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Starter won't double itself

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Tam1024's picture
Tam1024

Starter won't double itself

I am trying to nurse my sick starter back to health and not getting the results I want.  About 10 days ago I started a vigorous attempt to revive my barely living starter.  I have been using 1/4 c. of starter, 3/4 c. flour and 1/2 c. water. I let it sit out for 12 hours and then refridgerate it for the next 12 hours. I then repeat the process day after day.   The starter has progressed some.  12 hours after feeding it has not doubled but has risen maybe half it's size.  It usually has very vigorous bubbles on the surface and 1/4 of the way down but not throughout.  What can I try to get it to double.  Any sugguestions?

Susan's picture
Susan

This should help you. There is a section on Reviving a Starter.

Susan

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi Tam,

I would try using a little more flour relative to water, a sightly higher feeding ratio, and don't refrigerate it at night. You're not really in maintenance mode - it's more of a revival strategy, so some of the ideas in the maintenance routine I posted should probably be modified.

I would do as follows:

1) Feed 1:4:4 by weight (e.g. about 1 oz starter, 4 oz water, 4 oz flour) This could be 1/8 cup starter, 1/2 cup water, and 1 cup flour. You should have a fairly thick paste that you can still stir with some effort by doing this. If you use a scale, feed slightly more flour than water by weight to get a thick paste. The volume measures above kind of do that anyway. When you feed, add the water to the starter, and stir it vigorously to dissolve the starter in the water and aerate the mixture. After you add the flour, stir it well for a couple of minutes to get it smooth and well mixed and a little aerated.

2) Try to maintain the temperature in the mid-70F range if possible. Don't go over 80F, don't go below 68F, if possibe.

3) It should rise by double in about 6 hours when healthy. If it rises by double, even if it takes longer than 6 hours, stir it down and note how long it took from when you fed it. On subsequent repeats of the feeding, it should be taking less time to rise by double each time you feed. If it isn't taking less time, see step 5.

4) If it has close to doubled and has pleasant fermentation smells after 12 hours, just repeat the process for the next 12 hours. Don't bother with the refrigeration. Don't worry if you can't be around to stir it down when it doubles.

5) If it has not close to doubled in 12 hours, go back to step 1, but use twice as much starter, e.g. 1/4 cup starter, 1/2 cup water, 1 cup flour. I wouldn't go to a lower feeding ratio than 1:2:2, which would be like 1/4 starter, 1/2 cup water, 1 cup flour.

Once it starts rising by double in less than 8 hours or so, you can try using half the starter again, e.g. 1 tbsp of starter, 1/2 cup water 1 cup flour. That mixture may take closer to 8 hours to double, but it will work better with the 12 hour cycle, once the starter is healthy and speeding up. You can repeat the 12 hour feeding cycle with the ratio in this paragraph as much as you want to strengthen the starter. At some point you can go to something like the maintenance routine mentioned in my blog entry.

I hope this helps. Sorry if it turns out not to be the right thing for it.

Bill

Tam1024's picture
Tam1024

Thanks Bill,I will try your suggestions starting today and see what happens.  I am anxious to use the starter but I want to be sure it's good and healthy before trying it.

Richard L Walker's picture
Richard L Walker

I may be all wrong (and my success rate would back that up) but it seems like the doubling would occur after you have used the starter in a dough and have the gluton developed.  I'll give it a whirl and see if my success rate might improve then.  lol

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I may be all wrong (and my success rate would back that up) but it seems like the doubling would occur after you have used the starter in a dough and have the gluton developed.

At sourdoughhome.com, I use the catch phrase, "if your starter can't double itself, how is it going to double your bread?" This is, admittedly, simplistic. However, it is a reasonable gauge for sourdough health for a beginner.

Gluten development occurs in many ways, and stirring starter, water and flour will develop enough gluten that your starter should be able to double in height after being fed.

