The Fresh Loaf forum. It is not the case. Dr Norbert Huintjes confirmed that it is indeed an MRI developed sourdough process. The document he supplied to me is a PDF that provides data about the AGF version of the Detmold method; processing conditions, dough yield numbers, proving room conditions etc. It does not specify a particular type of rye flour, it only stipulates the formula is for rye sourdough. 

In some important respects the AGF formula differs from the MRI process. Notably, it was found that the AGF formula does not closely correspond to the MRI formula with respect to the size of the sourdough dosages used in Stages 1 and 2, being quite a bit stronger, while the Stage 3 very closely matched that of the MRI formula. 

Questions arise. Does a larger sourdough dosage, different stage dough hydration, and/or different processing conditions yield a similar micro-biome and acid profile for each stage, and the Final Dough? Consider the following: 

  • The MRI Stage 1 formula uses starter that represents a 5.5% baker’s percentage; AGF 50%. Dough hydration is 100%; AGF 145%.
  • MRI uses only about one quarter of Stage 1 sourdough weight in Stage 2. AGF uses all of it. 
  • MRI Stage 2 sourdough baker’s percentage is 13.3%, AGF 24%. Dough Hydration is 62.5%; AGF 68%.
  • MRI Stage 2 advises 26ºC for processing. AGF, stipulates a range, 23º-27ºC.
  • MRI Stage 2 stipulates a 16 hour ferment. AGF advises a range, 15-24 hours. The ranges for the processing temperature and duration of ferment suggests, if processed at the lower temperature, then the lengthier ferment time also applies. 
  • Both formulae use all of the Stage 2 sourdough in Stage 3, but for MRI, the baker’s % is 75%-87%, depending on flour type used, whereas AGF advises 69%. Dough hydration is 100% for MRI, 90.8% AGF.
  • Both MRI and AGF use over 40% acidified flour in the Final Dough. MRI is around 43%, AGF, 47%.

The answer to the question posed above is -they cannot be very similar. Though the processing conditions (time/temperature) work out to be roughly akin, the much stronger AGF sourdough dosage must have an impact. Are they similar enough to produce the same result? Is the old saying “good enough for government work” apropos to the Detmold Process?

Does sourdough dosage size matter? Or, is it baker’s choice? Can it be said to be the same process as the original MRI version if it varies? Wouldn’t AGF Stage 2 work much faster? If using larger inoculations, why would more than 16 hours be required, even if carried out at a lower temperature? Factor in that the AGF Stage 2 formula is also substantially more hydrated (68.6%) than MRI (60-62%), and it seems the likely result will be sourdough that’s quite different. 

The point is, does the AGF Stage 2 formula accomplish its mission, i.e. to properly develop the Acetic acid profile? Would not the more liquid, more powerfully dosed Stage 2 dough develop differently? If so, how will that affect Stage 3? 

Only a measurement of the TTA and pH of the AGF Stage 2 sourdough after processing can resolve if it’s a close enough match to MRI Stage 2, and the same goes for Stage 3. Those data points are not included in the AGF document (nor for Mr. Hamelman or The Rye Baker), but I wonder if they’re available. Another question for Mr. Huintjes, and the others.

About Jeffrey Hamelman’s formula, Three-Stage 90 Percent Sourdough Rye

It is not expressly stated as such, but Mr. Hamelman’s classic baker’s guide and textbook titled Bread, A Baker’s Book of Techniques and Recipes, 2nd edition, 2013 provides a good description of the Detmold Process, then immediately after provides three versions of what are titled “3-Stage Sourdough Rye”, inferring that these are Detmold Process formulae. Perhaps that’s a mistaken inference, but if it is not, then Mr. Hamelman’s rendition of the Detmold Process doesn’t (in several respects) adhere to the what MRI has to say about it.

Jeffrey Hamelman is without doubt one of the best bakers in North America, and a teacher nonpareil. His book is a professional’s take on proper presentation of data, and uses a sensible table format to do so. The Total Formula (overall formula) is always first, then any sub-formulae required are given in the order of preparation, followed by the Final Dough formula. Processing details about each stage are added following the formula tables.

