The Fresh Loaf

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Looking for a simple starter

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SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Looking for a simple starter

Hello Friends,

Thanks for all the inspiring pictures and posts of all the bread you have made. I have been lurking and baking behind the scenes and I really want to try making a starter. There are a few things holding me back though and I was hoping for some advice/help.

I am not a big fan of sour dough breads  but I do want to try making a starter, as a learning experience. I am also not a huge fan of waste and from what I have been reading, much of the start up requires throwing away quite a bit of dough. (Flour is expensive!) What I am looking for is advice on a starter that is very small (I am only baking for two people), with minimal waste, good flavor without too strong a sour dough taste. Right now, I have available to me All Purpose Flour (unbleached), Bread Flour and Whole Wheat Flour. Still learning how to read/understand % calculations..so please go easy on me. 

Thank you ahead of time!

Samina

Update: With some help, I created my own starter :) Made these hoagie rolls today using my sourdough starter (and a touch of commercial yeast as the starter wasn't as active yesterday). The recipe called for a "Biga Naturale" which I made the day before and let it sit for 6 hours before refrigerating it overnight.

I had a bit of trouble scoring the tops (dough was very wet and my knife, not very sharp) and it was the first time I tried doing anything with a couche (I used parchment paper with flour). The rolls were a tad too close together but they came out nicely! I will definitely have to try this again!  These are going to be dinner as Philly Cheesesteaks! YUM!

Thank you so much for all your help! My starter is now really bubbly and I am a very happy bread baker. 

Sourdough Hoagie Rolls

nullbort's picture
nullbort

I used this method to create my starter, which didn't require any waste.

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Thank you so much for the site! I especially love the link for the pro-starter loaf (day 9) and the tips on reducing the sour that she had written. I think I am going to try this one. It is explained very simply and she gave a lot of good tips. Just have to figure out what container I will use and I will post pictures (hopefully) of the results. Thank you again!

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Hello! I wanted to update and ask a question regarding my starter. I used the Starter Along as a guide for making my sourdough. I started it April 29th and I am on Day 21 of my starter. 

My starter is a 100% hydration using all-purpose, unbleached flour (As per the starter along) and room temperature tap water. I feed it daily 1 ounce of each. On day 16, I harvested 8 oz to make into a partial sourdough/partial commercial yeast loaf (It turned out really great!) and Day 17, I harvested another 8 oz, to give to a friend to starter her own. (I read that if the starter is not rising a lot, to discard a portion, I gave that portion to my friend and hers is now bubbling). Today, I harvested another 3 oz for a biga naturale. EXCITING! I did put it in the fridge for about 3 days (feeding it prior and after) and the bubbles came back quickly.

I haven't tried making a pure sourdough yet because I am not sure that the starter can actually do the job. I feed my starter in the mornings. When I look inside (prior to feeding) I see a lot of little bubbles and some minuscule bubbles throughout the jar. After feeding, there is a lot more bubbles but I never see more than a 1/4 inch rise throughout the day. My kitchen temperature varies from 60-80 (especially when I cook dinner, it is warmer). The pictures I have seen of bubbling starters...that has not happened yet to mine. It does have a nice bakery kind of smell to it. (Started as a pasty smell, then buttermilk/yogurt smell, then it smelled like an Italian Bakery)

Not sure what other information I can give you but I tried to note what I could. Let me know what other information I can give.

Questions:

1) How do I know that my sourdough starter (named Brooklyn) is mature enough to handle making bread on its own? (not needing the help of commercial yeast for rise). Do I just experiment or are there more clear indicators.

2) Would the varying temperatures of my kitchen be the cause of lack of rise? 

3) I have seen some sites saying that you must feed your starter twice a day. My starter is roughly 16-20 oz. Do you recommend that for such a small starter?

4) If my starter is not ready to produce enough rise in my sourdough bread, how you would you recommend that I increase the yeast (I don't want my bread too sour) in the starter?

5) I also eventually want to switch this starter to bread flour. Reasoning: Isn't it better for baking bread? I am using bread flour to make bread. Do you recommend I switch to bread flour? Should I start from scratch? Should I gradually switch over (adding a different amount of bread:ap flour each day)? Or just start adding bread flour instead of ap flour?

