The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

A Few Questions

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Help Kneaded's picture
Help Kneaded

A Few Questions

Hello,

I'm brand new to sourdough and after reading through various materials and experiencing two failed attempts at getting a starter going, I'd like to ask a couple of questions please.

How critical is a steady temperature to getting a starter to take off? I live in a drafty cabin that we heat with a non-airtight woodstove, so we experience no such thing as a "constant temperature" - much less one of 70-80 degrees.

What's the longest amount of time one could expect a starter to take to become ready for use? I let my first attempt go for about two weeks before getting cold feet and tossing it. The second batch I kept in my oven with the pilot light on, thinking that it may provide a more draft-free, constant temperature. I thought it was doing slightly better than the first batch and after about a week it appeared to be ready, but I didn't have good results with it so I tossed it too.

I've read over some of the information on this site and now feel inspired to try for attempt number three using a slightly different tactic. I'm going to start with whole wheat instead of all purpose since I've learned that the whole wheat contains more wild yeast. And that leads me to my third question, is it okay to alternate the types of flour I feed the starter with?

If and when I ever get a starter truly started, I’ll probably have a few more questions but thanks in advance to any who care to offer insight or suggestions on these! :)

Help Kneaded's picture
Help Kneaded

A few failed attempts and several starters later, I've finally got a starter going...at least I think I do. The starter seems to be doing great, but it's still a babe yet. The loaves...well, we won't "go there" for now. :)

What I'm wondering is if someone could advise me on what the best plan of action would be for caring for/maintaining my starter if I wasn’t going to be refrigerating it? (I generally bake every 2 or 3 days).

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

I think that rye is the best for beginning the starter. What steps are you taking?

Mine was made using Maggie Glezer's method, found in a book called "A Blessing of Bread". It took two weeks to get up to strength but is great - I keep at least two , and usually three, seperate containers of starter culture going in my fridge - just in case anything happens to one!

My house is not warm - in fact, it is cold all through the winter - but the starter really doesn't mind this.

I used rye to get the starter up and running, then have fed it organic white bread flour ever since and it is very healthy.

To keep it going not refrigerated, you really need to take about 30 grams of starter, 30 grams of water and 50 grams of organic white flour, mix together and stored covered. You'll need to do this each day in the cold weather, and possibly twice or even three times a day in hot weather.

Which is why I refrigerate mine. It can stay in a container for weeks. To use again take out 10 grams, mix with 10 grams of water and 10 grams of flour, leave for 12 hours. Take this 30 grams of starter, mix with 30 grams water, 50 grams flour and leave for 12 hours. Of this, take 30 grams starter (throw the rest, or use for a batter, or if it is lively, bake with it!), mix the starter with 30 grams water, 50 grams flour , leave 12 hours, and it should be back to full strength and ready to bake.

Add equal amounts flour and water to the starter culture each time you remove some - the same weight as you took out of each, which means it will slowly increase in volume, until eventually you need to reduce it by throwing all but 30 grams and following the whole procedure again. This keeps it fresh and up to strength.

Andrew

Help Kneaded's picture
Help Kneaded

When I first took a notion to experiment with sourdough I checked all the recipes in my cookbooks only to find that they all used milk, yogurt or cottage cheese. I don't eat dairy products and figured I was out of luck with regards to sourdough. Then it dawned on me to check the web for a vegan (non-dairy) recipe. Somehow or other I ended up finding this site, which seemed like a simple, straight forward way to go about it to get my feet wet, so to speak. So my method has been one cup whole wheat flour and one cup of warm water to begin. After several hours, this mix bubbles and swells up nearly double. The next day I take that mix, which is now relatively dormant looking and usually covered with a layer of hooch, and add one cup of flour and water to it to make a sponge. I don't mix the sponge until late afternoon, but before long it gets frothy and develops little craters. I let the sponge go overnight.

Next morning I save out some of the sponge and use the rest to mix my dough. The starter I have now is probably only about four days old. Just tonight I mixed up my second batch of dough from it and am going to try letting that go overnight, instead of the sponge, which I had going all day.

Normally I wouldn't do anything with my leftover starter tomorrow, but the next day I would most likely add fresh flour and water to it to make another sponge and repeat the whole cycle again.

Now, when you say it took two weeks to get your starter up to strength, do you mean you couldn't bake with it until then?

