The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

When to re-feed my starter...

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

When to re-feed my starter...

Hello all. 

My starter wasn't performing well at 80% per FWSY guidelines so I decided to change to 100% hydration and it seems to do better. Also user Mini Oven suggested not following a timeline of feeding it every X hours while I'm trying to get it up to snuff. Here is a pic of what it looks like now, 32 hours after last feeding (20g starter, 100g water at 85 degrees, 25g whole wheat, 75g all purpose). It is in a room that is at 75 degrees. 

My question: when do I feed it again? Has it peaked? Does 'peaking' mean it has doubled the original volume (which as you can see, it's not close to doubling yet)? It smells pleasantly sour, plenty of popping bubbles on the top surface which is shiny/wet. 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

And reaches its maximum height before it begins to fall. 

I think it has begun to fall. Looks like it got to the top of the lettering when peaked. It should be fed again. There is activity clearly even if it isn't too quick or really active just yet. It certainly looks healthy and well in the way to becoming a fully fledged starter. 

Try the same feed again and report back. I wouldn't leave it so long next time. Skip feeds if it's quiet, feed every 24 hours if there is clearly activity. If it's very active then every 12 hours. But 32 hours for a starter that is active is too long. I think you  might find it'll start to speed up now. 

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

Ok, I did just as you suggested. I fed last night and 12 hours later, it has doubled its original height! Now, as I take it, this doesn't necessary mean it has 'peaked' because it can still continue rising past the double mark until it starts to collapse again. So my follow up question is: when is the best time for me to feed it? Should I always wait until it peaks to feed?

I would like to attempt to use this in a bread this weekend. Do you think, given then increase in activity and trapped air as I described above, that it would be able to be used? 

Last question: should I continue to feed every 12 hours? Truthfully, I would prefer to be able to do every 24 hours for convenience sake. Is there a way to adjust the ratio from what I'm currently using (1:5:5) in order to accomplish a longer time between feeds?

Thanks!

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

You've got the idea. Sounds as if your starter is doing very well and it's almost time for a bake. If I were you I'd carry on feeding it every 12 hours for now then once your bake has been successful then it can take up home in your fridge.

What recipe do you have in mind?

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

I'll keep on every 12h for now then. Great advice. 

I've been working my way through FWSY and have many more to try from there. However, I was thinking of doing baguettes for the first time for dinner tomorrow. I have 'A Passion for Bread' and was thinking about his LaFarm Sourdough recipe in baguettes. However, I would take any suggestions you may have! He also has a great looking recipe for cinnamon, raisin, pecan sourdough that looks tempting for French toast. 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Start off simple. Better in the long run.

This is a great recipe http://www.weekendbakery.com/posts/sourdough-pain-naturel/

There are others but this is very well explained which is good for when trying it for the first time.

P.s. what they call a polish is actually a levain build. Wrong terminology there. Build the levain using mature starter so after you have fed your starter and it has peaked. So if doing an overnight levain build then feed your starter in the morning and build the levain in the evening.

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

Hi Lechem,

I wanted to check in after using the starter this weekend. I tried sourdough baguettes which worked really well - however, I also added 2g of dry yeast to make sure they rose. I also tried naturally leavened dough with bag results, the dough didn't rise at all and I didn't even bother baking it. 

This tells me that the starter isn't strong enough yet to leaven dough on its own. Is there anything that I could/should be doing to increase its potency? A recap: 20g starter, 100g water (90 degrees), 20g WW + 80g AP flour in a room that is between 72-75 degrees during the day. I've read of people using rye in the starter to increase activity - is this something you'd recommend to me?

Thanks again.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I’m no authority, but you mentioned 72-75 during the day. That leads me to believe it gets much colder at night. Is this correct? If it is, you could try a warmer place.

Also your flour is 5 times more than your starter. Is it possible that the feed may be too aggressive for the present activity of your starter? I presently feed 1 part starter to 5 parts flour, but my starter is pretty active.

At any rate, you can’t go wrong with Lechem’s advice. When he speaks, I listen.