Thank you for your help! Please let me know what other information I can give you! This is an album on facebook of the progress of the starter, the first 15 days: https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.577823572238567.1073741825.178616625492599&type=1&l=13cbd30b45

 

 

placebo's picture
placebo

It sounds like you're woefully underfeeding the starter. You have 16 to 20 ounces of starter, but you're only giving it one ounce of flour to feed on. A general rule of thumb is to provide enough flour and water to at least double the amount of starter. A twice-a-day feeding schedule is probably a good idea. 

Sixteen to twenty ounces of starter is not really a small amount to maintain. Often it's suggested to keep around 2 cups of starter, which is essentially the amount you're keeping. I typically keep a lot less, however, between one and two ounces. When I decide to bake, I just build up to the amount I need.

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Thank you so much for replying! I was trying to follow the format for the starter along but it never mentioned increasing the feed time (and this is my first starter, so I am not sure what is normal).

Just to make sure I understand, the rule of thumb would be, in my case to feed my starter 16-20 oz of flour and 16-20 oz of water today. Tomorrow, 32 oz of flour/32 oz water. (Unless I discard half first).

 

I can see why bakers put the starter in the fridge. If I am doubling the starter everyday, that is a lot of baking!I don't mind I feeding my starter daily but I don't like to see a lot of wasted starter and I don't have time to bake everyday.

placebo's picture
placebo

If you have 16 oz of starter and feed it 16 oz each of flour and water, you'd end up with 48 oz of starter. You've tripled the amount. To double, you'd feed 8 oz of flour and 8 oz of water so you end up with 16+8+8=32 oz of starter.

Now you can see the reason for discarding some starter before feeding. It's simply to keep the amount manageable. Putting the starter in the fridge cuts down on the frequency of feedings, and maintaining a smaller amount will also cut down on waste. Note that if the starter's been in the fridge for more than a few days, you're probably going to have to do a couple of feedings at room temperature to get it back to normal, so keeping a bunch of starter in the fridge doesn't buy you much, unless you're going to use it in recipes where its leavening ability isn't important.

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Yup, math..gets me every time. I am JUST starting to understand baker percents.... Definitely see the reseasoning for discarding and for keeping small amounts of starter. I forsee lots of baking and cooking for me :) 

I just removed about 7.8 ounces of starter for English Muffins. I then poured off my starter (into a clean jar)  8 oz of starter. I discarded the rest. I then measured 4 oz of flour and 4 oz of water and fed that 8 oz starter. Now the jar has 16 oz of starter that has been fed. I am thinking that I will discard 8 oz before every feeding and feed 4 oz flour/4 oz water until I see the starter become very active. Then I will build it up so I can make bread. 

Does that sound like a good plan?

Now when you say recipes where leavinging isn't important, you mean recipes where you use partial sourdough and partial commercial yeast or biscuits/breads that use baking soda/powder?

I can't thank you enough for this information!

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Just checked my starter after discard and more food. WHOA, it is like 75% more active then normal! Thank you!!!!

placebo's picture
placebo

And yes, those were the types of recipes I was talking about.

Sounds like you're on your way now. Good luck!

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Thank you for your advice! I really appreciate it! 

Gluten-free Gourmand's picture
Gluten-free Gourmand

This is the fastest method of creating a starter, and it makes only a small amount.  There is much less waste than most starters.  Also, it's not liquid so it's easier to handle.  I used this concept to convert a standard starter to a dry starter which worked pretty well.  I am going to try making this from scratch from gluten-free grains.  I'll post about it when I do.

http://arspistorica.blogspot.com/2013/02/creating-starter.html

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

This is definitely bookmarked!

billkaroly's picture
billkaroly

I use a starter, Valentina's San Francisco Sourdough Starter, that I picked up in the 70's while stationed at the Presidio of San Francisco. If you want some I am selling it in dried form for really cheap. Check my blog mysourdoughstarters.blogspot.com. Of the four posted Valentina is my favorite and Tara is my second fav. I use it to make bread and it comes out very nice. Makes good pancakes too.

