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Inactive Starter

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skottree's picture
skottree

Inactive Starter

I followed a starter recipe the other day and am left with a very inactive starter.

Started with 1.5C Rye flour and 1.5C water.  The instructions said to let sit for 3 days.  After 3 days, start feeding by keeping 1C starter and add 1.5C Rye and 1.5C water.  Days 1-3 were very active.  On day 3 the hooch showed, so i poured it off before feeding it.  Since feeding it, I get no activity.  Can this be revived?  Do I need to start over?  New recipe?

Thanks!

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

I aim for 14 days (for a starter strong enough to leaven bread). You'll see activity after a few days, but it'll be nowhere strong enough to leaven bread.

Try not to pour anything out of your starter. Mix it in if you must, but don't pour it out.

It's possible, but unlikely, that you lost much of the active microorganisms when you poured off what you think was hooch. I'd try feeding it for a three more days and, if it still looks "dead", start over.

jcking's picture
jcking

Keep an eye on your starter. Signs of liquid indicate cannibalism. At the first sign of liquid, catch it early, feed the starter.

Jim

skottree's picture
skottree

Jim, that's my concern.  I started to notice the liquid and waited another 24 hours before pouring off the liquid and feeding it.  Could I have killed it?  I am now 48 hours since then (2 feedings later) and still no activity.

jcking's picture
jcking

Keep feeding. Give it time to adjust.

Jim

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

Liquid when you're building a starter is not a bad sign. It will go from thick to liquidic to back again, and any number of variations in between, to say nothing of the odor.

Keep your feedings and temperature constant and let the microrganism battle each other, intervening only to feed it on a regular schedule.

 

jcking's picture
jcking

If the liquid is water, stir it back in. If it's alcohol, what good it that? What causes the excess alcohol? Microbes overeating. Avoid both by frequent stirring and proper feeding. Use a wet chop stick and stir every 3-4 hours of the waking day. You want yeast to grow; give it some air.

Respectfully disagree; feed the youngster when it's hungry. Babies cry when they're hungry. (tears/excess water) As with every other aspect of dough, pay attention to the needs of the dough not the clock. Once you develop the starter and you know it's behavior, IE length of time at a certain temperature to double/triple/peak, you may develop a feeding schedule that fits your mature mother/chef /starter.

Jim

skottree's picture
skottree

If I'm not getting any growth (double/triple/peak), at what point to I call it a failure? :)

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

Then ask us again. :)

jcking's picture
jcking

The double/triple/ peak is weeks away once your seed (which is what you're attempting now) has matured enough to become a starter. What is your goal here? Are you going for a white starter or a rye starter? Whose process are you following?

As to failure; if the seed starts to turn a different color toss it. The seeds that take the longest to develop are usually very durable/hearty.

skottree's picture
skottree

I'm going for a starter that I can use for years to come.  I started with rye because everything I read said wheat or rye was balanced and a good flour to start with.  I'm not tied to rye or wheat or white in any way.  Should I add all purpose or bread flour for the next feeding?  What are the pros and cons here?

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

I approach it differently.

I'm just the observer that robotically adds food and water at a predetermined time.

If I open the starter and I can hear them screaming, "Feed me! Feed me now! I need flour. I need water, dammit!", I'd ignore them.

I do so because I want the strongest yeasts to survive, the weakest ones to die, so my final starter is full of strong and resilient microganisms in natural balance with each other, able to tolerate activity, even excessive activity, of other microrganism sharing the culture.

Bacteria contribute so much more to flavour than does yeast, so I do whatever I can to encourage strength and balance, and the first rule of that is not to intervene. Let the kids stand up for themselves. That can mean that the culture dies or gets sick, and that's happened before, but when it lives, it's LIVES. My mother starter, for example, could leaven bricks.

For similar reasons, I put a new starter outside and cover it only with cheesecloth. I want a culture than can stand the vissitudes of temperature, the invasion of other yeasts and bacteria, etc., the end result being that it's able to do what I want it to without folding at the first sign of invasion or frost. In essence, I'm doing what my grandmother did: tough love. Feed it consistently, stir it every once in a while, but otherwise ignore it.

skottree's picture
skottree

I like your view here Thomas.  What flour type do you use?  Do you mix different types?  What is your feeding schedule?

As stated earlier, mine says keep 1 cup of starter and mix in 1.5C flour and 1.5C water daily.

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

I start with 1/2 cup flour, 3/4 cup water, and some organic raisins wrapped in cheesecloth. I put the container outside covered only with cheesecloth (which I secure with kitchen twine).

For the next 7 days, I feed twice (morning, evening) with 1/4 cup white bread flour + 1/3 cup water.

For the next 3 days, I ignore it completely.

For the next 4 days, I feed three times (morning, noon, evening) with 1/4 cup white bread flour + 1/4 cup water.

It's usually very strong now, ready to leaven bread.

(Depending on how arid the environment, you may have to adjust the water. When building a starter, I like it to be fairly liquidic, like a loose pankcake batter). 

skottree's picture
skottree

do you ever toss any of your starter before a feeding?

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

...if you feed it 1 or 1.5 cups/day.

placebo's picture
placebo

I don't know how absorbant rye is compared to plain all-purpose flour, but I'd expect equal volumes of water and flour, as the OP is using, will eventually separate.

skottree's picture
skottree

The water separation was only visible during day 3-4, which was right before I fed it a second time.  As stated earlier, I poured off the water/hooch and fed with 1.5C rye and 1.5C water (2 nights ago).  Since then, I've fed it a second time (last night) and have not seen water separation since.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Good sign!   :)  

                Welcome to TFL!   

placebo's picture
placebo

The activity you saw early on was likely due to bacterial growth, not yeast. It'll take a few more days for the yeast to finally become active.

