The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough Non-starter

  • Pin It
chris319's picture
chris319

Sourdough Non-starter

Tempted by the Larraburu sourdough posts here, and having grown up on Larraburu bread in the SF bay area back in the good old days, I decided to try my hand at getting a starter going.

I read dozens of Internet posts and threads on the subject and got some KA AP flour. The first starter recipe from the web I tried was a total bum steer. It called for way too little water (yes, I used spring water) and made a thick paste like pizza dough which dried out in no time -- practically overnight. I tried again using more liquid to make it the consistency of pancake batter. After several days there started to be some activity. I then read Debra Wink's fine posts and learned that this activity was fool's gold. It smelled cheesy, like cottage cheese about to go bad. I concluded based on what I had read that my starter was growing leuconostocs instead of yummy candida humilis (sourdough yeast). Undaunted, I kept at it, trying myriad different liquids and waiting for days and days for something to happen. The temperature in my environment is in the 70s. Having read about the acidic environment needed, I tried pineapple juice, a dilution of water and white vinegar with a pH in the neighborhood of 3.5, I tried wine (slightly less acidic than pineapple juice depending on the type). After days and days, nothing -- no bubbles, no activity. The only distinctive odor I could make out was that of the liquid I used. I then decided to switch to KA WW flour using the same array of liquids. Nothing. They all just sat there as flat as a week-old glass of Coke. Using the WW flour, the residue that stuck to the side of the bowl grew plenty of mold, which unfortunately is not an ingredient in sourdough. I've been at this for several weeks now, after waiting about a week for each one to take off. I work for a living so I can't schedule my life around sourdough starter to feed it every few hours. I just wanted to see if I could get any kind of yeasty activity going.

I have read recipes for "can't fail" starter calling for honey and packaged yeast as well as buttermilk and yogurt, but this would be cheating. I should be able to get a starter going with just flour and water or some acidic liquid, right? I'm keeping in mind what resources the 19th-century Basque sourdough bakers up in the Pyrenees had available to them. They didn't have canned pineapple juice, that's for sure, and they didn't have packaged yeast. They likely had wine (which is why I tried it) and maybe they had vinegar, but they certainly didn't know about pH, didn't have microscopes or pH paper and didn't know about leuconostocs. After reading Debra's posts I thought I had the scientific advantage going for me, knowing about pH and the acidic environment favorable to yeast growth, but alas, no. I'm skeptical of mail-order starters not knowing what magical ingredients they could possibly have that my KA flour lacks. After all, the sourdough bakers of generations past didn't have an Internet with people selling mail-order envelopes of San Francisco sourdough starter on it.

I am now officially stumped. I'm almost out of ideas, short of going up to SF and waving my bowl of starter around in the air at 3rd avenue and Geary (the location of the erstwhile Larraburu bakery). I can only conclude that the air in my kitchen, my plastic bowls, my measuring spoon, my kitchen counter, the lighting, something or some combination of things is conspiring against me and lacks the magical powers needed to start a starter. Maybe it's the ionization. Something isn't properly ionized. I'll have to look for an ion meter to tell me. I suppose I could try beer, with a pH around 4. It has yeast in it but not candida humilis, right? Or maybe malt vinegar? It's acidic and I hear those sourdough critters like maltose.

Meanwhile, the 49er gold miners are beyond hungry. They are pounding their fists on the table and seem unwilling to wait another two weeks for my failed efforts at sourdough starter to turn around.

don.sandersg's picture
don.sandersg

Unless you are stuck on growing your own from scratch, I could mail you some live starter if you email your address or you could google friends of carl to get some dried starter by mail.

tgrayson's picture
tgrayson

I had no luck until I did the grape starter; organic grapes have the yeast you need on their exteriors.

 

http://www.kingarthurflour.com/recipes/grape-sourdough-starter-recipe

Fatmat's picture
Fatmat

I used a grated apple from my allotment (therefore untreated), organic flour and boiled water. 100% hydration (i.e. 50/50 flour and water). Daily discard and refresh of 50%. Untreated grapes would be perfect (look for ones with a bloom on them) or even organic untreated raisins/sultanas. 