I can say from experience that Rye is like steroids for starters.

Dan

You might like these links. Debra Wink, our resident Starter Authority spoke well of Azelia. See first 2 links.

http://www.azeliaskitchen.net/life-cycle-of-the-sourdough-starter-part-i/

http://www.azeliaskitchen.net/life-cycle-of-a-sourdough-starter-part-ii/

https://www.theperfectloaf.com/sourdough-starter-maintenance-routine/

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

It could be you're not reading your starter well. That is a something we don't think about when making one for the first time. Recipes can only give you so much info but one really has to know their starter. Which is difficult to do when making g one for the first time and also to advise from a far. You're trying to feel your way around in the dark. 

1: how active is your starter? 

2: how active was the Levain build? 

3: how quick is your starter? 

4: what does your starter smell like? 

I understood your starter to be rising well with the feeds. If not then don't proceed onto the recipe and heed Dan's advice about cutting back on the large feeds until it's stronger. If it has no issue with the feeds then your starter should be fine to raise bread in which case are you jumping the gun when following recipes. 

I need to listen too and I'm always learning in thus great forum. Always more to learn. 

Dan, you make me blush :) I've seen your breads and believe you me I can learn from you! 

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

Thanks for the thought. You're correct - I'm sure this all comes with time. Right now, I don't know what I don't know. 

1. I'm not sure how to measure activity in my starter. Currently, there are very small bubbles viewed from the side of the jar. Larger bubbles on the surface at any given time (1-4, estimated). 

2. The levain build without my added dry yeast was not very active at all, almost no rise. This could also be due to the fact that the dough had cinnamon, raisins, and pecan pieces that were weighing it down?

3. If I feed the starter in the morning (say 7a) then if has risen significantly (doubled, plus or minus) around 5p. 

4. The starter smells good - sweetly sour. Nothing like it did in the first 3 days of making it which was nasty and putrid. 

 

When you say cutting back on the large feeds, can you suggest a better ratio for me to follow? Currently I'm on 1:5:5 with 1/5th WW and 4/5 AP. Would you suggest....1:4:4 with 1/4 rye and 3/4 AP? I want to do whatever is best for it. You tell me. 

With regards to my temperature...I keep my house fairly cold in the winter on account of saving energy and cost. Because of this, I close the starter in a small bathroom which stays 72-75 during the day as I said. You're right, at night I believe it gets down to around 68. My problem is, I haven't thought of a warmer place for it unless I crank the heat up in the whole house. Any easy fixes? I'm not convinced that the top of my refrigerator is that much warmer and I'd prefer not to leave my oven light on all night long if I don't have to. Save the Earth.

Thanks!

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

1: depending on flour, hydration and feed ratio will determine how a starter will behave but you should see bubbles, a significant rise and it'll have a nice smell. 

2: a Levain build is a Pre-Ferment. This is when you take some starter off and build an off shoot starter to the recipes requirements so it's built to the correct flour, hydration and it's nice and active to go into the final dough. The recipe I advised wrongly called this step a "poolish". 

3: your starter sounds healthy but ready enough to bake with...? 

4: also good! 

78F is best for yeast activity in a starter. A strong mature starter will do fine in lower temperatures but will be slower. A young starter in cooler temperatures will not do as well. 72-75F is respectable though however the night time will be an issue. 

So where to go from here? There's many options but what's the best? 

Lower hydration.. some whole rye flour... lower percentage feeds all sound about right. 

How about 20g starter + 32g warm water + 40g flour (it can be a mix of bread flour and some whole rye say 30g bread flour + 10g whole rye flour)

Try to keep it warm and only feed again once peaked. Keep this up for the next few days. 

Could very well be that others have better ideas but can't go wrong with the few Dan and I have suggested. 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Do you have a heating pad? They consume very little electricity. 

Also, you could wrap a towel around the jar to insulate it. With that insulation maybe on top of your water heater.

You will be surprised at the difference in activity with just a slight change in temperature. The difference between 68F and 76F is like night and day.

