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Starter novice with a few questions

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Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

Starter novice with a few questions

Hi all, I recently got a good grape starter going, and have baked several loaves succesfully with it.  My question involves the care and feeding of it.

At this time, I currently have about 7 to 8 cups of starter in my refrigerator, and I'd like to bring it down to a more manageable amount.  I know you are supposed to discard some, and add flour and water to the remainder.  However, I'm not sure of the amounts.  If I discard two or three cups of it (well, I'll make pancakes, waflles, onion rings, biscuits etc with the 'discard' lol), replenishing with equal amounts obviously leaves me with 7 to 8 cups again.  Could someone guide me to the proper way of doing this, while keeping my starter at about 4 or 5 cups?

Also, once you take a break from baking, and just want to store the starter in the fridge, I know you should be feeding it about once a week or once every two weeks.  To feed it, must it come to room temp first?  If not, once you feed it, must you let it proof for several hours until it bubbles and doubles, and then store it back in the fridge for another week?  Yesterday, I took it out of the fridge, fed it with 1 cup of bottled water, and 1 cup of flour, gave it a good stir, then put it right back in the fridge.  I take it this is the wrong way?  The last thing I want to do is lose such a great start to a great starter!

Any advice would be greatly appreciated :)

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

You are going to have to bite the bullet and get rid of most of that starter! I know it is hard to do, but you really have to. If you continue to feed 1 cup of flour to 8 cups of starter, you are on your way to starving it to death. Feedings should always be, at the very minimum, twice as much flour as original starter. I generally only keep 1/4 cup of old starter and discard the rest.

Once the starter consumes the nutrients in the flour, the yeast cells multiply and you then have even more hungry mouths to feed but they will lie dormant waiting for more food. They are literally swimming in their own waste, so dump most of it out! Your starter will be much more robust and reward you with better bread!

As for your feeding questions, yes it is best to bring it to room temp before feeding. If you are in a hurry you can float your container in a bowl of warm water to hurry the process. Once fed, leave it out for about an hour and then you can put it back in the fridge if you aren't planning to use it then. If you are feeding in preparation to make dough, then you should wait several hours or overnight to let the starter proof before mixing your dough.

Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

Thank you so much for your help, Sourdolady :)  Now, is it ok if I keep one cup, then feed it one cup each of flour and water?  I forgot to mention, my starter is only about a little over 3 weeks old.

You're right about the dump being hard, since I've been nurturing it like crazy..LOL

itotallygaf's picture
itotallygaf

i agree with sourdoughlady.  one suggestion i might give if your starter is actively working (bubbling and smelling good) would be that you just remove a tablespoon of the starter to a 8 oz. container.  add to that equal amounts of water and flour( a quarter cup of each) and within 4 to 8 hours at room temp. it should be showing signs of activity.  if it has become active and you are going to bake within the next day, you can double the volume again at this time (another quarter cup of flour and water).  this addition will show activity a lot quicker than the previous feeding so plan accordingly.  if you are not going to bake soon, once the original starter has shown some swelling/bubbling after the feeding, you can stick it into the fridge for later use.  remember, after the starter has been used successfully a few times, it's pretty difficult to kill it(as long as you don't totally ignore it) refreshing every 1-2 weeks with the procedure already described.  sorry for the generalization of the procedure but i'm relatively new to keeping a sourdough culture.  the procedure is very similar to reculturing brewing yeast but much easier.

SourdoLady's picture
SourdoLady

You would be better off to only keep 1/2 cup if you are planning to feed 1 cup of flour. You really don't need to keep much (like I said, 1/4 cup is plenty) because it just means that you will have to dump out more when it comes time to feed. When you are ready to make dough, then give it a larger feeding to build up a quantity large enough for what your recipe calls for.

Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

Thanks for the replies, once again. :)

OK..it's 1 cup flour and 1 cup water, stirred into room temp 1/2 cup of starter, left out to chow down for 6-8 hours, then back into the fridge, as a manageable pet!  Just a few more questions though.  If I don't bake for a while, and decide to literally let it chill for a while, when I feed it once a week, do I always discard some before I feed?  I'm 'guessing' the answer is yes, so it doesn't build up again.

Also, I've been using all KA Bread flour for this starter.  I've heard that once you've got it going, you can switch to AP flour for feeding and replenishing.  Is this true?

Finally, is the feeding/replenishing rule of thumb always double the flour and water to starter?  I always thought it was equal ratios, probably because Nancy Silverton's directions said to keep feeding it 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour, each day..for 3 days before you want to use it.  Personally, I prefer the separate sponge method..removing some of the starter, and feeding and fermenting it for one particular recipe.  I heard you get more flavor that way (???)

