The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter diagnosis

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Josh's picture
Josh

Starter diagnosis

 


Hello everyone - this is my first post on a forum ever - not entirely sure of the etiquette so your patience is appreciated.


 I'm trying to figure out whether my starter has the right bacteria present and is active enough.  You see, I've made about half a dozen batches of loaves from this starter but am not happy with the rise I'm getting.  My starter is about 6 weeks young and was created on the basis of 1:1 organic plain flour to water.  I feed it as follows:


1 part starter : 1/2 part flour : 1/2 part water


Every three or four days I cut it back to its original size.  So total starter weight goes 100g, 200g, 400g, 800g, then cut back to 100g + 100g of food, and so on. I've been keeping it in a plastic mixing bowl at about 20 degrees Celsius give or take 2 or so degrees on either side of that and have been feeding it daily.


The starter smells "right" - something like a combination between vomit, awesome bready goodness and yoghurt.  It has irregular bubbles of about .5cm in diameter and has the consistency of thick pancake batter.  Having regard to all of those indicators I would have thought my starter is both active enough and sufficient to cause my loaves to rise a bit more than they do.


 In terms of mixing and baking I'm following the book Bourke Street Bakery to the letter.


I am pleased with both the crumb (to the extent that it has awesome irregular bubbles throughout the loaves) and the crust of my loaves, which is chewy with all its bready goodness.  I'm happy with the sourness which I understand is a result of the 8-12 hour retarding process.  But the issue is that the texture/mouth feel seems a little too dense and the loaf doesn't rise as much as I would like it to.  For example on final prove, I would expect shaped loaves to increase in size by  at least 60-70%.  I would think I'm getting about 20% increase in bulk.


 I thought the best place to start my quest would be taking a good hard look at the quality of my starter, but as best I can determine, I'm doing everything I should be.


 Thoughts? Suggestions? Comments?


 I would be more than happy to provide photos or further details of my dough recipe.


Any assistance is greatly appreciated.


Regards


Josh


 


 

davidg618's picture
davidg618

had a starter smell like vomit.


David G.

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

Josh,


In the absence of a good yeasty aroma, flour + acid can smell like vomit. But you need to cultivate a good population of healthy yeast if you want your breads to rise well without adding baker's yeast, and your present feeding routine won't accomplish that.


Try 1/2 part starter : 1 part flour : 1 part water, twice a day, and see what a difference that makes. Keep it small to conserve flour.


-dw

davidg618's picture
davidg618

I never heard, nor experienced that before. That's important to know.


David G.

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

" The starter smells "right" - something like a combination between vomit, awesome bready goodness and yoghurt."


That's a sign that the yeast-bacteria balance isn't quite right yet.  The "vomit" smell is the result of bacteria munching away at flour in your starter, which is good, as they set up the acidic environment that the yeast will ultimately thrive in.  The yeasty smell indicates that some yeast have already started to take hold.  But until that vomit smell has gone away, the starter is most definitely *not* ready yet (when it's ready, the starter should smell somewhat sweet and fruity, slightly tangy, and very yeasty).



Incidentally, given you've been maturing your starter for six weeks now, it's sounds like it's stuck.  As such, I'd strongly suggest spiking the next few feedings with 50% rye flour (which tends to carry more yeast spores).

Zeb's picture
Zeb

I too am new here and  I was going to say 1:2:2 while refreshing, which is basically the same as the advice above.  e.g. take 20 grams of your starter, add 40 grams of water and 40 grams of flour. Throw the rest away. Repeat every 8 - 12 hours until the starter smells fruity as described above.  Don't hang on to bowlfuls of old starter, either use it or throw it.  You only need to keep a small but perfect quantity going in between bakes. Flour isn't that expensive, but your time is if you have to start again from scratch.  I have two starters, a white one and a rye one, the rye is always more active and quicker to ferment, and you can swap them around if needs be. Hope this helps. Zeb

Josh's picture
Josh

Thank you very much for all your feedback, tips and advice.


At this stage I'm thinking of trying the tact suggested by Debra Wink (i.e. feeding my starter on the basis of 1/2 part starter : 1 part flour : 1 part water).  Am I correct to presume that the actual weight of the starter is irrelevant and that the real issue is the proportions of starter, flour and water?


Something that I have noticed is that when I first mixed my starter, it smelled very "vomity" indeed.  However, over time it has developed a more yeasty aroma.  However, at this stage, I am unable to detect any fruity sweetness as mentioned by Fancypantalons.  I presume that the "tang" referred to by Fancy is a heavily toned down version of the "vomittiness" I've currently got.


I'll keep you all posted.  Thank you very much once again.  Please Debra and Fancy could you confirm my presumptions above?


Regards


Josh

fancypantalons's picture
fancypantalons

Wow, TBH, I hadn't noticed the details of your feeding schedule.  *Definitely* switch to a 1:2:2 ratio... when I maintain a starter, that's what I use as a regular maintenance feeding.



And as for the smell, yeah, tangy meaning acidic tones.  But the more unpleasant notes should be gone (I love the smell of a nice ripe starter).

Debra Wink's picture
Debra Wink

"Am I correct to presume that the actual weight of the starter is irrelevant and that the real issue is the proportions of starter, flour and water?"


Yes, it's proportion that matters here for maintenance. You don't need to increase the volume until you need more for baking. But keep in mind that when you do eventually build a larger amount to use in bread, that it may ripen a bit faster, because larger volumes retain more of the heat generated by the microorganisms.


Note too, that  1/2 : 1 : 1  is the same as  1 : 2 : 2  that the others recommended. I wanted to follow your convention to show you the difference most clearly. But actually the latter really is clearer, in that you are going from 1 : 1/2 : 1/2 to 1 : 2 : 2. Looking at it this way, it's easier to demonstrate that the organisms will be getting 4x more food and dilution of waste by-products. Do that twice a day, and your starter will be healthy and fragrant in no time :-)


-dw

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

it is the best way at this stage to increase your yeast.  You have been starving your starter for a long time and it needs time to recover and grow.    :)


If you want to reduce your amounts (yes, the ratio is the important thing) you could discard and reduce your starter to as low as two tablespoons and then feed with water and flour. 


Mini

Josh's picture
Josh

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Pablo's picture
Pablo

I couldn't agree with you more!


:-Paul