The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

the more I learn, the less I know...

edh's picture
edh

the more I learn, the less I know...

Hi all,

Just when you think you're getting the hang of something... I've been playing around with a sourdough starter for a couple of months now, and all of a sudden, as of yesterday, everything seems to be going pfffft. No spring, too sour taste - where did my nice poofy loaves go?

I'm not aware of having changed anything obvious, but I'm starting to wonder about my feeding schedule. I keep the starter on the counter (except when we go away for a weekend), and feed it twice a day. The problem is, I'm not sure that I'm feeding it far enough in advance of using it. I usually start a loaf or two in the evening, and feed the leftover starter then. In the morning I'll dump a bit out and feed it again, then start again that afternoon/evening. If I'm not starting a loaf that evening, I just leave it alone.

So I guess my question is; what is far enough in advance, and what is too far? I wish I could show pics, but haven't advanced that far in the tech world. The starter, up until now, has been very active; it usually doubles in 2-3 hours. It's a batter consistency, and I'm keeping about 1/4 cup at a time, feeding roughly 1:1:1.

Any thoughts would be deeply appreciated! I'm so sad; I was getting very fond of my pet in a jar...

edh

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Edh,

If it doubles in 2-3 hours after a 1:1:1 feeding, it will be very ripe in 12 hours. I know people keep them on the counter and feed in this way, but it seems like you would build up a heavy acid load and pH and make it difficult for the organisms in the culture to thrive or even stay alive. I wonder if warmer "room" temperatures as spring comes around are contributing to the problem, also. I would suggest feeding it more like 1:4:4 or thereabouts, if you are going to feed it twice per day, although I'm not that experienced with keeping a culture at room temperature for long periods.

I'm still a big fan of refrigerating a starter whenever you aren't using it. You can still take it out of the refrigerator and feed it at room temperature maybe 1:2:2 a couple of times in a row during one day, doing that once per week or so, but I don't even do that with mine. I find it's not a problem to go weeks in the refrigerator without feeding it, especially if I thicken it up even just a little bit for storage. You also use very little flour if you only refresh and build up the starter when you want to bake. There may be flavor and starter health benefits to refrigerating the culture periodically, too. I don't understand why, but my new starters seem to pick up steam if they are refrigerated overnight and then fed the next day. Fermentation at cold temperatures may add flavors, too. I think mine tastes better when I leave it in the refrigerator overnight, although I haven't done a "blind tasting".

Meanwhile, the way I would bring a starter back would be to feed it a fairly high ratio, like 1:4:4, let it sit for 12 hours, refrigerate for 12 hours, and repeat this until it picks up, then feed it 1:2:2 every 6 hours once or twice, then refrigerate for storage. I've had good results with that procedure at least a few times.

By the way, all those ratios above are by weight. If you are using 1:1:1 by volume, that's more like 2:1:2 (starter:flour:water) by weight, which would be even less of a ratio of expansion of the culture every 12 hours.

Bill

syllymom's picture
syllymom

I'm still pretty new to sourdough.  I did some last summer and then stopped until now and made a new starter.  What I have been doing is  when I mix up some dough I dump all my starter in a bowl (roughly just under a cup worth) but I don't scrap out the jar... I leave the stuff that hangs on and then mix in around 1/4 or 1/2 cup of flour and enough water and that seems to take it to the next day to make another loaf.  (granted my loafs are not huge as I'm learning but I figure once I understand more and want to make more than one at a time I will have to increase the amount of starter I leave behind.) 

Like I said, I'm new to sourdough and I don't know if what I am doing is really 'correct' but so far seems to be working. 

So when you fed your starter did bubble and rise at all? 

edh's picture
edh

I won't pretend I understand all this completely, but the three replies you all just sent made a tiny bulb flicker in my muddy mind. I've been saving quite a lot of starter, but am still measuring by volume (hoping to get scales soon), so I suspect I've been starving the poor little dear. How awful! (the bread was pretty awful, too)

Bill, I'd love to refrigerate, as I've been worried about warmer weather. We only get a week or so of that here, but still... When you keep a starter in the fridge, do you have to take it out 2 days before baking to feed it up, or can you take it out in the morning, feed it a couple of times, then make up your dough that evening?

This is all a bit overwhelming, trying to hold so many variables in my head at once; I suppose that's why my husband keeps telling me to write down what I'm doing. duh.

