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Help with starter please

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JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Help with starter please

Help with starter please

I keep having this problem with my wheat starter.
I take a 100g of starter and add 100g AP flour and 100ml of water.
I mix up and then generally have to add more water as it is too thick.
I mix up to where it is as thick as double cream
After 12 hours there is a layer of brown liquid

I scoop it out with the discard and feed.
I am trying to maintain a 1:1:1 starter.
I have read other blogs where maybe this is due to underfeeding.
A strict 1:1:1 seems too thick or should I just accept that it is thick.
Any advice would be good.

thanks - the baking bear

 

 

Comments

bloggeraypanadera's picture
bloggeraypanadera

Hi!

I always mantain a 1:1:1 starter. Usually it's a bit thicker but it isn't a real problem for me. I would like to know exactly how is yours. If its as thicker as mine, mixing  first with water and then with flour, it's enough to work with it easily. Could you mix it in that way?

About de grey liquid, don't worry about that. I don't know the name in English, in Spanish it's called priva and it doesn't mean that your starter is ruined. When it has happened to my starter, I take out the priva and I go on without it.

Do you keep your starter in the fridge? Usually, I leave it outside 1 hour, and then I put it in the fridge until the day before I'm going to make bread. Then, I refresh my starter twice during 1 day and 1 night until I get enough starter for my recipe.

I hope I help you.

Sorry about my English.

I write a blog about bread: entremasas.com

 

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Hi,
It sounds like we have the same situation - sticking to 1:1:1 the starter is thick. I now do not add extra water as I was, I stick to 1:1:1. I only bake once a week. I also feed and keep out in kitchen for an hour then put it into the fridge. Every 4 days when the brown liquid builds up I discard some starter and feed again.
I am now storing starter 350g total weight. 50g of starter with 200g flour and 100g water and refrigerate it immediately. It is very thick - almost cloggy dough. I will see how this goes, it should store for a week. I will report back on it.
thanks again.
the Baking Bear

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

I keep a 100% whole wheat starter so don't know much about ones using 'store' bought AP flour but my first thought is that  your starter is hungry due to the amount of seed you are using and then waiting 12 hours for the next feed.  If I were to use those ratios with my flour I would have a ripe starter in about 3-4 hours time if left out on the counter at 70°.

Dabrownman just did an experiment with 1g of starter and it doubled in 24 hours. You might like to read about it HERE 

Are you trying to get your starter on a 2 feed a day schedule?  If so, my suggestion would be try a 1:10:10  (10:100:100) ratio and see how long it takes to double.  If it takes longer than 12 hours to ripen, simply increase the amount of seed used until you get to your desired doubling time.  (If you are concerned about wasted flour you can go with 5:50:50.  No need to make huge amounts as a little goes a long way....)

I would recommend only changing one thing at a time or else it can get confusing.  Once you get the feel for your starter and how it behaves you can adjust several things to get the timing you want - food, water and temp can all be changed to suit your needs.  Just go slowly in the beginning.

Good Luck,

Janet

 

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Thanks Janet.

 

I think you are spot on with it being hungry - it doubles in size in less than 4 hours then runs out of food.

 

I had read Dabrownman's experiment and the ratio you suggest seems so far away from 1:1:1, but if it does the job then that's all that matters - its a good job that starter can't read or is good at maths or science.

 

I only bake once a week and need about 200g of starter for that occasion. I need to feed it and keep it refrigerated. To achieve this what ratio do you think I should try?

 

The AP flour is so cheap that the cost of discard is negligible and acceptable.

 

It was disappointment with my final loaf that leads me to back to basics so that's why I went back to a wheat starter. They used to be lovely with a nice crumb and food crust and a good rise. With the rye starter they are almost pancake like.

 

Many thanks

The baking bear

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi John,

I don't know about ratios for you using AP flour since  I use the freshly ground whole grain which ferments a lot faster so you will have to experiment but I can give you numbers to start with and see where they lead....

First off, as you read with dabrownman's experiment, it doesn't take much seed to get things going.

Second - after allowing your starter to sit in the refrig. for a week between uses I would take it out a day ahead and give it a couple of feeds to get it's strength back up.  I have read in numerous books that 3 days is about max for using starter straight from the refrig.

