The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Something doesn't look right with my starter

CyclingCraig's picture

Something doesn't look right with my starter

 Hi All

I am totally new to bread, except for the "No-Knead" from cooks Illustrated.

I received "Local Breads" as a gift over the holidays and found out how much fun making bread really is.

Anyway, here is my issue:

I am trying to make my first starter (Actually second, first time didn't work either) for sourdoughs and following the instructions from Local Breads.

Start with 25g Rye, 25g AP and 160g H2O. Each subsequent day add 50g AP and 65g H2O (Giving a stir every 8 hours)

Never discarding any until "Signs of ready". I am on day 9 right now, this is what it typically looks like 8 hours post feeding, with what looks like what I SHOULD have throughout my "starter" but is really only floating on top in a thin layer, then hooch, then *muck*

I have never seen any "growth" and haven't moved onto the next strep of refreshing, because I think it's not ready ??


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dwcoleman's picture

is called hooch, not a very technical term though.

Stir it down, discard half, and feed it twice a day until it starts bubbling again.  You can also add a little pineapple or orange juice to help lower the ph.

If it doesn't come back to life within 2-3 days it would be best to discard and start again.


William Alexander's picture
William Alexander

Here's a tip for building a starter that you don't find in many books (and one I learned the hard way): during the first few days it's really important to whip air into it -- I visited a yeast factory, and they had huge blowers bringing in air -- otherwise the environment favors bacteria over yeast. True, the fermentation action of yeast is anaerobic, but yeast reproduction is an aerobic process. So, lots of air, and don't cover with anything more than screen or cheesecloth. Nine days is a long time -- you should nice bubbling after 3.

There are a zillion published formulas for building a starter, but my favorite one, which I think takes a lot of the mystery and vocabulary out of it (and is easy, besides) is here. Of course, I'm biased, but...

a different kind of pain's picture
a different kin...

actually, there should already be a sufficient oxygen supply incorporated into a growing yeast culture, especially a wild one, if most sourdough-building time-tables and amounts are followed.  therefore, it doesn't matter what kind of container you store it in, or if you let it sit without stirring.  i prefer air-tight plastic containers.  the link provided by william alexander explains that a 'hazy' apple contains yeast on the outside, but that's not necessarily the case (most of the time this is a waxy substance released by the fruit cells, not yeast).  really, anything with a sugar source will do, organic or not, be it beetroot, celery, or an onion, if using the soaking-a-sugar-source-in-water method.  simply chop in whatever fashion you want, and put into an air-tight container of your choice with water to cover (this helps to prevent exposure to air, thus reducing the risk of top-forming bacteria).  let it sit for 1-4 days, until small bubbles begin to form.  strain off, say, 50 grams and combine with however many grams of flour you want, depending upon the type of starter you're aiming for.  i prefer organic and/or biodynamic stone-ground flours for my starter, but that is just a personal preference.

i agree with michael ganzle:  too much time is spent worrying about how to create a starter, rather than how to maintain it.  the latter matters more for learning how to bake a consistent, flavourful bread.  happy baking.


William Alexander's picture
William Alexander

Well, perhaps, but I'm not sure where that "sufficient oxygen supply" is coming from. I can only say from experience that I've had success when I've incorporated oxygen into a young starter with vigorous whisking, and less success when I haven't. Yet others don't have this problem; that's the beauty of baking with a living organism: every batch is new, and different.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

or the hooch as seen in your picture and although I save some discards, would not save the discard form this one.  The whole starter looks underfed.  I think it was ready when you weren't looking, sneaky little starter!  Don't stir at this point, all that stuff on top is waste product and should be dumped at this time.

Try getting a sample of the layer near the bottom, then tripple the amount with water and add equal amounts of flour by weight.  Stir more often than every 8 hours, when ever you feel like it, gives you a good chance to observe and smell the starter as it changes.  But don't get up in the middle of the night. 

