The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Stalled sourdough starter

infidel's picture
infidel

Stalled sourdough starter

Hello all from Ottawa,

This is my first post here.  I'm a middle aged male from Canada, attempting my first sourdough starter.  I've been doing a lot of reading and learning at this excellent site for a few weeks now, but I have hit a seemingly brick wall that I could use some advice to get through.  My new starter has stalled, and I can't figure out why.

My first attempt using equal weights of white flour and spring water turned into a smelly mess on day two, so I tossed it and found my way to this site.  Found Debra Wink's pineapple method (what a great resource and nice person she is!), and had good luck with getting the second attempt going using wheat flour and pineapple juice.  All seemed to be going as it should, and on day four after feeding at 1:1:1, it almost doubled in about 8 hours.  It smelled good, and had lots of tiny bubbles.  I was sure I was on my way.  I began feeding every 8 - 12 hours.  The next feeding I switched to white flour, and went to a 1:2:2 feeding.  I'm using bottled spring water, and I do have a gram scale, so I am going by weight, not volume.  At this point it stopped.  No rise at all, though it does get some surface bubbles and a very few tiny bubbles.  Several feedings later, and still no rise.  I thought maybe I was overfeeding it, so I let it sit for a day with no feeding.  It started smelling like nail polish remover, so I knew from some research here that it was getting hungry, and overfeeding was not the problem.  Fed it again at 1:1:1.  Nail polish remover smell went away, but still no rise.  Fed it at 1:3:3.  Nothing.  Fed it again at 1:2:2.  Zip.  Tried using tap water instead of spring water.  No difference.  It smells okay, no stink, no acetone smell, no hootch.  It's like stiff pancake batter, and very stretchy.  So my last feeding an hour ago, I switched back to the wheat flour to see if that would give it a boost.  It's been 2 hours and so far nothing.  All this time I have had it in a beaker with a graduated scale, and I set up a camera to take a pic every 5 minutes while I am at work, so I know it is not rising and falling before I come home.  I have a thermometer right beside the beaker, and it averages 74 degrees.  I would attach pics if I could, but that doesn't seem possible unless the pics are online.  Any advice much appreciated! 

Dean

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Hi, Infidel!

What you are experiencing is a symptom of sudden diet change of your starter from wholegrain to white. Starters, contain living organisms (bacterias mostly, and some wild yeast) that respond to diet change, much like human beings. Without getting deep into the biochemistry behind the metabolism of dough bacteria, here is a quote from one of Debra Wink's reply to a mamber (kolobezka), that had similar issues:

"Some sourdough bacteria produce thiol compounds from amino acids such as glutathione, cystine or cysteine. And if from the latter two, can throw off a cheesy or sulfury odor in the process. More people seem to be complaining of these problems lately, with starters in transition (or maybe I'm just more in tune to it now that I've experienced it first-hand). Transition means changing hydration, changing flour, etc., as well as new starters that haven't stabilized yet."

In short, the abrupt diet change has thrown your starter off balance, during a time which it has only just begun to struggle for a balance, it being a new starter.

Solution? although unfavorable bacteria has taken over from the lactobacteria (sourdough bacteria), you can yet save your starter. Discard 1/4 of your starter, and add water and white unbleached flour and mix to arrive at a very loose consistency (liquid like batter), and leave that covered at room temp (not more than 25C)! for 12 hours. You could reduce the time by adding wholegrain flour (rye/wheat), but i suggest you stick with unbleached bread flour. 12 hours later, repeat the previous step, cover, and rest at room temp. for 12 hours, repeat this step for 2 days at least. (Please do not allow temperature to drop below 20C or more than 26c during these stages.) on day three, even day 2, you will notice soap like bubbles at the surface of your starter, this is when you know that your starter has finally stabalized. stir the starter, and you'll smell a whif of acid/fruit like scent.

You can now stiffen up your starter by by making it a thick batter, and watch it double, or triple and then recede back after 6-8 hours. you now have a starter ready to bake with.

One last piece of advice: always refrigerate your starter after a couple of feedings, or your starter can face the same illness you are now experiencing.

 

Best wishes! 

infidel's picture
infidel

I will give that a try right away.  As insurance, and out of curiosity, rather than throw the excess away, I will keep some of the starter that is stalled just to see what it does on its own.  And I have already started a new pineapple juice/wheat flour mixture from the beginning.  Surely one of the three will take off!

