The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Help with sourdough starter

Sayuri9's picture
Sayuri9

Help with sourdough starter

I am new to sourdough. Decided to give it a go last Monday using the method on the KAF website. I started it with KAF White Whole Wheat flour and fed it KAF AP. Per their instructions, I have been feeding it twice a day every 12 hours. It has bubbled nicely but it has never risen. 

I saw some posts from this site that said it won't rise if it's too thin, so on day 6 I did my morning feeding with the 2:2:1 starter/flour/water ratio but there was no movement and no bubbles so I went back to 100% hydration.

Today is day 8 and still no rising and it doesn't seem to have much bubbling either. It is 75°F in my house during the day and we lower the AC to 72° at night. I have it covered with plastic wrap. It does have a nice aroma to it, sort of fruity and a touch sour. I also have a kitchen scale so I weigh all my ingredients. 

Did I somehow kill it? I've read here that it does have a quiet period and after a few days it should start doubling but it's been quiet since day 3. On day 6 I also started adding WWW flour with the AP for feedings. 

I forgot to mention I use bottled water.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Every 12 hours in the first few days? I wouldn't even feed it a second time till it has bubbled up and settled. After which I'd feed again but from here on in only when I see activity. Not too much in the beginning and even skipping a feed or two if quiet. At this stage even if things are happening you're looking at once a day but often less. You'll find it'll start to get stronger after this so only then you'd pick up the feeds. Once it bubbles up on cue and has increased its strength and timing would it be ready. 

FYI there is no one recipe. The best instructions are to feed to the rhythm of the starter and not the clock. And for future reference when you see, for example, 1:1:1 it's starter:water:flour. And it's not even important to weigh the ingredients exactly. Make a stiff paste, mix and leave in a warm area. Do not feed again until it bubbles up and begins to fall. Then remove half and top back up with water and flour. Get some wholegrain in there too. Now wait and give it a stir every now and again until you see activity. Then feed again and so on. When it's nice and strong alter your feeds by removing more than half, about 2/3rds and top back up. And carry on! This will increase the yeasts and will further strengthen it. If kept warm and fed at the right moment (not on the hour) and you'll have a starter in about a week or possibly up to two depending on certain factors. 

And lastly it's very normal for starters to go quiet at about day 3-5. Trick is to leave it alone. Nothing has gone wrong and it's a stage which many starters have to go through. It's becoming acidic and creating an environment to support the yeasts and bacteria which live in a starter (the first bubbling up is from bacteria not wanted in a starter). Overfeeding it to encourage the starter is counterproductive as it'll raise the PH level and will therefore slow it down. You'll also be discarding all the goodies and eventually you'll be back to square one with just plain flour and water. 

Take a break. Keep your starter somewhere warm and just give it a stir every 12 hours. See what happens in the next few days. 

Sayuri9's picture
Sayuri9

Thanks for your reply. After reading through some posts on this site, I thought it was being overfed. Yesterday in the morning I pulled my normal 4oz out but instead of tossing the rest, I decided to keep it without feeding to see if that would make a difference. By the time my evening feed came around, it seemed like it was worse off than it was. No bubbling, it had not risen at all. I decided to toss it that night. I tried the same thing today and I seem to be getting the same result.

From what I had been following through the KAF site, I assumed that 2 feedings a day was necessary for it not to ferment too quickly and go bad until it was ready to be used then refrigerated. A lot of people posted that their method worked excellent for them, so I was hoping for the same results.

I have added some white whole wheat with the AP for my feedings. I was thinking of buying some rye and maybe use that instead of the WWW. At this point would it be better to scrap it and start over? 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

You can start another now just so you don't lose anymore time in case things have gone wrong. However I wouldn't throw the other one out. While you're working on the new one keep the other one in a warm place and give it a stir every now and again. See what happens over the next few days. 

Wholegrain is good and whole rye is especially good. There's also no need to build so much and throw so much away. Get yourself a clean jam (jelly for our American friends) jar and fill one third fill it. Screw the lid on lightly so air can escape but little critters can't get in. Keep warm. And then from here in you'll feed it when it needs to be fed. 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

If after the initial bubbling up it smells a bit unpleasant don't worry. This is bad bacteria but normal. Just feed and keep warm. It'll ferment, get acidic, kill off the bad bacteria, making way for all the good stuff. It'll begin to smell nice once this happens. As long as there is no mould then carry on. Clean jar and utensils is important. 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

then your starter is really only on half days as the cool temps will slow it down.  So 6 days is closer to 3 days.  Don't feed before the temperature drops at night.  Skip those kinds of feeding and feed before the temperatures go up.  

