The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help with my starter

XtremDough's picture

Help with my starter

Hey guys,

I'm new here and new to sourdough. I've been reading a lot of advice here. I tried a starter from flour and water, and while there was a very small amount of bubbling and now nasty smells - it never really got going. Only a few tiny bubbles every appeared on its surface and while it didn't smell bad, it never really got going at all. 

I then tried a grape based starter, which was wonderful. After 4 days, the grapes were very lively with bubbles, I added flour and it was foamy and wonderful. I then added more flour and water until the total weight was around 500g - and this rose to a very lively and foamy peak after about 5 hours. But then, I took half the mixture away and added in flour (100g) and water (150g) to make it back up to 500g - and suddenly there was very little response. No bubbling, no foaming and what looked like a thick layer of hooch developed with a scum of flour on top of it.

I have been using tap water, which in the UK where I live is hard water. Is this possibly the cause? I've just added some vinegar to the starter, while doubling it, and will see if that has any effect... but I'm wondering whether I'll have to use bottled water after all, for my starters in future.

Thanks in advance for your help.


pmccool's picture

Getting a new sourdough starter up and running can be a delightful and exasperating exercise, sometimes at the same time!  Just about every new starter has an extremely active phase in the first 3-4 days which, if you haven't been down that road before, can trick you into thinking that your new starter is ready to go.  Then that extremely active phase is typically followed by an apparently inactive phase, which can also trick you into thinking that your new starter has died.  Neither conclusion is correct.  The active phase is driven by one or several strains of bacteria, not yeast, so it can't successfully leaven your bread.  The following "dead" phase is the province of some different strains of bacteria, but still no yeast action.  It usually takes a few more days for the pH of the starter to fall far enough to trigger the emergence of the yeasts and the lactobacilli that we treasure in our starters.

Rather than giving you a blow-by-blow account, let me refer you to Debra Wink's The Pineapple Juice Solution.  Ms. Wink has written a very helpful explanation of what is going on in a starter in Part 1, which is the link that I have provided.  Please read it in its entirety.  Although lengthy, there is a wealth of information available.  That article also contains a link to Part 2 which, in addition to some additional starter-related information, has a "how to start a starter" tutorial that has been extremely reliable for a large number of beginning sourdough enthusiasts.

Best of luck with your new starter and your eventual sourdough breads.


bobku's picture

My started has been going great for about a month and a half now. I have noticed whenever make a major change to my starter its slows down to the point that I think I've killed it. I have switch flours from white to whole wheat and back again I've also switched from 100% hydration to 50%. when I switch it slows down for about 3 or 4 days then suddenly explodes. Sometimes I think we need to be a little patient and wait at least a week before we start coming to conclusions. That might be what's happening to you

Aussie Pete's picture
Aussie Pete

 2 weeks ago I began a new starter.  We have our warmer spring season so now is a good time as I can just leave the starter on  the kitchen bench in a glass jar with a couple of holes punched in the lid so it can breathe.

Day 1 Originally I mixed to a slurry 50grms of white bakers flour, 50 grms of wholemeal spelt flour and 100 grms of unsweetened pineapple juice.

Day 2 I added 50 grms of white bakers flour with 50 grms of unsweetened pineapple juice. No spelt this time.

Day 3  I now took out half of the starter(no sign of life as yet but day 3 is early) and fed another 50 grms of both of white bakers flour + pineapple juice. Instead of throwing out the excess starter I began another one but feeding it 50 grms of  both W/meal spelt flour + pineapple juice. 

Day 4 I now have small bubbles appearing along the sides of both jars and on top of the surface. I was confident we were under way knowing that the mix was not yet ready to begin baking with. Another feed repeating day 3 but throwing away the excess insteading of starting another colony of yeast starter.

Day 5. We have lift off. The first starter grew over night to a point where it came out of the holes in the jar lid. It is a bubbling thriving mass of sourdough starter. The 2nd mass also grew but it is in a bigger jar. I will now go back to feeding this 2nd jar one white bakers flour with the occassional spelt flour feed for a different flavour and approach.  From now on I am replaceing the pineapple juice with water.  Since it was so alive I decided  to bake.

150 grms of the original white starter.

400 grms of white bakers flour

50 grms of W/meal spelt flour

300 grms of luke warm water

10 grms of salt.

This mix was placed in my bread baker and set on the knead only setting. When the cyle stopped I turned the machine off and let the dough rise for another hour as S/Dough starter is slower to rise than instant dried yeast.

I then removed the dough from it's kneading basket and divided it into two on a floured surface. I gave both a small stretch and fold and shaped the dough to place in a traditional bread loaf tin. They were then left to proof for the next 6 hours and cooked at 200 Degrees for 40 minutes.  The result was 2 X 500grms sourdough loaves, my best to date.

Although a more mature taste has yet to come from the  starter I was surprised at such an early success from such a  young starter that is only 1 week old. The crumb was light in texture and taste with a chewy crust. I am looking forward to the future when age will give a lot more taste. My next loaves will be made on the 2nd starter that has been fed the spelt flour. I have created this 2nd starter chasing I hope variations in bread flavour. From next week the starters  will live in the fridge being removed for feeding once a week. The excess will be fed and brought to room teperature for baking with.

I have a camera but I am not confident as yet for downloading any photos. I must learn this trick.

2nd bake off at 2 week old starter

This recipe is based on my 2nd starter fed on W/meal spelt flour. 

150 grms of Spelt fed starter.      

100grms of spelt W/meal flour

525grms of bakers white flour

12grms salt

25grms Extra virgin olive oil.

375grms of filtered tap water luke warm.


This mix was placed in my bread baker and set on knead only cycle . When the knead cycle stopped I placed the dough in a large oiled bowl and let double in size. I then turned the dough out onto a floured surface and cut it into two equal portions.

 I gave both a small stretch and fold and shaped the dough to place in a traditional bread loaf tin. They were then left to proof for the next 6 hours and cooked at 200 Degrees for 40 minutes.  The result was 2 X 600grms sourdough loaves. Although a very nice bread to eat with a lovely mild earthy flavour from the spelt flour I have a minor problem.

When the bread is cut I held a slice up and noticed that the bottom half of the crumb is very dense with very small pockets or holes and no light coming through the crumb. This is what I wanted. However the top half of the loaf the air pockets are larger and the crumb is a lot lighter with lots of light able to come through the crumb. This I didn't want. It's almost like I have a ciabatta crumb and a sandwich crumb in one loaf. Is this correct or is my kneading cycle on my machine not doing it's job properly. Is there  something in the proofing not happening that I need to know? Should I go back to a hand knead method on my dough?

Any help out there please?.....Cheers......Aussie Pete.