The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Starting the Starter

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Starting the Starter

Now that I've invested in a NutriMill and tons of whole grains, I figure I'm going to be baking bread more often now.  I'm trying to adjust my eating routines so I can eat more bread and still lose the 10 pounds I need to lose.  Maybe just bread and water.  No, I need some fruits and vegetables too.

Anyway, I thought that I might try another sourdough starter.  My past ones have been failures due to extreme neglect.  Now's the time to try again.  But I want to start my own starter.  There's no fun in using someone else's starter.

I tried RLB' s approach in The Bread Bible (page 432).  She has you combine equal weights of organic rye flour and water (4.2 oz of each) and place in a closed container for two days (no warmer than 65 degrees) before the next step.

I followed her directions (about 48 hours ago) and nothing has happened.  This morning, I found someone else's instructions for a starter (Ed Wood, I think), and he used wheat flour and more water and didn't cover it; so I pulled back the plastic wrap and replaced it with a tea towel.  I haven't seen anything yet.

There is one possibility I can think of.  I ground my rye flour just before using it.  It occurs to me that maybe the critters that make it a starter exist in greater numbers on the flour than on the whole grain.  Maybe I should grind my flour days in advance and leave it around.

Am I on the right track?

Rosalie

Cooky's picture
Cooky

I too gave up on a couple of starters because I didn't see action on schedule.  Finally, I just mixed up the flour and water, threw out half and refreshed the mix every day until I saw it was turning into starter. I think it took four days to get going the first time, which was a rye starter. After 7 days, it was fine, healthy starter that I'm still using. 

 

 

"I am not a cook. But I am sorta cooky."

KazaKhan's picture
KazaKhan

From RLBs Bread Bible p432:

Day 2

There will be no visible change in the color or texture of the starter.

My advice would be to give it more time ;-)

susanfnp's picture
susanfnp

It's interesting that RLB has you keep the starter at a cool temperature. I have had good luck with keeping it at around 80F, and also using warm water (85F). 

Susanfnp

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Susan,

The Bread Builders suggests cool temperatures around 60-65F for the first 48 hours. I think it's a strategy to discourage any early spoilage bacteria in the first phase of the startup. It has the same purpose as using pineapple juice or other acid in the first day or two of the startup.

I think you're right  that after the first couple of days, a warmer temperature around 80-85 is ideal. However, people make the mistake of then going on to temperatures above 90F, which may kill the yeast in the culture.

If the culture is left below 70F, it might take weeks to become active, I'm guessing.

Bill

susanfnp's picture
susanfnp

It's interesting that there seem to be many different paths to ending up with a viable starter. I'm curious what makes one method work great for one person and not another. I've made five scratch starters over the past year, and the one that took the longest to get to maturity was the one made with pineapple juice and left at coolish room temp. The others had only flour and warm water (and two had additional diastatic malt), and were kept at warmer temps right from the start. I'm not saying that's the best way to do it, just that it's worked well for me.

Here's more about how I made my latest starter, if anyone is interested.

 

Susanfnp

bwraith's picture
bwraith

Susan,

I've tried varying temperatures, using acid or not, rye or whole wheat or both, and so on over the course of the last few years - all just playing trying to understand what really works, since my original starter from 3 years ago is still the one I use regularly. What I ended up concluding after trying a whole bunch of times with different methods (maybe 25-30 times over last couple of years) is that the acids or cool initial temperatures do slow down or sometimes eliminate leuconostoc or whatever stinky phase a culture goes through sometimes in the initial couple of days, but the total time it took for the cultures to really become active was very random and not much affected by any of the methods like the acids, the appearance or not of leuconostoc, or the cool initial temperatures. I had ones with and without acid, at high and low temperatures for day 1 and 2 (always used 80F for after day 2), with rye, with ww, both rye and ww, with just white flour, and some were fast to become active, some were slow, some were stinky, some weren't. That variation even occured for experiments where all the cultures were fed from the same bag of flour. I had ones with acid that started up very nicely and quickly, and I had ones with acid that took forever. But, same without acid, too. Same again for low temperatures. So, I just don't know what really matters after all that, but I think the great majority of the time, a starter will almost always become active with some patience - usually in 5-10 days, occasionally much longer - if you persist with a reasonable feeding schedule and keep the temperature somewhere around 80F.

