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Sourdough Starter - Last Ditch Effort

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inkserious's picture
inkserious

Sourdough Starter - Last Ditch Effort

I've never posted on a forum about my starter, so I suppose this is a last ditch effort to revive my 10 year old sourdough starter.  Approximately 10 years ago, I purchased the original San Francisco sourdough starter from sourdo.com.  I activated it according to the instructions and have been using it several times a year ever since.  I'm not religious about taking it out of the refrigerator and feeding and on occassion have gone as long as six months.  However, after several feedings I am always able to bring it back to its originaly active state.  The most recent time I took it out to refresh it, however, I have been faced with much difficulty.  At first I was getting little to no activity even after several days.  I adjusted the feeding to a double feeding (approximately 2 cups of flour to 1 1/2 cups of water).  After a day or two, I started to see some signs of life.  This has now been going on for over a week.  The problem is that I'm not getting any increase in volume.  There is definately activity going on with plenty of bubbles, but the start never seems to increase in volume.  It used to be once I got the starter super-activated it would double in volume in just a few hours and spew over the top of the jar.  I use the same flour that I have always used - King Arthur bread flour.

Any help anyone can provide would be greatly appreciated.

Regards,

Edward

breadforfun's picture
breadforfun

Hi Edward,

What is the consistency of the starter?  If it is very liquid, then the volume won't increase all that much.  If you have lots of activity, it is probably fine.  Try to reduce the amount of water you use to feed the starter.  If you don't have a scale to weigh the ingredients, then try cutting back the water to 1 cup and see if that helps improve the volume.  But if the starter is as active as you describe, don't worry about the volume and try to use it for baking.

-Brad

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

I agree with Brad. When speaking about starters you have to explain conditionals such as percent flour to water, what type of flour, water source, how does it smell, how does it taste, what temperature it's being incubated at etc. Sourdough starters are completely dependent on their conditional environment...,

Wild-Yeast

 

inkserious's picture
inkserious

Thanks for the responses guys.  The consistency is pretty much like pankcake batter, which is the way its always been.  I always bake by weight; however, I've always just fed the starter using volume with no problems.  My general feeding is 1 cup of flour and 3/4 cup of water.  But if I know I'm going to be away from the house for an extended period of time and won't be able to monitor it, I'll double the feeding which would be 2 cups of flour and 1 1/2 cups of water.

After my post last night, I fed the starter with 2 cups of flour and 1 1/2 cups of water.  When I woke up this morning it had a layer of foam on top but still no indication of any change in volume.  It smells fairly sour, the same as it always has.  If I had to say there was any change in environment it is that it's quite cool in the house.  It's probably being incubated at between 68 and 70 degrees.  I don't have a proof box.  But in the past the lower temperature during activation has simply lead to a longer activation time, but I've still always got the extreme activity and increase in volume.

If everyone feels there is no problem I will go ahead and bake and see what happens.  By the way, I did lower the amount of water I added to this morning's feeding as suggested.

Once again, thanks for everyone's help.

Regards,

Edward

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Appears that the yeast component of your starter is in need of regathering its strength. It may take several more feedings for this to occur. Try to elevate the temperature of the starter - this favors yeast growth [75-85 dF].

Wild-Yeast

Davo's picture
Davo

A cup of flour is give or take 130 g or so, I think. A cup of water is 240 /250 dep on where you live. Anyway, roughly speaking 3/4 cup of water to a cup of flour is a hydration around the 140 % mark.

I'm guessing that is too thin to hold in bubbles, so you won't get any volume increase. When you make pancakes with baking soda what you see is little bubbles popping at the top, not the batter billowing up. Same will happen with your starter. I don't know why it rose previously, I frankly would be surprised to see a starter at 140 % hold the bubbles.

Try making it at more like a dough consistency, say water at 80% of the flour weight.

Also, while you are just trying to reinvigorate it rather than blow up a heap of starter, reduce the quantities - start with a teaspoon of starter and add say 20 g of water and 25 g of flour. I bet it blows up on you!

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

do a couple of feedings, 6 hours apart with 1/4 c starter, 1/2 c flour and 1/4 c water. The second one just do the flour and don't throw anythoing away.  I'm guessing that the little beasies are waiting for this moment to be free - like Beatles!!

Davo's picture
Davo

I hadn't noticed until just now that the "too liquid" issue had already been noted above by Brad...

inkserious's picture
inkserious

Thanks for all of the help everyone.  So far I've brought the hydration down substantially.  I've also considerably reduced the quantities.  I did a feeding around six hours ago, and I just did another one without throwing anything away.  Hopefully, if all goes well I will have an active starter this afternoon to make bread with again.  I'll let everyone know how things work out.Thanks again for all of your help.  I've attached a picture of a loaf of bread the last time a baked.

