The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Stupid Crazy Starter

comn's picture

Stupid Crazy Starter

I began growing a starter about 2 weeks ago.

On the second day, it smelled utterly foul and bubbled a lot, so I assumed this was the bacteria everyone was talking about, that masquerades as yeast. I mixed in some pineapple juice, and after 4 disgustingly rotten smelling days, it went away.

Then came several days of... nothing. I was actually glad to see this, because it seemed like my starter was doing just what everything said it should be doing. It didn't smell like anything.

Well, I was a little confused at this point as to whether or not I should be feeding it, or just letting it sit. So I fed it for several days, and all I ever had was flour and water. So then I let it sit for a couple days, and it started smelling alcoholic, which I took to be a good thing. I took that as a sign to start feeding again....

Well, now I have an alcoholic smelling starter that doesn't do anything. It takes what I feed it, it smells like alcohol, and it tastes very very sour. But it doesn't bubble. Like, at all. Maybe one or two here and there, but it hasn't risen once, not even a little bit.

I'm kind of stuck as to what to do with it now. I put it in the fridge so I don't waste any more flour on it until I decide what to do. I would post pictures, but I can't find my cable, and in anycase it wouldn't show much. Just some pancake batter in a jar.

Sometimes it separates, sometimes it doesn't. Right now it's not.


SourdoLady's picture

What kind of flour are you feeding it? Try adding a couple of spoonfuls of rye flour. Also it is important that the flour is fresh. You can find fresh whole grains and flour at a health food store in bulk bins.

comn's picture

Right now I'm using a mixture of plain white flour and potato flakes.  If it doesn't perk up soon, I think I'll start a new one and try using rye flour, at least for the start of it.

comn's picture

Alright, it's smelling less like alcohol and more like nail polish remover now.

But it was actually kind of fluffy this morning!  I could tell when I stirred it that it had risen some. 

 Still concerned about the nail polish remover though.  Should I increase the feeding frequency, or just continue at 12 hour intervals?

bwraith's picture

Hi comn, 

Well, Sourdough-guy and SourdoLady and others around here are more expert and experienced on sourdough and starters, but until they chime in, the nail polish remover smell is probably an indication it needs to be fed. If you notice it is rising and begins to have the nail polish remover smell before 12 hours, I'd feed it again. Unless you go to extremes, feeding it more often probably will not harm it and may well help it become more balanced and fully active. If you can't feed it more often than every 12 hours, and it seems to regularly need it more often (e.g. some or all of the following signs of time to feed are happening before 12 hours: strong fermentation smells, rising and bubbles, liquid forming on top, starter is becoming more liquid and stringy instead of paste consistency, nail polish remover smell) you could feed it a larger amount each time, e.g. take a tablespoon of starter and add 4 or 5 tablespoons of flour and enough water to make a thick but stirrable paste. If the feeding schedule doesn't fit with your own schedule, you can put it in the refrigerator if you will not be able to feed it on schedule, then take it out and continue the schedule. For some reason, refrigerating is sometimes mentioned as helping starters get started, e.g. the sourdough starter faq. I'm still hoping to discover from someone (sourdough-guy, SourdoLady, or anyone else, do you know the answer to this?) a good explanation of whether, and if so, why this is supposed to help.

I'd feed it only flour and water from what I have understood along the way, although there are certainly a million approaches that work.

Eventually, if you keep it as a thick paste, it should rise by double in something like 4-5 hours at room temperature. If you find that it does that regularly every time you feed it, then it's probably at the stable point where you can store it in the refrigerator until you need it, take it out and feed it, let it rise by double, and use it in your recipes.


sadears's picture

What kind of flour are you using?  I accidently bought bleached AP flour once.  It would increase in volume, sometimes, then fall flat.  Someone suggested I still use it.  When I did, it worked just fine.  I think sometimes issues like that has to do with a batch of flour.  I'm sure many will disagree with this, but I get different results doing the same thing with different bags of flour, even though it's the same brand and type.

This week I bought some Hungarian High Altitude Unbleached flour.  I was curious to see if it behaves any different than regular AP flour.  I'll let you all know how that works.


Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I think it has been mentioned lots of times.  In refrigeration,  lower temperature favors the lactobacillus  beasties you are trying to grow and at the same time refrigeration supresses the other beasties growing at the same time in the starter. It gives the Lacto pop. a chance to catch up.  Mini Oven

SourdoLady's picture

Give the rye flour a try. Once it gets going you can switch it to white flour again. Also, don't use bleached AP flour--only unbleached. The bleaching process can damage any yeasts in the grains. Are you using unchlorinated water? As for the potatoes, save them for when you make your doughs. I almost always add 1/4 to 1/3 cup of instant potatoes to my doughs. I like what it does to improve the bread.

comn's picture


 Well, it's been 5 hours since the last feeding, and my starter is almost twice the size now!  

 The increased feeding frequency has done the trick, I think.  I appreciate all the great advice, I was really thinking I might just toss it.  

As long as the potato flakes keep working, I'm going to keep using them, but if it gets weak again I'll try the rye flour.  The flour I've been using is unbleached.

Thank you everybody, it's been like having my own personal starter support group.

 For the record, I tried the refrigeration thing earlier on, it didn't seem to do much of anything.  Don't think it hurt it any, just didn't really help.