The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Can a Starter be Too Active?

OMyStarz's picture
OMyStarz

Can a Starter be Too Active?

Hi everyone,

I'm new to your forum and to starters/bread baking.  I've done a little bread machine baking (actually dough kneading) using commercial yeast and maybe a few loaves on my own with my KA mixer, but that's about it.  I've not had any total flops, so I guess up until now I've been pretty lucky.

I started a starter from scratch about 2 weeks ago.  "Bob" was born on 10/28 using bread flour and water.  Yesterday and today he has way over doubled in just a few hours after feeding.  I wouldn't say he tripled, but increased his volume somewhere between 2-1/2 to 3 times.

My question is this....is this normal for a 2 week old starter? 

Also yesterday, when I was washing out his jar I scraped out the tablespoon or so that was clinging to the jar and put it into another clean jar and fed.  After feeding again this morning I'd say this new jar of starter (to be named later) has doubled, 3 hours after feeding today I'd say there looks to be about a 1/2 cup in the jar. 

Does everything sound like it's going alright?  This is my first starter ever and I'm not sure how it's supposed to act at this stage.

 

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

...into thinking it's overactive.

If the cap is too tight, the pressure builds up inside the jar, making it seem like you have a very active starter–it'll seem to double and triple in no time under pressure.

If, when you open the jar, you can hear gas escaping, the jar is too tight.

OMyStarz's picture
OMyStarz

Thank you so much for your reply.  I'm not using a lid on my jar.  I have a paper towel doubled over with a rubber band securing it to the top of the jar. Hope that is a good way to do things, it wouldn't have the same effect as a jar lid would it?

Here's a picture, Bob is of course in the taller jar.  He's risen even a little higher than he was when I originally posted.  You can see where he started out this morning by my rubber band placement on the jar.

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

That's what my starter would achieve after 2-3 hours.

Don't be discouraged if it doesn't leaven bread that quickly, however. It might look really active in a jar, but you likely won't see that level of activity for dough. It'll easily take twice the time (or more) to leaven bread, even with a starter as active as Bob.

(Careful when/if you make a rye starter. That jar will be too small for a similar, original quantity. It'll overflow the jar.).

OMyStarz's picture
OMyStarz

Awesome! Thank you, I feel much better about things now.  I actually have a loaf rising (I hope) now.  In about 2 hours time it has risen a bit so I'm hopeful.  I just used a quick/easy recipe to see what he would do, I definitely appreciate the warning.

I used the jar you see in the picture because it was the biggest I had on hand at the time, tonight I'm taking a trip to town to hopefully acquire a few larger jars.  I would love to try a rye starter, but I will save that project until I get a handle on my current one.   My next undertaking will be to hopefully use Bob's younger brother to dry some starter and freeze it for emergencies.

OMyStarz's picture
OMyStarz

Oh and FYI....Bob and his smaller brother were both fed at 10am this morning, the picture above was taken at 2pm.

polo's picture
polo

My starter was very active like yours. Tripled in 3.5 hours at the most. This past week I started being very careful about the amount of starter I used compared to the water and flour I fed it.  In the past I  would guess that  I would feed 130 to 140 grams of starter with about the same amount of flour and again the same amount of water (1-1-1), once a day. That feeding schedule resulted  in the 3.5 hour peak. Now, while I still feed it once per day, my ratio is 1-2-2 and my starter seems to respond much more slowly. 

I guess that my point is, that the feeding schedule can change your results.

My starter turns one year old this month!

OMyStarz's picture
OMyStarz

Congratulations on your one year anniversary!

I've been feeding mostly once a day, too.  Generally about 9-10 am is when he is fed, but I have fed in the evening when he looked particularly hungry.  Thanks for the great information...I'm learning so much here. Do you keep yours on the counter all the time?  I'll bet your bread tastes wonderful after a year!

polo's picture
polo

I will keep my starter out and feed daily for a week at a time. I keep it in the fridge when not feeding daily. It has never been in the fridge for more than 10 days without feeding and I would say that it was never in the fridge during it's first two months of existance. I even took it on a trip with me once.

My starter and I are baking today as part of the month long birthday celebaration.

