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Whole wheat Sourdough starter behavior

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BrianOD's picture
BrianOD

Whole wheat Sourdough starter behavior

I've been SD'ing for a couple of years now and I've never been happy with my results. I am beginning again with a revived starter. (6 months since last baking) My question concerns the activity of the starter and if it is active. The starter, which is a 100% whole wheat from SD International, is at 100% hydration. It will begin growing about 2 hours after feeding, grow to about double, maybe a bit more, and then stay there for about 6-8 hours. All at 75deg. There is no "bubbling" on the surface but the starter is almost a "foam-like" consistency, small irregular bubbles imbedded in the material. This is identical to the behavior it has exhibited in the past, including when it was first activated from the package so I think it has been revived successfully. Is this what I should be looking for, or should it be a little more effervescent? My loafs have not risen well in the past and usually turn out dense. Right now, I'm trying to determine if the problem lies in the starter or somewhere further down the process. thanks for ANY help!

 

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

the appearance of my 95% Whole Wheat/5% Dark Rye starter.  I keep it in the fridge between major baking cycles, but when baking time comes along I feed it at 1:3:3 (Starter:Water:Flour) on 12 hour cycles at 100% hydration, and it appears very much like what you describe for the first several feedings after I take it out of the fridge.   I also find that the aroma is somewhat acidic during this time.  When I persist in feeding for a few days it moves on to a delightfully rich fruity aroma that is very pleasant.  The appearance, however, remains much the same.  My starter performs much better than the way you describe yours however.  I baked two loaves of 70% Whole Wheat/30% AP/Bread flour loaves (dough at 75% hydration) today that rose to baking readiness in just under 2 hours, and they bloomed beautifully in the oven.  Many factors apply, but the starter does not perform this well when I just "wake it up" out of the fridge and try to bake with it.  It is much slower at those time.

You did not say how recently you revived this starter, but I assume it was pretty recently.  You also did not specify how you maintain it, so this is mostly a big guess, but I'd suggest your starter is not up to strength yet after that revival, despite appearances.  I also suggest you feed your starter regularly for a several days (at least) and check that aroma.  When it starts to smell fruity, try baking with it again.

If all this sounds like things you are already doing, please provide more details on your starter maintenance process and your dough formula and process, to give more to go on.  You'll get plenty of suggestions.

I hope it helps.
OldWoodenSpoon

BrianOD's picture
BrianOD

Thanks for the insight, at least I now know I am not alone.  The maintenance of the starter once it went back into the fridge in June was zilch. Nada. It went into the fridge at 100% and left there in a sealed container. When I pulled it out it had the typical dark fluid floating on top. No evidence of any mold growth.

I pulled it out last Thursday (today is Monday morning) and started working with it. Mixed the hooch back in, filled the quart container with bottled spring water (I have acidic water at home and want to eliminate that possibility). That diluted the material by a factor of 4. Took 1/4 of that material and started feeding it. Every 12 hours I reserve 50g of starter, add 100g water, 100g ww flour and put it back in the 75deg proof box. The first two cycles there was no activity/rise evident other than 2-3 bubbles at the surface. It then began showing the rise characteristics it is currently exhibiting.

BTW - It does not have much smell at all.

I'll keep at it for as long as it takes to develop that "fruity" smell you describe (or any smell for that matter).

Two further questions -

1 - do I need to wait the 12 hours between feeding? If the starter reaches it's full rise in 6 hours could I do the feeding at that point, allowing more feeding cycles in a 24-hour period, speeding up the activation process? What goes on in the second 1/2 of the 12 hour cycle?

2 - your ratio of 1-3-3 provides a larger ratio of starter to new material. What is the advantage of that larger ratio?

thank you very much!

 

OldWoodenSpoon's picture
OldWoodenSpoon

You diluted your old starter first, then started feeding.  That will certainly slow it down.  You diluted it to 1/4 strength (cut the yeast population to 1/4) before you fed it, and in the feeding itself you cut that remaining yeast population to 1/3.  That, along with the long-dormant storage will make it quite slow to recover.  I recommend that you not do that dilution as a standard practice.  Take your seed full strength from the stock and start from there.

