The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

when is a starter bad?

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sierraflowr's picture
sierraflowr

when is a starter bad?

i started a sourdough starter months ago (6?) and had wonderful results. after Thanksgiving when i finally got it just right, of course, it got dumped over in fridge. sooo. i had just made some sourdough pancakes, so i took that plus the little i saved in the container...ok, so i probably shouldn't have mixed in the pancake stuff...eggs, little milk etc. , but... so, i did. now, i'm wondering... i used it once for a cracked idea on a pumkin bread thingy. didn't add enough flour i guess..but i digress...it had a clearish liquid on the starter and i poured it off. i fed it and let it sit out.


the problem is that it now smells a bit..off. not OMG but hmm. its a little off. how do you know when its too bad to continue? what does it mean to use it if its 'bad'?


it made me sad. i'd Just figured the whole thing::pout:::


thanks


newbie crazy lady for sourdough things now!


Rebecca

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

You might try giving your starter some "intensive care".  Keep it out on the counter and feed it at least twice a day for a week or two, to make sure that the wild yeast and good bacteria are well-established again.  If it starts smelling really bad, despite your TLC, then it might be time to toss. But don't give up yet!  It might be fine with lots of feeding and attention. 


When you get it going well again, take out some "insurance".  Either dry some starter or put some away in the freezer (which you should replace every few months or so).  There are directions for drying your starter if you do a search hear on TFL--it's very easy.  That way, if anything happens to your starter, you have a chance of getting it started again without having to go through all the work of creating a brand new starter. 

LindyD's picture
LindyD

If you mixed the pancake flour, raw eggs, and milk in the starter you managed to save, you could be cultivating some very nasty bugs, especially if you have been leaving that mixture unrefrigerated.  If that was the case, am guessing it smells pretty sour - but not because of the bacteria normally created in a healthy levain.  Any purple or black stuff growing on top?


What does your culture look like now?  Does it resemble this levain created by Dan DiMuzio?


When in doubt, throw it out, start over again, and keep your container covered with a snap lid.  

sierraflowr's picture
sierraflowr

Thanks! love it, when in doubt, throw it out! hehe!


na it doesn't look bad, no colors, crusts or films. it looks like that levain except for the frothy (?) white that one has. i added more flour and water yesterday and it looks and smells much better. that same sourish sulpherish, over done saurkraut smell is faintly there, but thats about it. when you say leave it out and feed it are you talking 1/2 cup flour/water? i was using Arther flour but am using Gold medal unbleached now.


Would making pancakes (and NO not adding it back in!!! point taken!) give me an idea of the taste?


i have it in a large plastic Folgers coffee container with a hole in the lid for gas excretion. i 'd had it in a large plastic cup with cheesecloth over it.


now how MUCH should you have was my other question.  if you're taking out a cup, normally, and adding back a cup of water and flour each time i can see it remaining the same amount. but if you're feeding extra cups of each...


i'm sorry, confused here.


Rebecca

marieJ's picture
marieJ

That's some really good advice from Janknitz below.  Other things to consider to keep yourself out of intensive care are that the only things that should ever really enter your sourdough starter bowl are flour and water.  There are some starters which are milk sours but I have no experience of those and little idea of how to manage them so i won't comment on those.  Your starter culture and all the bugs that make it a success are fairly specific to the food source - flour & water. Once you start adding things like eggs, etc, to the starter you keep permanently stored in the fridge, your'e looking at introducing some serious pathogens and a food source for nasty organisms.  Also, if your starter is suspicious and you quite rightly dispose of it & start a new one, it pays to sterilize the bowl and utensils before starting on a brand new baby culture.  I always use glass, pyrex glass or duralex glass bowls and stainless steel spoons because they can be sterilized by heat.  Boil them or heat in the oven 100C - 150C,  depending on whether the glass is heat toughened or not.  Pyrex and duralex is.  Don't use disinfectants as this is bad news for  culture.  Think DEAD culture! Boil spoons. But do not leave metal spoons in the starter when you store it as the starter is acidic.  Stir & remove.


Don't forget to double wrap your new starter when it's put in the fridge, as fresh meat, cooked meat, eggs and their cartons, dirt on vegetables, etc, etc.. all bring their own bugs to the refrigerator.


I've had to throw out a few beloved starters (maddening since they are afforded so much time, patience and care) purely because I just couldn't be sure what had brought about the changes.   Honestly!  Sometimes its enough to make you take a microbiology course and buy a microscope!  


Anyway!  sounds like you're just as hooked as the rest of us!  Trust me...the interest doesn't fade!


Good luck and let us know how you got on.


Cheers


marie


 

sierraflowr's picture
sierraflowr

Thank you Janknitz and marie and all for the wonderful advice. I wasn't sure where to jump in . yeah i'm hooked hahah. funny thing? my Dad IS a Microbiologist.


so i guess i'll start from the beginning sigh....


guess i get to do some more reading then. i'd just dipped into my favorite bread book one day and saw the starter and went awww! i'm going to DO that finally!!!


the book was The Baking Book by Lloyd Moxon, and actually he IS a microbiologist, specializing in yeast biochemistry! anyway i can type the rest of the info if one wants. but i found it interesting to say the least! i've used his methods since i began making bread.

Janknitz's picture
Janknitz

Let's talk some basic sourdough management here!

First, to maintain a 100% starter, it's much easier to measure by weight (grams) rather than volume (cups!).

Second, when you feed your starter you should discard at least half (when it's healthy, the discard can be used for baking, but for now, throw it away). For example, if you regularly keep 60 grams of starter, to feed, discard 40 grams, then feed with 20 grams of water and 20 grams of flour (1:1:1). If you don't discard, you will soon have a swimming pool full.

You can maintain a relatively small amount of starter (e.g. 60 grams) while your starter is in intensive care to minimize waste. Later, when you are ready to use it, you can build up the volume by feeding it more water and flour than you discard.

It's easier to keep your starter in a clear (glass or plastic) container so you can see the bubbles and whether it's doubling or not.

If you think (hard to tell from your description) that the starter is probably OK, keep it well fed on the counter until it's reliably doubling, has that clean, sour smell, and looks good. If really bad smells or off colors develop, it's time to toss it. I wouldn't use it for food until you feel sure.