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Help please! My italian flour "00" starter doesn't double, will it still work?

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lauren.knickman's picture
lauren.knickman

Help please! My italian flour "00" starter doesn't double, will it still work?

Please help me.  I'm riduculously new to baking and trying to make sourdough starter because I'm desperate for some sourdough bread.  I started my starter (pardon the redundancy) about 4 weeks ago, but I don't think it's capable of baking bread.  I live in Italy and am using tipo "00" flour (I've been considering using "0" to see if that works better) and bottled spring water in what I think is a 2:1:1 ratio.  My house is pretty cool around 18 to 19 degrees C.  I have what I think is a 100% starter since I use a scale and put in equal weights of water and flour.  But my started doesn't double.  It does rise a bit and smells a bit sour (I'm new to baking so I don't know exactly what "yeasty" smells like, but there is an undertone of another odor, perhaps that's yeast?).  It also makes large-ish bubbles.  So it seems like it's active to a certain point, but I don't think it's active enough to raise bread.  


I decided to try to make bread with it just the same and used the 1-2-3 method from this fourm.  I ambitiously put 200g of my weak starter with 400g of water and 600g of flour (is that right?) and I got a very soupy dough.  I was only able to knead it by adding tons of flour and in the end I was left with a soft dough that I formed into a flatish ball and left it to rise inside the oven with a pan of warm water underneath (I believe that was a mistake!).  My flatish ball turned into an even more flatish large frisbee with bubbles on the surface within a couple of hours.  It's now been "rising" for 6 hours but not much has changed.  I then used some more starter (about 100g) with 300g flour and about 120g of water to form a "tougher" dough and put it in the oven too.  It has maintained it's original shape, but alas, all too well.  After about 4 hours it doesn't seem to have done anything with no evidence of bubbles on the surface.  


Do I need to feed it more, feed it less, use a different flour, use a different water, change the dilution?  How can I get this stuff to rise???  I've devoted 4 weeks to this starter and I don't even know how many Kg of flour and I still can't bake bread!!!  My husband is on the verge of trashing my precious jar of bubbling goop if I can't bake something with it that will show him what is worth.  


Thanks for any help you can give me.

jcking's picture
jcking

Stir your starter every 3 hours and see what happens.


Jim

plevee's picture
plevee

What I have done while waiting for a starter to come to strength is to use part of it to replace some of the flour and water in regular yeasted bread recipes. Thus getting some sourdough flavour and eliminating wasteful 'discards'.


Meanwhile continue to feed and STIR the starter until it is stronger and can be used on its own.


I'm an impatient Scot and hate to wait or waste!  Patsy

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Feed the starter more is the answer to your question.   Meanwhile throw some instant yeast into that sourdough in the oven along with a little flour and knead it into a nice dough.  You can combine both the dough balls and taste the dough to get the right amount of salt.  Then treat it like a normal bread dough with a 2 hour bulk rise (about) degas and shape into a loaf, let rise and bake.


Back to the starter...   A 2:1:1 ratio where the starter is "2" is practically starving it.   Better to feed the starter equal weights of flour.  So if you have 20g of starter, feed it at least 20g flour.   Feed it now, and when it rises and starts to fall back onto itself save 20g and throw the rest into a pancake or muffin recipe.  No need to keep a large portion around for 20g is enough for now.  Feed the 20g with water and 20g flour and let it stand in a warmish spot.  You may find a place near to the computer or on top of the refrigerator.  Keep it covered loosely (plastic wrap and rubber band) so it doesn't dry out.  


In a couple of days, or when you see it at least doubling, try feeding it twice the amount of flour to starter.  A ratio of 1:2:2 perhaps.  You may find yourself feeding it twice a day or every 12 hours, this is normal.  


Mini

lauren.knickman's picture
lauren.knickman

Thanks for all of the ideas, I'll keep at it.  


