The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Differences in my starter

conan's picture

Differences in my starter

I "started" my starter about a month ago now, and have posted here a couple of times.  I live in the SF Bay Area, my starter is EXTREMELY active (sometimes I think I need to settle it down!), and I have finally been able to tweak my proportions and have created some amazingly airy artisanal sourdough with great crust.  But here's my question......

I keep my "mother" starter in the same bowl I created it in, and it lives at about 3 cups worth.  It can move happily from the fridge to the counter, and when fed bubbles almost immediately.  The day before I make bread....

I take 1 to 1 1/2c of my starter and move it to a glass bowl.  I stir and feed it with almost 1c water, and almost 1c flour.  This is what I want to use with my bread.  This "levain"(?) bubbles ok, not a huge amount, but has made some terrific bread the following day.

At the same time, I re-feed my mother starter with 1c water and 1c flour.  This bubbles, froths, and seems to want to climb out of the bowl within 1-2 hours!  It's really cool to watch because I know it's got great stuff in it!  And this also produces nice airy bread.

Why the difference between my "levain" and the "main" starter?  Is it the bowl (glass vs plastic)?  (My "mother" lives in plastic)  Is it the proportions?  What gives?



Davo's picture

I'm guessing it could be the propotion of active starter to new food.

 In your mother, there's a lot of starter, and a decent bit of food. Let's say it's just the right amount of food for the active starter to eat straight away given the population of starter bugs. Add a bit more food (to starter as a ratio, like you do in what you put int he bowl), and it will take a little longer to get eaten through, and in the meantime, it's just extra mass that "dampens" the degree of visible activity. Obviously this has a limit, if you give less and less food as a new addition, you'll get to a point where there's not enough food to let the party happen at all, so while what happens will hapen very quickly, you won;t notice it.

 On the other extreme, if you start out with say 1/2 cup of starter and 3 cups of flour and a suitable amount of water, it'll take quite a ong time to show some "momentum".

I have gotten a new batch of rye flour, which i use at 25% along with 10% wholemeal in my standard loaf. In comparison to my previous rye, this seems to get "eaten" by the bugs quicker, so I've been getting over-proved doughs at oven time, with everything else (times/temps etc) being the same. So I just decreased my levain mass a bit and increased my final bread-dough new flour/water by the same amount, and now it's back to working out right, for the same bulk-ferment and proving times as I used before... 

 Also, hows your realitve hydration? - wetter stuff goes off faster - so if you mother is a bit wetter than your bread dough...

conan's picture

I don't know what my hydration is.  I've been doing it all by feel.  But my mother starter is fairly "wet".  After 3 days in the fridge, I probably have about 2/3c of hooch on top.  When I feed it, I stir first, add water, stir it together, add flour, stir some more, but leave some lumps of flour.  Water & flour are approximately 1:1 ratio. 

I see most other people out here, and the omnificent Hammelman(?), measure everything they do precisely with scales.  But I'm not into being that precise of a person, and have never been like that with my cooking.  I've produced some really great loaves so far, so hopefully basic bread baking can be done like this too.

A difference I did note between my fed mother and my baking levain this morning was that the "well-fed" mother produces large gas bubbles, while the levain produced more fine bubbles.  Kind of like the difference between bottled Tonic Water and Champagne.  Could that be proportional as well?

I've got a couple batches working right now with my levain and I'm curious to see what comes out.  

Thanks for the input.