The Fresh Loaf

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I know another post about help with a starter...

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sourdoughexpolra's picture

I know another post about help with a starter...

Hello all, 

I am about three and a half weeks into a new starter that seems to be going well. But I do have a few questions that I think I might need a little direct help with and this seems like a place that is well versed in both helpfulness and knowledge. 

This is about the fifth starter that i have had, and this is the longest I have been able to keep one viable. The first two went about the same way. Just started with about 25g of both unbleached AP flour and water and fed it this until I noticed activity then started discarding until I had about 100g and then feeding 50g water and flour every twelve hours. They both turned out well for about a week afterward and I would bake some tasty bread and then they would just stop showing any activity almost out of the blue. 

The last few starters I have made I followed the pineapple juice solution using rye flour and it seemed to work very well except the last two I kind of fell off of the wagon on my feedings and decided to start over... my fault

But the starter I have now I have been very diligent in feeding twice daily in as close to 12 hour increments as I can get (sometimes 10, sometimes 14). My procedure for feeding it is to discard all but 100g of starter then to feed it 40g KA AP flour and 40g water. It is close to doubling between feedings most of the time and seems like it is doing well except I have noticed it has a slight metallic taste and it doesn't seem to have much of a sour flavor. I know that the sour flavor can take time to develop but the metallic taste is really what is worrying me. It is a little cold in the kitchen(sometimes as low as 60) and I don't know if that has anything to do with it or not but I just don't want to have to start over again. 

Thank you for reading my long drawn out post. 

mrfrost's picture

The starter is probably slowly starving to death. The 100g starter fed with 50g flour + 50g water is probably about the minimum amount needed to remain healthy with twice a day feedings. When you drop down to the 40g + 40g is probably when you start doing it in. Especially when/if the temps get to the mid 70's and up(yeasts feed faster).

In fact, I think most here prefer to feed twice as much. Try saving just 50g of starter and feeding it with 50g flour and 50g water, twice a day. Or if you prefer the 40-40, then save just 40g starter and feed with 40g each flour and water.

Good luck.

sourdoughexpolra's picture

Thank you for your help. I started feeding the starter 2:1:1 in the beginning but it didn't seem to be quite ready to feed again by the 12 hour mark, and I was afraid of discarding before the starter had a chance to grow. So I just lowered the ratio a little bit 2.5:1:1. I may have to adjust that as the weather starts to warm up. The starter still seems very active. I am just worried that the metallic taste could be some other organism or some sign of maybe contamination. I am also afraid that the lack of sour flavor could mean lack of lactobacillus. Does that make sense?

mrfrost's picture

And I think novices, like you and I, may tend to over worry the matter. When you first begin a starter, it is usually not fed for a day or two. This begins to acidify the environment, and it becomes inhabitable to harmful organisms. The pineapple/orange juice techniques accomplish the same purpose. After that, it is usually assumed that furthur activity is due to the wild yeasts being cultured.

I'm guessing the "off" taste you are experiencing is due to the naturally acidic environment, and/or additional compounds produced when the yeasts are being under-fed. That is really not my area of expertise so I will leave that up to others and your own further reading. There are many, many threads here on the subject.

I will add that my starters are about 6 months old, but I really only properly maintain and use my white flour(GM bread flour) starter. To me is seems quite vigorous. I maintain it at 50 or 66 % hydration and it quadruples at room temperature. I have really just the last couple of weeks or so started using it solely on it's own to raise some doughs; flat breads, pitas and pizza crusts.

After making pizzas the last 2 days, I was pleased how nicely it raised the dough, but remember thinking how absolutely non-sour the crusts tasted. I would not have been able to distinguish it from commercial yeasts. In fact, I think the commercial yeasts had more flavor.

I'm not really out for sour anyway. Early on when my starters were still very young(8 weeks) I did attempt a real sourdough loaf, and I don't remember which one I used(ww or rye; probably the rye), and although the dough did not raise well, it was wickedly sour. So much so I could not eat the loaf. This is even considering that starters may take quite a while before they develop any character.

So really, I'm a believer that the level sourness is more a function of the process and procedures used in making the dough, and it's fermentation, than the starter itself. Lots of discussion here on that topic also.

Oh well, hope I was able to help you a little. If not, there's plenty more expert here on the matter.

Good luck.