Mike

 

Mike Avery's picture
Mike Avery

I think the big issue is that you are refrigerating your starter.

The only thing refrigeration buys you is longer storage times without having to refresh, or feed, your starter as often.

If you are actively using your starter, or if you are trying to revive your starter, you should not refrigerate it.  Actually, the happiest starters are ones that are being used every day, day in and day out.  However, that's not practical for most of us.

Also, if you are trying to revive an ailing starter, I usually recommend feeding it 3 times a day, and feeding it more than you have been.  The feeding amounts you are using are fine for maintenance, not so good for recovery.

Mike

 

Tam1024's picture
Tam1024

BillI am trying your suggestion but you didn't say how often you would feed it.  Is it once, twice or three times a day when it's not being refridgerated?

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi Tam,

I was assuming you would feed it once every 12 hours.

The way I'm suggesting you work on it is to feed it 1:4:4 at first. Normally, I would expect a 1:4:4 feeding of a 100% hydration starter (equal weights of flour and water) to double in about 6-7 hours at 73F. It could then further ripen until the end of 12 hours. In your case it will probably take longer than 6-7 hours to double, but hopefully it will double before the end of 12 hours. Wait the full 12 hours. If it doubles before 12 hours, it might help to "stir it down". In any case, wait the full 12 hours, then feed it again. If during the 12 hour period it had doubled, then feed it 1:4:4 again, but if it has not managed to double in 12 hours, I would drop the feeding ratio down to 1:2:2. The idea is to feed it every 12 hours and watch how long it takes to double. It should take less each time. Once it starts to double in less than about 8 hours, you can increase the feeding ratio by a factor of 2 and continue. You can use the starter to make bread once it gets strong enough (more or less, if it's working right, it ought to double in 4-5 hours after a 1:2:2 feeding, in 6-7 after a 1:4:4 feeding, and in 7.5-9 hours after a 1:8:8 feeding), but it helps to get it to the point where you can feed it 1:8:8 and it doubles in 8 hours and has ripened and smells really good after 12 hours.

Bill

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Tam,

I apologize if this is too technical, but it might help to know why I would suggest the procedure above.

First, in order for a starter to rise, it has to be at a low enough hydration where it has some elasticity and structure. If it is a very soupy starter, it may not rise but instead bubble and froth. This is why I suggest using 1 cup flour to 1/2 cup water. With that ratio, the starter will be a thick paste, and it will rise if there are enough yeast and lactobacillus actively fermenting in the starter.

Second, the lactobacillus can't reproduce properly when the pH is too low. One of the byproducts of the fermentation is acid. The acids build up and lower the pH over time, as the fermentation proceeds. There are two main factors that affect pH. One is how much you dilute the culture when you feed it. The more you dilute the culture, i.e. the more new flour and water there is relative to the amount of starter, the higher the pH will be right after you feed it. The other factor is the acid buffering effect of the flour. High ash content flour and less hydration help to buffer the acid, so that for the same acid production, the pH won't drop as much. Again, having a lower hydration, i.e. a thicker paste helps with this.

Third, you have to give the fermentation enough time to complete, or "ripen" enough. The yeast and lactobacillus cells will grow in number as long as there is a food supply and the acid levels aren't too high. To get the starter to revive, you want to let it ripen enough to get the cell counts of both the lactobacillus and the yeast as high as they can get before the environment becomes too acidic. I don't really know the exact answer to when the fermentation is done, but my experience has been that what seems to work is to let a 100% hydration starter double and then wait another few hours beyond that, if you are trying to get the cell counts to the highest possible levels.

Fourth, I think Mike Avery mentioned refrigeration as a key point below. If you are in a "maintenance mode", then refrigeration is the way to stop the fermentation processes or at least drastically slow them down. You can store your starter in the refrigerator. However, if you are trying to get the cell counts in the starter as high as possible, the refrigeration just slows everything down. So, you can refrigerate your starter if you will not be able to feed on schedule, but if you can feed every 8-12 hours, then you're better off without refrigeration if you're trying to revive or maximize your culture's health.

