The Fresh Loaf

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HELP - Starter losts its oomph (with pics)

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sadears's picture
sadears

HELP - Starter losts its oomph (with pics)

My starter lost its oomph.  Remember, when I was using AP bleached flour it would double, but not stay that way.  Once I changed to bread flour it got back to normal.  I used it two days ago, but when I fed it yesterday, then again today, it hasn't gone anywhere.  It's bubbling, but not doubling.  Any ideas?

Steph

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Steph,

I'm running away to the Caribbean for a week starting shortly (should be packing, but procrastinating badly instead) and probably won't get a chance to respond, but I'm guessing most anyone who wants to help would ask the following:

1) How long between each of the last few feedings?

2) What expansion ratio and hydration ratio are you using (specify if by weight or volume)? In other words how many parts of (old culture), (new flour), (new water) each time you feed.

3) What types of flours are in your feedings?

4) What temperatures prevail between the feedings? Is it in the refrig for any of the time between feedings?

5) Anything special about the water?

6) Anything else added? (acids, sugars, etc.)

With those details, maybe something will ring a bell. I know some of those details are probably already in your other posts and above. However, if you summarize all of that in one place, I think it'll be easier to get some good responses.

Bill

 

sadears's picture
sadears

Bill,

I just fed it again and am wondering if my water was too hot.  I checked the temp this time, and usually I just do it by feel with excellent results.  We'll see.  Wouldn't be surprised if that's the problem.

As for deviations from my usual feedings, only thing is water temp.  I'm sure that's it...I killed it, or at least slowed it down considerably.   

Where in the Caribbean are you going?  On a cruise?  Good choice, this time of year.  I took a Caribbean cruise when I was in Puerto Rico...between '90 and '93.  GET GOING!!!  If you haven't been there, you're in for a treat.  Aside from nice jewelry in St. Thomas, Granada has to be my favorite.  If you're in to spices, or anything that smells nice for that matter, you'll love this island.  Besides the fact that, at least over ten years ago, they love Americans.  Remember the medical students held hostage?  That might have changed over the years.  Anyway, I can remember everyone being so friendly (actually I didn't meet a rude person on any island we stopped at), it SMELLED SOOOOO GOOD.  Spices...which is why it is known as the Island of Spice.  Have a good time.  If you're stopping in San Juan, keep hold of your wallet.  That sounds bad, but I've known several people who were robbed at gun-point.  Granted, they had ROB ME tattooed on their foreheads (one had a 9k Rolex another was Puerto Rican driving a BMW), but still.  And my husband's pocket was picked when we honeymooned in Caracas, Venesuela, but I don't think that's counted as the Caribbean.  HAVE FUN!!!

Steph 

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Steph, 

Well, I'm actually going down to the British Virgin Islands. Am I crazy? I thought about bringing some starter culture. I've heard lots of sailors love to bake on their boats, but it always seemed one step too far for me.

I've gone every year for about the last 8 years now because my kids clamor for it. We wander the various small islands around Tortola and pull up to beautiful nooks and crannies to snorkel and just play. It's not much a sailing adventure because it's so darn easy. Basically this time of year it's steady 15 knot easterly winds, period, forever, and line of sight navigation with a few reefs to pay attention to. I do my "real sailing" up in Maine and Nova Scotia in the spring. That's where warm bread baking in the oven below decks at anchor after chilly and windy spring conditions up on deck sounds awfully good. One of these days...

But back to starters before I rush off. Yes, too high of a water temperature could hurt it. The answers to all those questions above usually reveal something. What is sometimes hard to grasp is that it is possible to work a culture down in strength instead of up. For example, if you only let the organisms double in concentration in the time/temperature you've allowed between feedings, then you'd better not triple the size of the starter when you feed. That would leave you with a concentration of 2/3, if that makes sense, which when repeated, gets you down to 2/3 of 2/3, i.e. 4/9, then 2/3 of 4/9, or 8/27, and pretty soon it's downright sluggish. So, you need to be sure to wait until there is good activity, and you need to avoid feeding it in a way that expands it at more than the growth of the culture between the feedings. On the other hand don't starve it.

So basically, you want to do several things:

1) Give the culture enough time at a good temperature (maybe 65-85 would be a safe range - pretty forgiving in that range) to really multiply itself. I never go much above 76F, just because it's a bother to find that much warmth. It's still a matter of hours to get the culture cranked up after a feeding.

2) Feed it regularly, but don't dilute it so much each time that your culture can't make up the drop in concentration. You have to give it enough time, but not too much time.

3) Maintain the acidity of the culture, so other organisms can't grow in it. This is another reason not to go way overboard on expanding the culture at each feeding.

