The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

New, from scratch, sourdough starter

maxpower's picture
maxpower

New, from scratch, sourdough starter

I was using a starter I made, with a San Francisco culture I got from Cultures for Health, for the past 2 years. I kept the starter in the fridge and fed it once a week. Someone threw my starter out so I had to make another. This time, I am trying it from scratch. 

I used the method from King Arthur Flour's website. I.E. start with whole grain flour and water and then feed it daily with white flour. At first, it smelled awful and I was worried it was bad but as I added the white flour in each day, it got better and better. On the 7th day (last night), the starter took off! It looks and smells about how my other starter smelled. I hope it is OK?

I am curious because other methods suggest combining more than just flour and water. Since I only used flour and water, is my starter fine as long as it smells and looks right?

I have not made bread yet as I like to do a long ferment and need the weekend to do it. However, since I have so much starter at the moment, I will make sourdough pizza tonight but it is not a long ferment and not a great test.

Do you think the starter will be good for sourdough bread?

Thanks

phaz's picture
phaz

That how I created my starter, and many others. All you need is flour, water, and most important - time. It sounds like you're there. Nasty smell is normal at first, things just need to balance out, and it looks like they have. It'll only get better from here. Give it another week of regular feeding to strengthen it up and you should be good to go.

txbubba's picture
txbubba

I just baked the best loaf I ever made, following the 'Tartine w/Training Wheels' recipe from the Girl Meets Rye site. I made a new starter from home milled rye flour and water and on day-10 I baked my Tartine w/tw loaf. Like I stated, best loaf I ever baked. Other loaves I baked with an older starter haven't come out nearly as well. FWIW.

Old Baker's picture
Old Baker

I'm using the same recipe from KA and had the same bad smell at first.  Now it's smelling better as I continue feeding it with white flour.  It's been about six days now but I don't know what it's supposed to look like when it's ready.

phaz's picture
phaz

When bubbly, and it's rising regularly with feeding, it should be ready. When in doubt, plop a spoonful into a cup of rom temp water. If it floats, it's ready. A week is about the minimum for an all white starter. It pays to wait so the starter is good and strong before using.

Old Baker's picture
Old Baker

I guess my starter is ready, as it has the characteristics you mentioned.  Even tastes sour when I sample it.

DaveTC's picture
DaveTC

I had two failed attempts at making starters until my 3rd attempt worked.  For the third attempt that worked, I tried two different things as recommended in Peter Reinhart's Bread Revolution book.  

I think that it is a pretty standard recipe, but he recommended unsweetened pineapple juice based on some research from people at King Arthur Flour for Phase 1 and Phase 2.  I did not have the pineapple handy, so I used his alternative suggestion of lemon water (3 parts water to 1 part lemon juice).  It is supposed to inhibit a less desirable bacteria.  I believe that helped.  I also aerated by stirring a couple times a day.  

For my first attempts, the sour smell from the latic acid bacteria came first and bubbling occurred, but I never got any volume increase.  For my second attempt, I may not have fed it soon enough.  After the feeding, there was nothing and the smell was "off".  My understanding is that the wild yeast never got started.  For the attempt that worked, the wild yeast seemed to get going first, so I saw a volume increase without the sour smell.  I think the acidity from the juice is supposed to aid the wild yeast.  Then, the sour smell from the bacteria came in after about a week.  I am happy with the starter and have made 3 loaves so far.  The starter has the unique pleasant smell of apple/apple skins and pears.

md123's picture
md123

@DaveTC: based on your observations your first attempt worked. Sounds like you had a liquid starter (close to 100% hydration) because it didn't rise. If it bubbled, then it worked. Also, starters go through a slow phase on day 3 as populations are competing.

I always start and feed mine at 100% hydration (same quantities or water and flour) with a bit of honey to jumpstart the initial creation, and keep twice a day feedings at 100% for 3 days and then move to once a day. 

Once it gets foamy, I take 50g out (at 100%) and add 16g water, 34g flour (50%). Bringing the hydration to 75%. Always results in a rise that almost triples. The next refreshing I do again at 50%: (I have a 100g at this point) by adding 66g flour and 34g water, and it almost triples. The 3rd one and all subsequent I do at 65% (I have 200g on the 3rd) by adding 120g flour and 80g water (80/120 ~ 66%) and doubles to triples. Then I have 400g => make bread with 300g (and 1Kg of flour) and shelf the 400g.

md123's picture
md123

Couldn't edit - wanted to precise that liquid starters never rise, or never by much (~10% rise) noticeably.

md123's picture
md123

*shelf the 100g

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

Ummmm, I keep my wheat starter at 100% hydration all the time, and whenever I refresh it, it doubles or triples. It's beautiful soft, pillowy, billowy stuff!

md123's picture
md123

So do I (in the fridge) it's at 100%, but what hydration do you target when you refresh a portion for baking?

Lazy Loafer's picture
Lazy Loafer

I almost always bake with a 100% hydration levain. Sometimes I'll make a stiffer 'biga naturale' or starter for a particular recipe, but most of my sourdoughs use a 100% hydration levain.

md123's picture
md123

Huh, interesting. Maybe I should revisit my methods... nah :)

DaveTC's picture
DaveTC

MD123, I did try to make a loaf from the first starter.  That one was not from scratch -- I purchased a powder.  The culture was only a week old when I tried to use it, I made a mother starter, and ended up with a flat dense puck.  The culture did take off in volume after I gave up on it and let it set there.  The culture was probably was finally ready to use at that point.  I think like others on this post, it is easy to get paranoid about and have faith in the mixture of organisms one just created.

The second one just stopped.  That recipe called for a "mash" and diastatic malt powder.   It seems like after those two readily-fermentible ingredients were removed all fermentation stopped.  I do tend to absent-mindedly alternate between filtered and tap water.  The chlorine in the water probably inhibited or killed the culture.

As far as volume increases, you are probably right.  I was going with a thinner culture for the first two attempts.  I went with a thicker culture for the 3rd attempt so that I could see what is going on.  Now that it is started, I need to standardize on a standard hydration level.  With yeast, baker's percentages did not mean much to me when following recipes.  But I can see now that I can't remain as ignorant.

md123's picture
md123

Cool. Yes, hydration matters. I stick close 65% hydration, but definitely use more starter (30%). For 500g flour I'll use 150g starter and 400g water (+9 g salt). These guys (it's in french) have amazing videos:  https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCRfyoVlvjE6JRKV6RQCfLJQ

md123's picture
md123

Yeah, your starter is fine. The fermentation killed whatever bacteria you had in there, the Ph should be around 3.5 or 4 by now. Time to make bread.

As a side note though: my starters have never smelled awful when I started them, so yours could have been contaminated when you started. Causes could be: non organic flour, poor quality water (boil tap water next time), unclean glass container, or unclean spoon. Low ph eventually kills the bad bacteria, and natural yeast and lactic bateria starve all other populations and come to dominate the starter leading to that awesome smell you have now :) - which is why you should wait more than 4 days before using a starter (on the safe side)

If you have way too much quantity, then I'd make pancakes instead without using flour at all. That's how I get rid off excess starter: 2 cups starter (250g), 1 egg, 3 tbsp sugar, 2 tsbp oil, 1 tsp baking soda and 3 tbsp milk. Makes about 10 pancakes.

maxpower's picture
maxpower

Thanks everyone for the input.

I saved some of my starter and put it in the fridge. It is still quite active so I am going to feed it again tonight. I used to go 1 week in the fridge without feeding but this starter seems really active. Hopefully it will slow down and I can go to 1 time per week feeding.

With the extra starter from this weekend, I made pizza :-)