The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Pepping up a sluggish starter?

  • Pin It
Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

Pepping up a sluggish starter?

For a while, my starters (white and rye) were very active, rising dough quickly and making light, open crumb.  Now I'm getting very sluggish rises and dense, chewy crumb (most notably the white starter) from the same recipes.  I do get a huge oven spring out of them, so *something* is alive in there!

I feed or use the starter once a week.  When feeding, I keep about 4oz and add 2-3oz of flour and 3-4oz of water to make a poolish-like mother starter.  When making plain sourdough, I make a firm starter from the mother starter, like French bread dough.

I've tried overnight proofs in the fridge, and using a pan of hot water in the oven to simulate a proofing tent.

Any suggestions on making my starter more zippy are welcome :)

-Joe 

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

You might want to try feeding your mother starter a couple of times a week for a while, or even feed it daily for a week or two to get it back up to speed.

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

You aren't feeding your starter enough. You are starving it and that is why it is sluggish. According to what you wrote above, you are using more water than flour when you are feeding. It should be the other way around, or at miminum at least equal weights. Try saving only 2 Tbsp. of starter and then feeding it 4 oz. of each flour and water (or more). Are you keeping the starter in the fridge when you aren't using it? It will go longer between feedings if you do. I generally mix in enough flour to make my starter quite thick for storage in the fridge and then thin it out a bit for using in a recipe.

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

I agree with sourdough lady - a stiffer starter keeps better, especially in the fridge. I'd go for a proportion of two ounce starter, two water and three of flour. This makes a good, stiff starter - though quite a lot of it.

If your present starter has really got slow, take two bowls, pots or whatever (to start two starters off) and use one ounce starter, two of water and three of flour, leave 24 hours, then take two ounces of each new starter (dump the rest), add two of water and three of flour, leave for a couple of hours, then refrigerate. It should be up to speed by now.

Mine seems to need a good boost like this every couple of months - a very small amount of starter as a "seed" seems to really get it going again, whereas jiust straight forward feeding doesn't have the same effect.

Andrew

Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

I'm using the feeding method described in both Bread Alone and the Bread Baker's Apprentice.  Both recommend keeping a wetter "mother" starter, then making a stiff starter from it when you're ready to bake.

Bread Alone says a feeding is 9oz starter + 4oz flour + 5oz water.

TBBA says to double the weight of the starter, e.g. 8oz starter + 4oz flour + 4oz water.

I've been trying to make sure I use less starter and more flour+water, since like Sourdolady I thought I was underfeeding.  I guess I'm still underfeeding.

I do keep it in the fridge between feedings. 

 

Thanks for the suggestions!  I'll be sure to try them out and let you know how thigns go.

 

-Joe 

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

I usually more than triple the amount of flour I add when I feed my "mother starter." FWIW, I keep about 40 grams of starter at 50% hydration in the fridge. When I bake, I start with 1-5 grams of starter and then build it up over 3 refreshments 12 hours apart to the size I need, without discarding anything.

Once a week, I discard all but about 10 grams of mother starter, and then add 20 grams flour and 10 grams water. Seems to be working so far.

Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

I set about trying to revive my starters this weekend.  For both starters, I went with the following refreshment, using a higher percentage of new flour to starter this time:

 2oz starter + 3oz flour + 2-3oz water

After 8 hours on the counter, the rye starter had more than doubled.  It went right into the fridge.  The white starter had some bubbles, but no real rise.  I popped it in the fridge for the evening and took it out in the morning, where I disposed of all but 2oz and refreshed again, this time going with 1oz of white whole wheat and 2oz of strong flour.

The next morning it had doubled in size!  Wowooo!  Still a bit sluggish, so I fed it again this morning.  We'll see what it looks like when I get home.

 

Thanks for the advice,

 

-Joe 

JMonkey's picture
JMonkey

Now my starter's acting all funky. Great sour taste, with very little rise. I suspect that it's a case of keeping it in the fridge too long. In other words, getting lazy by feeding my stiff starter, leaving it out for just an hour or so and then popping it back in the fridge. The yeast has no time to multiply.

I'm going to refresh it twice a day at 100 - 125% hydration for the next 3 days. We'll see if that helps.

Paddyscake's picture
Paddyscake

I am the least experienced  sourdough'er here..but I will say the key to solving most of my problems was adequate feeding. I always had great taste. I think I read too many times that your starter will easily keep a month without feeding and then failed to recognize how much it needed to be fed to come up to par. Just a novice observation and the remedy for my problem.