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Sourdough starter doubling too slow

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Yin's picture
Yin

Sourdough starter doubling too slow

Hi there,

I am quite new to bread baking. I have recently started my own starter with whole wheat. I've made a few loafs of bread with it and the results have been good. I usually feed it twice with white flour before using to bake bread and refresh it with whole wheat again. The starter usually doubles in about 6 hours, smells nice, and have a stringy texture.

 

The problem comes this weekend when I wanted to bake. I took the starter out from fridge, fed it, it didn't quite double after 24 hours. I wasn't quite sure how much volume I had to start with to determine exactly if it has doubled or not, so Idecided to feed it again with white flour. Since then, it has been working very slowly. It still doubles, but it takes at least 12 hours. And when I stir it at the end of the 12 hours, it's more like a soup rather than stringy. 

 

I don't know what is going on. Could it be because a week ago when I fed the starter with whole wheat, I didn't wait for it to double and put it straight into fridge? I have tried googling but can't seem tofind explanationoff why it is doubling so slow. I have also tried to reviveshe starter with instruction from sourdough home. Still noimprovement.

 

Can someone help me please?

Mary Clare's picture
Mary Clare

I probably can't help you much since I don't do sourdough as regularly as other members do.  I know when I 'wake up' my starter, I include a little whole rye flour, and starters  *love* rye.

In order to help you, other members would probably want to know how much starter you are using, and how much flour and how much water you are feeding it.  Weight rather than volume measurement is much more accurate.....also, tell us the temperature of the place your put your starter.  The weather is colder now, and growth slows down in the cold : )

Yin's picture
Yin

Hi Mary,

 

Yes, I just realized I haven't given enough information. 

 

I always keep my starter at 100% hydration measuring with grams and using a digital scale. I feed at 1:1:1. The temperature in my house was around 23 degree C. Interestingly, the starter was doubling around 6 hours when the temperature was sitting around 15-18 degree. And now it's warmer, it slows down.

 

I mention I usually fed the whole wheat starter twice with white bread flour and then use in bread. I thought it's what I did this time as well. However, I think I might have taken the rye starter and fed it twice with white flour this time. And when I took it out of fridge, it had a thick dried layer on top. Also, when I fed that rye starter last week, I just fed it and put it straight into fridge without waiting for it to double.

 

I hope that's enough information to get started. Please let me know what else need to specify.

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

You aren't feeding your starter enough.  At a very minimum you should be feeding at a ratio of 1:2:2.  Also, are you discarding a large portion of the old starter before feeding?  The old starter becomes very acidic and this degrades the gluten, hence the runny starter.  If you discard more and feed more I'm willing to bet your starter will be happier!

Yin's picture
Yin

Hi SourDoLady,

 

I think that might be one reason. I probably didn't discard enough of the old starter. So my question is, how much of the old starter should I use for the refresh?

 

 

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

I usually only save an ounce or so. It doesn't take much. It may take a little longer to get bubbly, but once it does it will be very active.

Yin's picture
Yin

I started feeding at 1:2:2 and 1:3:3, inseparate jars. But they are doubling really slow, around 12 hours mark. Room temperature still around 23degree C. Still looking a bit soupy. 

 

How long will it take the new feeding regime to start showing result? And how longshould I expect the starter to double? I am still feeding it with white bread flour.

 

When I feedtwitch whole wheat flour, doesn't have the same problem.

Mary Clare's picture
Mary Clare

A little whole rye flour always speeds things up -- rye responds quickly in fermentation.  I keep a stiff starter as Maggie Glezer instructs in "A Blessing of Bread."  This starter, at optimum strength, will triple at about 8 hours -- going from about the 1/3 cup measurement in a one-cup Pyrex glass measure to having the 'dome' of the starter peak at over the one cup mark in 8 hours.

It starts with 10 grams of starter, dissolved in 30 g of warmish water.  Then stir in 50 g flour.  (In cool dry weather like we have now, I do not add the entire 50 g at once; I keep back a large pinch.  Flour is drier this time of year, and I make the dough stiff but not TOO stiff.  It should feel like firm bread dough)     I like to include a pinch of rye here, but if I were waking up a starter, I would do 10 g of rye as part of the flour measurement.  Whole rye flour has plenty of the natural yeasts in it that you are trying to cultivate.

Knead a minute or two until smooth.  I place it in a nice warm Pyrex glass measure, cover, and place it on top of the fridge to keep it a bit warmer than the kitchen counter.  Placing it in a warmed glass container and putting it in a warm place makes the difference for me in cold weather.  

Several feedings like this should get your starter going happily.

grind's picture
grind

Try innoculating your levain with 5-10% starter.  Makes for a health and vigorous ferment.

Yin's picture
Yin

Hi grind,

 

Can you please explain more about what you mean by inoculating 5 - 10%?

 

How much starter in grams and how much flour and water in grams? Just as example, please.

