The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

New to this: Please help me with my starter

BelBaker7's picture
BelBaker7

New to this: Please help me with my starter

So I recently began the sourdough process this month by building a proofing box and yesterday I began activating a starter I got from a local baker. This morning I go to check on my creation in its cozy 82 degree environment and this is what I see...

A three layer mixture of dough mixture on the bottom, a yellowish liquid solution in the middle, and and a bubbly mixture on top.

Here is a pic of what I am talking about...

Should I be concerned? I am so new to this and I really have no clue where to begin and I just happened upon this site. What steps should I take to ensure that the starter is good to go?

Thank you so much for the help.

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

Stir it all together, and then feed it some more flour and water.  Use equal weights, or twice the volume of flour to water.  Total new food should roughly equal the total of existing starter after it is stirred.  Eventually, fairly soon in fact, you will have to remove some to make room for more food.  Either bake something with what you remove, or throw it away.  This is a very superficial response to your question, but it is accurate as far as it goes.  There is a huge amount of information on TFL.

Have you baked bread before?

 

BelBaker7's picture
BelBaker7

Mango,

Thanks so much for the quick response. I needed the superficial answer because the book I had read never gave me instructions as to what the mixture would look like.

I am very new to baking; I have made a handful of pizzas and focaccia before, using instant dried yeast every time.

I wanted to venture out and try using my own starter, but I was really in the dark. Then this morning I ventured upon this site and saw all the useful information. Thank you again.

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

If you search for sourdough focaccia, you will find a bunch of results of varying complexity.  It might be a way for you to try out using your starter to make something with which you are familiar.  Remember not to use up all your starter in the recipe.  Always hold some back and feed it, and put it away where you are keeping it.

BelBaker7's picture
BelBaker7

I definitely will be using the starter to make some sourdough focaccia. I am hoping to have a milder starter so I've turned down the temperature in my box to about 75 degrees and am monitoring its progress.

Any clue on when I should be able to tell when the activation process is complete and I can begin using the starter to bake?

recapitulation's picture
recapitulation

I think if you follow the SourdoLady's advice from Day 4, you'll be fine. E.g., each day stir, throw out everything but a couple spoonfuls (1/4c)  of the mixture, feed with 1/4 cup flour and enough non-chlorinated water to make a batter or stiffer if you like, keep in a warm place, and when it's doubling in size, you can start using it. I'm not an expert. I just read the fresh loaf a lot. Here's the instructions I've been following - there's a lot of good information in the comments too: http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/233

My starter looks like yours when it's ready to be fed, and when it started off as a more watery mixture. If I use less water so that it's more like peanut butter than a batter, I don't see as much separation. However, I also am discarding and feeding mine twice a day. My rule is, if it's doubled, I need to discard and feed. If I smell alcohol, it's past time to feed it and I need to do it right then. I'm trying to keep mine at a warmer room temperature as it's still developing flavor.  Yours is probably mature since you bought it. If I wanted the sourdough to sit for a week or two, I'd put it in the fridge and use a stiffer mixture, according to what I've read.

BelBaker7's picture
BelBaker7

Thanks for the help! I just fed my starter a bit ago because I had that liquid layer sitting at the top, so I decided to pour out all but a cup of the mixture and then fed it a 1-to-1 ratio of flour and water.

One thing that worries me is the smell of the stater. I just took a big whif of the stuff and it smells like a very strong parmesan cheese.

Hopefully this is just part of the process and not a set back.

BelBaker7's picture
BelBaker7

I am now three days into my starter and it has nearly doubled in 3-4 hours. From what I have read here and elsewhere, this means that my starter is 100% active. I have decided to portion out my starter into two - one I have been feeding at 50% flour, 50% water and the other I have been feeding at 65% flour and 35% water.

I have a couple of questions that I hope TFL can answer:

1) Can I continue feeding my starters at room temperature, attempting to develop more flavor from my starter?

2) When I decide to store my starter in the fridge, do I only need to feed it once a week?

Thank you all for your help throughout this process! I am really excited to get baking.

recapitulation's picture
recapitulation

I think you can definitely continue feeding it at room temp. It's a toss up about whether it will pay off, as you most likely started with mature starter. 

The fridge and once a week feeding with a stiffer mixture is my plan in about a week. Best of luck!