I haven’t tried this, but maybe get some warm water in a vessel larger than your starter jar and place the starter jar inside. By warm, I’m thinking maybe 80F. What do you think Abe? Then insulate with towels the jars.

Next time you feed your starter you could make an extra jar to test. With the test start out low. Feed 1:1:1. Watch to see how fast that grows. But even most of us on the forum forget this fact. Temperature is at least important as anything you do to make bread. The activity of ANY starter is very dependent on temperature. The greatest starter in the world will not be very active in a cold environment. 

I tell you what... If you live in the US, you can send me a PM with your mailing address and I’ll send you some of mine. I keep a supply just in case something happens to mine. It is very easy to reconstitute.

Those links I sent will really help you to understand (and see) the growth cycle of a starter. Once established they are amazingly resilient. In one article, the author photographed the starter every hour (almost) for 24 hours.

Starters are only mysterious until to learn how to control and understand them. Not long ago I was searching just like you. I’ve used starters for years, but I didn’t understand them enough.

Here is a post from me last December. http://www.thefreshloaf.com/node/54588/how-can-i-increase-time-between-feeding-starter I had a lot of help...

Danny 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Kind of like make a flask for your starter. The water won't stay warm for a very long time but will provide some insulation. I say why not? Get creative! Make for your starter jar a jacket or fur coat :) Find a cupboard that's close to some hot water pipes. Sounds good to me. 

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

Good news:

I built a little box for the starter and wrapped in towels. This morning, the temp was holding at 75 degree (whereas yesterday is was 68). 

I fed last night at 9p - I did a 1:4:4 and 1:1.8:2 (as LeChem suggested). Both of them had risen well. The 1:1.8:2 had definitely doubled and 1:4:4 was on its way. I didn't feed (per suggestions of Mini) this morning and will re-evaluate the rising this afternoon to see if it has peaked. 

1:1.8:2 appears to have much more activity that any feeding I've done yet. Is there a benefit/drawback to feeding this ratio of another? I've never been led astray by FWSY which suggests 1:5:5 but that ratio hasn't been growing as well for me (probably because it's so young).

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Inventive. I like it!

Keep up these two starters side-by-side and do as Mini suggests. Feed them only when peaked and not by the clock. See if they pick up and peak faster.

The feed I suggested will eventually turn the starter into 80% hydration. You will be able to see more clearly the activity and it should rise more. It's also a lesser feed just in case we were jumping the gun and pushing it too hard as Danny suggested. That is why it's rising quicker.

Keep this up and see what happens over the next few days.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

I would pour a thin layer of water over this starter, just enough to cover it, cover, set inside a bowl (overflow protection) and just leave it alone.  The water will more than likely stay clear and discolor darker slightly until yeast gas bubbles start to cloud it and lighten the colour.  

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Mini, what is the extra water doing?

Dan

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

just lying there. (Actually it provides a place for the acids to build while the water in the flour underneath circulates.).  

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

try feeding in the morning when the temps in the bathroom are going up, then don't feed it at night (skipping the second feeding) when the temps drop.  You can still feed 1:5:5 ratio that way but only once a day.

Record and see how it behaves.

Mini

 

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

Thanks Mini. See my update (above) from my changes overnight. I'll be sure to not feed it at the 12 hour interval for now.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

The yeast slow down and the danger of overfeeding with higher food ratios increases.  The reason 1:1.8:2  worked faster is because the ratio of starter to starter food is lower, a 1:1:1 ratio (s:w:f)  it will also go thru the food faster but with winter temperatures, it is common that starters bud (reproduce) slower and take longer to build gasses.  I often have to double the starter the amount or reduce the food amount (change the feeding ratio) to adapt to the changing temperatures.  You can manipulate these things... it's in your p o w e r !   

Higher food ratios, like one part starter to  4, 5 or even 10 parts flour will create a lag time, the more flour food, the greater the lag time.  A lag time in which no activity can be seen, but the little micro organisms  are working away doubling their numbers about every one and a half hours to two hours at 75°F.  When they have increased enough of their population for you to notice them they will also have made enough gas to start raising the flour and water goop they are growing in.  The starter goop will then slowly rise in volume.  

