The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter question.

scarlett75's picture
scarlett75

Starter question.

I started my starter on Tuesday and have been following the instructions found on the link in one of the lessons. This morning, I went out to find my jar of starter had an inch thick layer of "hooch". I poured some of it off before I fed my starter (whom I've named Earl).

I used whole wheat flour and warm water as the basis of my starter. It's very bubbly and is starting to smell rather sour. When I observe Earl, he will bubble and foam before my very eyes.

My questions are:
1. Did I do the right thing by pouring off the layer of fluid?
2. I've been keeping a very light lid on the jar, but I've noticed that (in pics I've seen here) there's no lid on the jar while it's "starting". Am I screwing up my starter with a lid?
3. The link says that your starter is ready to use when it's bubbly and sour smelling, but just how bubbly and sour smelling should it be?
4. I noticed that FloydM says that he just keeps some of his starter aside, but the article says to use it all to make your sponge... is that just a first time thing? HELP!! LOL

Floydm's picture
Floydm

Someone like SourdoLady is better qualified to answer you than I am, but here are my thoughts:

1. Did I do the right thing by pouring off the layer of fluid?

It is still alive? Then, sure, you did the right thing.

2. I've been keeping a very light lid on the jar, but I've noticed that (in pics I've seen here) there's no lid on the jar while it's "starting". Am I screwing up my starter with a lid?

I think a lot of folks just take the lid off for the pics. If it has signs of life in it, there is no reason to leave the lid off (though putting it on extremely tight may slow it down).

3. The link says that your starter is ready to use when it's bubbly and sour smelling, but just how bubbly and sour smelling should it be?

Shrug. It really is an inexact science. If it is active enough that you can see it going it should be good enough to leaven a loaf. It may take more time (probably weeks) before the flavor gets extremely sour, but I'd try baking with some of it this weekend and see if the loaf rises.

I'm pretty sure I say it in the articles, but a reminder that starter typically leavens slower than yeast. Assume that a loaf that you'd expect to rise in 90 minute will take 3 or 4 hours with a starter (though keep an eye on it, just in case your starter is hyperactive!).

Oven spring lasts longer though, because the organisms in the starter can survive at a higher temperature than commercial yeast can. So you often get an unexpected jump at the end.

4. I noticed that FloydM says that he just keeps some of his starter aside, but the article says to use it all to make your sponge... is that just a first time thing?

Once again, it is pretty inexact. Either method can work. The gist is that you have living organisms in the starter. To keep them multiplying they need food every few days. Once you've got some practice you can work on feeding them more or less often (and more or less food) to control how quickly they reproduce, but for now just make sure that they get fed and watered from time to time.

scarlett75's picture
scarlett75

Thank you for the tips. I actually tried putting some of the starter in my pretzels today. I'll report back with my findings. ;)

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

Hi Scarlett,
I'd love to help you get going with your sourdough. It can be very confusing in the beginning. Every sourdough baker has their own ideas of what is the 'right way' to do things. The truth is, there is no one right way. Sourdough is very flexible and there are many ways that will work with it.

The biggest mistake that newbies make with sourdough is in not feeding it properly. The starter then gets sluggish and doesn't rise well. It also must be properly proofed before incorporating it into your dough. A proper proofing must last a minimum of 8 hours in order to let the mixture ferment. This is where the flavor starts.

As far as pouring off the hooch goes, most bakers don't, but if you do it isn't going to harm the starter. I always just stir it back in. Some of the sour flavor is from the hooch. Hooch is a by-product of fermentation. It is mostly just a mixture of water and alcohol that has been produced from the fermentation. The appearance of hooch means that your starter has exhausted all of the nutrients in the flour and is hungry for more. It is in a dormant state until it is fed again. It can remain in this dormant state for quite awhile before it actually dies, but please be nice to your starter and try to feed it once a week.

Yes, keep a lid on your starter to keep it from drying out and/or getting contaminated from other substances. Just make sure the lid is on loosely to let gases escape when the starter is out of the fridge. Otherwise you could have an explosion.

How do you know when the starter is ready to use? ~always do the 8-plus hour proof first. The longer the proof, the sourer the flavor may get. Some starters are very mild and will not taste very sour even after long proofs. Some starters rise fairly fast and others take many hours. Once the long proof is done, I feed the starter once more and then watch it until it is VERY bubbly and has at least doubled in size. This is the ideal time to mix the dough.

Always save out at least a spoonful of starter before you use the rest in the dough. Add more flour and water to this saved portion, wait until you see it getting bubbly, and then store it in the fridge for next time. Don't save huge portions of starter. You only need a small amount. If you have a couple of cups of starter left over and you aren't going to be able to use it in anything at the time, just dump all but 1/4 cup or so down the drain then feed the rest and prepare it for storage in the fridge. If you find that you aren't going to be able to use your starter for several weeks, take it out of the fridge occasionally and dump most of it down the drain, feed, let it get bubbly, and back into the fridge.

Most people have a really hard time dumping out the unused starter. It is very important to do it because each time you feed the starter it multiplies and you have millions of 'new babies' who are very hungry. Soon, the proportion of food to hungry babies gets way out of whack, and everybody starves because there isn't enough food to go around. I justify the dumping as the starter is getting rid of its waste, just as we humans get rid of ours after our body processes the food through our system. That usually makes it easier, since you wouldn't want your yeast babies wallowing in their own waste, would you?

Hope this is helpful, and if you have any more questions--please ask!

scarlett75's picture
scarlett75

Wow. Thanks for the tips (and for answering my questions).

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

You're welcome. How's the starter coming along? Have you tried to bake bread with it yet?

scarlett75's picture
scarlett75

The starter seems to be coming along pretty well.

