The Fresh Loaf

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Shall I ditch it and start again?

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taramills's picture
taramills

Shall I ditch it and start again?

Hi,

Not sure if i should ditch my starter and try again.  I'm at the fourth day and it hasnt really doubled in size, there is some activity but not much and its not smelling very nice.  The smell has been fine until now.  I used 50% organic white and 50% wholemeal, could this be where i've gone wrong? This is my first time so not sure if this is to be expected?  Thank you 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

As long as it is not a cheesy,dirty sock smell-keep going. It may go through some variations of fruity,nailpolish,paint thinner smell but will eventually get to a more yeasty,winey,mead-like smell. Soon the lacto beasties will get going and  you will have a sudden explosion of activity but keep going even then-it is not ready for raising bread yet. Let it settle into a more sedate,consistent pattern of rising when fed-then it is ready to raise bread (somewhere around day 7-12).

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Is this just using water, or something else like pineapple juice?

If just using water, you should either by now or very soon get a flurry of activity, but it won't be yeast.. it will be leuconostoc, which produces a tremendous amount of gas, but it's not what you're looking for. It just signals that you're going through a phase.

The use of a pineapple juice or other acidic liquid will reduce the leuconostoc phase to something you might not notice at all.

Either way, day 4, for me at least, was never anything to expect anything 'doubling'.

Please let us know the exact way you started, including amounts of flour and water. Do you measure or weigh? It's helpful for us to know the approximate hydration (water to flour ratio) that your starting this at. If using just water, are you using tap or bottled?

If you put pineapple in the search bar on this site, you will find Debra Wink's EXCELLENT article on the phases a new starter goes through. Read part 2 for a breakdown on what to expect as your starter goes through each stage. Almost every 'starter tutorial' I've ever read gives optimistic times for each phase, even suggesting a workable starter in one to two weeks. I've never experienced that. My current starter has been going now for almost 2 months, and it's just now making bread that actually tastes decent. In other words, I guess some are lucky, I haven't been. Patience will be tested. Bring patience and it will happen. : )

Debra does provide approximate 'days' of each phase, but I'd ignore that if I were you, and just concentrate on what the actual phases are. The days will vary according to your ingredients, your temperature, and your feeding schedule. It's tough to sit and watch it do nothing for days on end.. I know that all too well.. especially when you're eager to get baking!

- Keith

taramills's picture
taramills

Thanks Clazar123 and Keith.

Apologies  i should have been more specific with the details! I'm following the  really useful weekendbakery site, where the guys have provided a step-by-step guide for rye sourdough starter.  I don't have any rye in but i just applied the basics to my flour.

Day 1: 40ml of bottled water  with 20g white and 20g wholemeal. Stir for 30 secs and then left for 24 hours at room temp

Day 2: add 20ml of bottled water with 10g white and 10g wholemeal. Stir 30 secs and left again for 24hrs at room temp

Day 3: (Noticed some activity) Threw away 2/3 and added 30ml of bottled water and 15g of white and 15g of wholemeal. Stir for 30secs and left 24hrs

Day 4: Bit smelly and little activity?

Could the room temp have any influence over it? Its been pretty cold  the past few nights. Should i also have stuck to just using one type of flour?

cheers

t

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

I've not noticed a type of flour making a noticeable difference to me... just that whatever you choose, WW or AP, it should be a 'quality' branded flour (King Arthur flour is quite popular here in the states). I would suggest you just go ahead and use whatever flour you want your starter to be. I wasted time raising a WW starter to get to a AP starter. I should have just stuck with the AP starter and saved myself 3 weeks, but like you, I got concerned, pitched it after a few weeks, and started over. That was a mistake, impatience on my part. Restarting it just got me back to where I pitched it the last time.

Ok, so you're using water.. you should be getting a vast amount of leuconostoc gas very soon, and that depends on heat. If it's been cool, it may take another day to a few days.

