The Fresh Loaf

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New To Sourdough, new to Starter, Please Help!

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midumont's picture
midumont

New To Sourdough, new to Starter, Please Help!

Hi everyone, I am new to sourdough, and I recently made my own starter from a recipe I had in a book.  I made a loaf from it early this week and it was good! Mild, but I understand that's due mostly to the immaturity of my starter.  My issue is this, my starter is very wet.  I can stir it together and it is the consistency of a heavy syrup.  I've seen pictures of starter and I assumed it would hold together more, be like a soft dough.  Is there something wrong with my starter? Or is this how it should be?  Also, I have it in a Gallon jar to give it room, (which is way too big, I know!) I get about an inch of sugar alcohol on the top.  No weird colors, pink, green, or orange, and it smells just a little fermented, not rotten... Please let me know if these are normal for starter.  Thanks in advance!

If it helps, this is the recipe I used.

  • 1 (.25 ounce) package active dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
Mix together in a non-metal bowl and cover loosely, let ferment for 4-6 days.  Then refrigerate, letting come to room temp before using and replacing any starter you use with equal amounts of flour and sugar.  If starter is unused for more than a few days, feed the starter with equal, small amounts of flour and water.
MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

That recipe for starter will give you one with a consistency similar to pancake batter.  There is nothing wrong with that.  If you want it to be more like dough, add only one cup of water with the two cups of flour.  It would be better if you got into the habit of weighing the ingredients, but if you are happy with your results then don't worry about weighing things just yet.

Now as to what you are culturing: it isn't exactly sourdough.  It is what I thought was sourdough 30 years ago, because a cookbook I bought on sourdough called it that.  It makes lovely bread, but it is not really sourdough.  True sourdough is made of wild yeasts and lactic acid bacteria.  The bacteria are what give sourdough its tangy flavor.  Your culture may grow some wild yeast in time, but right now it is mostly commercial yeast.  Wild yeasts are better adapted to the acidic conditions that are produced by the lactic acid bacteria.  As your culture develops more lactic acid bacteria, the commercial yeast will die off and hopefully wild yeast will begin to grow.  As this happens, your culture will not make the bread rise as well.  This is normal.  Wild yeasts do not make bread rise as fast as commercial yeast.  They taste better, though, in my opinion.

raqk8's picture
raqk8

Yeah, you really need to cut down on the water you are using. Flour weighs about half as much as water per volume, and it's fairly common practice to use equal weights of flour to water.

As for the liquid on top, it may be something to do with the fact that you are using a commercial yeast starter instead of a wild yeast one. Wild yeast starters are made with just flour and water. They take some extra time to grow, yes, but will be much more satisfactory in the long run. Anyway, I used to get that when I had a commercially yeasted starter (and never got a sour flavor, to boot), but since I grew my wild yeast starter, I haven't had that problem a single time. I have no idea if this is actually what's causing the sugar alcohol on top, it's just what I've noticed.

Good luck with your starter!

Raquel @ OvenmittsBlog.com

clazar123's picture
clazar123

The "hootch" on top means it has run out of food and is hungry. I don't know what recipe you used but if it is uses a commercial yeast to start it, the comments above apply. Commercial yeast does not have the longevity to maintain itself as a starter. Kind of like the fruit fly of the yeast world (fruit flies just live 1 day, I believe).Wild yeasts found in most starters are more able to sustain themselves long-term.

 Most of the recipes that use cups of flour for starter are meant to be used almost every day. If you are baking once a week or every other week, you can scale that down to much more manageable levels. Otherwise you will have an olympic swimming pool full of starter!

  • Take about 2-3 TBSP of the starter and put it into a wide mouth quart jar.I cover the jar with a paper coffee filter and rubberband to keep out the fruit flies-they love this stuff! 
  • Add about the same amount of flour and enough water to make a thick pancake batter consistency. Don't worry about weighing and measuring just yet. Stir and leave on the kitchen counter or if your kitchen is under 70F then maybe on top of the refrigerator (just don't forget it!).
  • Twice a day, stir it, and add a bit more flour (maybe a TBSP) and water to keep the same consistency. You are stirring around the yeasts that are naturally present on the flour and in the air to expose them to more food and air. It should become bubbly within a few days.
  • When you start seeing bubbles or rising (it might be immediately since you have some active yeast present already), start discarding half and then adding about the same amount of flour and water back to keep a nice thick batter-like consistency.Make pancakes from the discard or add it to anything you bake-it will improve the flavor. 
  • It will eventually start consistently rising in the jar.  Initially the lactobacillus may thrive and they bubble a lot so you have a really active rise.But they are not yeast-they are weak bread risers. At this stage the yeast are still in smaller numbers but growing.  People get fooled at this point and think they have a dud starter. Keep the discard/feeding going and you will see a slower more steady rise starting. The smell may change to a more beer-y, yeasty smell. Nail polish smell may mean they need more stirring and more food for a few days. Kind of like a kid going thru a growth spurt-they eat you out of house and home!
  • The purpose of discarding is to "clean the cage". The starter accumulates the waste products of the yeasties eating. Keeping the level down helps keep them healthy. One of the ways of improving the health of any starter is to "wash" it by heavily discarding (keeping only 1 tbsp of starter) and higher percentages of clean flour/water through several days of feedings. I've had to do this a few times when starters went a little "off".

