The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

I have a terrible problem getting my starter going.

chuttney1's picture

I have a terrible problem getting my starter going.

I think this is my 3rd or 4th time trying to get my starter working using the pineapple juice method. The 1st and 2nd time using water, flower, and using the recipe from the "Artesian Breads" book from Culinary Institute of America. The 1st and 2nd time, the start smelled like it should till it went bad fast. The 3rd or 4th time, I'm currently doing it, the fifth day into growing, but very minimal activity. Before taking some of the starter and mixing it with bread flour and water for the pineapple juice method, the mixture was slightly lifted with gas bubble. I follow the recipe exactly as is. I place coffee filter for breathability on top of the container instead of the lid. Containers are glass. I wash my utensils. 

Maybe the cause of the problem:                                                                                                                                                                        

Flour: I store it in the freezer to deal with the bugs, but bring it out a hour or two to bring it to room temperature              

Placement in the Kitchen: Info on my house which is built in 48' or 58' and the setting. My dining room is in the same room as the kitchen. Basically a large room with a dining table next to the kitchen and in the corner, a place for the washing machine and dryer. There is this large light bulb in the ceiling, 3000K (kelvin) to 4000K color temperature; warm white, that lits up my kitchen. It is about 3 to 4 feet (measure vertically from the light bulb down to the table). The other location is on the dining table next to fruits with a chandellier above, the hypothesis being if fruits get mold if not eaten then yest may be atracted to fruits which would somehow bring it to the mixture.  

Kitchen Temperature: I live in Los Angeles where  right now it's cloudy and later warm and back to cloudy. I try to find the warmest spot without taking the route of using the sun, placing it outside, and the flies land on it basically contaminate the whole thing with their feet. 

Any suggestions becuase I'm ready to toss in the towel. Im thinking I live in a bad place to do this. 

Juergen Krauss's picture
Juergen Krauss

I have successfully done rye sourdoughs for years, but always had trouble getting a wheat culture to work. Until fairly recently -when I got pointed to a recipe by Frank Sally. He uses 5% wholegrain rye flour in the starter. That seemed to do the trick. 

I have got a very stable wheat culture as well.

5% rye in the stock starter won't change your recipes too much. 


chuttney1's picture

Bread flour for the 1st and 2nd time. 3rd or 4th time is wheat flour.

MANNA's picture

I am making a starter with the juice method. I used orange and pineapple juice mix. Day one was WW and juice. Day two was WW and juice. Day three was juice and bread flour. After that it was flour and water every day. You should hit a point where it looks like activity is stoped or stopping. Mine was at the seven day mark, about. I am 10 days in now and my starter is starting to get very active. Has not doubled yet but very yeasty smell with lots of bubbles. Im going to start feeding it twice a day to try and get it super charged. I use a sealed container since the yeast is already present in the wheat, it just needs to wake up. Dont lose hope just because your not getting a strong starter in a week. Keep feeding once a day and when the yeasty beasties start mass-colonization feed them some more. Everything in time.

LindyD's picture

Sorry to hear you're having issues geting a sourdough culture going.

Why not try Debra Wink's technique, which works quite well for most newcomers to sourdough?    

Reading through her post (as well as the links provided at the end) will give you helpful information.

PeterS's picture

Modified starter instructions (based on J Hamelman's formula in his seminal bread book BREAD):

1st step: 4.8oz whole organic rye flour (Arrowhead Mills, Whole Foods), 6oz water (bottled or tap water that has sat our for 24 hours), .2oz honey, 1/2 tsp cider vinegar added to the water (white vinegar will work, too). Mix all ingredients well in an old 2lb cottage cheese container or equivalent.  With the top on, place the container someplace that is consistently 75-85F (but no hotter) and leave it there for 24-36 hours. Don't even look at it for 24 hours :) It should start to bubble after 12-24 hours and increase significantly by 24 to 36 hours. Shorter if warmer, more time if cooler. It the temperture varies within that range or a little cooler don't fret it, just wait.

When the volume has increased by 1.5-2 fold sometime after 24-36 hours, build the starter as follows: 

5.5 oz, of the original mix (1/2)
1.2 oz organic whole rye flour
1.2 oz unbleached unbrominated bread flour flour  
3.0  oz warm (90F) tap water (which has stood out for 24 hours or bottled water)

King Arthur bread flour is good; AP will also work if you don't have bread flour; bread flour with its higher protein content will bake better when you get to that point.

After 12-24 hours, depending on the temperature, the starter will again have doubled in volume. When it has, build it once again according to the formula above. (If it is very active, i.e. well doubled in volume after 12 hours, go to the following build and skip the second rye/wheat build.)

After another 12-24 hours, it will have again doubled or more in volume, build it as follows and repeat every 12-24 hours over the next 3-5 days.

5.5 oz starter
2.4 oz flour
3oz water

This is a 125% hydration liquid starter; it will commence faster than a stiff starter and redouble faster all other things being equal.

You can convert it to a stiff starter by adjusting the hydration down to 50-75%, your pick, after you get it going.

The key to any starter is patience.

Good luck,

chuttney1's picture

After reading through everything. I decided to just place it next to the cooktop. I did forgot to mention it was an induction cooktop surface. The stuff seems to fare well here due to the heat from cooking. It did rise, but now the question is when is it ready to use? When it starts to smell like alcohol? I still have to get the stuff to double in 8hrs.