I suspected it might have been the change to the white flour that was the problem, so the last feeding I did switch back to wheat flour, but it still hasn't risen at all about 4 hours later.  I will try what you suggested, and let you know how it goes.  Thanks again!

Dean

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Better to slowly introduce a new flour.  

For example, if you've been feeding with white flour, feed mostly white flour with 20% whole wheat.  Next feed: raise to 40% whole wheat.  Next feed: 60% whole wheat to white flour.  Get the idea?  Switching from 100% white to 100% whole wheat will also slow down the starter but give it at least 4 to 8 more hours to respond.  It still may not rise much but discard and feed anyway.  Stir often and separate the older new starter from the newer ones.  

One more tip: Careful not to use the same spoon in all the starters without washing between and dipping in very hot water first (danger of cross contamination.)   :)

jcking's picture
jcking

An often overlooked step when building a starter is to stir the starter at least 3 times a day. This will incorporate a little air to help the yeast grow. Once the starter is up and running stirring is not necessary.

Jim

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Since there is a mix of LAB and yeast in your starter, you should be getting both bubbles (the signature of both yeast and leuconostoc bacteria) and acid (the signature of lactic acid bacteria).  How does your retained starter taste?  If not sour, then wait; if not sour, then wait; if not sour then wait.

When it is sour, then you can feed it, even if you don't see bubbles. 

If you get bubbles before it gets sour, then you probably are seeing leuconostoc growth (though it could be other things too).  Suppressing the leuconostoc is what the pineapple juice was for, and you are now back to square one without the pineapple juice. At that point you can start over, or stick it out until the LAB population again rises.

 

infidel's picture
infidel

Thanks to all who responded to my post!  

Mini Oven, I will make the switch more gradually next time to avoid shocking the starter. And I'll watch that cross contamination. Jcking, I  was wondering if stirring was a good plan, so thanks for that tip. And doc.dough, I haven't tasted it yet, but I will tonight when I get home from work. Thanks again to all!

Dean

infidel's picture
infidel

Well things seem to be moving in a positive direction.  The stalled starter I had split into two separate batches 2 days ago.  One I kept on white flour at a loose consistancy as per the above directions from Mebake.  When it smelled of acetone and tasted sour, I fed it.  Repeated several times, but it seemed to be doing nothing.  Meanwhile, the other part of the stalled starter I have continued feeding whole wheat flour at a 2:1:1 ratio, and today it doubled!  So I think we are rolling again.  I discarded the stalled starter that was being fed the white flour, as it seemed not worth any more trouble since I had the wheat flour batch going again.  I also have a new batch of pineapple juice/wheat flour starter that is now on day 3 as a back up.

I have split the growing starter in two, and fed it again at 2:1:1.  One batch I fed wheat flour, and one batch I fed a 50/50 ratio of wheat flour and Red Mill white flour.  I've given up using the generic white flour from my local grocery store, just in case that was part of the problem in the first place.  I know this may be too fast a transition to the 50% white flour, but if it stalls again it is no big deal since I still have the straight wheat flour batch.  I have the two batches side by side in a beaker and a measuring cup, in front of a camera taking a pic every 15 minutes.  It will be interesting to see how much switching to 50% white flour on one of the batches slows it down compared to the one that is still on 100% wheat flour.

Dean

infidel's picture
infidel

Hello all,

Well I finally got my starter healthy and happy, and here are a few pics of my first successful sourdough loaf!  I'm very pleased with it.  Much more moist than my usual Cuban bread (James Beard),with a nice crackly crust.  It's just a little too sour for my liking, but I will adjust that next time.  Thanks again to all who helped me with getting the starter going.  Nice to know all I have to do now is keep it alive and bread like this will be the result!

Dean 

 

Mebake's picture
Mebake

Great looking Boule, Dean! you're officially on track now. You have a starter to look after, and cherish!

Well done!

infidel's picture
infidel

It turned out to be a bit underdone. For some reason I thought it should go to 185 degrees, which it did, but it wasn't enough and the inside wasn't done enough. I know now to shoot for around 205-210. Next one will be better!  Thanks again for your help with the starter. 

 

Dean