Fatmat's picture
Fatmat

boiled and cooled water that it!! :) 

chris319's picture
chris319

Thanks for the offer, but the experiment is to get one going from scratch. That would solve the chicken/egg dilemma.

I've heard of the grape method -- that's next -- soaking grapes in water to harvest the wild yeast on them, but I would still have to add some acid such as vinegar or pineapple juice.

I have one going now with malt vinegar and water. So far nothing.

tgrayson's picture
tgrayson

"but I would still have to add some acid such as vinegar or pineapple juice."

 

No, you really don't.

Fatmat's picture
Fatmat

You don't need to. Keep it simple... it really works. 

chris319's picture
chris319

There are many vineyards in Napa county "wine country" just north of San Francisco. They might have some candida humilis yeast on them. There's a clue.

phaz's picture
phaz

surprised to hear your having that much trouble getting a starter going. I was able to get one going using nothing but water and flour, bleached white flour even. I think you were closest when you had the cheesy smell. I had that in the first few days of creating the starter. and from what I hear, that's normal. actually, don't be surprised if you get all sorts of funky odors the first few days, or weeks, of starting. it takes time for the bugs to run their cycles, could be a few days, could be a couple weeks, but eventually everything settles down and you'll have the proper balance of bugs. hate to say it, but start from scratch. mix a small amount at first, pancake batter consistency is about right - I go for a thick batter consistency - and leave it for a couple days. then add a little water and some flour, nothing else, to get the same consistency - this is a feeding - daily, and in a week or so you should have a starter that will make a decent loaf. it will take some time, and don't worry about what it smells like at the beginning. at first, certain bugs take over. they will create an environment that allows other bugs to take over. they create an environment where some other bugs take over, and eventually the environment is right for the good bugs to take over. good news is once this happens, it will be hard for the bad bugs to get back in the game. my sister ran into this same problem and kept tossing her starter due to the smell. I almost did the same when I had the strong - strong is putting it mildly - cheese smell. but I decided to keep going and have been using the same starter for the last few months. hang in there, it will work itself out. oh, since there's so much variation in one's home environment, don't expect to see the same results as someone else. what works for 1 may work for another, but most likely won't for the other 99. keep us posted on your progress - always curious to see how things go!

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Search my name and find one of the posts where I explain what I do. Essentially, 2 tbsp flour and 2 tbsp water,stir several times a  to distribute the yeasts that are present in the flour (not the air). Cover with a coffee filter rubber banded so flies don't get in and keep the top from skinning over. Keep the sides clean by stirring vigorously,pushing the residue down with the spoon and perhaps wiping it with a kleenex covered finger dampened with water or vinegar-otherwise you get mold and bacterial growth on the residue. This will take a few days and it will become in the following order:  barely active>noticeabley active>vigorously active>less active and then finally consistently active. You start the discard/feeding at the noticeably active stage.

I brought mine to work for a few days and stirred it a few times a day until it got to the discarding/feeding part. Then I brought some flour, a clean jar and spoon to work with me and continued on. I had a great, young sourdough within  10 days. SOmetimes it takes longer or shorter depending on the room temp. Yeasts love 78-82F but do well in people comfortable rooms-just a little slower to grow.

so do a search-I have written it up numerous times.

chris319's picture
chris319

Read this from start to finish:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10856/pineapple-juice-solution-part-1

You need to get the yeast growing to the exclusion of leuconostocs. Yeast growth needs an acidic medium.

No sense in fighting microbiology.

chris319's picture
chris319

I now have three different starters going with three different media using KA WW flour:

1. Malt vinegar

2. Beer

3. Pineapple juice and grapes

Two TB flour and 3 TB liquid each to the consistency of pancake batter.

phaz's picture
phaz

like you said, no sense fighting microbiology. we don't have to do anything, the bugs will work things out just fine and dandy on their own. just like they've been doing for a long long time!