Another factor influencing lag time is the amount of water in the starter.  Think of water as little transportation highways in the goop, escorting food to the yeast where they can pick out what they want (like running sushi) for their growth and budding.  The more water in the goop, the faster these nutrients can reach the yeast.  The amount of water can also get so low as to stop water from reaching new yeast cells.  Too much water and the gluten matrix can no longer hold gas, letting all gasses rise to the top where bubbles of gas burst.  That's also ok as long as you know the gas is being made by the yeast and will not raise a very wet starter, we are interested in the yeast not the trapping of gas but the building of yeast.  Don't use volume as an indicator of yeast population in a liquid starter or a gluten free starter.  

The other major factor is temperature.  Just a few degrees colder than ideal, can double the time it takes for yeast to bud.   This is influence is greatly underestimated.  A starter that would take a week to develop at 76°F will take two weeks.  If the days are warm enough and night colder, one week's time is actually half a week to the yeasts and they will take two weeks or longer depending on how much warm hours they actually receive.  Two weeks time at these fluctuating temps will be the norm. Three if they get an 8 hour warm period daily.  

Once the sourdough culture has an abundant amount of yeast, the temps can be lowered to slow down their rate of population.  Until then it is important to give them ideal or as close to ideal conditions for them to reproduce themselves to a level where they can sustain themselves.  They can then lower the pH along with their bacterial partners and provide the food they need from the flour we give them.  Their populations have to be concentrated enough that they can break down the starch in the flour into sugars.  

Until their populations are up, they can't break down all the flour we give them.  Giving them more flour than what they can breakdown, is slowing their progress.  The result being... a slow observable rise in the starter.  Give them an amount of food they can work through faster (a lower ratio like 1:1, one to one or one to two) gives the microorganisms time to make the flour into food and produce gas as a byproduct while they reproduce themselves.  They reach their converted food faster react to it sooner and the result is a culture that rises faster.

Does that make any sense?

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Well said.

What a great reply, I had to chime in.

Dan

The only thing I don't understand is the ratio. 1:1.8:2 I've seen it mentioned numerous time and always wondered. What is the 8:2 about? I just got it. I misread the 1.8. So 10 + 18 + 20. I often miss small details.

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

Wonderful written. Thank you. I'm glad I always have this to reference. 

Today, I was able to get my 1:1.8:2 starter to peak in just over 6 hours. I think it's starting to get to a good point (as LeChem said, 6 hours peaking time is generally an indicator of a good starter). 

Some knowledge discrepancies I have: a) you want to have a starter that peaks in 6 hours to be mature but b) you are only feeding is every 12/24 hours and any leaving a starter too long after peaking will create c) too sour of a starter. I'll put it in question form - question #1: once my starter is reliably peaking in 6 hours, how should I adjust my current feeding ratio so that I can feed it every 12 (or even 24) hours until I'm ready to bake? Question #2 is: if I'm going to bake with a starter that is peaking 6 hours after being fed, then the idea time to mix the dough is 6 hours after feeding the levain - is that correct? Or will starter peak times and levain peak times not be the same? 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

You said your starter peaked in 6 hours. How much did it rise (the high water mark)?

There are many ways to adjust your starter so that it cycles from feed to recede in 12 hours. Cooler temperatures, mix with cooler water, increase the flour ratio, use AP flour in place of whole grains. The type of flour and also the starter’s hydration will affect the rise and can affect the feed to recede time.

I struggled for some time to get my starter to begin receding at 12 hours. I tried a bunch of things but try as I might it wouldn’t cycle past 8 hours. Lechem, Mini and others here were very patient with me. I lacked a basic understanding of starter fundamentals. It’s really not complicated once you wrap your mind around it.

Since I don’t know the strength of your starter, I can’t make specific suggestions. In my case whole grains where a major hindrance. My starter was very active with them. When I changed to KA All Purpose flour, things started to get under control. I mix 1:3:5 using King Arthur AP Flour. Since the hydration is 60%, it is necessary to knead it a little by hand. Important: mine is kept at 76F.  The affects of temperature on starters and for that matter, all fermentation can’t be over stated.

