The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter dead?

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HappyHighwayman's picture
HappyHighwayman

Starter dead?

I have a fridge stored starter. I got it from a class, and maintained it for months, but I didn't have a regular feeding schedule. I'd feed it a couple of tablespoons of flour and water every now and then. Recently when I use it, the leaven doesn't seem to rise and ferment as much, and the bread had an "undercooked" inside, even though it rose normally during the baking process. 

It's been a lot colder recently and I'm wondering if I simply need to give the leaven more time to rise before using it? The house temperature is usually between 60-65 degrees. Previously I'd let my dough rise overnight or all day and it would gain a fair bit of volume but recently has not.

Is there a test if the starter is still active? 

 

 

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

for a loaf of bread, I just put it in a ice chest with a cup 0f boiling water so the temp is in the 80's.   Same thing for you deveoping dough too.   Feeding your starter a couple T of flour every once in a while probably isn't the right thing to do and you might end up with what you have. Build it back to full strength at 100%  hydration and then store it at 65 % hydration by adding more flour and let it sit for an hour before refrigerating it.  Do this one ever 2 weeks for best results.

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Guaranteed that it's not dead (even if it has a little mold on it!) just very sluggish. Carefully scrape off mold (if any), keep it out of the fridge and feed it regularly. It will take at least 3 days of regular feeding with storage at comfortably warm temps (70F+) to get it active again. 

 

 

HappyHighwayman's picture
HappyHighwayman

Thanks! (Though I was feeding it equal parts water and flour, is that wrong?)

How do I "build it to 100% hydration and then store it at 65% hydration".

I keep it in a glass jar in the fridge, and only use about a TS at a time. How often should I be feeding it, and how much should I feed it?

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Equal parts water and flour by weight is what you want (not by volume). 

Build to 100% hydration means re-establish it by regularly feeding equal parts water & flour by weight. 

Store at 65% hydration means you can store it at a slightly lower hydration, which should slow down starter activity somewhat and enable better long term storage in the fridge. To prep for fridge storage, do the following:

  • 1. Reserve about 30g of starter. 
  • 2. Feed it 100g flour and 65g water (aka 65% hydration). 
  • 3. Let it rest at room temp for about 1 hour before putting it in the fridge for longer storage. 

A good general feed schedule is 2x per day, reserving about 30g of starter, feeding 100g flour and 100g water (aka 100% hydration)

HappyHighwayman's picture
HappyHighwayman

Do I want to feedit twice a day even while I'm storing it in the fridge?

 

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Feed only twice a day when you are actively baking with it. When it's in the fridge, you don't need to feed it. 

HappyHighwayman's picture
HappyHighwayman

1. Ok so I want to get it to 100% hydration. Do I start with the same 30g and feed it 100g water and 100g flour?

2. The above question about feeding schedule when storing in the fridge

3. On days I want to use it, do I take it out of the fridge before using it to warm up (since I'm mixing it with flour and water to make leaven?)

4. If it's cold in the kitchen can I just let it rise longer to compensate for the temperature?

 Last thing: I exclusively use the "Tartine" recipe, which calls for only a tablespoon of starter mixed with 200 grams of flour and 200 grams of water the night before you bake...while it appears most people use "straight starter" for their recipes. I need 200 grams of the overnight starter for the loaves. Do I need to factor this in?

 

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

1. Ok so I want to get it to 100% hydration. Do I start with the same 30g and feed it 100g water and 100g flour?

Yes

2. The above question about feeding schedule when storing in the fridge

3. On days I want to use it, do I take it out of the fridge before using it to warm up (since I'm mixing it with flour and water to make leaven?)

When you want to use it, take it out of the fridge 2 days before you need it, leave it at room temp and feed it 2x per day. This will help restore the previous level of activity. 

4. If it's cold in the kitchen can I just let it rise longer to compensate for the temperature?

You can (and will have to), to compensate. 