By the way, I liked the write-up on your blog of starting a starter. I thought it described very well, including some good photos, the average experience I've had with cultures I've started. Thanks for making that available. It should be very helpful for anyone who is interested in starting their own culture.

Bill

susanfnp's picture
susanfnp

25-30 starters!? Holy crow, Bill, do you have time to do anything else? :-)

It's very curious that your results have been so all over the place initially, even under seemingly similar conditions, but have seemed to converge on a rather consistent final product. Makes me wish I knew more about microbiology. And your experience really points out the fallacy of assuming that valid conclusions can be drawn from the results of a one-time experiment, which so many of us are wont to do...


Susanfnp

ehanner's picture
ehanner

Susanfnp and braith,

2 weeks ago I decided to try the detmold-3 step starter process as developed by Samartha. After talking with him about using my white starter and converting it, I decided to bite the bullet and just start a totally new rye starter so my product would be authentic from the start. After all once the starter is stable we have heard lots about how the predominate bacteria will stay dominate.

So, I started with 50g of rye and 50g of water in a 80F spot. After 12 hours I added another 50g's of both. At 36 hours I had bubbles visible in the glass sides. Since rye is so absorbent you don't see much on the surface but evidence of activity on the sides was obvious. It was smelling a little musty so I let it mature through a few more feeding cycles. Eventually I started feeding it to double every feeding. I use 50g of starter, 50g water and 50 g rye. Today it's an active healthy starter that I have used for rye, ww, and white breads alike. It was so easy to get started I wonder if there isn't more of what we are trying to grow available in the rye flour.

Eric

susanfnp's picture
susanfnp

Eric, I think you're right. I've definitely had better luck when I've included rye (although I've never made one with 100% rye flour). I have been told that this is because rye is richer in the minerals that enhance fermentation. I'm glad your starter is working out so well!

Susanfnp

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

After 48 hours something was supposed to have happened.  I was on day 3 (not day 2) and still nothing.

The cool temperature is recommended to keep things at a moderate pace; but she allows that you may have warmer temps and things will move faster.

This morning (about 60 hours into it) I pulled the ball out and rearranged it.  It was a bit crusty and just a touch of slime.  Maybe I should just move ahead.

I'll try it tonight.  I'll move on to the next step at 72 hours come hell or high water.  It's all an experiment anyway.

Rosalie

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

I did the Day 3 refresh (with fresh-ground wheat) at about hour 60 instead of waiting 12 more hours.  There was no evidence (that I could tell) anything was happening.  This morning (20+ hours later) I looked - and - it had grown!  It looked like rising dough.  This was even though my "room temperature" was a bit lower than RLB recommended.

So - assuming it's the right critters effecting the growth - I'm rolling.

Rosalie

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

I've enjoyed reading your posts on this!  Last night I ordered some things from King Arthur, and was tempted to just buy a starter.  But why should I miss out on the fun?

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

Okay, add a grain of salt to that previous post.  The refreshed starter looks the same as it did before the refreshment.  I was seeing things that weren't there.

Yet.

I think.

Rosalie

BROTKUNST's picture
BROTKUNST

I think it's arguable if 'Starting a Starter' is so much more fun ... After all one is trying to create -with lots of effort- something like 5g of viable yeast culture instead of asking a friend, a local bakery or other retailer for a small quantity of culture.

