The Fresh Loaf

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Clues to a ripe starter

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Justkneadit's picture
Justkneadit

Clues to a ripe starter

I just wanted some advice from experienced bakers with sourdough starters. How do you tell when your starter is ripe and ready to make some fantastic sourdough bread? Thanks. 

I follwed sourdolady's starter recipe but I'm just not confident about my starter.

cranbo's picture
cranbo

After feeding, does it at least double in volume in 4-6 hours? If so, it's active enough. 

You want to actually use it before it reaches its peak ripeness and starts to collapse on itself. If it's collapsing on itself, it's overripe.   How long will that be after you feed it? You have to pay attention to your starter to determine the exact timing for your starter and your baking environment.

Justkneadit's picture
Justkneadit

It hasnt doubled yet. I feed it once a day, and one time it was twice a day because hooch started to form. I have played around by feeding it more flour to make it thicker to see if that would help it double. By using sourdolady's recipe on day 3 it actually doubled so on day 4 when i switched to using ap flour instead of ww it not longer doubled but just kind of bubbles. Doesnt smell real sour either, more like flour.

cranbo's picture
cranbo

If it has hooch, your starter is too watery. Easier to see proper activity with a thicker starter.

Do 3 things:

  1. Feed more flour & less water: a ratio of 2 tbsp starter, 1/2 cup flour and 1/4 cup water is perfect for a thick starter. 
  2. Feed it 2x per day. 
  3. Keep this up for at least 10 days. You will see activity after that. Be patient. It takes 10-14 days to get starter really active. Don't give up, and don't start over. Again, be patient and you will be rewarded. 
Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

"Doesn't smell real sour either, more like flour"

and thickening the starter (or just pour off some of the water) will help.  I don't think the bugs have set up yet but soon, place a protective bowl under it while waiting.  Leave it alone for 24 hours after stirring.  When the starter begins to get active, the water will stop separating from the flour.  Hooch smells more like bad beer. 

After adding flour, a starter will often smell more like wet flour and as it ferments it takes on more powerful aromas.  

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

The amount of time it takes for a refreshed starter to peak is dependent on what the refresh ratio was and the temperature (and to lesser extent the hydration). Doubling in 4-6 hrs would be expected for a warm kitchen (25°C) and a refresh ratio that is low.

Six hours at 25°C corresponds to 1:3:3 refresh ratio which is the minimum I would recommend to maintain the LAB population density. If you have the instrumentation, test to make sure that the post-refresh pH is above 5.0.  Much below that value you are into a zone of declining LAB population density relative to the yeast.

You can expect a starter to double at peak when you are refreshing at ~100% hydration irrespective of the refresh ratio. Only if you go to a lower hydration will you see more volume growth (1:3:3 will double while 1:3:4 may just about triple; 1:20:20 will also double - it just takes 13.5 hrs instead of 6 hrs).

LindyD's picture
LindyD

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/14913/very-liquid-sourdough#comment-95326

Mr. DiMuzio is the author of an excellent textbook on baking:   Bread Baking: An Artisan's Perspective 

Justkneadit's picture
Justkneadit

Thanks to all for helping. I definately wont give up and will continue to learn the character of my starter. Hopefully I will be baking with it soon!

Mdboatbum's picture
Mdboatbum

Mine took almost exactly 2 weeks. I wasn't sure what I was looking for, so I, like you, had doubts about whether or not it was ready. Then suddenly one day it just "changed". The aroma deepended and it became WAY more active after a feeding. It had been "active" since about the 3rd day, just not really alive yet.  It looked, smelled and acted completely different from one day to the next, so I knew it had "bloomed".

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

This series is five years old, but you can see the various stages that a starter goes through before it is ripe.  And after it is ripe you still have quite a few hours before it goes beyond being usable.  Even after it falls back (but still has a few bubbles showing on the top), you only have to add about one doubling time to your bulk fermentation.

https://picasaweb.google.com/117028767311163668653/Starter2?authuser=0&authkey=Gv1sRgCJvOwfHcz47Z7gE&feat=directlink

And here is a 30 second version of a 2 minute video of ripe starter (a 4:1 speed up but still boring) from which you can get a sense of how active it is.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wAChzSC96o

LindyD's picture
LindyD

That's the message I get when I tried to view your link, Doc Dough.  On both my desktop and iPad.

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough
LindyD's picture
LindyD

This link does open.

Nickisafoodie's picture
Nickisafoodie

put in "starter" in search box in upper left and you will see tons of postings that also will help in addition to above...

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Here is a different batch (fermented at a slightly lower temperature) with bubbles highlighted.

I sped it up by 4X so it is less boring, hopefully easier to see the bubbles and still educational.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4wAChzSC96o