The Fresh Loaf

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Refreshing a sourdough starter

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AbbySue's picture
AbbySue

Refreshing a sourdough starter

I am new to this website, and I may be posting this in the wrong place.  If so, would someone please help me.


I have a sourdough starter that I received from a friend in California, it traveled back accross the country with me to Georgia.  I have tried to refresh it a few times, and I tried to make a pizza dough with a recipe my friend sent me, and I seemed to have failed.


The starter has now been in my fridge, untouched for almost a month.  I would really like to refresh it and form a better relationship with it, but I need some help.  Can anyone tell me if this is a lost cause, or if there is still hope for my dream of making a decent loaf of bread one day?!

gaaarp's picture
gaaarp

Welcome, AbbySue!  You will find more information here than you can shake a stick at, so take your time to browse around.  If you want to find tons of info on sourdough starters, type "sourdough starter" or "feeding starter" or "refreshing starter" in the search box in the top lefthand corner.


As far as your starter goes, if it was an active starter when your friend gave it to you, it is probably not a lost cause. First, take it out of the fridge. Let it warm to room temperature (alternately, use lukewarm water), then weigh your starter. Feel free to discard some starter to begin with. You might want to start with just a few tablespoons of starter.


Feed it at a 1:1:1 ratio (starter:water:flour). For the flour, you generally want to use unbleached bread flour; however, for the first few feedings, I would include a small amount (maybe 25% of the total flour) of rye flour. This will give the starter a boost.


Cover the starter and leave it on the counter. Feed it every 12 hours, and you should soon see some life. After it becomes active and bubbly (likely within a few days), you can return it to the refrigerator or keep it on the counter. (This will start a raging debate between the friggies and the 12-hour feeders; I'm not that concerned either way. Let's just get this starter going again.)


Hope this helps.


Phyl


 

bassopotamus's picture
bassopotamus

The starter probably needs some time out in the warmth to do it's thing. I had a situation like yours a little while back. As a precuation, I keep a small second container of starter in my fride, along with my big one. I got lazy about updating the insurance starter and then I needed it (I dropped my big starter, broke the plastic container, and was worried about dirt and plastic conatmination). So, I built up my insurance starter, which hadn't been fed in 6 weeks in the fridge, but didn't really have any hooch on top or anything. It rose almost immediately, but my bread wasn't very sour. Apparently, the long term fridge storage had thrown the microbe stew out of whack.


 


After getting some advice here, I did a week of 12 hour feedings, and it worked like a champ. Starter is back to normal. A few lessons


 


1. I now discard my insurance starter everytime I feed mother, and start a new insurance starter.


2. The starter takes some work to keep happy. Nothing serious, but attention from time to time.


3. It seems important to once and a while get some warmth in your starter. I always leave it out at least 8 hours when I feed it before sticking it back in the fridge, but you may find, periodically, that it needs a few days of warmer feeding.


 


One other thought: if this starter can't be resuscitated, don't despair. It is pretty easy to start one from scratch anyway. You can have a starter that with raise bread in under two weeks, and some flavor not long after that.

M2's picture
M2

A newbie question: what is the difference between a mother and a starter?  Thanks!  -- Michelle

Pablo's picture
Pablo

ha ha.  No, it's a very reasonable question with some probably unreasonable answers.  I'd say the "mother" is a form of starter, it could also be called your storage starter or seed culture.  I'm not trying to be confusing, but you've touched on a bit of semantics that doesn't have universal agreement, I don't think.


It depends on the context in which the words are used.  I'm guessing that in the context that you're talking about "mother" means the more dormant form of the starter that can be kept in the 'fridge and that "starter" probably means a bit of the mother that has been recently fed and is active enough to rise bread reliably. 


No doubt there will be disagreement.   It's a very good and basic question.


:-Paul

bassopotamus's picture
bassopotamus

The SD I make involves taking whatever you call your starter, building it up on day one, and on day 2 building that into a dough. I refer to the stored starter as "mother" and the intermediate step as starter, not that I am necissarily correct. I think in general usage, the mother is your long term starter. Of course, there are other terms for this (from what I can gather, Reinhart's Barm is just another word for mother).

sphealey's picture
sphealey

There are multiple names for just about everything and every process in breadbaking, and nowhere moreso than in sourdough.  Which is confusing, especically when you are just starting out [1].


In this case I think part of the confusion is the difference between professional formulas, such as Hamelman's, and recipes intended primarily for the home baker.  If I read Bassopotamus' post correctly he maintains a separate mother starter, takes some of that to start the build for his bake, and feeds the mother starter as a separate step before storage.  That's what I do and I suspect most home bakers do as well:  it minimizes the chances of accidently baking out all of the starter or otherwise destroying it in the baking process.


If you read Hamelman's chapter on sourdough carefully you will find that this is not what professional bakers generally do.  They start with 1 kg (say) of starter from the day before, use it all to make the days' dough, and at some point in the build process extract 1 kg of the dough to save for tomorrow's starter.  Hamelman points out that this method is so standard amongst professional bakers that it isn't even called out explicitly in the formulas - it is _assumed_, and you have to carefully re-do the arithmetic to see that the final batch of dough is missing 1 kg!


In our serious amatuer world we mix recipes, techniques, and terminology from home and professional baking, and IMHO this adds a bit to the confusion.


sPh


[1] I am not even going to mention Reinhart's (Gaia bless him) habit of accidently redefining words and terms that have been used for 327 years to mean something else in his books.

bassopotamus's picture
bassopotamus

That's a good point about the the home/ pro distinction


 


Most of us baking at home can't really do that since we arent baking every day, but that does make sense in a pro environment. I end up wasting a fair amount of flour doing the seperate feedings of the starter, and if I were really running a business (rather than selling one day a week) it would be wasteful.

