The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sad Starter & Sadder Bread

raqk8's picture

Sad Starter & Sadder Bread

Hi there -

I've had a sourdough starter for quite a while now and have previously made very delicious bread with a lot of great rise and oven spring. But now I can't get my starter to make decent bread for the life of me! My starter (which used to be very active) now can take almost 24 hours to double, if it ever does! It also tastes really sour, way too sour for my liking. And my sourdough bread is lucky if it gets any rise at all. Similarly, any rise I do get out of my dough just goes outward - it hardly holds its shape at all, and i'm using the same recipe.

I can think of two things that happened recently that may have caused the problem:

1) We moved. Not that big of a deal, except for the fact that the tap water here is terrible. It has a funky taste and I haven't gotten around to buying a filter yet, though I will soon.

2) It went for about 2 weeks without feeding during the holidays (though it was kept in the fridge). I've been feeding it every other day for a couple of weeks and daily for the past week, but it doesn't seem to have changed at all.

I'd really appreciate any imput you have on this, and any ideas as to why my bread only spreads out would be great! As far as that goes, Im using KAF bread flour and reinhart's basic sourdough recipe, so I can't imagine that's the problem. Could lack of yeast activity have anything to do with this?

One last note - I've made numerous loaf-pan breads and those all seem to turn out okay. Not sure if that's useful information, but it can't hurt.

Thanks so much for all of your help!


Davidkatz's picture

I wonder if the chlorine in the water is killing the starter.
Try leaving the water overnight....

Mebake's picture

The problem lies in your starter. Firstly, you have fed it water that may be contaminated, for all you know. Chlorinated water usually hurts living organisms in a sourdough culture. Secondly, You may be either over feeding or underfeeding(either by flour/starter propotions, or by premature/late feeding cycles), although from you description of a very sour flavored starter, chances are that it is being underfed.

What is your starter fed? wholewheat flour? Rye flour? white flour? If your troubled starter is white, then you may boost its activity by feeding it slight amounts of wholegrains, especially whole Rye flour.


SourdoLady's picture

How do you feed your starter? How much old starter do you save and what is the quantity of flour/water that you feed it? It really sounds like your starter has become too acidic (hence the sourness). This will also cause poor rising because the excess of acids eats the gluten. I would discard all but a spoonful of the starter and then feed it a couple of ounces of flour and as much water as you like to get the hydration level you prefer. See if that makes a difference.

sourdoughhq's picture

The other comments all make sense to me, I'd just add that if I leave a starter without feeding for 2 weeks it usually either needs a lot of fixing or is unuable....might just be me though!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I agree with SourdoLady.  Just remove a small amount and feed it well watching it as it peaks.  When it peaks, reduce to just a spoonful and feed again.  Repeat.   Put it on a 12 hour schedule when it peaks under 12 hours.  Then after a few feed cycles, start storing it in the refrigerator.  I'm assuming you keep a 100% hydration (or there abouts) starter.

I don't bake so often so after feeding the starter, I give it two to three hours rising time and put it into the fridge.  Two weeks cold is not a problem for it and it gives me the time/energy I would use babysitting the starter.  I remove a couple of spoonfuls and add water and flour (equal weights) to make up about 200g of starter the night before I need it.  What's left from the 200g gets reduced further to about 10g, gets fed, allowed a few covered hours of warmth to start growing and begin to form bubbles (check sides of jar) then goes back into the fridge.  It's just a little amount and I'm not a slave to it.  

If I notice any decline in activity or slowing of rise times, it gets a complete cycle before reducing again and feeding for the refrigerator.  I tend to mix starter for the refrigerator a little thicker than overnight elaborations.

raqk8's picture

Thanks all for your comments. It's a 100% starter that I feed with KAF bread flour. I always double the weight of starter I have when feeding it, and sometimes more. I have tried "resetting" it a few times by just keeping a tiny bit and slowly building it back up, but to no avail.

I'm thinking the sourness that keeps coming back is due to the fact that it takes so long to double that it just sits out on the counter for way longer than it should, and by that time the bacteria have produced way more sour than they need to. Does this make sense?

I fed it some whole rye flour last night and didn't get much activity... until I placed it by the stove while I was making pancakes this morning. On the side that was near the stove (and therefore warmer) almost instantly had some activity! So I kept rotating it and it seems to be doing better...

So here's what I'm thinking. The water sucks, and my house is cold, niether of which help. I will go out and buy a water filter to help with the chlorination, but I'm not sure what to do about the cold... I can't really leave my heater on all day. Any ideas?

Also, davidkatz, what do you mean by "try leaving the water overnight"?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

to peak in a reasonable time.  My starter has a warm spot at the back of my stove next to the chimney.  The chimney is kept warm from the gas heater exhaust running up the inside wall.  So it gets about 76°F and is ripe in the morning.  Other warm spots are above the refrigerator, water heater, computer.  The starter only needs to get warm when you want it to grow.  A baby bottle warmer or wide mouth thermos can also be used.  I have a small Styrofoam box w/lid that also works well with a jar of hot water in the corner.  Microwave oven with a hot mug of water in the corner is also an idea.  Then there is the ol' standby ...  put it in a sturdy zipper bag, press the air out and drop it into your sweater or vest pocket or rig a travel pouch under your bulky sweater.  Your own body heat will encourage growth.  Be sure to burp it often so it doesn't pop.  Naturally that doesn't work so well at night but the starter can also be put in the fridge for the next day's use.