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

The best way to get a good starter is to just feed it flour and water, consistently, until it gets through all of its cycles. I'm not sure how phaz did it with bleached white flour, though. The yeast in starter comes from the flour, so your best bet is to use an organic, unbleached, whole wheat or rye flour. The less processed it is, the better. If you can find a local grower to buy from, that's even better. Use clean, pure water, with no chlorine in it. Don't use tap water. As for an acidic environment, the lactobacillus will produce that themselves. Giving it a little bit of vinegar or pineapple juice might help them get a head start, but is not really needed.

I personally wouldn't trust it to be stable and safe for at least a couple weeks to a month. It may happen to stabilize sooner, or your immune system may be really strong, but you're better off not trying to rush it. After it becomes consistently active, switch to plain white flour, bleached is okay. It should be able to double itself in 12 hours or less. It doesn't need any new microorganisms introduced at that point. This is assuming that a plain white starter is what you're aiming for.

phaz's picture
phaz

 bleached flour, and temps in the low 50sF -  day 6 was the day it started acting like a starter should.  even made a loaf the next day for laughs,  no trouble rising, and a good amount of sour.  it was tasty. I guess I was lucky.

grandmamac's picture
grandmamac

I had a bit of difficulty at first but realised that I was cleaning the kitchen counter with anti bacterial spray sometimes. I usually use very hot water. Once I stopped, my starter took off. Then I had a bit of trouble storing it in the fridge - back to the ktchen counter again. My fridge was antibacterial but it's given up and been replaced by one that isn't. Many hand washes are antibacterial but we have good bacteria on our skin as well so I just use soap, rinse very well and then rubbing y hands under running water for ten seconds as currently recommended.

It's one thing being clean and not giving anyone salmonella but some bacteria we do want to foster.

chris319's picture
chris319

It's been a week and so far no signs of life in any of my several starters. I have made another one using, instead of 2 TB flour and 3 TB liquid, 2 TB flour and only 2 TB liquid. Maybe I was drowning the yeast by making it the consistency of pancake batter? The ingredients I've read about but have yet to try are potatoes, apples and cabbage. Oh, there's also packaged yeast but that kind of defeats the purpose of trying to cultivate wild yeast. I can only conclude that there is some kind of black magic in those Pyrenees snow packs that makes a water-and-flour starter take off. How else could those bakers of yore gotten their starters going that they brought to California during the gold rush? They didn't have pineapple juice.

chris319's picture
chris319

Maybe this is where you have to get the water for starter? I hear it is just chock-full of black magic: http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Category:Rivers_of_the_Basque_Country

LisaE's picture
LisaE

HI Chris,

I had the same problems, almost gave up. A wise soul here suggested I add a pinch of organic whole ground rye flour each time I feed. The yeast you desire are living on the rye and when the PH hits the correct level, they will wake up. Use glass, not plastic, use bottled or filtered water at room temp without clorine or chloramines. Feed much less often than every couple of hours, you have to give the bacteria and yeast chance to multiply. every 24-36 hours is better. If your culture is too thin, you may not see the bubbles or rise in it. The consitency of toothpaste is good. You can use a bit of pinapple or orange juice for a couple of initial feedings, this helped so much with the acrid smell! 

Try to feed (by weight) 1 part starter, 1 part flour and,  1 part water with a pinch of rye. When the yeast wake up, you'll smell them. be patient, and do do do use some rye! 

I'm making great loaves of sourdough now, don't give up and be patient. You'll get there!

chris319's picture
chris319

I should have looked this up in the first place. It turns out that ethanol inhibits yeast growth! Thus, my ideas for using beer or wine to make starter were inspired as they are ingredients that were available to sourdough bakers of yesteryear, but counterproductive. My ethanol-based starters bear this out as they have shown no real activity after many days. It's another idea for category 13.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

just to be clear, ethanol is distilled.  Through the process, no bacteria or yeast is present in ethanol.  

Beer and wine are not ethanol but alcohol produced is a result of fermentation.  Unless they are cloudy or young, the yeast has been settled or filtered out.  

Did you add distilled alcohol to your "ethanol-based starters?"  This would more than likely kill (as a disinfectant) most of  the little wee-beasties that want to grow.   

chris319's picture
chris319

No, just beer and wine which both contain yeast-inhibiting ethanol. Not pure ethanol nor vodka for that matter.

adm's picture
adm

Yeast can survive in pretty high levels of alcohol. I home brew beer and yeast can survive to 12% levels of alcohol or higher depending on the strain.

