The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Too cold to start a starter?

RocGuy's picture
RocGuy

Too cold to start a starter?

I started a starter almost a week ago. Today is day 6. It started off promising. But then... I live near Rochester, NY and it got cold! The heat is not on in the house anymore so "room temperature" isn't really room temperature. The last 3 days were barely above 6o for highs, around 50 for lows. Could this be my problem?

I basically used the recipe for a starter from the Breadbaker's Apprentice book. Whole wheat flour, and pineapple juice to start. Then switched to unbleached AP flour for the daily feedings after that. Pineapple juice for the first 2 days, filtered water after that. I put a rubber band on the jar I'm using to mark where it starts. The starter IS bubbling and growing some. But less than an inch above the mark after 24 hours still. Definitely not doubling, even after 6 days. 

Should I just keep doing what I'm doing? Feeding it every 24 hours until it starts doubling? It is doing something and not completely dead. Should I leave it alone for another 24 hours to see if it will grow more? The temps are supposed to get back to the low to mid 70s for highs in the next couple of days. Is it really just because of the cold spell that started right after my started started to come alive that isn't letting it double yet?

 

Thanks for any help or input. 

 

 

Olof's picture
Olof

You can place the starter under a lit reading lamp and keep the light on at all times. Turn on the lamp, measure the air temperature under it after an hour and see if it's enough for the starter. Keep a thermometer next to the starter jar. Don't be tempted to place the starte close to the light bulp. Cover the starter jar with a towel so it's not too bright around it.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Yup, Just watch it and you can thicken it with flour but it won't go thru the flour when it's cold... and put a bucket under it because when it warms up,  it will go over!   Wait until temps come back up before feeding unless it tastes very sour or beerish.

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

@Mini - I don't think I have previously seen your suggestion of using sour taste as a gauge of progress, but it is quite a useful addition to the diagnostic kit  for starting a starter.  At low temperatures it is quite possible to grow out the LAB and not have very much yeast activity at all (the growth rate ratios being maximized at low temperatures).  At 60°F doubling times are 8 hr for LAB and 11 hrs for the yeast, while at 50°F they are 16 hrs and 30 hrs respectively.  Those are a long way from the very nearly equal 3.0 and 3.1 hr doubling times at 23°C/74°F.  At 54°F average temp it will take at least 3X for the LAB and 4X for the yeast to double so the 12 hr feedings come 36 hr to 48 hrs apart.

RocGuy's picture
RocGuy

Thanks for the input.

We basically did get up to room temperature since I posted. It's currently 68F on the counter where I have the starter. Except I got no rise since I fed it yesterday afternoon. Zero. :( It does smell nice though. And there are a few bubbles on the top. I'm just going to let it sit for another day to see what happens. It's supposed to be warm today. Hopefully something will happen! If not I just might start over...

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

"Smells nice" is a good sign!  If it warms up today you just may see something.  The fact that it doesn't smell like wet flour  is one of the first "signs of life."   It will get more intensive and take notes as it changes and takes on other aromas.  You may have to reduce by half and give some fresh liquid and flour at the end of the day.   Dip the tip of your finger into it and taste it.  If it is still very mild, give it a little stir and whisper to the beasties that it's time to get up  (frying bacon works for me)  and let it sit until tomorrow.   :)  

RocGuy's picture
RocGuy

Not geologist! ROC = Rochester NY. :)

RocGuy's picture
RocGuy

I thought I would update....

I ended up just starting over with my starter. Using the procedure from BBA. At day 4 I had rise and bubbles, but not doubling. So I left it alone for another day and it definitely doubled. So I fed it again this morning. And no rise at all since then. 10 (?) hours later. :-/ I'm suspecting the weather again? We had four days of 80+F temps with humidity, then today barely 65. No central air here so the kitchen temp is definitely effected by outside temp. I thought I was doing so well! I'm not panicking yet. But I'm a little stumped. I thought these starters were supposed to just work. Lol For now I'll just keep waiting...