To answer your questions, by the numbers:

1 - You will need to watch the starter rather than the clock and govern the feeding accordingly.  Follow mini's advice about watching for it to peak and start to fall, and then feed it.  Be patient.  The yeast, once it regains some strength, will recover rapidly.
2 - The 1-3-3 ratio gives the starter more food to work on between feedings.  This helps me to not have to feed the starter every 8 hours or less, which does not work well with my schedule.  Once your starter has regained some vitality you can experiment with ratios to find what works for you with your starter in your kitchen and your environment.  It will probably not be exactly like mine.

Also, I only maintain 35 grams of stock starter.  I take 5 grams, add 15 grams of water and 15 grams of flour.  If I need more than 30 grams of seed for a levain build I feed at 1-4-4 or even 1-5-5 once (or in multiple steps, as needed) first to build up the available seed.  I also store my starter in the fridge between baking cycles, but I refresh it a couple of times prior to starting the levain build.  If schedule allows I keep it out of the fridge for a week or more at a time on twice-daily feedings.  It takes a few days of this to fully develop that nice fruity aroma at full strength that I mentioned.

Hang in there and it will come around.
OldWoodenSpoon

sunnspot9's picture
sunnspot9

Let's see if I can do this right

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/recipes/wholewheathoneybread#comment-10003

I am also keeping a whole wheat starter, and I am new to starterkeeping and breadmaking, I am attempting to put these suggestions into practice and seeing some improvement in my bread. HTH!

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

A starter that has lain dormant for months, takes a few days to wake up without discarding.  It sounds to me the culture you're now trying to revive is diluted too much.  

If you still have any of the dormant starter in the fridge, start up a second starter while waiting for this one.  Please take 1/4 cup of dormant starter (I understand it was diluted with water) and add just enough flour to it to make a runny batter.  Then let it stand two days covered in a warm spot (proofer) stir maybe 3 or 4 times during the day but pretty much ignore it.  If the water separates from the flour, stir & let it stand longer.   When it stops separating,  add to that small amount of starter a few more spoons of flour to thicken it to a soft dough.  Flatten it out and mark the level with tape or a rubber band.  Let it rise until it peaks, dents and starts to fall.  Then you can discard.  or keep a few tablespoons of the starter.  Add water to double the amount and add flour to thicken.  Wait until it rises, peaks and starts to fall before feeding.  It should be giving off a good amount of aroma by now.  If not, don't use your nose to judge your starter, use someone else's nose.  :)

BrianOD's picture
BrianOD

Mini - Unfortunately, there is no starter left in the fridge, at least not of this strain (got an white italian one waiting). I'll take a 1/4 cup of the ww starter that I'm working with and add water to a "runny batter" thickness and follow your suggestions. Is 75 deg for the proofing box OK? At the end of the process will I have to rebuild it to the 100% hydration?

I haven't had the water tested recently, but I recall that my water was called "aggresive" with a Ph in the low 6 range. I do know that it is eating away at my copper pipes. Thanks for reminding me, I need to test again I guess.

BrianOD's picture
BrianOD

OldWoodenSpoon - wow, you just saved me a ton of flour! Your starter volume is significantly less that what I am working with. I'll move to those amounts at the next feeding.

The dilution concept that I was doing came from the Ed Wood books on SD. He recommended the "washing" as part of the rejuvenation process. I will not do the washing with my Italian starter patiently waiting in the fridge. I'll scoop out a small amount and leave the balance in the fridge, just in case.

Per mini's suggestion I've taken 1/4 c of the ww starter, thinned it and put it in the proofbox. I will leave it alone, other than stirring for two days (@75deg). I will continue with the balance doing the regular feeding.

 Mini -  When you say "add flour to thicken" towards the end of the process, do you mean bring it to a certain hydration level or do you use the less specific "thick pancake batter" method?

The starter does not really seem to fall back after a certain time. It reaches it's peak expansion in about 6 hours and then stays there through the balance of the 12 hour feed cycle. Should I wait for it's retreat before feeding?

 

 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

 

Yes.  If the surface dried, it might have already reached a peak, poke it gently and see if it falls.   With each feeding and waiting, the time it takes to fall should be gradually shortening.   When it can fall under 12 hrs, go to feeding it every 12 hrs.  And your pH in your water sounds just fine for starters and bread.  

...keep a few tablespoons of the starter.  Add water to double the amount and add flour to thicken.  Wait until it rises, peaks and starts to fall before feeding.    

 Thicken to a 100% hydration starter.  Equal weights of water and flour.  Use Woodenspoon's suggestion keeping the starter small until you decide to build your starter for baking.  Cover to keep it from drying out.  I would use your tap water, it may help the fermentation.   After all you do plan on using it for bread and future starter feeds.

