The Fresh Loaf

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Whole Wheat Starter... fail

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Rainman's picture
Rainman

Whole Wheat Starter... fail

Hi,

I'm new to posting here, not to mention new(ish) to bread baking.

I've been trying to start my own sourdough starter using Robin Hood Whole Wheat AP flour. I've tried 3 times and initially it seems to be working but stalls after a couple of feedings.

Here are some details...

House temperature is roughly 72F. I'm using tap water filtered with a Brita. I begin by using 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water (as per Mike's recommendations from Sourdoughhome.com using his method of starting a starter). I'll mix this and place it in a glass cup. It typically takes 36-48 hours before the starter is bubbly and has doubled in size. At this point I'll keep the 100 grams of starter and feed it 50 grams of flour and 50 grams of water. The starter will then double in size after 8-12 hours. At this point I'll remove 100 grams of the starter and feed it again with 50 grams of flour and  50 grams of water. It's here that the starter seems to fail each time. I get very little rise and few bubbles. I've tried stirring it after 12 hours, waiting another 12 hours, and feeding it again... to no avail. Eventually the gluten structure seems to weaken and it almost gets runny. This has been the consistent result the 3 times I've tried it. I'm confused as to why the starter seems active at first, but then stalls after the second feeding.

Any help or insight would be greatly appreciated.

Cheers,

Jay

egger88's picture
egger88

Hi Jay,

I was having a similar problem with my starter.  It rose and was wonderful for a week or two and then began falling flat.  I divided it into portions and tried several different things to revive it (feeding 3 times a day, different ratios flour:water, altering pH, feeding different types of flour) all to no avail.  Then I finally bit the bullet and bought some distilled water at the grocery (not mineral or spring water as much of this actually comes from municipal sources), and that did the trick!  My starter was up-and-running in a single feeding, doubling within 6 hours after two.

I had figured that using water from a Brita pitcher would be clean enough (Britas don't filter everything), but not so!  I only feed with distilled now and haven't had this problem since.  Some threads on this forum suggest that chlorine added to city water systems can reduce yeast activity, but many cities use other compounds in place of chlorine nowadays so there's really no way to tell exactly what's in your water.  This means that the old "leave-your-water-out-to-evaporate-the-chlorine" trick suggested by some won't necessarily work for everyone.  Go buy a jug of distilled water, it won't cost you more than a couple bucks and it might fix your problem!

-Rachel

Rainman's picture
Rainman

Hi Rachel, thanks for the suggestion. I'm up for trying whatever might work. I'll take your advice and see how the distilled water works out.

Thanks,

Jay

janij's picture
janij

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/233

Peter Reinhart talks about this in I think The Baker's Apprentice.  But I always had the same problem til I used the pineapple juice.

Good luck.

Jani

Maverick's picture
Maverick

I agree that this is a good read. The pineapple juice method is the one I recommend to all (especially beginners that might not know what to look for). That said, It sounds to me like you are getting a false rise due to leuconostocs. This will give you a rise, but it is not the one you want. It normally causes a rise for the first few days and then goes flat. Often this is accompanied by a foul smell. How did your starter smell? If you keep feeding then eventually you will get a good starter, but it will take longer. The reason pineapple juice is used is to skip this part of the process where the leuconostocs need do there thing and then get replaced. I would you read through the phases from this link (the rest is good reading too):

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10901/pineapple-juice-solution-part-2

Then if you really get interested while your starter is going and you are waiting, you can read more here to get the background to it all:

http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/10856/pineapple-juice-solution-part-1

Maverick's picture
Maverick

Also, check out this link for some visuals comparing a water only to a pineapple juice starter (notice how the one that uses water rises for the first couple days then goes flat):

http://yumarama.com/968/starter-from-scratch-intro/

Rainman's picture
Rainman

Thanks for the links.

Maverick - The smell of my starter seems okay, a little lively, but nothing too offensive.

I have read about using the pineapple juice method, but was hoping to achieve a nice starter with flour/water only. Although given the problems I've been having, perhaps it's time to throw that idea out the window for now until I'm more familiar with the entire process. It may also be I'm being too impatient given the false hope of the initial "false rise" described in the link. I'll definitely pick up some juice and give that a whirl, but will keep the flour/water version going as well.

Thanks for all the help. I'll give periodic updates in case anyone's interested in another newbie muddling his way through learning about sours.

Cheers,

Jay

placebo's picture
placebo

You should be able to get it going with flour and water only, but, as you already suspect, you need to be patient. Like you, I followed Mike's instructions when making my first starter and ran into the same behavior where the starter seemed to die after the initial activity. Worried that I had inadvertently killed it after no signs of activity for over a day, I ended up starting a new batch, but I kept the first one around. Sure enough, it came back to life soon after.

 

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Why wholegrain starters act in the exact same way; they look dormant, and bubble very slowly.  If you think it's not alive, add some white flour and watch it go nuclear.  I've unfortunately never managed to keep a 100% wholemeal starter active enough for my use.

cardigan's picture
cardigan

I've also been working on getting two starters up and running recently. I started both with rye and the pineapple juice method, which worked very well -- a little bit slow, due to cool temp's in my house, but they were both looking good and doubling within four hours by day 6 or 7, with one switched over on day 4 to white flour. Since then, though, the white flour starter has ground to a halt. Perhaps using both pineapple juice and Rachel's suggestion of distilled water (thanks!) is the safest way to go?

My puzzle is why is my 100% rye starter is still rising well while the white flour starter is all but dead... seems to rule out the water problem in this case.

- Susanne

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Give the plain flour starter more time.  Rye starter beasties can be snobs at times and protest when they don't get their rye.  (I do it too!)

One way is to slowly introduce more wheat flour with each feeding until feeding only the wheat.  Do it over several days.  Then the shock (protest) is not so great.  

Maverick's picture
Maverick

One way I have given new starters a boost is to add some rye (either the entire feeding or a portion). The other thing to do is to stir it a few times during the day. The stirring really helps to wake things up.

cardigan's picture
cardigan

Many thanks for the advice! It's much appreciated. I realized after my post that the white flour I was using may have been a bit old (indeed, very old). So I've built a new white starter with a dose of my rye starter and fresh white bread flour. It's doing wonderfully so far.

- Susanne

Rainman's picture
Rainman

So it's almost been 2 weeks since I first posted. I'm happy to say that my original starter (water/flour only) made a recovery. OK, wait, not a recovery, but I was informed enough this time to be patient and had an understanding of the effect of the leuconostocs and what influence they would have in the beginning. So a big thanks to Maverick for providing the links he did. What a great read they were.  Debra Wink paints such a clear picture of what is actually happening to the sour during the initial stages.  I actually enjoyed the read so much, I read the posts twice.  I realize the sour is still young, but I'm attempting my first bread this morning using it. We wait and see...