If you do use beer as a starter liquid, make sure you are using a "real" upasteurised, unfiltered craft beer that actually does contain live yeast. This will normally have small deposits of yeast on the bottom of the bottle. Drink the beer, then add a little water to the bottle and swirl it around to release the yeast, then use the yeasty water for the starter. I have successfully cultured yeast from beer several times this way. Typically, mass produced beers will have all the yeast filtered out and the beer might also be pastuerised which would kill any remaining after the filtration.

To echo others here, I would use a wholewheat, stone ground flour, or similar rye flour

chris319's picture
chris319

See table 1 here: http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007%2FBF00511253#page-1

Beer and wine would not be good first choices for sourdough starter.

chris319's picture
chris319

After about three days my whole-wheat starter is beginning to show signs of life! Tiny bubbles are appearing on the surface. I ascribe this activity to two corrections I made: 1) I was making the starter too thin, to the consistency of pancake batter, with 2 TB flour and 3 TB of liquid. Using 2 TB of flour and just 2 TB liquid makes it the consistency of oatmeal. The thicker consistency seems to work better. 2) The wild yeast on grape skins definitely helps a lot. I've tried a pineapple-juice starter with and without grape yeast and the one with grape yeast is also showing signs of life. I tried adding honey (maybe too much) to one starter, thinking the yeast could feed on the maltose in honey but it is still flat. I may have raised the pH (made it more alkaline) by adding the honey. As noted above, the starters made with beer and wine didn't work out.

During this experiment I hit upon an interesting idea. To obtain the acidic liquid and wild yeast in one step, take a bunch of grapes and put them through a juicer. If you don't have a juicer, liquefy them in a blender (after first removing the stems) and let this puree stand for a while while the pulp settles to the bottom, then pour off the juice. You now have grape juice with a pH of around 3 to 4, and you have cultivated the wild yeast on the grape skins. Clever!

As noted in another thread, after consulting with my doctor today, I am modifying my sourdough plans. Bread made with wheat has a fairly high glycemic index, so I am going to try some alternative grains. I plan to use rye flour for the starter and barley flour for the dough. Instead of a glycemic index in the 70s it will be in the 50s. Due to the sugar content, I will not be using fruit juice as the medium for the starter. Instead, I will use a dilute mixture of water and white vinegar. The grapes will be given a bath in this vinegar water to capture the wild yeast on the grape skins.

Time will tell.

mini_maggie's picture
mini_maggie

Honey has antibacterial properties.

I would echo the' keep it simple' advice of others... less additives, more patience and time.

 

 

phaz's picture
phaz

a little vinegar, like teaspoon or so per loaf, acts as a dough enhancer due to the increased acidity, which helps gluten formation.  to much will retard the yeast.  if you're only mixing a couple tablespoons of starter, go real easy on the vinegar.  diluting say 10 to 1, and then only using a drop in such a small amount of starter.  hopefully that won't be too much.  good luck#

chris319's picture
chris319

Honey may have antibacterial properties but a lot of people claim success with it in their starter recipes; do a Google search on "sourdough starter honey". Honey contains maltose which wild yeast feeds on. Perhaps less is more and just a half-teaspoonful would be preferable. Another source of maltose is corn syrup but that was not available as an ingredient to sourdough bakers of olden times.

There is a way to calculate the PH of combined liquids. It is not a simple calculation, but 2 TB of white vinegar in 12 oz. of water would lower the pH to 3.5

Dr. Kayne
chris319's picture
chris319

Much to my great surprise, when I checked on the beer & honey starter today, I saw bubbles! It took a little while but they are there. This one was 3 TB flour with 2 TB beer and 1 TB honey. I thought the ethanol in the beer would inhibit yeast growth. It may slow it down but grow it does. Again, honey is used as a source of maltose and glucose/dextrose.