BrianOD's picture
BrianOD

Mini - thanks for checking in. I'm still plugging away at this.

I've got three containers going now. One is the 50g-100g-100g. It is consistently reaching the timing marks I've made on the side of the container, ie, it reaches the same level at the same time with each feeding. Nothing appears to be happening until about 2.5 hours after feeding. Then it leisurely begins to rise to about double volume at 6 hours and sits there for the next 6 hours before I feed again. (All at 75 deg). It is a foamy consistency with no bubbles on the surface. It does not collapse when I poke it. This appears to be the same as when I first found this forum and asked my initial question. I got my wife to smell the material (two noses are better than one) and she said that there might be a slight fruity smell.

The next is the 15-35-35 container. It's hard to measure it's rise because of the small volume, but it looks to be the same consistency of it's larger sibling. It starts out as a mound of starter and over the course of the 12 hours it flattens out. The material looks same, foamy inside, no bubbles on top.

The third container is based on your suggestion of taking a small amount of starter, adding water to thin and placing it in the oven (temp controlled at 75 deg). I've stirred it occasionally when the material separates. I'm waiting for the material to not separate before feeding it the small amount of flour. The separation material at first was on the bottom. Now it has migrated to the top. It has been 4 days waiting for that stage to occur.

Any thoughts?

I've got to go away for two days tomorrow so the cultures will be on their own. I've left notes on how to dial 911 if there is an emergency, but other than that, how should I leave them, 75 deg? room temp? Fed? Unfed?

thanks

 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

might do them a world of good.  I would put a tray under them if one of them decides to get perky.   Does the 3rd one, the floater smell of anything?  If sour or strong fruitish, beat it all together with the separated water and add flour to thicken to a soft dough or paste, cover and leave for 2 days.  If your room temp is cooler than 75, they should all be just fine on their own.  Warm them up when you return.

Foam not falling is not good.  A starter should start falling before discarding and feeding.  Take notes again when you get back to them.  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Don't know where this suggestion came from.  Might be a misunderstanding.  I didn't want you to thin the starter any more, it was already too diluted (too much added water and flour) and so thin...

Per mini's suggestion I've taken 1/4 c of the ww starter, thinned it and put it in the proofbox. 

We are more or less now starting a new starter with this one...  

BrianOD's picture
BrianOD

Mini - I guess I misunderstood. Your note to "add just enough flour to it to make a runny batter" seemed odd to me when I started that process. The 1/4 cup starter that I was trying to make into a runny batter was thick out of the container, much heavier than pancake batter so I thought I had to thin it to make the runny batter, not add flour to it which would have made it into a small brick. Hmmm, maybe I'll start again when I get back with an undiluted 1/4 cup.

The resulting starter (I'm assuming I'll be successful) will be in essence a new starter? Does that mean the original strain of SD culture would be gone? As I understand it, the culture I was using was one specifically for WW (the SDInternational South African Culture, http://www.sourdo.com/home/cultures/south-african/)

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I think most traces have been wiped out with the first dilutions.   If you still have some time before you take off, bring the new starter up to 35°C for some fermenting before you leave it alone at a lower temp.   Might surprise you when you get back.

BrianOD's picture
BrianOD

Mini - got back this evening and checked on my starters. The temp in the oven was 66deg

The 1-2-2 and 1-3-3 starters apparently had done what they had done before. They had risen to the 6 hour mark (max rise) and had retreated a minimum amount, maybe to the 5 hour mark. The material looked the same as it had previously, with holes in it, no apparent bubbles on top, and no smell. I then treated them the same, took 50 and 15 g respectively and fed them and put them back into the oven at 75deg. I'll check them hourly and see what happens.

The small amount that I had in the 90deg environment before I left has definitely developed a fruity smell (It was not in the 90deg over the weekend). I can't tell if it rose and fell over the weekend, I  think it has by the sides of the container. I'll discard half of it and feed it again with some water and flour to a runny batter and place it back in the 75 deg and check it hourly to see what it decides to do.

I'll keep you posted. If you have any suggestions, please let me know.

thanks

 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

:)

BrianOD's picture
BrianOD

Just an update on how things are progressing (or not).

The small starter that has the fruity smell continues to be fruity. I added about 1/4 c flour and water this morning (after 24 hours) and it appears to not be doing anything after 5 hours.