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Appreciated it but I am looking to make my own :) Thank you though!

AZBlueVeg's picture
AZBlueVeg

The simplest starter is the kind you can make yourself in your own kitchen. In my bread making, I find that simplifying things gets you better results. In that spirit, the best sourdough method is the simplest. Take equal weights of flour and water, stir and let sit for a few days. Cover with something that breathes - like a cloth rubber-banded to the mouth of the jar, loosely placed jar lid, etc. Stir the mass several times a day - whenever you happen to walk by to check on it. Once bubbles start forming, replace half the weight of starter with equal weights of water and flour. Keep doing this until your starter bubbles up to maximum activity in just a few hours or less. At that point, I let the starter sit unfed for 2-3 days in order to develop a more sour tang. I then refresh it 4-6 hours before using - that's how active it is!

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Thank you :) Lots of newbie questions:

 When you say replace half the weight of the starter with equal weights of water and flour do you mean like: Starter weights 4 oz, remove 2 oz and replace with 1 oz flour and 1 oz water? 

At what point do you leave the starter in the fridge? How often do you feed it when you put it in the fridge?

What do you mean when you say refresh it 4-6 hours before using? (I was planning on trying the step by step starter Nullbort suggested in his/her link..so that is the extent of my knowledge at the moment).
 

billkaroly's picture
billkaroly

I do not think there are too many right or wrong answers when it comes to replenishing starter. I usually dump out the contents of the jar, leaving some on the bottom and the sides, add half a cup of flour and half a cup of water. Then I let it sit on the counter. Usually in about 4 hours my starter has doubled in height.

Putting it in the fridge is a good idea if you don't need it for several days or longer. I have a friend who has had a Sourdough Jack starter for over 40 years and he feeds it once a year at Christmas when he pulls it out of the fridge amd makes pancakes. Some say feed once a week, others say once a month and my friend says once a year. Go figure. One thing you can do to preserve your starter is spread some of it out on a piece of wax paper and let it dry. It will stay like this indefinately and all you have to do to reactivate it is add it to a cup of flour and water.

Starter in the fridge will develop a layer of liquid on top that you can either dump or stir it back in. I stir mine back in. 

I made the starter from Dark Rye Flour found here. It took me about nine days to make that starter. Another way to make starter is to mix a cup each of flour and water and toss in some organic grapes and let it sit sealed for a few days. I've done that and it works too.

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Wow a 40 year starter?! I can't even imagine that! I like the idea of drying the starter though. I am currently looking for a better supply of flours. Bob's Red Mill products are not easily accessible where I live, so I may have to bite the bullet and purchase it online. I really want Rye and Pumpernickel flours. 

I am very intrigued by the fact that you are using grapes as part of your starter. I read that some people are also using pineapple juice. Do you notice a grape flavor when you make the bread or is it just a way for you to give sugar for the yeast/bacteria? 

billkaroly's picture
billkaroly

No, the starter does not taste like grapes. You can make it two ways:

1. Start with a quart canning jar or something similar. Mix one cup bottled water and one cup and a half flour. Crush a cup of grapes and dump the whole thing into the mixture and stir. Seal the jar and let it do its thing for a couple days. When there is action in the jar after a couple days you can strain out the grapes. You don't have to crush the grapes at all really but I found the juice helps the process.

2. In a two quart tall Rubbermaid-like sealable container add 2 cups bottled water and a pound of grapes, crushed. Put the grapes in a cheese cloth and submerge into the flour and water slurry. Seal and wait a couple days. When there is action in the jar after a couple days you can strain out the grapes. This is the way I did mine and it had a layer of yeast on the bottom, a clear layer above that with yeast actively growing before my eyes and a layer of flour with the grape bag above it. It only took a couple days and the bread we made was nice and sour.

Bob's Red Mill is a nice product but there are other alternatives. Try Wheat Montana if they have it in your area. Walmart carries it in Utah and Oklahoma where I have lived. It is a good flour.

