I have tried over many years to get an active starter going, all to no avail. I recently purchased the Tartine Bread book and have followed the directions in every way. I use a 50-50 wheat/bread flour mixed with approximately equal weight room temp water. The directions had me leave the starter out for a couple days until a strong acidic taste was apparent and bubbles. I had acidic taste and what appeared as some bubbles, but nothing I would characterize as active from a commercial yeast perspective. I replaced 80% with 50-50 flour and equal weight water every night. I saw more bubbles, but only toward the end of the 24 hour rise period, again no where approaching commercial yeast activity (not surprising and this was not my expectation). All of this took place during a relatively cool winter in an unheated house in the SF Bay Area (~50-55 deg. F). I tried to make bread after about two or three weeks, and it came out like a host for communion.
The dough just never seemed to rise. I gave it an extra 8 hours or so. I just think I did not have an active starter. I further decided that maybe the temperature was too cool in my kitchen. I rigged a heat lamp connected to a home thermstat and put this in my oven. It works extremely well to keep the temp around 65-68 degrees F. I used the starter from my previous attempts as beginning material. I followed the same procedures, but stored the covered bowls in the temperature controlled oven. I have virtually zero activity after a week. I'm at the point of maximum frustration. I have decided to just let the thing sit there without feeding for several days. It's possible it never inoculated.
I am just at a loss. My only success in getting a starter going was when I cheated and used organically grown grapes as the source of some sugar and yeast. This worked, and worked quite well. I no longer have the starter as we moved home from Europe. Any advice or assistance or tricks would be greatly appreciated. I'm trying to be a purist this go-around and not cheat.
Thanks in advance