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starter refusing complete cooperation?

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christinepi's picture
christinepi

starter refusing complete cooperation?

My main problem is that my doughs won't rise. They're too dense and gummy. Crust is always beyond delicious, but the inside... bad.

My baby is ca 5 weeks old. I keep it at room temperature, and feed it every 12 hours. Generally I feed 1:1:5:1.5, at 8am, and 8pm. It'll peak at around 6pm. Depending on the temperature outside, I may feed more (1:2:2). I live in the SF Bay area, on the coast, where it never gets much past 63 in summer, but the afternoon sun can heat the house up nonetheless. I bake every 4 days. So far, I've tried no knead breads for which I prepared the dough in the evening, and baked in the morning. I'd try to time it that the starter would peak at around 6pm. Depending on the temperature, I'd speed it up or slow it down by putting it in the warm micro wave or in a cooler room as needed, to have it be ready at 6pm. This means the temps could vary from 66 through 75.

I use 100% hydration, white bread flour, with unchlorinated water. I use it for dough mixing just after it won't rise no more, has tripled, domed, is bubbly and is beginning to dimple. Everything except the smell seems just like in the books. It definitely gets yeastier throughout the 10-12 hours; but it's not a very strong yeasty smell. Sometimes it even has a smell I can't quite describe. Not altogether unpleasant, I guess a bit like stinky cheese, but weird. No idea whether this is a good thing. 

(After mixing the dough, I let it sit overnight at room temp, and it definitely seems to have doubled. Even after one s+f and letting if final proof, as instructed by the recipe, it rises some. Poke test goes ok. (my woes with baking this particular recipe is subject of another thread--in this thread, I'd love input as to whether the starter may be the culprit of  my products' density). Clearly the starter does something, it's just not enough.)

I have a feeling that it would be better to have the starter feed at a consistent higher temp like 72-75 and have the ratio such that the temp doesn't need to be manipulated at all. Is that correct? As opposed to "cooling" it down to 66-68 to slow it down and "heating" it up to speed it along? I only do this sometimes, not as a rule. I don't have the timing down pat yet.

One thing I haven't tried is to feed it more so that it actually peaks after 12 hours. Right now it peaks after ca 10. 

Nights are obviously cooler. I stick it in the microwave with the light on and the door slightly ajar so it's at 71 when it first goes in there at 8pm and when I get up, at 7am, it's usually down to 64. Would it be better if the temp were consistent here, too?

Ford's picture
Ford

I would not worry about the temperature remaining constant.  The dough will rise if the temperature is between 50 and 85°F.  Your problem seems to be not rising enough on the final proof, i. e. after shaping the loaf.  In the "poke" test does  the imprint of the fingers disappear almost immediately or does it take a minute or so?  It should take at least a minute for the dimples to disappear.  The bread dough should at least double in volume, or even triple.  

You say you put the starter in the microwave; I assume you are not turning the microwave on.  I feed my starter at the ratio of 1:1:1 by weight.  I remove the starter from the refrigerator on the day before I bake, refresh and let it stand for 6 or so hours, then refresh and let it ferment overnight.  It is ready to go in the morning.

Ford

cerevisiae's picture
cerevisiae

Let's talk about your baby's history. It's still pretty young it seems; at 5 weeks with regular feedings, it certainly is feasible that it's strong enough to do what you need it to, but it took me maybe a month to get a nice cycle going with a starter that I'd been mostly keeping in the fridge for a year (it's about 1 1/2 years old total).

How did you cultivate it in the first place? There's many ways to start a starter.

Also, just to check, are you using unbleached white flour to feed it? While bleached white should work, I believe it does have a lower nutrient profile, which might lead to a more sluggish starter. I'm pretty sure mine perked up a bit when I started using 25% rye flour to feed it.

Another thought that I have is that it might be interesting to try starting a new starter while we work on adding vitality to your current one, as a point of comparison. I believe Mini Oven has played around with a few different techniques, so she'd be a pretty good resource to talk you through some of them. The archives on here will have a lot of suggestions on how to go about this process if that's something you'd be interested in doing.

christinepi's picture
christinepi

and I do use unbleached flour.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

be to feed once a day, and then not for the 12 hrs the starter is cooler and feed or use in the morning.  I have a feeling your starter is more bacteria than yeast and what you're witnessing is gas rise more from bacterial growth.  You're basically making cheese not bread.  You could use this starter and after an initial wet time of say 8 hrs, add instant yeast and complete the bulk rise.  Just until you get the wild yeast numbers up.