4) Don't feed it so little that you starve the culture either. Generally, it seems like you have to at least double a culture when you feed it, or you'll start to go into the starving mode at some point.

5) Don't put stuff in it that kills it, living or chemical. So, keep everything clean and try to use nice fresh flour without anything else in it. Same with the water.

The frequency of feedings is a function of temperature and the amount you feed. If you expand the culture by a factor of 5, you'll have to wait longer than if you only expand the culture by double when you feed it. Also, the warmer the temperatures, the more often you have to feed it, or it will just overrun the food supply and starve. At very cold temperatures, the other problem arises. You have to wait long enough for the culture to grow, or when you feed it, the culture may not really even get back to where it started at the beginning of the last feeding.

Refrigeration is a useful tool to slow the culture way down between feedings, if you want to store the culture. You can put most cultures in the refrigerator for a long time, and still revive them. In my case, I can use a culture after it's been fed and become active for about 2 or 3 days after that, if I just stick it in the refrigerator. For another few days, one feeding will bring it back to full strength. After that, it takes a couple or three feedings.

I'm sure a lot of the above is repetition, but maybe some of it will ring a bell. I hate packing. Can't you tell?

Bill

sadears's picture
sadears

No matter, I'll bet all Sailors, world-wide learn how to cook and I'll bet they'd pay good money for sourdough starter.  And, if they've never used it, you can teach them.  I know U.S. Sailors cooks can cook anything.  Don't say this to the surface folks, but I"ve found the sub sailors cook the best.

 

Have fun!!!

 

Steph

sadears's picture
sadears

It is now morning, and my starter has barely moved, though there are more bubbles.  Part of me wants to feed it again, but part of me thinks that since it's so bubbly, it'll be okay.  Suggestions/comments?

 

Steph

Wayne's picture
Wayne

Steph:

My white flour starter did exactly the same thing that your's had done.........was doing fine then it just seemed to quit, only a few bubbles after 24 hours.  Tried 1/4 tsp of vinegar, etc.  But it just would not revive.  So, I decided to switch it over to straight organic rye flour for a few days.....used a 1:1.5:1.5 ratio.  Started with 1/4 cup of the white defunct starter and then added the rye and H20. (approx. 1/3 cup each).  After one day it started to show signs of life, and after the 2nd feeding it started to take off again.  Just started to convert it back to white flour this AM, but I am keeping the vigorous rye starter going too just in case.  Hope this might help you.

Wayne

sadears's picture
sadears

did you feed it with rye before you switched over to white?  Guessing I won't be using it anytime soon. :-( 

 

Thanks.  I'll go feed it now.

 

Steph

Wayne's picture
Wayne

Yes, I tried feeding it with a teaspoon of rye, plus the white flour......did not work.  It still just sat there and looked at me. Ha.  I think I tried just about everything to bring it back to life with no success....until I tried the rye flour conversion.  I just took a 1/4 cup of my "dead" white starter and added 1/3 cup organic rye and 1/3 cup H20.  Like I said earlier, it took a couple of repeats of the conversion to start to see some good action.  Each morning I took a 1//4 cup of the existing starter and then added the 1/3 rye and 1/3 H20.  The rye starter is now doubling, not quite tripling in around 8 to 10 hours. 

Wayne

sadears's picture
sadears

Right I get that.  So, it's still rye?  You haven't converted it to white yet?

Wayne's picture
Wayne

Just started this morning......1/4 cup rye starter, 1/3 cup H20, 1/3 cup white flour....will let you know if it works out ok.

sadears's picture
sadears

Mine has almost doubled since I posted that I was off to feed it with rye. ;-D

 

Thanks for the advice.

 

Steph

Wayne's picture
Wayne

Glad to hear it is working ok with the rye.......................my first retry to build a white starter is doing ok.....has been 5 hours but not doubled yet.  I will look at it again at 10 hours.  My refreshed rye starter has already doubled also. 

 Wayne

sadears's picture
sadears

So did you take some of your rye starter to start your white starter?

 

Steph

Wayne's picture
Wayne

No, didn't think of it......................guess I could.  Will post them for you later if I can remember where I put the camera........

 

Wayne

sadears's picture
sadears

So you just started your white from scratch?

Wayne's picture
Wayne

No,  I started with the active rye starter (1/4 cup) and added 1/3 cup white flour and 1/3 cup water.  It will take a couple more refreshments to make it mostly white again.  See picture of rye starter below.

Wayne's picture
Wayne

Below is the white starter I just started converting this AM.  Will have to repeat a couple more times for it to be mostly white flour again.