As far as frequency of feeding, you can vary that to some extent based on the feeding ratio and how healthy the starter is. Roughly speaking, I would expect that you could feed at a ratio of 1:2:2 4 times per day, at a ratio of 1:4:4 three times per day, and at a ratio of 1:8:8 twice per day when a starter is healthy. However, before the starter is completely healthy, the feeding ratios probably need to be lower, or the frequency of feeding less, than what works for a healthy starter.

Bill

Tam1024's picture
Tam1024

Bill, I fed it last night around 7 pm using your suggestion of 1/8 cup starter, 1/2 cup water, and 1 cup flour, after 12 hours it not not double but had risen better than before and had risen through out rather than just bubbles on the upper third.  So i followed up by feeding it with twice as much starter, e.g. 1/4 cup starter, 1/2 cup water, 1 cup flour as you suggested in step 5.  I believe that stirring the starter well with the water before adding the flour was a step that I was not doing.  By my adding the flour and water at the same time I wasn't incorporating as much air.  I am so glad I found this web site as I am learning in leaps and bounds.  Thanks for everyone's help.Tam 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Tam,

It may not double at all even with the larger amount of starter (i.e. lower feeding ratio), depending on what's going on. If so, keep track of the time of the rise by half if it's making it that far. If things are going well, even if it is not doubling, it should still be rising a little faster after each feeding. Hopefully, that's the case, and you can just keep feeding it until the 1/4 cup starter, 1/2 cup water, 1 cup flour feeding has a rise by double in 6-8 hours. At that point, you may want to go back to the smaller feeding again and continue.

Bill

Tam1024's picture
Tam1024

Bill,I've been feeding my starter 2 times a day with the 1/4 c. starter, 1/2 c. water and 1 c. flour.  It now doubles but is taking about 14 hours to do so.  If I keep feeding on this schedule, do you think I'll ever get it to double in 6-8 hours.Also, if I don't have time to do a proper feeding after 14 hours, can I give it a snack?Something like a 1/4 or a 1/2 c. of flour.  Tam

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Tam,

Well, if it's taking that long to double, maybe you should try feeding it 1/2 c starter, 1/2 cup water, 1 cup flour. Then the 12 hours schedule may work better and allow it to ripen enough. You want it to rise as much as it's going to, wait a few more hours for it to ripen, and then feed it, I think. I thought it would be a little more active a little sooner, but at least it does seem to be rising by double. That's a pretty good sign.

It's hard to tell what will make it pick up speed, though. That's how I end up having a couple of things going at once. Higher ratio feedings and thicker consistency should be more favorable to the lactobacillus that will do better in the higher pH environment you should get with a thicker consistency and bigger dilution of the starter. The yeast may be favored more with a wetter consistency and a lower ratio. Both should be helped by temperatures up around 80F. The flour should be reasonably strong, like bread flour for the rise to be a good indication of activity. The water should be unchlorinated. The yeast may also be encouraged by the addition of some (only very fresh) whole grain wheat or rye flour to the feeding.

So, you could do a high ratio feeding that uses 1 tbsp of starter and make it thicker and wait 24 hours for it to rise, a low ratio feeding using 1/4 or 1/2 cup of starter and wetter consistency, and maybe even try feeding a little whole grain flour. Both should be at around 80F if you can arrange that temperature.

I end up splitting into 2 or 3 versions, usually, and see which one works.

Bill

Tam1024's picture
Tam1024

Bill,I fed it yesterday with bread flour rather than the unbleached all-purpose flour I had been using and for the first time it doubled in about 8 hours.  I think I'm ready to try baking with it.  Do you have a good recipe that I can try?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

We all think you are using white All Purpose Wheat flour (or close to it) and try letting your water stand out open, maybe covered with a cloth a day before you use it so any chlorine can evaporate.  --Mini Oven

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

is interfering. In the original Q:

It usually has very vigorous bubbles on the surface and 1/4 of the way down but not throughout.

