The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Growing yeast

socurly's picture

Growing yeast

My mother said in the old days they would make a yeast starter by simply leaving equal amounts of flour and water in a bowl and cover with a clean cloth.  So I tried this and it has  bubbled after a few days but it smells like vomit.  The whole kitchen smells bad.  Does anyone have any input. I am not sure it should smell like this.  

Chuck's picture

If you really mean to make something like sourdough, then "starting a starter" is the right thing to pursue.

But if you're just trying to save a few pennies, then don't try to do it this way. If you lived in the same place your mother lived, and the air quality was the same as when she was your age, it might work readily. But you're fighting half a century of industrialization and urbanization pollution  ...and you may not win easily.

It's true those individual packets of commercial ("instant/breadmachine dried") yeast at your grocery store are ridiculously expensive. Look nearby for jars about the size of a baby food jar instead; the initial price seems steep but the per-use price is actually many times lower. And if you get into really serious baking, you'll want to buy commercial yeast at least a pound at a time, which sometimes means a big-box store and sometimes means mail order from a place like this.

alabubba's picture

Your on the right track, It takes several days for the good yeasties to overpower the bad ones. Throw away most of your "Starter" and feed it equal parts of starter, flour, and water (by weight) Keep doing this everyday for 3-4 days, then go to twice a day feedings. It should be doubling in 4-6 hours and have a pleasant yeasty sour smell. (Yummy, not vomit)

Now that you have a active starter you will want to bake lots of yummy stuff with it. Make sure to feed your starter and bake with the discard.

At this point, I change the feeding schedule to 1 part starter, 2 parts flour, 2 parts water. (by weight) and I usually use 25 grams of starter, 50 grams flour, 50 grams water. Keep in the fridge and feed weekly. When you want to bake, take 25g out to feed, use the rest (100g) to bake with.

LucyBee's picture

Hello All

6 days ago I started a starter using fuzzy figs from my garden, along with white whole wheat and water.

My starter bubbled gently, and I fed and discard, etc.

However, my starter never developed that strong smell everyone talks about.

There was a hint of paint smell, and now it smells kind of fruity, but very mild.

Is this normal?

mrfrost's picture

I think that is probably very much normal. I recently(puxhing 3 months) made three starters(rye, ww, ap) and they all smell pretty much like that. Of course the rye smells a tinge heartier of course. Otherwise, the same.

Guess the figs didn't really add too much, as of now at least.

LucyBee's picture

Yes, my next question,

What are the extras such as grape skins and other fruits etc suppose to add to these wild yeast starter? I chose figs because I have it my own yard, therefore real organic.

And from their scent and gentle bubbling activity (day 6), do you think my starter might be ready?

Thanks for any info mrfrost.


mrfrost's picture

I think the fruits, like grape skins, present a (more?)known, robust source of wild yeast, as opposed to some unknown flour. Maybe they also help in increasing the acidity of the environment, which is more hospitible to the yeasts.

And of course, as long as they are being used(fruits), I suppose they could add to the flavor of the sourdough.

I'm a proponent of the school that the yeasts are there, in the flour, and in the air. Mix flour and water, provide adequate temperature, feed it, and the yeasts will grow.

As far as when is it ready, I think the only guage is how long it takes for the starter to at least double. If the starter dependably doubles in 3 to six hours, it can probably be used. One probably needs to keep the starter in a container where the volume can be accurately determined. 2 weeks is probably the minimum where it will be ready.

All  that said, even when the "starter is ready", technique and procedures, and experience count just as much in determining whether one makes an acceptable loaf of sourdough bread.