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Am I doing this right? Help needed :(

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noobie's picture
noobie

Am I doing this right? Help needed :(

Hi all... 

As you can see from my username I am new to Sourdough... I have been making various breads for years now and pretty much bake everyday. I decided to take the plunge and make some Sourdough. My problem is my starter... 

There are so many recipes and ways to do and do not that I am getting confused. I have tried twice now and my first batch ended up like grey slurry so I binned it. I am now on day six with my second batch but I have some questions.

I am using just white organic bread flour and a 1 litre Kilner jar. The recipe said seal the jar so I did, it all looked lovely and had kind of a sour milk smell but yesterday it seemed very watery and now smells like nail polish remover, I took a big whiff this morning and it stung my nostrils!!! I have been using 75g flour and 75g water. I am nearly up to the top of the jar! Although it is bubbling!

Some recipes say get rid of some, some say put it in the fridge.. I am just confused. I would be grateful for an indepth guide if that is at all possible? I am sure you have all had this question before but really I would be most grateful. Some questions below.

Is this smell normal? If not is it now ruined?

Do I refrigerate?

Do I discard any?

My recipe says I can use it after 5 days but I am reluctant with that smell... When can I use my first lot?

Are starters safe in general? My partner is reluctant to eat it and is convinced there will be horrible bacteria in there that wont be killed via cooking. And I have read some articles that worry me a bit. How do I know mine is not going to make me sick?

Again, any help would be much appreciated and thank you in advance..

Grenage's picture
Grenage

That harsh smell normally means that the starter is starved.  If you discard half of it, half flour and half water (equal or greater to the amount you removed), how does it react over the next 8 hours?  As for sealing the jar, I'd either cover it with clingfilm, or leave a lid on un-tightened.  Don't put it in the fridge, at least not until it is stable.  In my experience the stages of (a stable) starter are:

Just mixed (starter/flour/water):
Depending on the amount of starter, it may smell floury/bland, or have a bit of a tang.

Active:
Bubbling, increasing in volume; it smells good (subjective, my wife hates the smell).

Spent:
The starter dough has broken down to a much thinner liquid, it has a potent smell, and there is some froth on top.

I've never passed the 'spent' stage, but I can only imagine it gets worse.  If you store it in the fridge, you can get blackish alcohol.  Persevere, and you will get there.  By the sounds of it, you aren't far off the mark.

mwilson's picture
mwilson

I've never passed the 'spent' stage, but I can only imagine it gets worse.

It can get worse. It will turn pink if continually neglected!

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Eww, here's hoping I never get to see that stage. ;)

mwilson's picture
mwilson

As Grenage said it's hungry, very hungry!

The nail polish smell is ethyl acetate. A chemically bonded mix of acetic acid and ethanol (alcohol) both of which exist normally in sourdough.

You need to discard every time you feed.

In your case I would take just a teaspoon and feed it your usual flour and water. Once the starter triples, feed again. Don't be afraid to increase flour and water to accommodate your starter's activity against your desired schedule.

Michael

noobie's picture
noobie

Thanks so much all. 

So you suggest I take only 1 (one) teaspoon of the original mix that is bubbling in the Kilner and feed it 75/75g flour water and discard the rest? Or go with dumping half the mixture? Or maybe I just start again? I am still miffed as I have lovingly fed it once everyday, greedy!

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Oh don't throw it away, I'm sure it's a fine starter.  A teaspoon should be more than enough to get it going, although it may take a few hours longer to get going - it depends on the starter's activity.  I have, after some bakes, just added flour and water to the dregs left at the bottom and sides.

mwilson's picture
mwilson

Just one teaspoon and discard the rest yes.

Understand the sourdough is constantly changing and it's already alive and active, so don't start again, there's just no need to!

Your starter is overly active because your not supplying enough food for the quantity you seed with.

A daily feed could easily be 1:10:10 (starter:water:flour). eg. 10g starter, 100 flour, 100 water.

noobie's picture
noobie

Sorry to sound dumb... *scratches head*

But... A daily feed could easily be 1:10:10 (starter:water:flour). eg. 10g starter, 100 flour, 100 water

I have to discard it all everyday? Can you explain this ^^ in noobie terms please. 

I thougt the deal was to keep adding to it everyday until you have a jar of it? 

This was the recipe I was going by;

http://www.channel4.com/4food/recipes/tv-show-recipes/the-fabulous-baker-brothers-recipes/sourdough-bread-recipe

Thanks again...


 

Grenage's picture
Grenage

..and all has become clear. :)  Ignore that article!

The more sourdough you have, the more food it needs - a doubling of the mix on a daily basis is usually considered the minimum.  You throw away all but a little, then you add fresh flour and water.  If you don't discard at mixture, you'll soon end up with about 10 buckets of the stuff.

noobie's picture
noobie

So...