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... such as you've seen on Day 4 are not the action of the yeasties - not in the temps you've been having. They are, most likely, the action of active lactobacillus organisms. That's just as it should be. The yeasties can only take over and get stompin' when the pH of your starter gets acidic enough. Those luvverly obliging lacto-doo-dahs are already preparing the way, producing CO2 which will gradually make your starter gunk more acidic.

However, there comes a change-over day (or even 2) when you get very little action in the way of CO2 production. Hence very little expansion or rising. That, I would bet, was your hiatus after Day 4. As the newly awoken yeast, finding it has the right pH environment at last, begins to party, the current LB contingent doesn't produce as much gas, and so your starter becomes a bit of a damp squib.

But this is perfectly normal and on track.

Just keep the faith, keep feeding, and before long the yeasties will be rocking and doubling or even trebling the size of your starter.

All at Sea

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

I am curious about which comes first from the LAB, CO2 and carbonic acid, or lactic acid, or acetic acid, and in what sequence, and at what concentrations, and what they each contribute to the pH of the starter.

If the liquid gets enough CO2 to reach equilibrium with the atmosphere the pH is about 5.65 (pure H2O), but since there is a local source of CO2 and lots of non-H2O elements, a starter retains a higher concentration of CO2 and the pH is actually lower than that.  I have wondered for some time how much CO2 contributes to the initial acidification of a starter whether from leuconostoc or yeast or something else.

I suspect that the CO2 is a minor player based on my observation that idli, which are fermented with the naturally occuring LAB leuconostoc mesenteroides does not reach a pH below 4.8 and usually stop at about 5.0 which I think manifests the lactic acid that is produced rather than the CO2.

But I would be happy to learn from anybody who knows.

tomcatsgirl's picture
tomcatsgirl

It took me three trys to get mine going. Maybe try wrapping a kitchen towel around the jar to help I have done this not sure if it makes a difference.

tacosandbeer's picture
tacosandbeer

I've got my first starter on it's 9th day and am just now starting to see ANY increase in volume. Our house temps run 66-68 right now, so it's been slow going but everything else looked ok, so I just kept at it, thanks to some advice I got here. Good luck!

RocGuy's picture
RocGuy

Question if anyone's around...

This morning there was some rise in the starter. Nowhere near double tho. Should I go ahead and feed it today after 24 hours? Or give it another day until it doubles?

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

...so does smell.  Does it smell sweet?  Or at least not sour?  My overall impression from this thread is that you're over-anxious.  Understandable.  This process can take time, esp. when temps are lower than ideal.  But I'd let this starter cycle run its course -- even if it starts to drop without precisely doubling.  Don't get hung up on the quantitative precision of doubling.  At this stage of the community's development (succession is the proper ecological term), it may not be capable of doubling.  But at least let it go as far as it's capable of.  Then refresh.  As for low temps up there in the NY arctic, do you have a hot water heater?  When our house is as cold as yours was a week or two ago (like all winter), I set my starters (and some levain builds) atop the hot water heater, next to the hot water outlet pipe coming out the top, and even wrap an old wool scarf around the pipe+starter jar.  Then you see your starter really boogie.

Tom

 

RocGuy's picture
RocGuy

Guilty as charged about the over-anxious part. As far as smell to be honest I woke up with a head cold today so I'm not sure! It doesn't smell strong and nasty is about all I can say. As far as temps go I'm back to right around 70 in the kitchen. The hot water heater isn't accesible really. But I think I'm ok with the temps now. 

All at Sea's picture
All at Sea

... if you have, and you can access that easily, then plonk your container of starter (lovingly, of course) on the top of the fridge near the back, where you will feel warm air rising.

Additionally, when I was back in the UK, with temps down to low 50s (f), I used to put the starter, in its tupperware container with lid, of course, inside 2 big fluffy socks - one inside the other. Keeping the temperature a constant warmth when you're trying to build a starter from scratch is less stressful!

All at Sea

placebo's picture
placebo

You can also place the starter in the oven with the light turned on. That'll tend to keep it a bit warmer. Temperature has a big effect on how quickly the starter develops, so it's worth making the effort to keep it nice and cozy.