Pablo's picture
Pablo

you might have a look at this thread to see what I mean:


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/12692/let039s-hear-you


:-Paul

cake diva's picture
cake diva

Paul,


Just curious.  Can you explain your picture to me before it gives me nightmares?  I'm racking my brains trying to figure out what it is.  It's rather scary. =)

Pablo's picture
Pablo

It started with a thought about Salvadore Dali while in a silly mood one day.  I have a variant with the baguette-'stash going down instead of up and it is a fantasia on the theme of cowboy hippie....



:-Paul

Ambimom's picture
Ambimom

I'm not quite as knowledgeable as the others here.  I'm relatively new to sourdough, but I've been baking at least one or two breads a week for the last six months.  My first attempts were dismal. I finally succeeded after I discovered what an active starter is supposed to look like.  Check these photographs:


http://www.digginthedirt.ca/?p=366


 


 


 

bergmef's picture
bergmef

Phyl


 


When you say 1:1:1, you mean take a fixed amout of the started, toss the rest, and add an equal amount of flour and water.


Is that correct?

gaaarp's picture
gaaarp

Sort of. You could start with a fixed amont of starter, discarding the rest. So, for example, you could discard all but 100 grams of starter, then add 100 grams each of water and flour.


Alternatively, you could simply weigh your starter, and add an equal amount of water and flour. So, for example, if your starter weighs 238 grams, you would add 238 grams each of water and flour.


The point is, it doesn't really matter how much starter you have to begin with, as long as you add water and flour in amounts equal to the beginning weight of your starter. That said, you generally will want to discard some starter, lest you end up with a swimming poolful of the stuff.

bassopotamus's picture
bassopotamus

Also, in my limited experience...


 


When you are establishing the starter, I'd adhere strictly to the directions. OTOH, once the starter is well established, IME it is more important to keep the ratio of flour to water right (since this affects final hydration) than the ratio of starter to the other two. In a more established starter, the carried over starter can effectively innoculate a greater or lesser amount of water and flour (within reason). I feed 1:3:2 (starter, flour, water) for a 67% hydration, but sometimes it is more like 1.25:3:2 or so. It seems to make the starter a little more sour, but I'm still experimenting. I wouldn't mess around until your starter is going strong, and I also wouldn't mess around with your entire starter. Save some of the discard as a backup in case something goes wrong.

lindyc's picture
lindyc

Hi AbbySue!


I'm fairly new to this site too and like you I started digging around when I needed to get my starter going. I had made one last winter but lost it (oops) so made one again this winter using Sourghdough lady's wholemeal and pineapple (I used orange) juice method.


It was obviously working but not really kicking the way I thought it ought to be to start making some bread. The basic tips that I found on this site that really helped get it going quickly was



  1. keep it out of the fridge and feed regularly (8-12 hours)

  2. make sure to mix the water through the starter properly first before mixing in the flour

  3. keep the starter a bit thick (I'm not much one for ratios but consistency should be such that when you stir it with a spoon it gathers in the middle around the spoon)


If you're relatively new to baking in general the best place to start on this site I reckon, is with the handbook. It really helped me out.


 

M2's picture
M2

Thanks for the explanation re: mother and starter.  I think it makes sense to me when the one sitting in the fridge is called mother starter.


I started my first starter (mother) a few weeks ago.  Actually I'm keeping two starters (rye and spelt).  To feed them, I take half of it out, and feed 1:1 water and flour.  I'm still learning,  So far, they seem to be happy, smeling great and bubbling away.

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

First, I have recovered some dismally bad starters before.  They'll come back if you give them a little TLC.


Second, I'm not quite sure why many think that the starter has to stay out of the refrigerator and be fed 2 or 3 times a day.  I guess that's OK if you are only maintaining a small starter that uses just a couple of tablespoons of flour with each feeding.  OTOH, I've always kept starters in the refrigerator in between feedings, placing the starter in the fridge right at or just after peak activity.  I feed once a week, either for baking or just to keep it fed.  I can't remember a starter failing to perform except maybe 30+ years ago when I first got started with sourdough, but that was probably a function of my bread making skills more than a function of my starter.  I think the stuff is pretty forgiving once it is healthy in the first place.


Brian


 

davidg618's picture
davidg618

I routinely keep my starter in the refrigerator, feeding it, on average, every two weeks--and I only keep between 200 and 100 grams on hand, 100% hydration.


24 hours before I mix dough for a sourdough bake I begin building a formula ready starter, i.e, the formula starter's specified weight and hydration at its peak. It's worked to my standards for proofing time, and oven spring everytime.


David G

lindyc's picture
lindyc

Brian, David


Yep sure, keep sourdough starters in the fridge and feed every week / 2 weeks. That is well documented here!


We were talking about bringing new life to a really dorment starter or revving up a brand new one. Best to keep it out of the fridge between feeds until it is has new found rigour...


Lindy

tananaBrian's picture
tananaBrian

Yes, yes of course this makes sense.  I hadn't mentally divided the initial "get it going" stage from the longer term maintenance.  My bad.  But I agree, keep it out of the fridge until it shows reasonable signs of life, then give it a fridge cycle (12+ hours) and bring it out and go at it again.  I've always noticed an improvement in my starters after they've been through a few fridge cycles, but the fridge doesn't help a lot when trying to get a new one, or a neglected one, going again.


Brian