If I mix a Levain with the same proportions and the same flour at the same temperature, I am assured it will be ready in 12 hours. But often I mix my starter at 100% hydration and I might use 50% rye and 50% AP. That’s when experience comes into play. OK, I cheat a little. {;-). I use a Brod & Taylor proofer, so I have very precise control over the temperature. The other night I noticed the starter was moving too fast. The proofer can raise the temperature but not cool things down. So I put it outside where the temp was cooler. There are many ways to be creative without a proofer. It’s not necessary.

I am sorry if I’ve made things look complicated. The above is my best attempt to help. I hope I didn’t over complicate things for you. I say again, it’s really not that complicated once you grasp the principles. If I can learn (and I still learn many things every day), anyone can.

DocDough, I didn’t read the entire post, so if I contradicted Mini or Lechem, forget me and go with them. They taught me :-). 

Danny

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

1: Just because a starter peaks within 6 hours doesn't mean it's run out of juice. One has to take into account the amount it has been fed, hydration, flour used etc. Once a starter is viable it may be refrigerated until you're ready to take some off and use in a levain although I wouldn't refrigerate it till it has proved itself capable of leavening bread. You can adjust the feeding ratio, hydration and temps to slow things down.

2: Not necessarily. A starter is just where you are storing your yeasts and bacteria. It's not, at this stage, doing anything else. When you build a levain the starter to fresh flour feed will often not be the same as a starter feed. It will be designed for timing and flavour.

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

Update: my starter has definitely peaked. I've been recording its height all day and it has begun to go down. Last fed last night at 9pm and it's currently 5pm where I am. Should I go ahead and feed it now since has begun to fall or wait until 9pm to feed?

Follow up: this weekend when I (attempt) to bake with it, do I want the levain to be ready to use at the point that it peaks? Aka if I were baking tomorrow I would feed the levain 18 hours prior to making the dough for this current starter to peak?

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

It's a good time to feed. Don't worry if you can't always catch it exactly on time. There's still plenty of life in it. Just when it begins to fall is the optimal time. 

Ideally peaking within 6 hours for a starter that is regularly fed is a good guide it's strong enough to use. If I were you I'd push off baking till your starter is stronger. You should be getting a reliable rhythm. 20 hours is still off. You're getting there but a tad more patience and it'll be worthwhile. Give it a few more days. 

Do not throw away the discard. Keep it in the fridge and it can be used as a backup if needed and in other recipes. It's over any bad bacterial stage and fine to use in waffles, pancakes etc for taste. You can even add it to yeasted breads for flavour. 

When it comes to baking then ideally take some off from the discard (i.e. when it has peaked and ready to be fed again) and build the levain.

doctordough92's picture
doctordough92

Great thought. I'll keep feeding when it tells me to and record the timing. It's good to know the 6 hour measurement. 

If I were to make a recipe that I've been dying to try with my not-yet-ready starter, can I rectify the lack of yeast with some active dry to supplement? This wouldn't be until Saturday.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

I’ve supplemented with commercial yeast before, but beware a little goes a long way.

What percentage yeast do you guys recommend.

Danny

HansB's picture
HansB

Hamelman and Hitz recommend adding .2% IDY if you want to add commercial yeast to SD.

Mini Oven's picture
Mini Oven

ready to bake in a few hours loaf.  EDIT:  whoops didn't see the decimal!  0.2%. Sounds good.  I first read 2%!

To get any sd flavour, I'd go with less ...   0.5% or much less from the beginning mix up

or raise the % (anywhere up to 2%) when yeast is added to the bulking dough to shorten the waiting to the final baking time.  

Taste the dough for sourness (if it has been sitting over 12 hours above 75°F). to get some idea of how fast you want to speed up the dough fermentation.  If you don't want a lot of sour, add more dissolved yeast for a single final quick rise.  If the dough tastes extremely sour, and you don't like sour, toss in 0.5% baking soda into the dough to neutralize the acid while adding the 2% yeast.