Tartine Starter Problems (long read)
~First let me say thank you to all contributors to this site as it’s a treasured and essential resource online.~
I’ve been using the Tartine method for the starter about 40 days now and have had some problems or what I perceive as problems for the last few weeks.
The first 2 weeks went predictable enough and all seemed right with the starter. I was feeding it once a day 50/50 KABF/KAWWF, discarding all but 14g, (around 7:00 a.m. to 8:00 a.m.) at 1:2:2 (14g:28g:28g) with an ambient temperature of 71F. I was getting a predictable doubling within 4 hours and a tripling within 6 and then the subsequent ‘fall’ which was super-duper.
Around that time I decided to try the leaven just to see if it would float. It did! I then baked with it and got what you would expect with a new starter. It was ok, not much rise, poor crumb, but I considered it a semi-success none-the-less. I then went into search mode for starter improvements since that was most likely the problem, I had surmised.
I then started reading about starter maintenance on here to see if I could boost it up a bit since the subject was barley touched in the book. The consensus, as I understood it, was to feed at least 2 times a day in 12 hour intervals. This made a lot of sense so I gave it a shot.
The first feed was the same 1:2:2 but the second, 12 hours later, was just the flour and water doubled (70g:56g:56g) and added to the starter without discarding. Not sure why I did this (obviously a misunderstanding) but it seemed right at the time. It seemed to work as it would double within 4 hours again no problem but my bread still didn’t meet my expectations so it had to be the starter, right? So I continued reading.
I then found something that seemed to say feed it a little after it has peaked and started to fall. So I did. But this round I discarded every time and did the normal 1:2:2 but it was eating it all up quickly so I feed it 3 times a day around 8 a.m., 2 p.m., and 8 p.m respectively. I did this so I could build the leaven around 8 p.m. right when it had peaked and fallen a little thinking that may help with my problem bread. This is where it all went bad. After a day or so it just stopped doubling until at least 12 hours but usually 18 so I cut it back to 2 a day at 1:3:3. Then it would barley double in 24 hours.
Now I’m back to once a day 1:2.5:2.5 (20g:50g:50g) for a 20% inoculation. I’ve added 20% whole rye flour to the 50g flour (40g 50/50 - 10g rye) for two feedings and it is almost doubling around 4 hours again but that’s it! No more tripling at all. It just almost doubles and then falls. I also read that once-a-day feedings will slowly starve it so I’m just at a loss at what to do or how to properly strengthen it. I don’t want to refrigerate it because I would like to bake everyday but that presents its own set of problems with using the leftover leaven as a starter which I found to be very weak for a few days afterward.
My bread has subsequently gotten much worse. Although the leaven rises 30% at 65F overnight (8-10 hrs.) like clockwork, the bulk fermentation (4-5hrs) never does much. Just stays the same after the 2nd turn or so with little perceivable aeration. At initial shaping it seems a little better but then just falls flat a few hours into the final rise with very little to no oven spring. I’m not one to quit on anything, I’m just frustrated with these results and I'm clueless how to fix it. Nothing seems to work! I will keep trying because it just has to workout eventually as explained in the book.
I guess my question is to anyone who has a robust starter built using the Tartine method: What schedule have you found that works for you, your bread, and your sanity? I really don’t mind a 2 to 3 a day feeding schedule if that is required. Again my ambient temperature is around 71F in the morning but it gets around 76-78 in the evening. Any help would be greatly appreciated as I imagine someone out there has certainly had this problem.