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Starter Sex / Contact High?

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alpinegroove's picture
alpinegroove

Starter Sex / Contact High?

My starter, prepared using the Tartine method, was fine for months. Last week, it suddenly stopped rising after being fed. For about a week, I discarded and fed it daily, but to no avail. No rise at all.
About a week later, I was given a small amount of powerful starter from a local bakery. That night, I fed both starters and placed them next to one another on the counter, covered with a towel. In the morning, despite the relatively cold temperatures overnight (~50F), my original starter doubled and seemed stronger than ever before. It has been very vibrant ever since.

Can this be attributed to the fact that it was placed next to the powerful starter I got from the bakery?
I have heard of starters being contaminated by vinegar mother in the same room, but can the opposite happen too? Can a weak starter be invigorated by strong bacteria / yeast traveling from an adjacent jar?   

There are two other possible explanations for the change in my original starter that night:
1. It was colder than usual for the season. Can it be that my starter prefers colder temperatures? It has always lived on the counter, and the temperatures here have been 60-80F.
2. That night, following advice I received on this forum, I did not discard any starter. I fed it without discarding.

I am curious to hear your thoughts about this.
Thank you.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

How many insects do you have flying/crawling around your kitchen at night?  :)

I think just because things happen at the same time does not mean that they're related.  The timing of feeding and temperature are more related and #2 would have my support.  Cold starters move very slowly.  If you rush a cold starter feeding it before it has a chance to build up enough beasties, the risk of diluting the starter exists.  Give it a little more time and a few beasts will soon populate the starter enough for you to see the result. 

I just remembered I parked a freshly fed rye starter in a cold room  15°C for 24 hours just to slow it down for today's bake.  I didn't want to feed it again.  I gotta go check on it... and it is fine, like an overnight (10 hr) refreshed starter.  Time to throw a loaf together.  :)

 

FoodFascist's picture
FoodFascist

Hi Mini,

just wanted to ask, how ripe is your rye starter before you mix rye dough? I tend to use my wheat starter 4-5 hours after feeding, at which stage it'll be bubbly and active (my kitchen temperature is usually around 20-22 C). But with my rye starter, I wait approx 10-12 hrs after feeding, at which stage it'll have fallen and is hungry. I'm not sure why I do it this way, and whether this is the right thing to do?

Many thanks in advance.

And apologies to alpine for hijacking the thread!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Mine was still risen and I knocked it down with a spoon, tore it open and large bubbles were inside.  Rye can maintain a dome for quite some time even when the inside falls.  That is if it's mixed firm, or a bit stiffer than 1oo% hydration.  I wanted to make sure it had enough food when I fed it.   It smelled ripe, not too sour but sour enough.  If there isn't enough aroma, I let it ferment longer.   One has to be flexible with starters when the seasons are changing.   I let the aroma of the starter guide me.  I also like it to still be a bit bubbly.  

If you have a pattern in feeding and growing starters and it works for you, you do it while it probably works well for the flavour you prefer.     

FoodFascist's picture
FoodFascist

thanks. Now you said that, I keep my starter at 100% hydration, but it does usually form a little "crust" on the top.

Yeah sure flexibility is key. The problem for me though is that I've only been baking ryes for a few months so haven't quite got the hang of it yet. The difficulty I come across at this stage is that rye doughs are soooo differen't from wheat, with wheat it's easy to see when it's risen, when it fell, when the dough is underproofed/overproofed, etc. With rye, I don't really know what to go by, apart from how high it's risen, and even that is hard to judge because I proof my dough in a non-transparent, cup-shaped bowl.

as to the starter, mine usually smells very sour by the stage I get round to feeding or using it. Short of inventing a way to transmit smell by Internet, I've no way of knowing how similar it is to the way your starter smells when ripe :)

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

ff,

I am no expert on sd - rye especially- but a trick I learned here to help judge when a rye sour is ripe is that of sprinkling some flour on top of the sour.  As you have probably discovered, rye starters do not rise like wheat ones.  When sprinkled with flour the top of the starter will begin to spread and the flour shows that well....looks like it is full of cracks.  As the starter continues to ripen, the cracks grow wider and wider.  The trick is to catch them before they begin to close down again which indicates that the starter is beginning to fall and is ready for another feed or to be used in a dough.

Janet

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Another method I often use is just to bang the bottom of the jar or large coffee cup on a place matt or oven hot pad (not a hard surface) and let the shock waves knock the gas out of the starter.  If it doesn't fall or react in any way, let it ferment longer.  

Mini

FoodFascist's picture
FoodFascist

Wow that's an interesting one Mini, thanks a lot!

Janet, I'm a bit confused - if we only feed or use the starter when it's beginning to fall, or has fallen, then why catch it before the cracks begin to close which is before it's fallen?

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

ff,

Good question....my answer - I don't really know :-)  I have just read here that there are many ways to use a starter.

Some like to use them before they are completely ripe.

Some like  to use them just as they ripen.

Some like to use them after they have ripened and have fallen a bit.

Only thing I can surmise is that people customize according to the flavor they are trying to achieve.....more sour the longer it sits BUT then if you use a sour before it has completely risen - the final feed will take longer and seems to me one would then get a more sour sour....

I am really, really, really new and inexperienced in working with rye.  My tip about the flour was just a guideline that I had read about here that I have used - mostly it lets me know that the wee beasties are active when I see cracks - otherwise my rye starters look like they aren't doing much compared to my ww starter...

Sorry to have added my confusion to your confusion :-0.  Hopefully someone better versed in rye behavior will step in here and straighten us both out!

Take Care,

Janet

FoodFascist's picture
FoodFascist

Um. That makes sense! thanks Janet.