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

I am no expert here but I think I have read somewhere that you don't want to freeze or dry a starter that is as young as Bob.....give him time to grow up a bit and get stronger in the microbes that are fueling him.....not sure where I read this info. so it might be pure hog wash......Hopefully somebody more knowledgeable that I am will chime in or you can do a search.

I might have read it on sourdoughhome.com....

Janet

OMyStarz's picture
OMyStarz

Thanks for letting me know Janet. I'm new to this and don't understand everything that is going on with my starter yet so any bit of info is good to have.  I'll check it out.  Better to know now than after I try to freeze and it find out it fails. 

drdudidu's picture
drdudidu

I usually don't do that, and use the same jar again and again, and some dry old starter is stick to the edges - is it ok?

thomaschacon's picture
thomaschacon (not verified)

...but it does get rather disgusting after a while. 

I'd say that, as long as no off flavours or smells develop (indicating symbiosis or worse), you can use the same jar.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

OMyStarz,

It is a little unusual to be seeing such a frothy bubble structure in your starter, especially in such a short time. Could you answer a few questions so we can better understand what your situation is.

First, what does it smell like? Fruity, like bananas or apples or something good?
What is your feeding schedule and are you keeping it at room temperature?
What is your feeding flour? AP, Bread?
What is your feeding ratio of old starter to water to flour? Typically this would be expressed as 1:2:2. Meaning 20 grams of old starter mixed with 40 grams water and 40 grams flour. Or 10:20:20.

Bob looks to be what we call a "liquid starter" meaning the feeding is at 100% hydration or higher. The ratio I mentioned above is a 100% ratio. (identical amounts of water and flour by weight)

As long as it smells good I don't see any problem. Given you live in the South, your room temperatures are warm enough even now to keep the activity high.

Eric

OMyStarz's picture
OMyStarz

That's what was worrying me.  If Bob keeps going I'll have enough to fill in the cement pond in no time!

1) He has a rather pleasant sour smell.  Not beery, but pleasant with a sour kick.  I can't really compare it to anything in real life.

2) I am keeping it at room temperature which is around 75 or so in the daytime and 70-ish at night. I've been feeding at 10am(ish) in the mornings, only one feeding per day at first, but now it's turning into an am and pm feeding since he's so active.  I can see him fall by nightfall so I feed again for the overnight hours.

3) I am using only bread flour to feed.

4) Honestly, I was trying to keep a 1:1:1 ratio but sometimes I'm eyeballing the amount of starter I begin with.  I do measure the feeding at 1:1 because I'm trying to keep 100% hydration.  Last night I poured off 4 oz because I want to try and use it again today and that didn't leave a lot, so I probably fed at 1:2:2 hoping to build it up again.  Hope I'm making sense, I'm still trying to grasp this concept fully.

I have been trying to stay at 100% as I mentioned above simply because it was my understanding that it works well with most recipes. Actually we had a freeze last night so our temps are falling here in Georgia, I wonder if he'll slow down any as the cold weather continues to move in. 

Thanks so much for your input Eric, it is most appreciated.

ehanner's picture
ehanner

It's good that it has a pleasant aroma. Once the culture is established and has good strains that are dominate, you probably won't get the nasty smelling Leuconistic (sp). Trust me you would know it if you had it.If you ever see the liquid hooch in a layer on the bottom or midway, you have the crud and I would start over. You can feed through it but it smells so bad it will drive you from the kitchen.

There are many who feed at 100% hydration and for good reasons. It is easy to calculate how much of the starter amount is flour and how much is water. A lot of recipes call for 100% hydration starters. The amount of water makes it a "liquid" starter so it is characteristically more active looking. Now I'll tell you why I don't feed at 100% or 1:1.

Over the years, I have come to believe that feeding at a lower hydration is better for me. First, I start by discarding all but 40 grams of the old starter. To this I add 80 grams water and stir with a single beater of a hand mixer to break up the lump and make a slurry. To the slurry I add 100 grams of flour and mix well with a spoon. That works out to be 1:2:2.5 and results in a slightly firm starter. I like a firm starter because there is a higher percentage of food for the beasties. If I get distracted and forget to feed it at one of the 2 daily feedings, there is enough food available to keep it happy for a day. If I know I'm not going to bake for a week or don't know when I will next need it, the firm feeding gives the boys some reserves while chilling for as long as 2 weeks. I have baked after my firm starter has set for as long as 2 weeks. By that time it has an acetone smell but that's normal and when you go back to room temp feedings it will quickly recover a pleasant smell.