If you've read the suggested post by Debra Wink, you'll understand that a new starter goes through many different stages, as each critter wakes up, does its thing, changes the environment for the next critters, and then passes on the baton to the next ones. In particualr, the pH is changing, which signals for a new phase to start. Eventually, your desired yeast will show up. The way I can tell when it's truly the desired yeast is, the bubbles vary greatly in size. Initial rises of other unwanted bacterium usually produce very small bubles, and millions of them, whereas the yeast produce a variety of bubble sizes, and only thousands in comparison. When the good yeast arrive, you will also get a very pronounced change in smell, usually something that smells like there's beer in your starter. When you finally get these good yeast, whether it takes 7 days or 7 weeks, is when you are nearing the end of that journey of creating the starter, and starting the new journey of getting it matured.

taramills's picture
taramills

I'll read Debra's post now..thanks very much for all your help.  I'll keep persisting...

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

faster than wheat.  keep going! :)

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

Since it is winter in Oz, just as it is here in South Africa, the cooler temperatures really slow the growth rate of the microorganisms in your nascent starter.  When temperatures are above 25C, my starter can double in volume in just a few hours.  When, like this weekend, temperatures range from 13-16C indoors, the best it can do is doubling in 24 hours. 

You have two options.  One, let your starter soldier on at whatever ambient temperatures exist in your home.  It will eventually develop, never fear, but it will take much longer than the guidelines you typically see.  I did a restart of mine last winter and it did just fine, albeit very slowly.  Two, find a warmer place to park your starter.  This will speed things up considerably.  It will still go through all of the phases that others have described but at a much faster pace.

Keep at it.  Give it the time that it needs.  There are a number of ways to mess up a starter but impatience kills more starters than almost anything else.  Your patience will be rewarded.

Paul

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I would concur with everything above and I would add to stir the jar a few times a day. It re-distributes the food and helps the yeasts access new food-they don't swim too well.Any flour and water will do but may change the timeline or the dough characteristics. Kind of like people-a diet with quality food and water is optimum for our health but we survive on poor quality nutrition,also. I can't imagine our ancestors worried too much about weighing precise amounts or were too fussy about whatever flour was available. They just dealt with the different behaviors they encountered in the dough as a result. So provide the best you can and don't worry-you will get there.

The warmest spot in the kitchen may be on top of the refrigerator. The heat from the cooling coils are usually against the wall and the warmth rises up. If there are cabinets above the refrigerator, they can capture some of the heat so tuck the jar on top of the refrig or in the cabinet above-just don't forget about it!

taramills's picture
taramills

Thank you for all your help, i really appreciate it.   The update is that we now have a patch on the top of the starter which is a blue/green colour! Are these good criters or bad?? Can i skim it off the top? If yes, when i feed it today should i remove  2/3 of it and feed it as normal or should i keep whats there and feed it 20ml of water and 20g of flour until its looking healthy again?

Thanks again

t

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

A bluish-grey color is normal for a starter, and a slight skin can form if air is allowed to circulate. Your starter should be covered with plastic wrap or a loose fitting lid.

I cannot imagine that's mold... how long did you leave it since last 'whatever' (stirring, feeding, etc)?

On a newer starter, mold usually grows around the edge of the container, -above- the top of the starter, not in it. Again, that's usually, not always... and going along the 'usual' theme, mold usually only grows in the middle of the starter when it's left completely ignored for several days.

Would really be helpful if you can post any pictures. You're only 5 or 6 days into this, starting over wouldn't at all be a disaster if you'd feel more comfortable!

- Keith

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Sounds like a mold overgrowth and then it is time to toss it.Start over with a very clean/sterilized jar.

placebo's picture
placebo

I found whole wheat flour is much better to use when making a starter from scratch. The standard explanation is that the wild yeast and other microorganisms live on the outer part of the wheat berry, which is removed when making white flour, so by using whole wheat flour, you're starting with more microorganisms right from the start. I'd refrain from using the white flour until the starter is doubling reliably.

Start with a small amount and don't toss any of the mixture during the first few feedings. You need the pH of the mixture to get low enough to activate the yeast. Every time you feed it, especially since you're using plain water, you are diluting the starter, causing the pH to rise. If you've read Debra Wink's guide, you'll notice she doesn't discard any starter during the first three days even when using pineapple juice. 

Find a warm spot to keep the starter. The temperature can have a big effect on the speed of the microorganisms. If you can keep the starter in an environment around 24 C, it should take about a week to get it going.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Bottom line:

Getting to a white starter via WW intially -might- cost you a LOT of unnecessary time and trouble.