The book includes interesting personal anecdotes that help to illustrate particular topics being covered, and in the numerous blue highlighted pages, a wealth of details that amount to a baking primer, along with concise explanations of various baking process phenomenon. If a reader skipped over all the formulae, saving those as ready reference for when the urge to make one treat or another struck, and studied what’s presented in only those blue pages, that alone justifies owning a copy. Consider the wealth of good bread formulae, and demonstrations of specialty technique a bonus.

Among the blue notes is Mr. Hamelman’s description of the Detmold Process (pg 216) which he notes is “the highest expression of the baker’s skill”. The pages immediately following are devoted to three formulae, variations which are primarily distinguished by the percentage of Rye flour used. The three variations correspond closely to each other as per the degree of dough hydration in each stage, and for the Final Dough hydration. They vary only slightly in terms of the baker’s percentage of the sourdough dosages used in each stage, but with the notable exception of the formula that uses the least amount of Rye flour, the 70% Rye. A significantly higher dosage of sourdough (82.6%) is used compared to the 90% Rye, and 80% Rye formulae (both suggest 74%). Experienced bakers can divine the rationale.

The other notable features of Hamelman’s Sourdough Rye formulae are the different flours, and proportions of flours used in each. The 90% Rye formula includes High Gluten Flour (10%) along with a mix of Whole Grain Rye flour (37.8%), and Medium Rye flour (52.2%). He eliminates the Whole Grain Rye flour entirely from both the 80% and 70% Rye formulae, at the same time increasing the amount of High Gluten flour to 20% in the 80% Rye formula, and to 30% in the 70% Rye formula. 

Obviously, Mr. Hamelman is writing these recipes to make bread that’s meant to be eaten, not just tested; offering three variations to appeal to a range of preferences. Obvious also is how closely his formula compares to the AGF formula, especially considering the hydrations of Stage 1 and Stage 3, and the baker’s percentages represented by the sizes of sourdough inoculations used in all stages. Both the AGF and the Hamelman formulae employ quite sincere doses of sourdough. In contrast, the MRI formulae build up to Stage 3 starting from a very small initial dosage for Stage 1 (5%), a still modest dosage for Stage 2 (13.3%), and by Stage 3 the dosage (86%) actually exceeds that used by AGF (69%), and Hamelman (74%). 

Does Hamelman’s sourdough Rye formulae in Bread illustrate the Detmold Process? They are not specifically so titled; maybe yes, maybe no. If yes, then why do different sources differ on the basics of the same process? Why do different sources describing the same thing differ regarding dough hydration percentages, times and temperatures for fermentation, sizes of sourdough dosages? All of which are critical aspects which seem to be fundamentally non-optional if an accurate depiction of Detmold Process is the goal. [I am not an expert, and perhaps I am missing something.]

It’s been noted above that the AGF Stage 2 formula veers from that of MRI, and that Mr. Hamelman’s Stage 2 follows the same path for sourdough inoculation as does the AGF, but the Bread rendition of Stage 2 (assuming it is intended as Detmold Process) also adds a unexpected additional condition. Stage 2 has a much higher dough hydration percentage than either AGF or MRI. Bread also notes a wide range of processing time 15-24 hours, mimicking the AGF proviso, but not only will the high inoculation dosage have similar effects as the AGF, the Bread formula for Stage 2, being so much wetter, will certainly work faster. It’s uncertain if (under those conditions) it will produce the desired Acetic acid profile that is the entire point of Stage 2. An educated guess is, no it will not.

Stage 2 seems to be the point at which AGF and Hamelman take leave of the Detmold Process, and the point at which they can be described as “Detmolder-like”.

Is the Detmold Process Stage 2 open for improvisation? Looking at the overall process, Stage 2 certainly represents a crucial pivot point, a major time investment as well, and what follows hinges upon how carefully this stage is executed. Certainly in terms of the difficulty of processing, and given its lengthy incubation period, close attention bordering upon devotion is required, but can there be room to play with the MRI Stage 2 formulation/processing proviso, and still call it Detmold Process? In any case, Stage 2 is where AGF, Hamelman and, as will be seen next, The Rye Baker follow paths that diverge from MRI. 

