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Did I mess up my Tartine starter?

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MikeRook's picture

Did I mess up my Tartine starter?

This is my first time doing the Tartine leaven process. I have been following the book very carefully but wonder if I messed up with my first feeding?  When I created the starter I used 50% central milling artisan craft and 50% whole wheat. I used water at about 79 degrees. Within 2 days the starter was very active and rose a nice 80%.

It had the stinky, acidic smell as described in the book so I discarded 80% and fed it, keeping it the same consistency.  This time I didn't stir it with my hands and I also used 70 degree temp water instead of 80 because I didn't see the book mention warm water on the first feeding.  Although in the book it mentions warm water on both the original starter and the night before making dough.

It's been 24 hours and I went to refeed but realized there was no rise at all.

Did I mess up the culture by not using warm water? Should I start over? Should I refers even though there was no rise after 24 hours on the first feeding?  Thank you!

BreadBro's picture

No, do not start over. It is a common mistake by many to throw away their starters as soon as they stop bubbling. Starters go through several phases as you build them up. They often begin very active and then dramatically slow down as the yeast and lactic acid bacteria start to set up shop.

I would stir your starter, put it in a warm place and wait for it to rise, then refresh as needed. Starters are natural organisims so they will work differently in different situations. The book is a good guideline but in the end you have to react to how your starter is going.

Good luck!

MikeRook's picture

Okay thanks. So should I wait to feed again once I see it rise and fall? Or should I stick to the once every 24 hour feeding schedule?

Janet Yang's picture
Janet Yang
cranbo's picture

BreadBro is right. Getting a starter going takes up to 10 days. If you want to increase the speed that it develops, keep it in a very warm place between feeds, around 98F. 

MikeRook's picture

Do you guys recommend continuing the discard/feeding process now every 24 hours? Or do I need to wait for a rise/fall to do my next feeding?

golgi70's picture

You wait for it to double.  I think you just cooled it down so much that its taking longer than the recommended 24 hours.  Both the yeast and the labs strive at that 80 degree mark hence the suggestion of the warm water.  Just keep it warm and give a couple stirs throughout the day if its not going.  It will go.  Then refresh at its peak and continue.  Once it gets healthy it should start peaking faster.  Take notes and you'll really understand your starter once she's up and running.  


MikeRook's picture

I must have waited too long.  Never saw it rise and fall and a nice amount of dark mold grew on the top.  I think I will start over.  Anyone run into mold problems? 

Capn Dub's picture
Capn Dub

The mold grew because the good bacteria, the ones that generate lactic and acetic acids, had not started working.  The acid will eventually lower the pH to a level where the bad guys don't like it.

Remove the top layer and throw it away.  Scoop out a very small amount, a tablespoon or less, from near the bottom of the container.  You can use that to continue developing your starter.  Throw the rest away.  Clean your container very well, using hot water and soap.  Rinse it well with hot water.  When the container is cool, add the tablespoonful that you saved, feed it and let it sit for 24 hours.  Do not put in the fridge.  Feed it again.  If it shows any bubbling after 12 hours, feed it again.  Otherwise let it sit 12 more hours.  Feed it again.  Repeat this process until you have about a cup.  Throw three-quarters away and continue the preceding process until it is good and healthy.

DON'T START OVER!!!  You will simply have to do all of the above all over again.  Did you ever play Chutes & Ladders when you were a kid?  Same thing.

MikeRook's picture

Thank you Capn Dub.  I appreciate the tips.

"When the container is cool, add the tablespoonful that you saved, feed it and let it sit for 24 hours.  Do not put in the fridge.  Feed it again.  If it shows any bubbling after 12 hours, feed it again.  Otherwise let it sit 12 more hours.  Feed it again.  Repeat this process until you have about a cup."

I learned feeding to be a roughly 20/80 ratio every time (20% starter), where you discard all but 20% and add 80% of fresh flour and water.  When you say repeat this process until you have about a cup it confuses me because in my mind I would have a cup my first feeding.

ALSO, does anyone have any recommendations for some sort of temperature control electronic?  My place is about 70 degrees and it seems like I need something close to 80 for the good bacteria to really grow.  I found the thing below but was wondering if anyone has any recs for a cheaper route?  I have read about putting it in the oven and turning on the light.

placebo's picture

The initial expansion you saw wasn't due to yeast; it was due to bacteria. After those bacteria die off, there's a lull, typically lasting a few days, before the yeast wake up. 

One mistake you're making is feeding the new starter so much flour and water.

Janet Yang linked above to Debra Wink's blog post on what's happening in a new starter. Read both part 1 and part 2 to get an understanding of what's going on. It's easier to be patient when you know what to expect, and you'll understand why feeding with a 20/80 ratio is counterproductive.

Capn Dub's picture
Capn Dub

Mike, you are right that some recommend a low ratio of starter to flour based on the idea that the yeast and bacteria will have more to eat for a longer time, but lets take a logical look at that.  The yeast cells will reach a maximum population concentration at the point where they have no more to eat, then they will go dormant.  (Many people think they die, but they don't; they just go dormant, and it takes time to wake them back up with more food.)  It doesn't matter how much food they had originally, be it a teaspoonful or a barrel; they will stop multiplying when they run out, and they will reach about the same concentration whether they are living in a teaspooatnful or a truckload.

That said, my method is simply to double the volume each time I feed.  So here's how I would approach your problem: Feed your salvaged tablespoonful with two tablespoons of flour and one of water.  (I know, that violates my doubling rule.)  You now have about three tablespoons of flour in it.  Wait 24 hours.  Double the total again by adding three more tablespoons of flour and 1 1/2 of water.  Now you have 6, or about 3/8 cup.  If it shows signs of life after 12 hours, give it 6 more, otherwise wait 12 more hours and then feed it.  Now there is 3/4 cup.  At this point, if you double, you will have 1 1/2 cups, which is a waste of flour, so now save just 1/4 cup.  Toss the rest, since it is still too weak to bake with.  Feed the 1/4 cup by doubling every 12 hours.  Each time you reach one cup, at the next feeding go back to just 1/4 cup of starter and double it.

I make you three promises: 1) This will work; 2) it may take a week or more; 3) it won't reach full vigor for a month.  Meanwhile, you can bake with it, but your dough will take a long time to rise.  Just be patient.

Lastly, regarding your question about the proofing box, see my posts here:

and here:

MikeRook's picture

Appreciate all the feedback and tips.  I will let you know how it turns out!  Learning about how the process is actually working definitely helps.