If you use a 1:1:1 ratio, you are not requiring the effort from the population that you are with a smaller inoculation. The amount of work and food available is much higher when you start with a smaller amount, so it will last longer. There is 2-1/2 times more food available to the old culture the way I do it. So, I am training them to be vigorous eaters.

The sour or tang you taste is the result of the population of the culture and what you allow them to do. An overnight retarded ferment favors the bacteria that create lactic and acidic acids while yeasts will be dormant at the cool temps.  So, the feeding schedule and living environment influences the make up of the population and thus the potential to create the acids.  I use the firm starter as if it were a liquid version and make a minor adjustment with the water.  Hope this helps.

Eric

Maverick's picture
Maverick

For me, 2 weeks has always been the youngest age I can make a decent loaf of bread. I would say that it looks normal for a healthy 2 week old starter. As Eric said above, it would be helpful to know a little more. He has asked some great questions. I would add that if you are up for giving a small taste before the next feeding (just taste a little of the discard). It should taste sour. It should not be unpleasant. Not everyone is up for tasting the raw sourdough, but I find the smell to be misleading sometimes. Speaking of smell, another possibility for smell would be like beer, alcohol, acetone/nail polish remover, or vomit (I highly doubt that a starter of that age would smell of vomit, but just putting it out there).

Eric mentioned the feeding schedule. Time and amounts are good, but I am also curious as to the physical characteristics you look for before feeding. E.g., do you wait for it to just start to fall? fall a certain amount? just go by time? All these questions are more to understand your starter and your process than it really is to answer your initial question. I would say that some would argue that you can have an overactive starter that will always need to be fed large quantities. I am not one of those people. I believe in keeping the yeast happy to have the most leavening power. I have never seen a starter raise dough too fast.

OMyStarz's picture
OMyStarz

Thanks for posting Maverick. 

I'm a taster!  I have already tasted my starter on my own, I wondered at the time if anyone else would do that or if it was just me.  It did taste sour and it was not unpleasant at all.  Like I mentioned above, I don't think my starter has a smell like beer, but just rather a pleasant smell with hint of sharpness.  I can't think of a thing in real life to compare it to.  Maybe my husband's unbiased nose can help me out.

I have been waiting for the starter to fall all the way, or close to all the way back down before feeding.  I don't really go by time, I've been glancing at it during the day and noting the progress.

I actually made a loaf of bread yesterday with a sponge I made the night before, as well as an attempt at 1-2-3 bread that I saw here that turned into a pan of rolls.  I was totally impressed that Bob raised both of them admirably!  I may have baked the bread a tad prematurely, but the rolls sat out a bit longer and puffed up quite a bit more than I expected.  I was also surprised to find that there was a distinct sour taste to the bread.  My husband said it was what you would expect to taste in sourdough.  I had read that it takes a starter quite a while to acquire the sour-ness, perhaps that is wrong? 

I was very pleased with the bread, it tastes wondeful and has a nice texture.  I was so excited I took pictures, like a proud mommy I guess.

Maverick's picture
Maverick

A sharp sourness sounds good to me. I know what you mean by not being able to describe the taste. I remember getting a starter a while back and when I reconstituted it there was definitely a beer smell. But the ones I make have that unique smell that I can only describe as a sourdough starter smell. If I let it go as long as you do, then there is definitely more of an alcohol type of smell that I would guess is the sharpness you describe. I have to run now, but had more to say... maybe later. Glad the bread worked out. You took pictures, so now you have to post them :)

Maverick's picture
Maverick

Out of curiosity, what made you choose to wait until the the starter falls all the way down (or close)? I ask because your original question was about the vigor of your starter.

What are the goals you are trying to reach in starter maintenance? That is to say are you looking for a more vigorous starter with lots of lifting power (i.e. favoring yeast), or a more sour flavor, or a more milde flavor, etc?