The Fresh Loaf

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Sourdough paint

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Duane Sohl's picture
Duane Sohl

Sourdough paint

I have been using a sourdough starter that I grew about six weeks ago from bread flour, water and grapes per a recepie by Nancy Silverton.  I've had some great success with the resultant breads.  Each evening I feed the starter and each evening it has a healthy bubbly head with a thin layer of hooch and a nice rich aroma.  However, ther last two evenings, it seems to be much less active, although still alive, and has developed a strong smell almost like paint.  Does anyone know what happened?  Is it dying?  Is this normal?  The only thing I can think of that's changed is it is cooler outside the last couple of days and the barametric pressure has probably changed.  Thoughts?

G-man's picture
G-man

This is common when your starter isn't being fed enough. If you can't feed more often, save less starter and give it more food when you do feed. A ratio of 1:3:3 starter:water:flour is easy for a strong starter to deal with. 

sam's picture
sam

Mr. Frost educated me about this several months ago.   Yes, the wet paint smell is due to lack of feedings, and also if you do not keep proper ventilation.    Poke a couple of small holes in the container and feed it regularly.

The wet paint smell, in theory, results from the yeast having to go to alternative ways of staying alive which results in acetone or something, but I am probably wrong, just repeating what I have read here.

One way to keep a starter going without the wet-paint is by using temperature to control fermentation to adjust to your schedule, and also keeping some ventilation.

 

 

 

Duane Sohl's picture
Duane Sohl

Thank you gvz.  I went down to one feeding per day after starting it out on two per day.  I've been doing that for a while, but I guess I was slowly starving it.  Where might I find some guides to temperature control to adjust to my schedule, if you know.  I'm not able to be there for multiple feedings a day.

Duane Sohl's picture
Duane Sohl

Thank you G-man also.  Didn't see your comment before replying.  I'll try more chow.

sam's picture
sam

A healthy vigororous starter usually needs to be fed (at room temps, 70F or so), every 5-6 hours.   This is why controlling temperature is important if you can't be around to feed it as often as that.   Who is, except for professional bakers?   Wet paint smell is not a bad thing, but personally I would not use a strongly-smelling wet-paint starter in a bread.   I'd refresh it a few times first.

If you can, you can get a wine-chiller or a koolatron or something that isn't as cold as a normal fridge...   if you want to do daily feedings, you can figure out what ideal temp to keep it at...    for me it is around 50-55F for a daily feeding, depending on if I am doing solely white flour or spiking it a bit with some rye too.  (Rye-spikes need slightly lower temp).

 

 

richkaimd's picture
richkaimd

I read all the notes about starter care wondering why my own experience is so different.  Others seem to spend far more time with starter care than I do.

I've been using the same starter for many years now (maybe almost a decade.)  I got it as a gift from Dan Leader who gave it to me at the end of a class in French breads he taught at ICE in Manhattan.  If I feed my starter twice a month its a lot.  Sometimes I forget about it for a month or more.  No matter how long it's been since we last saw each other, I do the same thing:  I take about a half cup, throw the rest out, and add a cup each of APF and water.  I mix this together a bit and let it sit in a closed plastic container until it has doubled before putting it into my refrigerator.  More often than not I do this just before I need some "very active" starter for a recipe. 

Some years ago I gave my brother, who makes more baguettes than I do, a cup of my starter.  He thanked me, put it into his fridge, and promptly forgot about it.  As things do, this little glass jar made its way to the back of his fridge.  Not being all that concerned about the neatness of his fridge, it took him half a year to find the jar and at that point he didn't really remember what it was.  He called me in embarrassment when he finally remembered (after he took off the jar lid and smelled the thing).  Pretty powerful odor, as I recall him saying.  Anyway, he asked my advice.  I told him to take a small dollop of it, throw out the rest, mix in 50:50 flour and water, and wait.  He's still using that starter today, though he's refeeding it a bit more often.

G-man's picture
G-man

Sounds like the starter you got from Dan Leader was an established starter. Especially if it had been used in a bakery-type setting, it had undoubtedly had a combination of near-perfect environment and regular feedings for who knows how many years?

These things aren't usually possible for home bakers. Most of us don't bake daily, and a starter, once strong enough to raise dough, can go into the refrigerator until it is needed again. That might be anywhere from a couple days to a couple months.

 Your starter is probably still benefitting from its early treatment.

 

I'm suggesting this as a possibility, anyway.

caryn's picture
caryn

G-man- I really don't think it matters the source of the starter.  I created mine many years ago, and it seems to have stayed really strong without spending much time on it.  I just feed it either each week or sometimes after 2 weeks, usually using 1 part starter to 2 parts flour and water.  I then leave it at room temp for 4 to 6 hours and then refrigerate it. Then I bake with it within 3 days.  I don't thnk a "commercial" starter is necessarily any better.

Vogel's picture
Vogel

Generally, I agree. When I cultivated my own sourdough starter about 1 1/2 years ago the conditions were far from perfect or "controlled" in any way, yet I can easily forget it for more than a month and leave it in the refrigerator and it is still perfectly active when I feed it again. It may only take a few more feedings than usual before I can use it.
However, in my experience at least in the first few weeks of the life of a new sourdough starter it is important to feed it regularly, at least once a week, and then wash and maybe even sterilise the container everytime before putting it back into the refrigerator. Or else there is a high chance that it becomes mould-infested because the "good" microorganisms in the starter may not be strong enough yet to hold their population against "bad" ones like mould. After a while you don't have to be that careful anymore, of course.

Chuck's picture
Chuck

...putting it into my refrigerator...

Approximately what temperature is your refrigerator? (I've noticed that little dial inside the refrigerator often makes a really big difference. A household with a "cold freak" typically has a very different starter experience than a household where the milk spoils in a week. )