Meanwhile the starter with the blender-made grape juice (yeasty skins and all, no honey) is bubbling and has taken on the distict aroma of wine as the grape juice is no doubt fermenting. This leads me to wonder whether maltose is necessary. There doesn't seem to be any naturally-occurring maltose in grapes but there is glucose, which is also needed as food by wild yeast.

Both of these starters had some things in common: 1) equal parts flour and liquid, 2) an acidic liquid (beer or grape juice), 3) a source of glucose, not sucrose as in table sugar, 4) yeast, either contained in the beer or on the grape skins.

Neither starter used packaged yeast. Both were made with ingredients available to bakers centuries ago.

The wine and honey starter never took off.

Glucose is present in pineapple juice, so there is another clue.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

My elves might have been playing in your starter.  Those Two!  That idea doesn't just "pop out of the blue" and I have been suspicious for some time now.   I was reading your thread out loud and they took off trying to avoid garden work before the weekend.  Alcohol seems to attract them and they might have shown up at your place.  See any evidence?   ... other than the starter?  

chris319's picture
chris319

I am trying yet another starter with less honey for a lower glycemix index. This one has 2 tb flour, 2 tb beer, 1 tsp honey mixed to the consistency of oatmeal. I will keep cutting back on the honey to see if there is a point at which it doesn't take off.

chris319's picture
chris319

In my ongoing starter experimentation I have tried a mixture of flour, plain water and cumin. I never realized cumin has such a pungent aroma. I also tried a plain-water starter, a plain-water-and-grape-yeast starter and a vinegar-water starter. The three plain-water starters puffed up and bubbled literally overnight, but beneath the bubbles lurks trouble. It is that telltale cheesy odor, a sure-fire sign that leuconostocs are behind the puff and bubbles. The only one that didn't develop a cheesy odor was the vinegar-water one. My formula for vinegar water is 1 TB white vinegar to 12 oz. water. According to my calculations the pH of this mixture is 3.5.

I couldn't figure out why Joe Ortiz used cumin in his demonstration with Julia Child. I don't have any pH paper in the house but I suspect it does not lower the pH of the water, at least not by much. My plain-water-and-cuminn starter got the leucs literally overnight with the attendant cheesy odor.

The vinegar water-only starter has a few surface bubbles.

Next up is a vinegar-water and cumin starter. I hope to find out whether there is black magic in the cumin or if it is merely placebo.

The missing link that started me on the road to starter success seems to be the initial consistency. I now make it to the consistency of cooked oatmeal, after having a great deal of failure with starters made to the soupier consistency of pancake batter.

phaz's picture
phaz

well,  if you'd like a starter to make bread,  leave the cheese smelling samples alone for 2-3 days,  then start a feeding schedule.  just add flour and water till you have a decent amount of starter,  then discard half and feed.  you should have a usable starter in about another week. 

here's a twist on the experiments -  get a starter going, then add the experiments ingredients to small samples of the active starter -  see if it thrives, or dies.   you'll have a good starter to make bread, and can see which ingredients will kill, or aid the good beasties. goog luck!

phaz's picture
phaz

 oops,  double post

chris319's picture
chris319

Are you saying repeated feedings will kill off leuconostocs? Where is your evidence for this? If you don't know what leuconostocs are then you need to do some homework.

phaz's picture
phaz

 proof is in the pudding, or in this case, the starter.  and yes,  feeding regularly after first 2-4 days will change things around.  your starter has entered the first stage of the process.  let it do it's thing if you want a starter to make bread.  I know it's hard to believe,  but the bugs have been at this longer than all the folks who post here combined, and then some.  don't interfere, they will work  it out on their own  just as they have been doing for a loooooooooong  time!

chris319's picture
chris319

I have reconstituted a water-only starter after throwing out the previous one due to leuconostoc growth. Flour and water only, to the consistency of cooked oatmeal. If and when it starts to bubble and smell like cheese it will be refreshed daily. Keeping in mind that you have given no scientific basis for it, we'll see if your claim is valid that repeated refreshments alone will make the leuconostocs and the attendant cheese smell disappear.

