The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My Smelly Starter

MickiColl's picture

My Smelly Starter

My starter is nearly 2 weeks old and I have been religiously tossing out half and replacing it with like amounts of flour and bottled spring water, every day. For the past week it has been smelling slightly like alcohol ... til today .. and today it smells like acetone. It is very much alive .. bubbling like mad, and when I feed it, it raises to nearly double wihin a very few hours. Am I maybe tossing too much and should be only discarding a couple spoonfulls ? It's in my bedroom where the temp is pretty close to 74 all the time. Whatever suggestions you may have I welcome.



csimmo64's picture

I don't know what can be making it smell like that. But what I can help clarify for other people answering the question is by getting you to answer this.

Do you use a biga sourdough starter or poolish style? Basically, whats the hydration and what do you feed it?

MickiColl's picture

I guess you would say a biga .. I don't measure .. but for every C of flour there is about 1/2 to 3/4 C water. it's pretty stiff. I feed with Gold Medal AP (Better for Bread) and bottled spring water. When I first started it I gave it a pinch or two of sugar .. and a tiny bit of KA WW. should I toss all but maybe half a cup and start feedin it again maybe adding a bit of vinegar ? I just brought it out and discarded a litle and fed it again .. beating the *&^$% out of it. It isn't quite as smelly as this morning ..

Also I have a question .. what do I do with the discard ? When I first started on this site I was warned not to put it down the kitchen sink "lest I wanted to make good friends with a plumber" ..

Yumarama's picture

You say "for every cup of flour"... that leads me to think there may be several cups of flour and hence several cups of starter and therefore several cups of discard to take care of.

The excess you can toss out in the garbage or recycle if you don't want to put it down the drain (probably wise). There are lots of things you can do with the excess you won't use in a recipe:

Pancakes, muffins, quick breads... you can do a search (the search box is on the left column) for, say, "using discard" to see what people suggest.

My take on your starter's current situation: if it's getting alcoholic, it's telling you it's hungry. It needs less "old starter" and more fresh food.

Cut back to about a tablespoon of the old starter and add 2 tablespoons of water and 3 tablespoons of flour. That should give you about 1/4 cup of starter which is plenty to take care of and keep you in the sourdough business. And when you toss out excess you just can't use (not baking) you're only getting rid of 3 tablespoons of flour. No huge issue.

If you're going to get into bread baking, I'd also suggest to reconsider not measuring: you do want to know how much flour and water is in that starter. If you can, get a digital kitchen scale that measure in ounces and grams down to one gram increments. It will also be an invaluable tool in your bread baking as many recipes are measured by weight (grams or ounces), not volumes (cups).

In grams, the above feeding suggestion would be 10g of old starter to which you add 20 grams of water and 20 grams of flour at each feed, which will give you 40g of "excess" starter to bake with.

This formula is a 100% hydration starter because you are adding 100% of the flour weight (20g) in water (20g) -  you'll see many sourdough recipes wanting a specific hydration sourdough starter. You are also following a feed ratio if 1:2:2 (1 part old starter to 2 parts water to 2 parts flour). 


MickiColl's picture

I have 2 small containers of starter .. each holding 1 to 1 1/2 c. why so much you ask ? simple. when I decide to bake I don't want to have to take out 1/4 C and feed it for 2 or 3 days before I can use it. I figger that if I always have one C on hand to work with I am good for go at any time. I am a spontaneous person. I find it difficult to plan more than one day ahead .. btw I'm nearly 80 so I don't buy green bananas, either.

what exatly is barley malt ? I found some at Whole Foods .. but in with the pancake syrup. ($4.99 for half a pint) Is it just a sugar substitute ?