The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough starter ?, yes again..

Paddyscake's picture

Sourdough starter ?, yes again..

I'm sure everyone is getting tired of ?s about sourdough starter. I noticed my loaves last week were spreading more than rising. With all the talks and pics of inactive starters, I decided to give mine a good feed. I started on Thursday and baked today. It never doubled, although is was bubbly and foamy. I retarded the dough overnight. After 4 hours on the counter, they looked like last weeks, hardly risen. I decided to refold and shape and waited another 2 hours. Still not much of a rise. Into the oven it went anyway and lo and behold it was the best loaf I have ever made. I got a huge oven spring and my slashes burst! I even got a crack on the bottom where maybe I didn't seal my seam too well. I had nice blistering of the crust, great flavor. I'd post a pic, but our camera croaked. So my question is doubling of the starter a must? or was I just lucky?

P.S. This is SourdoLady's starter (1yr old) and recipe...tyvm

Bruce R Leech's picture
Bruce R Leech

maybe it was the extra time

SourdoLady's picture

Dough that has been retarded in the refrigerator takes forever to warm up and start to rise, I've found. I have helped it along by patting the dough out into a large blob about an inch thick on a plastic cutting mat and then I take a mixing bowl of hot water and place the mat with the dough on top of it. I flip the dough over every 10 minutes or so.


I have found that the combination of retarding the dough and multiple folding of the dough gives a great boost to the oven spring, also.

jm_chng's picture

The less well risen your dough the more oven spring you will get, within limits. After trying out the 1:1:1 last weekend with my starter I noticed it went into a big sulk this week. It would normally be quite happy when I took it out of the fridge on a Friday ready to bake but Friday morning I could see it was looking a bit sick. The gluten was a mashed up so the starter poured out of the jar. I fed it expecting it to be ready when I got home from work. But no chance. It took another four hours to get anything like ready to use. I won't do that again. People are more adaptive than the starter. A lot of people say they feed this way or that but they've got used to what they need to do to get a good loaf from it doing it their way. That's why I say you can't take advice from lots of different people. You really have to follow one method til you are familiar with it. Personally I find my way feeding my starter the most predictable way of managing it. When you look at your starter what do you see?Flour and water. That's all. You don't see the millions of organisms in there you don't' see half of them dead or all of them busy dividing. If I feed my starter lots of food, I can be confident that I have 20,000,000 yeast and lb's per gram. That 20m per gram have the potential to double every two hours and leaven my loaf. If my starter hasn't been fed properly there could be only 1000 per gram plus a heck of a lot of by-products slowing any growth right down. This is a total unknown. If you're used to doing things this way great you know what to do.  But I have noticed folks that ferment the heck out of their starter often 'spike' with yeast or complain of intermittent success. If you have to get used to one way of feeding. It seems to make more sense to me to get used to feeding lots of food. Especially if you are used to working with yeast. This switch will make much more sense to you then.


Paddyscake's picture

for the feedback.  I think being more vigilant about feeding on a regular schedule will be the answer to my questions.  I would sometimes go a week or 2 without feeding because I would be experimenting with other formulas. So, am I correct in assuming that an established starter doesn't have to double as long as it is active i.e "bubbly & foamy"?

gianfornaio's picture

It's important to note here that the type of your flour, the hydration, and how much you mix the starter will affect how much the starter rises-- Rye flour, for example, has way less gluten, so without wheat flour it just can't rise nearly as much, and a wet starter with any (wheat-based) white flour that you've just given a nominal mixing will let a lot of the CO2 go because you haven't developed the gluten enough to trap it and harness it for volume. Likewise, a starter with 100% whole wheat flour will rise less than a white flour.  

These are all obviously imprecise, but the point is that without controlling for several factors, you just can't tell quite how active your starter is by its volume. But I'd say if it rises noticeably or even just bubbles a lot, it smells strong (like yeast and liquor) a few hours after its last feeding, and you're not in a big hurry, you can be confident it will raise your bread if your starter's flour is at least a quarter of your finished loaf's flour.  

It could be less and probably still rise alright, it just may take a long time.

If in doubt, forge ahead with it. If it doesn't rise much, throw it in the oven anyway. It will work and be exhilarating, or it won't and you'll learn more than you will by fretting about it a lot ahead of time. I've always found that I enjoy the loaves the most that I've taken risks with and come out ahead.

At the risk of digressing, every loaf has the potential to be so far and away better than okay-- that is to say, between the okay loaf you may get by cutting losses and playing it safe and the amazing loaf you can get through following a moment's inspiration and doing something crazy and making on-the-fly seat-of-your-pants adjustments to make it work, the difference is so much bigger than the difference between the okay loaf and the misery of a failed loaf (that you can use for croutons, strata, bread pudding, panzanella or bird food) that I would always recommend diving in and doing something nuts.

That said, it helps to read the prose, non-recipe parts of your bread books to pick up all the peripheral stuff you can use in those touchy, sudden-adjustment moments.

Good luck. Keep rocking the wild stuff.

Paddyscake's picture

Well you hit on just about every thing I have tried with my starters..and have done in the wrong combos. My starter (1 y/o) was WW.  I then started to feed with WW and switched to white ( I figured what the heck, right?). That is when I had minimal rise, but excellent results. I then decided to feed, before stashing in the fridge, with some dark rye and WW combo. If I do have success, I'm in trouble, because I didn't take any notes. I guess I do like to walk on the wild starter side. It is, what it is  ;  )

Again, Grazie