So, let's say you plan on baking on Sat.  Friday morning I would take your stored starter out of the refrig. and allow it to warm up for an hour or two then I would feed it.  12 hours later I would feed it again.  You can make your feeds so that you hit the amount of leaven you want right on the head.  That would be approx.  5:15:15 in the morning.  Evening 35:105:105 which gives you 245g of leaven.  Use 200g for the bread and the extra 45g for a new storage after feeding it thusly: 45:100:200 and refrigerate immediately.  (This proportion I got from one of the members here - David Snyder - and he got it from his teacher at SFBI.)

Link Here  His comment is the 6th one.  (As you can see from the comments there are many different ways to achieve what you are attempting to do.  I went with his because it was straight forward and close to what I had been trying to do. What I do now is different though as my routine has changed.  I bake daily so I have a starter going all of the time.  What I store is for emergencies - if something happens to my daily starter I know I have back up.  My storage gets replaced about every 2 weeks so I know it is still fresh and will revive quickly if needed.)

You will note that the hydration level in his storage starter is a lot lower than what you have been doing but this helps slow down the yeast so that it survives in the refrig. longer. When you use it for a bread you simply up the hydration to 100% if that is the what you are aiming for.

If these numbers don't work - i.e. the leaven doubles too quickly or too slowly in that time frame - you will have to adjust the amount you are feeding it.  I tend to adjust by increasing the flour amount rather than the seed amount.  I also play around with temperature.  If things are moving too fast and I have already mixed the flour and water I move the jar to a cooler place in my house.  If things are going too slowly, I find a warmer spot.  It is kind of funny....I never paid much attention to the different temps. around my house until I began using sd.  Now I know which rooms are warmer and which are cooler -which corners - which nooks and crannies....Biggest challenge is simply remembering where I stashed my jar if I end up having to move it :-)

You might experiment with several different HL at the same time.  That is what I did and then you will see for yourself how things go.  Do you know the rubber band trick?  Just place a rubber band around your starter jars at the level your starter starts out and then judging it's growth is much easier.  Rubber band stays put - the leaven doesn't :-)

Hope this helps.  I know it can be overwhelming but once you find a base from which to work it make a huge difference so hang in there :-)

Take Care,

Janet

 

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Hi Janet,
I read all that you sent me and the links.
I did the 10:100:100 experiment and it took 16 hours to double in size.

I have also done as you said 5:15:15 in the morning and Evening 35:105:105
So hopefully tomorrow I will be baking.

would you have a recipe for your final loaf please?

I do have some god starter in the freezer so can I can always fall back on it.

I am now storing starter 350g total weight. 50g of starter with 200g flour and 100g water and refrigerated it immediately. It is very thick - almost cloggy dough. I hope this is right - very tempted to add more water, but I know that will cause consumption problems. Going big on faith from those more experienced than me.
I will see how this goes
Thanks for your help.
The Baking Bear

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi John,

Great to know you are getting results.

With your 10:100:100 you know it takes 16 hours.  If you want to keep with that amount all you would need to do to shorten the duration is decrease the flour and water a bit and then see what results.  Like 10:90:90.  Pretty soon you will have a good idea about how your starter lives.

I know the temptation to thin out a starter which you will do when you do builds before a bake but the thicker will last longer in storage as you will see.  Watch it every day and you will get an idea of it's growth rate.  You may not get any growth for a couple of days.  

I don't have a specific recipe using store bought flours because I use freshly milled whole grains so my results would be very different but I am posting a link to a basic Pain au Levain HERE posted by Shiao Ping in the past.  Her breads are always delightful when I do them with whole grains so I imagine with your flour they will be too.  Scroll down and you will see the loaf I am referring to.  It calls for only 95g leaven and I know you use 200g so I picked this one because you can simply double it.

If you don't have rye - don't worry.  Just use what you have.

Hope it works out for you :-)

Janet

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Hi Janet.

As you say the temptation is to thin the starter with extra water - this urge I am fighting.

Thanks for the link to the Pain au Levain posted by Shiao Ping - I shall give it a try.
I don't seem to have much success with cold proofing so I will skip that part.

