The Fresh Loaf

News & Information for Amateur Bakers and Artisan Bread Enthusiasts

Beginner- could really use guidance on my failed starters!

parisaniee's picture
parisaniee

Beginner- could really use guidance on my failed starters!

Hello all, 

I've been wanting to make my own sourdough forever, and as of one month ago I've been trying to get a starter going. 

The first attempt *seemed* to be going well, it would rise predictably after feedings and foam up. I used whole wheat flour for that round. But the smell never got sour, it smelled like alcohol and kinda putrid... I had to travel away and then it just didn't bounce back. 

My second attempt I used a mix of whole wheat and white flour, going by weight this time so I could be more accurate. I followed a guide to start with 8 ounces of starter, and to discard half each time and feed with 2 oz flour and 2 oz water. After the first feeding it looked bubbly and stretchy and great! I've been feeding it the same way and at the same time each day but since the first feeding it hasn't done anything. No bubbles whatsoever, and a thin brown liquid at the top. It looks dead :( 

I'm a beginner, and I asked a friend but he told me to go with yeast packets...I really want to make my own and start making delicious loaves! Could someone offer some guidance please? 

Thanks so much for any help :) 

Parisa 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Starters often have quiet periods where it is a good idea to stop feeding, keep warm and stir instead. When it wakes up then start the feeds again. 

Hanzosbm's picture
Hanzosbm

Doesn't sound like a big enough feeding to me.  If you're starting with 8oz, discarding half, then adding 2oz of water and 2oz of flour, you're basically making a 2:1:1 starter.  How often are you feeding?  And are you keeping this at room temperature or in the fridge?

Regarding your friend's suggestion to start with yeast packets, if you're new to bread baking, I'd tend to agree with your friend, but obviously, it's up to you, but expect a very steep learning curve.

parisaniee's picture
parisaniee

I have used year packets in the past, but would really love to take this on. Thanks so much for the info already! 

To answer your question: I’m keeping it at room temperature. And with a cheesecloth tightly on top as a lid. 

 

I’m gathering I should have a larger starter so I will add more today and not discard anything! I appreciate all the help, and any more tips :) 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Try discarding all but 2 oz. Then feed it 2 oz water and 2 oz flour. As the starter starts to pickup and get active you can increase the feed ratio more.

Wait until the starter grows and then just barely starts to recede, then feed again.

You don’t need a very large starter. I keep only 45 grams. If you don’t remove any starter your starter will quickly get way too large.

Dan

pcake's picture
pcake

my first starter never smelled great but i only fed it once a day.  the current one i feed twice a day and it smells delish all the time except for my one missed feed.  and i'd at least double the size of your feeding.

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Having 8oz, discarding 4oz, and feeding with 2oz each of flour and water is an ok ratio for the beginning! It's a 1:0.5:0.5 feed. Depending on what stage you're at (you haven't answered my original question) this might even be beneficial. Once your starter becomes stronger then so do your feeds. But you haven't told us too much about the history of your starter. How warm are you keeping it?

parisaniee's picture
parisaniee

oh! you're right, I forgot to answer your first question. When I originally posted, I was in day 4 of the process (feeding it once a day). I'm keeping it at room temperature, and on a high shelf to try and have it a bit warmer...

I took the advice listed here and fed it yesterday without removing any starter to bulk it up a bit. I haven't fed it yet today but it looks pretty much the same as the photo I posted...no bubbles, very inactive... 

I really appreciate all the advice so far! 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

and so far your feeds haven't been off. For now keep warm, don't feed again till you see activity and stir instead of feeding.

When you see activity then feed 1:0.5:0.5 as you have been doing. Should it respond well and you see more activity then when it comes to the next feed, feed 1:1:1.

As it begins to gain in strength and predictability keep on increasing the feeds. When it responds to big feeds and bubbles up on cue then it's ready.

HansB's picture
HansB

Try not to over think it. Do as in the video, be patient and let us know in 7-10 days how it works out. 

https://youtu.be/SuU0xmqEZyI

parisaniee's picture
parisaniee

I should also note, my lid is a mesh cloth, similar to a cheesecloth but wider holes. Could I be letting in too much air? 

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

It is normal for it to stop showing any activity for on the third or fourth day. Stop feeding it and just stir it. Lechem is right. When you see some activity, then go ahead and feed it. The first bit of activity you saw happening was bacterial activity that has to sort itself out before the medium becomes acidic enough for the yeast to be happy. That's why it smelled putrid and that is perfectly normal. Just be patient. It normally takes a good 10 days if not more to get a starter active enough to bake with.

