The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

How long is too long?

  • Pin It
Walden Pond's picture
Walden Pond

How long is too long?

I have a sourdough starter which I have been using for awhile. It makes a nice loaf, though it is more of an artisan white bread than sourdough.


 


I have been trying to make a new sourdough starter, using several of the methods on this forum (ie. pineapple juice, rye, whole wheat, etc), but none seem to come alive. No bubbles, no doubling, no fermented or yeasty smell.


 


My question to all of you more experienced sourdough bakers is how long do I continue to try to create life? It takes a lot of time (and flour) to simply make a paste that will eventually be thrown away. How long should I wait for my made-from-scratch starter to come to life? How long is too long?


 


I'm a tenacious person and have been continuing my experiments for weeks. But I'm sure there should come a time when a reassonable person would throw in the towel...

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

Out of all flours I made ferment (rye, durum, white soft wheat, wholemeal wheat, spelt, rice, buckwheat and corn) eventually all starters came to life, but invariably white wheat flour took much longer than the others, up to 4 days.


Have patience and perseverate, you will surely succeed.


In order to save flour and avoid wastes you can start refreshing only when the first bubbles are visibile at the sides of the glass. I also recommend you to start with tiny amount of flours: something like 30+30 grams, and to  add 15+15 during the first refreshment.


 


In addition to pineapple juice I also found other liquids  work very well: 3 grams of vinegar dissolved in 47 grams of water, or whey, or all yogurth, or a mixture of yogurth and milk in equal parts.


 


Can you describe the method you follow? It would be useful to identify your mistake.

logdrum's picture
logdrum

I've been using the same starter for 15 years. Are you sure your flour is unbleached & unbromated, & that you're allowing the water to dechlorinate?


-d 

jayc32's picture
jayc32

I'm on my first starter I used 2 Tablespoons whole wheat flour and 2 Tablespoons pineapple juice for the first 3 days then day 4-6 2 ounces starter 1 ounce unbleached ap flour and 1 ounce spring water. It wasn't until day 6 that I really started to see signs of life after that I've switched to 2 ounces starter 4 ounces unbleached AP flour and 4 ounces spring water 2 times a day. It's now so alive it fascinates me every time I see it.

Walden Pond's picture
Walden Pond

I've had no problems keeping my existing starter going strong. The starter I have been using (passed down from friends, originally obtained from Friends of Carl) is alive and well, but doesn't make sourdough bread, IMHO.



I have tried to create other starters using recipes from this site (following them exactly), particularly:



A) 2 T whole grain rye flour (all natural, stone ground Hodgson Mill rye flour) and 2 T unsweetened pineapple juice recipe. I've tried keeping it at room temperature (~70 degrees) and another batch at a warmer temperature (~90 degrees, inside my oven with the light on). I'm currently on day 9 and no rise, no bubbles, no yeast smell. Just a flour paste.


B) the sourdough starter based on Reinhart's barm in BBA (i.e. initially 1/3 c rye and 1/4 cup water, then 1/4 cup of bread flour (King Arthur Flour unbleached, unbrominated). I always use unchlorinated, bottled water, although I've tried using my tap water unsuccessfully too.


I've also tried S, John Ross' starter (http://www.io.com/~sjohn/sour.htm), and the Accidental Scientist sourdough starter (http://www.exploratorium.edu/cooking/bread/recipe-sourdough.html).


All with the same results. Paste. No living starter. It seems as if everyone states the starter comes alive around day 3 to 6. I've let mine go 2 weeks with no results. Which prompted my question "How long is to long?" I'll continue "feeding" the past for weeks to months if that's what it takes!!


What do you suppose I am doing wrong?


 

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

I wouldn't keep on feeding until I saw the first few bubbles along the sides, that would be just a waste. I would just stir 2-3 times a day.


Is it possible that there are traces of detergent in your cups?


 

Walden Pond's picture
Walden Pond

I've tried both clean glass canning jars and tupperware, both with the same negative effect...

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Why don't you take a tablespoon of it and add rye flour and water to make yourself a new rye starter.   Why mess around when you don't have to?


At what temperature do you keep your Carl starter?  Getting the starter to kick at 70°F is rather low and 90°F is too high IMHO.  How about between 75° - 80°F?  Did you keep adding the pineapple juice until now?


Mini

Walden Pond's picture
Walden Pond

I followed the recipe exactly, starting with pineapple juice for the first few additions then switching to bottled water. Still no luck.


My Carl starter is either kept in the frig (if I'm not using it for awhile) or on top of the frig (if I am actively using it).