I only use AP Flour for starter maintenance -

For my baking I use:
Marriages Finest Strong White Flour -
Strong protein flour milled from carefully selected wheats.

Marriages Organic Strong Stone ground Wholemeal -
100% stone ground organic flour, delivering the natural goodness of all the wheat grain. Traditionally milled from organic wheats on horizontal French Burr stones to give the flour a ‘nutty’ flavour.

Hovis Granary Bread Flour -
Malted wheat, which is slowly toasted and flaked over time, a tradition started by the Benedictine Monks of Burton Abbey.

100% Wholemeal Organic Rye flour from Stanton Post Mill -
Stone ground flour using natural wind power.

warmest thanks

John

 

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi John,

 

Don't know if you have read any of Ananda's blogs but the flours you have listed sound similar to what he uses so I am assuming you live in the same area he does.  

Thought you might like to read through one of his formulas since your certainly have the flours at hand  HERE and his method does not include an overnight proof time.

With your selection of flours I imagine you will produce a very tasty bread indeed.  I would love to hear how things turn out.

Take Care,

Janet

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Hi Janet,
Thanks for thinking of my flour and me and sending me the link.
I am in Ipswich - United Kingdom.
John.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

a sign that the activity of the starter is extreme low.  A more active starter mixes it up better.  The water layer looks like it's darker because the above bubble layer is casting a shadow.  Smell it.  Does it smell like wet flour?  Can you describe it?

Taste it and spit it out.  Is it sour?  If sour, discard and feed again but if not... Do not thin or discard.  I think you should add flour until it is thicker and let it sit overnight.  When temperatures drop below 21°C, a 1:1:1 feed is not uncommon.  What is the starter's temperature?

Also set some water in a pitcher to stand overnight so that chlorine can evaporate from the water.  Use that water to feed the starter.  Often activity separated by a water layer and inactivity on the bottom can be caused by chlorine.  Where the chlorine evaporates, there can be activity.   Do some investigating and report back soon.  I can't tell if there is lower layer activity from the picture.  

Mini

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Thanks Mini for your comments. I extracted the liquid and it is not water it is definitely brown and smells of beer - I believe it is alcohol - as produced as a waste material - the starter doubles in size in under 4 hours so I don't think its inactive.

 I only ever use filtered water as we have had issues with chemicals in the water.

 I think my problem is that the starter is being under fed in 1:1:1 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Go with Janet's advice.

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

that if it smells like alcohol, separates into a brown liquid layer 12-24 hours after feeding a 100% hydration starter at room temperature (72 F) - then it has used up its food and needs feeding.

If you are only baking once a week than you should consider refrigerating about 80g of a  60% hydration starter so you don't waste so much flour with such a large starter at room temperature that needs feeding every 12 hours.  20 g of healthy starter taken from the fridge can be ready to bake a loaf of bread (1,200 g) in 6 hours in the summer and 12 hours in the winter.

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Having read several of your comments on other blogs I guessed that the starter had run out of food - I am now refrigerating a smaller batch of starter at 50% hydration.
I feed 50 g of starter with 200 g flour and 100 g water and refrigerated it immediately.
This seems incredibly thick - not the double cream consistency I was told to aim for. I will stick with it and resist the urge to thin it down.

I can see that the flour is food, but what role does the water perform. I would like to understand more about the role of the water in starter life.

The starter I fed about an hour ago has grown by 50% - it will be a 100% hydration - when it gets to double in size I plan to remove some for a sponge mix to ferment overnight - to bake a loaf from in the morning. Would this seem a good move?

Some good advice and results would give me back some confidence.

The Baking Bear

dabrownman's picture
dabrownman

in the fridge and find, since I only bake twice a week, that I waste a lot of flour that way.  I usually will take 10 g of 60% hydro starter add 20 g of flour and 20 g of water and let it double at 90% hydration before adding 6 g of water and 24 g of flour to it and then refrigerating it at 80 grams total and 60% hydration.  This makes 6 loaves of bread over 14 days using 60 g (10 g each bake) and then I have 20 g left.  I bake with half getting a 7th loaf and then feed the other 10 grams as above to put it back in the fridge.  No waste no muss no fuss.  If you bake less every 14 days you can use more seed starter every bake or just toss what you don't need at the end of 2 weeks.

