The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Weird starter

cavoletto's picture
cavoletto

Weird starter

Hi everyone, 

I'm having an issue with my starter and - silly me - didn't take a pic of the issue so I'll just go on and try to describe it. 

I made my starter in my NYC kitchen, and fed it daily for about a year with organic all purpose flour. It was a very happy little starter and it worked great. Last summer, however, I dehydrated it as we were about to move to Europe. We live in Italy now and a few weeks ago i made a first attempt on waking up my starter, it didn't go well, after 5 days or so of feeding there was no movement at all. I started over with some more flakes and this time I got more response. I'm currently feeding the state with organic 00 flour, however the volume will double at best (in NYC it would easily triple n volume), and for the past few days I get this weird little bit of foam on top of the bubbly starter, but only on one side of the jar. Also when making bread I feel like the starter hasn't much strength at all, I can't manage to get my breads as well raised as they used to be, even though I use the same recipes. At first i thought it might be the room temperature, but our place is actually well heated. Maybe bacterial contamination? Should I just toss the starter and try another batch? Has anyone had similar issues? 

I really miss my breads and hope to be able to get back at some serious baking soon! Many thanks for your help!! 

Lechem's picture
Lechem

Was I think you over fed it. I would have dissolved the starter, fed it and then waited however long it takes to wake up. If nothing was happening I'd have stirred it and only begin the feeds again when there was activity. 

Now it seems like you've gotten over this stage but it seems sluggish. I would apply the same principle. Don't feed by the clock. Give it a 1:2:2 feed and only feed again once it has fully peaked however long it takes. I'd try that a couple of times. Once it seems stronger I'd progress into 1:3:3 and repeat. Building strength. Once you can get upto 1:5:5 and it has no issues then it should be back to normal. 

I've also just had another idea. At home the flour might be able to absorb more water. European flour, less. So at 100% hydration it will react differently to the two different types of flour. So why not apply the above feeding schedule (starter to flour ratio) but make it lower hydration? 

cavoletto's picture
cavoletto

I never thought over feeding could be an issue... Also, you're right, european flour seems to be less dry, and does take less water, generally speaking. I did observe that when baking, but honesty I wouldn't know how much water to cut back. maybe 1:2:1,5? However today I switched to a 1:2:2 ratio, starter has already 'peaked', at less then double volume. I'll keep this going for a few days, will also reduce the water a tad, and will see what happens. Thanks for the inputs!!

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

First I get the flakes wet with just enough water to cover, guessing at twice the volume of the flakes, a little more helps keep it from drying out while the flakes hydrate.  In a few hours, I add a spoon of flour, stir well, add a spoonful of water if needed and then cover and wait... wait  wait wait for some kind of reaction and maximal rise. This can take a day or two or three depending on the date and conditions when drying the starter.  

Then I will feed (no discarding) a few spoons flour and enough water to make a thick batter.  It usually takes off after that but needs careful watching to feed at peak and build up the yeast.  Bacteria is usually in overabundance so I don't worry too much about them.  Make sure your water is not chlorinated.  Boil some up, let it cool down and stand in the kitchen covered for starter use.

I wouldn't ditch this starter attempt yet, I would starve it and see if that doesn't bring the yeast active.  

If you have some flakes still, try making another one.  Keep it small when starting out so the flakes are not overwhelmed with the new flour food. There are a whole bunch of new bugs being introduced with the new flour.

cavoletto's picture
cavoletto

I did start that way, except as soon as I got some activity I discarded all but a tablespoon, and right after that I went back to my old 1:5:5 ratio feeding. Had no idea I needed to built up strength again (ups!). I'm using filtered water (britta, that's also what I used in the US), would boiled be better?

Also, what do you mean by starving the starter, would you just let it sit on the counter? for how long? is that supposed to make it more reactive over the next feeds? And yes, I can imagine that in the end, being fed total different flours, this starter will be much different from what it used to be - makes me wonder wether I should just have started a new one from  scratch, after all... 

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

#1)  yep.  Just what I mean.  Let it sit there and allow the pH to drop  (the bacteria will do it)  until the yeast feel happy enough to show themselves to you.   Can take anywhere from a day to several days.  The goop may darken a shade or two.   Temp around 26°C   Let it get good and sour.   When to feed.... well.   When the fruit flies start coming around and making bets on who's first to dive in.  They are attracted to yeast.  Don't let them into the starter or we might be growing bigger organisms than planned.  :)  Then thicken the starter with a spoonful of flour and see what happens.  

Starting a new starter is also an option.  Make them race to pass the time...   

Even if the yeast in the dried starter is low, the ph in the flakes should be acid enough to lower the flour & water mixture low enough to skip over the initial awkward phase.  There are also particles of dead yeast in there, a few building blocks for more yeast. Discarding right away is literally "throwing the baby out with the bath water" at this early stage.  The pH rises drastically with the 1 to 5 feed and most likely caters to the nasty bacteria in the flour, the ones we want to suppress.  (those little nasties!)  

So... The baby steps turned into walking when the first diaper was changed.     Well... I've been there.  No biggie.     Starting a starter is very similar.   You are most likely doing it now.  See  #1) above.    It will be up in no time and you know what to look for and how to ignore it at first and not rush it.  

Soon will be back in Austria and can mail you a wet or dry starter. if you're not up and running by then.  What year and/or country would you like to try?     We got Loafers in Italy some closer than me.  

Should I hand deliver,  how are you at Apricot croissants and Cappuccino for Breakfast? ...whoops... to many questions.  Blame it on that second cup of coffee on a lazy Sunday morning!   :)   

Mini o de Mekong.