I would expect your peaking to come sooner.  Much sooner.   As I see it, you can work to boost the yeast in the starter or start up another starter or do both.  

Park your present starter into the fridge and use it if there should be a problem and you want to revert to the old starter.  But first take a sample of the starter and lets experiment!  (yeah!)  

  1. Feed it 20g starter 20g water (with about 1/2 tsp cider vinegar or lemon juice) and 20g flour  and a tiny pinch of salt (0.4g or 2%)  Stir well, Cover and let it stand in a narrow glass until it smells beery.  It may take several days to do so.  Stir several times a day beating in some air for the little yeasy beasties.  Keep it at about 75°F  No additional feeds.
  2.  When you reach beery, You can now discard and feed.  Repeat the feeding while you can watch it and add the lemon and salt with each feed.  Again let it sit until it gets beery.  It may flat line before the beer yeast smells kick in so not to worry.  We got to get past the cheesy stage.  
  3. When that gets beery, start increasing the feed to 1:2:2  20g starter 40g each (water with lemon) and flour  and almost 1g salt.  It should start to rise now and it should look different than the cheesy rises, thinner and more bubbles that develop faster.  It should also smell yeasty.  Now feed after the peak falls, and taper off the lemon juice over several feeds.
  4. When the starter peaks, let if fall back a little before removing 20g and feeding again.  You should be seeing improvement with each discard and feeding.  
  5. When your rises are peaking around 4 to 6 hrs at 75°F, remove from the warm box and feed in the morning Perhaps a 1:4:4 and let stand on the counter to catch the warm part of the day and then don't feed evenings.  See if that works out to feed mornings and go 24 hrs.  If the starter is too fermented in the mornings, feed more flour with the next feed.   If you don't plan on mixing up dough the following morning, tuck the starter into the fridge at night (instead of standing out) and then inoculate flour and water (with this starter) the day before mixing day.
christinepi's picture
christinepi

Thanks for this detailed advice!

One thing that's odd is that today it so happened that the starter smelled like beer/yeast. The difference was very obvious and made me very happy. As a matter of fact, it suddenly did rise noticeably faster, too. However, that probably doesn't mean I'm out of the woods yet.

Anyway, I didn't get what you mean by:

You could use this starter and after an initial wet time of say 8 hrs, add instant yeast and complete the bulk rise.  Just until you get the wild yeast numbers up.

What is "wet time"? Are you talking about the feeding the starter some instant yeast between feedings? How much yeast are we talking about?

I would expect your peaking to come sooner.  Much sooner.

Why is that? The thing I don't get in general is this: ideally, the way I understand it, the starter is supposed to be fed when it peaks. So I try to feed it at a ratio that allows it to be ready to be fed every 12 hours at peak time. I get the sense from you, though, from all the descriptions I've given of my starter that what's happening with it is not what should be happening. Is that correct?

One other thing: most photos I've seen of peaked starters have tons of tiny bubbles, equal in size. While mine certainly has bubbles, it's more like there are plenty of bigger ones, and many smaller ones, but definitely not to the extent of the others and less uniform.

Anyway, I'll get scientific tomorrow according to your suggestions and see whether I can't fix this baby!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

that will make this go much faster and the starter will be pepped up sooner.  Good news!  

"Wet time" is my expression for the time the flour is hydrated.  I'm saying that after waiting a long long time for mixed up batch of bread dough to rise (not the starter but a dough you want to eat) after you have mixed it up, work in some yeast  ; that is; if you need to bake a loaf before we have the starter peppy.  I was not talking about adding com yeast to your starter, only to rescue a slow moving loaf in case you needed to make some bread.

I don't think we have to worry about adding yeasts to loaves if your starter is already getting beery.  What we got to do now is get the yeast numbers up naturally so it can be rising in the cooler temps without problems.  

When you inoculate flour and water to build a starter for a recipe, yes, more than likely you want to catch the starter at about peak activity to use.  But (big but) if you want to feed your starter just to feed it, wait a little bit, let it ferment a little bit longer (and show signs of deflating) for some of the acids to build before feeding it.  This will help you maintain a healthy starter.  It lets the acids in the starter build so it can defend itself better and you know the yeast has reached a certain activity level.  (that's the reason I was adding vinegar or lemon juice to the starter above)  (The reason for the salt addition was to emulate dough, which contains salt and seems to slow down the bacteria to some degree.)  