Oh and to answer your question about the cover, I just use a loose lid on mine. I have never done the cheesecloth thing because it may air it out too much and cause the surface to dry out. By the way, you aren't capturing yeast from the air. The needed yeast and bacteria is in and on the flour you use. That's why whole grain flour is usually better for getting a starter going. Rye is great for that.

parisaniee's picture
parisaniee

This was very helpful and informative, I appreciate the explanations to things I've seen people talk about on forums! Very interesting as well. I'll keep stirring and try to be patient :) thank you 

parisaniee's picture
parisaniee

Hi, 

I'm on day 8 and I haven't fed my starter for about 4 days, as suggested. Just stirring. It smells really nice, kinda perfumey with a sour tang. I'm seeing bubbles in the middle when I look over the top of it before I stir, but no visible bubbles from the sides of the jar. And it hasn't changed its volume...I'd like to know if I should start feeding it again? 

Thanks for all the help so far!

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

I would cautiously give it a 1:1:1 feeding by weight and see what happens. By the way, how often are you stirring it. You might be knocking down the rise if you stir too often. 

parisaniee's picture
parisaniee

I am stirring it once a day, around the same time I had been feeding it. Just to clarify (I'm very new to this), 1:1:1 feeding would mean, if I have 8 ounces of starter, I would add 4 ounces of water and 4 ounces of flour? 

Thanks!

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

8 oz of starter:8oz of water:8 oz of flour. What you described was a 1:0.5:0.5 feeding. That really isn’t enough to keep it going for 24 hours. 

You might find that you need to go to a 1:2:2 feed or even a 1:4:4 feed. As you can see, the amount of starter can grow really fast. That’s why most of us keep really small amounts. 

So right now, so that you don’t end up with huge amounts, throw away half and feed what you have left. In other words, 4 oz of starter:4 oz of water: 4 of flour. 

We can help you manage your starter once it is established so you aren’t wasting flour. 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

No. 1:1:1 means 1 part starter + 1 part water + 1part flour by weight. Example 4oz starter + 4oz water + 4oz flour

Dan

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

as I was writing it? 😂

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

You caught me :-)

Dan

parisaniee's picture
parisaniee

oh! of course, i feel silly. glad I asked :) 

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

It is good to get a confirmation. Ask away...

Pictures might be a great help.

Dan

MClare's picture
MClare

Hello, I have been trying to make sourdough starter since the end of February at our vacation home in Arkansas.  I started out with Bob's Red Mill organic rye flour. At first I had the huge leuconostoc bacteria rise and then read Debra Wink and started over with pineapple juice with the rye flour. Still there was very little activity or rise...some bubbles but no substantial increase in volume. The issue then I believe was lack of heat. The temperature was well below 70 degrees in our kitchen.  The proportions I used were 1/4 cup of bottled drinking water (trying to avoid fluoride) and 1/4 cup flour.  I didn't always discard before these feedings, but whether I did or didn't I never had much change in the activity or increase in amount. Now I am thinking perhaps the discard is essential in order to concentrate the ratio of yeasts to the added volume of water and flour? volume?? I had thought it was only just so you didn't create too much volume in your container.  Also maybe when I didn't discard, and just added the same 1/4 cup of flour and 1/4 cup water I was starving the yeasts (should have measured the amount of starter and added the same amount of water and flour)  I was feeding every 12 hours and measuring by volume, (1/4 cup) not by weight. I went through two full packages of the Bob's rye flour. We returned to Minnesota for Easter and brought back to Arkansas a soil heating pad which I put inside a large cooler with the quart jars (I'm making two starters) and left the cooler cover a bit ajar. That did produce more activity and a slight rise but again, nothing enough to say I had created something to bake with. Shortly before I was done with the second bag of rye, i used King Arthur unbleached white for several feedings along with the pineapple juice. That did produce the greatest rise, but nowhere near double. But...perhaps this reaction was partially due to the sugars in the juice, that's what I surmised. When I went back to water, again very little activity. Having run out of our bottled drinking water, I purchased a gallon of Ozarka spring water and started using that. A week ago we returned to MN and I started measuring by weight; as I have a scale here. I used 100 gr starter and the same weight of water and same of King Arthur white unbleached. I put both jars in our oven with the light on. That first evening there was very little change except the mixture got very warm...I though I had killed everything. My husband used a non contact infrared thermometer on the jars and each were at 96 degrees. But I read online yeast is killed at around 130 degrees so I think I did not kill anything. Maybe set things back though. I did a discard, measured out again 100 gr of the three ingredients and put the jars back in the oven but further away from the light bulb and left the oven door ajar. In the morning the jars were around 82.  But...no rise! I did a discard back to 100 gr of starter and added the same weights of the Ozarka water and the KA unbleached white flour. No rise, no bubbles. I wondered about the Ozarka and also if I really set back any developing yeasts with the 92 degrees. Tried to find out if there might be fluoride in it but it did not seem so. However their website indicates they do add chlorine at some early stage of collection or transport and then later it is filtered out. They also do an ultraviolet light/ozone purification that "destroys bacteria". There is also a line sanitation process on the pipes and machinery.  Decided to stop using the Ozarka water and as of three days ago I have switched to filtered water (Pur) from our refrigerator but I am letting it come to room temperature first. I switched back to Bob's rye flour for two feedings two days ago, doing the discard back to 100 gr and adding same weight of water and flour. Today I only did one feeding as there was absolutely NO activity or bubbles. We got a lower wattage oven light so I could close the door but I still had the jars too close to the bulb and the mixture went to 92 degrees again. I think I now have found the correct area, very near the oven door it stays in the high 70s. Today I only stirred the mixture three times as it doesn't appear any yeasts are growing or consuming anything in the flour. No bubbles seem to be present. If I would discard, and add flour and water I reason that I am just diluting any possible yeasts that might be there. So I think I will just stir several times a day for awhile and see if anything starts up. After all these weeks I am starting to get angry. Last night after stirring a lifeless mass I threw the spatula into the sink. Not good as the dried stuff is very hard to get off the glass on the window by the sink.   My husband thinks the whole starter thing is a myth. Any help you can give me most appreciated! Thank you, Mary Wareham

