The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

newbie help...

lflanders's picture

newbie help...

i am an absolute beginner to baking bread. i started a few weeks back with regular yeast in the cute little packets and my simple sandwich bread was coming out perfect! I was so excited! i was able to make very basic bread taste good! 

Next was to grow my own starter. My goal is to be able to bake bread for my family in much the same way that a country mother or gramdmother would have before commercial yeast was available. 

I started a starter according to the diections i have seen all over both here and other sites online. There are variations of course but in general put equal parts of flour and water in a jar, stir, feed and wait. 

Today is day 9 ans the starter smells yeasty and is foamy, once or twice a day I pour out half of it and feed it with equal parts Ww flour and water.

Last night I thought I would try it out and see how it would do at rising bread. I left to bulk rose in the oven overnight. This morning when I got up, it had indeed doubled! I punched down and shaped and placed in loaf pan, coveted and placed back in the oven to proof the second time..... And nothing happened. I waited several hours and finally just baked it. It is not edible. Moist, dense, and hard. My question is this, is my starter just too young or do I need to start a new batch? I just peeled an organic apple and stuck the peel into my starter hoping this might help. I will never be a professional baker and I will probably never weigh out my ingredients or make bread pretty enough for magazine covers! I just want to be able to provide good nutritious bread for my family to eat, in a sustainable way. Any help you guys could offer is HUGELY appreciated.

cranbo's picture

It might have more than doubled overnight, while you weren't watching it. It may have tripled, and when you saw it, it had shrank back to double, so when you saw it, it only look liked it doubled. 

It's likely that your dough was totally overfermented. 

Run a test with your dough during the day when you can watch it. See how long it takes to actually double; store your dough in a transparent container and mark how much it rises every hour. Then you can figure out how long it takes to peak. 

I also recommend that you feed your starter equal parts BY WEIGHT not by volume, example: 10g starter, 40g water, 40g wholewheat flour, feed 1-2x per day. If you feed by volume you have a very runny starter that is tough to see when your starter is ready. If you feed BY WEIGHT as instructed here you should be able to see your starter double in 4-6 hours. If it doesn't, keep feeding it until it it does, then you will know your starter is active enough. 

Watch the dough and not the clock

lflanders's picture

I don't think it over rose, it sounds like my starter isn't working correctly yet. After I feed it, it gets frothy and puffs a little and then later in the day seems to separate and the water comes to the top (or perhaps alcohol) but it definately is not doubling.  

It is fairly thick, thicker that pancake batter but not dough.

I will keep going with it and try again in a week or so.

Ford's picture

After a week you MAY be getting some yeast, but the lactobacteria have not really started to grow.  Give it time.  You can add a bit of orange juice or pineapple juice to get the acidity started.  Do keep feeding at the rate of 1:1:1 :: starter:flour:water, by weight.  A cup of sifted flour weighs 4.3 oz.

It will take about 2 weeks to get an active starter and about a month to get a mature starter.


dabrownman's picture

You're starving your starter,  Every time you feed it equal volumes of flour and water it gets thinner and thinner with less and less flour for food.  This is a frequent problem with new SD bakers and no worries.  When I weigh out a cup of water it always comes out around 238 grams and a cup of flour comes in at +-146g.  When you feed, you want equal weights  of flout and water not equal volumes.  Try feeding twice as much flour by volume as you do water and your starter problems will disappear.   Your starter will be much thicker and will not separate in a day.

If your bread rose once and didn't the second time it just means that you ran of food for the yeast and labs to eat in your dough - by a wide margin and it was way over proofed.   If you are going to have bread ferment overnight do it in the fridge.  Let it sit on the counter for an hour after gluten development the into the fridge overnight.  Let it warm up for and hour on the counter then shape and let it final proof free form or in a tin.   IF you want to know exactly when it doubles put the dough in a tin - exactly half full.  When the dough reaches the rim, it has doubled and ready to bake.

Happy baking

cranbo's picture

Agree with Ford and dabrownman. 

Using a thicker starter will help get the activity to the right level. If you don't want to weigh your ingredients, feed your starter as follows:

  • Reserve 1 heaping tbsp starter 
  • Feed with 1/4c water and 1/2c flour

Do this 1-2x per day for 5-7 more days and you will have a very active starter, and you'll be able to more easily tell how fast it can double (or triple).  


DavidEF's picture

A cheap scale from Wal-Mart will save you a lot of trouble in the long run. I tried maintaining a known good starter I got from Friends of Carl using volume measurements, and almost killed it. I bought a scale that goes down to one gram. It isn't perfect, but it works well enough for me.

lflanders's picture

Thank you all so much for your pointers! 

Ok, from your comments I have concluded that 1. I had too much water, 2. I'm keeping too much starter with each feeding, 3. Sounds like I'm rushing things. 

 So, since I am out of bread, I'll but some yeast to get me by. I've added the apple peel, and I'll start only keeping a little more than a tablespoon. A tablespoon really? That doesn't seem like much active stuff?

I'm sure measuring is important, but I cant imagine Caroline Ingles had a scale for measuring such things. It can't possibly need to be that precise, can it?

cranbo's picture

Yep, you don't really need much more than a tablespoon. It sounds like your starter already has some activity, just not enough, so not much you need to do. The yeast and bacteria that live in the flour will do their thing in time. 

There is no need to add an apple peel or anything else to your starter aside from flour + water. The yeast and bacteria live in the flour, and will form the right culture over time, given the right environmental conditions.

Scales have been around forever in both the home and commercial bakeries. It's important to be precise when you're starting out, because it helps you understand how things should look and feel, and to be able to repeat the same recipe several times and learn how different adjustments affect the final product. It's just much easier this way. 

lflanders's picture

Thank you everyone! It is looking better already! I was just rushing things! Lol

Hopefully in another week or 2 I will be some to get some baking done!

Davo's picture

Hard to tell without measures, but assuming you get a better fed ready-to-go starter, if you (room temp) bulk ferment it for a period like "overnight", it will ilkely be out of gas, and won't rise again after shaping - if anything this will be more true for a more active starter. A lot of people new to SD seem to think that "the longer the better", but there is definitely an optimal time depending on a range of variables, and you need to shape at roughly the right stage of fermntation, and bake at very close to the right stage. If you've fermented all the food out of it by the time you shape, the end result won't be what you hoped for...

Try shorter periods, and my advice is don't insist on it doubling before you shape the loaf - I reckon as little as 30% increase is fine so long as you have done some gluten development (Stretch and folds) during the bulk.

Most people bulk ferment for 2-4 hrs, dep on levain-to-final dough ratios, and temps.

Also, you shouldn't "punch down" sourdough - after the bulk you should gently shape without deflating.