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Slow starter = bacteria got off the wrong side of the bed today?

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thihal123's picture
thihal123

Slow starter = bacteria got off the wrong side of the bed today?

Today is my 8th day of nurturing the sourdough starter. I noticed that after today's feeding, it seems sluggish. The only thing I did differently from the other days is that I used a handheld mixer to whisk in air for about 3 minutes on highspeed. It was just for fun. Besides, the formula I'm using (from River Cottage Bread Book) does say that once in a while, the starter needs a good whisking of air.

Is it normal for the starter, from time to time, be a bit sluggish?

dwfender's picture
dwfender

I talk a little bit about this on my www.allthingswheat.com blog, but in an effort to not sound like I'm just plugging myself for all you haters.....

It really isn't necessary to whisk air into the mixture. Just stirring vigorously with a spoon is enough to get the yeasts and enzymes in a good condition for growth. What hydration starter are you using? Mine is 100percent (equal parts water and flour) and grows just fine being stirred with a wooden spoon. 

The sluggishness can be caused by a few different things. Most likely it is just the environment. A small change in room temperature can change the fermentation period pretty drastically. Especially with sourdough which isn't on such an easy schedule as manufactured yeasts. 

If it is still growing in volume, but it's just slow, I wouldn't worry about it. Look for signs of a hooch (the dark liquid on top). If that starts showing up then you aren't feeding the starter often enough. Other than just keep your eyes on the temperature of the room and the temperature of the starter and you should be just fine. 

If it stops rising in volume, most likely the enzymes and yeast are out of balance. If thats the case then definitely check out the blog. I had the same problem and go into detail there. Good luck! Hope this helps. 

thihal123's picture
thihal123

Thanks for the blog. I started with 100% hydration. There was a time when every morning when I woke up, the starter had water on the top and was thin. I just fed it. Could that be because there's been too much enzyme?

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edit:

I also took a closer look at your blog. Looks to me like my starter is actually in the vigorous stage. It froths a lot though today it didn't rise as much in volume as yesterday. Temperature shouldn't be a factor in reducing its vigour. I live in the South and the weather is hot and humid. Temperature doesn't fluctuate much during the summer. I do only feed it once a day although after reading parts of your blog, I fed the starter again though without discarding anything.

Looks like to me it's time for the sourdough to sit in the fridge! River Cottage Bread Book, the one I use to begin my starter, is a British book, so probably the timing is quite different given how cool the weather there usually is.

Red5's picture
Red5

The rise you see in a starter comes from the gas thats produced being trapped in bubbles by the gluten that was formed when it is stirred and the gluten that forms naturally. 

 

You destroyed all the gluten in the starter when you put an electic mixer to it for 3 minutes on high speed, possibly overheated it too.  You can save it with a refresh and by never doing that again. 

thihal123's picture
thihal123

Hmmm...that's interesting. I didn't know that gluten was all that important in the sourdough starter. I thought it's about cultivating wild yeast. It's not dough yet. Anyhow, the book suggested "a good beating" once in a while for the starter. Dunno.... :)

Red5's picture
Red5

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dwfender's picture
dwfender

Yeah it can have too many enzymes breaking down tHe gluten. If a hooch is forming then the yeast is running out of food during the fermentation. 

 

The easiest way for me to judge how things are going is based on the volume. If the started doubles in size feed it. If this takes ten minutes or ten hours it doesn't matter. Eith this method so far so good. Follow the starter revival on the blog and you should be totally fine. It doesn't matter if you destroyed the gluten with the mixer because you will reintroducenaresh gluten at the next feed. I would e more worried about the hooch. 

dwfender's picture
dwfender

Sorry about typos. I'm on my phone. 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Some of the initial frenetic activity can be more bacterial activity than yeast activity. If it went through a very active phase and is now slowing down but still active-keep going. The bacteria and yeast are coming into balance.  The mixer didn't do permanent harm but it really is not necessary. A few good turns with a nice spoon works just as well at aerating the levain.

I am not familiar with the book you mentioned but I believe I have heard about it here on TFL. If I recall those other posts, you are managing a few cups worth of sourdough, right? Lots of discard and lots of flour? The same process can be done in a small jar on a much smaller scale so there is not so much waste. I start my starter with a tablespoon of flour and about the same of water.(Enough to make a thick but pourable pancake batter). I bake enough these days that I keep about 1/2 pint of starter on hand and "build" more if I'm going to need it.

thihal123's picture
thihal123

Yes, I might just discard more than half of the starter tomorrow and feeding the starter in a large jar. I've gone through maybe 1/2 of a bag of King Arthur Flour, and the amount of discard is too much. :) The book I followed said start with 1 cup flour and equal weight of water. It is too much. The starter is still very much alive. It has risen quite a bit. It's not dead yet.

So, for tomorrow, how much of the starter should I keep so I don't end up wasting so much starter? On average, I bake about a loaf or two every week to every 9 days, so I'm not a heavy, though frequent, baker. I have not yet attempted sourdough breads, obviously. Still working at the starter stage.