I think chlorine had evaporating on the surface first but trapped chlor created a "dead zone" underneath.  This statement made me think of Chlorine.  --mini

Richard L Walker's picture
Richard L Walker

Speaking of covering with a cloth (or anything), my starter sometimes gets a patch of dry crust on top.  I do cover the starter trying to keep the moisture in, but it forms, I toss it and stir the rest.  It smells great but isn't working with the bubbles, rising and everything else I read about here.  Is this a problem with anyone else.  Things are happening slowly, rising is at a minimum and I'm almost ready to start up my packet of Carl's starter rather than rejuvinate my current starter.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Mine has been doing that too.  Yesterday I was poking around in it and just stirred it under, the  starter was so pasty creamy after I stired down every bubble.  I just smelled it and played, lost in some kind of vortex.  I originally went to do a sniff test for Bluezebra to try and describe what it smelled like in more detail.  Then I got to thinking about pizza dough...does anybody else bake just the dough and do the toppings later?  I don't think the skum affects it either way but it did cross my mind to get rid of it, just in case something was trying to get started that shouldn't be there.  The beasties are working underneath anyway.   There are millions of them.  Those little beasties sure are thick, ever notice how they really like to hang on to your fork or spoon and not let go?   Smells good huh.... I have a plastic lid right now just resting on it.  Did you try Bill's idea of splitting up the starter?  ...and experimenting?   Do you have a fish tank?   And can you use the water strait out of the tap for them or do you have to pretreat it first?   --- Mini Oven

Richard L Walker's picture
Richard L Walker

Whether correct or not, I use a water filter to get rid of the chlorine and other chemicals.  I have been using the water unwarmed, but if that is ultimately necessary, I'll give the filtered water a bit of a zap in the microwave first.

I noticed a few short films on YouTube, about sourdough, and those starter were actually bubbling.  I'm definitely doing something wrong.  I'm going to try to get a brand new starter from Carl's Friends and see if that solves the problem.  Right now I'd give almost anything to see some bubbling going on.

I think the scum problem isn't bacteria.  I think it is just some starter that dried.  I toss it, stir, feed, pray.  

edh's picture
edh

Richard,

I've been having similar problems recently, and found that it was almost certainly because of chlorine in my tap water. I run it through a filter, but that doesn't remove the chlorine. If you don't want to use bottled water, you might want to at least leave some filtered water out overnight in an open container to let the chlorine evaporate out. If you do use bottled, someone on the site warned against using distilled or reverse-osmosis filtered, as those have too much taken out.

I've got a starter bubbling now that was to all appearances dead, just by switching to bottled spring water. It's not growing fast, still takes 12 hours to double at a 1:2:2 feeding ratio, but at least it does double, finally.

Hang in there!

edh

Richard L Walker's picture
Richard L Walker

Nice to hear you are finally getting your starter to double.  I'll give the bottled water a whirl and see what happens.  I thought those PUR filters were supposed to remove everything including the chlorine ... and other ...ines and even some micro thingies.  It is nice to hear about progress though.

Oldcampcook's picture
Oldcampcook

I just "googled" the Pur filter.  The website says that the filter "reduces chlorine" and other things. (emphasis added by me)

I bought water last night at Wally World and made sure I did not get reverse osmosis water as somebody cautioned about doing.

Old Camp Cook

Richard L Walker's picture
Richard L Walker

I checked and the PUR filter I use gets rid of 95-99% of the chlorine, but no fluorine. I don't think fluorine would be a problem, but thought I'd toss that in since it wasn't being filtered at all. I started a new batch of starter and for the first time ever I see what "bubbling" means. This time I'm using the same amount of flour and water in each feeding and WAITING until it is actively bubbling. I'm about ready to mix up a batch of dough and HOPEFULLY, for a change, it will double or triple or whatever.