phaz's picture
phaz

 there ya go!  this worked for me, and many others.  one bug takes over and creates an environment for another bug, which takes over and creates an environment for another.  so on till there finally a comfortable environment for the good bugs. they know what they are doing, no real need to make things more complicated for our little friends.   with just flour and water, bleached flour at that, and temps in the low 50s -  yup, low 50s - I got a starter going like mad.  had the leucs, was going to start over, but some searching found this isn't unusual.  kept feeding and sniffing and cheese smell went away after day 5. a couple days later, the starter exploded, like tripling in volume after 3 hrs.  had to try a loaf and had some real sourness to it,  too much sour, but it was a young beast.  that's when I gave it the name vermonster.  has been working very well the last 4 months or so. outside of a little adjusting to warmer temps once summer came, it's been very reliable, and very resilient. I leave it on the counter and sometimes only feed every 2 or 3 days in 80+ degree temps and it doubles or more in 5 hrs or less.

 maybe I'm lucky, or the Vermont bugs are some kind of super strain,  but the vermonster just keeps on going. and now I've got some kneading to do.  good luck, and most important, happy baking!

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Here's the link to Debra Wink's research on starter microbiology: The Pineapple Juice Solution, Part 1.  Do read Part 2, as well, since it focuses more on the process of creating a new starter, based on the science you're interested in.

There's a lot more science out there that documents the progression from the leuconostoc regime to subsequent regimes to, eventually, the lactobacillus and yeast regime that we want in our starters.  Google is your friend as you search for additional information.  Ms. Wink's research should get you off to a good start.

Paul

chris319's picture
chris319

After some web research I found the missing link: once the leucs start growing, amidst the microbiological warfare taking place in the starter, acids are given off and the pH drops as the starter environment becomes more acidic. That's when the leucs subside and C.humilis growth takes over. That's the theory. Adding pineapple juice to the initial mix inhibits leuconostoc growth. I venture to say that many beginners see their starters go flat after the initial burst of leuconostoc growth and toss it out, thinking their starter has died. Keep in mind that sourdough bakers of yesteryear did not know about pH and did not have pineapple juice available to them, and even if they did, they wouldn't have known how to use it.

phaz's picture
phaz

 they did it like most do it now -  flour, water, and time.  I've heard good things using the pineapple juice method,  some failures,  but for the most part good.  some have had a bubbling starter in  as little as 3 days,  but really,  you'll need a week or 2 before the starter settles down and balances out.  the wink article references above explains the process in detail. an interesting side note - I came across some old books, like turn of the century, and what a process it was to bake a loaf of bread. water, potatoes, milk, and time. one can see why commercial yeast was considered a miracle product!  

chris319's picture
chris319

With all due respect to Debra, and her original research on the subject is very important, if what phaz contends is true, pineapple juice is a solution to a non-problem. If the cure for leuconostocs is repeated refreshments and everything works itself out given sufficient time and refreshment, then pineapple juice is not needed at all.

If you've been paying attention in this thread, the problem with my first efforts at starter is that they were being made to the consistency of pancake batter. This is too thin. I've had the most success making the initial mixture to the consistency of cooked oatmeal.

phaz's picture
phaz

the pineapple juice should just speed up the process. instead of a week or 2, you should have a usable starter in a week or less. the initial ph being lower, is less favorable to the bad buggers, as you found in your experimentation. to tell the truth,I would have tried pineapple juice myself. but I started late winter, weather wasn't good, and my little sports car isn't good in the snow. great excuse for doing it like they did it a couple thousand years ago! happy baking!

chris319's picture
chris319

Isn't there a concern that using ingredients other than flour and water might alter the flavor of the finished product? Cumin is pretty strong. Would the cumin flavor get diluted away with repeated refreshments? For the time being I'm going to take your advice and see the water-only starter through. I could see using grape-skin yeast as it isn't going to have much flavor, but in theory even it shouldn't be needed.

Do your turn-of-the-century books discuss sourdough and starter? The use of potatoes suggests they may have been for cultivating yeast?

In the water-only starter, the first little gas bubble appeared just three hours after mixing. I realize it isn't going full tilt yet, but I expect it will take off in a day or two.