As for Mr. Hamelman’s formula, the baker’s percentage data tells the story. The Stage 2 formula for the 90% Sourdough Rye on page 218 starts out wet (78%), then adds a sizable dosage of Stage 1 sourdough at 140% hydration. This stands in sharp contrast to the book’s description of the Stage 2 elaboration given on page 216; perhaps the hydration is a misprint, or a typo. Were it not for the same super-hydrated Stage 2 formula reappearing in the 80% Rye, and the 70% Rye formulae, we might assume it. 

Hamelman’s introductory notes about the Detmold Process very clearly state that “proper development requires a rather stiff textured paste (60-65% hydration)…a ripening temperature of 73º to 80ºF, and ripening time of 15-24 hrs” (depending on the fermentation temp). The Stage 2 formula on page 218 in Bread doesn’t produce a stiff textured hydration. In fact, the Stage 2 formula works out to be 83.6% hydration. Curious is this discrepancy. Otherwise, his formula is much of a muchness with the AGF formula. 

There’s no reason why making Mr. Hamelman’s 90% Rye wouldn’t produce wonderful bread, and perhaps he did not intend for his Sourdough Rye formulae to precisely illustrate Detmold Process.

[Curious at heart, I’m studying, trying to learn what’s what, so questions occur -possibly due to my limited understanding. As has been noted, there’s not much in a bakeshop that Jeffrey Hamelman, or Stanley Ginsberg could not teach me to do better, and understand more.] 

About The Rye Baker formula, Detmold Three-Stage Sponge

Mr. Ginsberg does not provide a Final Dough formula for the Detmold Three-Stage Sponge formula. The book only describes the three essential stage developments. This is no fault because the stage developments are the heart of the process.

The Rye Baker is a standout book that opens up a world of fascinating Rye bread baking lore, and features a treasure trove of fine recipes. Some of the most idiosyncratic bread formulae that exist occur in Eastern Europe, Belarus, and Russia; formulae that outstrip the complexity of the Detmold Process itself. The Rye Baker explores the world of Rye Bread fabrication methodology and formulation: the variety of what Mr. Ginsberg calls “pre dough” -soakers & scalds; the layers of complexity -scald sponges, Opara sponge; the processing quirkiness, unusual baking times & temperatures. Along with regular dives into Rye Bread science, it is a compendium of really fascinating bread craft, beautifully presented. 

Knowing the complexities of technique used in the various world Rye Bread baking traditions, Ginsberg uses a different phrase to describe the wonder of the Detmold Process. The Rye Baker doesn’t call it is the highest expression of baker skill. Instead, “MRI in Detmold, Germany have refined the Basic Three-Stage Sponge to what I can only describe as high art”, and notes that close attention to every aspect of its fermentation is demanded. Whether it’s craftsmanship excellence or high art, matters not. The gist is, it’s quite complex, and ought to be understood well if delved into. There’s no doubt that practice, practice, ever practice applies as usual.

In both Hamelman and Ginsberg’s case, process exactitude is acknowledged, yet, it’s a curiosity that both bakers offer up variations upon the Detmold Process, rather than the process itself. Keep in mind that finding information on the process, the history of its development, what brainchild or brainchildren came up with it, and precisely what it is required some amount of research. It’s not the most widely known or documented thing; certainly not in English language sources. Therefore, having found two explanations of it by two renown and authoritative bakers ought to imply a measure of authenticity, but in fundamental respects, both diverge from it.

Having read Ginsberg’s first, then Hamelman’s, only to find out that they do not describe the same thing, it provoked further study. Which is what a good cookbook ought to do of course, but if these renditions were not meant to be the process itself, it deserves to have been noted. Something to the effect that “though not strictly adhering to the MRI template, the following illustrates a similar, perhaps equally satisfying 3-Step adaptation”, and if they were meant to accurately depict Detmold Process, they haven’t done so. This is a small quibble, but how does one learn what is the Detmold Process if every rendition goes its own way? 

[Perhaps this is another indication that’s more about what I don’t know, than anything else.]

