The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Sourdough Starter

theburgerboy's picture

Sourdough Starter

I have started making sourdough with my son with some starter given to us by a friend. The bread is fantastic.

We try to bake weekly. After baking we keep 1 cup of starter, add 1 cup flour and 1 cup water to it, mix it up and put it back in the fridge until next time.

A couple of questions for those more experienced than us:

1. Should we be doing anything else to take better care of our starter and/or improve the taste or the rise?

2. Recently we haven't been baking as often, so the starter has sat in the fridge for 3 or 4 weeks at a time without any attention from us. While it still tastes great, we have noticed that it sets off our carbon monoxide detector in our house while either baking or cooling on the counter (detector is about 20 feet away from our oven). Does that indicate a problem with our starter? Is it still safe to use and eat?

Thanks in advance!


pdiff's picture

Others here may vary their technique, but I have been doing essentially what you are doing for several years.  I fire  up the starter the night before, do the mixing and raising the next day and then put the formed loaves in the fridge over night to bake the following morning.   I do this once every two weeks.  If it has been longer, I will revitalize the starter a few days ahead of baking instead of the night before.

I have never had a CO2 detector go off, but would think that just means that 1) your detector is very sensitive :), or 2) your starter is happily active.  CO2 and alcohol production is normal.

[Edit] CO2 not CO - Duh! Also, like others here I use equal water flour weights, not cups.  Note to self: Do not type late at night ...

SteveB's picture

If your starter is producing carbon monoxide (CO) instead of carbon dioxide (CO2), then you have a rather unusual starter indeed!  :)

Rather than worrying about the starter, I would check your oven, assuming it is gas-fired, to make sure that the CO isn't the result of incomplete combustion.



DavidEF's picture

If your family is satisfied with the taste, and you get good rise, then you are apparently doing just fine. If you do have a problem, tell us what it is, and we'll do our best to help you. I've never heard of starter setting off a CO detector. I'm gonna agree with SteveB, that your oven may need to be checked.

One thing I will suggest. It may be working for you now, but leaving your starter for 3 or 4 weeks with so little food seems risky. Are you letting it become active before putting it back in the fridge? That would potentially give it a chance to eat up all its food long before it gets any more. But, if it never gets a chance to become active either before or after feeding time, then you may be diluting the yeast right out of it, so it needs to be done at some point.

If it were me, I'd first of all get a scale, and feed it by weight. That cup of water weighs almost twice as much as a cup of flour. But, using cups, as you are, I'd make it 1/2 cup starter to 2 cups flour and one cup water, or something like that. It would be closer to a thick pancake batter consistency. Or, for better flavor and even better keeping power, go ahead and make it into a dough and keep it in a sealed container in the fridge that way. If you did have a scale, you could scale down the amount till you were only keeping enough for one bake at a time. When you were ready to bake, you could take it out of the fridge, mix it into your recipe, and put some back again for next time. There would never be any waste, and it would be very convenient.

dabrownman's picture

and 1 C of water is too much water when you feedond your starter will be to thin and go through the food quickly causing hooch on top of it.  Better to do 1 C of flour and 5/8  C of water for feeding every couple of weeks. This will give you a 100% hydration starter.  Even this starter will run through the food pretty quick but not as fast and should last 2 weeks 

Welcome to SD bread baking,

theburgerboy's picture

Thanks everyone for the advice - much appreciated. We have been cutting down the amount of water. Also, our oven is electric (not gas) and only sets off the detector when baking sourdough, so we're still pretty sure that is the cause. Oh well..  :)

A couple of follow up questions:

1. What does it mean to "fire up", "revitalize" or make the starter "active"? As someone who only ever keeps it in the fridge, I don't know what this means.

2. One complaint about the bread is that I find often it does not rise as much as I would expect. We use 1 cup of starter and 2 tsp of yeast (Fleischmann's Traditional) along with 5 cups flour and 1.5 cups water plus some salt. Any advice?

3. Finally, is there anything we can do to the recipe or the starter if we would like it to be a bit more flavourful?




dabrownman's picture

you need to feed your starter out of the fridge and get it to double before using to make sue it is at its peak.  Coming out of the fridge after being in there for a week or two you need to feed a small amount to it on the counter and build it up to full strength and the amount you need for the bread a cup would be about 200 g or so.  i would start with 20 g of starter and feed it progressively more equal amounts of flour and water over (3) 4 hour stages starting with 20 g each,  Or you use 20 g of starter and feed it 100g each of flour and water and wait for it to double in 8-12 hours depending on how active your starter is. Either way would re-activate your starter and make sure it is ready to make bre3ad rise

But since you also use a lot of yeast in the bread, enough to make it rise properly all by itself,  I would think there might be something else at work like improper gluten development or shaping or both if the dough won't rise properly.  If it was collapsing after rising it would likely be over-proofing.

Flavor as in more sour, would require using whole grains like rye or whole wheat to feed your starter and or retarding your revitalized built levain and dough in the fridge and then doing a final proof at 88 F or so.

Here is one of my posts that explains how to do this.  This is whole grain recipe but you can use whole grains for the 200g of refreshed levain only and use white flour for the rest just as easy.  The flavor should improve this way.

Hope this helps