I'm still not clear on the role of cumin.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

is introducing "rope" into your culture.  Try to keep this problem to a minimum, peel and pre-cook the potatoes that are going into starter or bread.  The starch in the potatoe is the food source.  Think carbohydrates.  Yeast need carbohydrates to feed on.

I've found that when starting a starter, the wetter the better.  Thicken later when the yeast has shown up.  Let the water or juice separate and form a protecting layer on top.  It is not important that the culture foam up and rise in the first few days.  Trapping that gas is not benneficial.

It may be important to introduce very small amounts of fresh flour, but a culture can also be made if you just leave it alone.  The culture's biggest problem is our (human) impatience, our need to force feed it and our search for particular visual signs too soon.  Don't forget aromas and taste change in the starter happen at a predictable pace.  The culture will take the time it needs.  

There are basically two major phases to culture making.  First, letting the culture grow and second, while the culture is not firmly established, feeding it using selective techniques to select those culture characteristics that suit our particular schedules and needs.  Then we feed those populations, the ones that have survived and work together for us.  That stabilizes the culture.   

If the end result was always a flour that tasted like flour, we wouldn't be playing with cultures.  Of course we are concerned with what we feed them.  Finding a unique starter that tastes better than anyone else's is also a goal.  

phaz's picture
phaz

potato use was in creating yeast, and it was boiled. the water used to boil was also added into the mix, don't want to waste all that starch. those books didn't really get into sourdough outside of a mention that you could set aside some dough for the next bake. back then, bread was baked daily. 1 mentioned a recommended daily intake of 1 pound of bread per person! wheat bread was considered a good, cheap, source of protein. almost, if not,a super food.
cumin - I'm no micro biologist - but knowing most spices were originally used to preserve food, I can only imaging cumin has some anti bacterial properties that may allow it to inhibit the initial growth of the bad bugs. like pineapple juice though, it should get diluted out after several feedings especially if discarding half of the starter and replacing with fresh flour and water. still, using cumin seems a bit far out there, but I'll bet if you look hard enough, you'd find even stranger sounding methods of creating a starter. but the underlying theme is always leaving it to do its thing. sooner or later, you end up with something that will make a loaf of bread. as always, good luck, and happy baking!

chris319's picture
chris319

After 24 hours the water-only starter is puffy, bubbly, smelly and full of leucs. Now to see if those leucs go away and yeast takes their place.

phaz's picture
phaz

with my starter, next smell was of paint thinner. a few days later it slowly changed to a green apple smell. that's the good stuff.

Antilope's picture
Antilope

deleted.

phaz's picture
phaz

sssshhhhh ,  many purists consider using commercial yeast cheating, but I won't tell!

chris319's picture
chris319

The sourdough bakers of yesteryear didn't have packaged yeast available to them because it hadn't been developed yet. They made sourdough bread for centuries without it.

Antilope's picture
Antilope

Modern yeast has been used for 100 years in most of the homes of America. It has been used by the ton in modern bakeries all over America for over 100 years. It's been produced by the ton and shipped all over America for over 100 years. How do you know you are not capturing some modern variety released into the environment for your "wild yeast"?

phaz's picture
phaz

gotta love Wikipedia, and names like Pliny  the Elder

 

http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_bread

chris319's picture
chris319

There are sure to be spores of saccharomyces cerevisiae (baker's yeast) in the air, on grape skins, in wheat, rye, and barley flour, etc. but that fact doesn't mean much in and of itself.

chris319's picture
chris319

The yeast of interest in S.F. sourdough is candida humilis which I don't believe is present to any significant degree in packaged yeast.

chris319's picture
chris319

After one week, the water-only starter showed some leuconostoc activity at first, then went flat. Let's see if it springs back to life in another week or so.