The Rye Baker rendition of a Detmold Three-Stage Sponge formula is fundamentally different, and in some respects stands on its own, compared to either MRI, AGF or Hamelman. In introductory text for the process, the The Rye Baker states “the Detmold sponge technique calls for exact temperature and hydration levels…with a minimum of 40% Total Flour weight”. True enough, but The Rye Baker formulae for Stages 1, 2 and 3 only adhere to the Detmold Process with respect to fermentation times, and for Stages 1 and 3, the fermentation temperatures too, but Stage 2 is another matter. Stage 2 again.

Set aside for the moment that the Baker’s Percentages table for Stage 2 (on page 56) contains an obvious (though not critical) error. What’s more crucial is the processing temperature the formula advises; significantly warmer than either the two MRI formulae, the AGF formula, or the Hamelman formula. In The Rye Baker, Stage 2 processing indicates a temperature as warm as the Stage 3 processing temps given by MRI, AGF and Hamelman. At 86ºF (30ºC), and if carried out for the prescribed 15-24 hours, will certainly yield a different result as well. The proviso of such a wide time window for fermentation (15-24hrs), but with a single temperature (86ºF / 30ºC), is not a happy combination (perhaps an oversight), certainly not for proper acetic acid profile development. A focused processing temperature ought to have a more focused processing time. Is the proviso for an 86ºF ferment a print mistake, or a misinterpretation of the method? Was the wide range of fermentation duration a proof reading error not found?

Coupled with a series of strong sourdough dosages from Stage 1 to Stage 2, and Stage 2 to Stage 3, The Rye Baker version of the Detmold Process is starkly different from the MRI Detmold 3-Step. It is a 3-step process of it’s own, and while that doesn’t mean it will not produce a fine result, it is not the Detmold Process that’s being described. Is that a flaw? Only to the extent that it’s presented as if it is. 

Note that the Stage 2 formula incorporates all of the Stage 1 dough weight with only a small measure of new flour (and no water) added to stiffen it up. The final hydration is correct for Stage 2; according very closely to the MRI method. It is properly stiff, right on the money in the low to mid 60% range as it should be, but getting it there seemed more designed not to waste sourdough than to perform the gentler Stage 2 elaboration ala MRI.

What’s going to happen when strong sourdough inoculations are employed? In The Rye Baker, the Stage 1 sourdough rolled into Stage 2 is nearly double the weight of new flour added in Stage 2. The entire amount of very strongly dosed Stage 2 is subsequently rolled into Stage 3 which is the same as for MRI, but the strength of dosage does matter, as does the baker’s percentage it represents in Stage 3. This is quite different from the gradual elaboration of the sourdough in the MRI process.

Looking once again at the MRI description of Detmold Process, very small inoculations are made for Stage 1 (5.5%), and Stage 2 (13.3%). Stage 3 is 86.7%. All stages feature large amounts of new flour and water with quite modest inoculations. The Rye Baker rendition seems harsh by comparison. Only Stage 1 features an appropriately modest inoculation (10%), yet it’s still nearly twice the MRI proviso. The Stage 2 formula features 184.5% sourdough, and Stage 3 sees a 202% sourdough inoculation. These are significant differences when compared with the AGF or Hamelman depiction of the process, more so when compared to the MRI described process. No matter how “exact” the dough hydrations, and how precisely processing times or temperatures are kept, such strong dosages of sourdough will provide quite different results.


The entire point of the Detmold Process is to achieve the appropriate profile of micro-biome inhabitants, and a balanced lactic/acetic acid profile via step by step manipulation of both the formulaic elements, and the processing conditions. Therefore, a final gauge of the Stage 3 sourdough and Final Dough acidity as given in the MRI formula makes perfect sense. Yet, it’s notable that none of the other source formulae state acidity º, or pH for the these. Since acid balance seems to be a basic precept of the process, a measurement of it for each step along the way would be an interesting additional data point to record, or at the very least, a prudent step if one is prepared to labor through Detmold Process sourdough development. Why not get all the data that can be gotten, note it, and profit by it the next time?

The specifics of each Stage sourdough formulation, such as dough hydration are important, but the size of sourdough dosages employed matter as well. One of the virtues of using the Formula Writer employed herein to demonstrate these four renditions is its ability to divine the details of a formula even if not given by the original source. Sourdough dosage is just one case in point. 