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

Is it sour?

If yes then yes else no

 

tacosandbeer's picture
tacosandbeer

I was asking the same questions here last week - the advice I got was keep on with daily feeds until you get doubling. Seems to be working here so far. 

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

You have to create a stable community that includes both yeast and LAB.  They are largely independent and you need the LAB to keep the pH down so that opportunistic bacteria (e.g., leuconostoc) don't dominate.  The yeast is slower than the LAB so you can almost always bet that if the starter is sour the LAB have grown to their self-limited populaiton density even if the yeast is not yet there. At that point you need to feed it just to keep the LAB happy.  The yeast will keep growing at their own sweet pace, increasing their population density with every feeding only if you wait long enough for them to increase by as much as your refresh ratio so that you don't wind up diluting them with each cycle. If you are feeding 1:2:2 then you need to give the yeast time to multiply by 5x just to stay even.  If you start with 10 organisms per gm and you want to get to 100,000 per gram, the first step is to make sure that you get back to 10 after your feeding or you are losing ground.  If you feed after the yeast has doubled its population but not it's population density and you fed it at 1:2:2, you are cutting the yeast population density by over half every time - not a good idea. If you do that ten times in a row you have only about 1/1000 th the yeast population density that you started with.

Oh yes - at low temperatures, the ratio of LAB growth rate to yeast growth rate goes up, so you need to wait longer for the yeast to catch up.  Not so bad above 60°F, but below 50°F it can be substantial.  Check out Ganzle's model if you are interested in real numbers.

RocGuy's picture
RocGuy

I fed it at 2:1:1... And cut down the levels. I probably had 400g? of starter. I cut it down to 100g, and added 50 each of water and BF. I'm going to just keep an eye on it and see what happens at this point. 

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

You have a great instrument for testing acidity. 

It is your mouth. 

How does the starter taste? 

Take a little bit out with a spoon, taste it, and report back.

Toad.de.b's picture
Toad.de.b

In all (=beaucoup -- I very much admire your contributions of science and quantitation here) due respect Doc, a starter is one community (not two).  Textbook (e.g., Ricklefs, an eco textbook bible) def of community is "all the populations living in one place at one time".  So a starter is a community consisting of yeast and bacterial populations.  And those pops are certainly not "independent" of one another.  By definition (at least in a ~stable [communities never truly are], established starter culture) they occupy separate niches, but they certainly compete for common resources, i.e., the flour's carbs and proteins.  That they are not independent doesn't imply that they're mutually dependent however.  Symbiosis geeks would probably label it a commensalism (living together, neither harmed nor benefits), should consult Deb Wink or equiv before betting ranch on that label.  If the yeast suddenly disappeared, the Lacto population would likely display changes in doubling time and metabolism.  Same for yeast if Lactos disappeared.

Tom

Doc.Dough's picture
Doc.Dough

You have to create a stable community that includes both yeast and LAB

The pairings that are stable is a fairly large set and the conditions under which they are stable are fairly loose. The sugar preferences tend to decouple the populations, and while the pH sensitivity of the LAB and the relative insensitivity of the yeast make for sort of a one way dependency.  The LAB creates enough acid to suppress many organisms that would otherwise compete with the yeast.  I am not sure what the yeast does for the LAB.

tacosandbeer's picture
tacosandbeer

Following this thread with great interest as RocGuy seems to be at about the same stage I am - and I am now having terrifying flashbacks of freshman chemistry. How did I ever think this was going to be a simple exercise in making bread??

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

It's more like freshman biology than freshman chemistry, but take heart.  Bakers from times lost in history have made bread with natural leavening.  Just pretend that you are a member of a primitive agricultural society coaxing the mystery of rising from the flour and water, as your society's farmers coax the mystery of food from seeds planted in soil.  Having started your culture with the best scientific knowledge that we have today, the faith and loving care of yesterday will triumph.  *wink*

 

hanseata's picture
hanseata

I started my starter in blissful ignorance, before I ever read more knowledgeable advice. Found a recipe in a French cookbook, stirred together bread flour and water, let it sit at - never measured or controlled - room temperature in my cool Maine kitchen, and created the ancestor of all my starters.