How much actual starter should I be aiming to be left with in order to put into a recipe and does anyone have a tried and tested recipe to follow start to finish? 

So confused! I promise I am not usually this thick sounding...

Grenage's picture
Grenage

I don't have any recipes, but there are plenty around here; what I can tell you is what I do:

Every day I ditch most of my mixture, leaving me with about 30g of starter; I add about 60g water and 60g flour.  If I plan on using some in a recipe that evening, I will discard none, and add 80-100g of water and 80-100g flour.  After 4 hours, the mixture will have doubled, and be very active; our room temperature is around 17C.

I take 200g of active starter, and add:
400g water.
600g flour.

I normally use 10% rye, 10% wholemeal, and the rest white; you can just use white flour for simplicity.

Mix it all up and leave it for an hour or two, then add 14g salt and knead it. By hand, it probably takes me about 10 minutes or so.  Put it in a lightly oiled bowl and cover it with a towel or clingflim for an hour; take it out and fold it (google or search here for 'stretch and fold'), then put it back.  Do this once or twice more at 1 hour intervals.

Remove and shape the dough and place it in a banneton or tin, or just leave on baking paper on a tray - and cover.  When it's doubled, which will probably take 2-3 hours, you can place it in a pre-heated oven.  I normally preheat to 225C, then drop to 200C when the bread goes in.  I normally have a tray in the over while it's preheating, then add some ice cubes to it when I add the bread - for steam.  You may want to limit the number of things you are doing when starting out, so that's up to you.  If you do add steam, take the water pan out after 15-20 minutes - you can turn the bread around at the same time.  I normally leave mine to bake for 40-50 minutes.

This is a rough guide for what I do, but I have always cooked 'by touch'.  The 1:2:3 measurement for starter:water:flour (95% of what I do, I learnt here) is a great ratio for loaf of bread, and doesn't require much mental maths. ;)

noobie's picture
noobie

Ok I think I get it!

I have just taken some out and re-fed it with equal parts flour and water... I shall do this daily!

For clarification, and I promise not to ask anymore questions :) How long before I can start baking with this new mix?

Oh and thank you all, really cool place to come for help... I will be sure to check out the the Norwich recipe!

AOJ's picture
AOJ

I tried several different recipes when I was starting out, and the one I still use is "Norwich Sourdough". Put it into the search, and you'll get a link. It is a good basic formula; I have also used it as the basis for making Honey and Oats, Barley and Oats, Wild rice, and Jalapeno loaves. It is also easy to scale down, if you want to make one or two loaves at time.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

The first thing you have to do when you use this site is do a SEARCH. It works pretty well on this site. The links above on the handbook are also pretty nifty. A starter is easy : flour,water,stir,time,discard,feed,use. Understand the concepts of each stage so you know what you need to do.

Always have clean hands when working with food!

  • 1-2 tbsp flour of choice (I use UNbleached AP as it is the cheapest)
  • Water to make a pancake batter consistency.
  • Mix both in a 1/2 to 1 pint sized jar

Cover lightly so flies don't get in and so it doesn't form a dry skin. (I use a paper coffee filter and a rubber band). Do not let it skin over! If it looks dry,stir it up. If it looks like the water is evaporating (thickening) add a little more.

It will go through several phases-nothing,slight bubbles,vigorous bubbles,crazy rising,much less rising,consistent rising.Some phases take a few days and some phases take a few hours. The whole process can take 7-21 days,depending on many factors.

Stir vigorously several times daily for as many days as it takes until you see bubbles starting to form when it sits. You are looking for bubbles from fermentation-not the ones you stirred up.  I actually take mine to work and sit it on my desk and bring a spoon for the stirring.

When it is starting to ferment,start a process called "Discard and feed".

Discard about half the paste (down the drain) and add a small amount of flour and water to get the pancake batter consistency, again. Keep stirring several times a day. What is happening is that you have some yeasty beasties growing from the flour you used. There should also be some lacto bacteria growing that is making the paste somewhat acidic. Taste it and see by taking a tiny dab on your finger. Some people use pineapple juice or orange juice instead of water at this phase to discourage growth of bad bacteria. I never did that but feel free to try it,it you want. More importantly-CLEAN hands!

Discard and feed once a day unless it is becoming active. This means it is actively bubbling, rises when fed or produces a liquid top layer (called hootch). If hootch happens, it means your beasties are HUNGRY and need more food! Go to discarding (equivalent to cleaning a cage) and feeding twice a day. It should still be a small amount in the jar but it may start doubling the level when fed. It will go through a phase where it REALLY seems active but that is the lactos multiplying-you want them even though they won't raise bread but eventually they will balance out with the yeast component. They actually make the environment favorable for the yeast to grow.