When thickening up a starter, give it more time to adjust than a wet 100% hydration starter.  Thickening will temporarily slow down the fermentation too so may I suggest letting the culture work thru the flour before attempting to give more flour.  :)

clazar123's picture
clazar123

When you build a home you have to give the tenant time to move the whole family in and grow.

When you mix flour and water, you are building an environment for the yeast to grow. No need to add an extra bedroom until there are tenants (yeast) to occupy it so no more flour and water for a few days. Just stir a few times a day. Yeast doesn't move well so by stirring, you are bringing them in contact with the food. After eating, the yeasts that are present will start digesting and reproducing. If the environment is ideal (warm enough, wet enough, pH ideal and food present), this will happen rapidly. After a few days, new food and water should be introduced. This is when some bakers use pineapple juice in order to change the pH more to yeast liking and less to bacterias liking. Sometimes a bacterial tenant will try to move in and may initially flourish. Yeasts are tough and give them a chance to solve the problem of the obnoxious interloper. After a few days, they will either kick them out or keep the ones they like and get rid of the bad guys.

To recap: So after the first few days of stirring, you will see no activity......no activity......slight bubbling......a little more bubbling. Now feed with the flour and water. Wait 24 hrs and do it again. By about the 3rd feeding,you will start seeing more bubbling and maybe even some rising after a feed. Yeast population is increasing (as is the bacterial) and the house is now getting full of yeast waste-time to clean it!

Right before the next feeding, discard half the mix-down the drain, on the compost pile or into a bowl for pancakes. You are getting rid of the wastes and unfortunately, half your population. That is why you don't overfeed right from the start or discard right from the start. You have to build the yeast population enough to be able to come back from a reduction in numbers like this. After discard, add new flour and water to your starter,mix and wait. Now you have enough population of yeast to think about using it but hold off for a few days.  Sometimes the bacterial tenants (lactobacillus) can make a new starter CRAZY busy but may not have enough oomph to raise a dough. Sometimes the bacterial tenants create a stink(literally). It may need some time for the tenants to settle things.Keep going and give the yeasts enough time,food and a good environment to be able to kick those guys out. By this time you may be discarding/feeding twice a day and the starter may be rising noticeably for a few hours after a feeding. If hootch forms after it has risen and fallen, they are hungry and need more food!

Smells are a clue. Initially, it smells like paste-after all it is flour and water. After a few days of stirring, it smells a little tangy/sharp. Acid is being produced. After a feeding it smells like paste again. When you get to the discard,crazy active stage it can have a variety of smells-slight yeasty, dirty sock stinky, cheesy (not good if this persists), like acetone or nail polish remover, fruity. After the crazy activity settles down and the starter raises more steadily and reliably, it should start smelling more like yeast or beer.. Acetone smell after this means it is hungry!

Quantities: I always started my starters with 1-2 tablespoons of flour only. You don't need a lot of culture to start with. It becomes wasteful as I can never use all my discard. I bake every 2-3 weeks. If you bake every couple days, discard is not an issue. You always draw from the starter for a bake and re-feed as you go.

This whole process can take anywhere from 3 -10 days-depending on temperature, water, pH, etc. The yeast is present in the flour and also ubiquitous in the environment (including on us). It really helps to understand what you are doing in that microscopic world in order to know what to do. Timing is not written in stone.

Have fun. I hope explaining the concept helped. I am a conceptual learner and never did well with rote explanations.

Sayuri9's picture
Sayuri9

Thanks to all of you for the helpful advice. I did feed my starter last night, but not today. I do have a few more questions.

So, to my understanding now, I should not feed it until it rises then falls? Even if this takes a few days? I thought if it was sitting on the counter it needed to be fed 1-2 times a day so it would not spoil.

At night when we lower the temp to 72°, should I put my starter in the oven with the light on? I have done this a few times and noticed that obviously, it was warmer and did have more of a yeasty smell,  just no rising. I don't think it gets too hot in there but unfortunately my husband ruined my oven thermometer so I'm not sure of the exact temp.

And as for stirring, is there a thing as too much stirring? I read on someone's blog that she stirred every time she thought about it. I'm a stay at home mom and in and out of the kitchen. Also, I'm pretty obsessive (if you can't already tell --) and I could stir it pretty often.

