The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Dying here!!

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Fly's picture

Dying here!!

     I just put my 4th straight batch of dough in the trash...again absolutely nothing even remotely resembling a rise.  I'm using a homemade sourdough starter, as mentioned in my previous thread.  I can't figure out where I'm going wrong; I'm trying to keep it simple right now: water, bread flour, a little sugar into the 100% sponge, a little salt with the final addition of flour for a 65% final dough.

     A little research earlier in the week led me to to conclusion that I was underfeeding my starter, so on Tuesday I threw most away and fed the remainder at a 1:1:2 (200% hydration, same as the original starter).  Last night I pulled 3/4 of the starter out, fed the remainder at the same ratio, and added flour to my work portion to make a 100% sponge.  This morning it had clearly expanded, smelled great, and was still bubbling.  I added the remainder of the flour as mentioned, never really go any rise, but ended up with a fairly smooth, workable dough.  Afterpanning and allowing it to sit for 6 hours it met its aforementioned demise. 

     I really don't know where to go from here.  My only successful batch with this starter, the first, had the benefit of additional packaged yeast.  It was also a significantly larger batch, but I don't know if there's some sort of "critical mass" of which I may be falling short.  I'd like very much to be able to make a single loaf at a time.  I have every book in the Tulsa Library system requested, but I'm impatient, and in any case no book will be able to diagnose my problems the way a group of experienced bakers will here.  I've been brewing for 5 years now so I know how the devil can be in the details.  HELP!!  I really don't want to throw away another bowl of dough.  TIA

flournwater's picture

If you compare the process described on this page, what's different from the process you followed?

rick.c's picture

It seems like you might not be waiting long enough. 

You get activity out of your starter fed at 1:1:2 overnight.  But, consider you are making a loaf at 1:2:4 or 1:3:6, it isn't likely to double in 6 hrs.  At least mine dont.

Try leaving it on the counter and see what happens instead of throwing it out.  Or, when I get really impatient, I put it in a warm oven (80*-90*F?).  See if it eventually grows or not.

Good luck!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Hi,   several things crossed my mind and can lead to misunderstanding. 

ratios   Fly's mention of 1:1:2 with 200% hydration  That would be starter:flour:water  BEWARE  some ratios are written   starter:water:flour   making big differences in outcome! I am even confused!  Rick.c mentions 1:2:4 or 1:3:6 which implies the last 4 or 6 of these ratios flour not water.   So Fly, which are you using?  It would be helpful to state it.  And watch out in your reading.  

feeding  Fly if you are feeding starter:flour:water  1:1:2  and you fed it Tuesday and then on Friday, then you are under feeding!  At normal room temperature, you should be feeding every 12 hours!  What you are breeding with long feeds is a starter that takes a long time to work.  6 hours of waiting would then be peanuts!  If you discard and feed twice a day you will speed up your yeast.  (natural selection process)  If you feed 3 times, even faster but your lactobaccacilli or LABs are just making it.  Don't feed more often than every 8 hours.   (One doesn't have to be too strick with feeding, just don't go over 16 hours)

Water in the food formula is no big deal, it is a vehicle for the yeasts and very slow moving LABs to move around in.  What really matters is the amount of flour food you put with your starter.  Watery starters will not rise much due to lack of strength.  Thicker starters are easier to "read" for most people, easier to tell when it is ready to use to make dough.   You can use a 200% hydrated starter if you want to, just learn how to "read" it.  It's smell will change from "flour & water"  to something more fruity and eventually sour as time goes on and little bubbles pearl up the sides.

I suggest feeding it more often first for 12 hours and then for 8 for a few days.   Then 8 hours after the last feeding, refrigerate it and use it within two days or try it in some dough and then give the dough time.   Sourdough is a test of patience.

Can your dough be rescued from the trash bin?  even a little part of it?  Just to watch it.

Pitching out the dough no need for that just spread out that lifeless blob when you want to give up and sprinkle a little instant yeast on it.  Work it in for a minute and let it bulk rise, knock it down and shape.  Let rise and bake when ready.  The aged dough will improve your loaf even with instant yeast.

Catch you later,  Mini

Ambimom's picture

Sourdough is a living thing and like all living things, it sometimes has a mind of its own, despite all the emphasis you might read here on percentages and numbers.  Measurements are important, yes, but you ALSO have to recognize what your starter is supposed to look like when it's active, when it's hungry, and when it's on its deathbed.

I, too, was determined to bake with a starter I made from scratch.  One disaster after another,  I finally broke down and bought an established starter [from King Arthur flour company].  I followed their instructions on how to get it going and finally recognized what I had been doing wrong.

But it still took a while until I came up with a foolproof routine.

Bread baking is a skill.  Like all skills, it takes practice, practice, and more practice.

 Every environment is different which is why the sourdough starter I developed may not flourish in your environment and vice versa.

You will get better at it with practice.  I found that investing in a scale that measures grams and ounces helped.  I also tried different recipes, routines and methods for feeding, mixing, and baking until I finally found  a combination with which I was comfortable.

It was sometimes frustrating, but I finally found will too.  Just keep at it.  Here's a link to how I finally worked it out.


Fly's picture

flournwater:  the biggest difference I see in the procedure you linked and mine is the working volume of starter and the hydration of said starter.  I'm using much more starter; in fact I have only added flour to the volume of starter to make around 1 lb of dough at 65%. 


Mini: all of the ratios I used ar starter:flour:water.  As far as buildup ratios the sources I used simply said to feed the starter at 1:2 or 1:3 starter:feeding; I assumed that the feedings would be at the same hydration and the starter.  My starters look and smell great.  BTW, my trash also smells great right now, but the blob in the bottom is no larger than it was 18 hours ago when I panned it.


Ambimom: I measure all ingredients by gram weight



bwaddle's picture


What kind of water are you using? I read that reverse osmosis filtered water is not good for sourdough.

Fly's picture

I've been using filtered water from my fridge that I let come to room temperature. 


dghdctr's picture

At room temperature and 200% hydration (which is unusually high), your starter might need to be fed every 4 to 6 hours, depending upon the size of the ripe levain addition at every feeding.  If Debra Wink is out there I hope she'll chime in with more precise estimates, but it may be that your culture has nearly ceased all wild yeast activity due to the excess acidity that can develop when a starter is under-fed.

In any case, you might find that reading Hamelman's notes on starter creation and maintenance can help a lot with understanding the important control factors.  His book may well be at your local library.

--Dan DiMuzio

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Without more specifics, I can only make assumptions, but I suspect Dan and Mini's diagnosis of underfeeding is right on. Three days between feedings can make yeast very sluggish, raising the hydration compounds the problem by shortening their window for growth, and only adding a relatively small amount of flour to a high percentage of sluggish starter isn't going to fuel the dough well either.

Hopefully by now, your starter is healthier :-)

Fly's picture

Actually, at this point my starter is non-existant.  I decided to focus on the basics...things like mixing, kneading/folding, shaping, baking...and get those down before trying to move into sourdough.  I've been making poolishes with commercial yeast to improve flavor and have been very pleased.  As we are heading into winter here it will probably be spring before I try to make another wild starter.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

to work with starters.  A cold garage or pantry, great for retarding loaves and starters.  Just thinking... spring is half a year away...