The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help a newbie with sourdough starter

ukbakergirl's picture
ukbakergirl

Help a newbie with sourdough starter

Hello I am a newbie from the UK.


I was lucky enough to find you all last week and I read a brilliant article about sourdough starters. When I went to do my weekly feed ( day late) I noticed that my 2 have a thick watery vinegar smelling top layer. HELP! I seem to recall that this was not a good sign but I can't find the article again.


I went on a course a few weeks ago and got 2 dry starters one white and one san fran starter as part of the course. We made some amazing bread under instruction of course but the notes given and the tutor does not seem to be helpful after the event so I have been searching for answers. So far it would seem that I would gain help from the book Dough by R Bertinet so have put on my xmas list!


Ok here is where I am today;


Made up both starters using 50g starter and used 50g white flour and 50g water for white


and 50g rye flour and 50g water for san fran. Left out for 6 hrs then in the fridge.


Fed 6 days later as above after removing and discarding about half the contents.


The next week I did same 3 times in a row so that I got about 400g of starter I think and then made bread following recipes from the course. The sourdough was ok but could have been better but the rye bread was truly hideous and it took 3 days to scrape out of the tin as it did not even bake properly so I was hacked off and really downhearted and have not made any bread for about 3 weeks but try to feed the starter as do not want to lose.


I was delighted to find this sight as it has made me feel keen to try again.


At the moment, both starters are out of fridge in the kitchen which will get colder through the evening and night but I am not sure what to do so I may return to the fridge until I get advice.


It would great if someone could point me to the page where there was all the advice about rectifying any starter problems also if there is a page where someone has tried UK bread baking as I believe the measures and some of the ingredients are different? I use an electric fan oven. My goal is to make bread once every 10 days or so if possible and I would love to freeze the starter to save moeny constantly feeding each week.


Thank you in advance, please be gentle, it is my first time!

ananda's picture
ananda

Hi ukbakergirl,


Welcome to TFL; I too, am UK-based, being a lecturer in Bakery in Newcastle upon Tyne.


I don't think you have been given correct instruction on feeding your starters to develop a strong culture in the first place.   I have used these dry starters in the past, and found them to be very reliable.   However, and like all natural levains, they need feeding more than once a week if you are hoping to create a viable culture with powerful leavening properties.   It is made all the harder by the cold weather we are currently experiencing.


I would suggest you at least take a look at Dan Lepard's illustration of creating a leaven in his "Handmade Loaf".   I don't think you need to go as far as using raisins and yoghurt, but I do think it illustrates the need to feed more often in the first place.   You absolutely must feed daily to get the thing off the ground, and keep sufficient water in the mix to allow those natural yeasts to prosper.   Bacterial fermentation will kick in over a longer timescale, but leaving 6 days between each feed really means your wild yeasts have insufficient food to have any sort of chance to grow and thrive.   The absolute fundamental for a "sourdough" levain, is a combination of wild yeast with lactic and acetic bacterial activity.   These will all work symbiotically if you can learn to feed your culture correctly through a sequence of "elaborations".


This is a complex area if you don't have a lot of experience.   Don't worry about that.   TFL is full of very knowledgeable bakers; we can give more specific advice as and when it is needed.   For now, more food for your leaven.


Best wishes


Andy

ukbakergirl's picture
ukbakergirl

Thanks Andy I appreciate your time and advice, hope you are not too frozen in the North!!

joyfulbaker's picture
joyfulbaker

Hi ukbakergirl,


If you type in "starting a sourdough starter" in the search area at the top of the page of this web site, you will no doubt get more information than you need.  I used Maggie Glezer's recipe in Artisan Baking Across America (far from the UK, but still good advice).  Peter Reinhart also has advice, using, I think, pineapple juice (many ways to "skin a cat" so to speak).  I had no trouble with Glezer's formula.  Here it is:  http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/2390/firm-starter-glezer-recipe.  The first 6 or 7 days, you need to feed it daily.  Once it's up and running and smells nice and yeasty, you can then use or refrigerate it for up to a week or even a couple of weeks.  When I refresh (feed it), I use a ratio of 1 (previous starter) to 2 (filtered water, slightly warmed) to 3 (flour, usually unbleached bread flour with a little rye mixed in).  I turn the newly mixed starter into a CLEAN jar and, after I'm confident that it's going well (this make take years if you're cautious), I toss out the old starter, then wash out the jar to have on hand the next time.  If you want to freeze starter, don't make the mistake I did.  You can't do that in its regular state.  Try looking at www.breadtopia for a video of "drying sourdough starter."  http://www.breadtopia.com/drying-sourdough-starter-for-long-term-storage/  With this method, you smear on a thin layer onto parchment or waxed paper, let it dry in the oven overnight, then break up the dried up starter and store in a ziplock bag either in the fridge or freezer for longer storage.  It can be reconstituted (Breadtopia has a video of how to do that as well).


