The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My very first starter, and I think I need help

  • Pin It
AnaBananaNutBread's picture
AnaBananaNutBread

My very first starter, and I think I need help

I think I need help. While attempting my very first starter, I used the San Francisco Starter recipe by Barnard Clayton from his 30 something year old book, The Complete Book of Breads.  I used one cup of whole grain flour and one cup of fat free milk. I originally put it in a ziploc bag, and it bubbled for one day. Then I moved it to a glass jar and it continued to bubble.  On day 3 I moved it to a much larger glass container with a sheet of plastic wrap held by a rubber band, and it didn't bubble so much. On day 3 I also added half a cup of whole grain and half a cup of tepid milk. All I saw later that evening was a thin layer of an almost clear liquid, and I noticed a slight sour smell. No bubbling. Day four, same thing. On day four I put less than a pinch of sugar, but nothing happened. Today is day five, and same thing--clear layer of liquid, no more bubbling, same slight sour smell. It is NOT pink--it looks like the color of tahini.  I have kept it at a constant temperature of about 80 degrees. I have stirred it everyday with a wooden spoon, and I have opened the plastic wrap to let out gasses. No more bubbling. How do I know if my starter is OK? Should I pitch it and start another one using a different liquid?  I have seen so many blogs and starter recipes which use liquids other than milk, but Bernard Clayton's starter recipe is the only one I have seen using milk. Is there something wrong with using milk? Just to be clear, I want to make sourdough French bread, and I want it to be from scratch. I do not want to use any active dry yeast. All I have been doing for the past week is searching for starter recipes & sourdough bread recipes, and reading them, and thinking about them, and worrying about my starter. I feel like a drug addict who has just discovered crack. close up of the starterI have not turned on my stove or oven for fear that too much heat will kill the starter. However, I have kept my warming lamp on.


Under the warming lamp


 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Stir it.  Stir it up several times a day.  What does it smell like?   I don't think the bubbling on the first day was anything important.   What is the next step in the instructions?

DerekL's picture
DerekL

Sounds like you've starved it to death while drowing it in its own poop.  Starters, like any living organism, need food to be provided and their poop to be carried away.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I don't think it's old enough to have pooped yet.  Just a little milk behind the ears!  The milk will soon sour if it hasn't already, might even be a little cheesy.    I would like to know the next step.   The liquid on top looks more like separation of water from the milk solids and flour than hooch.


Probably reduce starter to a small amount and feed for milk and flour. 


Mini

flournwater's picture
flournwater

I am unfamiliar with the starter formula you are using but, in my experience, starter needs oxygen to survivie and yours appears to be sealed up air tight.  The loss of oxygen and the fact the the pressure from any gasses developed in the starter will eventually increase the ambient pressure inside the container, against which the starter yeasties must work to develop, seems to me to be counterproductive.

AnaBananaNutBread's picture
AnaBananaNutBread

Bernard Clayton suggests two methods for making this starter:



To the one cup of milk and one cup of flour...One is to leave the mixture uncovered in a warm spot for 2 to 5 days, with no mention about stirring, and to add warm milk if it starts to dry; the other method is to place everything in a canister with a tight seal for 5 days, stirring down each day to let gas escape, but to replace the lid each time. No mention about adding anything during this time. The only thing he says is that when the starter is bubbly, frothy and gives off a pleasantly sour aroma, it is ready. He suggests using it at that time, or covering it tightly and refrigerating. Bernard Clayton goes on to say that the bacteria in the milk is what gives the starter its boost.



In my case, I sort of did a combination of both methods. This evening I stirred again, and added more flour and less water. Two hours later, and it looks like there might be some foam there. It also has a very nice sour smell. Furthermore, I covered the glass container with a cloth and a rubber band. One of the posters was right, I may have been starving it. Also, my kitchen does get a bit cool at night. Which is why I turned on the heating lamp.


Incidentally, I have another starter--an Amish friendship starter--in a sealed plastic bag, and that one is doing fine.  However, that one gets 1 cup each of milk, sugar and flour every five days, and the smell could clear your sinuses.  I've had that starter going for about six weeks, and used it once to make Amish sourdough bread which tasted a bit too sweet.  It's what got me started on making my very own starter for a more authentic sourdough French bread.


Tomorrow morning I am caving in and contacting one of my neighbors who is a master bread maker, and asking him to take a look at my flour soup. If he gives me a thumbs up, I will continue on my quest. Maybe he'll tell me to discard some starter and add water and flour, I don't know.  I would also like to know what to do with the "discarded" starter.  Isn't it good for something?


Thanks to everyone for your advice. I really love this site. The Fresh Loaf is to me what Facebook is to my teenager.

beer0clock's picture
beer0clock

I had a similar experience recently with a stalled starter. I think in my case I had a problem with leuconostoc bacteria as described in Peter Reinhart's blog: http://peterreinhart.typepad.com/peter_reinhart/2006/07/sourdough_start.html


The key is to stir your young starter regularly. Also every day discard half your starter and feed it. I stuck with it for a week and now my starter is nice and happy.


I'm sure using milk is fine but all you really need is flour and water. Reinhart advocates using pineapple juice in the first stages to keep the ph down but I had success just using water and stirring my starter a lot during the first week.


Good luck.

flournwater's picture
flournwater

"Discarding" a percentage of the starter is simply a method for reducing the amount of starter you accumulate over time.  I "discard" my starter by using it to make a loaf of bread.  But that's because I refuse to use artistic license to justify wasting perfectly good food.

beer0clock's picture
beer0clock

I think in my case, I fed my stalled starter and then stirred it a lot for about two days, at which point it started coming to life. Then for the next few days I would discard half and feed once a day. I still stirred as much as I could during that period. Within a week, I had a vigourous starter that no longer needed coddling or regular feeding.


There's not much point in trying to use a stalled starter for baking but once it's healthy you can save every drop. I may have wasted 3 cups of flour getting my starter on it's feet but I'm willing to bear the shame.

AnaBananaNutBread's picture
AnaBananaNutBread

Thanks for your comments.  I think I'll feel much better about getting rid of the excess now. This morning I actually made pancakes with the discarded amount, and they ended up looking like crepes. I'll pitch the excess until my starter is healthy.