The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starting a starter... more questions....

MoonshineSG's picture
MoonshineSG

Starting a starter... more questions....

Hi all. I am new to sourdough. So new that I am still working on growing the first one and have never baked with it. I've done some nice baguettes and ciabatta and plety of cakes (so not quite a newbie around the oven) and just for fun (or as a normal evolution?) I found myself with a starter. I bought online a super peel (which works magics!) and the shop was selling San Francisco Goldrush starter. So I though.. why not.... 

Foloowing the instructions provided, I managed to get it working (I think....). Now it's in his day 4... (3 days younger than my son !!). A very strong sour smell (almost with hints of acetone) hits everytime I open the jar. Lot's of activity going on in there... 

Lots of questions rise now.... 

- is that smell "normal" ? 

- how do I know if my starter is "happy". how do I know is it's "hungry" or overfed (can it be overfed)? 

- does the frequency of feeding depends on the temperature ? (I live in Singapore which has a pretty hot climate - 25C/77F is considered a cold day, and 30C/86F is absolutly normal). Does air humidity matters ?  

- how much starter should one have ? do I keep a large bowl or just a small cup ? 

- I know there's a feeding ratio of 1:10:10... but does it work for any measuring unit? one cup, one spoon ? 

- is the above ratio always suitable ? I've read that people store the started at differnt consistencies... why ? 

- does it matter what flour do you feed it ?  

- some reciepes call for 50% others for 70% .. other (most?) for 100%... I am pretty sure I dotn need to keep multiple jars... so... how do I get the variety ? 

- when feeding the started do I really throw away a large quantaty of the starter ? (such a waste...)

I did try to find some answers on the forum, but I just found myself asking more questions.... If anyone is able to clarify the above, I would be very happy... 

So many questions... So much fun to have...

 

Many thanks everyone and happy baking!!! 

 

 

 

PMcCool's picture
PMcCool

- is that smell "normal" ? 

- how do I know if my starter is "happy". how do I know is it's "hungry" or overfed (can it be overfed)? 

That's mostly normal, although the acetone odor develops when the starter is underfed, so feed your starter now.  Different people perceive odors differently, so you will see terms like "yeasty", "fruity", "winey", "beery", or other descriptors.  A rule of thumb about minimum quantities to feed is to discard half of the starter and feed enough to at least double the amount of starter.  One example: assuming that the starter consists of equal weights of water and flour, if 50g of starter is on hand, discard 25g and then feed with 25g each of water and flour.  You may see this expressed as a 1:1:1 feeding, denoting the relative weights of the starter:water:flour.  Some people prefer a 1:2:3 feeding regime.  The variations are almost as numerous as the bakers using them.  It is possible to "overfeed" a starter, insofar as short-tem use is concerned.  However, with enough time, a 25g starter fed with 25kg of flour will eventually use up all of the flour.

- does the frequency of feeding depends on the temperature ? (I live in Singapore which has a pretty hot climate - 25C/77F is considered a cold day, and 30C/86F is absolutly normal). Does air humidity matters ?  

Temperature and feeding intervals are very closely related.  By the way, your temperatures are right in the middle of the ranges preferred by starters.  The warmer the temperature, the faster the starter organisms consume the food and the sooner they need to be fed again.  At the temperatures in your location, a starter left at room temperature might need to be fed as often as every 6 hours.  That might stretch to 12 hours at the lower end of the range.  Feeding frequency is also affected by the starter's consistency.  A drier starter with the consistency of a stiff dough might only need to be fed half as often as a starter with a thinner, runnier consistency.  Humidity isn't such a big deal, so long as the starter is protected from drying out in low humidities and the container is kept clean to prevent mold growth in higher humidities.

- how much starter should one have ? do I keep a large bowl or just a small cup ?

That depends on how often you wish to feed your starter, how often you want to bake with it, and how much flour you wish to use.  Because I usually only get to bake on weekends, I keep about 50g of my starter as a stiff dough and store it in the refrigerator between bakes.  It can easily go two weeks in cold storage without feeding.  I then build it up to the quantity that is required for the formula (plus extra for storage) prior to making my bread.  Others are happy to keep theirs at room temperature so that it is available for baking whenever wanted, even though they have to feed it more frequently than I do mine.

- I know there's a feeding ratio of 1:10:10... but does it work for any measuring unit? one cup, one spoon ? 

- is the above ratio always suitable ? I've read that people store the started at differnt consistencies... why ?

Some of this has been covered in the previous answers.  The thing I will stress here is the importance of weighing ingredients, instead of using volume measurements.  It took me quite a while to make that conversion for my own baking but I wish I had done so much sooner.  Scaling recipes up or down in size is so much simpler using weights.  So is the degree of accuracy, in the sense that I can much more easily duplicate previous efforts.  All of the ratios that I have mentioned here are weight-based.  The 1:1:1 ratio, for instance, will typically produce a batter consistency, as for pancakes.  If I use that same ratio with volume measurements, I'll have a very liquid substance that soon separates with the flour settling to the bottom of the container.  That is because a volume of water weighs approximately twice as much as the same volume of flour.

