The Fresh Loaf

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something odd about my sourdough Firm starter. Please advice

gizzy's picture

something odd about my sourdough Firm starter. Please advice


So I'm making my first sourdough and I'm using the seed culture and barm recipe from the Bread Bakers Apprentice. The barm turned out amazing. I just refreshed it today using 150gs and using 50% dark rye flour (I was out of bread flour) and 50% water. It doubled in size after 2-3 hours and just looks and smells really good.

However, when I go to follow the recipe for the basic sourdough bread in the same book, something goes wrong. I've only started the firm starter which calls for 4 oz of barm, 4.5 oz of high gluten or bread flout (I used dark rye--once again out of bread flour). The recipe says to mix together and knead it into a small ball, and it should have the consistency of french bread dough. It says I shouldn't have to do it very long, just until the flour is hydrated and barm is evenly distributed. I did this or at least, I thought I did. The dough formed a ball quite easily, though it did seem a little stiff. I followed the instructions and let the dough rise for approximately 4 hours, checking on it every hour to see it's progress. It did rise, but not as much as I thought it would and now it is kinda flat on the top and rounded on the sides. It also doesn't seem as pliable as my usual dough. I know this is just the starter and nought the final dough (as acording to the recipe I'm using), but is it normal?

Any advice?

PS. I tried posting pictures of it... but for some reason it wouldn't let me. Any advice?

Just Loafin's picture
Just Loafin

Kind of too much going back and forth between grams and ounces... missing info, too. 4 oz barm, 4.5 oz flour - how much water here? I'm a little lost.

A firm starter will flatten on the top a bit - blame gravity! That's normal. The roundness on the sides is, of course, expansion - also normal. Without absolute numbers for all 3 parts (retained barm:new water:new flour), we can't tell what the hydration is, we can only guess. The rye you are using for the mother will always show good activity (it's like giving the yeast an energy drink), then when you switch to a regular flour (AP or bread), it won't 'appear' to be as energetic. Again, normal, as long as you are prepared for that. Also, firmish starters can tend to 'crust' a bit unless well covered, which will obviously render it 'less pliable'. Can't be more specific/helpful without better information and a direct question. Everything you are getting across seems normal enough.

You can upload pictures to the site, or to an offsite location (photobucket, etc), then link to the pics. To store at the site here, use the My Account link in the left navigation, then select the File Browser tab. Finally, select the Upload icon from the browser GUI provided (there are pixel and filesize limits). Once the file is stored either here or remotely, when posting a message, select the 'insert/edit image' icon. In the Image URL box, type in a remote location, or if saved here, leave that empty and select the icon next to that box labeled 'browse'. That will open a new window/browser to select a picture from your uploaded files stored here at TFL. Select it and continue from there. = )

- Keith

gizzy's picture

Sorry about the oz to grams thing.. I'm not very good at math and the recipe in the book is in oz but my scale works best in grams.

Actually.. just your description of what the firm starter was supposed to be like was perfect. That's exactly what my looks like even to the slight "crust" on it. I was just a little concerned because, I've worked with french dough bread and it wasn't like the starter that I made.

Thanks for everything!

PeterS's picture

than wheat flour and doesn't develop as much structure leading to less spring and more compact loaves. 

wally's picture

You can't substitute rye for bread flour in a starter and get anything like the same results.  Better to go with whole wheat flour in a pinch, but not rye - unless you're making rye bread.


gizzy's picture

I was hoping to have a rye/whole wheat bread mixture (I tend to prefer the taste). So perhaps it will work out all right. If not, oh well, it was a good practice.

Thanks for all of your help!