I could be doing this all wrong, so feel free to point out the errors in my method (I'm "metric-ally challenged" so I had a little difficulty following your instructions *blushing*). Is the starter supposed to stay in a constant state of bubbling?

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

I also am metrically challenged, but when I started on trying to make a sourdough starter, there were various dubious sounding methods, in cups or ounces and handfuls, and two really precise, convincing ones in metric which even weighed the water to make sure the proportions were exact. So I bought a set of metric kitchen scales - followed instructions to the letter - and was away!

While the starter would probably have made a loaf on the second day, by continuing to feed, ferment, throw away most, feed the remainder, ferment etc for two weeks, it appears that you can build up a stronger, more reliable culture which can then be kept indefinitely
by following the steps in my last post.

Yesterday was my throw - away - all - but - 30 grams day. I kept 4 lots of 30 grams, fed them and now have four very healthy cultures going, two of which go in the fridge as my "stock" and two of which will be lovely loaves by tomorrow evening.

The starter will not be in a constant state of bubbling - my method produces a fairly stiff starter, which keeps for long periods a lot better without dying. It will be very bubbly after 8 - 12 hours, then will gradually go to a still, sticky stuff which keeps for ages.

If I kept it out of the fridge and kept feeding it and throwing away excess - going back to 30 grams starter each time - it would be not frothy when just fed and by 8 hours later would have at least doubled, possibly tripled, and be very frothy. But this does lead to a lot of flour getting used to no avail so I prefer the fridge....
Try this book, it is very helpful and has a good starter recipe (not the one I used, but it works!!) and is available on Amazon.
"The Hand Made Loaf" by Dan Lepard

Andrew

Help Kneaded's picture
Help Kneaded

I think I may have gotten started on my sourdough education with some not so good information. I was under the impression that once the starter was established it only needed feed once a week - granted, this was assuming it was being kept in the fridge. I figured that even though I wouldn't be refrigerating mine, I would be okay because I'd be using it, and hence adding new flour to it, every two or three days which would be giving it more attention than the once a week refrigerator deal. I thought I just needed some guidance on what do to with it this summer when the house isn't quite so cool, but the more I read here, the more convinced I'm becoming that I need to scrap everything I thought I was learning and start over from square one.

Thanks for the book recommendation, that might be a good one for me to get if I can force myself to spend the money. I would be interested in the traditional European methods for sure, especially if there was a historical section that covered how starters and bread were dealt with during the Middle Ages (or at least pre-Carl von Linde and Frigidaire). :) And I'm sure the daily photographic journal of the life of a starter would be helpful as part of my problem is that I really don't know what I should be expecting from mine. Can you tell me if Mr. Lepard uses only flour and water for his starter?

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

No - he uses flour, water, organic raisins and yougurt, I think...

Maggie Gleazer "A Blessing of Bread" uses only rye flour and water - which is what I did. Successfully!

Help Kneaded's picture
Help Kneaded

I'll check out that book as I think if I'm going to buy one I'd better buy one that's using the same ingredients I'll be using. I've always wanted to try some rye bread anyway, so that would give me a good excuse!

Thanks again for your help. :)

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

I think you'll find it extremely useful for the starter, methods of kneading, shaping etc - and there's a lot of general information and brief history of breadmaking from different countries which mnakes it an excellent read too!

wagner's picture
wagner

As far as I`ve understood till now, it seems that you can keep a starter forever as long as you keep refreshing it but I have one question, do you add more yeast when you refresh it?

thank you.

Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

Nope, that's the whole point of a sourdough starter. All of the yeast is "wild", meaning whatever yeasties happen to be already on the flour (which is why organic flour works so well for a starter), and/or in the local air.

When you refresh a starter, you're simply adding more food for the existing yeast to snack on. They eat, they reproduce, you get more yeast. As you refresh it, the cycle continues.

HTH,

-Joe

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

Wagner, your comment "do you add more yeast when you refresh it" implies that you made your starter using yeast - in which case it isn't, strictly speaking, a sourdough starter.
And yes, a sourdough starter will keep for absolutely ages if it is fed regularly. There are starters reputedly hundreds of years old on the go! Mine is a baby - coming up for a first birthday!
Andrew

qahtan's picture
qahtan

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This is the sourdough bread I made yesterday,,,, NO YEAST.
I remember when I first posted a sourdough loaf and said that
I had put a tad of yeast in it, O M G, that was definitely
frowned upon, now a couple months later I find can get
results that I want with out adding yeast to it ... :-))
qahtan