Try the experiment and save your now lightly beery starter (might want to add a spoonful of flour to it to thicken before tucking it into the fridge so it survives the next few days without stress as a back up starter in case things go wrong.  (They won't but I like having back-ups.)  

nighty nite, Mini

 

christinepi's picture
christinepi

I followed your "wake up" recipe an hour ago--interestingly it has already increased in volume by I'd say 50% after 1 hour--is that to be expected? What's it mean?

Thanks again!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

right track.  

Now to find out if it is bacteria or yeast...    keep track of smells, visible bubbles on sides and keep it around 75°F or a little over, not under. we're waiting for that beer aroma and a fall back before feeding again with the same ratios and extra acid and salt.  

Since it is fed equal weights of flour to starter, I suspect it will just make double (that's about the max for that amount of food)  before it levels out and starts to fall back, in a few hours or so.  When it gets that beer aroma, save 20g and double the feeding flour so you have a 1:2 ratio, 20g starter to 40g flour with 1g salt and half a teaspoon acid.    

christinepi's picture
christinepi

... it only smells strongly like vinegar, nothing else. Micro bubbles on the sides, some bigger ones on top. As of five minutes ago, it had increased to a little past double. Just now, I stirred it vigorously, and it released a cloud of vinegar smell, but there was also a tiny hint of yeastiness. 

 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

.

christinepi's picture
christinepi

I got your reply in my email account, but here on the website there's just emptiness. Anyway, I'm glad you wrote, because I just set up the Brod & Taylor box to futz with the temperature. And just to make sure: in an earlier post you said to wait with any more feeding until the starter smelled beery. Now you're saying to feed it in tomorrow morning. It doesn't smell beery yet for sure, there's still a clear vinegar smell, although it's not as strong as this morning. I stirred it 3 times today, the last time 20 minutes ago, and it was pretty liquid-y.

Anyway, I'll feed it tomorrow then. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

when I saw the time was still early afternoon.  Fresh feed at night if using the B & T proofer.  

Now I'm lost...  as I erased my reply.  Stick with beery,  and feed the starter as the peek falls off,  no more acid is needed, just make sure the starter is falling when you feed it.

 Go for a 1:4:4 feed the next time and see how long it takes.

christinepi's picture
christinepi

I hope I didn't blow this. This morning, I took 20g from the rescue starter I created yesterday, fed it 20g water, 20g flour, 1/2 tsp vinegar and a pinch of salt. Was that correct?

It did still smell like vinegar, if not as strongly. No beery smell. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and when it falls back, up the feed to 1:4:4  or 10g starter 40g water and 40g flour with a pinch of salt.   The proofer will certainly speed things up.

christinepi's picture
christinepi

I didn't even see your posts until just now. No email notification, and they didn't appear on this page until now. Something's messed up.

Anyway. Before I saw your post, I stirred down the starter again. It had doubled for the second time today, more or less. Only mild bubbling on the surface. Liquid-y enough that it could be called runny. When I took off the lid, it did smell less vinegary, and then when I stirred it, I detected a definite yeast smell--mild, not too obvious, but considering it overwhelmingly had smelled only like vinegar until late morning, there was a considerable change.

To recap: I'll feed it tonight 1:4:4, with a pinch of salt, after starting to fall; I'll keep it in the proofer, at 75, right? And what happens next? I'll feed it that 2x a day, until I get a consistent yeast smell and faster rises? Anything else to look for?

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

When you're ready to stop feeding.  Feed a 1:4:4 in the morning and don't use the proofer.  See it rise on it's own using room temp, no need to stir anymore except when feeding.  See how high it rises in the cooler temps on its own. 

If it completes a cycle of rising and falling back before morning,  Use most of it in a recipe so  make sure you inoculate enough starter and still have some left over to maintain.  

If it reaches peak before bed, pop it into the refrigerator to slow down fermentation and then use in the morning or leave it in there and inoculate a starter the day before you want to mix dough.  

christinepi's picture
christinepi

But now I'm completely confused. Are you saying to feed it tonight? Or wait until tomorrow morning? And what about temp? Take it out of the proofer now, or tomorrow? 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

and keep it in the proofer and when (after a few days) you want to stop. then  try it without the proofer.  Not complicated at all.  :)   You said you were going to feed it tonight.  do that and leave it in the proofer.  

cerevisiae's picture
cerevisiae

Exciting news! Glad to hear about the good progress.

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11

I used the pineapple juice method and had an active starter in just four days. I now feed it 50/50 flour and water the night before I bake which is once a week. Every so often I treat it to more pineapple juice and it goes crazy, tripping in a few hours. 

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11

'trippling'

christinepi's picture
christinepi

"tripping" better...

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11

That works too