The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Intro and questions

alessiovegan's picture
alessiovegan

Intro and questions

Hi all,

First a bit about myself given I've been on this site a few times but not posted on it before. I do love my baking just as much as most of you I'm sure and have attempted baking bread with a sourdough starter I put together.

I lived in the UK up until a few months ago where I used rye flour only for my starter and used a 100% hydration (this is also how I started the culture) which I started with 100g rye flour, 100ml water and 1 tbsp sugar. After that it was always fed 50g of rye flour and 50ml of water. With this I never had any issues in terms of getting the starter to be active, however it did eventually die.

I managed to bake a couple of loaves that tasted pretty good like the ones below (excuse the quality, they were taken with my phone):

I am trying again, this time with white flour again (rye seems a bit expensive for experiments), I used 100g flour, 100ml water and 1 tbsp sugar but I am feeding it with 50g flour and only 25ml water as that seems to keep it from going liquid and sour.

My questions...

  • Can it be that the fridge is too cold for the starter to survive? (we have it on the warmest setting, about 8 degrees) 
  • What do you think I am doing wrong?
  • Is it possible that in different countries hydration needs to be at different levels? It's end of november but it's still rather warm during the day, about 15 degrees and indoors, the flat we live in is also very warm

Thanks a million guys!

Alessio

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

There needs to be some basic understanding of sourdough starter culture.  Especially if you are trying to "keep it from going liquid and sour."  

A Culture needs about 23° to 27°C  to grow nicely.  The room temperature you mentioned sounds better than outside or the refrigerator.   All that is needed is flour and a liquid, may I suggest unsweetened orange or pineapple juice?  Water will work but the juice lowers the pH in the mixture so that the desired bacteria and yeast in the flour can get started sooner.  Juice shaves a few days off the waiting period.  Mix flour & liquid equally by weight (50g each) and stir maybe two or three times a day, cover and pretty much ignore it for two or three days.   Discard half  (save 50g) and feed with enough juice to double the amount of "starter" and add enough flour to make a thick batter.  Clean the sides of the container or move to a clean one and  mark the level, cover and let it sit.  Stir it should the juice or water separate from the flour and keep it warm.   The first sign of activity is that the juice stops separating from the flour.  Then small bubbles will form next to the glass.  Stir in a spoonful of flour to thicken back to a thick batter or just enough for a very soft dough.  Press flat, re-mark the level and wait for it to rise and start to fall back down.  

Any amount of rise is acceptable.  When that happens you should notice that the starter no longer smells like wet flour but that it has a light yeasty, beer note.   The sourdough culture will also thin out as fermentation progresses and may smell sour.  Wait for the level to lower or fall and then remove  50g to feed again, juice and flour.  This time make sure your container has plenty of room for expansion at least 4x the amount of just fed starter.  Wheat will rise much higher than rye so be warned.  Park a soup bowl under the container from now on if using wheat flour.  With the next rise and fall, feed using water and flour.   Use tap water that has been standing out for a day to prevent chlorinated water from killing the yeast.  

With each feeding,  the time to peak will be shorter and the peaks higher.  When it is peaking under 12 hrs in a warm UK kitchen, it is time to put the starter on a 12 hour feeding schedule for about a week gradually moving the starter to a cooler section of the room but stay above 22°C.  The starter should be rising and falling before discarding and then fed with equal amounts of flour and water.  It your starter is rising and falling in 8hrs, you can easily start baking with it.   And you might want to reduce to 20g instead of 50g starter and then feed 50g each water & flour at this time.  See if it rises and falls under 12 hrs.  If not, go back to a higher amount of starter.  

If there is some emergency or trip where you can't get to your starter to feed, pop the risen starter in the fridge for a day or two and then feed it later keeping it on schedule.  Don't put a freshly fed starter immediately into the fridge without seeing some rise on it first or when there is more peaked starter to flour in the mixture.  

alessiovegan's picture
alessiovegan

Perhaps I explained this the wrong way, I'm not expecting the culture to grow in the fridge. I just want to have the possibility of storing it there while I'm not using it (I wouldn't use it more than once a week) as I think it would go off if I didn't refresh it at least every other day when kept at room temperature.

Also is the taking a part of the culture out and disposing of it strictly necessary? I don't exactly like throwing food away unless needed and given that when I put together a starter in the past I never threw anything away and it still worked, it feels like a bit of a waste.

What I would normally do is when my starter is active and has been used for baking, I would put the remainder in the fridge without feeding prior to putting it in the fridge, then leave it in it for a week, take it out, let it come to room temp, then refresh it and use it the day after.