I made a batch of sourdough rolls two days ago. They came out nicely...although, they did take a while to rise (about two and a half hours). I fed my starter again today...and, I think I'll try and feed him (Earl) every three days (as I see that's recommended most). I'm hoping that, with time, he gets a little more sour.

I think sourdough baking is an exercise in patience. You REALLY have to do it right- no short-cuts. It's a good "lesson" for me... I think Earl will teach me many lessons. ;)

If you wouldn't mind...what's your FAVORITE recipe to use your sourdough starter on?

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

Sounds like your starter is coming along well. Feeding every 3 days is good! The flavor will continue to develop as the starter ages.

You are right--you can't rush sourdough and have it turn out well. A 2 1/2 hour rise isn't unusual for sourdough. In fact, that is pretty fast. I'll tell you a little secret I've learned. The slower and cooler sourdough rises, the better the flavor is. The reason is that it gives the lactobacilli time to develop, and this is where the flavor comes from.

I used to put my loaves in a cozy warm place to rise, such as the oven with the light on for warmth. Sure, the bread rises faster--but the flavor is pretty ordinary.

Now, I prefer to put my dough in the fridge (called 'retarding') at least overnight. You can put the dough in the fridge in a bowl, or you can shape your loaves first. I find that the dough is easier to shape before retarding. The only drawback is that it takes more room to put shaped loaves in the fridge.

This long, cool rising period allows the flavors to develop nicely. You will also notice an improvement in texture and your bread will hold its freshness longer. Your bread will taste more sour the second day than it does the first day.

I'll post my favorite plain white sourdough loaf that I make twice a week in my bread blog. Check it later today.

sonofYah's picture
sonofYah

Quote:

SourdoLady wrote:

You are right--you can't rush sourdough and have it turn out well. A 2 1/2 hour rise isn't unusual for sourdough. In fact, that is pretty fast. I'll tell you a little secret I've learned. The slower and cooler sourdough rises, the better the flavor is. The reason is that it gives the lactobacilli time to develop, and this is where the flavor comes from.

This long, cool rising period allows the flavors to develop nicely. You will also notice an improvement in texture and your bread will hold its freshness longer. Your bread will taste more sour the second day than it does the first day.

I totally agree, I made some challah bread using the retarded rise. Made a world of difference in the flavor. I mixed a pre-ferment with about half the flour and water and all the yeast on Thu. AM. Put it in the fridge until I got home from work. Thursday evening I finished up the dough. Sprayed the bowl and dough with cooking spray. Placed a damp cotton towel on top of the dough and then a plastic wrap on top of that. Let it sit in the fridge overnight. Got up this morning (Fri.) and the dough had filled the large bowl I put it in to raise. Folded the dough, shaped it, one braided loaf and two boules. (I made 7-1/2 pounds of dough). Let them make the final rise on top of the fridge for about 3 hours. Took this long due to the temperature of the dough. I baked it before going to work today. Just tried a piece after I got home tonight. Yum-Yum.

Gordon :-D

sonofYah's picture
sonofYah

Quote:

SourdoLady wrote:

You are right--you can't rush sourdough and have it turn out well. A 2 1/2 hour rise isn't unusual for sourdough. In fact, that is pretty fast. I'll tell you a little secret I've learned. The slower and cooler sourdough rises, the better the flavor is. The reason is that it gives the lactobacilli time to develop, and this is where the flavor comes from.

This long, cool rising period allows the flavors to develop nicely. You will also notice an improvement in texture and your bread will hold its freshness longer. Your bread will taste more sour the second day than it does the first day.

I totally agree, I made some challah bread using the retarded rise. Made a world of difference in the flavor. I mixed a pre-ferment with about half the flour and water and all the yeast on Thu. AM. Put it in the fridge until I got home from work. Thursday evening I finished up the dough. Sprayed the bowl and dough with cooking spray. Placed a damp cotton towel on top of the dough and then a plastic wrap on top of that. Let it sit in the fridge overnight. Got up this morning (Fri.) and the dough had filled the large bowl I put it in to raise. Folded the dough, shaped it, one braided loaf and two boules. (I made 7-1/2 pounds of dough). Let them make the final rise on top of the fridge for about 3 hours. Took this long due to the temperature of the dough. I baked it before going to work today. Just tried a piece after I got home tonight. Yum-Yum.

Gordon :-D

Keith's picture
Keith

My two cents on retarding bread.....
I've been doing this consistently for the last two years, adding the sourdough to my weekly batch of very grainy loaves and then baking the next morning after 12 hours or so in the fridge. I've used pans, and it is easier, but I tend to like freeform loaves for this type of bread.
Anyways, I did this as usual a few Fridays ago, and couldn't bake the bread until Monday after work. Flavour was great, and the rise was better than expected. Retarding the rise is the way to go.

Joe Fisher's picture
Joe Fisher

I'm so glad I'm not the only one who's named his starter :) Mine's Clyde.

-Joe

andrew_l's picture
andrew_l

Scarlett75 - I find if the dough is shaped, proofed fully (i.e. virtually doubled in size) and then popped in the fridge overnight, it is much easier to slash before placing in a hot oven and the oven spring from a really chilled but fully proofed dough is awesome! The extra time in the fridge also does great things for the flavour.

I find if I keep about 50 grams starter in the fridge, I can take 30 grams out to feed in preparation for baking, and feed the remainder, putting it back in the fridge when it is good and bubbling - so it is always being renewed.

I always keep two starters going in the fridge, in case some disaster befalls one of them. Also, it gives me the choice to use one for pizzas or something as well as having enough for my regular baking.

-Andrew