The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Please help! First time starter user!

Kashipan's picture

Please help! First time starter user!

Hello all!

A very kind person from this very site sent me a little bitty of his own sourdough starter, and I followed his directions on how to feed it, but I'm now having trouble, and not sure what I should do!  If anyone can tell me if I'm doing this right, I would be EXTREMELY grateful.

The starter I got was just a little bitty, and was of the consistency of thick glue.  I have no idea whether or not this is what is called "firm" starter...Can anyone please explain the difference, so I know what I'm doing if a recipe calls for firm starter?  I put it into a glass container and added 50gm whole wheat flour, 50gm white bread flour and 100gm water.  This was yesterday afternoon.  As nightfall approached, it hadn't risen too much, but was definitely bubbling.  I decided to let it sit overnight on my kitchen counter.  The temp in this room is in the mid 60s or so.

In the morning, there was not much of a change, and not knowing what to do, I looked up any information I could find to tell me if this was normal or if the starter was dead, or what the status was.  I read where you should feed your starter once a day, so at around 7am, I stirred up what I had (when I stirred it, it was still very bubbly, and made strings as I was stirring it up - very sticky!  Smells fine but not particularly sour), and gave it another 50gm whole wheat flour, 50gm white bread flour and 100gm more water.  I guess I'm going to let it sit another day.

I am not sure when this starter will be suitable for baking.  At all.  My goal is to make the San Joaquin style sourdough bread recipe I found here on the site, but it calls for "firm" starter...Is that what I'm making here?  I don't know much about working with ratios of dry ingredients to wet ones yet, so it's something I need to feel out as I go, but I'm terrified to kill this starter or do something fatally wrong.  My starter isn't particularly runny, but it's not unmanageable.  If I stir it with a large chopstick, it gives resistance, but it's definitely not hard to stir.

Would anyone be willing to help a super brand newbie just starting with her first little bitty of starter?  I would appreciate your kindness and patience so much!  Meantime, I am searching for recipes and trying to educate myself as best I can, but in the meantime, am I doing the right thing with this starter?  How will I know when it's ready to go into a recipe?  That's my biggest question, along with the "firm starter" issue.

Thanks in advance to anyone who can help!!!  :)

breadbythecreek's picture

Relax- you're doing fine. What you have is a 100% liquid starter because your are feeding it the same amount (by weight) flour and water. it's like thick toothpaste after you feed it. It gets thinner when it's hungry. If you want a firm starter (50%), keep feeding the same amount of the flour but only half as much water. This is like a bread dough. When this is hungry it'll be filled with tiny bubbles. I think you are making overall too much starter at something more than 200 grams. I only keep 27g at room temperature on the counter and feed it twice a day (not just once) on a 1:4:4 ratio - that is 3g:12g:12g starter:water:flour. If I wanted a firm starter I'd feed it 1:2.5:5 that is 3g:8g:16g. You'll know when it's ready for baking when it starts to act consistently from one day to the next. I'd give it a week to settle down to the environment where you are. Happy baking -Pamela

Kashipan's picture

Pamela, THANK YOU for such a quick reply!

I just checked back again, 4.5 hours later, and the starter is rising like crazy now!  It's really bubbly and kind of fluffy!  I definitely will leave it for a week on the counter, as you said.  Would it be ok to feed it at the same ratio each day with just less?  I would have to do it before leaving for work each day.  I hope it'll be ready by next Saturday.  :)

If I end up with way too much before Saturday, is it suitable for taking some out and using it in a different type of bread?  Like a sandwich loaf or rolls?  I don't know much about the versatility of sourdough starter, but I seem to be reading that when people start discarding parts of their starter (though, isn't that during the process of creating the starter?...I might be referring to an entirely different thing), they can use it for other types of less hard core breads, so it doesn't go to waste?

Sorry if my questions sound silly or obvious - there have been way too many times I have operated on assumption and ended up dead wrong, so I just want to ask and make absolutely sure!  :)  Thank you so much for your help!!

breadbythecreek's picture

Starter is yeast, just like the yeast at the store except you make it yourself and it works a little slower to rise. You can use it for any recipe that calls for yeast- hard core? Not sure what you mean. To convert a recipe that calls for yeast you replace about 1/3 of the total flour with the starter and reduce the water by the amount of water that's in the starter. Say the recipe calls for 100 grams of flour and 50 grams of flour. You take 30 g of starter (15 g flour/15 g water) add 85 g more flour , 35 g water and a couple grams of salt. Mix it up according to the recipe and bake. What I mean about waiting for a week or so is to give your starter a chance to get acclimated to the new environment before you invest a lot of time and effort in something that may/may not be ready to bake with. It's only flour and water- toss what you don't need or make pancakes or whatever. It's not a big deal. Try it- see if it works- if not give it a little more time. Be consistent when you feed it and how much - good luck

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Very cold temp for a starter so naturally it will take longer to double or triple.  Try to find a warmer place for the starter ... at least the first 3 hours and then let it cool (slow) down for the rest of the rise.  Yeast like it around 75°F.  Let the starter rise until it peaks and falls back into itself.  Somewhere between 8 to 24 hours.  Then save a small portion to feed.  If you time this rise and fall and take notes, you can get into some kind of feeding schedule without over or under feeding the starter for your temperatures.


Ambimom's picture

One more thing to keep in mind when you begin a starter.  Remember to discard the same amount of starter as it is fed.  If you feed it 50 grams of water and 50 grams of flour; then discard 100 grams of starter before feeding. Otherwise you're going to have a lot more starter than you want or need.

Feeding twice a day for the first couple of days is not a bad idea either.  Once you are satisfied that your starter is nice and active, you can store it in the refrigerator until you are ready to bake.

If I have too much, I will make a batch of waffles from it and keep them in the freezer for a quick breakfast.