 

grind's picture
grind

Take 15 grams of your sluggish starter, dissolve in 55 grams of water and then mix in 100 grams of flour.  This makes a stiff dough.  Place in in a warmish spot and see what happens.  Or, if you maintain a higher hydration starter, just make 10-15% of the total weight you starter.  So, for 200 grams of starter, use 10-15 grams of levain to inoculate - you'll end up with 220-30 grams of starter.  You can inoculate even lower, if you want.  5% inoculation is also a nice way to clean up and refresh a starter that's struggling.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

when I should be reading "peaking."   Let your starter ferment until it peaks or reaches a maximum height.  If only "doubling" it could be that the starter is being feed too soon, before the yeasts have gotten their population up to acceptable levels.  Wait until it peaks and then reduce and feed again, then I'm sure you will see improvement in the rising times of the starter over several days.

Mini

Yin's picture
Yin

Hi Mini,

 

How long does it normally take to peak? If my starter is taking 12 hours to double and it's not peaked yet, then when I use it to make bread, doesn't that mean it will take that long to bulk ferment the dough?

Will the peaking time improve over time?

 

 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

A typical pattern is that once peaked, reduced and fed, the peaking time will shorten with each feed by about 2 hrs until it gets down to 6 -8 hrs.   But don't go by the clock, go by the peaks.  If it ferments a little bit more, that's alright too if you are sleeping or at work, keep the sides of the jar clean so you know if it has peaked.  

How long does it take to peak?  That depends on the temp and yeast.  But with your starter at present, I would guess around 16 -18 hrs.

Maverick's picture
Maverick

I agree that too many people look for a doubling or tripling before feeding. The problem is that if you have a sluggish starter because of some change in environment or ingredients, then you might feed too early and not be developing enough yeast. Do this a few times and your population can dwindle to where it takes longer and longer to rise. Once your starter starts to fall, you know it has peaked. This is the point at which to feed in order to maximize the yeast content. Do this a few times and your starter will get faster to the point where you might need to feed more in order to keep from feeding it four times a day.

In addition to the above, I would leave the starter out of the refrigerator until you get it back to full speed. Of course you need to keep refreshing during this time. The other thing I would do when doctoring a starter is to give it a stir a few times a day. You would be amazed at what a little stirring will accomplish. It sounds counter productive because you lose any rise when stirring, but the subsequent rises after stirring are a lot faster. Sometimes when I can't get to feeding my starter after it has peaked, I will give it a stir and feed it a little later.

ETA: I also agree that a 1:1:1 ratio is very little but should result in a faster peak. Thus, feeding more is a good idea if you want to feed less often or if you are planning to refrigerate the starter.

grind's picture
grind

ETA: I also agree that a 1:1:1 ratio is very little but should result in a faster peak. Thus, feeding more is a good idea if you want to feed less often or if you are planning to refrigerate the starter.


It will result in a faster peak in the short run, but that ratio will result in the starter's death overall.  Low pH (high acidity) and starvation will make sure of that!

Yin's picture
Yin

Thanks so much for all your responses so far.

I let my starter run its cycle yesterday. It took more than 24 hours to peak!!!!!

But I let it peak, reduce, then I fed it 1:2:2. Hopefully it will gradually get better.

And thanks for letting me know about feeding too early. I was just thinking about that this morning wondering if I actually have been diluting my yeast count in te starter with all the premature feeding I did. Hopefully not too late.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

It should start recovering quickly now.  The starter needs to peak under 24hrs to defend itself from invading organisms.  Don't get in a rush to feed more than 1:2:2 until it starts to peak under 12 hrs.  If this next feed takes 24 hrs to peak, drop back to the 1:1:1 until it shows it can eat thru the food.  (It is also easier to compare with the last feeding if variables stay the same.) Stirring at this stage is an excellent idea and will not interfere with peaking.  Get a good whiff of aroma when it does peak.  Get to know how your starter smells when it is slowly running out of food and needs refreshing.  As long as the aromas are week (closer to wet flour) don't discard and feed.  Wait for the starter to build up acids and yeast otherwise, there is a great risk of diluting the starter too much.    

I will tell you that your starter has gone thru some major changes.  It may also contain a wider variety of yeast and bacteria now.  Some will gobble food and increase where others will take their time before increasing (and all picky eaters in between.)  By keeping the feed amounts low and watching the peaking time, we are also selecting which yeast we want to outnumber the others while fending off invaders.  As peaking time gets shorter, those yeasts that take their dear sweet time to get around to reproducing, will get pushed out with the reduction/feedings giving faster yeasts an advantage.  

We don't want a super fast yeast so when it peaks around 6 hrs, increase the food amount slightly and make them chew on it for 12 hrs (peaking and falling) to set the schedule of the starter.  When the starter is predictable and on a schedule, you can feed it, let it swell for an hour or two or about 1/3 risen (you should know it's behavior by now) cover and pop into the fridge.  Watch out that it doesn't freeze in there.   Then you will be back to your old schedule with the starter.  Anytime you feed a new flour to your starter, give it a little extra time so yeast are well into reproduction (at least two hrs) before chilling.    This is all based on the 23°C given.  If temps rise, fermentation will also speed up just as when temps fall fermentation will slow down.  So stay flexible.