Thanks,

edh

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Edh,

I know there are a lot of ways to do this, and this is just what I've come around to over a couple of years of sourdough maintenance - not 20 years, like some around this site who may chime in, hopefully.

The answer to how many feedings is a function of how long it has been in the refrigerator. Let's say I feed my already fully active starter at 1:2:2. It would rise by double in about 4 hours. If I then refrigerate it, it could actually be used as is right out of the refrigerator in a recipe for about 3 days after that. After a week, I would typically feed it 1:2:2, wait about 5 hours, and it would be nice and ready to use right away, or it could be refrigerated and again would probably be usable as is right out of the refrigerator for another 3 days. If the starter has been in the refrigerator for 2 weeks, it takes two refreshments to get it fully active. For example, after two weeks, I might feed it 1:2:2, wait about 6-7 hours for it to double, feed it again 1:2:2, and wait only 4 hours for it to double. After three weeks or more, I find it can take as much as three feedings of 1:2:2 in a row to get it to the point where it doubles in 4 hours or less.

I only bake about every two weeks, so for me there is always a day of refreshing the starter and building up starter for breads that use liquid starter directly, a day of baking those breads that use starter directly in the bread and building of any intermediate recipe starters, and a day of baking those breads that use intermediate starters. Each night, all the above would be in the refrigerator in my case. I see little downside to the refrigeration. If anything it should improve the flavors. It does require a little more planning and is a little less conducive to total impulse baking, but when you get into a routine, the actual amount of time spent on those intermediate steps is not great. Also, if you bake more often, then you can keep a certain amount of starter ready to go at any time, if you want.

I suppose there is an argument that there is no downside to feeding a couple of times per week and refrigerating in between. Then you would always have usable starter, yet you would be feeding much less frequently (than if you maintain it on the counter).

I would have a hard time getting everything done in one day, as you describe above. For example, let's say you took the starter out in the morning at 7:00am after two weeks. According to my schedule above, you would feed 1:2:2 and wait 6 hours for it to double, then feed again 1:2:2 and wait about 4 hours. It's would be about 5:30PM, counting some time to do the feedings. At that point, you could mix a dough, wait 3 hours for bulk fermentation, shape and wait 2 hours for final proof. It would be now 11:00PM, counting some time for mixing and shaping. You'd be done baking before midnight, but that's a tough schedule, as far as I'm concerned.

My version is something more like take starter out and feed 1:2:2 at 10:00AM (day 1), wait 7 hours, feed again 1:2:2, wait 4 hours, then refrigerate the starter (enough to make plenty of breads next day, with two expansions of 5x). Next day (day 2), 9:00 AM mix and knead, bulk fermentation 3 hours, shape, final proof 2 hours, bake - maybe that all takes a total of 7.5 hours, so I'm done baking at 4:30 PM. In the meantime, I also built and allowed to rise and refrigerated, some "firm starters", as in the miche recipe or BBA basic sourdough or the like. The following day (day 3), I would have a similar schedule to make my miche or basic sourdough-like breads.

I freeze all these breads after they've cooled and I've sliced them into chunks that will last a couple of days.

To me the above is a very workable routine, but everyone has their own schedule, tolerance for waiting, need for spontaneity, tolerance for planning ahead, and whatnot.

Bill

edh's picture
edh

Bill,

Thank you so much! I can see I have a lot of reading to do, but I've got my requests in to our local library for several of the books I've read about here.

I had no idea you could use a starter right out of the refrigerator, if it had been fed regularly. I thought it had to warm up and be fed again before any use. So far all my attempts have included an overnight bulk fermentation, with shaping and final proofing the next day. If I time it right, I often get bread in time for lunch. Most of my baking is in small (one or two loaves) batches, every couple of days, so your method sounds perfect to me.

One more question, if I may; do you wait until it bubbles to put it in the fridge, or just feed it and put it right away?

