The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help! Help! Sourdough Starter Woes

NanooseGuy's picture

Help! Help! Sourdough Starter Woes

I am a newbie to sourdough baking.

I started my first sourdough starter on Sunday January 26th. After 4 days using orange juice (water on day 4) and whole grain rye flour I got bubbles, a "fruity" aroma and a slightly acidic taste. Success!

On day 4, I modified my twice daily feeding schedule to a 1:1:1 ratio using 50% AP and 50% Whole Wheat. I continued this schedule. The starter peaks (a little more than double the volume) in 7.5 hours at 73F.

On day 10, I tried my first bake, following the basic sourdough recipe in Reinhart's BBA. A total disaster. The firm starter did not rise more than 20% and, of course, the final dough did not rise properly either. I ended up forgoing the actual baking and throwing out the dough. I surmised that my problem was a starter that was too young.

A couple of days ago I decided to try again, this time following Hamelman's Vermont sourdough recipe in "Bread", which I cut in half so as to only make one loaf. Last Thursday (day 12 in the life of my starter) I created the liquid Levain using a small portion of my active starter. I waited until my starter had peaked and was, supposedly ripe (7.5 hours after feeding) before building the liquid Levain according to the recipe. This was done at 8:00pm and I left it overnight on the counter to ferment ( at approximately 70F) for 12 to 16 hours.

I tested the Levain the next morning. It smelled "floury", like raw dough, no signs of acidity or sweetness; but there were a few bubbles. Even after 16 hours there appeared little change. I concluded that the my starter was not "ready" and decided not to carry on. I noticed that my starter was subjected to a "new" feed (all AP flour) when the liquid Levain was built and I have read that this change in feed may cause problems. So perhaps the 50/50 feed mixture I am using was a contributing factor.

I decided to keep the liquid Levain and have been feeding it 100% AP flour, trying to develop an "all White" starter. So far, it smells the same (doughy) and has a few more bubbles but I would not call it very active.

From what I have observed my starter appears weak and lacking in LAB, although I have read that a starter should be "ready" to use after a week or so. I can understand the lack of sourness (LAB) because I have been keeping it at around 72F and feeding it twice daily. But what contributes to, as Hamelman states in his book "With liquid-levain cultures, ripeness is indicated by a mildly acidic aroma and a subtle sweetness, as well as by numerous small bubbles, somewhat like soap bubbles, that partially cover the surface. It should have a pleasing tang when tasted, acidic but not aggressively so."

dabrownman's picture

a lot to 80% on the next feeding, get the starter healthy and doubling in 6 hours or less.  It is probably just too thin for such a youngster and needs more flour.  Take 50 g of your starter and feed it 60 g of flour and 40 g of water.  Once it double then do it again  It should double in 6 hours after the last feeding and be fine.

Happy Baking

laurielrh's picture

I have been trying for three years and I am no farther along than you.  I have tried Reinhart, Hammelman and Chad Robertson and have achieved various stages of awfulness(and I am very fussy about following instructions).  I have managed to get the  best breads with Chad Robertson's basic recipe but I boost it with a little instant yeast. Otherwise I get a fine grain crumb with a thick, tough crust. Yuk.  I am starting to think that nice wild yeast does not live in coastal Connecticut.

David Esq.'s picture
David Esq.

Always bske it. A 20% rise before the bake can still give considerable oven spring. In fact I think chad Robertson's basic country loaf is only supposed to grow 20% by the book. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

discards sitting around from the first week?  Scraps, dirty jars, anything?  Something hiding in the fridge perhaps? 

Try raising the temp on the current starter to 75° or a little more.  And right now, don't feed it until it is very very active.  Give it 24 hrs just to stand there and ferment.  Let the bacteria and yeast catch up to the forced feedings.

I find that these Baker Dudes get so used to sniffing starters, they forget how strong a starter smells to someone who's never smelled one before.  Light aromas does not a starter make, wait until it smells like a brewery in the starter jar before deciding to discard and feed.  The freshly fed starter will almost always smell like wet flour, then as it ferments, get stronger aromas as fermentation progresses.  If it doesn't get stronger smelling, attract attention from others or starts conversation about it's existence (What's that smell?)  get it warmer and give it more time.  Do not rush it into a dough recipe while it is still timid.

NanooseGuy's picture

Well, it's been a couple of days and I now have 3 'test' starters.  i think that while my starters are producing varying amounts of gas that this gas is not from yeast but rather vsome form of bacteria. I believe that my yeast is still dormant. 

Here is what I am doing:

1) I have added 10% rye to my feeder mix - just to give a little extra possible micro organisms to the mix

2) I have created a test starter with lower hydration as per dabrownman's suggestion

3) I have found a place to put my starter where the temperature is around 75f, as per mini oven's suggestion

My primary starter has gone in the fridge after a feeding.

My backup was fed at the same time (noon feeding) and remains out at 75F.

My low hydration test also remains out at 75F. Still somewhat inactive.

So far my backup is doing the best. It has almost tripled in volume in 4.5 hours. But what is confusing is that I still do not detect a yeasty smell. Any suggestions?

BTW a couple of days ago, at the time I wrote this original post, I fed the backup using orange juice rather than water. This single feeding clearly created much more vigour (gas) in my backup starter.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

"So far my backup is doing the best. It has almost tripled in volume in 4.5 hours. But what is confusing is that I still do not detect a yeasty smell. Any suggestions?"

taste it    Sound like this is the starter that is farther ahead in yeast development,   Try another test when the peak starts to fall,  take 10g and combine with 100g water and 100g flour and time it to peak.  That's a 1 to 10 ratio and will tell you the power of the yeast.  Typically it will do nothing for the first 3 to 4 hrs (bacteria will start to rise immediately!!!) and then slowly shoot up to 4 x the start level peaking between 8 and 12 hrs at 75°F  At peaking it can be used in a recipe.  (If the 1:10 test takes longer, then the yeast is not developed enough, use this test into a commercially yeasted dough and give the culture more time to develop wild yeast.)

 If you use the successful test in a recipe, Let the remaining culture stand another hour before reducing and feeding for maintenance.  Maintenance feedings can then be lower, depending on the ambient temperature. every 12 hrs, 1:1:1 or 1:2:2 or more  Be sure the starter has peaked and starting to fall before discarding and feeding again.  

If the starter is peaking at 4 to 6 hrs, then give it a higher proportion of food so it will peak at 8 hrs for 12 hour feedings.

NanooseGuy's picture

Okay, I tasted the backup starter. i could not detect any sourness, just a slightly tangy, doughy taste.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

before discarding and feeding.  That slightly tangy is the sour sneaking in but we also need some yeasty beasties.  Let it get more tangy before adding more water and flour.