The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough starter question

Phyllis's picture

Sourdough starter question

Five days ago I started 2 sourdough starters. One, a thick one, I have already given up on. The other, thinner, has gotten beyond the disgusting rotten grain smell and now has a very nice, sourish, sweetish smell. But its definatly not raising up in volume much. I have been searching these forums and I think it may be that the starter itself is too thin. I would describe it as pancake batter consistency.

So, can I gradually thicken it?

I am feeding twice a day, 12 hrs apart. We have a "swamp cooler" and the temp in the house fluctuates. I did just set it in the oven with the light on, its 70* in the kitchen.

I started it with rye and WW flour, but today started feeding AP flour. I have used only flour and water to get it going.



arzajac's picture

I'm not an expert at this, but I don't think the thickness of your starter has much to do with it's progress at this stage.  Five days at 70 degrees is not that long. 

The thickness of the starter is largely irrelevant so long as the growing yeast culture has enough to eat.  Considering your's is not very active, I don't think it's running out of food.  Keep feeding it.  You can stir it up a few times a day to aerate it.  That will stimulate yeast growth.

You need to wait until the pH of your starter is low enough for the yeasts to be stimulated and to overtake any competitive organisms.  This will eventually happen if you wait long enough.  Perhaps your discarding too much at this stage or are feeding too often - maybe the pH isn't low enough yet because you are getting rid of the acidity.

That being said, if it simply is way too thin (like froth instead of dough), you may have enough yeast there, but the starter will not rise because it's too watery - in that case, adding more flour will not harm the new starter - they don't care how think it is.  Just all less water the next time you feed.

I made a flowchart on starting starters a while back.  Here it is:


Maybe that will help.


Phyllis's picture

Thanks to both of you for your advice. Arzajac, I like the flow chart! Mr. DiMuzio, I bought your book but I didn't have it yet when I started my starter. I have made many many loaves of bread by straight dough, but I'm a newbie to sourdough, artisan, ect.

My starter was 100% hydration, and I was using great value (Walmart) AP flour to feed. I actually started it on KA whole wheat, but had switched to AP once it was bubbling.

Apparently though, I have killed it. I set it in the oven with the light on, having no idea it would get up to at least 110* in there. I was gone a few hours and when I got home I discovered how hot it was. I could cry! It was smelling so good!

So, its sitting on the counter again, with no signs of life, bubbles, anything. I'll give it a day or so, but I guess its time to start thinking about starting again. Glad it was only a few days old.

arzajac's picture

Instead of starting over from scratch, perhaps you can just go back a few steps and use the dead one as a starting point.  Although the microflora took a hit, I'm sure the pH of your medium is lower than if you started from scratch.  I bet it would bring out the yeast in the new flour you add to it faster than if you started over from scratch with just water and flour.

It's not like you will be breeding anything wierd because of this incident...  Unless your oven gives off gamma radiation...




Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Optimum growth temp for the sourdough yeast is 82F, according to interviews with Michael Gaenzle in The Bread Builders. Growth drops off as the temperature climbs from there, and stops completely by 95F. That's not to say they necessarily die at that temperature, but they can't generate enough energy to reproduce themselves and increase their population anymore. As temperatures climb from there, it gets more dicey---death or dormancy are the only options when they can no longer generate enough energy for survival.

The good news is that I have coached others who have overheated their starters and killed the yeast fraction, and I can reassure you that all is not lost. You still have the acids that have built up in your starter, and the LAB will grow up to 106F (and survive even higher). They may be stressed, but should bounce back quickly. You're already much closer than if you were to start over. So, your strategy now is simply to reseed your starter with viable yeast, and you'll be back in business in no time.

If there are still no signs of life by the next feeding time, switch back to the whole wheat flour. Let the acids build by just doubling it once every 24 hours until it is expanding again.

For example:  2 oz starter : 1 oz water : 1 oz whole grain flour

That should get you back on track. I am going to be away from the forum for several days, but you have plenty of excellent advice and support here at TFL :-)

bye for now...

Phyllis's picture

I will definatly do as you suggest, Debra. Thank you for the info. This truly is an amazing place!

Phyllis's picture

My first ever loaf of sourdough bread! Used Hamelman's Vermont sourdough formula.

Hope this works, its my first time to upload a photo to photobucket too.

Soundman's picture

Great job, Phyllis! Beautiful looking bread, on your first try. So fulfilling!