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

I will keep an eye out for Wheat Montana. Alas, the closest Walmart is about 1 1/2 hours from me or a very expensive to get to (Tolls over Verrazano Bridge are $15 now and will be going to $18 soon..yikes!). Even then, the one closest does not have a big grocery section, so I doubt I would find anything special there. Thanks again for responding!

AZBlueVeg's picture
AZBlueVeg

Let's say you have 100 grams of total starter and it's time to feed or "refresh" it. Remove half, leaving you with 50 grams. Then add equal weights of flour and water (50 grams each) so you have a 1:1:1 ration of starter:water:flour. Some do a 1:2:2 ratio or higher, which would provide less initial starter and more flour/water by percentage (still equal weights of flour/water, however). Feeding at a 1:2:2 or higher ratio will lead to a milder, less sour starter. A 1:2:2 ratio using this example would require removal of half, leaving you with 50 grams, then adding 100 grams each of water and flour.

I recommend keeping your starter on the counter for the first three weeks as it establishes itself. Mine is very nicely sour now. To develop the sour flavor, feed your starter less often. You should always feed your starter before baking with it, and use it just as it approaches its peak activity. Follow some general guidelines to get you into the ballpark, but then you will have to "wing it" based on the activity of your starter. Given regional differences in temperature, humidity, water quality, yeast strains, etc., each person's results will vary when following exactly the same directions.

I follow a simple rule in baking - simplicity is best. If you have to jump through too many hoops, something isn't right. I keep my starter in a clear glass jar so I can monitor what's going on inside. After I feed it, I can see it develop bubbles and start to rise 2 hours later. I can visually tell when it's peaked, and I give it a whiff every day to ensure it smells good. In my case, my starter began its life smelling like apples and peaches (I used a little dark rye flour in the mix), but now that it is a few weeks old it has stabilized into a very active starter with a strong acid smell of yogurt and vinegar.

Perfect organic sourdough bread:

1 : 1.5 : 2.5 ratio (starter : water : flour)

200 g active starter
300 g distilled or de-chlorinated water
500 g organic unbleached white flour
10 g salt

Completely dissolve the 200 g starter in the 300 g of water with a whisk, you will end up with what looks like "sourdough milk". To this, add your flour and salt, combine well and let sit for about 2 hours. I use a regular whisk to dissolve the sourdough in water, and a dough whisk to combine the ingredients. After letting it sit for two hours, give the dough some stretches/folds. I do this in the simplest manner possible - I shove a silicon spatula along the edge of the dough, raise it slightly and pull towards the center. Rotate the dough bowl and continue folding the dough onto itself until you've done a full rotation, then do it again. Now let the dough rest for another 2-3 hours. By the end of this resting period, your dough should have expanded to almost double in size.

After the dough has rested, gently turn it out onto a floured board. DO NOT flatten your dough or do any stretching/folding at this point. The dough will be wet, so flour it lightly on top, dust your hands with flour, and GENTLY form the dough into a nice ball with your hands. Place this ball, smooth side down, into a floured banneton or brotform, or alternately into a bowl of your choice. Let dough proof for about 2 hours, it should expand but not quite double in size.

When your dough has risen, invert the bowl onto a pizza peel. You should have a nice round dough, the smooth side should be facing up. Slash your dough and put into a covered, pre-heated dutch oven, cloche, or onto a pre-heated pizza stone that has been covered by a roasting pan or other heat resistant container. Bake at 450 F for 30 minutes, uncover and continue baking for another 15 minutes or until the crust is a nice caramel brown. Remove and let cool for as long as you can hold out, then eat!

I made this recipe last night and substituted 100 grams of whole wheat flour for the unbleached white. It rose magnificently, developed beautiful holes in the crumb that I love, and had a nice sour tang as you would expect with a good sourdough. You can probably also just use the 1.2.3 method that was posted on TFL a while ago to achieve similar results, however I have not been successful using that method. The 1:1.5:2.5 recipe proportions have never let me down.