I like to hold back some of the flour and water from the feeding, let the starter double at 92% hydration then add the rest of the flour and water to get to 60% hydration for storage. 

If your original 50 g of starter was at 100% hydration the 100 g of water and 200 g of flour would make 55% hydration.  I like a 60% for storage but 55% should work ok.   If I kept as much starter as you do, I would feed the 50g of seed with  it 50 g of water and 100 g of flour, let it double and then feed it 50 g of water and 100g of flour and then refrigerate it,

Water is required for all life and yeast is not an exception.  It can't live and reproduce without water.  No l,ife of any kind can including us.

Don't forget to freeze 20 g of starter (60% hydro) just in case you kill the one you are using or use it all like I have done by mistake.  You can always take it out of the freezer add 40 g each of flour and water to it an you will get your old starter back in a day no problem with another feeding at 12 hours.

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

I have produced the 80g starter - all the steps went well and it's in the fridge.
The two loaves I made today did not rise after 7 hours - they used to take 3 hours.
I ended up adding 12g of live yeast to each and kneading then proved them again and they have just come out of the oven.

I am struggling to see what went wrong.
The problem I have been having with these loaves is why I went back to the beginning with the starter.

What I meant by the role of water is does more water accelerate food consumption rather than just alter hydration level.

I have frozen some starter.

Please can you explain how the calculation for degree of hydration is done?

The pictures of the Two Weeks of Food for Thought look wonderful.

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi John,

Hydration % is based off of the total flour in your recipe.  You simply divide your total water by the total flour.  Let's say your total flour is 1000g and your total water in 650g then your HL is 65%. (650/1000)

There are several reasons for a prolonged proofing time which could include:

  • Starter not 'strong' enough.  (Did you use your starter straight for being stored in the refrig. for several days or did you do at least 2 builds the day before prior to adding it to your final dough?)
  • Not enough ripe leaven added to the final dough.  (The less you use the longer it takes for a dough to ferment/proof.)
  • Bulk fermentation time too short.
  • Temp. not in optimum range for yeast to do their thing.  (75° - 80°)
  • High sugar quantity which slows the yeast down due to competing for the water in the dough.

If you can it would help to take a look at your total formula/recipe.  Would give us a better idea of exactly what you are dealing with. Also, at what temp. did you let your dough sit during the bulk and proofing times?

Yes, more water accelerates food consumption.

Freezing starter can kill off the yeast.  You might try taking some of your 100% hydrated starter and drying it out instead.  Just spread some thinly out on a piece of wax paper and let it dry thoroughly.  Break it up into manageable pieces and store in a glass jar until needed.  When you want to revive it simply soak some in warm water for a bit to soften it then add a bit of flour and let it sit until you see signs of growth.  Feed again until you have a strong starter up and running.  Could take several days and several feedings.  I wouldn't dry or freeze any starter until you are pleased with the results it is giving you - i.e. make sure it is really strong and healthy.

Janet

 

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Hi Janet,
I looked at the hydration calculation and I wonder if you take the water and flour in the starter into consideration - i.e. add half the weight of the starter element to both water and flour totals.

The starter was from the kitchen not the fridge - I had fed it twice on the day that I made the sponge. It looked quite active.
I did this as the sponge proves overnight - should I have waited until the next day -

Definitely my first mistake was the sponge was stored at only 60C overnight.

This recipe used to bulk ferment in 3 hours - the last time it took 6 hours -
My second mistake was the bilk fermentation was at only 60C
It was fermented for 7 hours and then I gave up and added some live yeast and kneaded - proved until doubled in size then baked them.

I am not sure about the sugars - I do not add any sugar - I guess you are referring to the natural sugars in the flours.

Here is the formula/recipe
The sponge - Ingredients
100g strong white bread flour
100g wholemeal flour
Two large spoonfuls of starter
200ml warm water - 70f


Bulk up - Ingredients
200g strong white bread flour
200g wholemeal flour
400g of sourdough sponge
20g salt
200ml warm water - 70f

I have 80g of starter at 60% hydration in the fridge.
I have a week to get this sorted so I need a feeding regime.
Any help would be wonderful.

i am changing from AP flour to Marriages strong white bread flour to feed with.