Again, thank you so much. I knew this site was the place to go for informative and helpful people!

clazar123's picture
clazar123

Think about it-would you serve dinner to an empty room? You start feeding the guests when they arrive and that takes a day or two.

When you first mix flour and water, a few yeast spores that are present "hatch" and start eating. When they are happy, they start reproducing. These yeasts start eating and pretty soon they have eaten everything within reach. Stir them up-several times a day the first few days- so they get happy and make more yeast. After a while-if conditions are comfy- they start producing enough gas to form bubbles. Keep stirring. When you have noticeable bubbling or any amount of lift, that is when you know there are enough guests to feed. Then discard and feed-once a day to start but still stir periodically. It may only be 1 day later you need to discard and feed twice a day.  Keep going and anytime you see hootch on top, they are hungry and need more food. Keep going past any period of off smells, hyperactivity or lesser activity. It will settle down.

Lechem's advice on amounts to feed is always excellent. I never measure.

IceDemeter's picture
IceDemeter

on, especially without being able to double-check the temperature with a thermometer!  My oven is well enough insulated, and has enough heat generated from the bulbs to actually kill the yeast over time.  I have to keep the door propped open if I'm going to use the oven with lights for fermenting or proofing large amounts of dough, and alternate it with turning the lights off for periods, since they will just keep building up more heat.. 

For working with starters, I find that the best place for me to keep it is in the microwave.  It is well insulated, so there are no issues with drafts, and I don't need to worry about someone accidentally turning it on and cooking my starter!  I like to heat up a 2-cup pyrex measuring cup full of water for 1-1/2 minutes on high to warm and steam the interior of the microwave, and then I tuck my starter container in beside the nice warm water, and it's good to go.  Unlike the oven with lights, which just keeps getting hotter over time, the water and starter do eventually cool down, but it still holds at a warmer temperature than my rather cool kitchen (cool as in 65 deg F). 

Good luck, and please try to be as patient as you can!  It can take a few weeks in some cases for the particular combination of flour and water and environment to allow for the starter to take off --- or just a week or so for a different combination.  Reading the comments on the KAF site, it is obvious that there is a great range of timing for their approach to get results, so don't expect that your starter is going to be one of the faster ones.  It can be frustrating waiting for a few days for something to happen, while just stirring and not DOING something, but it really can take that long for the acid to hit the right level and the yeast to reproduce enough to start obviously demanding food.

Please keep us updated on how it goes!

MonkeyDaddy's picture
MonkeyDaddy

for using the microwave.  Our microwave is an above-the-range model and is situated on an exterior wall.  In every kitchen we have had before this the microwave was mounted on an interior wall and the exhaust fan would just move air from above the stove out the vents at the top back into the kitchen.  However, with the exterior wall mounting, the exhausted air actually goes outdoors.  What this means is that on cold days the interior of my microwave can actually get quite chilly (I swear I saw snow crystals blow out when I turned the fan on last winter).

But, quite by accident, I discovered that if I left the over-range light turned on it warms the microwave just right.  The light is mounted in the underside of the microwave, and as my cup of hot water cools down, the heat transfer from the light bulb maintains a nice cozy place for proofing.

     --Mike

Sayuri9's picture
Sayuri9

Not much progress today. I did not feed at all yesterday and just stirred. I did try the microwave suggestion (I have a countertop one) and my starter seemed pretty chilly, similar to how it feels when I just leave it on the counter overnight. I need to get a new oven thermometer...

No feeding today either. I actually kept my discard from my a.m. feeding on Tuesday and never fed it just to see. It still has not risen but does have bubbles, a little more than the other, and also has a slightly more sour smell to it. So we'll see what happens there.

I got some organic rye flour today so I'm going to start another with that tomorrow using the suggestions from this post. I'll keep you guys updated. Thanks for the great advice! Fingers crossed :-)

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

When did you start it and what have you done so far? 

Normally I wouldn't feed at all and if kept warm in a day or two it'll come to life. The initial bubbling up should be quite dramatic. How warm is it where you are? 

Sayuri9's picture
Sayuri9

I hadn't started a new one yet. I started this one on the 11th so today it is 11 days old. I haven't fed it for a few days and there are bubbles and a fruity, slightly sour smell but that it. I keep it at 75°F in our house. I live in texas so it's in the 90s outside.

I'm about to start a new one with rye flour. I'll hang on to the original for a few more days to see what happens. But I'm afraid nothing much more will.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Smells fruit, kinda sour and has a few bubbles... sounds like it's about to take off. 

