The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough starter question

Phyllis's picture
Phyllis

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
arzajac

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:


 


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10166/wild-yeast-levain-sourdough-startert-flowchart


 


Maybe that will help.


 

ladychef41's picture
ladychef41

It's been at least 35 yrs since I made a starter, but I'm trying it again. This morning I added flour and water but forgot to REMOVE half the starter!!!!!! Did I kill my little newbie? Any way to fix my error? If I have ruined it, at least I'm only 6 days in... Any help is appreciated.....

noonesperfect's picture
noonesperfect

The only result of your boo-boo is that you will have more starter than you expected.  It likely will need to be fed sooner than expected also, since the main reason for removing half the existing starter is that you want to make sure you have plenty of food for the population you have left.


Don't worry too much while you are learning - this is suppposed to be fun!


 


brad

ladychef41's picture
ladychef41

And I agree, this is supposed to be fun; and it IS!!! I have baked bread my entire life but never attempted sourdough... Even in Culinary School we did not cover starters, which was quite a disappointment....

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hi Phyllis,


What's the hydration of the culture right now?  What AP flour are you using?


I don't think that the process of selection has finished its work, so to speak, and it may be a bit early to worry much about your starter.  In any case, in my experience, liquid levain doesn't usually do more than double in volume, since there's less gluten than would be present in a firm starter -- hence less structure.  Less ability to hold the CO2 gas.


You can certainly start to use a lower hydration at any time you wish.  That will tend to promote a bit less yeast activity, and the acidity from the bacteria will probably be a bit sharper over time.  Still makes a great levain, though.  And (again, in my experience) it will probably grow 3 to 4 times in size before it has peaked.


--Dan DiMuzio

Phyllis's picture
Phyllis

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.

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Hi Phyllis,


Yeah -- if it got that warm in your oven, you're right about it probably being dead, I think.  I'm not saying the heat killed the yeast or bacteria (I believe that requires 139 degrees F), but when it's that warm the culture will go through it's life cycle much more rapidly.  Maybe it ran out of food, or maybe the by-products adversely affected the microflora and they couldn't recover.  I'm sure that Debbie Wink would be better able to determine why it died.


No big deal Phyllis -- just start another one.


--Dan DiMuzio

arzajac's picture
arzajac

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...
dw

Phyllis's picture
Phyllis

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

Monstergirl's picture
Monstergirl

The oven can be dangerous to a starter... especially if you forget it's in there and preheat it!


Yes, I did that this weekend :(  I cringed (may have even yelped) when I realized, and immediately reached in with my hands to pull it out, but the glass was way too hot to handle.  I grabbed some hot pads, got it out of there ASAP, but the oven temp was already above 150 degrees.


I was so bummed!  I thought, there's no way the starter is alive (smelled delicious though!).  But low and behold!  The next morning, I had a layer of hooch, and it's been doing fine!


Moral of the story... never underestimate the will of your starter to stay alive!


Shannon  :)

Phyllis's picture
Phyllis

Its aliiiive! Its aliiiive! I just used it to make whole wheat sourdough blueberry muffins, and they are very good!


From what I can observe, the starter "prefers" to be fed whole wheat flour. It raises up a lot more with it than with AP flour. Is that normal, or is my starter just picky?

arzajac's picture
arzajac

The character of your start will probably change over the next few weeks and months.  It may be a good idea to feed it often - like twice per day - during the next few weeks.  The reason is that there are many different microorganisms there now and they are raising your bread, but the various strains probably haven't balanced out how they will be getting along together.


With more time and feedings, one strain of yeast will probably turn out to be the dominant one and that's when your starter will develop a consistent behaviour.


 


 

ladychef41's picture
ladychef41

It's such a wonderful feeling to see your "baby" born!!!!


 


Wendy

ladychef41's picture
ladychef41

Made my first loaves using my 10 day old starter today.. Not at all "sour"... is this due to the infancy of my starter or something else? I got a GREAT rise on my bread, just no sour. Also made fantastic sourdough waffles for dinner tonight. Seems my starter is active enough, just not sour enough. Any and all input is appreciated...


 


Wendy

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Hi Wendy,


First off, congratulations!


Your first sourdough and you got a great rise, what a nice way to start!


It's not uncommon for a home baker's initial sourdough breads to lack some of the sour flavor some of us seek (though generally not the French!).


Some of the possible reasons your bread wasn't sour could be:


1) Your starter is young and hasn't developed a large population of Lactobacilli, yet.


2) Your LAB aren't yet heterofermentative (they aren't the types that produce acetic acid, yet).


3) Fermentation time wasn't long enough to allow the LAB to work to their full potential.


If the reason is either of the first 2 possibilities, time may fix this, simply by letting the bacteria develop more. In either case you can do things to increase the activity of the bacteria in your culture, which may help bring up the sour flavor. As usual, time and temperature are your main tools here.


