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New starter still feeble

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ianb's picture
ianb

New starter still feeble

Hi, I hope someone can help.

 

This is my first attempt at a starter. It went "live" easily enough, 2-3 weeks ago, but since then, it doesn't seem to have strengthened much. I searched the forum, and the advice seems to be, feed it regularly and soon it'll take off. Mine hasn't.

 

I feed it twice a day (two spoonfuls of strong white flour with enough water to make a paste, then add two spoonfuls of starter). Ambient temperature is 20 - 25°C during the day, slightly cooler at night. I read that it should be vigorous enough to froth up to double - mine bubbles gently and is frothy if you stir it, but no big rise.

 

Am I doing something wrong, or do I have a weak strain of yeast?

 

Thanks

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

It may be that your timing is a little off.  At your next feed, mix as usual and put it in a clean glass jar or any container in which you can clearly see if it has any rise at all.  Mark the side of the jar with the starting level of the mixture.  Then wait and watch.  When it has risen as high as it will go and stops rising, wait some more until it falls back down a bit.  Then feed it again and repeat.  Doesn't matter if it takes 6 hours or 48 hours for it to peak and then fall back, whenever it falls back is the right time to feed it.

You may need to feed different amounts or at different intervals depending on temps- 25C will give a more active starter than 20C.

The other thing to check is the consistency of your mixture- it should be thick enough to trap air bubbles, if it is too thin they will rise to the surface and pop, making it difficult to judge the right time to feed.

ianb's picture
ianb

Thanks, FlourChild.

Maybe it's rising more than I think - it's in a glass bowl, so it's difficult to judge. Next time I feed, I'll put it into a jar, and mark start and finish - then I'll know for sure.

 

Cheers

chris319's picture
chris319

Does it smell yeasty? Don't worry so much about the bubbles as what it smells like.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

1/2 C of flour and 1/4 C of water and 2 T of starter, keep it on the counter,  and don't feed it again until it has doubled in volume and fallen back.  Make sure you have it in a see through straight sided glass or plastic container so you can put a rubber band around the level it starts at so you can easily tell when it has doubled. 

Happy Baking

Davo's picture
Davo

How watery or stiff is your mix? If it's really wet, bubbles could be escaping without causing a rise. If it's something like dough (rather than batter) this shouldn't happen. Neither is right or wrong, just the result will differ. If it's more like dough than batter, what you should see after enough tome for it to get going is that if you drag a spoon or finger through the mix, underneath the surface it should be airy and honeycombed. If you are not getting that, then perhaps it is not yet up to speed, and feeding it so regularly may not actually be helping, as you can at times just be diluting the bugs before you get so many of them. The tip above on smell is also helpful - if at the end of your half-day after it's been fed you don;t get that airiness and it also smells just like a flour and water dough (without yeastiness), maybe it needs more time before being re-fed.

I've been baking sourdough for years, and occasionally when I waken the fridge-stored starter with a feed, I am a bit too quick to re-feed it, and need to let it get up to speed.

Perhaps split some off and feed some at the same scehdule, and feed the other only once a day, and see what happens.

chris319's picture
chris319

The breakthrough for me was getting my starters at the right consistency. Too thin, soupy or batter-like and they never took off. Now I make them sticky but not stiff and easily stirrable with a fork. When you stir them you will see the gluten sticking together.

ianb's picture
ianb

Thanks for all advice, people.

 

Consistency-wise, it's closer to dough than batter - about as thick as I can get it, and still be stirrable. As for smell, not much yeastiness, I'm afraid - still vinegar-ish. Mind, when I come to feed it, it IS airy and honeycombed, so maybe there's hope.

 

After this morning's feed, I put it into a straight-sided glass jar, so I should get a clearer idea of growth. I'll also keep an eye on it during the day. And tonight, I'll try half the batch on a 24hr schedule.

 

It's like having children again......

 

Cheers

chris319's picture
chris319

As an experiment, don't feed it for a day, just stir it.Every time you add flour you're introducing new stuff which is at the bottom rung of the fermentation ladder and has to begin the fermentation process anew. Twice per day every day is a lot of refreshment.

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

Twice a day is not a lot if your yeast is eating that much. I eat three or four times a day myself. Some people eat smaller amounts, and make it seven to ten times a day. Yeasts and LABs gotta eat something, or they will die. I like FlourChild's advice above about feeding it when it's ready, whether that is 6 hours or 48 hours. The ratio of new flour over starter will determine somewhat how often it will need to be fed, as will the ambient temperature and hydration level. A higher ratio feeding less often or lower ratio of feeding more often should make little difference, if the yeast is able to eat it all. I do agree, in cases where the activity of the yeast is in question, that feeding at a lower ratio AND less often might be appropriate, in order to give the culture time to multiply to a high enough level.

What I personally do with mine is try to pinpoint the amount it can eat in half a day, and feed it every twelve hours that much. That amount changes with the seasons, because of temperature and humidity, so you've got to be looking out for those changes. But, after all, the sourdough needs to live in your world, and adjust to your needs. If it isn't convenient for you, then you will eventually give up on it, which isn't a desired result. Even easier than that, once your starter is WELL established, is to keep it in the fridge and feed it every week or so.

ianb's picture
ianb

Hallelujah! It's working.

 I fed it this morning, and now, ten hours later, it's grown to three times the size it was. I don't know what I did (though putting it in a straight-sided jar made it easy to see the growth) but heck, who cares....

 (Wish I could post a photo to show you)

 I'm off now to read up on how to actually use the starter. A different technique from normal commercial yeasts, I believe.

Thanks for all the comments and advice, they gave me the confidence I needed.

 

Cheers

chris319's picture
chris319

I fed it this morning, and now, ten hours later, it's grown to three times the size it was.

What does it smell like?

 

ianb's picture
ianb

More sour, less dough....

I've started the first loaf, though, so the proof of the pudding, I hope, will be in the eating

 

Meanwhile, here is as it was.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

too thin with too much water and wasn't getting enough flour to eat. Just feed it the same amount, by weight - not volume from now on which will give you a nice 100% hydration starter.  Now you can make some great bread with it and re-feed the starter when ever it get low.  It is nice when kids end up becoming president instead of ending up in prison.

Happy baking. 

ianb's picture
ianb

Well, it baked beautifully.

Wasn't too difficult to handle, and rose well. It even had enough vigour to rise a little, when I left it overnight in the fridge for the second rise.

And it tasted good!

I'm happy with it....

 

Thanks, again, for all the help.