 

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

you have never given the yeast and bacteria population a chance to grow because you are constantly throwing half of it away and diluting the rest with feeds. 

I suggest that you add a bit of  pineapple juice with a bit of flour by weight (don’t discard!) and leave the thing alone aside from stirring it a few times a day. I am glad you switched to weight measurements as volume measurements don’t work so well with starters as you have discovered. You are also doing the right thing by finding it a warm spot. Sourdough does not like the cold when it is starting to get established. 

It might take a few days but don’t feed the thing until you see bubbles. Then feed once it has risen to its max and started to fall. You will soon see a pattern and you can adjust how much to feed so that you can make this starter fit your schedule. 

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Is a very normal and you didn't have to start again. You've just got to ride it out. Carry on feeding it and keeping it warm. Should it slow down or stop then slow your feedings down or even skip a few feeds. Once it wakes up again then carry on.

That's funny because millions of people around the world, and since ancient history, bake with starters. Just what does your husband think is the myth?

MClare's picture
MClare

He knows I have been trying to do this without success since the beginning of February! However...I can hardly believe my eyes...BUT, last evening I followed the advice from the post before yours, added one gram of pineapple juice to each jar and stirred it in. I did not discard. This morning it was still fairly watery, same as last night and no rise. I put in one gram of rye flour to each jar and lo and behold this afternoon it is rising up!

It must have been the cold at first, then not adding enough flour and also discarding even when there had been no apparent growth. with that, I was probably throwing away any small growth of yeasts or lactobacilli. I guess that part of the instructions was not clear to me. I thought you were always supposed to discard, even when it hadn't risen any. Looks like I am on my way, finally. Thanks to all!

Lechem's picture
Lechem (not verified)

Congrats. We discard because if we don't then before long one would have a barrel full of the starter. When a starter is viable and needs a feed then following a ratio of 1:1 (starter to flour) or higher is a healthy feed and beneficial to the starter. But in the very early stages and after the initial bubbling up all goes quiet then it's better to slow the feedings down or even skip a feed or two. Once it wakes up again then you begin feeding again. It's all about feeding to the rhythm of the starter. 

Anyway that should all be behind you now. So as your starter begins to gain in strength so your feeds should be increased. You will have to discard to do this. Once it is viable to make bread then you find a good schedule for maintenance where there should be little or no discard. 

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

Be sure to post your loaves when you get around to making some. 😊

MClare's picture
MClare

Both jars have now risen double, three times without any additional feed, since the first rises on May 1. (added pineapple juice the evening before, and rye flour that morning) Stirred them down again this morning and they are on their way up again. The rises to double height yesterday were in less than four hours. Am I ready to bake with this stuff now or should I do a discard and feed with water and either more rye or unbleached white? I think I'd like to start leaning towards an all white flour starter.

Thank you everyone!

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

that I would start discarding half and replacing it with half flour and half water by weight. You may need to do a bigger feeding so that the rise and fall happens on a 12 hour cycle (otherwise, you would be feeding that thing constantly). By that I mean that you take, let's say, 10 g of starter and feed it 40 g of water and 40 g of flour. You may want to do 1:2:2 (10:20:20) to start and see how long it takes for that cycle to happen. 

I am not suggesting that you bake bread at this point simply because I don't know how long your starter has been doing. If you have had this particular starter for a week or two and it smells fine, then yes, go ahead and try a bake. If it is only a few days old, then I suggest you wait at least 10 days to two weeks before using it just to be sure it is strong enough to rise a loaf.