Maybe that helps you understand what I was trying to say :)

Alessio

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

of the refrigerator slow down the starter but don't stop it.  If you put a mature starter that has peaked already, there is still some activity and the starter can be used the next day but to wait a week it too long.  The bacteria are churning out acids and lowering pH meanwhile the yeast are getting a message that food has run out.  Some will go dormant while other hang on waiting for food.  But the yeast numbers are dropping.  With one refreshment, yeast numbers are built up again. (A second refreshment is even better.)  Then most of the starter is used for a recipe and then the rest is not fed but tucked into the fridge to fight for survival.    ...And then the starter apeared to die go dormant.   I would too if you fed me like a king, waited for me to get hungry and then not feed me for a week.   So, if you want the beasties to stay active, feed them before you store them and make sure they have enough food, even at a slower pace of activity, to sense "all is well."

There are many ways to go about this.  

I simply reduce the starter to a scant tablespoon, add about 4 times the amount of water and enough flour to make a thick paste, like toothpaste.  Let it stand out to rise about 1/3  up to peaking (so I know they've gone thru at least one reproductive cycle) and pop the starter into the refrigerator.  Then I use this starter as a "mother."  The night before I want to bake,  I remove a tablespoon of starter from the "mother" and stick it back into the fridge.  Then I elaborate the spoon of starter for my recipe.  

The "mother" will stay cool and active for about 3 weeks.  When it starts to look worn or will run out, I take a spoonful of a just elaborated peaked starter and let it mature a little bit more, then feed to make a new "mother."   It works very well and there is almost no waste.  You make the amount of mother you plan to use up.   

Does that help? 

Good luck getting your starter going again.  I just love walnuts and hazel nuts in bread, they look lovely. 

LisaE's picture
LisaE

It helps me as I'm currently floundering in confusion as to how to "use my discards for baking" Now I understand much better what to do when I am satisfied with the vibrance of my starter. Thanks Mini Oven!

Song Of The Baker's picture
Song Of The Baker

Exactly the help I needed today, and thank you for your easy to understand directions!

Saved my beer/vinegar smelling rye starter back to a ripe fruit doubler.

John

brennele's picture
brennele

It is not likely that your temp is too cold because, recall, starter can actually be frozen and maintained in that way - although dehydration is more reliable.  Believe it or not I have actually ignored starter left in the frig for literally months on end (we are talking 3-4 or more months of ignoring it) and it comes back alive when taken out and place in a bowl - into which I put flour and water.  During its "frig period," it develops a very dark and plentiful hooch (which is very acid and beer-like) and which ultimately gives the bread its characteristic flavor.   The taste is wonderful.  Don't let the hooch scare you - as it often does to novices.  It is packed with flavor and tang.  Simply stir it back in then either remove what you need for baking your current loaf of bread or else feed it new flour and water and refrigerate it.  I sometimes add a tsp of sugar, as well, before returning it to the refrigerator.    Your characteristic flavor in the bread comes from the fermentation products (acid and alcohol).  Your rise results from the reactivation of the yeast from its dormant stage to, now, an active and rising culture which action causes your current loaf to rise.  It is the two processes together which gives the bread it's distinctive taste and texture. 

brennele's picture
brennele

As for not throwing out food,  you need not throw anything out.  What I sometimes do is dump the whole contents of the starter jar after removing it from the frig into a large bowl and, then,  add some flour and water.  The whole thing comes to life and starts bubbling again.  I then take some of the "sponge" (as it is called) out of the bowl (usually two cups)  and put it back into the jar - which I have now washed out with hot soapy water, rinsed and dried.  I then add another another cup of flour, some sugar and return it to the frig - total of about 3 cups of flour/liquid in the jar.  Sometimes it stays in there for literally months before I get around to baking again.  I use a large Folger's coffee crystal jar for this purpose although, just today, I see where they changed the design and now this will no longer be an option.   I use what is left over in the bowl - after removing 2 cups for refrigeration - and proceed to make my bread with what is left.   I agree wasting is the pits and I don't do it.  It is not necessary to remove sponge except to use it and/or feed it.  When you are getting your starter going, you can remove the early sponge - before it has enough hooch to be flavorful - and make bread rolls, pancakes, pizza,  whatever.    Discarding is wasteful.  While it might  not be mature starter, as of yet, there is no law which says that absolutely everything which comes out of your oven must be sourdough.    Some people bake delicious bread their whole life and never make any sour dough.  You simply make some "regular" bread rolls in the interim while you are waiting for your sponge to become mature.  They will be tasty enough.  Fresh bread - plain or sourdough - is always tasty.  Food is simply too expensive and too  many people in the world are starving for us to be discarding or wasting ingredients.