If I were you, I'd cut way down on the amounts of flour and water you're using. There's no need to be wasting 1.5 C of flour on each feeding. You can make a starter with just a tablespoon or two of flour.

I'd also decrease the amount of water you're using in proportion to the flour in half, at least. For every cup of flour, use only 1/2 cup of water or perhaps a little less. I suspect the liquid you saw was just the flour and water separating because the mixture was too wet.

skottree's picture
skottree

What would you recommend as a good feeding size for a 24 hour span?  Also, for each feeding, how much of the starter should I keep?

placebo's picture
placebo

The amount you feed the starter is proportional to how much starter you have. Generally, you should feed it enough to double the amount, so if you have 50 grams of starter, you'd feed it 25 grams of flour and 25 grams of water, for example.

You only need to keep a small amount of starter in the beginning, like a few tablespoons. What happens in a 1/4 cup of starter is the same thing that happens in 1 cup of starter. The only difference is you won't be throwing out as much when you feed it.

If you haven't already, I suggest you read Debra Wink's blog posts on what's going on while a starter is developing. You'll understand why you saw activity during the first few days and then everything seemed to die, and why that's normal and nothing to worry about.

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10856/pineapple-juice-solution-part-1

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10901/pineapple-juice-solution-part-2

ehanner's picture
ehanner

This thread is giving me a headache.

To understand a natural (sourdough) culture is to understand microbiology at some level. The links posted 2 posts prior to this make reference to the most informative pages concerning starting a starter I am aware of. There is something wrong with the Part 2 link which takes you back to Part I for some reason. HERE IS THE CORRECT Part II link. While it's true there are many ways to arrive at the desirable end, Winks method will work and help you get the feel for maintaining  a natural culture containing yeasts and bacteria. You can skip ahead to Part II and scroll down to the formula if you are not inclined to follow along. You don't have to be a scientist to bake with sourdough but it is helpful to have a general idea of what you're fooling with. Debra is a microbiologist who has spent much time researching and helping bakers who use a natural levain understand how to control the process of starting a starter. We are fortunate to have her participate here.

Keep in mind that while rye or any whole grain flour is reported to have more micro organisms available to nurture back to health when starting a starter, the primary gauge most people use to determine health and viability of a new starter is how it expands in volume after feeding. For this to happen, you need gluten. You need a structure to trap the gas bubbles so the starter will appear to grow. Rye has very little gluten and thus it will not appear to grow by double or triple as will a mix of AP flour. There are other issues when using a blend of grains that make it difficult for a new sourdough baker to stay in control of the culture. I would urge you to switch over to AP flour as soon as you have signs of gas bubbles. There are a few of us that keep rye starters but I suggest you wait until you have some experience to do that.

You asked about what flour to feed with. The best advice I can give you is to read Debra Wink. Start with some whole grain flour and after a few days switch over to AP flour. Winks use of unsweetened Pineapple juice will help avoid nurturing some nasty smelling bacteria that are also in the flour. This business of covering with an old sock (or was it cheese cloth?) and placing outside comes from the myth that you have to capture the biology from the air. Clever marketing types in San Francisco spread that rumor to the world. The biology is in the flour. Stable room temperature or slightly warmer (74-80F) is ideal for initial phases.  You may get some initial activity when first attempting to activate a starter and then a pause. This is OK. Keep feeding as per the schedule. Twice a day a mix of AP and water, equal amounts BY WEIGHT. An inexpensive gram scale will make it easy to keep your weights right.

Eric

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

I think you might be reading between the lines there, Eric, re: cheesecloth and outside. I said nothing about it being for the acquisition of wild yeasts. It doesn't take much knowledge about microbiology to know how misguided that is, especially considering how pervasive are Candida and Saccharomyces in just about every biome.

I've read Wink's paper before and I came away with one conclusion: It's a theory that, when taken in whole, suggests a method to trick your starter into skipping a few stages, deemed "non-good bacteria/yeast" stages; but, while its an very admirable attempt, it's far from being rigorous and comprehensive, Wink herself admitting that she didn't have the resources she needed to delve into some very good questions.

I suspect she would admit that her study is an empirical one, with far more variables that she could control for; and, thus, it should not be taken as being definitive or as having predictive capacity. I do hope she goes forward and answers some of the questions and suppositions she presents in her paper.

As for why I choose the make a starter as I do, outside and with cheesecloth, it's because I'm firmly in this camp: 

With the additional information, and having watched the drama unfold under the microscope, I started seeing the seed culture process not as good guys out-competing bad or gradually increasing in number, but as a natural succession of microorganisms that pave the way for "the good guys" in the way that they transform their environment. -Wink, D.

It's the natural order of things I'm trying to respect.

Maybe I'm wasting my time, but until there's a definitive study that says "You're wasting your time with those first few days, just lower the pH artifically and be done with it.", I'll stick to letting it evolve in as natural a state as possible–outside, only vaguely protected from the elements–and let nature take its course.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

I'm just saying that from my perspective,  trying to help new SD enthusiasts get a viable starter up and healthy. Most everyone who uses the Pineapple Solution has a favorable result. All other methods have a large element of risk.  I'm sure the leaky keg of water above the flour bin worked for the gold rush pioneers in the early days too. From the perspective of helping folks get going with the least frustration, I have had good luck with the Pineapple solution for 4 or so years. A simple solution to a common problem.

The culture is so stable, I can cut back all the way to 1/4 tsp of starter fed with 80g water and 100g AP flour and have it triple in 10 hours.

thomaschacon75's picture
thomaschacon75

I think that alone would solve 90% of the problems people have with getting a starter up and running.

That said, if this pineapple technique gets them there faster, I guess that's a good thing.

I just wish one of the ingredients for each feeding was 1000 g of patience.