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Sourdough Starter w/White Crust

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maxwellion's picture
maxwellion

Sourdough Starter w/White Crust

Hi Everyone,

I'm new to this forum and new to bread baking of any kind. Like many, I have become sick of even the most expensive breads from supermarkets and shops being disappointing lumps of tasteless pap, so have decided to make my own (and I adore sourdough bread).

 

I'm on day 4 of a starter recipe by British chef Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall from one of his books. I started off with 50g rye and 50g white mixed together with water to the consitency of thick paint, and every 24 hours discard half the starter and add another 100g of the rye/white mix, adding enough water to return to the thick batter consistency.

Here are some of my problems:
The analogy that Hugh used for the right starter consistency (thick paint) is a tricky one; I'm not sure what thick paint would look like so I mix it to the consistency of American pancake batter instead.
It smells very strongly of vinegar and liquor (albeit quite fruity liquor). I don't think the smell is repugnant although my girlfriend does.
After 24hours it seems to develop a white, crusty skin. Underneath the skin it's very bubbly and spongy.
The air-holes produced are slow to form after every feed, and are unevenly dispersed (but seem to multiply under this crust).

NB: I store it in a Pyrex glass mixing bowl with clingfilm on top

Is any of the above normal, or does it suggest a spoiled starter? If anyone would like any pictures I can take some too. Sorry for the essay, and I would REALLY appreciate any help.

 

Max

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Hi, welcome to TFL and SD = )

I'm assuming you have a scale, since you are measuring 50g rye and 50g white. The 'right consitency' at that point isn't a guess, it's a percentage called 'hydration'. For 100% hydration, you would add equal weight of water. Adding up all the flour, you'd have 100g, so you'd add 100g water to the flour. This is a very typical hydration for creating a new starter. By day 4, the smells you will be getting will be mostly unwanted organisms that will eventually die off and give way to the desired ones. This can take anywhere from 2 weeks to a month. There's really no such thing as a 'spoiled' starter, because the whole process of it becoming a starter is the fact that it is 'spoiling' (organisms are breaking down the flour into simpler compounds). A starter is something spoiled to a particular point where it is used. If left, it will spoil further until it becomes rancid and unusable. When you throw out half and refresh with new flour and water, you have restarted the spoiling process. That's all we're doing every day, is resetting the spoiling point backwards and letting it run forward again.

Please enter the term pineapple in the Search bar on the left, and read Debra Wink's most excellent 2 part research into creating a starter. You will learn quite a bit about what you are actually doing, and what phases to expect as you move through the days. You will likely -not- need to start over, but you should be prepared to do battle with some patience being necessary. After you read both parts, feel free to ask more questions if they arise!

- Keith

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

On Day 4, that sounds about exactly right. You shouldn't expect much beyond what you're seeing. Keep doing what you're doing until about Day 10 and, if hasn't improved, consider rebooting the process, perhaps with Keith's recommendation above (I can't recommend the pineapple process, as I've never used it. I follow your trajectory, but only use white flower).

The crust you mention is rather unusual. You shouldn't be seeing a crust, per se, unless the starter is exposed to the air. Odd that. It could be because the Pyrex container is large and the air inside (after you cover it) is drying to the top of the starter. I'd say just make sure it's tightly covered.

As for consistency, American pancake batter is about right. I'd go a bit thicker, but not much. 

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

By the way, it is not just girlfriends who don't properly admire starters.  My husband has been known to make a comment or two when one of my dough cultures has been running  for several days consecutively out on the counter-top.  I only cover them with cotten handkerchiefs and the smell is quite evident.  His most recent comment was "it smells like a brewery in here", which might sound positive unless you know he doesn't care for beer.  *laugh*  He does like the resulting baked goods, though, so it is only good-natured ribbing.

maxwellion's picture
maxwellion

Thanks alot guys. The Pineapple article was fascinating, and if my poor starter fails I shall definately try that method.

@thomaschacon75 I was going to ask, should I start just feeding my starter with white flour now? I also think it might be the Pyrex bowl is too large. I transferred it to a smaller one today so we'll see what happens.

 

@Just Loafin I'm measuring the 50g/50g mix with scales, but I couldn;t say whether the water was equal. The recipe I'm following just says add enough water to get the thick batter consistency.

TBH I like the smell of my starter (I really should give him a name). This morning it was so strong it made me go a bit dizzy after sniffing it.

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

Half white, half rye should be OK, but you can use all white if want.

Rye is a good flour to get the starter going, but not one you should use for maintenance, unless you're maintaining a rye starter, I mean. ;)

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

To add to that, be aware that some experience a very negative reaction when a new starter is converted to all white. Reference my post in Debra's part 2, and as well, FoolishPoolish having the same problem.

In another thread about someone creating a new starter, I basically said, if you want a white starter, create a white starter. I have never seen any real benefit to starting it one way, then converting it. At most you might save one or two days as to when the yeast will populate, but then you run the risk of losing two weeks trying to convert it. Overall, please just bring patience to the table, as that's all you'll truly need in the end. If you get lucky, you'll have a usable starter in about 2 weeks. If unlucky, it can take 3 to 4 weeks, and that can feel like 3 years when you're eager to get baking.

- Keith

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

I couldn't agree more with this.

I think too many expect a potentiated starter to be ready in a few days. I don't know where this expectation comes from (perhaps a popular book I've missed), but if you have a starter that leavens bread in under a week, it likely won't impart great flavour. Two weeks? That's a more realistic expectation, and even then it might not be strong enough.

Patience is key.

maxwellion's picture
maxwellion

I was just following the timescales mentioned in the Hugh F-W book I got the recipe from. He stated to wait for at least a week; I'm prepared to wake as long as it takes though. I'm glad I came accross this site first or I would have possibly started baking way too early.

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

Alas, you're going to miss the experience that every new sourdough baker experiences: the baking of bricks!

Loaves that barely leaven over 12-18 hours and, once baked, are as hard as rock. :)

maxwellion's picture
maxwellion
RobynNZ's picture
RobynNZ

Paul (rainbowz here on TFL) posted a useful photographic record on his blog of developing a starter commencing with this intro, with daily reports for the first week and a follow up on day 15:

http://yumarama.com/blog/968/starter-from-scratch-intro/