The processing parameters for any sourdough are a reflection of its composition. The amount of inoculant in each stage is quite fundamental since it affects not just pace of fermentation, but flavor profiles, and if it is sufficiently large, then its preponderance will have implications for the subsequent stage development, especially the acids profile. As Dr Norbert Huintjes noted in his messages: “the most important parameters of a sourdough fermentation are: the temperature, and the ratio of starter to flour…the variation of these two parameters results in a large number of possible process descriptions.” Or, by altering those ratios enough, a different process than the Detmold Process.

If accurately describing the Detmold process, or an authentic application of it is the project, then adhering to the MRI standards for all critical formulaic and processing elements makes sense. Though the AGF and Hamelman formulae also feature somewhat more liberal doses than MRI, these are nothing compared to the strength of the inoculations featured in The Rye Baker. Still, the bottom line is, good bread can be made using any of the formulae featured in this article. Nevertheless, if demonstrating “what is” the Detmold Process is the point, then adherence to it is also the point. It seems to be sensible to just follow the MRI template in all respects, and then to improvise (save for the 40% rule) the Final Dough to produce a range of different results.

In conclusion, this article has attempted to accurately describe similar, yet distinct, three-stage sourdough elaborations from four different sources, and the lesson learned is clear. If adherence to the original Detmold Process matters, then pay close attention to the MRI Stage development guidelines. 

  • Stage 1 develops a robust yeast population. A very small inoculation is all that’s necessary. A wet dough at 100% hydration accompanied by a moderate incubation temperature, 26ºC / 80ºF, for about 7 hours will do it. 
  • Stage 2 develops the Acetic acid profile. To do so, use a modest sourdough inoculation about 12-14%, create a stiffer dough in the range of 60-65% hydration, and employ a lengthy ripening period around 16 hours, coupled to a moderate processing temperature, 26ºC / 80ºF. 
  • Stage 3 is all about Lactic acid development. Dough hydration is 100%-117% depending upon flours used, a strong inoculation, 75%-87%, again flour profile dependent, plus a very warm ferment, 30ºC / 86ºF, for a short period of time, about 3 hours, applies.
  • That’s the Detmold Process.
  • If you aren’t just playing around in your laboratory, styling a really nice Chef for future use, but actually intend to make bread with it, then the Final Dough formula is entirely up to you, except to insure that the Stage 3 sourdough added to the Final Dough must represent about 40% total flour acidified (somewhat lower if it’s a 100% whole grain bread formula). 

Perhaps the virtues of the Formula Writer are coming into focus. The Detmold Process stipulates specific, and yet varied conditions for a multi-stage formula that are not readily rescaled or recalculated, but the Formula Writer makes recording or tweaking such a complex process quite simple. Ripening temperatures are crucial for Detmold Process, therefore proper friction factor and water temperature calculations for Stage dough and Final Dough preparations are important. The Formula Writer has built in calculators to figure all of this stuff out, and an organized way to record it.

The Formula Writer reveals important nuances that go beyond what the source may have provided. In addition, tinkering with multiples of variables is no problem. If you want to experiment with different flours, proportions, adjust hydration, change the percentages of any or all ingredients, or to total formula flour used to create any sub-formula, it’s all easily done. A few data entry changes is all it takes; the Formula Writer figures out the details no matter how complex the formula a baker is working with. 

This is not a recommendation to try to out-Detmold the Detmold process. Why not leave the MRI process alone; follow it closely if Detmold Process sourdough is the intention? On the other hand, creating a new formula using an extant as a guideline is one of the Formula Writer’s chief virtues. You can create, not duplicate.

Using the MRI process as a starting point, making sensible adjustments to any of the variables can provide many different results. The Detmold Process is the Detmold Process, while it may be the “highest expression of baker’s skill”, or “high art”, this doesn’t mean the result will please every taste. The baked loaf might be too sour, or not, for your preference, and there’s no arguing personal preference. In that case, the Formula Writer provides a very organized and precise way to rejigger aspects of the process to please yourself. And, perhaps this is precisely what AGF, Hamelman and Ginsberg did.

