The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

New to sourdough

  • Pin It
Akmagnolia's picture
Akmagnolia

New to sourdough

So I moved to Alaska and I finally declared myself beyond Cheechako (Alaska-speak for greenhorn) stage. To celebrate, I'm attempting a sourdough starter.  I've named my starter Jim, after Jim Huscroft, an early twentieth century Alaskan hermit.  Legend goes he came into town once a year and picked up a copy of the previous year's newspapers, which he would read one per day over the next year, each a year late. 

The "Sourdough Jim" sitting on top of my refrigerator has it's own idea of time as well. I started it last week using 1:1 whole wheat and water.  The first two days had one 1:1:1 feeding with white all purpose flour, then switched to twice a day.  All at room temperature.  What I'm getting looks nothing like the photos on the KA blog, lol.  I've had small bubbles but it has never doubled.  It smelled kind of like sour kraut the first few days the cabbage is in the crock, with a hint of soured dairy, and it was extremely thick and doughy, like a stiff dropped biscuit dough.  Now it can be poured, like really thick batter, but it is still stretchy, and it smells more like spackling than kraut or yogurt.  It barely tastes sour right before I feed it.  It hasn't had a lot of bubbles, only a few small ones, and doesn't smell at all like yeast.  According KA it should be ready to use soon, but I don't think so.  Room temperature for us is 67-75 and varies with the outside temperatures quite a bit.  

Is the 2x a day 1:1:1 feeding schedule over-feeding the starter at this point?

Ford's picture
Ford

Welcome to The Fresh Loaf -- Floyd Mann is our host.

Keep on feeding your starter at the ratio of 1:1:1 by weight, once per day.   After two weeks it should be strong enough to raise a loaf, but it will take another two weeks to be mature.  Check out Mike Avery's site for sourdough starter: http://www.sourdoughhome.com. 

Ford

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

Welcome to the TFL.

Rest assured you're on the right track - just a tad of greenhorn in making up your sourdough.

Get some whole wheat "organic" flour - it comes prepackaged with sourdough starter (God's work). Organic Dark Rye flour also works but will yield an initially "really sour" sourdough (a mix of 20% Rye and 80% Wholewheat is a good idea).

Keep an eyeball on temperature +/- 10 dF centered on 77 dF is an acceptable (average) range, keep it covered and clean.

I assume you're using bottled water (or pure water) to get it going so no problem there, right?

Wild-Yeast

Akmagnolia's picture
Akmagnolia

I've used bottled water and the whole wheat I used for Day 1 was organic.  The directions called for switching to all-purpose white after, so I did with King Arthur all purpose.  I still have some whole wheat in the pantry, but I only purchased what I needed from the bulk bin because I prefer white.

I've been baking the basic white sandwich loaf with active yeast with good results and I'm excited about playing with sourdough.  When I came home from work, I tasted the starter and it was very sour tasting, compared to this morning before I fed it.  It doesn't really have an odor anymore.

My husband and I argue over whether I'm still a Cheechako ;)  I say I've wintered over twice, he says I have too much Southern drawl, still.  When it comes to sourdough, though, definitely Cheechako.

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

You graduate to citizen of Alaska after successfully making it through three winters. In fact, the Breakup is one of those events that no one but those who've been cooped up all winter can understand. Replacing the headlights prior to winter is a sure sign of citizenship. I suggest that everyone travel to Alaska at least once in their lives - it is one of the most differently beautiful places on the planet.

Buttermilk sour is good. Twice a day indicates a fair amount of activity  especially if it is also doubling in bulk. You want a balance between the two. Usually it works down to using temperature to control the balance. Too cold breeds souring lactobacilli - to warm favors rising yeasts. That's why 77 dF is the average between the two extremes. Let it go long enough and it will really turn sour which is good for San Francisco Sourdough French Bread. I assume you're more into Pain Quotidien (everyday bread) so to keep it in that ballpark means that you're going to have to time it for doubling in bulk for an active levain. Sounds tricky doesn't it? It is at first but after your third winter it will be a piece of cake (or bread).

Best to remove your thought processes from making bread for a minute and realize you're herding a bunch of bacteria and yeasts into conditional surrender in the pursuit of making a baked gluten foam. Those bacteria and yeasts will only become a stable sourdough culture when there's a large enough population to enhance the stability of their shared symbiotic environment. A good stable sourdough culture is a symbiotic relationship between wild-yeasts and lactobacilli - not unlike lichen - a symbiosis of a fungus and blue-green algae.

Once you've established the base living mechanisms it's time to increase their numbers to the point that they become the predominant infection for the new feeding food base and are able to suppress other invading bacteria and yeasts (yes, the symbiotic relationship actually defends against being infected from external sources). Truth be know, once you've established the starter, you can be pretty sloppy with its care though it's not recommended.

Recomendation

I'd raise the temperature to favor yeast development. I have an electric oven with halogen lighting which increases the temperature to around 80-82 dF. Once you can repeat doubling in bulk repeatedly you'll be ready to start making pain..., 

Wild-Yeast   

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11

...what do you call 1:1:1 in measurements? 