Originally because of how much was being discarded, I was tempted to just buy cheaper whole wheat flour to feed the starter. King Arthur flour isn't exorbitantly expensive, but it is double the price of Gold Medal or generic supermarket brand.

dwfender's picture
dwfender

There really isn't a how much should I keep. Its more of what works for you. If you keep 90g of start on hand you can discard 60g and feed it 30/30 flour and water. Its small and cheap, but it has a downside too. If your recipe calls for 240g of starter and you only keep 90g on hand then you have to add another build to your recipes. So now you have to take the 90 grams, add 180 grams of flour and water and let it double in volume. Then you can use 240 in your dough recipe and have 30 for building your starter again. Its an extra step that isn't worth it in my opinion. If you are baking once a week and you keep the starter in the fridge then you can probably get away with keeping 30-50g more than what your usual recipe calls for. Then if you decide to make larger loaves or a bigger batch you can adjust as you go.

 

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

In my opinion keeping tiny amounts of starter and having to refresh once more to follow a recipe IS an advantage because the refreshment(s) bring new life and much more rising power to the starter.

To the OP: not discarding a large part of the starter means feeding always the same meal to a larger and larger crowd of yeasts: sooner or later all of them will starve. 

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... "I live in the South and the weather is hot and humid. Temperature doesn't fluctuate much during the summer. I do only feed it once a day although after reading parts of your blog, I fed the starter again though without discarding anything." 

- I think you are making it sluggish by (unknowingly) underfeeding it. Once a day feeding simply isn't enough if your weather is hot and if you're keeping it at room temperature.  The poor thing is gasping for some more food. Your choice is to either feed at least twice per day and give it a good feed each meal, or save yourself a lot of work and keep the starter in the fridge for the main part. Just remove it from the chiller a day before you want to use it; refresh it to bring it into renewed vigour, then use in your bread recipe the following day - but do remember to save a teaspoon (or a tablespoon - though I never use more than a teaspoon for my starter refreshments) to feed again, then return to the fridge after it has bedded in - about an hour after feeding. This is for your next bake, obviously. If you feed this really well, it should be quite happy till you next want to bake a week or so later. As an example, I feed one scant teaspoon of starter with 50 grams of flour and 35-40 grams of water. That allows me to keep it in the fridge for about 5-6 days with no fear of it running out of food.  You could probably feed with even less, but I like to allow a certain margin for the unforeseen!

I only ever keep about 100 grams of starter at any given time. If you look after it, it will do everything you need it to do, when you need it to. It's the most obliging little pet you could wish for - and it really doesn't require whisking with anything other than a spoon or fork if refreshing. But it does need regular supplies of food before the yeast has completely exhausted the last meal.

All at Sea

 

thihal123's picture
thihal123

This is a lot of information to absorb! Thank you for the details! I'll have to re-re-read it and slowly absorb it.

You're probably right that I'm underfeeding it, unintentionally of course. I'll start putting the starter in the fridge. It's been a week. The vigorous feeding can now stop :) :) Time to "go on a diet" ;-) ;-)

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I bake just about every weekend-1-2 loaves. I have developed my recipes so that I keep my starter in the refrigerator and take it out on Friday afternoon. I take 1-2 tbsp and mix a preferment to use in the bread the next day. I usually use 1 c (144g)AP flour and 1 c (225g) water with 2 tbsp(55g) starter. This sits on the counter COVERED overnight-the fruit flies LOVE the stuff. Since I took out (in essence I discarded) about half the starter, I then feed the remainder in the jar and let it sit out. I will feed it again at dinner time and put it back in the refrig at bedtime. The next day I use the preferment (which has now bubbled up quite nicely) in my loaf. It may be the only yeast I add or I will add additional commercial yeast if my time is limited and I want to hurry the process along.

Just one way to use natural levain to make all kinds of delicious bread-sandwich,WW,sweet,brioche,challah,etc

Here is a delicious,simple bread that uses a high amount of active starter.Quite beautiful! Another way to use starter.      http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14395/orange-turmeric-pain-au-levain

I use natural levain (starter) in most of my breads. Not one of them tastes sour. So not all bread made with "sourdough starter" is sour. You have to maintain the starter in a certain way for the final loaf to acquire that sour tang. I don't care for that taste so I don't even know how to do that though there are endless discussions on TFL available thru the "Search" box.

The best way to learn is to do. Try one simple method a few times to get the hang of it and learn how everything behaves in your environment.

 Sourdough (natural levain) has been around forever. Make bread that you like, in the way that you like to do. There is no one certain way to do it. However, if you want to share a recipe or scale it up and down in amount, then you have to get precise about measurements and weighing. Then you have to do some documentation and careful measuring over a few bakes.

Have delicious fun.

Red5's picture
Red5

Quote:
Hmmm...that's interesting. I didn't know that gluten was all that important in the sourdough starter. I thought it's about cultivating wild yeast. It's not dough yet. Anyhow, the book suggested "a good beating" once in a while for the starter. Dunno.... :)


A starter is about cultivating wild yeast and bacteria, yes. But your question was about why it wasn't rising, which is what my answer was pointed to. 

A "good beating" is just using a fork or spoon by hand to mix it up, and not taking an electric mixer on high to violently thrash it.