Good luck and welcome to TFL,


Joyful

ukbakergirl's picture
ukbakergirl

I will look at the links you suggest.

laurie1's picture
laurie1

welcome ukbakergirl!  I think the first suggestion I would make, and as I am soooo close to being a newbie, too, possibly the only one I can make with any authority - is to not lose heart. Like any skill/art/talent/pleasure interesting things take time and experience to learn and 'perfect'.  A failed loaf is just another creative point - its part of the learning process.


That having been said - I second Ananda's suggestion of Dan Leppard's book - not only good instruction on the starter - I followed it and got a very good starter that seems to thrive despite my occassional neglect.  Equally,  the 'first loaf' gives you minute by minute instructions which are really helpful for that 'first' bake.  I found it gave me terrific confidence to go on.


Don't worry about waste with daily feedings - the 'discard' (once the starter is a few weeks old and has some character) can be used in so many other recipes (I added my early discard to the compost bin).  May I suggest adding it to Dan Leppards Brown Butter Piklets - we make them most weekends, and with the addition of what ever discarded starter we have they make a handsome batch (leftovers can be popped in the toaster the next morning)!


And one final suggestion: I found our local library was an excellent source for cook books - and more than willing to source what I wanted.  Not quite as immediate as ordering up your own copy, but gave me the chance to decide if I really wanted it in my library.  Leppard's The Hand Made Loaf I decided to buy.


Look forward to seeing you here reporting on your progress and raising interesting questions.  Laurie


 


 


 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

We still have a Q.  What to do with the two starters on the counter top.  Yes, well, sounds to me like they didn't really get started with the first 6 hours after mixing.  Should have been maybe 36 hours but that's water under the bridge.  That acidic acid is on your starters is interesting... 



At the moment, both starters are out of fridge in the kitchen which will get colder through the evening and night but I am not sure what to do so I may return to the fridge until I get advice.



Take them both out and lets deal with them one at a time but with the same technique, at least until they act differently.  What we got is two out-of-sort starters, low on yeast and maybe with lactobacillus.  Not a bad place to continue.  Pour off the clear goop or take a clean spoon and scrape the surface to get down to the flour layer.  Get a clean soup spoon and scoop out anywhere from 17 (level) to 25 grams (heaping).  Place in a custard bowl or small glass  and add twice the amount of water mixing well.  Then add flour to equal the water weight.  Mark the level. Cover with plastic wrap and a rubberband and let sit on the counter top.  It is much too early to put these starters into the refrigerator.  


Check on them tonight (or in 10 -12 hours).  If no change has occured, give each a stir and let them sit there overnight or another 12 hours and look at them in the morning.  If still no change, add a little flour to each to thicken them up forming a soft dough.  Roll in a little flour (this helps you to read expansion better)  cover and wait. 


Sooner or later (my bets are with the rye) one of them with start to split apart and sag and rise just a little.  When it looks like it won't rise anymore and falls back onto itself, take 20g out of the middle and add 40g water and 40-60g flour.  Cover, mark and let out on counter to rise.  If the room is below 70°F or 21°C  look for a warmer draft free spot.  When this new feeding rises and falls, then it's time to feed again.  The rising times should get closer together with each feed and ferment.  When it starts falling around 8 hours, then its time to look for a cooler place (not the fridge) to let it grow between feedings.  Keep separate notes for each starter.


I'm not sure how much of the original powdered starter is there but you should end up with two starters, one wheat and one rye.  The rye will always be ahead of the wheat when it comes to rising times. 


