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New to sourdough - what to do?

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amateur's picture
amateur

New to sourdough - what to do?

Okay, I'm sure this has been covered many a time; my apologies.

I have sourdough starter in a crock-pot in the kitchen. No mold. Brown stuff on top - hooch, is that what it's called?

I made a loaf out of it. The loaf didn't rise. Even after two days at room temperature. I finally gave up and baked it. It rose, and I ate some. SOUR! I mean, really sour.

So, since it didn't rise, I made another loaf, added a lot of honey to it, and just baked it without leaving it at room temperature. It's dense and heavy. It tastes all right, but it didn't rise at all.

What's the best way to approach this thing called sourdough?

 

 

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

Hi,

I'd start with reading the "Lessons" section of TFL, there is a list of sourdough articles. 

My guess is your starter is not yet active enough to bake. Here are some things you need to do:

  1. If your starter has hooch, it means it may be starving. Be sure and feed it 2x per day if you are baking. Keep it on the 2x per day schedule for 2 days before you start baking. 
  2. Make sure you feed your starter enough, at least double its weight in food. For example, for 25g of starter, you should feed it at least 50g water and 50g flour.
  3. Make sure your flour/water ratio is appropriate in your starter: 1-to-1 by weight (aka 100% hydration) is a good place to start. I personally prefer lower hydrations (65%) for my starters. 
  4. Make sure your starter doubles and starts collapsing on itself within a 6 hour period. That means that it's ready to use in a dough. If it doesn't, it's not active enough, so you need to feed it more often. 

Finally, find a sourdough recipe on TFL that you like and make it a few times, until you get a feel for how it works. 

Good luck!

 

ehanner's picture
ehanner

How did you happen to come by a crock of starter in the fridge? Usually the process of building a starter teaches you enough to use it. As was suggested above,proper feeding and control will produce a starter that will rise your dough. If you don't see bubbles in the starter and it won't rise itself, it won't raise bread.

Eric

clazar123's picture
clazar123

You will get suggestions from every part of the spectrum. I do recommend you read everything and try and process the concepts of what people are talking about. It helps to understand what "sourdough "is and what it IS NOT.

First of all, what sourdough IS:

Starter. Call it  starter (as in getting bread started) and it will be much less confusing

It is a culture of local yeasts and bacteria that eat starches (flour,for example) and produce by-products that flavor the ensuing glop and it also produces a gas that gets trapped in the glop and expand,causing it to rise. There are  yeasts that eat fruit sugarsto  produce beer,wine and other fermented fruits. Fruit yeasts can be used to rise and bake bread but flour yeasts usually work more efficiently.

Starting a starter is made by capturing yeasts/bacteria from the source-flour for flour yeast and fruit for fruit yeast. That's right-yeast is present and easy to capture from the wheat/flour kernel. Stir flour and water to make a paste and they wake up. Yeast doesn't move around too much so when the food is gone around it,it can't move to get more. That is why stirring is important. It gets more food in front of the yeast. If the food moves around fast and easy(in other words you have a very liquid flour/water mix) it eats very quickly. If it is thicker (like pancake batter) it takes longer to finsih up. It can even be thick like play-dough, that takes a LONG time to finish it's available food.This makes it a good reason to store the starter a little thicker for long periods of storage. You know the yeasties are hungry and done with their food when they start producing the liquid (called hootch-it is alcohol). Can't produce gas-not enough energy/too weak/starving.You should never really see this because that means you haven't been feding them regularly.Happens to me when I've been away for a week and didn't bake.

There is more but this is enough for now. Read the info-there is a ton of info in the handbook here and the SEARCH box works great on this site. Figure out some more,digest this and ask questions.

 

freerk's picture
freerk

Try this youtube video where I make a san francisco style sourdough. It takes you through the process step by step in part 1. Part 2 is here.

 

It is in Dutch with English subtitles.

 

Hope this helps

 

Freerk

 

 

placebo's picture
placebo

You didn't give many details, but it sounds like you took the starter with the hooch on top and used it in your recipe without feeding or reviving it first. That could explain why you got little or no rise. As the others have said, you want to feed the starter regularly and keep it at room temperature to get it nice and active.

The bread came out really sour because you let it ferment for two days. If the starter is healthy and you use a decent amount, it will generally take a few hours for the dough to rise. That said, sourdough can be finicky, so it could take quite a bit longer. Even then two days is a really long time.

The weak starter probably also contributed to the bread's sourness because the starter itself gets increasingly sour as it ages. One of the reasons for feeding it regularly is to get the flavors back into balance.

amateur's picture
amateur

Thanks for the tips!