When you start to bake with it, the starter you pull off becomes the "discard" and you just feed as usual. If you want to build up more starter for a big bake, just add a little more flour each feeding. Maintenance can be on the counter or in the refrigerator (once the colony is well-established).

You will get all kinds of advice that seems different/opposite. It's like child rearing advice-do what works for you and disregard the rest. But try something new once in a while to learn new things. The main thing is to get baking-often and with notes so you learn what does work for you.

Have delicious fun!

midumont's picture
midumont

Everyone's comments are so helpful! Thank you for your support, I'm planning to do some baking with the current discard and "wash" the remainder as described above! I may have to start all over since I used a commercial yeast, but I'm hoping that heavily washing my starter will do the trick! Thanks again!

Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

I mixed my 1/4 cup starter with distilled water at 110-degrees.  I added it to my flour and salt.  The dough did not rise in my Boyd & Taylor set at 78-degrees after 8 hours.  I mixed back into the batter a new 1/4 cup of starter and rekneaded it.  It rose beautifully.  I think I killed the first yeast addition.  What is the best temperature for water when mixing with starter.  My starter was the fresh one I bought on Breadtopia and it's very alive in my jar on the kitchen counter.

Stu B

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

If 110°F (43.3°C)  that is too hot.  If you can't hold your hand in it, it's too hot for your starter culture.

How did you come up with 110°F?  Why not something closer to your desired 78°F?  If your flour is cold and the hot water was to bring up the temperature of the dough, stir it into the flour first before adding the starter.

Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

Of course 110-degrees would not be healthy for starter yeasts.  What was I thinking?  They flourish on my kitchen counter at 68-70 degrees.  I don't know why I thought of using 110.  

Love thefreshloaf.  Stu

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

Possibly you were remembering a recipe with a step which included scalding the liquid beforehand, but forgot the part about letting it cool before adding the yeast?

clazar123's picture
clazar123

I was getting ahead of myself. "Washing" is what you do when you have an undesirable organism trying to take over an established culture. You first need to develop an established culture. I would continue feeding and discarding the starter you have (waste not-want not) and over a weeks time (or 2), you will develop it's unique culture that will be sustainable. The commercial yeasts will die out and natural ones will take their place, along with the lactobacilli needed to maintain the sourness of the starter. Just keep going. Remember that yeasts like a lot of the same conditions people like-same bathwater temp you'd like, your yeast likes.You like to eat regularly and have a clean environment and so does the yeast. There are a lot of posts and how-to's on feeding. Get as precise or loose about it as you want. I don't sweat it as I'm baking for myself-often without a recipe. When you get to know how the ingredients behave, you can be successful at this but it is hard to share recipes.

 

Have fun!

Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

Just returned from the kitchen store with my new clay bread baking cloche.  I seasoned the base and it's coming up to 500-degrees.  I hope that my bread has an oven push and doesn't stick to the base of the cloche.  I will see in an hour or so.  I only have time on weekends to attmept sourdoughs.  If it fails I have to wait another week.....so far I have made 2 door stops.

stu

Stuart Borken's picture
Stuart Borken

 I slashed it with a lame'. The bread came off the base of the seasoned cloche. There was not much of an oven rise, but, I'll correct that next time.  The markings from the baneton were nice and the slashes opened a little.  This is a work in progress.  Off to feed my starter.  Whew!

Stu

midumont's picture
midumont

At least, so far... I baked a second round today after several days of heavy feeding. The "hootch" has all but disappeared, thanks for the tip! I've left it out of the fridge as I knew I planned to bake, and my bread turned out great! Soft, chewy, sour, everything I'd hoped for. Took much longer to rise than anticipated, but I had the time so I let it do it's thing. I divided the remainder of my starter in thirds, cutting it to about three 1 cup parts. One for me, one for two friends who are excited to try it! At this point I have a nice, 3 week old starter, no where near the flavor of an older starter, but, it's a place to begin. Would it be a good idea to keep a little in the fridge desperate from the starter on my counter, just in case it turns bad?