Mini

ukbakergirl's picture
ukbakergirl

I am going to go with your advice and try this now and I will let you know what happens, I really appreciate your time and simple instructions to help me thank you.

Daisy_A's picture
Daisy_A

Welcome from another UK baker.


i would go with the general advice to feed up your starters. Mine are several months old now and I still keep my wheat starter on the bench, feeding 1-2 times a day in a 1:1.5:2 or 1:2:3 ratio of starter, water, flour. The rye is stronger and I can refrigerate that, feeding similar ratios 1-2 times a week, but I fed it on the bench for the first 7 weeks.


Once they get strong again take a look at Andrew Whitley's Bread Matters, if you can for good rye formulae and some simple, lean sourdoughs. Also has interesting information relating to the UK and bread making history in general.


Keep at it - it will come together!


Best wishes, Daisy_A

ukbakergirl's picture
ukbakergirl

Until the replies to me I totally missed the fact that the starters need to be fed daily-ish I think that I made the presumtion that this was when a starter was made from scratch and as the cultures that we were given with instructions along the lines of 'to feed within 10 days, then once a week and bulk up when needed for loaves' were not specific to new culture users.


I had been looking at the Dan Lepard book and decided to go with the Bertinet book but will try to see the books in the flesh instead of online.


Once again, thank you for all your efforts.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The starters were dried mature starters but... 6 hours fed and refrigerated.  The yeast in the dried cultures need a little bit longer than 6 hours to "come to life" after being in a dried spore state.  Then the starters were later diluted when fed.  But fed to what?  Not even sure the original culture had enough time to notice conditions were good.  A low temp like a refrigerator tells the yeast...  "stop wasting energy and prepare yourselves for a long winter!"   So your starter was receiving mixed signals  "food" and "stop."  It was already in the "stop" mode.   We do have some instructions here for reviving a dry starter.   Worth a quick read.


Letting the starter warm up gives the yeast another signal, but I'm not sure they actually got the message from the description of your loaves.  Once on their feet, these two starters may be stable enough to refrigerate.  Meanwhile the flours were also adding yeasts to the culture so now the starters have to warm up and let the yeast fight it out for the prime positions.   This means that the yeasts wait first for the bacteria to lower the pH value and then they get going.  The ones that wake up first live to reproduce.  Lets hope there are enough to wake up.  I think there may be. As you mentioned a very vinegar smelling starter, it might be too acid (that would tell the yeasts to go to sleep too) so by feeding we raise the pH trigger the good bacteria to kick into action and then the yeasts should follow suit. (You may find it helpful to taste the starter as you go.)


We want to build up the yeast population before giving them the cold fridge treatment.  Then when they're doing their job, you can feed them, give them a few hours warm time and then pop them into the fridge for a couple of weeks only removing to feed and pep up on one or two 12 hr feeding schedule for making sourdough starter.   That's the goal... a starter that works and stays nice and ready in the fridge and no daily feeds.... right?


I also think getting these two to work will take less time than starting two new starters unless you still have original dried starter.  One teaspoon of each would be enough we just keep their feeding amounts small.  


Mini 


 

ukbakergirl's picture
ukbakergirl

Hi Mini and all


I am just passing the computer so cant stay long but just to say that I have followed your advice Mini re pouring off liquid (I think you call this Hooch) I did as you said and then was unsure if I should stir after adding the flour so ended up doing 1 with a stir and 1 without so now have 4 pots of culture!


Left it in the kitchen (under my heating boiler is warmest and easiest place apart from the airing cupboard which may be too warm) I plan to get a room thermometer if this bread lark takes off!


Ok this morning the light white unstirred culture grew a bit so left but the stirred one had increased more again left it. The rye one stirred had not grown but had few bubbles on. I was always unhappy with this one as I felt that it was quite stiff so I took a chance and took out 20g, added water then doubled this time making sure it had a good stir and was more fluid than previously. That was all about 8am, it is now 7pm and wow the white culture has more or less doubled smelling faintly of vinegar but yeasty too. The rye has reached the top of the jar.


The other jars I will now discard, the doughy looking rye has not moved any further so glad I took the risk making a new one. Confession time, I was not concentrating and ended up pouring white flour into one of my rye ones but didnt stir and that one has split and smells strongly of vinegar again so as it is being discarded it taught me to watch and concentrate or else I would have lost that one completely good that I had made one that is usable.