RikkiMama's picture

In my recent workshop at San Francisco Baking Institute, they recommended the following feeding ratios for firm and liquid starters:

Firm starter: 25 g starter: 50 g water: 100 g flour

Liquid starter: 30 g starter: 100 g water: 100 g flour

They stated that firm starters are fed once a week and that they could be refrigerated right after feeding.  Liquid starters would need feeding about every 12 hours since there's less "food".

I made my starter last spring and have been refreshing it using the flowing ratio, let it sit on the counter for about 12 hours, then refrigerate if I'm not going to bake right away:

30 g starter: 60 g water: 90 g flour (80 g bread flour + 10 g Whole Wheat flour)

There have been times when I didn't refresh my starter for 3 weeks and it still was fine when it finally was fed.  If I need a liquid starter for a formula, I refresh my firm starter, let it ferment at room temperature for about 12 hours, then create the liquid starter using some of the freshly refrehsed firm starter.  The rest of the firm starter goes into the refrigerator.

If you aren't baking breads every day, you might want to think about maintaining a firm starter.  Those aren't as demanding and can survive occassional neglect.

ehanner's picture

mrfrost hit the nail on the head about underfeeding being your problem. rikkimamma is also right on with advice about feeding schedules.

I would just add that if you have the patience to follow a regular 12 hour feeding schedule at room temperature, in time you will have a stable culture that will contain most of the same bacteria and yeast that the oldest bakeries in Europe or San Francisco have. It will rise well and have a wonderful aroma. Refrigerating the culture in a firm condition works once the culture is stable enough to survive the cold conditions. Eventually it will start to revert to a "Home Style Starter" that being one that lives in the cold and not used every day. It still is good and active but not to the degree that a room temperature starter is.

My personal preference is to discard all but 50 grams, add 80 grams of water and 100 grams of AP flour. It's a semi firm mix. I have gone as far as discarding all but 5 grams with the same flour and water amounts and enjoyed a very non sour but nutty flavor.

I suggest you take a look at dmsnyder's blog about his recent trip to the Artisan-2 class at the SFBI. He makes some very interesting observations about controlling the sour.


msbreadbaker's picture

OK, all makes sense, but what about the metallic taste mentioned? I have that problem and have asked about it on this site and really only guesses and few at that were made. Doesn't anyone know what causes this? It happens sometimes, not all. When it is not present, the taste of the bread is wonderful. When it is present, it is annoying and sometimes leaves an aftertaste. This may be a deal breaker for me, as I want consistency.

It happens to the same recipe, same KA flours and I can't figure it out.

Here's hoping, Jean P. (VA)

mrfrost's picture

Healthy (established)starters should not have "off" odors, or tastes. Again- keeping in mind that the perceptions/expressions of tastes and smells are subjective-what the op(and you) describe as "metallic" may be what others describe as the "nail polish" odor. And again, it is believed this is most likely caused when the starter is under fed(and/or  neglected). The fact that you describe the issue as intermittent probably reinforces underfeeding as the cause rather than contamination.

The guide I used to start my starters worked great for starting them, but over time I noticed that they were peaking and falling(never to rise again) quite early in the 12 hour feeding cycle. I came to realize that the suggested feeding ratios(1: .5: .5) were probably not enough, for whatever reason. I have since doubled the amount of flour in the feeding, and also changed it to a firmer starter.

So you might try doubling the amount(ratio) of flour you are feeding it.

msbreadbaker's picture

Hi Mr. Frost, Well once again I think you may have come to my rescue. Regarding the "off taste" in some of my bread recipes, I think you have given me a good clue. I would not have thought my starter was underfed as it always doubled or nearly tripled when refreshed and had no trouble rising the bread. However, I only refresh every 10 days (unless I am making more bread) and only one refreshment before it goes back into the fridge. The starter always smelled ok or good.

The bake from yesterday had no "off' taste but I made the bread after a 5 day layover from the last refreshment, hence, maybe I was borderline on the underfeeding. When I refreshed it the day before the bake, I did notice it tripled in a hurry and the bread rose considerably higher than before. So hopefully that is the solution to the problem.

I had even considered it coming from an interaction between the starter and the metal pans, but then the intermittent thing came into play. Oh, my ratio is 1:1:1, always. But I am going to concentrate on this new thought from now on.

As always, you seem to know what is going on! Jean P. (VA)

sourdoughexpolra's picture

i went ahead and split the starter. making one acording to the firm and one acording to the liquid. i am a little woried about the liquid starter not being able to eat that much food in twelve hours due to my kitchen being to cold anywhere from high 50s to low-mid 60s but i am hopeful. thank you for all of your help everyone.