When this is sorted I will look at drying out some starter as you say


Thanks again
John

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi John,

Yes, the flour and water in your starter are included in the formula hence your formula above would look like so:

Flour    600g       100%

Water    400g        66%

Salt           20g        3.3%     (20/600 = 3.3)

(HERE is a link explaining baker's math. in more detail created by David S.)

First off -salt content is high.  Usually loaves like use use about 2% salt.  Salt slows fermentation down.  

Second - I am assuming that your fermenting temps were at 60°F not 60°C.  Yes, that is very cold for sourdough fermentation.  Try finding a spot in you home that is at least 24° - 25°C.  It will make a significant difference.  (On top of you range or refrig. or in your oven with the light on only, or under a halogen lamp.)

 You can make a proofing box with a light bulb and a plastic storage bin too.  Do a search here under proofing boxes HERE and you will get some good ideas of how others have made simple proofing boxes to help hold warmer temps.)

In conclusion:  My suggestion would be to lower salt to 2% and increase your fermenting temp.  With the amount of starter you are using your loaf should rise rather quickly at higher temps.  

On maintaining your stored starter:  Check it daily to see if it is 'growing'.  It also helps to note the changes you see as it will go through different phases in strength- it will also begin to break down and get more liquid as time goes on.  I don't leave the starter that I use in storage since I bake daily so my storage one is treated differently than what I am suggesting for you.  I have read that many treat their stored starters in many different ways so you can do another search and see what you find along those lines.

I am thinking that at 60% HL yours should be able to survive a week without being fed.  You would just have to take some out and do a couple of feeds at warm temps the day before a bake to get it strong again.  Mostly you will have to experiment by observing and trying different methods and seeing what does work for you :-)

Also, a book that is great at explaining a lot of this in a very orderly fashion is 'BREAD' by Jeffery Hammelman.  It is available here on Amazon and I would think it is available in the UK too.  Well worth the investment.

Take Care and Have Fun,

Janet

 

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

I have 80 grams of 60% hydration starter in my fridge as per your previous guidance. I would like to bake some bread in a couple of days. I understand I need to feed the starter twice before baking with it. What hydration should I aim for to bake with? Please can you tell me what amounts of flour and water I need to feed over what period.

Please could you look at the following recipe and let me know what you think. I have reduced the salt from 20g to 12g.

The sponge - Ingredients
100g strong white bread flour
100g wholemeal flour
Two large spoonfuls of starter
200ml warm water - 70f

Stored overnight at around 70f

Bulk up - Ingredients
200g strong white bread flour
200g wholemeal flour
400g of sourdough sponge
12g salt
200ml warm water - 70f

Thanks
John

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi John,

I don't usually build days in advance since my sd is used daily so I am making a guess here.  Hopefully these feeds would each take approx 12 hours to ripen so would be started 24 hours before you make your sponge ingredients.

Try taking 5g of your stored starter and feeding it 10g of water and 15g of flour.  (5:10:15) Let it ripen and note how long it takes to do so.  Next build would be 30:60:90 giving your 180g of sourdough.  Of that I would take 20g (which I am guessing would be equal to your '2 large spoonfuls of starter')  and add it to your sponge ingredients and let it sit overnight at 70°.  

You will have 160g of left over starter and that can become your new storage starter but I would toss some and feed it fresh food before storing it.  (I usually do builds to equal the exact amount I need so I have no waste.  You will have to figure out how to do that once you have a method you are comfortable with - until then  just toss the extra out or save and make yourself some pancakes with it ;-)

Next day add the rest of the ingredients and let it double in bulk form then degas gently, shape, proof and bake.  Try to keep the fermenting temps. at 75° -80°.  

You will just have to watch your dough and see how it reacts to each of the feeds and adjust if things are moving too slowly or too quickly.

Here is another link posted awhile ago explaining a very simple method using the 1:2:3 proportions which are similar to what you have in your formula though your leaven amount is higher in your final dough which means it will ferment more quickly. 