Mini, as for saving the dough I've already made...  Unfortunately I put cornmeal down on the pans to bake my bread so if I take up the dough to "rework" it, it will have the cornmeal in it.  Will that be a problem?  What's the worst that can happen? I bake a bad loaf and chunk it?  It's already chunk worthy as is, at least I might have a chance of saving it.  Worth a shot.  Thanks!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I think you should read about folding the dough.  Basically like folding an envelope from a square of paper.  Folding gives a lot of strength to sourdough breads.  The cornmeal will go into the dough and get softened with a little steaming as the bread bakes.  no big deal...   If you find the dough still too wet try adding a few handfuls of rolled oats or potato flakes evenly into the dough, they soak up lots of moisture.  


http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/22990/illustration-stretch-and-fold-bowl

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

90% of 00 flours are simply junk. I'd replace it with rye (much better) or wholemeal (better) or durum wheat flour. Yes, I know that rye is hard to find in italian shops, but wholemeal and durum wheat flour ("semola rimacinata" or "farina di grano duro") are in every store. Durum is surprisingly fermentable, it's a good flour to make a starter.


If you want to insist with soft wheat you could at least switch to a decent 0 flour (I successfully used 0 Coop to make a starter). The best brand for flours is Rieper, if you can find them (in the north east they are very common).


 


I'd also like to point out that generally 00 flours don't absorb nearly the same amount of water as american flours. The closest thing you can get is some "manitoba" flour, but don't expect too much (most of the time they are fake high gluten flours). Either adjust the hydratation or -if yout want- I can tell you some brand name.


Good luck and don't give up.

lauren.knickman's picture
lauren.knickman

Thank you so much.  That was a very helpful response!!! I just happen to have bought the Coop "0" flour, but I didn't use it in my starter.  I used it for the bread recipe, but since the start wasn't any good, I basically wasted it.  But I will try the grano duro since it's easy to find.  I live far away from any of those big commercial centers and supermarkets where they have more selection and "exotic" foods.  I had to drive an hour and some to get marshmallows for rice krispy treats.  Marshmallows... how exotic!!!  


Any hoo, just to update everyone, on the suggestion of Mini, I decided to try to salvage my two loaves.  Since I don't have any yeast (instant or otherwise) on hand and since the day after easter is also a holiday in Italy so I have no chance of buying some, I decided that I would give adding some baking soda a try.  I figured if baking soda would ruin my bread, it was pretty much ruined already, so what could it hurt.  I know that baking soda will rob me of my sourdough flavor, but at least (hopefully) it won't be a 1.5 kg of flour wasted.  


Well, first I added a significant amount of flour which didn't really change my dough much (this flour is about as absorbent as a saran wrap) and then I kneaded in some baking soda.  After kneading a few minutes my dough became very sticky so I thought, "hmmmm, maybe I better stop playing with this".  So I split it into two loaves, covered it with some flour (because it looked to me like some loaves I've seen pictures of could have been made in this way) sliced it twice on top and stuck them in a still pre-heating oven at 200 degrees C.  


Well, they rose!  Significantly because they also tore on one side.  But aside from that they seem to me to be beautiful loaves for the first loaves of bread I've ever baked!  As for the taste... well, they just came out of the oven, so I'll have to update you.  I'm not terribly hopeful because they smell like flour not bread (although my husband says they smell good).  But I figure it can't be worse than the bread around my parts (Le Marche at the border of Tuscany) where they bake salt-less bread.  


Thanks everyone for the help, now hopefully I can get my starter active so I can start baking real sourdough bread.  Here are the pix of my very first loaves of bread!!!


First loaves

lauren.knickman's picture
lauren.knickman

Well, my loaves weren't bad.  They weren't great, but they definately weren't  bad.  I'm just glad I got to salvage all that flour.  And my italian family seemed to like it just the same (but I think that's just 'cause they're used to eating saltless bread so anything with any type of flavor is good to them).  It was ever so slightly gummy, but maybe that's because I needed to cook it a little longer or a little hotter.  No sour flavor, but I already suspected that since I had to add the baking soda.  But I had a valuable lesson here: It may not always be easy to bake a great loaf of bread, but you can almost always bake a decent one.  If I could revive my puddle of dough with a little baking soda 24 hours later, then there's hope for everyone.  Thanks again for the support and suggestions.  I'll be putting them all to good use once I come back from my month long vacation.  I'm gonna give starting a starter another shot.  I can't wait!

nicodvb's picture
nicodvb

contrary to the high expectations italian bread is depressing stuff at least 80% of the times. White saltless bread is something that I was grown with when I was very young. As far as I'm concerned it's simply revolting.


For your first time you had a traumatic start because you used a weak flour. American flours will be much easier to deal with:-)