Tam1024's picture
Tam1024

After weeks of nursing my barely living starter back to health, I am ready to bake with it.  Does anyone have a recipe for a simple loaf that they love and uses no commercial yeast? 

kjknits's picture
kjknits

Hi Tam, I just recently baked a recipe that Floyd posted, here.  It's delicious, and very simple.

Katie in SC 

Richard L Walker's picture
Richard L Walker

You just saved me from asking the same question.  Keeping my fingers crossed.

Tam1024's picture
Tam1024

 Well, I started making bread yesterday afternoon and finished baking thse off this morning.  After nursing my sick starter back to health, I was able to get two almost decent loaves from nothing more than starter, flour, water and salt.  That was my goal.  Now I have to work on refinining the outcome.  My slashing technique needs work and I am not happy with the uneven browning.  I baked them in a gas oven at 425 degrees on a baking stone which was preheated for 45 minutes.  I misted the oven with water 3 times in the first 15 minutes and baked for a total of 30 minutes.  I am not sure why they did not brown evenly.  Any ideas?  I also need to work on my photography skills.The Finished Loaves (photo): Well, I started making bread yesterday afternoon and finished baking thse off this morning.  After nursing my sick starter back to health, I was able to get two almost decent loaves from nothing more than starter, flour, water and salt.  That was my goal.  Now I have to work on refinining the outcome.  My slashing technique needs work and I am not happy with the uneven browning.  I baked them in a gas oven at 425 degrees on a baking stone which was preheated for 45 minutes.  I misted the oven with water 3 times in the first 15 minutes and baked for a total of 30 minutes.  I am not sure why they did not brown evenly.  Any ideas?  I also need to work on my photography skills.

susanfnp's picture
susanfnp

Tam, those loaves look beautiful, certainly not just "almost decent!"

 

Regarding the browning, I would say you might get closer to what you're after if you steam the oven a little differently. It could just be artifact in the photo, but it looks to me like your loaves may have more of that rich brown color you seek right near the bottom where they met the stone. I have seen this in my own bread when I have not used steam, or not enough of it, or even too much of it too long into the bake. Steam is only useful during the first 10 minutes or so, before the crust has set. During that early period, though, you want a lot of it (in a home oven, there's probably no such thing as too much steam early on, although that's definitely possible with a professional steam-injection oven). That doesn't mean opening the door really often to spray, though, because every time you open the oven door you lose heat as well as humidity. If you're spraying, I would say once at loading and then two or three more times during the first 5 minutes should be about right. Then leave the door closed for another 8-10 minutes and let the steam go to work, after whch time you can open the door briefly to let the moisture out, because now you want a dry oven; steam after this will inhibit browning. There are different ways of steaming; some people have had more success with a pan in the bottom of the oven, preheated with the oven, into which you pour some water right at the beginning of the bake. I have also found it is helpful to pre-humidify the oven with a damp dishtowel placed into the oven for two or three minutes before loading the bread.

 

I hope this is helpful. Please let us know how the bread tastes; I think it will be fantastic!

 

Susanfnp

bluezebra's picture
bluezebra

I bet you are soooo proud huh!?! Congrats on getting your starter off the ground and for 2 very pretty loaves!

Tam1024's picture
Tam1024

I just cut the baguette and it has nice hole structure and taste moderately sour, just how I like it.  Now I'm heading out to the market to get some cappicola ham, salami, and some sharp provolone cheese and Hubby and me are gonna have a good hoagie for dinner.  As for the round, I intend to enjoy that as toast tomorrow morning. 

Tam1024's picture
Tam1024

I just cut the baguette and it has a very nice hole structure and tastes moderately sour, just how I like it.  Now I am going off to the market to pick up some cappicola ham, salami, and sharp provolone.  Then Hubby and me are gonna have a great hoagie for dinner.  As for the round, I will enjoy that as toast tomorrow morning.