How about a small feed? Keep 3/4, give it some water and wholegrain. Stir up well and place back in a warm place. Easy does it. 

Sayuri9's picture
Sayuri9

I'll try that. How much flour/water would you suggest? 100% hydration?

Also, would rye be a better choice than my original white whole wheat?

I really appreciate your help.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

To feed the yeasts in your starter but not too much at this stage so you raise the PH level too much. So keep 3/4 and top back up 1/4. You can use some whole rye. See if that also helps to nudge it in the right direction.  

Don't worry. Just enjoy the process :)

Sayuri9's picture
Sayuri9

Great advice, thanks! 

clazar123's picture
clazar123

The starter in the microwave with the light on should be noticeably warmer than when it was left on the counter. Unless you have an LED light. LEDs don't generate any heat.

Sayuri9's picture
Sayuri9

Unfortunately, we have a cheap microwave and there is no way to turn just the light on.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

put it outside (out of the sun) for the first 24 hrs.  The warm temps should kick start it.  Then bring it inside.  :)   

Test:  Taste your wheat starter (then spit it out)  If it is very very very sour, split it or remove a few tablespoons to feed- add just enough flour and water to remove the aromas so it smells like wet flour again and time it at 75°F to see if the bacteria and yeast spring into action.   

Sayuri9's picture
Sayuri9

I thought I had killed my poor little starter. I put it in the oven with the light on the other night and the next day, found out that it was 95°F in there! It had some small bubbles so I did as suggested and dumped about a quarter of it and refreshed with a little rye and water. Then... nothing. This morning there were maybe a few small surface bubbles but nothing else. I stirred it but nothing.

I left the house for a few hours and came home to a complete shocker: It had risen! I couldn't believe it. It rose maybe 15% which was the first time it had risen since day 2, and technically this is day 13. A bit later it had risen more, so now was about 33% more and was pretty foamy on the top.

I am super excited and I'm going to feed it tomorrow so I can see if it continues to rise.  I gave it a stir and I'm going to let it sit in the oven (no light this time) just for a bit of insulation from the nightly temperature drop.

I'll do as Mini suggested and taste test it tomorrow before feeding. It no longer has a fruity aroma nor does it smell particularly sour. It smells yeasty, like delicious bread.

I'm so glad I came here for help. I don't think my little guy would have made it if I continued down the path I was on. You guys have been wonderful!

phaz's picture
phaz

I would see what happens after the stirring. If it still rises, it's got food and discarding and feeding might slow it down. If it's not rising after stirring, it needs food. Feeding too much or too often at this stage can dilute the starter and slow progress. Let the bugs reach max numbers before feeding, and that's about when food is exhausted. Don't worry about how long it takes - with those flours, it's pretty much on track - about another week and you'll be making your own sourdough.

Sayuri9's picture
Sayuri9

I was a little afraid to stir it but I mustered up the courage and went for it about 2 hours ago. I could hear all of those wonderful bubbles as I stirred and after, larger bubbles remained on the surface. After stirring, obviously a little volume was lost. 

However, I checked on it about a half hour ago and it had regained the volume that was lost. Also, it started to look foamy again and I could see small bubbles throughout. So I will give that a go tomorrow and if it still rises, I'll hold off on feeding. Thanks!

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

With careful feeding it should go from strength to strength. 

Not much more to be said from all the good advice given by phaz and mini.

Keep warm, feed to the rhythm of your starter and as it gains strength you can slowly increase the feeds too. From here on in store the discard in the fridge as a back up and you can also use it in other recipes for flavour. Eventually you'll have no discard with careful maintenance.  

Sayuri9's picture
Sayuri9

When I awoke this morning I found that my starter had doubled and fallen back down to about where it was when I last saw it. From what I've read, it seems that this was the time to feed as when I smelled it, it had a pretty strong odor of alcohol. I went ahead and discarded (saved it just in case I was mistaken, and of course to use in a discard recipe if it was good) and fed.

An hour went by and my newly fed starter has already risen. So if it can double within 4-6 hours it should be ready to use! I am beyond excited. Even if it's not quite ready yet, it will be soon, and that is wonderful news.

Again, you guys have been great! Thanks for all the help!

phaz's picture
phaz

Sounds like it's ready, if I read that it's doubling in 4-6 hrs, but it will get better with a little more time to mature. Congrats - another baby is born!

Oh, don't be afraid to stir. It helps to keep food close to the hungry buggers. And it's a good way to tell if it's being over/under fed.