 


Next step


I am going to follow the next part of your advice and take out some and feed as per your instructions and will leave until the morning. Assuming that they turn out as above, can you suggest the time frame that I could anticipate to move to make a loaf? I agree with your comment;


That's the goal... a starter that works and stays nice and ready in the fridge and no daily feeds.... right?


Once I get the hang of this I want to work on adapting yeasted recipies to using the starter especially as my family prefer white bread and are not keen on brown or sourdough and to get into a bread baking schedule that will allow me to make bread at least once every 7 - 10 days but I dont want to run before I can walk!


Finally I doubled checked the advice from the course notes and at no stage do the noted give the kind of instructions about the starters that you and everyone on this forum have given so I feel blessed to have found you all, thank you.


 


 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Yes, important to stir the starters when feeding them, also doesn't hurt to stir them down once or twice during the 12 hours and let them get at the food floating around them.  Also gives you an opportunity to smell your starter and notice how the consistency changes from stiff to liquid as time goes by.  This is a natural process of fermentation.  Your bread doughs will do the same, that is, start out stiffer and get softer as they ferment and rise.


I don't think it hurts your starter to give it a little bit of other types of flours once in a while.  I think it adds more to your starter profile in a positive way.  So don't worry if you accidently feed one of your starters the "wrong" flour, it is still food and the beasties will still eat it. 


The rye has risen to the top of the jar, Congratulations! You can now reduce the amount you are saving and increase the flour feeding.  See if you can't smuggle a teaspoon or two of wheat flour into the starter during feedings.


The wheat starter should be catching up soon.


Merry Christmas!

Daisy_A's picture
Daisy_A

Hi ukbakergirl,


Hope you enjoy Dough!


As regards rye, it's good to have a well balanced formula. Some adaptations of Andrew's are on TFL and Mini's 100% rye is great! I have an adaptation of sunflower seed rye on this link 


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/20510/rye-stories


Txfarmer has an adaptation of Borodinky on her blog and Mini's own rye is on her blog and is referenced many times with glowing review from other bakers.


Wishing you happy baking! Daisy_A

ukbakergirl's picture
ukbakergirl

Hi Daisy


Thanks for your post, funnily enough I nearly discarded the rye as I was not has keen on the Brodonsky that we made in the day class that I attended and the second loaf I put in the freezer. But I kept the rye culture as you read and now seeing the beautiful photos on the link that you sent I will def try the sunflower one as soon as I get my starter under control.


Again, thank you for your time and encouragement. I have a strong feeling (ok I stood over my child and directed the buying of Dough online..) that Santa will bring me Dough on xmas morning!!!!


 

Daisy_A's picture
Daisy_A

Ah well that will be something to look forward to then :-)


Re ryes: The Whitley ryes are quite sour. If you prefer sweeter ryes Mini's rye is beautifully sweet and aromatic.


Best wishes, Daisy_A

sablesprings's picture
sablesprings

I got a sourdough starter in 1974 and have been primarily using it for bread and waffles. I didn't like keeping it in the refrigerator, so it's been on the kitchen counter for over 30 years now. I recently built a wood fired oven and have been really pleased with the breads based on my sourdough culture (I named it Chef Bill). I make sure that I either use or pour out 75% of Chef Bill every 3-4 days and bring it back to volume with water and all purpose flour. I like to bring it back to a thick pancake batter consistency.


When I need a whole wheat bread levain or biga, I just take some of Chef Bill and make a separate starter about three days in advance that's about 50% whole wheat flour. When I start the bread preferment the day before baking, the sourdough yeast and bacteria cultures don't get shocked when I use them with the higher percentage whole wheat dough.


The only problem with keeping a starter out on the kitchen counter, is when it goes bad because of neglect. Although it may smell and look bad, you just pour out most of the contents and mix in water. I stir and then pour out the water again. My goal is to remove the bad stuff and end up with a slightly milky colored water. At that point, I mix in flour and bring it back to batter consistency. For the next few days, I watch it closely and then start refreshing every couple of days until I get a good, consistent bubbling before I use it.


Good luck, just relax...


Mike