The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

I think it's dead

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edh's picture
edh

I think it's dead

I think it's safe to say that I've killed my poor wee starter. Despite the valiant efforts of several on this site to talk me through resuscitation, I can, after several days of trying, discern no sign of life whatsoever. As suggested, I increased the proportion and frequency of feedings, and thought I was getting somewhere, but taking the bubbled starter last night, and mixing up a batch of dough, yielded this morning a bowl of unleavened goo.

The obvious next step is to compost the whole mess, get some pineapple juice, and start again, but now I'm wondering; were the bubbles I saw yesterday the bubbles you get when you first start a starter? In other words, did I kill it but then just begin again without knowing it?

I've added a teaspoon of vinegar, just in case there is life struggling along in there, but I'm still thinking of starting fresh.

Would cranberry juice work as well as oj or pineapple?

thanks,

edh

bwraith's picture
bwraith

edh,

If it has bubbles in it, I'd keep feeding it. You probably have at least some of the right organisms already in the culture, or you wouldn't have bubbles. Especially if it smells sour but not bad smelling, I would keep feeding it.

I don't know what you've tried, but what has worked for me is, feed it 1:4:4 by weight culture:flour:water, let it sit 12 hours at room temperature or slightly warmer if you have a place like that, refrigerate it 12 hours, and repeat. I've had a sluggish starter bounce back after a couple of cycles of that process. I would try doing this without the vinegar, especially if it doesn't smell bad and you are feeding with white flour.

I don't know if you have the patience, time, and flour, but you could start a new one, continue to feed the old one in two ways, one with vinegar and one without. You don't need to work with large amounts. I have recently been working with starters in amounts of about 50 grams.

Good luck with it. What a pain, I know how it feels.

Bill

edh's picture
edh

Thanks Bill,

I can't bring myself to throw it away, so I'll probably keep feeding for another week or two. Might start a new one too, just to see what happens.

I've only been using whole wheat flour to feed; I liked the flavor of the ww starter used with white for the rest of the loaf. Is there any reason this would give me problems?

Thanks so much for all your help; it's so nice to have somewhere to go to yell help!

edh

bwraith's picture
bwraith

edh,

I've had some problems with "leuconostoc" or some sort of bad smelling bacteria when I've started starters with rye or whole wheat, especially when I used temperatures up around 80F. The chance of that may be more likely if the whole grain flour is not very fresh. None of that should be a problem with a stable culture that is fed moderately (not a way, way high ratio) because the acid levels and byproducts of fermentation, as well temperatures around 70F or lower, will make it very difficult for any of the "bad smelling" spoilage type bacteria to survive. Where you could potentially get into some trouble is if you were to do a very high ratio feeding at warm temperatures. Then, the culture will spend a period where the acid levels are not high and the tempertature is warm, which may allow some of the wrong bacteria to get a foothold in the culture.

That's why in "The Bread Builders" the author suggests the first two days of starting a culture be done at temperatures of 60-65 degrees. It is also why pineapple juice or other acids are sometimes specified in the beginning stages of starting a starter. The acids and lower temperatures make it much harder for the stinky bacteria to get going.

However, you may not have that going on at all in your case. Instead, if you didn't feed it enough and it was very active because of the warm temperatures you said you had in the kitchen while boiling syrup, it might be that some organism in the culture died off or at least the normal balance of organisms isn't right, similar to the sluggish stage that sometimes happens around day 2-3 of a typical culture starting process.

So, I don't think it's a problem at all to use whole wheat. If anything it should have some of the yeast and bacteria in it that you need to get it going again. However, it might help if the flour is very fresh.

So, it's hard to say just what strategy will get it going again. I usually end up splitting a starter up and trying several things at once. One or many will eventually take off.

Again good luck with either starting it over or reviving the one you have.

Bill

edh's picture
edh

Well I went out and bought some pineapple juice after all, and kept the old starter, which now has bubbles and looks a little higher in the jar than it did. Now there are two pets in jars to feed.

Good to know about whole wheat in starters; I've read about leuconostoc, but didn't know where it came from. Syrup season is finally done, so the kitchen is nice and uncomfortably cold again (it's snowing again today), and I'm only doing smallish feedings. I'm still stuck measuring by volume, but just trying to keep it at a thick batter consistancy.

I'll just have to be restrained and only bake with yeast for the next week or two. I had no idea how hooked I'd become on sourdough; it just doesn't seem right to use dry yeast anymore! Still better than buying bread, though.

edh