Discussion:

The standard explanation is that the wild yeast and other microorganisms live on the outer part of the wheat berry.

And that's a standard explanation, although my recent starter expedition(s) say that has no significance beyond information. If it were fact that processing wheat into white flour left NO wild organisms, and as such, would be a waste of time to even try, that would be significant.

As can be found in a variety of threads around TFL, when it comes time to start converting a new WW starter to a white starter, you run a very real risk of immediately inheriting a pot of glue (as I call it), or the more technical term of an invasion of thiol(s). This takes a minimum of about 9 days to 'feed through' as Debra describes it, and it's really not fun...

I started a white starter that became active, then developed a thiol condition. Through well-meaning suggestions of TFL'ers to a concerned post of mine about the 'glue' (didn't know what it really was at that point), I was convinced it was doomed, and that I should start over with pineapple juice and WW. The pineapple juice is to get rid of the leuconostoc and other completely useless organisms that appear anywhere from day 2 to day 5, and fool some into thinking it's yeast activity. Not knowing this wasn't my problem (thiol was), this was a great idea and I started over as mentioned above. After more than 2 weeks, I had a stabilized WW starter. Once I was convinced that it was very healthy, I went ahead and made a white starter from it. Instant thiol. I was right back at the exact same point where I started over. You kind of start losing your mind at that point, because, what could be wrong? It's just flour and water for gosh sakes! LOL... so that began the journey into exactly what this phenomenon really was, and how to deal with it. Finally, another 2 weeks later, I was released from the curse.

In that same time frame, I started a KA AP starter in a seperate container using pineapple juice the first days (exactly as described in Debra's post). I never saw the initial leuconostoc activity, and when it finally started showing good activity, it as well turned to a glue pot. Now I had a glue pot from a WW starter that was converted, and a glue pot from a brand new AP starter. Life really sucked right about then. ; ) I fed through both of them for several weeks, and they both recovered, and are still both seperate cultures right now (my intent on seeing if one or the other will have a significant taste preference when baked with).

So, all things being equal, if I had started the AP the same day as the WW, I would have had a working starter much much faster. As far as the first signs of activity for either type of flour, I saw nothing that would warrant ever recommending to someone that they use WW up front, if the end result needed to be a white starter. I think the catch here is using a quality AP flour that is unbleached and probably unbromated can't hurt either. At any rate, I guarantee you that starting a white starter from King Arthur's AP is just as easy as using any WW. I did it that way several years ago, and just did it again here a few weeks back. Nothing else.. no rye, nothing.

To wrap up, if someone trying to launch a starter does not have access to a quality AP flour, I'd recommend they start 2 cultures. One with whatever the best AP flour they can get a hold of, and one with WW. Use whichever one gives you the best results after, say, a week or so. To me at this point, this has been a lack of patience (due to a lack of knowledge) on my part, and it ended up costing me more time than necessary. The experience and results above were mine, and might certainly be different for someone else, but I say if you want a white starter, start a white starter.

- Keith

taramills's picture
taramills

I popped it in a warm spot, had to go out for a couple of hours and i went to take a photo for you Keith and its done a disappearing act on me! The starter has now created a slight crust to the top and its smelling alot nicer. Would it be lying dormant? Should i disturb it?  I think i'll feed it at the usual time, I wont throw any away, give it a good stir and leave it back in the warm spot and see how we go over the next 24 hours.

I did use a sterlised container, but if this doesnt work i'll try again.  Like you said, its only been a few days so i can start again if need to. If i do, next time I'll use 100% WW.

Thanks so much all of you, for all your time,

 cheers

t

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Good call! When stirring, try to whip as much air into it as possible. This is hard to do when just stirring it for the sake of stirring it (which -IS- highly desireable at first), but really easy to do when feeding. When you feed, add the water first, then whip it until it has a serious beer head on it. We want frothy! Then add the flour and combine. Oxygen is very helpful here...

Keep an eye on it, I think you're heading the right direction... make sure you scrape the sides of the container after feeding or stirring. That will keep molds at bay...

Keep us updated and pics if necessary to clarify what you're seeing!

- Keith

taramills's picture
taramills

Thanks Keith for all your advice. Great tip re getting oxygen into it. Will keep you posted from chilly Australia!