If it's the third possibility, one solution is to retard the dough, either in bulk fermentation stage or at proofing, in the fridge.


HTH,


David

ladychef41's picture
ladychef41

Out of all those possibilities, I don't think it's the 3rd one. I allowed the bulk fermentation 6-7 hrs. I then shaped it, retarded the dough in the fridge for 12 hrs. then brought to room temp and proofed for another 4-5 hrs... My gut feeling is that my starter is just too young.We have also been having our "June Gloom" here is sunny So Cal, so the temps have had to work very hard to just reach 70 degrees during the day.


There are so many conflicting theories I keep reading about that it's just about impossible to do anything but learn from your own trials and errors. One person says for a more sour dough to use a starter at 50% hydration, another says to use a starter at 110% hydration. You can ask 1 question and get 10 different answers... that's not saying it's a bad thing, just that it can be confusing and frustrating sometimes. Often, what works fine for one person, may not work so well for another for whatever reason. And with all the different schools of thought, that's quite obvious.


I decided that if I am going to do "sourdough" I need to have a guideline. So I ordered the Bread Baker's Apprentice today. I hope once I get the book I will be able to get my starter to the desired sourness I am looking for.


My little starter wasn't a total disappointment; I made the best sourdough waffles for dinner last night that I've ever eaten!! That alone was worth all the effort put into my little starter!


Wendy

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Hi Wendy,


You certainly gave it enough fermentation time, so we can cross that one off.


 



There are so many conflicting theories I keep reading about that it's just about impossible to do anything but learn from your own trials and errors.



Everybody's starter is different. Thus it's hard to say anything categorical, 'cause someone will always say their starter acts the opposite. Still, the hydration issue has some historical background that may help clarify it. As Daniel Leader points out in Local Breads, stiff levains were the only way to go, for French bakers, before the days of refrigeration. If these bakers hadn't used stiff levains, their bread would have been too sour. (Even now, I don't think the French like the taste of sour sourdough.) High hydration starters were somewhat avant garde when they were first introduced, after refrigeration became the norm.


So back to the age of your starter; it probably needs to develop its microbial population some more. Patience is a sourdough baker's best friend. If you are consistent about feeding it (do you keep it out or in the fridge?), it will gradually settle into a very dependable leavener and flavorer of great bread. 


That said, it isn't uncommon, at least for home bakers who keep their starter refrigerated, to notice an eventual drop in the sour-making capacity of their starter. This happened to me after a few months. Using rye flour helped me build back the necessary bacteria.


It's a very good idea to have a guidebook, and BBA is an excellent companion. Another super book is Hamelman's Bread. Check your library.


Keep doing what you're doing, it's working. Also, keep us posted, and show us some of your efforts!


David

Phyllis's picture
Phyllis

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


http://i625.photobucket.com/albums/tt338/PLong63Texas/bread002.jpg


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

Soundman's picture
Soundman

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


David

dghdctr's picture
dghdctr

Nice job, Phyllis.


--Dan DiMuzio

ladychef41's picture
ladychef41

My starter sits on my kitchen counter... we are just now starting to get some warm weather; was about 85 here today. I actually have 3 starters going; whole wheat with pineapple juice, rye with apple juice and AP with pineapple juice... I have gone back to using the rye and ww flour at least temporarily and it seems to be helping. I used the starter with the AP for my sourdough... Will try with one of the others in the next few days...


Just out of curiosity, is there a REASON starter should be kept in the fridge? I just think back to when starters probably began, and I seriously doubt they had refrigeration other than a very cold winter in some parts of the country.... Just wondering.


Thanks for all the help Dave! I appreciate it!


 


Wendy

Soundman's picture
Soundman

Hi Wendy,


I see you've got the whole grain approach to starting sourdough down! The bran tends to have more wild yeast, naturally enough, and this helps accelerate the process of culturing enough yeast to make your starter capable of raising bread. Your efforts will pay off!


Refrigeration is for those of us who don't bake as often as we wish we could! It slows down the microbial development, which means we don't have to feed our starters every day.


Typical for me is to take my starter out of the fridge on Wednesday afternoon, to feed it Wednesday evening, and again Thursday morning, and then to build my final levain Thursday evening; at this point I feed my starter again and put it directly in the fridge. (Friday morning I mix my dough. Friday afternoon it retards overnight; Saturday morning I bake.)


When I take my starter out on the following Wednesday, it has developed some, and hasn't totally consumed the flour I fed it almost a week ago. That's why I give it a few hours at room temp before refeeding.


This totals 3 feedings for the week, and saves me a lot of flour and work. Since my starter(s) are stable, I can count on this process to give me great rising bread, with dependable flavor, week in and week out.


HTH!


David

ladychef41's picture
ladychef41

Thanks once again for the info David. As I have been unemployed since March, I have been baking every day, or at least every other day... so that makes sense why I have no problem not keeping it refrigerated. I will be trying sour dough bread again tomorrow... Wish me luck!


 


Wendy