PS - Anyone know some good recipes outside of waffles, biscuits, onion rings and pancakes, so I can use at least some of the 6 to 7 someodd cups of starter instead of dumping it? LOL

~Lisa~

itotallygaf's picture
itotallygaf

no matter what size starter you keep, when you feed you will double the volume of the original (one cup starter will end up being two after being fed, the additional cup is comprised of 1/2 c. each water and flour).  this is the reason why when after not baking for a while, and the starter/mother has been in the fridge for a couple weeks i generally just remove starter from fridge, allow to come to room temp., take about a tbsp. and combine with 1/4 c. each of flour and water.  this way there isn't a lot of waste, and believe it or not, that tbsp. is probably 50 times as much as you actually need to keep the starter going as long as it is active. 

as for the type of food you give it . . . you are what you eat.i think as long as the food source comes from starch, you could probably feed a diet of potato flakes, rice flour, tapioca and so on and be good with it.  i've switched up and used rye, fresh ground wheat from time to time but haven't really noticed that much of a difference in the flavor of the final bread.  the starter/sponge usually has a much more complex flavor when fed raw/fresh milled grains as opposed to when it's fed regular bread flour but for some reason that extra tang doesn't find it's way into the loaves.  i really think that the less the food source is processed the more indigenous microorganisms you will introduce into your culture.  kind of a nice way to keep fresh blood in the starter.

Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

Wow, for someone being new to starters, Itotallygaf, you sure know your stuff! :)  That said, I'm a little confused, as Sourdolady said you double the amount of flour and water in relation starter left, as in 1 cup each flour and water to 1/2 a cup of starter... 2 cups each flour and water to 1 cup starter etc..since there are so many critters that need to eat a lot.  I've also read differing opinions on the net.  Man, can it get confusing! LOL

Also, I would love to eventually experiement with adding different flours and/or grains to my starter..in fact, I've even heard vinegar gives a sluggish starter a boost, but I don't think I'd want to venture down that road.  I've also read that you should stick to the same food always, since the critters are used it (Again, so many different opinions and methods!) However, my sister gave me a bag of tapioca flour a few months ago, and I have no idea what to do with it.  I didn't know that could also be added to your starter.

Lastly..last night I 'dumped' the batch, leaving 1/2 cup in a clean container, then feeding and letting it ferment.  I took 1 cup of the discard, which had been refreshed a few hours earlier when it was part of the 7-8 cup starter, spread it on parchment, and put it out to dry.  I figured I may as well keep some backup, just in case! :)

ehanner's picture
ehanner

There have been long threads here on the subject of starter feeding and hydration. I suggest that anyone who is interested in using a natural yeast for better flavor or simply avoiding using commercial yeast, take a look at zolablue's thread on converting to a firm starter-here
http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/2390/firm-starter-glezer-recipe
This is a very informative thread and you will get a good understanding about how to manage an active sourdough starter.

I feed my starter so it is very active and then I refrigerate about a cup or so and use that as my storage starter. When I want to bake, I pull a large Tablespoon of my storage starter and inoculate the preferment or the dough. I continue to use the storage starter until I get down to about 1 T remaining whereupon I refresh the culture. Typically I'll add 200g water and 250g flour and leave it at room temp for a few hours or until I see activity, then back in the fridge. It will last for at least a week and I have used it out to 10 days with no trouble.

Using a storage starter concept, you don't have to worry about forgetting to save some and loosing your SD starter. Just get in the habit of giving your self extra time for the primary ferment. Your breads will taste better due to the extra time fermenting. Another benefit is you don't through out a large amount of starter at feeding time. If you have a formula that wants 200g of starter, pull a 50g Tablespoon from the storage starter and build up another 150g of flour and water. In a few hours you will have a very active preferment ready to work in the final dough.

If you need convincing try this:
Take 1 teaspoon of fresh storage starter and whisk 310g of 85F water into it until it's frothy. Add 400g of AP flour and beat with a spoon or dough whisk until well incorporated. Cover and let it sit above the refrigerator (80-85F) for 20-30 minutes. Remove the cover and add 10g salt, stir the mixture with a spoon vigorously for 1 minute to develop the gluten. Add the remaining 100g of flour as needed to to arrive at a workable dough. This is a 62% hydration dough and will be soft but manageable. Knead by hand for a few minutes and/or stretch and fold until you can easily form a ball. Place dough into a lightly oiled container covered, that is small enough so when the dough doubles you will know it. Allow the dough to rise until double. The time required will depend largely on the temperature. Above the refrigerator in 80F check after 8 hours then again hourly when you start to see a noticeable rise. 18-20 hours wouldn't be unusual again depending on your starter and the temperature.

