The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Hello from Houston Texas Sourdough levain Salt Water

genetaie's picture

Hello from Houston Texas Sourdough levain Salt Water

No problem with Texas, such a state to discover!

Coming from France via the United Arab Emirates where I had no trouble to make my own levain and bake great bread, but here it's another story.

My 4th levain is on trial, fingers crossed.

My previous ones develop this nasty ethanol smell when they looked alive and bubbly but then they dy when I want to make my bread with it. First time I encountered such a disaster.

The dough simply look dead and won't rise, even after a couple of days on observation to check if they it will revive!

I thought the salt was the reason why they died as there is salt ,sodiumalluminate, sodium thiosulfate, potassium iodide in the iodized salt I bought. Didn't know that such a simple ingredient like salt could be so altered!

2nd trial with organic salt, organic rye flour (as in the 1st trial Arrowhead Mill)) spring water same story :(

3rd trial after reading Debra Wink wonderful paper on fermentation, I tried to add some lemon juice to make the pH more acidic. No success and same story.

By the way I made 2 trials with spring water and tap water to achieve the same result! The nasty beasts developed anyway in both!

4th trial with organic salt, organic rye flour and spring water then I place it in the fridge for 24 hours to slow the process of fermentation and give a chance to the good bacteria and yeast to develop. It is in progress...I'll see how it will develop.

I have made bread with instant yeast but I do miss the great flavour that sourdough bread gives.

My questions:

- Does the rye flour I bought carry the wrong bacteria and yeast?

- Was the temperature in August too high which encourages the wrong bacteria and yeast to develop? 

-What am I doing wrong?

Thank you all for your support and your suggestions.



BreadBro's picture

How long are you letting your culture grow? It takes well over two weeks to get something that's able to leaven bread.

genetaie's picture

From your comment I think I didn't let it grow long enough.

When I saw that it was so bubbly and lively I thought it was ready to use after a couple of more feedings.

Following your comment and after more reading on Freshloaf on the subject ( some very interesting posts by dabrownman), I'll feed it longer to see the effects on the development of good LABs and yeast.

One suggestion was to add some cumin which suposedely would help the development of good LABs, I won't give it a try this time but will keep the suggestion if this trial doesn't work:)

Many thanks for your support

pmccool's picture

And welcome to The Fresh Loaf.

i think that you may be the first person in my acquaintance to use salt while trying to cultivate a new starter.  What is the reason for doing so?

Houston's water supply can carry high levels of chlorine.  That, plus the salt, may be part of the problem.  Try using a non-chlorinated bottled water to see if it works better. 

Since you have already read Debra Wink's article, why not follow her instructions completely?  Her's is a well-proven and effective method that has worked well for many people, including Houston residents. 


genetaie's picture

Hello Paul

I've used salt when I tried to make my dough after I made a starter.

In my starter only spring water and organic rye flour.

I've used tap water just to compare the development with a spring water starter, and the result was just the same! I was really puzzled.

Thanks Paul for your suggestions


Davo's picture

I think you need to make sure you starter is active and routinely rising in a predicatble way for a good week or so before trying to raise bread with it.

Iodised salt will make no difference, I use it routinely. People think it's a weird chemical, but it's just an element that is usually in food you eat, but if you are in an area of iodine deficiency, its lack could cause you serious problems, and using iodised salt could help prevent you getting thyroid tumours/malfunction.

Even if the starter were known to be alive and well and behaving properly, you can't ask about how come it's behaving in a certain way without describing your process and quantities, temps, durations  etc. I could take my perfectly fine starter and make an inedible brick easily if I got my parameters in terms of timing/ratios/temperatures wrong.

genetaie's picture

Hello Davo

Thank you for your attention, once more The Freshloaf community is active and ready to help:)

My problem is with my starter, I have been making bread for the past 2 years with no problem at all, using the same recipe in different countries.

It's just this time my starter does't grow properly and develops a nasty smell, not like the one when it is hungry and will revive after a proper refresh.

When I use it to make bread , the dough won't rise and altogether looks dead, even after a couple of days left on the counter.

Once again, I resume to make another starter and the original recipe is the following:

 Friday after noon: first a mix of 20g rye flour + 20 g spring water 1 day in the fridge (my initiative as a trial and I don't think this will make much difference) then room remperature 76°C

Monday morning some fine bubbles and I do the first refresh with 40g spring water (used to rince an empty jar of honey) + 40g bread flour (King Arthur). It is very active to-night. Room temperature

To-morrow I'll refresh it again.

The smell isn't as repulsive as the previous ones. 

Warm regards


genetaie's picture

Finally my levain is alive and bubbly after smelling alcohol,then cheese and  looking like slime.

I followed Mike's advice and kept feeding 50g water + 50 g flour which I would add to 100g of my cultured levain.

We've had a couple of pancakes for diners.... 

Yesterday I took all but 100g of my levain which I fed and here it is on the photo; with the rest I used the rusctic bread recipe from Floydm which I had made once and instead of making the preferment I used my levain plus 3 g of instant yeast (just un case the levain would be lazy) and then followed the recipe. Unfortunately I was stuck in trafic and baked the bread slightly after it had passed its best rising time and settle oven at 400°C (too much hurry!!) but the result was a very tasty bread if not looking very good. I guess it was a high hydratation as it was very difficult to shape.


And now that I have mastered the dowload of pictures (Tks Deborah ) I'll send you more up-dates of my trials.

Right now a Thangzong bread is on its 2nd proofing :)

Thanks a lot for the encouragements I found on the Freshloaf.