No juice, no fuss - and it worked just fine.

Karin

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

I started the one I have by following some illustrated instructions that I found on a blog.  They were identical to what you mention: bread, water, room temperature, and time.  No juice and no explanation of the various stages that were described.  The funny thing is that I went back to that woman's blog site after my starter was working, and found out that she had fairly quickly given up on her starter because she found baking with it to be too much trouble compared to just using instant yeast.  I browsed the web then for recipes and more information while I put my new starter through its paces.  Eventually I found Debra Wink's explanation of what happens in starters and was content, but it was working nicely before then anyway.

PeterS's picture
PeterS

is what it takes to make a starter.  It also helps to have someplace where the temperature is steady and above 70F; I like the suggestion of storing it on top of a water heater. 

By the way MangoChutney, that's one tough tuxedo in your profile picture.

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

He was a real softie at heart, despite the scratches showing in the photo.  He was a feral who was being fostered by a close friend of mine, whose avocation it is to find foster homes for feral cats and kittens after she tames (and sometime bottle-raises) them.  Unfortunately he died of Feline Enteritis in the same year she took him in, and his initial photo is the only picture she had of him.  I am immortalizing him.

RocGuy's picture
RocGuy

My starter is definitely alive now. It is rising to probably between double and triple (maybe more?) each day and then falling back down to about the level it started at the next morning. No more problem with cold temps. The thermometer right now says 76f on the kitchen counter. 

At this point should I just keep doing what I'm doing? Which is feeding it at 1:2:2 since my last posting. 50g starter, 100 each of BF and water. Should I increase the feedings and feed it before it falls? Feed it more than 1:2:2? At this point I'm just ok watching it do what it's doing but at some point I'll need something I can bake with. Lol That's sort of the point. According to the instructions in the BBA I need to take what I have and turn it into a barm. And then this barm is what I would keep in the long term to continue making bread with. Or something? Lol I think that's where I'm confused now. Do I have a starter now or just the beginning of a starter?

MangoChutney's picture
MangoChutney

If it were me, I'd grab those extra 200g while it is still doubled and mix up some dough using it as a pre-ferment.  That is, mix 200g of the active starter with 400g of flour and the correct amount of water for your desired dough consistancy.  Then let it rise, shape it, proof it, and bake it.  *smile*

What's left, the same 50g that you kept feeding forward, is what you keep for the future just like before.

MikeSartin's picture
MikeSartin

LAB =

Lactobacillus acidophillus, specifically or any bacteria able of metabolizing lactate?  I did not see the term in the glossary.

PeterS's picture
PeterS

Lactobacillus acidophilus and other lactic acid bacteria are important in the fermentation of many foods from dairy products to fruits and vegetables. Fermentation occurs when bacteria break down sugars and carbohydrates to produce alcohol, carbon dioxide and lactic acid (Vela, 1997). These by-products are responsible for the unique taste of fermented foods and help preserve and increase palatability.

http://dwb.unl.edu/Teacher/NSF/C11/C11Links/www.bact.wisc.edu/scienceed/lactobacillusacidophilus.html 

and

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lactobacillus_acidophilus

RocGuy's picture
RocGuy

Just over 2 weeks since I started this thread and I made my 1st bread today. I just wanted to let others who might be having starter trouble know to keep on trucking.

I just used a very basic recipe I found here. http://pinchmysalt.com/how-to-make-sourdough-bread/ 

Definitely room for improvement, but at least I have bread! It definitely has a good taste to it. Pretty mildly sour, hopefully that will develop as the starter continues to live. But I was happy with the taste as is. The crust is a little softer than I wanted. I still have a lot to learn about how to make great bread. But at least I can make edible bread. Lol 

Thanks to everyone that helped me out with my starter question. As I continue to bake I'm sure I'll be back with more questions!

Here's my bread!