 

'Maintaining a Starter' which is more than just Not-Neglecting-a-Starter, that's the real challenge. My focus is on baking bread with a strong, viable starter ... I would not think less of my starter if I'd buy it or receive it from a friend. Building an individual routine and a formula that yields a potent starter day-after-day for you, that requires some thought, education and attention. Besides that ... after you maintained your starter for a year or longer it really should not matter how you originally came up with the first scraps of culture.

 

'Starting a Starter' may of course be interesting, but to anyone who is new to baking natural leavened bread I would like to say that it not necessary, nor would it make your bread any better. I'd argue that if you are new to this kind of baking it would be better to start with a proven, reliable starter and work with one less variable in your baking.

 

However, if somebody really enjoys the start-up process, there is obviously nothing wrong with it. In that case it is 'fun' and fun is good :)

 

BROTKUNST

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

If this starter fails, I'll just try again.  Right now it's the process.

Some time ago (years) I bought a packet of Goldrush starter.  It sits yet ignored.  I can't imagine being motivated to maintain it.  But my own starter I'd have a special sense of pride about.

To each his own, of course.  But this is my idea of fun.

Rosalie

BROTKUNST's picture
BROTKUNST

And that's the way it should be, Rosalie. My message was directed at the one who is starting with the natural leavened baking and would not need more challenges than necessary for his or her first loaves.

 

My motivation to maintain my starters by the way is always the next loaf ... to me it has to work to its full potential, do it's job and contribute to an agreeable flavor.

 

But I can see your point ... if you 'nurture' the starter from scratch it may be empowering and motivating. At the end though it's all about the bread.

 

I wish you good luck with your project ... you are determined and you will succeed.

 

BROTKUNST

dwg302's picture
dwg302

i also started my sourdough starter from the RLB Bread bible recipe and after a few days it was still very sluggish and not following the schedule that was in the book.  i gave up and then started it again and got the same results.   i was told to keep feeding it and after a couple days of little progress i came up with the idea of replacing 50% of the flour with rye for the next feeding.   when i did that the starter took off immediately and has been fine and never had to worry about it since.   that was about 2 years ago.   a little bit of rye was just the trick to waking it up.

david  

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

My starter went through a phase of smelling like bacon cooking - or maybe it was a strong cheese.  Now it smells like wine, and sticking your nose under the plastic wrap can make you pass out drunk.

It smells so good, and it's active.  But I don't think it's ready.  I started it a week ago, so it should be pretty quick.  I thought it was doubled when I went to feed it this morning, but stirring it did not get it down as much as I'd expected, so maybe not.

I'm thinking that maybe I should go ahead and just try to make something with the discard.  It'll have to be Saturday morning (or maybe Friday night).  Any suggestions?  Tips?

Rosalie

KipperCat's picture
KipperCat

Um, maybe something that also incorporates a bit of other leavening as well? From my reading, I suspsect that your starter isn't yet at its full strength. This way you could benefit from the flavor and still get plenty of rise.

Hey, the mere fact that I don't know what I'm talking about doesn't stop me from offering helpful advice! :~/

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

All I know is that baking bread is fun.  Ask me a question, and that's all I can answer.

Rosalie

Rosalie's picture
Rosalie

I decided it was time.  A couple days ago I doubled my newly-made starter and then divided it.  Last night I turned one of those halves into English muffin batter, using a recipe I found on Sourdough.com.  The recipe told me to mix up the batter the night before - that was last night - and leave it to rise.  It did great.  And this morning I turned it into a dough (with some baking powder leavening added) and then into muffin rounds.  It's sitting in my warm place (my oven with the light on - the light went out in the middle of all this starting the starter, and I had to replace it) for a little more rise, and then I'll cook it on my griddle.

One thing I learned from this experience is that RLB's The Bread Bible is not the best source for sourdough information.  She admits in the introduction to the chapter that she hadn't been interested in sourdough and wasn't planning to include sourdough until her father convinced her she had to.  So she (at least for this book) is basically a sourdough tyro.  I got a working starter from her initial instructions, but I recommend that anyone else just beginning with sourdough find a better source.

Rosalie