The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Seed Culture not Doubling?

volvik's picture
volvik

Seed Culture not Doubling?

First time poster and baker here  <gulp>

I followed Peter Reinhart's instructions for the Seed Culture however I'm at Day 4 and my product has only increased 50% in size as opposed to the double he recommends.  I told myself patience and waited another 24 hours however no cigar.

I read that perhaps aerating (stirring) the culture may help....not.  So I just added a couple of tablespoons of rye flour and a bit of water to the culture and am letting it sit now.

Is this last step supposed to work or should I chuck my initial effort and start all over again?

Thanks in advance for any help...

Ron

Vancouver Island BC

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Reinhart's seed culture is built on rye flour.  Continuing to use rye flour should improve things.  Be patient ...  if it hasn't stopped reacting entirely it's still viable.

Have you been able to maintain something around 75 degrees for it's environment?

volvik's picture
volvik

No the temperature hasn't been consistent and definitely not that warm.

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

If your temps have been cooler, then things should be developing more slowly, you are probably right on track.  The goal is to feed the starter just after it has risen as far as it will go, regardless of how long that takes or how high it rises.  Takes some watching to judge when it has risen as far as it will go, but keep at it and you'll get the hang of it.  

If you didn't use juice as your liquid on day 1, there may be a day when the starter seems to have less activity than before- don't give up, this is just when the microbes are switching over from the ones you don't want to the ones you do want.  It will begin to rise again in a day or two.

Good luck!

volvik's picture
volvik

Thanks....quite a learning curve here.  I didn't think what I was doing was a starter yet, I thought it was making a seed culture.  Well overnight and hasn't risen a millimeter.....

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

Don't want to stumble over nomenclature, I tend to use "starter" as a catch-all for nearly anything that isn't a final bread dough.  It sounds like you may be going through the day of reduced activity that I mentioned, it might be that all you see are some bubbles developing on the side of the container (if you are using a glass jar).  I remember how surprised I was when mine took off after seeming to stall, it was thrilling :)  If you can find a warmish spot in your house to leave it, that may also help boost activity.

volvik's picture
volvik

Thanks for your enouragement!  Yes it can be pretty confusing at my level of the food chain.....I thought barm was an exclamation in a Batman cartoon from years ago.

I'll keep you posted on it's progress....

Ron

volvik's picture
volvik

Well I turfed my first attempt after no movement on Day 3 of Reinhart's instructions.  Thinking that the consistent warm temp could have been the culprit I started over and this time put the beaker in the oven with just the light on.

As usual nothing after Day 1 however it over doubled in size, which was better than before, after Day 2.  Here is when the problem started.  After removing half the batch and adding the Day 3 high gluten flour and tap water it went back into the oven.  Now 48 hours later there are the typical bubbles on the surfaces but no rise at all.

The temp has been constant so is it more patience or maybe tap water instead of virgin bottled water blessed by a master baker?  The only other thing I did was I put the combined Day 3 mixture into a larger glass pyrex beaker and not the original 4 cup one.  I had read of one poster's experience that it had risen out of the beaker so I guess I had some wishful thinking.  (indeed wishful...hahaha)

Knead2Know's picture
Knead2Know

I don't know the detail of Reinhart's method but in general when raising a starter the initial aggressive rise is typical of early non-yeast organisms that will go away once the pH comes down to the right level. This is a common point to give up hope but you just need to wait for the yeasts to get established.

So, don't worry about the apparent lack of action now, just keep the faith and keep feeding with whatever schedule you are following and it should come good in a few days. The fact that it is not growing like crazy is actually a good sign that the early beasties are no longer thriving and the pH is coming down to the right level.

Can't really comment on water but I only use London tap water in mine and it seems happy enough.

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

Not sure which Reinhart formula you're following- he updates his formula in Artisan Breads Every Day to include pineapple juice, in accordance with Debra Wink's pineapple juice solution.  Here's the thing:  if you are just using flour and water to start your culture, it will probably go through this pattern:  growing activity for a few days, followed by slowing or stalled activity for a few days, followed by a return to growing activity up until the end of the first week, at which time it will just be beginning to resemble the mature culture that you're trying to create.   So for a starter begun on just flour and water, that period of low activity/stalling is completely normal and to be expected.  For more detail on this, do a search for the pinapple juice solution.