BurntMyFingers's picture
BurntMyFingers

one part flour, one part water, one part existing starter. This is a 100% starter (weight of water same as flour) which might be reduced to 60% (if using white flour) once it is mature.

AbeNW11's picture
AbeNW11

Just checking it's by weight and not by volume. I think persevere. Keep a strict feeding schedule. Stirring a couple times of day. 

Akmagnolia's picture
Akmagnolia

It is by weight, all 4.0 ounces on a digital scale.  I discard the extra and everything goes into a clean mason jar with a very loose cap after feeding.

DavidEF's picture
DavidEF

It's all up to your preference, of course, but I don't see any reason for you to continue with 12 ounces of starter. In fact, once you're sure it's strong and active, you can reduce it to less than one ounce - total - after feeding. One ounce is about 28 1/3 grams. I've had mine as low as 5g starter:10g water:10g flour at feeding time. That is less than one ounce total, and plenty for maintenance of the starter. You can always build it up when you need to bake. During the summer here, if I keep it out on the counter it can take a higher ratio of food. I've fed it as much as 5g:100g:100g on the warmest days. But, I generally refrigerate my starter, so I'm not feeding it so much. Still, even that amount is less than 8 ounces total, with a very small inoculation.

BurntMyFingers's picture
BurntMyFingers

Formulas are (should be) always stated by weight, since the volume measurements of dry ingredients is variable.

Akmagnolia's picture
Akmagnolia

Two developments...first, the dog has ignored me this week while I tended to the starter until this morning.  Now she is very interested.  She loves other cultured foods like sour cream or yogurt and will drive you crazy if you are eating them, so when she started begging for a taste, it leads me to believe she may be smelling something I can't detect.  I gave her a little bit and she lapped it up like it was a real treat.  This means I will need to be careful where I place Jim in search for warmth, lol.  She doesn't have the same response to normal yeast bread, so I'm guess it is the bacteria cultures she prefers.

The second is that the kitchen smelled like bread this morning. 

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

You have a kitchen assistant! They're invaluable in detecting a good starter from a bad one. The kitchen smelling of bread is also one of the "bingo" signs of a good starter. Looks like you've "painted your wagon"...,

Wild-Yeast

placebo's picture
placebo

If not, I'd cut down the feedings to a 2:1:1 ratio. The idea is to get the pH to drop to the point where the yeast wake up, so you don't want to keep diluting the mixture a lot and setting its progress back too much.

Akmagnolia's picture
Akmagnolia

I cut down to one daily feeding with a 1:1:1 using KA All-Purpose (not organic) flour, leaving everything else constant.  Each day I noticed progress which appeared to be in the right direction.  Specifically, the texture of the starter was less runny and more silky, I had bigger bubbles but still not doubling, and the odor shifted from spackling paste to mild yeasty smell, to a much stronger, pleasant, beer-like smell.  When I came home from work today, for the first time, I had expansion!  The starter had doubled sometime during the day, so I fed it again with the 1:1:1 ratio and I'm watching it to see what it does.  I also saved the unfed discard as a control of sorts in case I get the notion that the second daily feeding was a mistake.  I actually have enjoyed the whole feeding-monitoring-tasting-smelling exercise, and I intend to keep it at room temperature for now, but I'll need to switch to refrigeration in the near future while I'm traveling for work since my husband doesn't share my love for culturing yeast and bacteria.

Wild-Yeast's picture
Wild-Yeast

@Akmagnolia - Congratulations on achieving a usable starter. I think everyone traversing the process emerges with an expanded outlook. 

One way to elevate others interest in the "culture of sourdough" is through taste addiction. Sourdough crispy waffles have a tendency to leave them in the "raving lunatic for more" category - they won't necessarily care to understand the process but will become unduly protective of the magic stuff that produces it...,

We use the King Arthur sourdough recipe. The butter needs to be clarified to retain the "crispy" nature of the waffle. We serve them with cultured butter and pure Vermont maple syrup with fresh organic strawberries. Nobody talks after being served...,

Wild-Yeast

Akmagnolia's picture
Akmagnolia

I stand corrected.  My husband has taken an interest in what he calls "the snot in the jar".  He actually handled on of the feedings for me when I was at work.

I reduced the volume after I found starter all over my counter this morning.

The first loaves went into the oven today using the King Arthur recipe for extra-tangy.  Let's just say I need practice.

I used the slap and fold method of kneading the dough, but I think it was too wet.  It developed a lovely sheen, though, so I thought it might be okay and I didn't want to use too much flour.  Trying to shape it into an oval loaf was a humbling experience. 

The loaves are relatively flat, but they aren't dense.  I'm not quite sure what the crumb should be, but I liked what I got.  It was open, but not big holes, relatively consistent, soft and chewy, with a chewy crust.  I also think I should have scored it more.  I did not get much browning, so I won't be posting any pretty pictures, but it eats.  The flavor was complex but not "sour".  So, nothing I would give out to my friends or carry to a potluck, but I doubt any will go stale.  My kitchen assistant enjoyed it as much as I did.