I live in Arizona and the above instructions presume low humidity and an ambient air temperature of 75-80 F. At lower temps, increase the rising times, and at higher temps reduce the rising times. With my recipe, the starter makes up about 20% of the total weight of ingredients. If your first or second rise are too long, the acids in the starter will tear your gluten apart and you'll end up with a runny, unbakable mass. I really like this recipe because it works perfectly right here in Arizona, works every time, and you can go from making the dough to baking a perfect loaf in a total of 8 hours. The bread tastes nicely fermented with great flavor, a nice sour tang that isn't overwhelming, and an oven spring that will put a smile on your face.

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Wow! Thank you AzBlueVeg, for the very indepth information. I can visualize it so well! I live in New York (Brooklyn) so right now there is a some humidity but with the heater (no control of temps) it tends to be dry. The kitchen is warm though and spring (minus the snow we got last night) is right around the corner (more humidity). I am saving your recipe to try once I establish the starter. I am glad you mentioned about how to increase/decrease the amount of sour flavor. The first time I ever had a sourdough anything, it was so sour I couldn't eat it. I am hoping to start of with a mild sour flavor and work my way from there. 

One major concer before I get this starter started, do you clean your glass jar in any special way before starting? (Ex: sterlizing or just plain soap and water). I am eager to start but very nervous about bad bacteria. I read from the first link recommended that the yeast and bacteria that goes along with the yeast tend to prevent other bad bacteria from forming. How do I know that things are going well and I am not making a bad starter?

AZBlueVeg's picture
AZBlueVeg

The best way to know whether you have a good or bad starter is to give it the sniff test. It's okay if it smells strong and knocks you back a little, but it should not smell "foul" or "spoiled". When I first began my starter, after 3-4 days it smelled slightly of old garbage. You know, that aroma you get when you walk by a bunch of trash cans? My nose told me that it was going in the wrong direction, so I did something to push it in the right direction. I added a small pinch (about 1/8 teaspoon) of commercial yeast to the foul smelling starter along with flour and water in equal weights as recommended above. Within the next 24 hours, the smell of my starter changed to something pleasant and sweat. The purists will argue against adding any commercial yeast to "jump start" your starter, but in my case it helped to correct an imbalance. It's been going like gangbusters since!

I've read that using rye flour will make it easier to get your starter going. Once it's established you can switch it to white or whole wheat. As far as cleaning jars, I pulled a pickle jar out of the dishwasher and have been using that. If it makes you feel better, boil the jar in some water on the stove and let cool before using. That will ensure you have disinfected your vessel. In my case it did not seem to matter.

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

Thank you again! I can't wait to start this starter (Monday-as I am going away for a few days). I hope the phrase "watch pot doesn't boil" doesn't come to play because I know I won't be able to help but keep watching the starter. I appreciate all the advice and I will post results.

phaz's picture
phaz

2 things I did when i started my starter, which has no effect on the starter, were watching and smelling, constantly! I couldn't wait for it to start bubbling away.  But, don't be surprised if it bubbles and grows like crazy in the first couple of days.  also don't be surprised if it smells as foul as foul can be in the first few days.  there's a sequence of events that happens when a starter is new -  bacteria takes over for a bit, which creates an environment for other bacteria to take over, so on till the environment is finally good for the yeast to take over.  during that bacterial phase, you can get some really obnoxious odors -  my comment was -  amazing that such a small amount of flour and water can produce such a big foul smell!  you can also get a lot of bubbling and rising, but it may just be bacteria instead of yeast. keep feeding regularly, it's just part of the process.  eventually things will balance out.  on the 6th day,I was getting nice regular rises, and a lovely green apple aroma from the starter (I created it with white ap flour). good luck!

SaminaCooks's picture
SaminaCooks

I had a few whiffs of smells I didn't care for and did get nervous about it (I had tasted a really really sour sourdough bread once and it turned me away from attempting sourdoughs for a long time). What really got me excited was that my kitchen started smelling like a regular Italian Bakery. I discarded some starter and I am feeding it more right now. It is bubbling nicely (Especially since my oven is at top temp right now with a baking stone -- making some breads now!)

phaz's picture
phaz

mmmmm ...... I miss the real Italian bakeries ........  reminds me of when I was a kid!  almost makes me want to move back to the city!