Good Luck,

Janet

 

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Thanks for the advice I have carefully read what you said. I really appreciate the time you are spending on helping me.

I checked the temperature of the airing cupboard – in the evening the bottom is 70f and the upper shelf is 80f – in the morning the upper shelf was 70f – so I am thinking if I put the starter at the bottom first then move to the top shelf later.

I took 5g of my starter from the fridge and stored it in the airing cupboard at 70f for two hours. After two hours I fed it as your guidance (5:10:15).

 

After 6 hours stored at 70f it has doubled in size so I am now going to feed it 30:60:90 and store it at 70f for 12 hours.

You will see I have reduced the salt in the recipe and I am getting my head around the baker maths.

Today I will look at the link you sent.

I will let you know how it goes.

Thanks again – take care.
John

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi John,

Well, now you have a base line for how long a build takes with your flours at the 1:2:3 proportions.  Since the 5:10:15 ripened in  just 6 hours you can do several things to slow it down so you get 12 hours between feeds if that is what you want.  The simplest would be to let the 2nd build ripen at a cooler temp, maybe 65,° since it will ripen in 6 hours too since the proportions are the same as the first build.

Good to know the cupboard temperatures....See, this gets fun :-)  How many people do you know who know the temp. in their cupboards?

Sounds confusing but after awhile it really isn't.  You are just juggling things around to get them where you want them and there are a number of ways to do it.  You just have to find what is easiest for you.

My pleasure to help.  That is how I learned by others here helping me too.  I just hope I am not confusing you.  Baker's math was confusing to me in the beginning too but now I totally LOVE it because it makes things so much clearer when working with converting formulas.  The numbers tell a lot about how a loaf will turn out.  Amazing....Learned that from Ananda...

Here is another link to study.  I chose it because it mentions him using 3 builds @ 6 hours apart on the day prior to baking.  His amount of leaven is similar to what you are attempting to build.  His method of blending it all together is concisely written.  I find all of his breads wonderful and his formulas immaculate...not much I have to change...

Good Luck :-)

Janet

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Hi Janet,
Things seem to be going well. I managed to get the 12 hr overnight feed OK.

As you can see it ripened well and doubled its size. This morning I removed some and fed it again at 35:105:105 and left at 70f for 12 hours. It ripened well again so I decided to make up my sponge at
100g strong white bread flour
100g wholemeal flour
Two large spoonfuls of starter
200ml warm water.

It will sit overnight in the airing cupboard between 70f-80f.
Hopefully if it ripens well I will bulk it up and bake tomorrow.

Thanks for the link – I will look at it tomorrow.

Thanks again
John

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

Hi John,

Glad to know it did the overnight fine and didn't over ferment on you.  

I am anxious to read how your final loaf turns out :-)

Hopefully it will rise just fine this time especially with the amount of leaven you will be adding to the remaining ingredients.

Take Care,

Janet

JOHN01473's picture
JOHN01473

Hi Janet,

The sponge did well overnight – it was full of bubbles.

I made the final bulk and it is sitting at 70f in the airing cupboard. 

After an hour I could see that it was starting to rise – after three hours it was perfectly risen

so into a 220C oven the loaf went and out it came 25 minutes later.

I think it looks pretty perfect and back to as good as it used to be.

I am so pleased - I  could not have got there without your help.
Thanks again
John

Janetcook's picture
Janetcook

What wonderful news John.  This has been so much fun for me....waiting to see what each day brings and today beats them all :-)

I have really appreciated the photos you have attached too.  They helped me to understand what you have been doing and how things were progressing.  So nice to see the final outcome :-)

Now you have a base of what works for you in your kitchen with your flours, starter and temps.  You also know from first hand experience what too much salt in a formula will do to fermenting times so in the future, when you want to slow things down,  you have another 'trick' to use in your favor. :-) 

One of the notes on my refrigerator for all in our family to see states that 'If you don't make mistakes, you don't make anything.'

I have learned a lot from my mistakes but most of my bread mistakes have been very tasty as well as educational :-}

Carry On and Enjoy :-)

Janet