After the crazy,active phase, it may seem to become LESS active when the yeasts and lactos are in balance and the yeast is actually doing the raising of the "dough". Keep going-feed twice a day, in small amounts. When is seems to be consistent ( feed-double-fall), then it is young but ready to be built up into a larger amount for use in a recipe by taking some for use and leaving some behind to become "the mother". That is a different topic! As is the maintenance feeding schedule.

Have fun!

GregS's picture
GregS

You don't have to undertake a new starter right now; but you might want to search for "Debra Wink" on this blog and take a look at her entries about the Pineapple Juice Solution.  Debra is both a baker and a microbiologist. She really understands those little yeastie beasties. Just scanning the entries in her section can give you an idea of the various issues and solutions regarding starters. Starters are pretty durable, but sometimes it just takes some "Tough Love" to get them doing what you want. Don't give up!

GregS

noobie's picture
noobie

Ok so here is an update... And again thank you for the time everyone has taken to reply.

After discarding most and refeeding yesterday I woke up and it was very bubbly... I chucked some more away this morning and added more flour and water and now it is really bubbling and does not smell, well it kind of smells like raw bread dough... It has not changed in volume, well maybe a tiny bit, but I would say it is very active, it looks like it is boiling!!... I will continue the ritual and watch carefully... I know it is too early to use it now and has many phases as explained above but at what point do I know when it is ready to use? 

Grenage's picture
Grenage

I think that a good guide is the starter being able to double itself within 8 hours; mine will double in 4 hours at 18C, but it really depends on your starter.  This is assuming a hydration rate of 100% (50/50 water/flour) - a starter with more water may not rise very much, and one with less will be slower.

noobie's picture
noobie

Hi all... Im Back!!!

Firstly thanks for all the wonderful help on here, I think I may just be getting the hang of this now!

I have another update and a couple of very quick questions.

I followed everyones advice and I now have, to my eyes a very healthy starter. So much so that I used some last night, more on that in a bit. The starter is now rising and falling after daily discarding and feeding. I have been discarding half and feeding again with 100g water. 100g flour and within a few hours it has over doubled in size and smells lovely and yeasty and sweet. I was actually watching it last night bubble like a volcano becoming active. So I used Greenage's recipe to bake some bread and I can tell you it was delicious although a wee bit deformed. I think I should of let it rise one more time before I put it in the oven because I have never seen an oven spring like it from using standard fresh yeast. It was huge but deformed sadly, it cracked in all the wrong places! Any advice on this would be helpful.

Ok so my question. 

What do I do with the starter now until I next want to use it. Do I keep a small amount in the fridge? If so how often do I feed this mother whilst in the fridge? Or do I just keep it on the work top indefinatly and keep discarding and feeding? Or both, keep a small amount in the fridge and keep a warm one on the go...?

Thanks again ladies and gentlemen, I really am learning.

 

GregS's picture
GregS

Way to go Noobie! Now you aren't an actual noobie any more.

I'm sure Greengage will pop in to advise on the recipe, but perhaps my perspective might also be useful. Since you are now a semi-pro, you need to learn a few more nuances. During the first mixing and kneading, evaluate the consistency of the dough. The flour type, kitchen temperature, and humidity can affect dough texture. You'll learn the feel of property hydrated dough. My best analogy is "like a baby's bottom". Firm but flexible (also "tacky, not sticky") You can add small (teaspoon to tablespoon) amounts of water or flour to get what you want. The reason I dwell on this is because (in my experience) this is where you establish the long-range firmness of the dough that is needed to help you handle and shape it.

Don't let the first rise go on too long, or add another rising cycle. That can cause the yeast to consume all the sugars in the dough and slow its growth and the gas production that inflates the dough. Again, your local kitchen environment can significantly change the rising time. Rather than timing it by the clock, learn how to do the "poke test". Search for that term on this site. The poke test is also good for determining when the shaped loaf is ready to slip into the oven.

Finally, about the deformation and cracking. A soft or over-risen dough will slump while shaping and slump in the oven. Actually,  the shaping method can be used to get a taut outer "skin" on the (properly firm) dough so it will hold it's shape better.  Some shaping tools like a banneton or a "couche" cloth, actually pull moisture from the skin of the loaf while it is in its final rise, to strengthen the skin. There are some excellent videos about shaping on YouTube.

Cracking can often be tracked back to how (or if) the loaf was slashed before baking. In addition to looking nice, slashes create a line along which the dough can spread as it heats and bakes. If you had a good oven spring (yay!) the dough was probably pushing in all directions to find a way to expand.

That's enough from me. There are several lifetimes of experience on TFL, as you have seen. You can just take it in steps, enjoy your breads and have fun while doing it. Don't forget the easier recipies with commercial yeast. When you just need a 1-day loaf with very predictable behaviour, that can be the way to go. As I write this I am waiting for a nice, simple Pain de Mie (i.e. white sandwich bread) to rise. I save weekend days for the more intricate messing with exciting artisan loaves. I love 'em all.

