The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

My starter not starting?

kensbread01's picture

My starter not starting?

I've been cultivating a starter now for about two weeks according to the steps given in Tartine Bread.  Today I tried the float test after a night of letting the leaven ferment.   It failed the test.   Book says to move to warm environment, which I did in my toaster oven for about an hour.... set to 200, then turned off before placing leaven in oven.  It still failed the float test.  Not one to give up easily, I added some quick rise yeast (about 4 grams) some water (about 1/4 cup @ 90 degrees), and added to the leaven... mixed it up good and let it sit for awhile before adding it to my 500 grams of flour.

I am doing a 1/2 recipe so if I blow it, I'm not wasting a lot of flour and creating more bird food.

My last attempt I used the leaven that failed the float test and my bread did not rise as expected. I believe it ran out of gas so to speak and I ended up with croutons for Thanksgiving.

Questions:  If I am doing everything like the book says... feeding on regular schedule, etc. and my float test continues to fail, should I scrape this way making leaven and try something else?

My bread is currently on the first 1/2 hour of bulk fermentation as I type this.

dosco's picture

I am no expert although I hope that some of those experts on this board chime in.

Have you read the threads here about starter and problems?

What is your feeding schedule? What ratio do you use (starter:water:flour)? What type of flour are you using?

What does the starter smell like?

Does the starter double in volume? If so how long does it take?

FWIW I tried the "Wild Yeast Starter" method which worked fairly well. My starter has been good enough for some marginal successes, however after reading this thread it occurred to me that my starter wasn't good enough. I read a variety of threads here, and also found some other interesting info online (Mike's page has some interesting stuff) ... I decided to 1) try some rye flour in the feedings, 2) reduce hydration of feedings to make a stiffer starter (say that 3 times fast, lol), and 3) change the proportion of starter to water to flour (I increased the amount of flour and water resulting in a final feeding of 1:0.5:2).

These actions have definitely helped.

Something else I am trying is to use a relatively large volume of starter with a larger feeding sort of like a poolish; which ends up being something like 1 cup starter to 1 cup water to 1 cup flour and let sit overnight. This has resulted in enough yeast to give the dough a nice rise and decent oven spring. It doesn't end up with a particularly sour loaf but I will worry about how to obtain that once I can get a decent loaf on a repeatable basis.

Good luck and keep us posted.



kensbread01's picture

spent the last hour or so reading the thread you suggested from Jamie who had been having trouble.  thanks for the info... was very helpful.

LindyD's picture

Not sure if you meant you put your starter in a toaster oven set at 200F for an hour.

If so, yeast cells die at 140F. 

kensbread01's picture

LindyD: I preheated the toaster oven to 200F and then turned it off, waited about 5 minutes, then put my leaven inside to try and warm it up.  I left it in for about an hour..., then removed and mixed in the quick rise yeast and some honey with all the flour and hence started the bulk fermentation.

I'm now at the end of the Bulk fermentation period and am going down to shape the dough for a final rise.  I will let rise 2 hours before baking.

orang3's picture

I don't think a 5 min cooling period is enough time to bring 200F to 140F.  You might have killed the yeast from your starter.  Hope your pitched yeast will carry you through.

Les Nightingill's picture
Les Nightingill

The process can't be rushed. It's essential that you have a starter that rises in 4-6 hours consistently after its daily feeding. No point proceeding to levain and dough unless you have a vigorous starter.

Once you have a vigorous starter, only then proceed to make levain... again, you should be passing the float test reliably. Time to float may be shorter or longer depending on temperature.

The whole process is very sensitive to temperature, so as we're coming into the cold months in the northern hemisphere, it becomes important to find the warm spots in the house. 76 to 78F are about optimum. Lower than that, it just takes more time.

There's tons of stuff on this site regarding starters. Dig around.

kensbread01's picture

Yesterday I devoted almost the whole day, well not the entire day, but much of the day either making the bread or doing research on this web site, which btw, I am very happy with the information disseminated and the willingness of the community to help out with my questions.

As reported, my levain did not pass the float test despite my putting in the toaster oven for an hour.  I don't think I killed the wild yeast because a toaster oven (this is a larger one) cools very fast and the levain was probably a bit cold, my house temperature is around 68F, maybe 70 when the oven is on.  I supplemented my levain with about 4 grams of dry yeast, some honey, and 90F water..   then used only 200 gms of the levain in my bread flour (not the whole mess because I had added to it and now it was probably over 350 gms).     Despite all these issues and my house temperature never getting above 70F during bulk fermentation and final rise, my bread came out "9" out of ten IMO.  The taste was good, the crumb good, the crust great.  My wife approved and took a few pictures which I will post.   I'm stoked about making more bread and will be looking into fixing my starter for the next go around.  

DavidEF's picture


While some people do supplement with commercial yeast in their bread dough, it should not be necessary, nor desirable, really. I'm not saying you were wrong to do it, or that it's "cheating" as some people do believe. I just want you to know what to look forward to. When your starter gets to be mature and stable, you shouldn't have to add anything else to it to get a good rise. I think most people who do add commercial yeast, probably do it more for timing, because commercial yeast raises bread more quickly. I prefer to let mine rise slowly, because long fermentation yields better flavor and better nutritional value.

As Les said above, I would recommend you concentrate on getting your starter to a point where it is active, and doubling in a few hours. Les said 4 - 6, but most people agree doubling in 8 is active enough. The rate at which it doubles depends heavily on the feeding ratio, room temperature, and activity level of the yeast cells. If your starter isn't very active yet, you'd be better off not baking with it. Just use commercial yeast for your bread until the starter is ready.