I made Peter's Potato, Cheddar, and Chive Torpedoes today from BBA. If you haven't tried this recipe, you owe it to yourself! Man, these are good!!
I have been experimenting with sour dough starters for several months and am still somewhat mistified. Your submission of January 12, 2009 seemed straight forward enough, so I started to buil it last Thursday. Everything went perfectly, or so it seemed, right through the 3rd day which was last Saturday. At that time, I was pleased that my budding starter has expanded by att least 3 times and I was beginning to think that this was really going to work. I punched it down, three out half of it and replenished with 1/4 cup unbleached KA bread flour and 2 tbs. spring water and recovered with plastic wrap and eagerly wated for the day 4. But nothing happened in the next 24 hours. It did not grow or show any sign of life at all. That was last night (Sunday). I am back in my office today and won't see it again until tonight. Pessimistically, I suspect it will not have budged when I get home which will be approximately 48 hours after I divided and fed it. In your blog, you seemed to indicate that this might happen and, if so, I should feed it with a bit of rye and water, wate until it has at least doubled and then proceed with the remaining steps. Question: Why is this happening and why did my seemingly alive and active starter suddenly decide to die? The only clue I can give you is that my mix never had the terrible odor you predicted. It did have a distinctive aroma but not at all unpleasant.
Thanks for any help you can provide,
Sorry to hear about your starter's puzzling behavior. My impression, from what you have said and what you have left unsaid, is that you are trying to begin a new starter, following gaaarp's tutorial. If so, you've made a good pick, since gaaarp has done a thorough job of stepping you through the process.
Regarding your first question: the lively activity you saw in the first 2 or 3 days was bacterial, not yeast-driven. As a matter of fact, the yeast in your starter hasn't really woken up yet. It will start to thrive as the pH continues to drop, complements of the many generations of bacteria who are living in your starter now and producing various acids. That is why gaaarp has been so emphatic in his Day 4 discussion about the importance of waiting and being patient. Sometimes, that is all you can do with a nascent starter: wait.
So, following gaaarp's instructions, since you have waited more than 48 hours without any sign of doubling, go ahead and feed it some rye flour and some water. Then wait some more; a day or two if necessary. As gaaarp notes, it will eventually double and you can then proceed with the Day 4 feedings.
Hang in there. If patience is one of those virtues you have pursued unsuccessfully, sourdough will give you plenty of opportunity to develop it.
One other thought: what kind of temperature are you maintaining? Most starter activity tails off dramatically if the temperature goes below 70ºF. That's true of baby starters like yours and old timers that have been around for generations. If you can provide your starter with temperatures in the mid-70s to mid-80s range, it will be a happy camper.
Best of luck.
This is one of my favorite recipes! Delicious...
Thank you for your helpful suggestions. I did the interim refreshment with the rye and water, and still nothing has happened. I am now on my third day of waiting for the starter to double so I can procede with Day 4 instructions. I checked the temperature with a vey accurate Thermopin thermometer and the starter is right at 81 degrees. The only action I can see is a stiff film that covers it each day which I have been lifting off each day in one piece. Is that correct? You said I would need patience and I am beginning to see what you mean. Just how long should I be prepared to wait before I toss it out? Easter? July 4th? Christmas? I can be as patient as anyone. I just don't like to be stupid. In the meanwhile, I have started another starter with rye and pineapple, which I am sure your are familiar with. I could not find dark rye or coarse whole rye anywhere in the DC area, so I am using medium rye flour purchased from the local supermarket. Could this be the source of my problem?
Thanks again for your help,
This one is playing hard to get, isn't it? It sounds to me like you are doing everything you can to provide it with what it needs. The medium rye isn't a problem, so don't fret about that. About the only other tip that I can think of is to stir your starter a couple of times each day to keep it aerated. I've not done that with any of my starters, but others claim that it has helped theirs. You are NOT stupid! Just a bit frustrated with some flour and water and a few million microorganisms who are being uncooperative.
Is the container you keep your starter in covered? If there is a stiff film on it each day, that sounds as if it is drying out somewhat. You may want to cover it loosely with something that will slow down the evaporative loss.
Interesting to hear that you've taken out an insurance policy in the form of another starter. Wouldn't it be a hoot if you find yourself in the position of many would-be parents who adopt only to find that they are, at long last, pregnant? Whether one or both starters take off, you'll have achieved your objective.
Since you are well past the point where many people give up on their starters prematurely, and since your starter just isn't responding, I'd say you have the liberty to choose how you want to proceed. You could chuck it and see if your rye/pineapple starter has a successful launch. You could wait to see that the rye/pineapple starter is successful and then give this one the heave-ho. Or, you could save about a tablespoon or so of this one and feed it twice a day as if it were responding, just to see what happens. I'd probably choose the latter course, but I'm not you.
Sometimes starters just never, well, start. Some posters here have mentioned making 4, 5, or even 6 attempts before having success. I've had duds, I've had viable but badly-behaved starters and I've had some that were textbook perfect. The pineapple juice method stacks the odds in your favor better than almost any other approach, so you are well advised to try that path, too.
I apologize for not providing more definitive diagnoses or prescriptions. As I said at the top, you are providing your starter a with a good environment. I hope that at least one of your starters turns into a yeasty ferment.