The 1-3-3 starter was fed again this morning and appears to be on track to rise to it's established 6 hour mark. I'll watch it for it's retreat. No smell

The 1-2-2 starter was fed this morning with a slightly higher hydration (50g-115g (water)-100g(WWflour). It has surpassed it's 6 hour max mark in only 4 hours! Slight acohol smell. So something is changing there. I'll watch it for it's retreat and then feed it again with the same ratio

My wife pointed out that I had frozen a small ball of the ww starter 6 months ago, so I found it in the freezer last night, defrosted it until it was pliable, added water and flour to thick pancake batter consistency and put it in the oven along with the other starters @75deg. No activity, but some liquid on top this morning. I stirred it and added some more flour/water.

Here's another question that has come up after my perusal of this website. I have a number of dried starters (SDI) in the fridge, unopened. They are not Whole Wheat specific. Can I use WW flour to activate them and then feed them exclusively WW? My goal in this whole process is to make WW bread, so I'd really like to start with a WW starter.

thanks.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and it will grow.  It is kinda fun to maintenance feed and/or elaborate a starter with a variety of flours and let that infuse the upcoming loaf.  I don't see a difference in feeding white flour or whole wheat, they are both wheat.  The WW will naturally not rise as high as the AP wheat if the WW contains bran bits that tend to cut gluten.   They both may contain the same amount of yeast, one just ferments and releases the gas faster, one traps gas longer.   Gluten is not that important in a maintenance starter, activity is.  One indicator of activity is rise but it is not the "end all" indicator.  Keep the starter liquid and rises will be lower even if the yeast activity is high.  The same goes for feeding a starter with gluten free flours.  So long as the yeasts can convert starch to sugar, they are multiplying and eventually producing byproducts while exhausting the food supply.  

With each yeast generation, the yeast adapt to their food and learn how to get the most from it so with each successive feeding they will get better at converting when given a new food.  A starter's job is not to have good gluten development, it's job is to provide you with a concentration of healthy yeast.

One of my favorite combos is a rye/wheat starter with wheat flour.  I rarely bake it but the rye does give whole wheat a nice touch and helps buffer the acids in the dough.  

BrianOD's picture
BrianOD

Thanks for the info on WW. It helps.

I'm still at it. Feeding the starters every 6-7 hrs, after the "dome" in the jar begins to recede.

The rolls are certainly edible, not much in the way of sour, but nice flavor. I'm using a no-knead recipe and retarding the unshaped dough in the fridge for 36+ hours. These pictured rolls are 390 ww, 100 white, 440 water, 1tbl kosher salt and 3/8 cup honey.

I let the dough sit out for 2hrs after the fridge, then folded it a few times (it was very sticky, which is another thread of questioning), made 8 rolls and baked in a preheated oven for 40 min. (preheat to 500 w/tiles) lowered to 400 when the rolls went in. I made steam for the first 3 minutes.

PS I'm making rolls in defense of our uncontrollable urge to eat all the bread as soon as it cools. This way, we eat a roll (or two) and then freeze the rest for later consumption. I have noticed that when taking the rolls out of the freezer that they have a higher "tang" to them.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

And nice ones at that...  It would be a rather interesting experiment if you were to take one roll while cooling and cut the crust off.  When cool, stick the crust in one baggie, the crustless roll in another and see if  1) the crustless roll gets as sour when compared   2) the crusty ones and 3) if the crust alone is the most sour.   There are some theories that the flavanoids in the crust later add to this developing sour taste that seems to grow after all the sd beasties have been long killed with baking.  

Comments could be added to this thread: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/32046/sourdough-bread-ages

Certainly lots easier to compare rolls than big loaves of bread.    Please, pretty please?   Thanks.

BrianOD's picture
BrianOD

The rolls are certainly easier to experiment with. We'll freeze 4, eat three and try your experiment with the final one. They've already cooled to room temp though. I ate one with lunch and it was not sour, nice flavor, but not sour. I'll look at the thread you mentioned. Thanks.

This strain of SD starter has now been put to bed. I'll revive another strain (an Italian White) on Monday using all the suggestions/hints, etc. I've gotten here (not dilute the starter as it comes out of sleep/fridge). That one was fed with white flour (unbleached, etc). It will be interesting to see how it responds, it's been in the fridge for about 6 months with no maintenance.

Any hints on how to get the center of the rolls to cook nicely? I use a thermometer to check for doneness, but the bottoms usually begin to darken before the inner temp gets to 200.