The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How fast can a starter um... start?

CeraMom's picture

How fast can a starter um... start?

Yesterday morning, I mixed up a cup of water and a cup of flour in an empty plastic jar. This morning it was gloppy when I fed it. I poured off half, added 1.2 cup water and unbleached AP flour.

It certainly smells sourish and yeasty, and its risen about an inch. It is full of teeny bubbles, as well.

I'm sure it isnt ready for baking, but it is still awfully exciting. How fast could a starter start?

flournwater's picture

I have used it after about five days, but it hasn't developed much flavor in that length of time.  I normally wait at least 7 - 10 days with a new starter.

Yumarama's picture

At this stage of your new starter's growth, it's very likely what bubbling action you're seeing is actually some rogue bacterial activity. Completely normal but not the yeastie beasties you want, not yet anyway. This first stage basically lets other critters kick up and, in the process, bring the pH levels of your flour soup down. 

You're also likely to see no activity once this dies down, for several days. This is when a lot of people think they "killed it", get discouraged and throw it away. Don't. It's just one step in a series that will bring the pH levels down to where the yeasties, already present in the flour but hibernating, finally wake up and start to activate. That typically happens at about day four or so - give or take, it's not exact.

Once the real yeast activity gets going, you do want to give it a week or so of twice-daily feeds so that you're building up the yeast and lactos' strength. At about the two week old mark, if the starter is consistently doubling or better about 4 to 8 hours after each feed, then it's active enough to rise dough.

As flournwater above wisely notes, however, it won't have built up a lot in the way of "character", finding it's own particular flavour. That usually takes several more weeks of feeding and improving. But you can still use if to make bread. It will simply be better bread further down the road. 

If you'd like to see a starter going from scratch to full blown, I've put a series of blog posts together detailing (with loads of pics) the birth of twin starters, one just flour and water, the other using the Debra Wink "pineapple juice" method, and compared their different processes as they got going. You can check that series of posts here on my blog. Although they are a little different from the way you're making your starter, they will still give you a good idea and explain what is happening along the way.

There are other step-by-step instructions, such as gaaarp's Starter 101 here on TFL, that will help you find out when to expect what.

Of course, one of the very first things you want to do is give your new critter a name. Yes, a lot of us have named out pet starters. It is, after all a living, breathing colony that you have to feed and take care of, just like a cat or dog. Except it doesn't shed so much and you get to make bread out of it.

Have fun with your new pet!

Ho Dough's picture
Ho Dough

I'm 100% in agreement with this.

Out of curiosity, I started two starters a week ago, and experienced the same thing with the water/rye flour starter. Huge growth of nasty smelling stuff. Then it went dormant, where it stayed until day 6. As of this 7, it's come to life and is doubling in volume. Smells and tastes much better.

The OJ/Rye didn't do anything for 5 days, then started showing signs of life. As of this 7, it's got a froth on top and is bubbling nicely. However, the smell is something like a medicine. Not sure what that is (unless it's alcohol vapor), but I'm letting it play out to see where it goes.

There is a thread going in the sour dough forum, called "Starting down the path". It has pictures and story.

Keep the faith. You are right on schedule!

CeraMom's picture

Start looks dead, just like y'all said it would.

I knew that it wasn't yeast yet, but soooo exciting. I thought even bacteria bubbles would be days away. It is disgusting cold outside ( damned Canadian weather ) and we've a houseful of sick kids. WAit.... maybe the kids got my starter all bacteria'd. ( Pardon my loopiness... no sleep... sick kids... WAH! )

I'm dutifully feeding Yost. ( Yost the yeast is what my husband has named the starter :- ) I'm hoping Yost looks yeasty soon, even if she's flavourless.


Yumarama's picture

somewhere in the house. Don't limit it to the kitchen either, these spots can be anywhere. 

Typically, you might find on top of the fridge a warm spot as the coils in back produce heat all the time. Or next to a TV, modern ones are always "on' a little so they stay warm. Next to the computer box if that's constantly on.  Close to a table lamp you leave on.

You want a spot that is in the mid 70's or 22-25ºC if possible.

Don't worry, it will get there eventually. 

CeraMom's picture

Rainboz, thanks again for your very detailed blog. Awsome. Really REALLY awsome.

CeraMom's picture

Itty bitty teeny ones!

We are on day 6 and I'm almost confident in saying Yost is growing SOMETHING. I'd love to tell you Yost smells Yeasty, but I've got a cold and cant' smell worth a damned.

I've been dutifully feeding Yost spring water and AP Unbleached flour ( which is all I had on hand, hopefully tomorrow I'll be off to bulk barn! ).

 Day 2 showed bubbles and a bit of rise.

Day 3 showed less bubbles, no rise.

Day 4 had no bubbles, no rise, nothing.

Day 5 had a few small bubbles, no rise.

I just fed Yost again and we have bubbles. Hopefully by morning, we will have a LITTLE rise. I've promised to give Yost at least a full 2 weeks before giving up :-)

Yumarama's picture

as it seems you started with AP flour. The yeasties population in that will be much much smaller than would have been with rye or whole wheat as the outer shell of the grain, where all the critters are, have been removed in processing. So the remaining lot are very few and will need a little more time to multiply and colonize your baby starter.

When you get to the Bulk Barn, pick up about a cup of rye flour (unless like me you intend to make loads of rye bread in which case you'll want a kilo) and add a portion of that to your feeds for a day or so, perhaps 1/4 of the flour you'll give Yost. This will perhaps help him/her kick things into gear a bit faster. And check your intended bread recipes, several 'white' SD breads also use a little rye or whole wheat flour. You'll want to have some of that on hand. 

Couple of other things you may want to pick up while you're at the Bulk Barn (suggestions only): kosher salt, topping seed like poppy, sesame, caraway, etc., rice flour (a cup or so) if you plan to use a couche or lined basket, coarse corn meal, semolina. And wasabe-coated peas. Wait, no, that's what I pick up when I go there.

If you're in or near the Hamilton area and you want to get even cheaper bread and AP flour, there a place called Traynor's Bakery Wholesale (191 Victoria Ave. South) where you can pick up 20 Kg bags of unbleached bread and AP flour for ~$13 CND each (I get the Dover brand). They're wholesale but you can pay cash and get just one bag. Google their location, look at the satellite photo version so you know what you're looking for and get driving directions though because they're a serious pain to get to with all the one way streets in Hamilton.

CeraMom's picture

We had miniscule ( millimetering! ) rise today after I fed Yost a shot of rye :-) I fed Yost again ( who had bubbles through and through ) at 10pm and will update in the morning.

Tonight I made garlic twists and my hubby wished they had been sourdough starter created :-)