If you happened to stir the whole thing up, muck and all, don't worry too much, important is that you keep some and feed it more than the amount of starter.  Stick to the half rye mixture and you may be feeding in 12 hours.  Mix it up in a little bowl and pour over into a clean jar so you can tell if it rises and falls when you're not looking.  Mark the level and Cover.


clazar123's picture

Start with a small amount-easier to salvage.I would take about a tablespoonful from near the bottom,as MiniOven suggested,and feed it as suggested.The rye flour will help to feed it quickly-its starving right now.Make sure you discard before you feed again! What you are doing is reducing the bacterial count and getting rid of a lot of dead cells and waste. The yeast/bacteria left behind have a cleaner environment and the yeast has a better chance to outnumber the bacteria so always discard at this point!

That is another reason to work with a smaller amount when you are building a starter-who wants to throw away all that flour?Most people save the discard for pancakes,waffles and baking-not to use as a leavener but to use as a flour and flavorant.I keep adding mine to a quart jar in the refrigerator and use it as needed for those recipes.It can easily get out of hand,though.

I make my starter in a jar and put a rubberband at the level it was when I fed it so I can easily tell when it rises.

Janknitz's picture

Every living organism does at least two things--eats (in whatever way that organism form does so) and poops (also in whatever form that organism does so). 

I don't understand the "no discard" theory because you are therefore never discrading the poop (waste product) of the organisms (which may be a collection of yeast and good or bad bacteria at first). 

If you keep feeding but don't discard, you have a lot of waste product build up (more and more as the food and water get consumed). There's a reason that the organism needs to get RID of its metabolic waste--it becomes toxic to the system.  So what I see in the photo is an organism (or collection thereof) in distress because it is essentially drowning in its own waste.   

Now, we humans can't go through every molecule of our starter and say "this is useful organism, that is waste", but by removing at least 1/2 of the "ripe" starter we are reducing a percentage of the waste product and replacing it with food and water that the organisms need to thrive. 

I think Mini's and Clazar's suggestions are right on, but also from now on you MUST discard (to another jar if you wish) to let the yeast and good bacteria thrive in a healthy and clean environment. 

pmccool's picture

Since you started with 50 grams of flour and 160 grams of water, the starter was very dilute.  The regime you are following consistently adds to the problem by adding more water than flour with each feeding.

Please try this: take a tablespoon or so of the sludge, add 50g each of flour and water.  12 hours later, discard half of the starter and feed another 50g each of flour and water.  Keep this pattern going over the next few days.  I'm guessing that you will start seeing some noticeable activity in a couple of days.  

The current state of the starter is far too thin to trap any bubbles, so it isn't going to expand.  At best, you might see a thin froth.  At day 9, without having discarded anything, you now have far more spent flour and starving microorganisms than anything else.  Give a small sample of it a fresh go with plenty of food and it should turn out just fine.


scottsourdough's picture

Yeah, it will be hard to see any growth with a starter as wet as yours. That's also the reason for the layer of hooch.

By starting out with 160g water and 50g flour, your starter began at 320% hydration (160/50). Most people keep their starters at 100% hydration or lower. I keep mine at around 60% hydration, meaning for every 100 grams of flour I add 60 grams of water. I've never had to deal with hooch with a starter anywhere under 166% hydration; it just never happens. I've never heard of hydration anywher near as high as yours.

Bringing your starter to 100% hydration will definitely help make things more stable and let your starter take hold.

CyclingCraig's picture


Hi Everyone and THANKS so much for your input.

Let me give you guys an updated:

(Short version, I dumped it all and I am going to start over)

I tried to bring it back to life.  I took 50g of what I had, to that added 135g of flour and 175g of water.

(Basically followed the instructions from "Bread Alone" for refreshing).  At this point my final hydration at this point should be 132%.  I waited, watched and stirred (And shoveled - I'm in the North East) over the next hours.. I finally gave up, no rise, no bubbles.

So I finally tossed it and I am going to start again.

THIS time I am going to use the method from this site for starters (

My next questions is, if this starter is 100% hydration and the recipes in "bread Alone" call for 130% hydration "Liquid Levain", do I need to worry/bring the new starter up to 130% before I use it for the recipes in Bread Alone?

And how come in recipes that call for starters, they don't state the hydration of the starter?  I would think that makes a big difference in the final hydration of you dough?

Thanks again