See the Comparative Analysis table below to compare the four formulae discussed in this article, a list of the distinguishing features of the Detmold Three-Step Process, and how each of the formulae correspond to those critical points.

Foot Notes to the text

[1] Degrees acidity is an expression of Total Titratable Acids. TTA is a measure of all acid content in a substance, and most importantly for baker’s, informs about the ratio of lactic acid to acetic acid. It can conveniently be remembered as a factor that has implications for the taste of bread. If combined with a known dough pH, which can indicate the likely amylase activity during baking, both the quality of the bake, and the taste of the bread can be predictable.

[2] pH, meaning “potential of Hydrogen”, is a negative logarithmic scale from 1-14 used to specify the acidity or basicity of a solution. Negative log means that substances with higher Hydrogen Ion concentrations are inversely expressed as having lower pH values. Acidic substances are defined by having higher such concentrations, therefore acids have pH values below 7. Since the scale is logarithmic, a difference of 1 on the scale is a factor of 10. A substance with a pH of 4, is ten times more acidic than another with a value of 5. Knowing the pH of dough is useful to predict amylase activity during baking, vitally important for Rye breads since the Amylase is not denatured during baking as it is for Wheat breads. Thus, pH is conveniently remembered as a factor that relates to the baking process. pH is about the bake, TTA is about the taste.

[3] In Thailand, the climate (typical room temperature 29º-30ºC) requires more often a system for lowering the holding temperature for the Stage 1 and Stage 2 fermentation, than for increasing it. An adequate environment is not difficult to create. To handle the lower temperatures required (26ºC) for Stage 1 and 2 fermentations, a typical Styrofoam (extruded polystyrene foam) box large enough to hold the sourdough in its container, along with a bit of trial and error using various sizes of frozen objects placed inside is sufficient. Regular temperature checks every few hours, adding another frozen object if necessary, and the holding temperature can be regulated +/- 1ºC.

[4] The percentage of acidified flour is recommended to be in the range of 40% of the Total Formula flour. That percentage refers to the amount of the flour component of Stage 3 sourdough that’s actually used in the Final Dough compared to the Total Formula flour. To calculate it is simple. Calculate the flour weight of the Stage 3 dough that’s actually used in the Final Dough formula (not the total weight of Stage 3 dough). Then divide the calculated weight of the flour component by the Total Formula Flour weight. Note that The Formula Writer performs these calculations automatically.

An exception to the 40% proviso in the MRI formula occurs if using only Whole Grain flour which will tend to produce a more acidic dough. Note that the percentage of acidified flour used in the MRI formula using Whole Grain Rye is only 34.3%. When determining how much of the Stage 3 sourdough to add to the Final Dough, it’s important to remember that the level of acidity of the sourdough must be considered. If the Stage 3 dough is significantly more acidic, as is the case with the Stage 3 sourdough for the MRI Whole Grain Rye formula compared to the T1150 formula, then less should be added. A pH of 4.2 might not seem to be much more acid than 4.3, but in fact it is. Note also that the acidity º of the Stage 3 sourdough for the Whole Grain Rye formula is a full 1 point higher than than for the T1150 formula. The difference results in a 9% reduction in the percentage of acidified flour used compared to the T1150 formula.

[Can it be inferred that a 1/10th difference in pH will correspond to a 1 point change in TTA. I would have to research that to know if that inference is correct, or the data is merely coincidental.] 

[5] It is known that persons with IBS, aka Irritable Bowel Syndrome, are negatively impacted by foods containing any of the several types of fermentable components, given the acronym FODMAP (fermentable oligo-, di- and monosaccharides, and polyols). Chief among these being the oligosaccharide Fructan which is mainly concentrated in the bran layer of the grain kernel. Up to a certain level, the FODMAP content (about .3g per kg of body weight) has little effect on IBS symptoms, but as the FODMAP (Fructan) content of any food content increases, so does the potential severity of symptoms suffered (for most IBS patients). Previous research had suggested the beneficial effects of longer fermentation times, as well as, the use of sourdough in bread formulae might mitigate IBS symptoms by holding the Fructan content of the dough in check. Because it has most of the bran/aleruone layers sifted out, refined white flour has low FODMAP content, and minimal implications for IBS symptoms.


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