Once doubled, gently remove the dough to a lightly floured counter and gently ( try not to degas the dough) pre shape into a round or batard, cover and wait for 10 minutes. Final shape and proof on parchment covered with a tea towel for 15 Minutes. Turn on the oven from cold to 450F to preheat. When the temp reads 300F, slash,  spray the dough lightly with water and place it on a pan and into the oven, rotating at the 20 minute mark if needed. Steam as usual. Remove after about 30 minutes or golden brown, 205F internal temp.

So there you have it. Great bread from 1 teaspoon of storage starter. No wasted starter, no wasted preheating, no stone. NOTE: If you want to speed this process up by half, add 1/8 teaspoon instant yeast when the salt goes in. I use SAF Gold due to the sourness of the dough.

Eric

Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

That's a really great method, Eric, and something I will try when I get more acquainted with the whole starter process.  My mind is a jumble of so many ideas and advice, that I need to file them correctly into my 'vault' LOL

 Having said all that, I took my leftover starter, divvied it up according to some recipes I'd like to try (An Onion sourdough rye, more waffles, biscuits, and a cracked black pepper-dried fig sourdough (this one is my idea), and have 6 Pyrex cups fermenting with what will be refreshed starters for each recipe.  In the mean time, my original 1/2 cup of mother starter is fermenting with one feeding that will leave me with a nice, manageable amount to keep as my permanent starter, for now. :)

itotallygaf's picture
itotallygaf

all i can tell you is that i started my culture about 3 yrs. ago from a handful of wheat i had in a bucket in the cellar and have kept it alive and well using the proportions that i recommended (1 tbsp. of culture added to 1/4 c. each of flour and water).  from my experience in brewing beer, i can tell you that there is a lot of contradictory info. out and about, especially when it comes to something as mysterious as little microbes you can't even see.  you just have to experiment and find what works for you.  once you become comfortable with what you are doing just tweak things a little by incorporating some ideas you may run across from other sources.  for now, just learn the basics and apply the homebrewers creed, "relax, don't worry and have a homebrew".  after all it's only bread!

jeffesonm's picture
jeffesonm

Hello all... 1st post. I've been baking bread for a month or so, mostly basic yeast-leavened breads like french and ciabatta, with a few failed attempts at rye. I've been browsing this forum for a week or two and ordered and received BBA, which has been great, and I'd like to branch out into sourdough.

I've been following Reinhart's recipe for the sourdough starter and today was day 4 of the seed, so I'm supposed to wait 4 to 24 hours until it doubles, then turn it into a barm. I read through zolablue's thread, above, and have a few questions:

-What type of starter am I making? Wet or firm? When everyone talks about starter, does that correspond to the seed or the barm in BBA terms?

-As I understand it, the starter effectively replace commercial yeast in the breads I make, correct? I found KA flour at a nearby distributor for ~$16/50lb sack, so yeast is the biggest expense with my loaves right now... it would be great if I could cut that out.

-I've been roughly measuring based on volume, but it sounds like it's worth investing in a scale if I continue to bake often. Thoughts?

Elagins's picture
Elagins

Elagins@sbcglobal.net

Yeasts are amazingly hardy microplants: they can take an enormous amount of abuse once they're established. My starter's about 3 years old and I generally refresh it right out of the fridge, discarding all but a tablespoon, and diluting it with 4oz or so of warm water, to which I add enough flour to form a thick paste and then leave it on the kitchen counter until it triples in size -- which can take anywhere from 4-12 hours, depending on temp, etc.

To give you an idea of how hardy starters are, I once totally screwed up by using all my starter for bagels and forgot to take out my mother batch. Rather than start from scratch, I ended up putting about 4 oz of warm water into the plastic container I keep the starter in, and scavenged the few yeasts that were left in the starter residue that stuck to the sides. It took about 24 hours, but voila!!! she came back, as effervescent and sour as ever.

So no worries about how much or how little you have ... just give your yeasts an occasional good meal and enough time to recolonize all that yummy fresh flour you've given them.

Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

I could not agree more.  Even though my starter is only a month or so old, it's so healthy and active, it doesn't take much to keep it that way.  I always keep 1 cup of mother starter in my fridge, then, depending on whether I'm baking several times a week, just once, or not at all, I take it out, discard 1/2 cup or feed it with equal amounts of flour and water to produce the amount I need for a recipe, and let it sit out for several hours until it's a risen, bubbling cauldron of lovliness, while replacing the mother starter with what I took out, letting her sit and chow down until she's well proofed..then giving her a stir then putting her back in the fridge until it's feeding/baking time again.  It really is quite easy to keep and hard to kill, once you have a nice, strong 'pet' going.

AnnieT's picture
AnnieT

And you don't have to walk it! A.

Lisalovestobake's picture
Lisalovestobake

LOL!!!  Very true!  Not to mention, it may not give you any kind of affection, but the end result continually nourishes and delights your taste buds. :)