The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starter HELP!!

fidlfixer's picture

Starter HELP!!

okay I ventured out to make my own starter first using the recipe from "wild fermentation" book. I used 1cup of rye flour and 1 cup of filtered Water covered with a cheesecloth and put on the counter.  12 hours later it doubled in size so i stirred it and added just 2 tbl of each water and flour(following book) then unfortunately i was away for about a day and the starter rose so much that it overflowed out of the jar. So, I transferred to a new bowl and started to feed it this combo of 2tbls each of water and flour, it was nice and bubbly and smelled of sweet wine but never doubled. So i figured I would check out other recipes and found out I messed up royally. So i discarded all of this mixture save 1/2c and added 1/4c of water and 1/2 cup flour and started again. My question is am I just shooting in the dark with this started or it is possible to save it? it's been bubbling and fed for about a week now but hasn't gone through the "doubling" process since that first 2 days?

Any help would be great :)

cranbo's picture

keep feeding it for 7-10 days and you'll be fine.

You should save 1/2c of starter and add 1/4c of water and 1/2 cup flour at each feeding.

Feed it twice a day, especially if you're keeping the starter in a warm place. 

7-10 days of this schedule is what it takes for starter to get established. Don't worry if it seems weird somehow in the meanwhile, it will work. 

When you feed, are you feeding it rye or wheat flour? If you're going to be baking with wheat flour, start transitioning by using 50% rye/50% wheat when feeding, the move slowly over the course of 1 week to feeding 100% wheat. You want to match your starter with your final bread: rye starter for rye breads, wheat starter for wheat breads, etc.

fidlfixer's picture

Thanks!! so even though it's been going for a week already do i keep feeding it till it doubles in size then use it for bread or just give another week to be safe ?

Oh is it okay to leave it out at room temperature overnight? i read in places you shouldn't it was all a bit confusing.

cranbo's picture

If it's been going for 1 week, feed it 2x per day for another 3-5 days. You want it to double about 4-6 hours after feeding; if it doubles before or after that, then it's probably not ready yet. 

Yes, it is most certainly OK to leave at room temp overnight; in fact, it's recommended to always keep your starter at cool room temp (below 72F) instead of in the fridge, when the bacteria and yeast activity will slow. 



Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

It's very doubtful that the day 1 doubling was yeast, more on that below.

Yes, it takes several weeks to end up with a decent starter to bake with, months for one that has a matured flavor profile. In the several weeks leading up to something that can be baked with (sufficient yeast present), it can (and usually will) appear dead once or twice for a few days.

A starter is the process of capturing a biological decay process. Once that process is at a particular phase, you can keep adding fresh material for it to stay at that phase indefinitely. The problem with starting a starter is, you have to go through the initial decay phases that precede the one you wish to capture. These first phases are similar enough to the one you want, that they can easily fool a person who is doing this for the first time into thinking the starter is mature. You should learn what it is you're trying to make, because it will ease your worries when it isn't doubling or otherwise behaving the way you expect/want/have read about. It is also important (maybe even more so) because you will need to maintain it, figure out a way to store it, -and- understand what its role is in a recipe.

We are always now suggesting a thorough read through of Debra Wink's AWESOME starter write-up. There's science included that doesn't go too far over your head, layman's terms as to what these phases are, and at the end, a recommended way of getting a starter going (although you might not need that part now).

Part 1 is here:

Part 2 is a link at the bottom page of Part 1.

It's a TON of reading if you also go through the relevant responses where Debra can exhaustively expand on some of the ideas that went by a little too quick, but it's one of the best educations to be had, and the price is right, too (it's free, of course). If you take it a bit at a time, you'll be done long before your starter is ready to bake with, and you might even afford yourself to re-read a few parts that maybe didn't quite sink in. I'll be honest in saying that I've read both posts about 6 times and -still- gain a little tidbit here or there each time.

So onto your current situation. Your initial 'doubling' was likely a combination of organisms that populate a brand new starter (which is essentially some organic plant material beginning to spoil/rot). These organisms exist to begin an initial breakdown of the plant material (wheat), which in turn begins to change the environment (most notably the pH) to allow yeast to 'wake up' and begin multiplying. The intial organisms can produce a LOT of gas, which might fool someone into thinking it's yeast, but there's probably no actual yeast 'awake' in the culture yet. You can tell this isn't yeast-produced gas because the bubbles are generally very tiny and compressed. They are almost like soda fizz suspended. There is also a smell, or shall we say, lack of smell? We are looking for something intensely alcohol - there will be no question about it once it appears. The lack of this smell will also strengthen the visual clues that your starter has not populated with yeast yet, even though it is doubling on certain days.

When it goes 'dead', it is entering a new cycle. Eventually, through these cycles, you will get volume that looks much different than the previous bubbles. They will be a combination of large and smallish bubbles that create an unmistakable mosiac. This will be followed by the smell we are looking for. Take a whiff. If you immediately say "wow! BEER!", then your yeast have come into an active state and are multiplying. Your starter can now easily not only double, but also triple and quadruple in 6-8 hours for the average counter-top temperature.

Your culture at that point would be considered 'bakeable', but it's not stable or very flavorful yet. The yeasts only raise the dough, the flavors come from the other organisms that live and work alongside the yeast. Those flavor producing organisms do not stabilize until a good week or two AFTER the yeast become active. If you bake with an immature starter, it might taste adequate, but there might be some slightly bitter after-tastes. The best flavors will come weeks and months later, and are well worth the wait! ; )

So, understand what you are bringing to life... it will serve you well as you bring it to maturity, and it will continue to serve you as you maintain and use it. It really takes a good amount of time and patience to get a really robust and flavorful starter. I'm convinced that's the real two ingredients (time and patience), and that luck has very little to do with it.

- Keith