Regards.

inkserious's picture
inkserious

I'm going to try and revive this post after almost a year.  After several weeks of going through the motions back in December 2012 when I made the original posts, I just wasn't seeing any progress.  It was evident that the starter was alive; however, it was never really vigorous, nor could I get it to increase in volume.  I didn't want to give up on it at the moment, so I put it back into the refrigerator until last week.  I've moved into a new place, and I'm much better to control the environment.  So after several feedings, I found myself right back where I started.  A live starter but with little vitality and no increase in volume.  Since I moved to a different city, I switched to spring water since I didn't know the chlorine content of the water and wanted to take that out of the equation.  I also switched over to KA Organic Bread flour from regular KA bread flour at the suggestion of a post.  And finally, I started weighing my feedings.  I started out with a teaspoon or so of the old starter and added 50g of water and 50g of flour.  Twelve hours later I added another 50g of water and 50g of flour.  I then began the routine of discarding 1/2 of the starter every 12 hours and adding 50g of water and 50g of starter.  Once again, I'm still right back where I started.  Signs of life, but the starter doesn't seem to be getting any stronger and I'm not getting any increase in volume.  I've added a blurb from a post I came across and wondered if it could be the culprit.  Part way through the post it talks about how bacteria that actually eat the protein can take over the starter as opposed to the starch eating bacteria. I wondered if anyone else had come across this problem and found a solution.

Thanks for any help anyone can provide.

-Edward

"There is one condition that seems to be irreversible. Sometimes you mix up a dough with your starter and the dough quickly gets very soft, it turns into a liquid. And the starter has a strong smell of acetone, or cheap fingernail polish remover. If this has happened, bacteria that can eat the protein in your starter have taken it over. Normally starch-eating bacteria are in your starter. If you don't feed it often enough, the protein-eating bacteria can take over.

Do you remember back in the starting a starter page when I talked about how a starter was like a weed patch that you were cultivating? At this point, one of the weeds has again taken over. And it is a very hard weed to eradicate. I know of two people who were able to beat back the protein-eating bacteria and have their old starter back. However, the other guy and I both found that the next time we skipped a starter feeding the bad bacteria took over again. The starter was undependable and unstable. Pouring it down the drain and starting over was the only real answer for me."

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

Edward,

Would you be able to watch your starter like a hawk for a while? If so, try something. After feeding your starter, check on it every so often and feed it again after it has risen to its highest point, however long that is. If you aren't getting much activity, and it takes 24 hours or more, then so be it. When it has reached its highest, and begun to fall back, then feed it. Do that every time, and in a few days, if it is alive, it should be rising noticeably faster, and higher. If your starter is really as low on activity as you have led me to believe, then you may simply be feeding it too much, and diluting the yeast before they get a chance to really multiply. Once you start to see real rising activity again, you can adjust the ratio of starter to food, in order to get the timing you want (such as twice-a-day feedings). You may find it takes more than 50g flour to feed your starter for 12 hours, once it gets going.

inkserious's picture
inkserious

Thanks DavidEF.  I am able to watch it pretty closely.  The problem is that I'm not getting any discernible rise from the starter.  I do get a fair amount of bubbles on the top, but not enough rise to tell when it has reached its highest point.  Perhaps I am feeding it before the yeast gets a chance to really multiply.  You mention "...and in a few days, if it is alive..." Is it possible to get the modest amount of activity I am seeing if it isn't alive?

Do you think there is any merit to the idea of protein eating bacteria taking over the starch eating bacteria.

I've had the starter for almost ten years, and I have never run into a problem reviving it even after not feeding it for as long as six months.

 

Thanks again.

 

elight's picture
elight

Edward,

I've had the same problem with my starter and found that same post at some point about the protein-eating bacteria. The starter in question has been in the family for 10+ years, so I saved some in the freezer to try to deal with later while I work on creating a new one.

When I try to bake with it, the gluten in the dough completely falls apart. The skin of the dough starts tearing immediately after shaping. Slow-rising yeasted breads using the same formula don't exhibit this behavior with my flour and techniques, so I have to pin it on the starter.

Do you out think that perhaps pineapple juice could help create an environment to revive the starter? I've thought about it given what everyone here and elsewhere says about it.

Very interested to know what you discover, I hope you will continue to share!

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

Does your dough smell like Acetone? If there is a problem with protein-eating bacteria in your dough, perhaps a little change in diet may help. Sourdough cultures don't normally need any protein to live. Maybe you can convert it to a protein-free diet, and possibly starve out the protein-eating bacteria. Convert to potato flour or rice flour or something. I don't know which flours have no protein at all, so you need to check. If that works, then you may have been right about the protein-eating bacteria.

Also, about the feeding schedule. If you don't see a rise - don't feed. Wait until you see a rise, and it is starting to fall back, even if that takes more than a day to happen.