Regards,

GregS

 

 

 

Davo's picture
Davo

If it's gotten large oven spring but cracked in the wrong places it's probably underproved. If it is underproved, while it seems to spring a lot in the oven, the loaf wasn't as big as it should have been to start with, so even with that spring it can be dense. It's a trade off- let it get too big (overproved) and it will slump on baking and flatten out and also be dense. You want maximum overall rise including pre-bake and bake...  If you had done the poke test, and it was underproved, the skin would have rebounded fairly quickly and fully. Hwne it's ripe it won't quite come back all the way and will rebound slowly. But do either wet or flour your finger before you poke the fingertip in about a cm - otherwise the dough might stick to your finger and mask the reall propensity to rebound. I assume if you've done other bread baking you know how to shape the loaf, so that shoudln't be a problem. Plenty of google-found youtubes on shaping.

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Don't throw away and feed, take out a few grams and feed it with equal parts (by weight) water and flour, then throw away what you didn't use (I actually keep the last feeding around so that I have a backup supply of starter just in case I do something stupid).

If you are leaving it at room temperature, the temperature of the room is REALLY IMPORTANT.

At 20°C/68°F a 1:10:10 feeding will take about 24 hrs to mature.

At 25°C/77°F  a 1:10:10 feeding will take about 12 hrs to mature.

clazar123's picture
clazar123

It can be done both ways and may depend on how often you want to bake. The important thing is to feed appropriately for the temp it is living in-if you don't, it is either not healthy or dies. It eats more at higher temps and gets a little sleepy in cooler temps. I have done it both ways. Keeping it cooler also changes the type and balance of the beasties in the mix. It may behave a little differently over time (or may not).

Have fun!

 

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Sounds like you're doing well! As mentioned above, it sounds like you may need to let the bread prove a little more; oven spring is great, but too much and you're left with a lot of expansion to control.  Slashes can and will help, although I'm not very good with them on a 71% hydration loaf, so I tend to shy away - it doesn't normally burst unless it's been under-proved (with that formula, in my experience).

I am a bit of a noobie compared to most of the posters here, so that's a disclaimer. ;)  I don't refrigerate my starter, but from what I understand, you can keep it in the fridge as long as you take it out for a feed once a week, and give it a couple of feedings before you plan on using it.

noobie's picture
noobie

Thanks all.........

So when would be the ideal time after feeding to use your starter? When it is moat active or after it has fallen and settled?

Mine is most active 4-6 hours after feeding. It is funny as I actually look at it as a whole living creature. My partner thinks I have lost the plot when I mention it os feeding time!

Berti's picture
Berti

use it when it peaks.......

OR you can place it in the fridge when it has been fermenting HALFWAY.

that slows down the fermenting and you can easily keep it in the fridge until you want to bake again.

within a few days, normally.

I feed mine twice weekly normally and keep it in fridge in between too....in between bakings and feedings I mean.

so, when I want to bake, night before, take it out, feed it, next morning make dough, put remainder in fridge....

Grenage's picture
Grenage

Hey again.

 

I use mine around the time it peaks - maybe a bit before, and maybe a bit after.  I haven't noticed much of a difference in results, but I generally aim to use it as it's nearly peaked - 4 hours for me.

noobie's picture
noobie

Hi all... Just a quick update and a new but similar question for one of you to maybe help me with...

First of all and since my last posting I have had great success! I have baked many lovely sourdough breads, and everything is kind of still going well but here is the thing...

I have been refrigerating my starter and feeding it weekly, and it seems fine, I just take it out when I need it and use some to refeed and put back in the fridge and use the rest for a loaf. But if I do not use it that day which happened this weekend I usually just keep it on the worktop and refeed the next day to use then..., I did that this weekend went to refeed the next day and use that day instead and it made my eyes water with the smell of strong malt vinegar!!! It actually stung my nostrils!! Is this normal or has it got a bacterial infection which I have seen on other posts...

Should I chuck this away and the one in the fridge?

It is only if I leave it out for that extra day instead of using that day...

Many Thanks

mwilson's picture
mwilson

Everything happens faster at room temoerature than in the fridge. The burning sensation is probably the alcohol. There is nothing wrong. Just re-feed and get it back into the schedule where it was working.

Bacterial infection? Haha. It's already infected with bacteria! Lactobacillus bacteria!

Michael

noobie's picture
noobie

Bump :)

cottager's picture
cottager

Anything eye-watering is a starving starter. Really eye-watering is probably a starving starter, with an overlay of oxygen depletion.

Don't seel the jar (let the gasses out) and feed more (and if the beasties are too many, cull and feed).

Cullings make nice fried donuts ... just saying ;)