If, on the other hand, you started the culture by using pineapple (or orange) juice as the liquid when you first mixed it, then the acidity of the juice will inhibit the undesireable, stinky microbes that would normally grow during the first few days of a culture.  In essence, this culture will skip the first stage of the pattern I described above, starting slow and then beginning to grow the right microbes.  It will shave a few days off the time it takes to establish your culture.

As for temperature, something like 80-81F is considered ideal, but the pattern will be the same regardless of temp, it will just be slower at lower temps- you will still get that period of inactivity before the right microbes begin to take over.  Be careful not to subject the culture to temps above 90F as the delicate wild yeast will begin to die off, they are not as sturdy as commercial yeast.  Fluctuating temps pose an additional challenge, because you're trying to judge the activity of the culture in order to feed it just after the peak of the rise, and this task is much easier if the temp is constant.

So as long as your pilot light oven temp is closer to 80F than 90F (check it by putting a small bowl of water in there, then taking the temp), keep using it and don't throw the culture away when it stalls.  Perservere and you will be rewarded. :)

volvik's picture
volvik

Thanks....yes the first two days of the Reinhart method call for pineapple juice and everything was okay.  It was the third day when the instructions called for water instead of the juice and high gluten instead of dark rye.

I'll just let it go then to see what happens but I will take the temp of the oven w/light on only via the bowl of water method...great idea!  It doubled in size on the second day in the oven so I am hoping the temp will be okay as it's an ideal place to achieve the constant temp in a small area here in Western Canada during the winter.

volvik's picture
volvik

Ok...a couple of days later now and while there are a few bubbles forming on the top the mixture isn't rising.  So I'm continuing to be patient as directed however...while I'm waiting for things to happen do I continue to feed it every day (remove half then add new flour water) or should I just leave it be on it's own?

Thanks

Ron

flournwater's picture
flournwater

Are you aerating your culture with each division and feeding cycle?  You can use just about any tool to do that but a whisk works best.  Pour off liquids on top, divide, feed, aerate, refrigerate,

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

If you are more than three days into the process, which I think you are, then continue to feed every day.  But don't refrigerate, if you were considering that.  Bubbles on the top are great- they indicate microbial activity, and since you started with juice, it's probably the "right" kind of microbial activity.  Keep at it, it takes at least a week or so, maybe longer, to get it off the ground.

volvik's picture
volvik

Well after that last feeding suggestion it more doubled and looks like a cross between a Chef's hat and a fluffy waffle batter.  So I've now done that last (phew!) feeding as a seed culture and in theory it's supposed to double at least between 4-24 hours in Peter Reinhart's book.

So fingers crossed, sometime tomorrow it's off to the final Barm/Mother's Starter and then a loaf of bread.

Thanks again for the input and I'll report back again with the progress.....hopefully positive.

Edit:  Ok, last night I did that last feeding and even prior to going to bed I noticed some rise and now while I have my morning coffee some 10 hours later it's over doubled.  Yes!

So now off to barm instructions.  During this last streak of success what I did so differently was to use bottled water instead of out of the tap.  Perhaps there is some floride or other additive in the local water that inhibits this process?  Regardless I'm happy with the recent success.

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

Congratulations, you did it!  Nice work, looking forward to seeing your first SD loaf :)

Sometimes tap water can have too much chlorine, leaving it out to sit on the counter overnight can allow that to evaporate (assuming you don't want to keep buying bottled water to feed your starter once it's up and running).  

volvik's picture
volvik

Quick follow up before I start....I have the starter in the fridge after it fluffed up nicely doubling in size.  Before I measure out an amount of the starter to use in a recipe do I stir the starter down to collapse it or measure it out in it's 'bubbly and expanded' state?

Thanks...

FlourChild's picture
FlourChild

If you're weighing ingredients, it doesn't matter how much air is in them.  I honestly don't know whether you should stir it  down, since I bake with a scale.  Does the author of your recipe state what to do?  If not, try stirring gently before measuring, better too much than too little.