Patience is the key now.  Let the starter show the way.  You are doing well!  :)

Maverick's picture
Maverick

Mini has given some great advice. One thing I would add is that adding refrigeration to the maintenance of a starter can take some experimenting. For instance, if you are only putting in there for a few days, then not much needs to be changed. But if you find that it needs to be in there for a week or longer, you might find that you need to feed more. Also, some people do not wait for the starter to sit for an hour or so before putting it in the refrigerator. It take time for the starter to slow down, so some don't see the need. If you feed it enough then I think you can go either way. If mine goes in the refrigerator I feed it quite a bit extra and usually let it sit like Mini mentions. I just feel more comfortable having the process start first (refrigeration always scares me). I am not an expert at the refrigerating of a starter since I don't normally do that very often (although my starter was just stored for 6 months in the refrigerator and came back fast). So you might want to read up on other thoughts (or just go by Mini's advice since she is very knowledgable about these things). I know some will feed up to a 1:10:10 ratio when refrigerating for a week.

Yin's picture
Yin

I bake once a week. And I also would like to keep a backup starter in case I kill the one I am using. So what is the best way? Fridge or no fridge? Feed proportion?

Is there any good book on sourdough? I feel like I can only find information base on other people's experience and searching online. But there doesn't seem to be a book that has all we need to know about sourdough. And it is such a complicated thing!

Maverick's picture
Maverick

There are different ways to maintain a starter that all work. Sometimes flavor is changed based on the method used, so you might have to try different ones to see what you like. For a weekly bake, it is difficult to say whether it is better to refrigerate or not. I also usually only bake once a week (but sometimes use the starter for other things). Normally I just feed it every day because I like the flavor a little more.

Some of it depends on your schedule and what you want to do. For instance, my starter is pretty happy with a 12 hour feeding schedule at 1:3:3 (it will quadruple and peak in this time frame). When I go away for a week (or just don't feel like feeding it daily), I refrigerate it. To do this I feed at least enough for an extra generation of yeast (1:6:6), but have sometimes fed more. Sometimes I wait an hour before refrigerating it, sometimes I don't. When I come back I give it a stir and let it peak before feeding it. I never use it that first day, but it is ready to go the next day.

As far as finding information, most books will only give a couple pages to the subject. There are a lot of different opinions on maintenance. Some keep a dryer starter, some wetter. Some refrigerate, some don't. Some feed less often, some more often. Most of the time I see too much emphasis being put on time frames. This is where sites like this one come in and the different "experiences" shed light on a lot of the missing pieces. People on these sites tend to write more about how the starter reacts, how the bread changes, and how the flavor is changed.

A backup starter is a good idea. I have different ways to do this. One is just to put the would-be discard into the refrigerator. This works if I am leaving it on the counter because I will know within 12 hours if something has happened. Another is to keep one in the refrigerator that has been properly fed a higher ratio as mentioned above. A great way is to dry some out. Just spread out a thin layer on some parchment paper and let it dry for a couple days. Then this can be broken up and put in a bag or other container. It will last a very long time doing this (especially if frozen). If you ever need it, just add some water and let it wake up, then feed it. This is also a great way to share your starter as it will only cost a stamp to send.

Yin's picture
Yin

Hi Mini,

Thank you so much for all the advice. I have been feeding my starter at 1:2:2 and left it to grow. There were a lot of waiting and watching the starter. My housemate thought I was a little obsessed. I even took it with me while travelling interstate. Anyway, the starter survived and passed the x-ray machine at the airport alright. :-)

It is now peaking just under 12 hour mark. I am just going to keep feeding until it is peaking around 6 hours.

But this weekend I am going to bake two loafs with the starter. I am really looking forward to it.

Yin 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

Mav has added a lot of good tips too so have fun baking this weekend!  Won't be long before you can give the starter a good feeding and take a well deserved break.

I've got a promissing loaf in it's final rise.  A 100% rye that started out with a rye flour soaker to soften the bran flecks in my rye flour.  So far so good.  I just folded the "paste" and it feels about right.  Have you seen those upside down Christmas trees?  I like 'em!   :)  

Maverick's picture
Maverick

I don't understand why a 1:1:1 ratio would result in starter death if fed at the right times? What I mean is if it peaked every 4 hours and was fed at that time (6x's a day), why wouldn't it live on? How would it starve? Sure not many people are going to be able to follow that schedule, but I would think the yeast would be very happy. If you were to say that it would affect the flavor, I might agree with that.

BrianOD's picture
BrianOD

Mini - I wanted to give you the results of the experiment you suggested, Freezing the crust of a roll and separtely freezing the interior. They were left them in the freezer for a couple of weeks. I took them out last night and tasted both. My wife also tasted them. We found there to be no difference in tang/acid flavor. This is certainly not definitive, especially since I'm not having any luck generating the sour flavor from any of my rolls/loaves.

I got Hamelman's book and tried out the WW Pain au Levain yesterday. Not sour either. I posted pictures of the loaf on a new thread, looking for feedback on what I can do to improve the loaf, both flavor-wise and texture-wise. Thanks for all your help!