Antilope's picture
Antilope

After 5 days, I'm eating sourdough bread made from yeast. But because I didn't capture magic fairy dust from the air to make it I'm suppose to feel bad or inferior. What's with that? I don't get what's behind the put down. But if that makes others feel better, so be it.

phaz's picture
phaz

nothing wrong with that! I use regular yeast in my ciabatta, focaccia, and bagels, and still make regular white bread here and there. variety is the spice of life - the more the better. I'll bet over time, the yeast changes anyway. the environment will favour the natural yeast and they will take over eventually. many use regular yeast to jump start the process - yet another way to get started - pun intended!

chris319's picture
chris319

Who put you down, antilope? I don't think I did!

chris319's picture
chris319

After more than a month of experimentation and countless attempts at starters using every elixir I can think of, which lie deader than a doornail, I have concluded that there must be a starter fairy. Like Santa's elves and the tooth fairy, you can't see this fairy. It comes to your house and if it likes you, it bestows magic starter dust on your starter and voila! Your starter takes off. I emphasize the word "your" because my starter doesn't do a dang thing but sit there and smell funny and stare back at me. Both the fairy and the magic starter dust have the ability to penetrate plastic wrap and assorted other coverings which may be on the vessel containing your starter. I don't know why the starter fairy doesn't like me, but clearly he/she/it doesn't.

OK phaz, you have exactly one more day until it's been two weeks since I started my water-only starter. After going through an initial leuc phase it has emitted some strange odors, none of them even remotely yeasty. It presently sits like a cup of oatmeal with no bubbles, nothing. One more day. Yeah, right, just give it enough time and Darwin will select the surviving microorganisms. Heck, I'll give it another six months and I'll bet you any sum of money it will still look like so much oatmeal and be just as flat. Never mind that six months, let alone two weeks, is an inordinate amount of time to wait for any food to be prepared.

phaz's picture
phaz

 and buy bread. if creating a starter is this frustrating,  you won't be happy trying to make bread.  the starter is the easy part!  good luck!

chris319's picture
chris319

Think about it, phaz. If it were that easy do you think I'd be going to all this trouble? You don't have to search the web very long to discover that all of San Francisco's  legacy sourdough bakeries (the ones that were any good) are gone, except for Boudin which is sold mainly in airports and at tourist attractions. In southern California, the Pioneer bakery was moved from Venice to Santa Ana a few years ago and their product is now awful. I suspect they are rushing production and now it might as well be Wonder Bread.

phaz's picture
phaz

 I'd say it's obvious you can't handle it, so save yourself the trouble and buy a bread you will like.  no sense popping a gasket over something as trivial as a loaf of bread.  much more important things out there,  like my tee time in 20 minutes! c ya!

chris319's picture
chris319

You're not thinking again. If I couldn't handle it I'd have given up by now. And you missed the bigger point: good sourdough isn't readily available any more.

Heath's picture
Heath

Chris, I know you dismissed Debra Wink's pineapple juice solution further up this thread as not being traditional, but I wonder did you ever try it?

I started following Debra's instructions to the letter about 3 weeks ago and had a yeasty, bubbling starter within 5 days.  I've been using it to bake bread with reasonable success ever since.  Thanks Debra

chris319's picture
chris319

I'm trying another pineapple-juice starter as we speak, this time following Debra's refreshment schedule to the letter. I'm trying a couple of other elixirs as well, including one with water but with less cumin this time.

Still no joy with the water-only starter after exactly two weeks.

Heath's picture
Heath

Good luck with it.

chris319's picture
chris319

I think I've got starter.

I'm making it much thicker now, more like a wet dough instead of like oatmeal. To give you an idea, the initial mixture is 2 TB water and 2 1/4 TB flour. In baker's percent: 100 flour, 162 water. Due to the thickness, once it gets going there isn't much bubbly activity on the surface, but beneath the surface it has a spongy texture with lots of gas bubbles and a yeast odor. It also increases in volume. The added thickness seems to have made all the difference. This is with the white whole wheat flour. I'll have to repeat the experiment with the KA WW.

I have been using plain (unchlorinated) water, no acid, no cumin. I let it go through its initial leuc phase which eventually subsides. I also add a pinch of salt as per Kline and Sugihara's patent: https://www.google.com/patents/US3734743?pg=PA1&dq=kline+sugihara+sourdough&hl=en&sa=X&ei=QcgAUoX4DIS0yAHZ74HYCA&ved=0CGMQ6AEwBw#v=onepage&q=kline%20s...