I should have given more details. The starter is just flour and water. I had been feeding it once a day. I didn't find it; I put flour and water in the Crock-pot and made it myself. I ended up throwing out much of it, but there is still some in the container. Should I just throw the batch out and start again?

 

cranbo's picture
cranbo

No. Do not throw it out and start again. 

Save about 2 tablespoons of starter and start feeding it twice a day, keeping the container at room temp. Feed by weight 60g water and 60g flour each feeding (or if you don't have a scale, 1/3 cup flour and 1/4 cup water). Every time you feed, save only 2 tbsp of starter.

You can put the rest in a container in the fridge and incorporate it as "old dough" into your next recipe, or give it away to friends. 

Do this for at least 10 days (preferably 14) and you will have a healthy, active, bubbling, happy starter.

 

amateur's picture
amateur

Well - I threw it out.

The container was brown ceramic, which may have been the problem. It didn't allow light to reach my would-be starter. I got a clear glass jar and started all over. I'll be feeding it twice a day, as recommended. Any other tips?

 

placebo's picture
placebo

If you're starting over, you should just use a small bowl or measuring cup. It's easier than dealing with a jar. Also, you should, if you haven't already, read Debra Wink's blog posts about creating a starter so you understand what's going on and what to expect.

Did your old starter double or triple in volume regularly after each feeding? I'm kind of wondering now if you ever had a viable starter in the first place.

amateur's picture
amateur

I don't think I did. It was sour, definitely, but it never rose. I fed it once a day. As for "old dough" (the remnants of each day's starter), what exactly is it? Is it put into dough for bread? Or used for pancakes and such?

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

When you feed the starter, you are supposed to take out part of it and throw it ... somewhere else.  Some people throw it away.  Others put it in a jar in the refrigerator to use in cakes or pancakes or waffles.  It gives flavor  and has some acidity that you can combine with baking soda for leavening things that don't use yeast.  If it is not too "old", you can also make pizza crusts with it because pizza crusts don't need to rise very much.

cranbo's picture
cranbo

It can be tricky to start just using white flour. 

Search the forums here for Debra Wink's Pineapple Juice solution. It is a proven successful (and easy!) method for getting a starter going. 

Another "trick" is to use 50% whole wheat flour in your starter in the early stages, to help it get established. 

amateur's picture
amateur

Okay, today is Day 5. The excellent articles on pineapple juice didn't mention one thing, though. It said that on Day 4, you take 1/4 cup of the pineapple juice mixture and add flour and water. It didn't say what you do on subsequent days. Do you still add flour and water to 1/4 cup of the mixture? Or just take what you have and add flour and water to it?

placebo's picture
placebo

You do the former. Debra wrote, "Day 4: (and once daily until it starts to expand and smell yeasty), mix . . ."

Are you seeing any signs of yeast activity yet?

amateur's picture
amateur

Well, it's bubbly and rising a little. It smells like fermented pineapple.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Don't take the actual day # too literally, as there's so many variables that can throw that off. What you want to take more literally are the visual cues that a new 'phase' is happening, and then take the appropriate measures (if any). General gas producing organisms make very tiny bubbles, millions of them, and it doesn't rise all that much. When yeast are actually active, the bubbles vary greatly between rather large, medium, and small. The culture should fairly easily double at that point, and over the next several subsequent feedings, should start tripling.

- Keith

amateur's picture
amateur

What do I do now? Just keep feeding it once a day? How will I know when it's ready to use?

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Well, I've lost track of how mant days your starter's been going, and what it's doing...

Does it look anything like this yet?

Note the wide variety of bubble sizes, and note that this was around hour 7. It had actually risen to just below the handle, and was now 'falling' and leaving residue. These are indications of actual yeast, versus the myriad of other critters that can try to fool you (smaller rise, very little noticeable collapse and residue). Also note that this culture began, after being fed, at a tad over the 1/3 mark near the bottom, so you can clearly see how much volume it had at its peak.

If you are here, you can feed it 1:1:1 every 12 hours. If you're not, stick with a 2:1:1 every 18-24 hours. No matter where you are, if you're getting some sort of activity, the rest is just patience. There's really nothing you can do to 'hurry' along a brand new starter, it's a biological process of phases. Also, after reaching the state pictured above, you're about 7-10 days from baking something that will be suitable, but realistically about 3-4 weeks from baking something that will have some real flavor versus a rather bitter aftertaste.