BTW, your message title made me laugh, and I serioulsy considered it may be true!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I remember someone keeping their cultures on the window sill, nothing was happening although the room temp was 75°F.  But the sill was cold with a draft from outside and the starters were under 65°F, so it doesn't hurt to really look at where, how and all the details. So I understand the baby starters are on top of the fridge. 


If you want Carl more sour, that can be arranged.  You could simply leave him out to rise a little before cooling him (and his relatives) down.  Or spread him around into your little assortment of wannabees.  Might be interesting to see how he changes with different kinds of food.  As mentioned, stir often and briskly making sure you get the stuff off the bottom  stirred in.  Try for a consistancy not too thick or pasty.  Something like ketchup.


Mini

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama


The starter I have been using (passed down from friends, originally obtained from Friends of Carl) is alive and well, but doesn't make sourdough bread, IMHO.



I'm not clear on this: are you trying to make a more SOUR bread? If it's 'alive and well' as you say and it's rising the dough, then it is "sourdough starter". Sourdough does not mean sour bread. Sour in this context means "fermented" just as sauerkraut means fermented cabbage. And if your starter culture is active, then that is "sourdough". 


If you're in reality looking to just up the "sour"  or acidic aspect of your breads, that comes somewhat from the way the bread dough is allowed to rise (slow ferments, cool vs warm holding), how you're feeding/storing the starter, etc.. This is explored in numerous posts on the forum so I won't try to repeat everything that's been discussed already. 


So if you're in possession of an already active starter that can double or triple in size after feeding within a few hours, then you are definitely the owner of a "sourdough starter". 


The same starter can be used to make... let's call it 'mild' bread OR 'sour' bread. A faster warm proof will promote quicker yeast activity but slow down the lacto production, giving a less acidic tone to the bread. A slower, cooler proof will slow up the yeast and give the lacto a chance to create more acids, leading to a more 'sour' taste.  And then there's the idea that a couple of types of lacto may be active which give off different compounds... Keeping the starter stiff, adding a shot of organic rye, etc. are just some ways to promote a more acidic loaf. Like I said, already well discussed in much more details in other threads.


You may want to do a site search for "more sour" and you should find a good number of well popualted discussions on the issue. Such as: Lesson: Squeeze more sour from your sourdough


Which is all entirely aside from your non-growing Baby Starters. 



Paul


http://Yumarama.com


 

Walden Pond's picture
Walden Pond

Thanks for you post Paul. You are correct, my sourdough starter is alive and well and makes a great bread. I have explored the other threads about altering the final taste of the bread, and the suggestions have worked well. I continue to experiment with slow ferments, cool vs warm holdings, longer rise times, etc. It's what makes baking fun!


What I'm currently trying to do is create a new starter "just because". I wanted to see how a starter grew from scratch, and if it would have different properties or tastes compared to my current starter. There are so many different starter recipes, I figured it would be easy to make. Just mix flour and water...could it be any simplier? Yet I can't get anything to grow!


I'm about to give up on my current new starters, which were started 2 weeks ago and are still dead. So before I start again(!), I was looking for tips and suggestions from experienced bakers like yourself. Either I'm doing something wrong or the flour and water in Virginia is sterile!!

Yumarama's picture
Yumarama

If you're using tap water you need to be aware that if it's well chlorinated, this can be hazardous to your budding cultures. It may also be chloramines, not chlorine, in the water which is a little harder still and doesn't dissipate by simply letting it sit out. Check your town's web site for water supply info, it will likely state what they're suing.


Bottled spring water or distilled water from the grocery store will do you well instead if the tap water is an issue. You don't need it forever (unless your tap water is really bad), just enough to get the starter going until it's good and robust.


You can check out my profusely illustrated Starter Step By Step blog post to see what happens to both a water and pineapple juice starter getting fired up from scratch side by side: http://yumarama.com/blog/968/starter-from-scratch-intro/


Either method should work, the pineapple one simply hops over some undesirable early steps you'll see hitting the water starter. But eventually either way will still get you a viable starter.


I won't repeat everything I wrote in there here but you may be able to pinpoint what's been gumming up your process by just following along even if you decide to not start a new batch (yet).


Or you may hold off starting something new until the warmer days come around and had time to play with Carl Jr. for a couple of months.


Paul


http://Yumarama.com


 

Walden Pond's picture
Walden Pond

I think I'll go with Mini Oven's advice of usng a bit of my established starter in other types of flour and liquids. Trying to start anew with just flour and water is just wasting flour for me. I'd rather use the flour experimenting with my breads! :)