Pineapple juice is said to have a protease enzyme which will break down protein as well, so don't use that if you think your protein is already in danger.

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

Edward,

If you never get your starter back to where it ought to be, but you don't want to start a new one yourself, or have to buy one again, you can get a starter culture for the price of a self-addressed, stamped envelope from Friends of Carl Griffith. Just wanted to throw that out there. It is practically free. You mail a stamped envelope to them, which they use to mail a starter culture back to you. You can learn all about it at http://carlsfriends.net

inkserious's picture
inkserious

Thanks DavidEF,

I don't mind starting a new starter if I have too.  At this point it is just the principle.  I guess there is some sentimental value with a ten year old starter.  I'll research your post about the alternative flours.

Thanks again.

Adriana Leipuri's picture
Adriana Leipuri

Maybe leave your starter uncovered so it acquires wild yeast from the atmosphere?

Also, I read that you can use pieces of cabbage (good quality, of course) to boost your starter.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

has the carbs and no protein.  

It also contains no gluten so don't use rising as an indicator of gas activity.  Think GF starters...   or combine wheat with cornstarch but remember it won't rise much.  it will have bubbles breaking on the surface and crawling up the sides.  

I would just get started making a new starter.   It can be that you've lost a few other bugs as well.

inkserious's picture
inkserious

Well it's been a week and I'm still at it. I just don't want to give up. I've been treading water for the past week, and so today I thought I'd try something new. I found my original envelope from when I ordered the yeast from Sourdoughs International and decided to try the washing method Ed Wood suggests. As a side note, the envelope was dates October 14, 2003 - exactly 10 years from today. 

Anyway, I washed the starter according to his directions. Since I don't have anyway to proof the starer at a consistent temperature of 85 degrees as he suggests, I put it in the oven with the light on. I checked it about five hours later and the temperature was 100 degrees. I pulled it out immediately. My question is do you think I did any damage by letting the starter get that warm?

i discarded and re-fed accordingly and this time left the oven door cracked. 

chris319's picture
chris319

I doubt you did any damage.

What does your starter smell like? Can you detect a hint of yeast?

What would be the resistance to starting a new one if you had to?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

but I wouldn't do it again.  Door cracked might be ok.   

Hang on to the discard and delay feeding it.  Wait 24 hrs before feeding (tests show there is little growth when the starter is too warm, not dead either)  keeping it well hydrated.  You can then feed it tomorrow along with the just fed starter.  Do a little race to see if there is a difference.  Give them names to keep track of them.  Oven lights are known to get too hot. After one day in the 85°F heat, you can look for cooler places around 75°F for the rest of the week.  

Patience-  Important not to discard too quickly these first few days.  You want to awaken sleeping yeast spores that may take 3 days to wake up.  I would not discard but each day add only a rounded teaspoon of flour and a little water keeping it wet.

Mini

inkserious's picture
inkserious

I wish I was able to read Mini's post before I did my last feeding.  Anyway, after checking the starter at six hours in the oven with the door cracked open its temperature was right around 85 degrees.  It was still too early to feed, but I did anyway because I knew I wouldn't be home for a while.  That was at midnight last night.  I put it back in the oven and left the door cracked.  When I got home from work it had been exactly 12 hours.  For the first time there was a layer of foam on top.  I really couldn't tell if it had increased in volume, or if the layer of foam had just formed.  Either way, this is the most progress I have seen since before the difficulties began.

So I discarded all but one cup and added one cup of flour and 3/4 cup of water.  This had always been my practice in the past prior to having any problems.  I always fed my starter by volume instead of weight; however, I do bake by weight.

My question now is should I continue keeping it at 85 degrees in the oven, or should I put it on the counter at 75 degrees.  Also, because of the washing, it's very loose.  I'm used to it being a little bit thicker.  Should i add a little more flour at the next feeding to thicken it up a little bit?

Thanks for everyone's advice.  For the first time, I think I might be making progress.

chris319's picture
chris319

Again, what does it smell like? If it smells of yeast, it's done. If it smells of alcohol, it is nearly done and yeast is about a day away. Forget about volume, bubbles, doubling and all that. Leave it at 86 degrees. If it were my starter I would stir it once per day.

inkserious's picture
inkserious

Oddly enough, it doesn't seem to have a specific smell at all.  It doesn't really smell like flour, yeast or alcohol.  I wouldn't say odorless but just no distinct smell.

Any ideas?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

 Leave it in the heat for at least 12 more hrs.  Plenty of food in there. No need to feed.  You can let it cool down to 75 in the morning.  Don't discard anymore, tomorrow just add a spoon or two of flour to thicken a little.  

 

Antilope's picture
Antilope

...

chris319's picture
chris319

I wouldn't be trying to "kill" anything.

When was the last time you added flour to it? Aside from possibly adding flour as Mini suggested, leave it alone except for a daily stirring.