The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter problems

janij's picture

Starter problems

My starter is not working right at all.  I maintain it at 100% hydration and feed it rye flour.  When I feed it it doubles in less than 12 hrs.  When I try to make bread with it the dough goes slack during rising and then is absolutely DISGUSTING!!!!!  I mean the bread is terrible.  Is is gummy, wet and doesn't taste good.  I used the San Francisco sourdough bread recipe on twice.  I think the bread turned too acidic and hence the gluten collapsed or whatever you want to call it.  It had no crust color and no oven spring.  I think I let the dough rise too long since the guidelines are like 12-15 hrs.  So after 2 terrible outcomes with that recipe- don't get me wrong, I don't think it is the recipe, I think it is my starter- I went on to Hamelman's Vermont Sourdough with increase whole grain.  I used wheat instead of rye.  This dough is not as slack after rising but it still is not doing well.  I was about to scrape the whole dough and say to hell with it.  But I will let it do its final proof and bake it and see.  But I know it will not be what I want.  It will be a door stop.  So now I am trying to decide what to do.  When I normally bake with my sourdough starter I spike the dough with yeast because I want guarenteed success.  But at this point I think I may need to capture a new starter.  Or just go with yeast and preferments because I have never made good sourdough.  What do you think?  Should I scrape the starter and try again?  How do I get it so that the starter doesn't turn the flour and water into gum?  If I feed the starter white flour I get a stringy, gummy paste.  But if I feed it rye it doesn't turn to gum.  HELP?

LindyD's picture

I'm not sure whether you are using a 100 percent rye sourdough or a mix.  When you add "white" flour, are you using unbleached, unbromated bread flour?  

Are you using your starter at its peak, after it has been refreshed?  Have you tried a stiffer starter, or tried feeding your starter every 12 hours for a couple days before using it?

I make the Hamelman sourdough weekly, retarding it for about 12 to 15 hours in the refrigerator.   After this final fermentation it goes into the oven within 30 minutes of taking it out of the cooler since the bread has risen sufficiently.  It always produces an excellent loaf.

I'm not familiar with the SF sourdough receipe you are using, but waiting until the dough is fully risen before putting it in the oven will give you flat bread and no oven spring.  Try for 80-90 percent rise in the final fermentation.




janij's picture

I use fresh ground rye for the starter.  I use unbleached bread or ubleached AP flour for the bread dough.

I have tried feeding it over a couple of days every 12 hrs before using it.  This time i feed it once and then used it in the bread after it had hit its peak.

I have not tried a stiffer starter.  I like the stir and go thing.  I just don't understand.

Quadrifoglio's picture

"When I try to make bread with it the dough goes slack during rising and then is absolutely DISGUSTING!!!!!"

"How do I get it so that the starter doesn't turn the flour and water into gum?  If I feed the starter white flour I get a stringy, gummy paste.  But if I feed it rye it doesn't turn to gum."

"I used wheat instead of rye." 

"Should I scrape the starter and try again?"


This sounds just like my wild starter and how I am feeling about it.  I started with Hodgson Mill rye flour.   I have fed it unbleached KAF, Gold Medal, and house brand without success.  Does your starter have a "solventy" smell?

Unfortunately, I don't have a solution, only problems like yours.

janij's picture

It smells fine.  It is just the bread that is terrible.  Very frustrating all the same.  At least I am not the only one.

dmsnyder's picture

Hi, janij.

From your description, you are using a "rye sour" as your starter. I keep both a (mostly AP) mixed flour starter and a rye sour, myself. The approach to maintaining each is substantially different. What you will read about feeding starters on TFL applies to predominantly wheat-based starters, not rye sours.

A rye sour will grow faster, need more frequent feedings and produce more sour-tasting breads than a wheat starter, all other things being equal. Since rye has little gluten, if your recipe calls for a large percentage of starter, it will not have the same crust or crumb as a white sourdough. The wheat flour you use should be very high gluten to compensate. If the dough has a high percentage of rye, I wouldn't retard it at all.

Hamelman's Vermont SD, specifically, calls for a wheat starter. This is a very good and reliable formula, but your product will be different using your rye sour. I strongly suggest you convert some of it to a wheat starter by feeding it wheat flour for a couple of feedings, then make the Vermont SD with your new starter.

If you need more detail about any of these issues, please ask.


janij's picture

I will try converting part of it to WW.  I grind all my wheat and rye flour.  So I did try to use wheat one time on the starter and it started getting stringy on me.  The Vermont turned out okay.  It didn't rise much but I got some ven spring.  But the loaves did explode.  One on top at the slash and the other on the bottom at the loaf seam.  So I guess I will convert part of it to wheat and go from there.  I just have had no luck with all white starters.

five by five's picture
five by five

Hey Janij,

  I had a similar problem that I posted about here. I began with a rye starter and converted it to bread flour before I used it. I wouldn't say my bread came out terrible, but everytime I went to shape a loaf after the bulk ferment it was so sticky and slack as impossible to shape, especially without deflating the bread. I think my starter was too acidic as well. I posted and got some great advice from the people here, here's the link.