- Keith

amateur's picture
amateur

It's tripled in size since last night. It's on about Day 6 or 7. Just keep feeding it? How long will it be before I can bake with it?

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

>How long will it be before I can bake with it?

Read my last paragraph above... about 7-10 days starting from the first day it officially tripled is kind of a minimum, but even then, the taste will be very strong. A solid 3-4 weeks will produce something much better. The loaves between those two periods should be edible. Basically, you can bake with any starter as soon as the yeast appear and it triples like that. Yeast is the rising power. It's the other organisms that govern taste that now need to stabilize, so while you CAN bake with it, don't expect much in the way of good or expected long-term taste.

- Keith

amateur's picture
amateur

Can you recommend any good recipes? How much starter is generally needed, and what do you do with the rest?

placebo's picture
placebo

I found King Arthur Flour's Extra-Tangy Sourdough recipe is pretty straightforward to make and results in good bread.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

>Can you recommend any good recipes?

A quick note... you might want to start your own new topic on that, so that it gets more exposure. These older threads sometimes get passed by due to the fact they think we're still talking about your starter.

That being said, generally speaking, if you have little to no real bread baking experience, it's always advised that you do some commercial yeasted doughs first. That's for several reasons, not the least being things happen quicker (so you can see the process unfolding more rapidly than using SD), and if there's a disaster, you haven't lost that much of a time investment. Using a starter requires you to time the use of that starter, which adds more layers of thought process. Many a new sourdough baker has found themselves in front of the oven at 3 am when they were initially shooting for 8 pm.

I'd suggest starting off with a lean type of French bread due to the lack of complicated ingredients, which again keeps any failure(s) at a minimum investment. Here you can learn dough development and basic shaping (likely batard or classic Italian style logs). You can also find quite a few easy sandwich type breads around here. All of these ideas should keep you busy and learning other skills while your new starter is maturing over the next few weeks. All of the processes and techniques you will learn using the commercial yeasted recipes will transfer right on over to SD. When you do get to sourdough, the amount of starter you will be using is as wide ranging as you might imagine. There are recipes that use just a few grams, which then require a very long fermentation time (desirable for maximum flavor), and there are recipes that add starter by the cup fulls and require just slightly longer proofing than commercial yeasts. In between is everything else, so it just depends. A large portion of your starter recipes will ask for 100% hydration, and it being 'ripe'. Others will specify 'firm' (usually somewhere in the range of 50% to 90%) or very liquid (up to 200%, which are then usually used as a poolish). There are plenty of easy/beginner recipes to be had (King Arthur flour site noted in the response above), so you can work your way up to the more advanced recipes with different hydrations, etc.

As far as waste starter, well... what can I say... in the Artisan community there are a lot of 'green' type people who use it for a myriad of other things. I'm going to be honest and say I toss it out. As a homemaker for a family of 4 (two kids under 5), I can just say that we have a ton of leftover -everything-, and when the refrigerator needs to be cleaned out, lots of stuff hits the trash. There is no way I could possibly use all the excess starter I produce right now, and I can't become a slave to trying to figure out how. So it just goes down the drain. I'm a bad person; I live with it ; ) There are tons of threads here on TFL from people telling how they use their excess starter, which ends up for the most part pancakes, waffles and English Muffins. There are plenty of ideas available for you if you want to try them. For me, the trick is to keep my starter so small, there really isn't enough waste to really worry about. If I run into a situation where I'll need more starter than I keep on hand, I will build that amount from my smaller culture. You learn these things over time. Sourdough is pretty much like baking any other type of bread, except that the fine art of 'planning ahead' jumps to the front of the priority list.

Anyways, now would be an excellent time to take stock of what tools you have available, get a few things if you need to, buy some commercial yeast, and start getting your hands into some dough! There are a lot of 'tutorial' first loaf lessons here on TFL, and they are not too hard to search for.

Cheers,

- Keith

amateur's picture
amateur

Oh, I've done plenty of yeast baking before, as well as sweet breads leavened with baking powder or soda. It's just sourdough that's new to me. The stuff is rising well; I stir it and feed it once a day, and it seems happy. The bubbles aren't as big as in the picture you posted, but it is bubbly. Now, I'm wondering (in addition to what would be a good recipe to try) how to maintain sufficient starter. If I follow the recipe given on this site, I'm not going to have very much starter to use.

margieluvschaz's picture
margieluvschaz

Hello-

Once your starter is ready try the no knead recipes they are great & easy.  I've had the best luck with the recipes on www.breadtopia.com

Good Luck!

Margie