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Hi Edh,

The only way I've ever done it is to feed it, usually 1:2:2, but I think almost any ratio would work, and then let it rise by double, then refrigerate. Sourdough-guy and others on this site have clearly had good results from much higher feeding ratios. Anyway, I would wait for it to double, which when it is really vigorous and fresh, takes a little less than 4 hours at 72F. I've read in "The Bread Builders" that you could wait less time, and then have it be fresh several days later. In other words, if you put it in the refrigerator when it has less than doubled, you could take it out maybe 4-5 days later, and it would still be ready to go. Srishti mentioned feeding the starter, letting it sit at room temp for 1 hour, then using it about 1 week later. However, then if you take it out the very next day, you probably would have to let it rise for a while more to be ready. If you get familiar with your starter's aroma when it is at it's best, you can tell if it needs more time, or if it is "past it's prime". Of course, that smell will be somewhat different if it is just out of the refrigerator and cold, as opposed to warmer, since different volatile compounds evaporate more readily at different temperatures. Also, the doubling rule works for me with KA bread flour or KA AP flour and with 1:1 by weight consistency. You would need to adjust your rule to account for the consistency of the starter you are using. For example a weaker flour might not rise by double at the same stage of the life cycle of the culture as mine does. Or, if you have a very wet starter, it might not rise very much at all, in which case you need to use the aroma and bubbles to tell what's going on. The point is that if you put your starter in the refrigerator a little before it is completely ripe, by whatever signs you use (bubbles, aroma, amont of rise), it will have time to develop in the refrigerator for a period of time, and will still be ready to use for a couple of days without feeding it.

You can then play a little bit with water temperature of the water going into your dough to get the starter, flour and water to be at about 75-80F for getting your dough to a good final temperature, but be careful not exceed about 90F water temp - check it with a thermometer (I use 50/50 hot and cold out of my water cooler machine). I've had little disasters with overly hot water added to my cold starter.

Or, the short answer is feed 1:2:2, let it rise by double in about 4 hours, then refrigerate, then use starter straight out of the refrigerator over the next two, maybe three days. Your mileage will almost certainly be different, but hopefully will be similar enough to get your routine worked out how you want it.

Bill

bluesbread's picture
bluesbread

Here's the sequence of events: 1) Take starter out of fridge 2) let it warm up to room temp 3) add flour and water 4) (if you don't have enough yet for your recipe)allow it to turn bubbly, then repeat step 3 until you do have enough to use in your recipe and to put away for next time 5) take out the amount you need for recipe and start mixing up the dough. Meanwhile, put the rest back in the fridge.

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Bluesbread,

I agree with your summary, only I would add that you can refrigerate the "amount you need for the recipe" for a couple of days and use to make bread straight out of the refrigerator at a later time.

That makes a big difference in convenience sometimes. You don't have to feed and build the amount of starter you will use in a recipe on the same day you use the starter in a recipe to bake your bread.

Bill

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Edh,

I just wrote a couple of blog entries about Sourdough Ciabatta and Sourdough Raisin Focaccia. It shows the use of overnight refrigeration of a "recipe starter" there. I build the amount of starter I want one day, letting it ripen, i.e. rise and get bubbly, then refrigerate it overnight, take it out the next day and put it right into a dough. You can think of the flour and water added when making the dough as the feeding of the refrigerated starter. As long as the starter is only a couple of days old, it will wake up and work with little difference in timing to doing it all at room temperature with no refrigeration in between.

Bill

edh's picture
edh

I fed the started a couple of times yesterday, discarding all but about a tablespoon each time, then put it in the fridge last night. Took it out this morning and it's starting to look a little better, though still not it's old incredibly active self. I'll leave it out today and feed it several times to see if things get going again.

I suppose this is what I get for being so cocky; it all seemed so easy for a while there! On the other hand, I got BBA out of the library yesterday; first time I've seen it other than a look through at the bookstore-wow! One of the first things I read, somewhere in the first 20 pages, was his observation that a rise of 17 degrees F will double the speed of yeast action. The average temp in my kitchen all winter is about 60 F, but in the last 2-3 weeks, as we've been cooking off maple syrup, it's been about 76 F for many hours at a time. oops.

thanks again, you've been a huge help!

I told my husband I was going through yeast withdrawal, so there's a batch of bagel dough rising now. I got so caught up in the sourdough thing, I sort of forgot about regular yeast...

edh

edh's picture
edh

Sourdoughguy,

I didn't mean to say that Reinhart's rule applied literally to my situation; it was more of an after the fact observation that I jumped the ambient temperature rather abruptly and steeply, but didn't increase the frequency of feedings at all, in fact paid no attention to the change until everything fell apart on me. Your responses are helping me put it all together again!

edh