The Fresh Loaf

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Starter seems dry on top

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kalc's picture
kalc

Starter seems dry on top

Hi,

I am trying to make a starter following the pineapple juice recipe. I am using whole wheat flour with 100% hydration. As i am in India, rye is not an option, not available as far as i know. The starter does get bubbles &  does expand around 50% or so, but the top looks dry after a few hours. Its been around 9 days now, in between, it smelt terrible, but thats getting better(seems so). But this dry texture on top is always there - i am putting a loose cover on top and another starter with all purpose flour doesnt have this look(covered similarly) though its rising slower and much less.

Any idea what might be causing it(the dryness)? And also, it hardly seems to fall, it rises and then just remains almost at that level till i feed it the next day(once in 24 hrs). Temp is 80-85 F here. Humidity is high. Using mineral water and organic whole bran wheat. I do measure my ingredients as i have been baking for over a year.

Any help will be much appreciated, and thanks to all for the wonderful knowledge base that you all have built up here.

br,

kalc.

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

My experience with a 100% WW starter (although somewhat limited) matched what you are saying. It does soak up more water than AP flour, and hence does in fact feel quite a bit drier and heavier. The top is definitely a bit drier than the middle, but stirs down quite easily. It's just a little drier, I wouldn't call it a 'crust'. If your top is so hard it must be removed from the container, that wouldn't be good. Also, my 100% WW starter did not ever fall much between feedings, whereas my AP starter falls quite a lot. The WW one just sort of stayed where it rose to, and that was that.

At 9 days and 80-85 F, I would definitely be feeding that thing twice a day! That's very warm, and by the 24 hour mark, your starter is starving. That's not too good for a new starter, so I'd be trying to hit more around the 10-12 hour mark to really build up the yeast content. Stay patient! It takes a long time... = )

- Keith

kalc's picture
kalc

Thanks Keith for sharing your experience & insight. I wouldnt call it a 'crust' either - it looked like dry to me, so when i tried touching it(the first time i observed this), it was really soft & sticky - but looks 'dry'. 

Well, actually risen to close to 100% today, yesterday seemed more like between 60-70% probably. 

I am going to keep your suggestion in mind about 2 feedings per day - i am just watching for a few days before i tinker with it. As i mentioned, it started smelling awful inbetween(actually, i put in a little vitamin C to see if it helps to rise more, oops!!), but that seems to be reducing.

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

My 100% WW starter also stays at the higher level after it rises.  I stir it briefly to knock it down, add water, stir again until smooth, add flour, and stir for the final time before covering.

kalc's picture
kalc

Well, its good to know that this does happen.

BTW, do you do this when its time to feed again?

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

Yes, that is when I stir it down.  I let my starter rise on the counter-top overnight before the day I will use it.  I stir it down and feed it when I take it out of the refrigerator in the evening, and again before I put it back into the refrigerator after using it the next morning.  It is kept in a Tupperware container, with the lid on when in the refrigerator.  When out on the counter-top, it is covered with a cotton handkerchief instead of the plastic lid.  I use a rubberband to hold the handkerchief in place.  If I don't secure the handkerchief, I get everything from tiny ants to 12-pound cats trying to get into the starter for a taste.

kalc's picture
kalc

Thanks Mangochutney, i have also started stirring after i add water & then again after adding flour - it mixes it very nicely. 

Its sitting on a table loosely covered - i am hoping that the all purpose flour starter will also start rising a bit more :)

As suggested by Keith, i will probably start feeding the WW starter twice a day form now on.

kalc's picture
kalc

Just wanted to thank Keith - i increased the feeding schedule & seems like for the first time i am getting the familiar smell that i get from dough fermenting, signalling to me the presence of yeast :)

The WW starter in doubling in 2 hrs or so , almost exactly double & no more !!

Anyway, with increased feeding , the dryness has gone away. I guess it was being caused be underfeeding + comparatively high temperature.

-kalc

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Hey kalc, great to know you're getting better results! Your starter is like a child - it will train YOU eventually ; )

cheers, and can't wait to see some stuffs coming outta the oven!

- Keith

kalc's picture
kalc

Thanks Keith.

Yes, in fact, i am increasingly observing, that i am trying to understand how to treat the starter rather than follow any strict regimen - its like a relationship developing - indeed, its training me how to respond to it :)

Amazing !!

-kalc

RugBoy's picture
RugBoy

Hi Kalc!

I think the skimming of the top can be controlled a bit by using a smaller container with a lower air to starter ratio. My whole wheat starter is certainly the worst offender in this regard.  Now, using smaller jars, I dont have skim off nearly as much.

My starters "came to life" in September of '09 and and the sort of simplified routine I've been using since then might be interesting to you.

I feed them only once a week, and return them imediately to a little dorm sized fridge that I keep at about 48 degrees (F).  It slows them down, but doesn't completely put them to sleep.   If I'm baking that week, I'll feed a bit more to whomever is on deck, and split of some to work with the next day, and leave it out.  I feed that one again before I go to bed to bring it up to the size I need. 

Baking with starters is great fun, and I applaud your efforts. 

jcking's picture
jcking

The dorm fridge also works great for me. I like to cover the starter with a folded over very damp paper towel with plastic wrap over that; no skin. Pray tell what hydration level are you keeping? I do a 1:2:3 that comes out to about 66%.

From another retired baking guy; Jim

kalc's picture
kalc

Hi Rugboy,

Thanks for your suggestions. In fact i do keep it in a small container - now the skimming problem has dissappeared after feeding twice a day(earlier i was doing only once).

As for refrigerating, i guess its too early as the smell of the starter is not consistent yet - i am trying to stabilise it before i attempt storage techniques. It sometimes gives undesirable smells(though it doubles consistently), so i believe i dont have the right bacteria going yet.

-kalc.

RugBoy's picture
RugBoy

The wet paper towel is a great idea that I will try today!  Thanks for that.

I have 100% and a 60% hydration starter in AP, and a 70% WW.  Since I autolyse my artisan breads the 100% hasn't seen any action lately.  (So much water in the levain that there's not enough water in the first mix to get to all the flour)

For quite a while I wondered if I really needed a WW starter.  I was chugging along with 15% Rye 0r 20%WW and AP starters were doing fine.

Now my WW starter is working regularly since I've gotten hang of Mr Reinhart's epoxy method using a mash @ 165 degrees for 3 hours, and the overnight cold  retardation, out the next day for 2 hours in the oven with the light on, add the levain, and... we get a nice sweet loaf from lean dough.  After three hour the mash is so sweet it tastes like apple sauce!

Hard to beat science you can eat.

jcking's picture
jcking

Mash sounds sweet, have tried others in the book just not the mash. The Broom Bread works well on the system :-) I'm keeping an AP and a Durum/Atta going at the moment. In the fall, when the weather changes, I'll build a Rye. Nice for a soup and sandwich.

Making friends with science - Jim

kalc's picture
kalc

Hi there, just to say a word of thanks to all here at TFL - i made my first sourdough bread today with my starter after 3 weeks of experimentation. I must say it came out well. I wasnt getting a good smell with the ww starter so i fed it all purpose flour. The first time the growth was only abt 20% , but after around 3 or 4 feedings of AP flour, it took off, growing to 2.5 times in around 5-6 hrs. - no off odours. So today i used it to raise & bake bread(no comm. yeast), its crust colour(speckled all over), oven spring & flavour are good. 

I am happy , and hats off to u all(special thanks to Debra for PJ technique + all the tech info) for making it possible, sitting here in India :)

-kalc.