- does it matter what flour do you feed it ?

In my experience, not really.  Mine is fed mostly white flour, with occasional feedings of rye or whole wheat, and it doesn't seem to be affected for good or for bad when the flour is changed.  Others report that it takes a few days for their starter to adjust after a change in flour.  Maybe mine is just the starter equivalent of a junk yard dog.  If a formula calls for a rye starter, I'll take a very small amount of my starter and feed it only rye flour for 2 or 3 feedings.  By that time, it is indistinguishable from a starter maintained from birth on nothing but rye flour.

- some reciepes call for 50% others for 70% .. other (most?) for 100%... I am pretty sure I dotn need to keep multiple jars... so... how do I get the variety ? 

Here's yet another reason for working with weight measures instead of volume measures.  Bakers math is predicated on weight.  Those percentages refer to the weight of the water as a percentage of the weight of the flour.  If the flour weight is 1000g, a 50% hydration would use 500g of water.  Or, to achieve a 70% hydration, one would need 700g of water.  If you know that your starter is a particular hydration (because you have been weighing what you feed it), it is fairly simple arithmetic to get from your starter hydration to the recipe's requirement by adding an appropriate weight of flour or water.  So no, you don't need to maintain multiple starters.

- when feeding the started do I really throw away a large quantaty of the starter ? (such a waste...)

If you are feeding between baking sessions, then you will need to discard some portion before each feed.  Otherwise, the starter will quickly outgrow any container you have on hand.  But, you can save the discards in another contatiner for use in pancakes, waffles, scones, or other baked goods so that you don't have to just throw away perfectly good food.  And, you can trim the amount of starter you keep on hand to 50g or less; that will also limit the amount of waste.

Have fun with your sourdough.

Paul

Davo's picture
Davo

I think the question about 50% versus 70% versus 100% was about the hydration of the starter rather than the final bread dough.

I put something on this in another thread. My approach is that within reason, it doesn't really matter that much what your kept starter hydration is. For my typical 4-loaf batch, I will make a levain with around 100 g of my  starter (roughly 70%, which is around 42 g water and 58 g flour), adding about 540 g flour and 380 g water. This is around 71% hydration. If I used a 100% starter of the same weight, it would be 73% hydration in the levain. Given that I am then going to add twice as much more flour and waer, the hydration difference between the different starters is going to end up being less than a per cent in the final dough - an amount not worth bothering about in terms of difference (for me), as I make "feel" adjustments both in the levain and final dough anyway, dep on temp, humidity, flour type etc. Eg if I know it's going to be quite warm, I'll make the dough a little stiffer, if it's humid, the flour probably has a little more moisture in it to start with, if it's got a high rye proportion, it'll take more water. So, certainly weight your levain and final bread dough quantities carefully, but, within reason, don't worry about your initial starter hydration too much.

You probably make more difference to final hydration based on whether you use wet hands or flour during your kneading, for instance, and that rearely gets a mention in any recipe.

MoonshineSG's picture
MoonshineSG

Let's see if I get it right.

Since, most likely, I will only bake once a week, I can keep a small amount of starter, let's say 10-20g in the fridge in a small container (like a normal drinking cup ~200ml). I will then feed it once a week with either 1:1:1 or 1:2:3 for a stiffer starter (no matter what flour). The day before I want to bake, I would take it out and feed it. How much to feed would depend on what the reciepe requires. If the recipe calls for 150g of levain at 100% hydration I should add 75g flour (could use a different flour than the normal feed if baking a "special" bread) and 75g of water to the starter. After 8-12 hours (dependng on the room temperature) when the starter has bubbles and doubled in size I can take out 150g and bake, the rest goes back to the fridge.

How much off am I ? 

 

Davo's picture
Davo

Something like that would work, or do two stages of feed over 24 hrs to end up with a bit more than you need - this gives it two refreshes to really get active - it can only sometimes be "half awake" after a single refresh.. Also, when you leave a bit of active starter, feed it a little bit before putting back in the fridge, as it's got little to go on for the week in the fridge otherwise. But yeah pretty much that is what I do - although a single cup size won't hold too much starter that is expanding - i use a small crock that mostly is pretty empty, and only gets much filled in the expanding-the-starter stage. And even then that's just to make up active starter amount. For me I go through two further expansions - "levain" that some people still call "starter" and then bread dough. But they are just names - there's no right or wrong. When I get to that levain stage, i use a larger stainless bowl that will also hold the bigger bread dough - but then I am making 3.6 kg of final dough for four largish loaves.