MClare's picture
MClare

Thank you, Danni,

I did as you suggested in principle...yesterday at 4:30 pm, to 50 gr starter I added 100 gr water and 100 gr white flour. It was really thick/stiff and I had a hard time mixing it. This must be called a stiff starter? Up to now it has been more liquid. We went out for the evening and when we came home i could see it was rising up to about double again. But each jar had a dome so hadn't fallen again. I left both all night expecting they would fall during the night and yes, they did. Busy this morning so I just stirred them up  they were more liquid this morning) and they are both back to double again, so what should I do next? 

Am I trying to create a stiff starter? I think I would prefer the liquid higher hydration version, but really not sure. Or....am I now creating a levain to be used for baking?

What is the reason for the higher weights feeding of flour and water to a lesser weight of starter? Other posts I read seemed to speak of equal weights of all three and when it rose double in under four hours it is supposedly ready to bake with. 

I imagine there are multiple procedures and preferred practices.

Thank you for helping me.

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Not sure when Danni will get to read your post, so I thought I’d reply concerning the feeding until Danni gets back to you.

It is great that your starter grew, then peaked, and finally fell. The best time to refresh (feed again) your starter is when it first begins to recede. Timing the feed to this point will increase the yeast population, creating a strong starter. If you let it go too far into the recession (hours) the starter will begin to get very acidic. This will negatively affect the yeast. When you stir the starter, it will start rising again, but in doing so it is consuming the last of its food. 

HTH, I’m sure Danni will check in soon.

Dan

MClare's picture
MClare

Thank you Dan! Yes it is tasting very sour. I won't stir it anymore until I add flour and water. Just need to know how much. (Maybe I will go ahead and do the same as I did last night: 50 gr starter, 100 gr water and 100 gr flour.) Both jars still have a dome as well as the discards which I have in another bowl. I'd like to use that discard stuff up and make something. Any suggestions?

thank you again.

MClare's picture
MClare

Ok I did that, just did 50 gr starter, 100 gr each of water and flour. I used the rye flour. That might give it extra boost.

We have to go out for the evening. It is 3:30 now. Will be back around 9:30. If still rising should I stir down and add more flour and water? Just to get to the morning? Otherwise it will probably collapse during the night...??

thank you...

DanAyo's picture
DanAyo

Until Danni gets back with you. I’d feed like you last did. If it falls when you get back home, feed it the same way again. If you want the rise cycle to last longer you can try to keep it a little cooler.

If you decide to keep it out of the frig we can work on the feed schedule, if the starter is active and consistent.

Dan

Danni3ll3's picture
Danni3ll3

so I am just checking TFL now. The reason you are feeding a bigger amount is so you don’t have to feed your starter every few hours. Dan is right in saying that you should feed it shortly after it falls. 

As to the starter being stiff, now that it is alive and well, you can choose how liquid you want this but be aware that most, or at least a lot, of recipes call for 100% hydration starter which is a feed of half flour half water by weight. So a 1:2:2 ( starter:water:flour) is still a 100% hydration starter. So is a 1:1:1 or a 1:4:4. A 1:3:5 would be an 80% hydration starter. 

To use up some of your starter, I would go ahead and make some bread. Look up a 123 bread. That is a very simple recipe that will get you going. TFL has quite a few examples. 

Be sure to save some starter to feed and watch how long it takes to rise and fall like Danny suggested. 

Danni (the other one 😂)

 

 

MClare's picture
MClare

Ok I've got active starter coming out the yazoo. Our daughter-in-law wants some so I just took some of my discard which has, for three days, been rising until I stir it down and which I fed last night with rye flour and water; this morning it was at the top of the bowl. For her, I put equal weights of starter, water and KA white unbleached (100 gr each) into a new quart jar, stirred it up and put in the refrigerator. So when I give it to her in a few days, I think she should keep it at room temp or between 72-82 degrees until it rises and feed again when it starts to fall? I told he she may have to discard first and to get info from the website/forum here for maintenance and baking. 

I fed each of my own two jars last night around 9pm with 50 gr starter, and 100 gr water and 100 gr rye flour. They rose and still have a dome. I can see large holes in the thing all throughout the sides of the jar. Maybe I should feed again? All the rye is gone again so Ill go back to the KA unbleached till have a LOT of discard that seems to be pretty active so I will look up a 123 bread recipe.

Thank you both so much!

 

parisaniee's picture
parisaniee

Hello! 

My starter is looking great and active, I'll be baking my first loaf today! I had been feeding my starter with a mix of white and whole wheat flour, and I'm wondering if it's alright to start incorporating rye flour into the feeding (I'll be buying some rye today to bake with). 

Also, I'll be putting the starter in the fridge after today; I understand I can feed it less often this way. How often is recommended? And shall I continue my same routine of how much I've been discarding/feeding? 

Thanks all so much! This community gave great tips when I was ready to give up, and now I'm ready to bake, it's a great feeling! :)