 Last thing: I exclusively use the "Tartine" recipe, which calls for only a tablespoon of starter mixed with 200 grams of flour and 200 grams of water the night before you bake...while it appears most people use "straight starter" for their recipes. I need 200 grams of the overnight starter for the loaves. Do I need to factor this in?

So here's what I recommend: 

2 days before you make the Tartine recipe, take your starter out of the fridge, leave it at warm room temp and start feeding it 2x per day. Then make your Tartine build as directed. 

 

HappyHighwayman's picture
HappyHighwayman

Thank you so much! I really appreciate the advice.

Last question: With each feeding should I discard the majority of the starter and do the 100% hydration method?

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Yes, exactly. For your feeds you really don't need to reserve more than about 30g of starter. 

AnyAnnie's picture
AnyAnnie

If the house temperature is between 60F and 65F, should the OP be checking to make sure the starter has doubled before feeding it 2x/day? I ask this out of ignorance myself, but I'm looking forward to hearing the answer. 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Assuming it's already a well-established starter that is at least 3 weeks old. An active starter should more than double within a 12 hour period, even at 60-65F temps. 

HappyHighwayman's picture
HappyHighwayman

After two days of regular feedings my starter appears to be pretty active again. I decided to try and make some loaves with 200grams of straight active starter vs. using the "young" starter called for in the Tartine recipe. The bread is certainly rising more than it did with my inactive weak starter. My house is around 65F so I decided to let it rise in the oven with the oven light on...it's been about 3.5 hours and it looks like it still has some rising to go.

Usually I do the proofing in the fridge, sometimes overnight because the cold dough slips out of the baskets easily but then of course it continues to rise slower.

 

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Good to hear. For an active starter, it can take 3 to 6 (or more) hours each fermentation step to complete. As long as you pay attention to the dough (and not the clock!) your bread should turn out well. Let us know how it turns out. 

HappyHighwayman's picture
HappyHighwayman

Does a starter's yeast "improve" with age? Is it just the little yeasties I'm trying to save? I assume when I throw half away some of the yeast is the older strain which is just getting older and staying alive. 

It's serious dedication to keep an active starter out of the fridge, feeding it twice a day indefinitely! I do bake weekly but it would seem smarter and more efficient to keep a fridge starter and say start feeding it on a thursday for the weekend bake and put it away on Sundays. 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

I can't say that the yeast & bacteria balance itself improves with age in a starter, exactly. Sure, over the first few months of the starter a certain level of flavor changes happen. My grape starter a la Nancy Silverton started out with a nutty, cheesy aroma that over time has evolved into a light, fruity flavor. Starters do tend to incorporate more local flora and fauna over time, so they certainly do change (for better or worse), but improve is really in the eye of the beholder.

You are throwing part of the old starter away because the yeast and bacteria have replicated to the point where there is so many that they are running out of food (think overgrazing); you save a bit just to "thin out the herd", and move them on to a fresh set of food. 

Yes, it is serious dedication to feed 2x per day, that's why I also refrigerate when I'm not baking. Commercial bakers are at an advantage because they are baking every day so starter refreshment is not an issue. 

I agree with your approach: remove from fridge on Thursday, start 2x feed, ready to bake on Saturday, return to fridge on Saturday or Sunday after the bake. 

 

HappyHighwayman's picture
HappyHighwayman

I baked one after a 5 hour bulk fermentation and then 6-7 hour fridge proof. It came out a little dark because I let the oven go to 500 instead of the desired 450 but I'm sure it will be great.  Will do the second loaf now at the lower temp.

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Wow, looks great! Nice job, you got some nice oven spring out of it.

What does the crumb look like? 

HappyHighwayman's picture
HappyHighwayman

Here's both loaves together:

 

I haven't sliced it yet I like to give my sourdough a nice rest before slicing. I think I just don't like the scoring I did on the first loaf, I prefer the cross cut or some slashes.

 Sliced. It's DELICIOUS.

 

 

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Beautiful loaves! Nice open crumb. 

HappyHighwayman's picture
HappyHighwayman

How long post-feeding @ 65% hydration would you then put the starter in the fridge?

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

After 30-60 minutes.